This is only a short overview, which means we will mention some musicians and bands that perform in a certain style, but there are many more who are not listed. They will receive the attention they deserve in articles about the individual jazz styles.
Lets start with what some people call a precursor of jazz: Ragtime. Ragtime is documented as such since 1895, when Ben Harney published the first ragtime composition.
In ragtime music African rhythms can be recognized. So syncopation became popular and established itself as an important component of the jazz music language and also found its way into other musical forms like waltzes and marches.
Sott Joplin appeared with a ragtime compostion on the emerging music industry market in 1899, four years after Ben Harney had published his ragtime song. Scott Joplin became much more popular than his fellow songwriters and nowadays, ragtime music and Sott Joplin are considered almost as synonyms.
Watch the video and listen to Scott Joplin’s most emblematic song called: The Entertainer. This is a version, which was recorded onto a cylinder in 1902.
Ragtime music is a multi-theme music, which means that every composition counts with at least two themes, but frequently a ragtime composition had four themes which were introduced subsequently within the composition. Sometimes, the first theme earned special attention and was repeated before the last alternate theme was presented. Rhythmically speaking, even though ragtime was syncopated music, it wasn’t really complex and harmonically speaking, it was based on traditional harmonies, moving frequently from the first degree to the fifth degree, and including the idea of parallel keys of european classical music.
Usually, ragtime was composed music of 16 bar segments subdivided into four bar units, without improvisational parts and written for the piano. On this instrument, the left hand would play without syncopation, while the right hand played the syncopated parts. As ragtime music was fully written out, it was also expected that each performance should sound the same, just as the repertoire of classical music is supposed to sound always the same. And just as in classical music, the idea of the virtuoso musician was shared, so that ragtime compositions demanded more and more sophisticated technical skills of the performer.
After the demise of ragtime due to its predictability, rigidness and lacking musical evolution, jazz adopted another style: Classic Jazz. It was performed by small bands and was played mainly in the city of New Orleans. New Orleans Style became a synonym for classic jazz. It was music performed by musicians of different races while Dixieland in fact is a white performers’ version of classic jazz and introduces a more solo-oriented approach.
Many popular songs from this period where adapted to the New Orleans style through syncopation. Characteristically, the melodies of the songs were embellished by jazz improvisation phrases, played by certain instruments and giving the impression of an ornament to the original melody.