A History of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi (ISBN 978-0-9765531-3-7)
About the author | Traduzione Italiana
See also the The History of Rock Music and the The History of Pop Music
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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
All photographs are property of the labels or musicians who kindly provided them. Only a low-resolution version was used for this website. The photographs are NOT included in the printed book

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(You can also listen to playlists for each chapter - thank you, Luke)
  1. The beginnings: New Orleans

  2. Chicago: White Jazz

  3. New York: Stride piano

  4. New York: Big Bands

  5. New York: The Swing Era

  6. New York: The swing soloists

  7. Kansas City: Big Bands

  8. Bebop

  9. Bebop pianist

  10. Bebop big bands

  11. Cool Jazz

  12. Cool Jazz in Los Angeles

  13. Hard Bop

  14. Post-bop

  15. Free Jazz

    1. Free Jazz: the apostles

    2. Free Jazz: the disciples

    3. Free jazz: the West-Coast school

    4. Free Jazz: free drumming

    5. Free Jazz: free vocals

    6. White free jazz

    7. Free Jazz: borderline

  16. Creative Music

    1. Chicago's creative jazz

    2. Creative music: the disciples

    3. Creative music: the St Louis school

    4. Creative music: jazz post-modernism in New York

    5. Creative music: white post-modernism in New York

    6. Creative music: European creativity

    7. Creative music: Noise-jazz

  17. Fusion

    1. Fusion jazz: the pioneers

    2. Pre-fusion pianists

    3. White jazz between free jazz and fusion

    4. Latin jazz

    5. Fusion groups

    6. Fusion stylists

    7. Guitar heroes

    8. Pop-fusion

    9. Euro-fusion

  18. Jazz traditionalism

      Jazz traditionalism

      The Death of Jazz

  19. Non-jazz of the 1980s


      Acid Jazz

      New-age jazz


  20. Post-jazz music

      Post-jazz Creativity in New York

      Post-jazz Soloists and Hyper-fusion

      Post-jazz Big Bands

      The Great Chicago Jazz Rebirth

      The Return of the Jazz Improviser

      20th Century Post-creativity

      Freer jazz

      The Digital Improviser


  21. Jazz 2000

  22. Appendix: Alphabetical Index
  23. Appendix: Chronology of Jazz
  24. Appendix: Best Jazz Albums
  25. Appendix: Missing recording dates
  26. Appendix: Chronology of the USA
  27. Appendix: History of Pop music
  28. Appendix: History of Blues music
  29. Appendix: History of Rhythm'n'Blues music
  30. Appendix: History of Soul music

Bibliography (in order of relevance):
  • Gioia, Ted: "The History of Jazz" (Oxford Univ Press, 1997)
  • Shipton, Alyn: "New History of Jazz" (2001)
  • Southern, Eileen: "The Music of Black Americans" (Norton, 1971)
  • Gridley, Mark: "Jazz Styles" (Prentice Hall, 1991)
  • Hardy, Phil & Laing Dave: "Faber Companion to 20th Century Popular Music" (Faber, 1990)
  • Clarke, Donald: "Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music" (Penguin, 1989)
  • Hodeir, Andre: "Hommes et Problemes du Jazz" (Flammarion, 1954)
  • Polillo, Arrigo: "Jazz" (Mondadori, 1975)
  • Roberts, John-Storm: "Black Music of Two Worlds" (1972)
  • Lord, Tom: "The Jazz Discography" (Lord Music Reference, 2007)


Almost a Preface

Most books on the history of jazz music, even the ones published very recently (see the bibliography), tend to devote 80-90% of the pages to jazz before the Sixties, and then to quickly summarize (with countless omissions) the last 40 years. Either the authors are very old and stopped listening to new musicians in the 1950s, or jazz historians are affected by some kind of psychological trauma when they enter the 1960s. The paradox, of course, is that a lot more has happened "since" the 1960s than "until" the 1960s, if nothing else because a lot more recordings have been made in the age of the LP and in the age of the CD than in the ages of the 78 RPM and in the age of the 45 RPM. Personally, i also feel that the masterpieces of jazz music have been produced between the 1960s and today, with few exceptions. Thus i felt the need for a history of jazz music from the opposite perspective.

Since i have written a history of rock music of the last 50 years, i can't help wondering what kept jazz historians from doing the same: write a history of jazz from the 1960s to today. I also happen to believe that, by far, the greatest contributions of jazz to the history of humankind came in the second half of the century, for example with composers (repeat: composers) such as Charlie Mingus, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. Most of what was done before the 1960s pales in comparison with the giants of the 1960s, who are giants regardless of musical affiliation.

That was the original goal, the gap that my book was supposed to fill. But i quickly realized that i couldn't write a history of jazz for an audience that didn't know how jazz became what it was in the mid 1950s. Therefore i decided to write a short summary of the first 50 years of jazz music. Given that i was already working on a history of blues music, the beginning of that "summary" ended up being a lot more extensive than a mere summary should be. Within two weeks i had written the first 15 chapters of this book, and forgotten that the original focus was meant to be only the last 50 years (the subsequent chapters).

By the way, i made a point of writing a history that could be read by people with little or no mastery of the technical vocabulary (i.e., people whose background is in literature or visual arts or, quite simply, history). I am more interested in discussing how Coltrane introduced Eastern spirituality into popular music and legitimized extended abstract pieces than in discussing how such and such a trumpeter played a fifth or a saxophonist used the keys. It is telling that most jazz books seem to make a point to analyze in detail the tracks that i consider less relevant.

This is now a dangerous book. Jazz historians would forgive me a book that covers the last 50 years, but they are unlikely to forgive a non-jazz historian who writes about the early age of jazz music.

My only excuse is that i didn't write this book for them: i wrote it for an audience that includes listeners of classical, rock and avantgarde music. Sooner or later, i will merge all these "histories" into just one history of 20th century music. Having visited more than one hundred countries, i have always hated borders: imagine how i hate it when humans create borders even between arts and even between musical styles.

Now if only a jazz historian wrote a history of rock music...

Thanks to Rocco Stilo for doublechecking all the dates (a superhuman task) and to Chris Ford for proof-editing part of the book.

piero scaruffi, 2006

Previous books on the same topic

I will say upfront that i judge Ted Gioia's "The History of Jazz" and Alyn Shipton's "New History of Jazz" as definitive books in their genre (despite Shipton's revisionist attitude towards swindles such as Paul Whiteman and the white swing orchestras, and his focus on tedious reinterpretations instead of original compositions). Jazz historians may argue forever on the early (undocumented) years of jazz, but i doubt that anyone will significantly change the history of the first 50 years of jazz music that Shipton has written. So if you want to buy only one book on jazz, don't buy mine, buy Shipton's. If you want two, buy Gioia's too (possibly more perspicacious, just less detailed). If you "also" want a much more comprehensive discussion of the next 50 years, then mine will probably be the only game in town for a while. I've seen Shipton call "modern" the music made in the 1940s (he devotes 640 pages to the first 33 years of jazz music, but only 227 pages to the next 50 years). If you want a book that does not view the history of jazz music as a history of how to play instruments (that is basically the viewpoint of traditional jazz historians), then you might want to read mine before Shipton's (i still think you should read his too). I can't help thinking that Shipton neglects almost all the great achievements of jazz (he hardly mentions Mingus' masterpiece, and perhaps the masterpiece of all jazz, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady) while analyzing in minute detail some rather negligible ditties (one entire page just for Louis Armstrong's Ain't Misbehavin'). Relying on (what i consider) an outdated definition of "jazz", too many jazz historians dwell way too much on minor pieces of music while downplaying (and sometimes ignoring tout court) the great compositions of jazz. They do a big disservice to jazz. It is hard to name Armstrong in the same sentence with Mozart or Stravinsky, but not difficult at all to mention Ornette Coleman or Anthony Braxton with those heavy-weights of classical music. If, instead, you want to read about the development of jazz instruments, read Shipton not me. While i acknowledge them, i don't spend much time on musicians who only recorded short pieces, and even less time if they did not compose those pieces, no matter how difficult and innovative their style at the instrument. This is the exact same criterion that i used for the history of rock music.


  • In general, the date of a piece of music is the date in which it was recorded (not the date it was released). The exceptions are "compositions" that were created years before they were first recorded.
  • The date of an album is the date its last track was recorded.
  • Whenever i couldn't find out when an album was recorded, then i regrettably had to use the date in which it was released (but i welcome input from readers who know the recording date). Whenever my date has the month, then it is the month of recording. If it doesn't have the month, then i am not sure.
  • Whenever i do not mention the ethnic group of a musician, s/he's most likely a black USA citizen. I always mention if the musician is not from the USA or is not black. Take it as a way to acknowledge that jazz was invented by black musicians of the USA.
  • Whenever i do not mention the birthplace of a musician, s/he's most likely from New York or nearby towns. This is done only to save space: since the vast majority were and are based in New York, it saved quite a bit of space to assume it as a given.
  • The albums mentioned in the book are my own favorites. I despise the websites that promote millions of albums as masterpieces. Just about every musician on those websites seems to be a new Beethoven. Just about every musician in the world seems to have produced something comparable to Beethoven's ninth symphony. Most of the "masterpieces" that those websites recommend turned out to be mediocre, and sometimes even terrible. In particular, there is a widespread tendency to promote as masterpiece the most recent recordings. Experience has taught me that it is usually the opposite. Those websites are simply trying to please the record labels that sent them the albums for free. The albums that I mention in this book are the ones that are worth listening to, in my opinion, and they are a tiny minority.


Only in the USA can one think that the term "African-American" is politically correct. My friend Gerard, a white man from South Africa who relocated to Pennsylvania, is an African-American. My friend Hassan, a Moroccan who relocated to California, is an African-American. The white Zimbabwean businessman whom i met in Argentina and the black Angolan student whom i met in Brazil are African-Americans. But that is not what USA citizens mean when they say "African-American": they mean "black person who lives in the USA". In fact they call "African-American" even people from Haiti, Britain and France, as long as their skin is black. Most USA citizens (particularly the self-appointed African-American ones) think of Africa as being only sub-Saharan Africa, and of America as being only the USA. And they do not consider white people born in Africa as "African". In other words, when they say "African" they really mean "person with a black skin", and when they say "American" they really mean "USA citizen".

I think that "black" is more precise and, ultimately, more politically correct. Thus i use "black musician" to mean what USA citizens refer to as "African-American musician". If no nationality is provided, then it means that the black person is from the USA (this book is mostly about the USA, so it would be redundant to keep repeating "black USA musician"). I write both "black" and "white" lower case. Occasionally i lapse into the "African-American" thing myself, but that should be in a broader context (when i am indeed talking about the two continents).

In my texts on rock music, the reader can safely assume that the musicians are white unless otherwise specified. In this book on jazz music, the reader can safely assume that the musicians are black unless otherwise specified. Thus i will note that Steve Lacy is white and will not note that Miles Davis is black the same way that rock biographers emphasize that Jimi Hendrix was black but do not emphasize that Bob Dylan was white.

TM, ®, Copyright © 2007 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
All photographs are property of the sites that host them

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