What do you expect to hear when someone says “American music?” Howard Mandel, President of the Jazz Journalists Association

Howard Mandel
Photo courtesy Howard Mandel

America’s music is wide and wild, fed by hundreds of old and new musical strains. It starts with Native American chants, flutes, rhythms, North American colonies of the Spanish and French and Germans as well as the Pilgrims, in the community functions, dilletante artistry and diverse forms of entertainment, becomes a free-flowing “folk” music and simultaneously a “commercial” music around the Civil War — when black and white gospel, blues, ballad and later instrumental (“jazz”) impulses mix with immigrant Hispanic, Irish, Jewish, Asian and European traditional and art musics in the city and marketplace. Dissemination of American music through American technology has led to the powerful, polyglot pop and art musics America exports today. American music celebrates the individual — the composer, the visionary, the improvising artist, the “star”: so American music sounds like a multitude.