Musical form, often improvisational, developed by African Americans and influenced by both European harmonic structure and African rhythms. Though its specific origins are not known, the music developed principally as an amalgam in the late-19th- and early 20th-century musical culture of New Orleans. Elements of the blues and ragtime in particular combined to form harmonic and rhythmic structures upon which to improvise. Social functions of music played a role in this convergence: whether for dancing or marching, celebration or ceremony, music was tailored to suit the occasion. Instrumental technique combined Western tonal values with emulation of the human voice. Emerging from the collective routines of New Orleans jazz (see Dixieland), trumpeter Louis Armstrong became the first great soloist in jazz; the music thereafter became primarily a vehicle for profoundly personal expression through improvisation and composition. Elaboration of the role of the soloist in both small and large ensembles occurred during the swing era (c. 1930–45), the music of pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington in particular demonstrating the combination of composed and improvised elements. In the mid-1940s saxophonist Charlie Parker pioneered the technical complexities of bebop as an outgrowth of the refinement of swing: his extremes of tempo and harmonic sophistication challenged both performer and listener. The trumpeter Miles Davis led groups that established the relaxed aesthetic and lyrical phrasing that came to be known as cool jazz in the 1950s, later incorporating modal and electronic elements. Saxophonist John Coltrane's music explored many of the directions jazz would take in the 1960s, including the extension of bebop's chord progressions and experimental free improvisation.

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