Ragtime and Blues as Predecessors of Jazz

Ragtime and Blues

Music is a complex and sophisticated entity reflecting feelings and emotions of the humanity. It reflects the wide range of life experiences and allows everyone to find something for himself/herself. Since all people are different, the existing music genres differ as well as their tastes. Among the wide variety of the music genres, the ragtime, blues, and jazz are the most recognized and loved. These music styles enhance people, give them inspiration and hope for the better.

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The ragtime music had relatively short history, but it was enough bright and spectacular to remain in the world music heritage. Hence, together with blues as a style is close to it, these two genres were the predecessors of the jazz music. The difference of these music styles lies in their origin, musical techniques, and either instrumental or vocal performance. Thus, the same African-American roots, time period of emergence, and combination of different music combine these genres together. Although there are a lot of similarities as well as differences between ragtime and blues, each of the genres was essential to the emergence of jazz since they gave it their structure, rhythm, and ensured further development.

Despite the both music styles originated in the same time period and rooted in Africa, the further cultural influence and development were different. The blues music origin refers to the black American history of the 19th century. Its originators were slaves of the Southern plantations who sang about their hard luck, feelings, and regrets. The ragtime was originally an Afro-American vernacular music developed under the European influence. It had rhythmic and tuneful melody, often similar to a march, which made people feel happy. Furthermore, it was a mix of “black songs and dances including the cakewalk” (Szepesi). As a result, it was livelier and did not remind about the pain as blues did.


Although ragtime and blues resemble each other as they both are blends of different music, they use different musical techniques, affecting the whole style of playing. Blues is often characterized by the 12-bar harmonic pattern, the use of blue notes and the three-line lyrics structure (Jasen and Jones 160). In addition, the musicians create a special appeal by means of call and response pattern, defining this style among others. Hence, blues music does not adhere to the strict rhythm since it is simple and easy to play and sing while the main feature of the ragtime music genre is that it comprises a syncopated melody and a strict rhyme accompaniment. In general, these two main factors create the uniqueness of the style. Originally, the musicians wrote this music for a piano only, however, quite often they played it on other instruments as the banjo or guitar. It springy rhythms made the genre ideal for dancing and brought widespread acceptance.

Thus, despite the differences, these music genres complement each other. At the beginning of their foundation, they were the styles of black people that reflected their traditions, life experiences, and expectations. One more essential factor combining blues and ragtime is an emotional load that is always dramatic but different. Whereas the ragtime music is often upbeat and appeals the listeners to dance, the blues is usually slow and sad. And finally, the most significant similarity between ragtime and blues is that they both were the forerunners of the jazz music (Gioia 20). The two styles developed differently, however, in one direction, and finally combined their features in one genre. The blend of the essential elements characterizing the both music genres was undeniably important and influential in the development of early jazz.

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At the beginning of its history, the jazz music was a style that derived from the ragtime and blues and obtained the significant auditory and recognition among the listeners. Each genre influenced it in different ways and shared its best features with this new music style. Hence, blues gave jazz its four-note structure that became a building block of the composition. Jazz also adopted the wide range of musical instruments used in this genre. The music that the jazz musicians played was just the same as the blues singers performed. Moreover, jazz inherited the dynamics, improvisation, and the call and response structure. The original contribution of ragtime refers to the early jazz pianists as Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson, who included the main features of the ragtime music to their compositions. The African-American background of jazz predecessors brought polyrhythms and syncopation to this new music. The jazz musicians found the source of the tunes in ragtime and blues. However, unlike its forerunners, the jazz music brought the solo improvisation as a defining element of the jazz genre.

It is impossible to state when the jazz music was invented as it is alive, developing, changing, and growing all the time. However, there are musicians who contributed to the birth of jazz and allowed it to thrive. It happened in New Orleans, the multicultural city that is open to innovations and talented performers. One of the first contributors was Buddy Bolden who considered his first band to be the best of its kind. He did his arrangements, divided the instrument roles, and created new songs that combined the both genres and laid the beginning to the jazz music (Fish 181). The new style quickly developed due to the talented musicians Freddie Keppard, Kid Ory, Bill Johnson, Mutt Carey, and George Baguet who still did not record it. In 1917, Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band did the first recordings of the jazz music. A great success of the jazz music is attributed to the musicians who travelled across the country and introduced the jazz music to the wide range of listeners. The emergence of solo artists like Louis Armstrong who made a series of classic recordings ensured the great future of the new emerging style. Hence, it allowed not only establishing jazz as a successful and powerful genre but also influencing other musicians, ensuring future development of this music style. Since that time, this new genre rapidly obtained a wide popularity and gradually became recognized and loved all over the world.

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Having their origin in the African-American songs, the ragtime and blues genres developed differently, having distinct features. Emotionally complicated ragtime aimed to make people more joyful and happy while blues expressed sadness and solitude. The quick and rhythmic ragtime made the listeners want to dance and the blues evoked thoughts. However, the quick blues greatly reminded ragtime and calm ragtime sounded much like blues. The two styles were divided at the very beginning of their origin to combine later in one powerful genre called jazz. It took all the best from both ragtime and blues as each style had different achievements and advantages. The ragtime genre gave its heavy syncopation and preference to the instruments of the marching band. The blues music shared its structure, improvisation, and dynamics. Thus, due to the work of talented musicians devoted to this music, jazz began its existence. The early compositions made the foundation of the genre and later the first recordings of the jazz music spread over the country, increasing the number of its listeners and performers.


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