It has been called the purest expression of American democracy, the only art form to originate in the United States. Its improvisation and syncopated rhythms have listeners snapping their fingers and tapping their feet in a language all their own.
Jazz, rooted in the folk songs and plantation dance music of black Americans and in European harmonies and forms, is believed by historians to have developed fully in the 1900s in New Orleans, and was spread throughout the United States by both black and white musicians.
The Toledo area has long held its own in creating and attracting jazz musicians of local and national note.
It's the birthplace of Art Tatum (1905-1956), an outstanding jazz pianist who was playing professionally in Toledo by the mid-1920s. Toledo's musical heritage has deep roots, from Tatum student and jazz legend Jon Hendricks, the father of vocalese (layering words over jazz instrumentals), who was born in Newark, Ohio, and reared from his teenage years in Toledo, to noted pianist Stanley Cowell.
This area has seen some of the best in jazz. The legendary Hines Farm, which is now being restored, was founded in the 1930s in Swanton by African-American couple Frank "Sonny" Hines and his wife, Sarah, and attracted legends like Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Through the years there were lounges and clubs that added to the mystique, most notably the creation in
1979 of Rusty's Jazz Cafe, founded by Margaret "Rusty" Monroe, called "Toledo's First Lady of Jazz." In its heyday, the club saw the likes of Lionel Hampton to Wynton Marsalis on its stage. Today, there's Murphy's Place, whose namesake house band The Murphys, including Clifford Murphy and Claude Black, has become a local treasure.
Student jazz ensembles share the jazz scene with a royal court of local artists with national reputations - Gene Parker, Ramona Collins, Jimmy Cook, Jean Holden, and Ric Wolkins among them.
A Toledo Museum of Art photography exhibition, "Lee Friedlander: American Musicians," opening Friday, showcases some of the biggest names in music, including Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk.
And Toledo is home to the Toledo Jazz Society and the Toledo Jazz Orchestra, and Scott High School's jazz radio station. In the words of the late Fats Waller, who played here many times, "This town is jumpin' " when it comes to jazz.