Although jazz originated in America, and most of its famous players are American, it has actually been created and played all over the world since as early as the 1910s. Almost as soon as it was being played by African Americans in the streets of New Orleans, jazz was also arriving in countries as far flung as Britain, Japan, Australia, and South Africa. Sometimes African Americans brought the music with them when they travelled (often trying to escape the racism of America to find more tolerant places to settle). Jazz also arrived through recordings carried by travellers, and the music and its accompanying lifestyle were reported on in newspapers.
Jazz’s lively beats and improvised style caught the imagination of people all over the world, but each time it was seen as representing something different. Each time, it was also reinterpreted and changed with local accents – often mixed with the local musical styles. As a result, there are now many different kinds of jazz in different parts of the world. In fact there are so many styles even within each country that it’s difficult to say exactly what jazz is anymore. Scholars have argued for years trying to come up with a strict definition but have never really managed. Fortunately the music can speak for itself. As the famous trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong said, if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know!