The Evolution of Jazz Music

There is a long list of musicians that have certainly made their mark on the stage in the last century. Here at the Shrewsbury Jazz Network, we provide a shortlist of some of the most influential jazz artists of the last century.

Ella Fitzgerald (1917-1996)

Ella Fitzgerald was once called ‘’The First Lady of Song’’. She started singing with Chick Webb’s band in the 1930s. It wasn’t long before she met Norman Granz and established a sensational solo career in the 1950s. Her vocal skills were unmatched at the time. She arguably set the gold standard in the art of jazz singing.

Frank Sinatra (1916-1998)

The timeless voice of Frank Sinatra has been carried through the decades and still touches the hearts and minds of fans today. Sinatra started singing professionally in the 1940s and made his debut singing with Harry James and then Tommy Dorsey. When he signed to Capitol Records in 1953, he reinvented himself as a masterful swinger.

Nat “King” Cole (1919-1965)

Nathaniel Adams Cole was an incredible jazz pianist. However, he rose to fame as a pop vocalist whose voice was caressingly smooth on the ear. Born in Montgomery, Alabama, Cole pioneered a jazz artist in the 1940s. Nat ‘’King’’ Cole will always be remembered as a dyed-in-the-wool jazzman.

Billie Holiday (1915-1959)

She was born in Eleanora Fagan, Philadelphia, and was nicknamed Lady Day. Holiday started singing in the big-band era, but her unique tone and vocal performance soon earned her solo stardom. She went on to influence almost every other female jazz artist in the 20th century.

Sarah Vaughan (1924-1990)

Nicknamed The Divine One, Sarah Vaughan was famed for having a four-octave voice that was truly unique. Sarah got her big break with a band called Earl Hines in the 1940s. Soon after, she found fame as a solo artist. She will always be known as a talent for the ages.

Different styles of jazz among communities

We can now briefly look at some of the sub-genres of jazz music for a glimpse into the past.

Early Jazz

This form of jazz came to be popular in the late 1800s. The style was known as “ragtime” or “playing hot” and took off in New Orleans. Syncopated notes and rhythms became increasingly popular with audiences.


The Swing or “Big Band” can be identified by a ‘’forward propulsion imparted to each note by the players’’ in the band. This style first emerged around the 1920s and 1930s.


The Bebop style of music is arguably the start of pop music. The style rose to prominence in the mid-1940s, and it is a more complex version of Swing. The intricate harmonic structure and melodies were the beginnings of the earliest pop songs.


Also called “Avant-Garde,” Free Jazz is not derived from Bebop. The music is, in general, without chord progressions or any fixed arrangement.