They are both a classic and important component of early Black popular music. Almost all commentators expressed their view that the originators of Ragtime were black, and even some believe that it was imported from Africa; and yet Blues was believed to start in slavery which involved with large population of African Americans. As Scott Joplin, one of the most influential Ragtime musician, stated, “ There has been ragtime music in America ever since the Negro race has been here. ” and this poetic statement would perfectly apply to Blues as well.
Historically, ragtime and blues started and rose into popularity at basically the same time. Ragtime’s huge popularity was abetted with the huge dimension of the print of “Maple Leaf Rag” by Scott Joplin in 1897. Almost the same time, classic blues like “St. Louis Blues” and “Memphis Blues” was composed by W. C. Handy. For a long period of time, specifically from 1890s to 1920s which was the time when Jazz becomes a dominant popular music style, ragtime was the typical popular music form in America.
The popularity of Blues and Ragtime at early ages was strongly associated with the popular theater in late 19th and early 20th century. Even though ragtime and blues share the same origin and same historical path, they are indeed very different music styles, which determines their contribution to Jazz and make it a new and yet unique music. The definition of Ragtime is the music that signifying the broken rhythm, especially a sort of syncopation. Indeed, the word “rag” is a verb describing the syncopation process of the music.
Syncopation is such a significant character of ragtime and it somehow defines the music style of ragtime. Part of the reason that helps determine the syncopation of ragtime is that ragtime is an instrumental based music genre. At early times, ragtime is dominated by piano, especially with great pianists like Scott Joplin and Ben Harney. And Blues, a more vocal based music, does not evidently engage with syncopation. Syncopation is the most important character that ragtime affects Jazz and some people believe that Jazz is a more complex form of syncopated music.
Blues, often considered as a music that generated from slavery, was characterized with the improvisation. Improvisation is defined as creating music on the spot. Improvisation is not only a distinctive but also a great character because never has any music genre in the history before is based on improvisation. Even ragtime is based on pre-written music. Jazz took on this character and developed into a even more complicated, spicy music on the spot with different instrument arrangement. Jazz took improvisation to another level from this great tradition in blues.
As far as the music style goes, ragtime is more affected by European style from the composition to instrument. Scott Joplin, the great ragtime musician mentioned earlier, was a classical trained piano player and the effect of classical music is obvious in his pieces. However, blues is more affected by its African origin. It is believed that one of the first blues was directly imported from African folk song. It is a very simultaneous music style and consists of a lot of elements of real life, such as the call-and-answer structure.
It is also necessary to mention that the composition of blues like 12-bar blues and AABA structure greatly affect the composition of Jazz, especially at early ages. A lot of the early Jazz songs are in such structure, like the first Jazz recording ever, “livery stable blues” by Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Ragtime, characterized with syncopation and strong rhythm and beats, was created for the need of people to dance. However, Blues has very strong and evident emotions in the performance, especially with the great vocalists that convey those emotions through their great vocal performance.
Bessie Smith, one of the best Blues vocalists of all time, combined the strong rhythm sense with an extremely sensitive feeling of pitch and thus convey them to the large audience. In a sense, Blues gives Soul to Jazz, with those emotions and tones of struggle. Evidently, ragtime and blues, the Black Music, struggle to make them merge into different classes, not only popular but also respected. From ragtime and blues, this kind of struggle carried on with Jazz and gives Jazz the identity, the structure, the tone and the “soul”.