The first jazz was played in the early 20th century. The work chants and folk music of black Americans are among the sources of jazz, which reflects the rhythms and expressions of West African song. Ragtime, an Afro-American music that first appeared in the 1890s, was composed for the piano, and each rag is a composition with several themes. The leading ragtime composer was Scott Joplin.
The first improvising jazz musician was the cornetist Buddy Bolden, leader of a band in New Orleans. The first jazz bands were usually made up of one or two cornet players who played the principal melodies, a clarinetist and trombonist who improvised countermelodies, and a rhythm section (piano, banjo, string bass or tuba, and drums) to accompany the horns. These bands played for dancers or marched in parades in the South.
Some of the first New Orleans musicians were among the most stirring of all jazz artists. They include clarinetist Johnny Dodds, clarinetist-soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet, pianist Jelly Roll Morton, and cornetist King Oliver. The first jazz record was made in 1917 by a New Orleans band the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, made up of white musicians who copied black styles.
The New Orleans musicians discovered that audiences were eager for their music in the cities of the North and the Midwest. In the 1920s Chicago became the second major jazz center. White Chicago youths, such as tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman and clarinetist Benny Goodman, were excited by the New Orleans masters including the thrilling Louis Armstrong, who played in King Oliver's band.
The third major jazz center was New York City, and it became the most important. In New York, pianists such as James P. Johnson created the piano style by transforming rags and Southern black folk dances into jazz. Jazz was first played in the ballrooms and theaters of New York.
Louis Armstrong was among the jazz musicians who accompanied Ma Rainey and the rich-voiced...