In his autobiography*, the great New Orleans musician Sidney Bechet expressed his belief that music was a guide for self–discovery for African Americans after the Civil War: “They needed the music more than ever now; it was like they were trying to find out in this music what they were supposed to do with this freedom. ... They had learned it wasn’t just white people the music had to reach to, nor even to their own people, but straight out to life and what a man does with his life when it finally is his.”
Bechet explained that jazz incorporated all of the African–American music that had come before: Jazz “wasn’t just spirituals or blues or ragtime, but everything all at once, each one putting something over on the other.”
On a separate piece of paper describe how jazz may have been a guide for African Americans. What elements of the African–American experience are expressed through jazz? How could jazz have been a means for self–discovery for African Americans? To what degree is jazz a means of expression for all Americans? What is the significance of Bechet’s second quote? How did incorporating different musical styles help jazz become a means for self–discovery?
*Sidney Bechet, Treat It Gentle: An Autobiography (New York: Da Capo Press, 2002)