By Andrew Vodinh
Music has always been a part of my life. In high school, I joined the jazz band, blindly playing music on the guitar and clarinet without knowing much about the artists, their background, or their contributions. Eventually, though, I became curious about jazz’s origins and the influence of Houston’s jazz artists on the genre and was surprised to learn that many of them got their first breaks in the industry as high school musicians.
A musical genre played by individuals and bands at all levels, jazz originated at the beginning of the twentieth century in the United States in southern black communities. The use of blue notes, conflicting rhythms, improvisation, rhythmic stresses, and the swing note combine to define jazz. In the 1920s, it blossomed in cities such as Chicago, Kansas City, Memphis, and New Orleans, causing the period to be dubbed the “Jazz Age.” No city in Texas can claim to be a founder of jazz; nevertheless, Texas produced superior jazz artists, including Aaron Thibeaux “T-Bone” Walker from Linden and Oran Thaddeus “Hot Lips” Page from Dallas. The Houston area flourished with phenomenal players like Milton Larkin, Arnett Cobb, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Illinois Jacquet, Hubert Laws, and Huey Long who contributed to jazz music’s rich history.
Houston’s jazz scene kept up with national trends and led the state with its development. Sounds of the newly emerging jazz styles featuring the clarinet, trumpet, and saxophone with the piano could be heard coming from several local establishments. From the honking tenor saxophone of Illinois Jacquet to Huey Long’s improvisational Dixieland guitar style, Houston’s innovative musicians influenced the jazz we hear today at universities, night clubs, and concert halls.
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Watch a video on these Houston jazz legends.