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Old 07-13-2013, 05:09 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default A Concise History of Jazz

Unlike classical music, jazz has always been a forward-looking music. We can rightly speak of a classical tradition but the term “jazz tradition” is a contradiction. The very idea of jazz seemingly from its earliest days has been one of no tradition. While classical music worked slavishly from the written page, jazz relied ever-so slightly on this convention and, in many cases, discarded it altogether in order to “speak from the heart.” This is not to say that classical music doesn’t speak from the heart but a piece speaks from only the heart of its composer, the conductor becomes the interpreter of that feeling and his musicians merely participants assisting the conductor in bringing this feeling to the audience. The reason he is called a conductor instead of, say, time-keeper or metronome is that he conducts the composer’s feelings and intentions to the listeners through the musicians. He is actually a medium.

With jazz, each musician is in himself a composer telling a story straight from his heart in so personal a way that the story can never be told the same way twice. A classical musician strives to make each performance identical while a jazz musician is frowned on by his fellows for playing identically at each performance. In classical, the composer’s feeling is mapped on the written page beforehand, in jazz the feeling is spontaneous and must be expressed and captured in that instant for afterwards that instant, having past, will never be again. For this reason, we say that jazz is very existentialist.

The sheet music score of a classical piece is the complete set of instructions for recreating the feeling that the composer wishes to arouse in the listener—page after page of drama, tragedy, comedy, romance, bellows of war, crashes of thunder leaping off the page in rich, startling, impressively ornate notation. By contrast, a jazz musician’s sheet music usually occupies no more than a single page with only the bare melody written on the staff, the chords written above each bar of music. From this minimalist skeleton on a musical idea will arise some of the richest interpretations ever heard—what would have taken dozens of written pages to capture none-for-note—but nearly all of it supplied from the musician’s heart as he was feeling it at that moment. He might play the song again an hour later and play it entirely differently using the same piece of sheet music.


Some jazz sheet music contains no musical notes only the beats and chords. The rest will be improvised. Although this piece is listed as a guitar chart, it will work with almost any instrument.


In this jazz chart for Gershwin’s “Summertime,” notes are provided that give the basic melody. Each musician in the ensemble will use those notes to build a solo around. The other musicians will simply play the chords listed above each bar of music until his turn to solo comes up. This is not an excerpt of the total piece of sheet music for this number, it is the entire number. This is all experienced jazz musicians need to make music and they can stretch it out for as long as they please. This piece of music could last five minutes or five hours, could be fast or slow, happy or sad, could be played hot or cool—whatever the musicians are feeling at that moment.


One page of a Johann Pachelbel piece. The emotion is contained in the notation as well as certain instructions such as “andante” or “poco moto” etc. (although no such instructions are given here). While different musicians would play it somewhat differently, the overall effect on the listener would be the same because each musician wants to stay true to the original feeling Pachelbel was trying to invoke, they would differ only in how they thought the piece should be played to invoke that feeling. Jazz musicians would strip it down so that they could play it with any feeling they want to.

Because jazz has been so progressive, so forward-looking, it has evolved with astonishing quickness. The progression of jazz from Buddy Bolden and Kid Ory to Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus was so godawful quick that it would be like classical music going from Bach to Stravinsky in the space of 50 years!

When and where did jazz begin? The usual jazz holyland is considered to be New Orleans where it sprang up among the black and Creole communities. This is hard to argue with when one considers the earliest jazz talents seem to have all come out of the Big Easy—Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton, Freddy Keppard, Bunk Johnson, Armand Piron, Tony Parenti, Jimmy Palao, Johnny Bayersdorffer, The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Johnny De Droit, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (the first jazz band to record), not to mention Buddy Bolden (who never recorded). But jazz was everywhere in America because its disciples traveled around spreading the jazz gospel. Kid Ory went to San Francisco. Morton, Armstrong, Oliver, Keppard and others went to Chicago. Earl Fuller, James Reese Europe and Fletcher Henderson kicked off a vibrant jazz scene in New York City. W. C. Handy was playing around Memphis having spent a good deal of time in New Orleans recruiting musicians for his band. Don Redman in Detroit organized McKinney’s Cotton Pickers into one of the first true jazz big bands that was so impressive that some of the greatest black jazz talent of the 20th century played in the band at some point. Some pioneers as the great Wilbur Sweatman spent time playing jazz in places as Kansas City, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York long before these places became jazz meccas helping to plant the seeds of a future abundant crop.

When did the earliest jazz bands form and what did they sound like? Depending on the historian doing the documenting, jazz started as early as 1885 although all agree that it was definitely in existence by 1902. Buddy Bolden has traditionally been credited with starting jazz but others credit Jelly Roll Morton who began converting ragtime, generally written in 2/4, to 4/4 time which laid the foundation for swing. Handy was also definitely laying the groundwork for jazz by 1909 and perhaps as early as ‘03. I would think the 1885 date is a bit premature. One of the prime ingredients of early jazz was ragtime—a music formed first from barnyard banjo dance tunes played by slaves and sharecroppers and then jig piano and riverboat songs.

Ragtime probably came about around 1890 or so. I have a ragtime recording from 1890 called “Bunch of Rags” by Sylvester “Vess” L. Ossman, a prolific ragtime musician at that period. The point is, we can hear a clear influence of ragtime on early jazz but we do not hear any jazz in ragtime simply the does not appear have been any jazz before the emergence of ragtime. If jass preceded ragtime, it must have undergone a radical transformation and this is untenable. Moreover, ragtime would need time to establish itself as a major musical movement for jazz to have incorporated so much of it. So the first jazz bands probably came into existence by 1895 give or take a couple of years.


The John Robichaux Orchestra of New Orleans from a photo taken circa 1896. Since several of the band members were known to have played in true jazz bands early in the 20th century, we can surmise that the Robichaux band must have played something that was at least akin to jazz and we can be certain that they at least qualified as a ragtime band on the verge of jass (by the way, “jass” is the correct spelling and I use it to mean early jazz of this period), a proto-jass band. They would have been on the reserved side of things with the Bolden band playing a lot hotter.


The Buddy Bolden Band circa 1903. There was also a drummer who didn't make the photo shoot. The Bolden Band was unusual for having two clarinets as well as a guitarist (the banjo was by far the preferred instrument in early jazz). Bolden is said to have recorded a single cylinder in 1902 but it is either lost or there are no surviving copies. It would be a priceless recording if anyone can find it. Bolden stands in the back holding a cornet. This is the only known photo of him. He was placed in an asylum in 1907 and remained there for 24 years until dying in 1931. Many prominent jazzmen saw him play and were greatly influenced by him. These include Kid Ory, Jelly Roll Morton and Clarence Williams.

What characterizes jazz musically is swing. So we need to define swing. Now we run into an incongruity concerning American history that can be summed in the question, “When did it really start?” We have no clear genesis mapped out for the term “swing” nor its meaning. Per its name, it must have started off as a physical component of music such as the sway of the body to a rhythm. This swaying was caused by a certain timing issue in the music called swing-feel which was linked inherently to syncopated rhythm. Syncopation is a way of emphasizing the unaccented beat. In standard march meter or in classical music, a 1-2 beat was simply counted ONE-two-ONE-two-ONE-two. To syncopate this, we would keep the accent on 1 but emphasize two. One way to do this would be to subdivide 2 into four sub-beats and only play on the fourth sub-beat so it sounds thus: ONE…twoONE…twoONE…twoONE! Each period representing a sub-beat. Notice how 2 gets a certain emphasize that causes the even timing to become sort of ragged. And, yes, that is the origin of the term ragtime…ragged timing…syncopated timing. It causes the body to sway and hence imparts a feeling of swinging the body…swing-feel.

Indeed, “swing” as a musical term had to be around since the days of ragtime although there is virtually no reference to swing from those times except for a single song recorded in 1912 by a white singer named Elida Morris called “The Trolley Car Swing” written by Joe Young (lyrics) and Bert Grant (music). The lyrics would seem to equate the swinging motion of a trolley car with a dance. The title itself indicates as much and for this to be so then the term “swing” must have been around in this early era of American popular music and must have been known to people in general. After all, the dance of swing was the lindy-hop and the dance of ragtime was the cakewalk and the similarities are undeniable if not striking. In the top clip watch the segment of the white cakewalk dancers at Coney Island where the men unsuccessfully try to flip their partners (difficult to do in sea-soaked sand, I’m sure). In the bottom clip, we see black lindy-hop dancers doing it right. The move is the same and obviously was as much a part of cakewalk as the lindy.


Cakewalk, Comedy, and Coney Island 1903 - YouTube


Whiteys Lindy Hoppers .. Hellzapoppin. - YouTube

The only thing I don’t like about the second clip is that they dressed the musicians and dancers in domestic help uniforms which is not only demeaning but completely inaccurate. When you went to a Harlem dancehall back then, people were dressed to the nines in opulent suits and dresses. Zoot suits were very popular then and no man or woman would have been caught dead in a dancehall dressed like a cook or a maid.
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Old 07-13-2013, 05:10 PM   #2 (permalink)
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We’ll get into the zoot suit phenomenon later. As America entered the 1910s, jazz went geared up. W. C. Handy’s “Memphis Blues” from 1912 was an example of jazz from this early period. The recording is 1917 or later. The ragtime elements are very strong, so much so that many jazz purists feel this is more properly a ragtime band than true jazz and there is some merit to this speculation. It sounds very much like many of the military bands of that time which began incorporating rags (including Sousa and his protégé Arthur Pryor who was actually the first to do it):


W.C. Handy - Memphis Blues - YouTube

The first true jazz band to record was the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917 out of New Orleans (although the recordings were done in New York). They eventually changed the spelling of “jass” to “jazz” because kids kept blacking out the “J” on their handbills. This convention, needless to say, has become the standard. These recordings became so iconic that they set the standard for how Dixieland jazz would sound to this day. There is no evidence that most jazz sounded this way at the time. The few recordings that followed ODJB’s debut gave us a panorama of just how different jazz sounded from band to band which means ODLB had a tremendous impact on the future sound of jazz just by being the first to record. The following is supposedly the very first jazz song every recorded.


Original Dixieland Jass Band - Livery Stable Blues (1917) - YouTube

There has been a charge of racism that the first jazz band to record was white and there may be some merit to the charge but from I can gather, the first jazzman offered a recording contract was a Creole of color named Freddie Keppard whom most people today would instantly identify as a black man. He was offered a contract in 1916 but turned it down. He was afraid other musicians would steal his licks. ODJB became the first jazz band to record simply because they were available and willing.

By the early 20s, most Americans had still not heard real jazz. This changed when Kid Ory’s Sunshine Band played live on the radio in 1922, a piece composed by Ory called “Ory’s Creole Trombone”:


Kid Ory - Ory's Creole Trombone (1922) - YouTube

The broadcast was recorded and so we have it with us today. Notice how different it is from ODJB. The broadcast is credited with the being the first recording of blacks playing in authentic New Orleans style (although if Ory is black then I’m Louis Farrakhan).


Art Blakeney (left), Ory (center) and Louis Armstrong pal it up backstage at the 1948 Dixieland Jubilee. Louis and Ory were old friends and, in fact, Louis got his big break from Ory when he was just a kid following Ory’s band around New Orleans. He worked up the nerve to approach Ory (who, by all accounts, was a very nice man) and asked to audition. Ory listened to him and told him he played great blues but his jazz needed work. Rather than turn Louis away, Ory brought him into the band under the instruction of the primary cornetist, King Oliver. Oliver and Louis immediately hit off, becoming like father and son. King taught Louis everything about jazz and the rest is history.

By the 1920s, ragtime was an all but forgotten musical form despite the face that raggy elements still abounded in the music of the 20s. It was called “The Jazz Age” which F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalized in his writings but the jazz was often diluted. About this time, many society dance bands had to learn some amount of jazz to land gigs and many of these opted for a light jazz tinge to their otherwise Tin Pan Alley sound. This type of jazz is now known as “sweet.” Paul Whiteman’s band was probably the premier sweet band despite having two of the best hot jazz musicians in its ranks—Frankie Trumbauer on C-sax and Bix Beiderbecke on cornet.


Suite Of Serenades--PART-1 by Paul Whiteman Orchestra on 1928 Victor 78 rpm record. - YouTube

Another type of jazz that often typifies the 20s nowadays is “corn jazz.” Corn was popular among the younger white kids primarily the college set. When you see a 1920 college student today they are typified as wearing pork pie or straw hats, long fur coats and carrying pennants as they drove about in Stutz Bearcat automobiles (a popular sports car of that era). Another image is the cheerleaders with the letter sweaters shouting through megaphones.





Corn bands often co-opted both looks. Many colleges, in fact, had their own corn bands. Lou Weimer’s Gold & Black Aces were Perdue University’s corn band and recorded a great corn number called “Merry Widow’s Got a Sweetie Now.” Corn jazz is considered a subset of sweet jazz and often included hillbilly skits and what not. Kay Kyser carried on the corn jazz band legacy into the 40s and had a radio show called “The Kollege of Musical Knowledge” that went off the air for good in 1950 unable to compete with the rise of rocknroll. Below, a nice corn number from 1929:


Paul Tremaine and His Aristocrats - Four/ Four Rhythm, 1929 - YouTube

The third type of jazz in the 20s was “swing jazz.” This should not be confused with the swing era jazz although that type of swing is an outgrowth of the 20s swing jazz. This music was hot and heavy on the jazz. Where sweet and corn restrained themselves from going too far, swing jazz pulled out the stops. It was jazz full force with virtually no society dance elements left. Two things need to be noted, however:

1. Many jazz historians do not feel that there ever really were full tilt swing bands. Hot swing was really an ideal to aspire to but could never be reached. No matter how hot it was, it could always be hotter.
2. This is linked to the fact that even the hottest black swing bands of that era played sweet and corn jazz as well. The reason is simply because they wanted to get hired for as many gigs as they could land. So their hot jazz was strewn with sweet and corny elements and it was impossible to remove them.

Perhaps the best swing band recordings of the 20s would be Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers (both of which featured the incomparable Kid Ory playing tailgate trombone). The first clip is “West End Blues” by the Hot Five from 1928. Louie’s cornet solo in the intro is considered by many jazz musicians to be the start of be-bop which wouldn’t come to fruition over another decade. The second clip is Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers from 1926 doing one of Morton’s many compositions. He is considered to be the first true composer of jazz.


West End Blues - Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five, 1928 - YouTube


Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers:- "Grandpa's Spells" - YouTube

But the twenties had other influences. Starting about 1915, Hawaiian music became a huge rage in the U.S. Hawaiian sheet music sales and recordings were the hottest sellers by far. The guitar started to overtake the banjo in popularity because people wanted to learn to play Hawaiian music which used the guitar instead of the banjo. By the 1920s, American music was thoroughly Hawaiianized. Two of the biggest stars of that era were Roy Smeck and Ukulele Ike (real name Cliff Edwards). Both played the ukulele and were so popular that people began playing ukes more than guitars. If you wonder why so many songs from the 20s are played on ukes, now you know. Roy Smeck was an amazingly talented musician:


Roy Smeck - YouTube

Cliff Edwards from 1929. This song was a gigantic hit for him. You probably thought Gene Kelly did the original version. If Edwards’s voice sounds familiar it’s because he was cast as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in 1940’s Pinocchio.


Ukelele Ike Singing in the Rain 1929 - YouTube

Of course the Hawaiian strain of music would meld with the jazz of that era to produce some interesting hybrids as Mr. Edwards demonstrates in 1926 recording:


Cliff Edwards - Five Foot Two Eyes Of Blue 1926 Has Anybody Seen My Gal - YouTube

So this is how things stood at the end of the twenties. Hawaiian music would continue to be popular into the 40s and even made some inroads into rocknroll but by the 60s, it would all but evaporate leaving behind it, however, the instrument that changed how music was made—the guitar.

Next, we'll cover the swing era.
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Old 07-13-2013, 06:15 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Ive always been a fan of the 20s swing jazz, something I would enjoy looking into a little deeper.

Soft/easy listening jazz is something I could listen to most of the time, more so than any other style of music or particular genre.
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Old 07-13-2013, 07:36 PM   #4 (permalink)
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I'm loving this, LL. I'm a long-term fan of jazz in almost any of its styles and periods, but have never been that understanding of the earliest roots of the genre, so the your first two posts have been fascinating. I'm fairly well-versed on jazz from the swing era on., but I'm still really looking forward to it. Keep up the good work!
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Old 07-13-2013, 09:20 PM   #5 (permalink)
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I had an idea for a thread like this last year using my own research and assignments from class and never acted on it, lol. Good for you taking the initiative
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Old 07-13-2013, 09:26 PM   #6 (permalink)
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lord lareship this is a great thread and thought you mght ot hear from me often BUT i really enjoy threads like this. IT is similar to the thread boo boo and several others made in the metal forum . It helps me with an itroduction to a genre so gopefully in a few weeks i can reply with my thoughts and opinions on music ive listened to!!!!!!!
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Old 07-14-2013, 04:25 AM   #7 (permalink)
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Thanks for that Lord Larehip, it was a great way to pass half an hour. Im going to pass the next thirty minutes or so looking up Roy Smeck videos on youtube.

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Old 07-14-2013, 05:50 AM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks for taking the time and trouble to explain the birth of jass so clearly, Lord Larehip. This is easily the best thing that I´ve read on MB for ages, though I have to admit that so far I´ve only skimmed the text and dipped into a couple of your clips. I really liked Whitey´s Lindy Hoppers and the comment you made about their costumes. Today I´m going to read it all properly - and I´m already wondering what the next installment will tell us.
Well done, and thanks again!
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Old 07-31-2013, 01:35 PM   #9 (permalink)
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Great stuff Lord Larelip. I've always thought that the development of jazz would have been impossible without the blues but there's a lot more to it than that. I'm a mere dilettante compared to your scholarly knowledge of jazz's origins and roots.
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Old 07-31-2013, 05:03 PM   #10 (permalink)
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An interesting and informative treatise LL. Is most of it you, or is some of it brought forward from research sources?

I'd be particularly interested in your source for this:
Quote:
What characterizes jazz musically is swing. So we need to define swing. Now we run into an incongruity concerning American history that can be summed in the question, “When did it really start?” We have no clear genesis mapped out for the term “swing” nor its meaning. Per its name, it must have started off as a physical component of music such as the sway of the body to a rhythm. This swaying was caused by a certain timing issue in the music called swing-feel which was linked inherently to syncopated rhythm. Syncopation is a way of emphasizing the unaccented beat. In standard march meter or in classical music, a 1-2 beat was simply counted ONE-two-ONE-two-ONE-two. To syncopate this, we would keep the accent on 1 but emphasize two. One way to do this would be to subdivide 2 into four sub-beats and only play on the fourth sub-beat so it sounds thus: ONE…twoONE…twoONE…twoONE! Each period representing a sub-beat. Notice how 2 gets a certain emphasize that causes the even timing to become sort of ragged. And, yes, that is the origin of the term ragtime…ragged timing…syncopated timing. It causes the body to sway and hence imparts a feeling of swinging the body…swing-feel.

Last edited by CoolBec; 07-31-2013 at 05:13 PM.
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