History of Jazz Music in New York City: What Do You Know?


By: Zoe Samuel

6 Min Quiz

Image: pixabay

About This Quiz

Jazz music has roots in the music of black slaves in the American South. By the late 1800s, these musical traditions had coalesced into a style of African American music that was becoming what we would recognize today as jazz. Still, black musicians could not yet play for white audiences without consequences, and "black" jazz and "white" jazz would develop in parallel tracks for decades, often with white artists stealing material from black artists without giving them credit.

By the time jazz reached New York City, things were beginning to change. There was segregation, and integrated bands had to be careful about how they billed themselves, but black jazz bands were playing huge venues in the heart of Manhattan's theater district where white audiences could and did shell out top dollar to see them, and that was progress.

The jazz legends who came out of the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and 1950s not only changed music and laid the foundations of rock and roll, but they changed the culture, bringing the music of stolen African slaves into the international mainstream, and even featuring it in major Hollywood films.

Few of these artists were from New York, but New York drew the best the country had to offer. From Chicago, to New Orleans, to Washington D.C., anyone who would be anyone would find their way to New York, where they'd either get a bite of The Big Apple, or get chewed up and spit out. How well do you know the jazz age of Gotham? Take this quiz and find out.

What is the oldest jazz club in New York City as of 2018?

While all of these jazz venues are venerable establishments, the Jazz Standard has only been around since the late 1990s, The Blue Note has only been around since the early 1980s, and while Birdland opened in 1949, Arthur's Tavern was opened in the mid-1930s, giving it the oldest claim in the city that never sleeps.


What was John Coltrane's instrument of choice?

John Coltrane, who led over fifty recording sessions and played on many other artists' albums, was famed for his mastery of the saxophone. He set the standard for the instrument.


What was Dizzy Gillespie's real first name?

Dizzy Gillespie, born John Birks Gillespie, is one of the undisputed jazz greats to emerge from the Big Apple.


Where is Miles Davis originally from?

Alton, Illinois is the hometown of Miles Davis, who would later be accepted to Juliard, which he would leave to perform in Charlie Parker's band, and go on to become one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.


After spending the Great Depression in California, where in New York did Louis Armstrong settle in 1943?

Settling into New York City with his (then) new wife, Armstrong moved to Corona Queens, where he'd own a house for the rest of his days.


In what branch of the military did John Coltrane serve?

John Coltrane volunteered for the Navy in WW2, to avoid being drafted into the Army. He was sent to Pearl Harbor. His talent was recognized by an all-white band in the Navy called The Melody Masters, who played swing music on the base. Of course, to keep his membership sub rosa in a time when an integrated military band would be frowned on, he was billed only as a guest performer.


What street in New York City is named in honor of Duke Ellington?

106th street was renamed Duke Ellington Boulevard because of a compromise reached in 1977 between the city and the Duke Ellington Society. The city wanted to name a street in Harlem for him, and the Duke Ellington Society wanted to name a street next to Lincoln Center after him. The compromise was 106th street, a cross-street in The Bloomingdale section of the west side, where Ellington owned a couple houses his family members lived in.


Which group did Charlie Parker not influence in his lifetime?

While Charlie Parker was influential both for the specifics of his technique and for his manner, which changed the way people saw jazz musicians, he died well before the Hippie movement got underway, and had no influence on it in his lifetime.


What was Charlie Parker's major artistic and technical innovation in jazz?

Charlie Parker moved to NYC in 1939, and by 1942, he was playing with the greats of his generation. While working on Cherokee in the studio, he realized a quirk of the chromatic scale that freed up the art of the jazz solo. This was the birth of bebop.


What religion most influenced the music of Dizzy Gillespie?

In 1968, Dizzy Gillespie converted to the Bahá'í faith, a religion headquartered in Tel Aviv, and based on a small sect of relatively ecumenical adherents founded in the late 1800s. It influenced not only his outlook on life and death, but his music and his politics.


What group did Duke Ellington move to New York to work for?

Duke Ellington came to New York to gig with the Wilber Sweatman Orchestra, where he met the players who would later become Elmer Snowden and his Black Sox Orchestra, which in turn became The Washingtonians, his ticket to the big time.


Who was the main draw for Duke Ellington's band The Washingtonians?

From the time of Elmer Snowden and The Black Sox Orchestra to the name change to The Washingtonians, when Ellington was elected the band leader, the group had Snowden and Guy to play the banjo. While Duke Ellington was a great musician and was known to finish sets with a bugle, it was trumpeter Bubber Miley who was the star of the band, known for his mastery of the plunger mute, which produced a quality termed "jungle sound".


What purely capitalist achievement is Miles Davis known for?

Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis, is the best-selling jazz album of all time, a towering achievement still true as of 2018.


Which of Charlie Parker's vices finally did him in?

Charlie Parker was a deeply troubled man. He tried to commit suicide twice. He lost a child. He was a prolific drug abuser. In the end, his death, which occurred in the dwelling of his benefactor Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter was chalked up to the side effects of alcoholism.


What instrument was Dizzy Gillespie best known for playing?

The bent style of trumpet favored by Gillespie, with an upturned bell, was allegedly the result of an accident whereupon someone fell on a trumpet belonging to the jazz great. He liked the way it sounded, and commissioned the creation of such a trumpet for his future use. The original was fixed.


What was Coleman Hawkins best known for?

Hawk, as he was known, played the tenor sax. This wouldn't be a big deal today, but when he was new to the jazz scene, this instrument was not associated with jazz music. After he introduced it to jazz, the sax was synonymous with jazz.


What feat was Wilbur Sweatman known for performing?

Wilbur Sweatman was a remarkable musician in many ways, but being able to play three clarinets simultaneously was one feat most great musicians would find it difficult to match.


How many albums did Wilbur Sweatman record?

Wilbur Sweatman recorded 8 albums: Battleship Kate, Breakdown Blues, Down Home Rag, Get It Now, Got 'Em Blues, My Hawaiian Sunshine, Poor Papa and Sweat Blues.


Who backed blues singer Gladys Bentley at the Ubangi Club?

Gladys Bentley was a groundbreaking performer. She dressed as a man. She was gay. She was black. When the Ubangi Club came along in Harlem, it became home to many alternative acts including several gay performers, Bentley included.


When was Davis's final appearance before his famous hiatus from music?

The Schaefer Jazz festival was Miles Davis's last appearance before his hiatus, which lasted until May 1, 1980. While away from music, Davis's relationships suffered, he fell victim to drug addiction, major health problems, disputes with his record label, lawsuits, and he married the woman he would divorce about ten years later. While on hiatus, Davis lived as a recluse in a house on what is now Miles Davis Way, at 312 West 77th Street, Manhattan.


What is the Sanskrit name of John Coltrane's wife?

Jazz pianist Alice Coltrane turned to guru Sathya Sai Bab for spiritual guidance after the death of John Coltrane, and her extreme torment at the loss of her beloved husband. As part of her religious transformation, she changed her name to Turiyasangitananda, which translates as "Transcendental Lord’s highest song of Bliss".


Duke Ellington was in many films. What was his first?

Black and Tan was a short Duke Ellington made for RKO. It showcased his talents and that of several other black performers, and helped bring Ellington's music and likeness to a much larger audience.


What was Billie Holiday's most standout talent as a performer?

Billie Holiday wasn't gifted with a huge voice, and she wasn't lucky enough to have a musical education. What she had was wit. She could improvise musically with her voice the way soloists would improvise with instruments.


What song did Miles Davis record as part of Artists Against Apartheid?

Sun City was produced for Artists Against Apartheid by Van Zandt and Arthur Baker, and authored by Steven Van Zandt. It included Davis, Lou Reed, Run DMC, U2, Bob Dylan, and dozens of other artists.


What aspect of Louis Armstrong's singing is best recognized by lay fans?

Louis Armstrong's improvisational scat is perhaps the single best identifiable characteristic of his singing, other than his voice itself.


What wasn't a nickname of Louis Armstrong?

Armstrong had a great name, but there's nothing like a good nickname, of which he had a few. Most people know him by Satchmo, a name he would occasionally use as his signature, allowing aficionados to date things he signed.


What was Don Redman known for?

Don Redman is described as one of the first great jazz arrangers, and an architect of big band music and the swing style. He was a prodigy who took to several instruments as a child, and by the time he was in his teens he was arranging music. He would later work with Duke Ellington's band.


What was the makeup of Wilbur Sweatman's band, post 1917?

The choice of five saxophones and a clarinet was a very interesting one, since the two instruments are essentially the same with some minor but key differences. The band was such a success, it signed with French music label Pathé.


Which of these watering holes wasn't a famous gathering spot for New York's jazz artists?

While McSorley's Old Ale House is certainly a historic New York bar, dating back to the 1800s, it isn't renowned for its jazz musician clientele, whereas the other three are.


How many Miles Davises have there been in the family of Miles Davis?

Miles Dewey Davis III had a son, Miles Davis IV, who died in 2015. Like his father, Miles Davis IV was 65 at the time of his death.


What NYC jazz venue used to be just a grungy pool hall?

Fat Cat is a recently established jazz venue, formerly a grungy pool hall called Fat Cat's Billiards. Today, it's an intimate venue similar to Smalls, but it still has some pool tables for those who like to shoot some 9-ball while they listen to great jazz.


What legendary jazz musician is the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center?

Wynton Marsalis and his superhuman lungs may be best known for their ability to produce circular breathing (breathing in while blowing out) but Mr. Marsalis is also the renowned artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, one of the mainstays of Lincoln Center's cultural relevance.


Which of the following artists was not influenced by Dizzy Gillespie?

While almost all musicians since Dizzy Gillespie have been influenced by him in some way, Scott Joplin could not have been, because The King of Ragtime may have been a great composer and jazz precursor, but he died in 1917.


What are the jazz origins of the term The Big Apple?

The most likely origins of the term The Big Apple come from the jazz world. In New Orleans, "manzana prinicipale" or "apple orchard" was an expression meaning "the place where all the action is". The denizens of the New Orleans jazz scene picked up this terminology. When they descended on New York and saw all the opportunity there, they stuck the "appellation" on The Big Apple.


What achievement did Louis Armstrong score as the "ambassador of jazz"?

Louis Armstrong may have ceased his development of the jazz style, but by hitting the right note, so to speak, he reached out to audiences who were not jazz fans, and piqued their interest by appearing in mainstream films and on the albums of other musicians.


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