Jazz working class to highbrow music

Jazz originated as a working class musical phenomenon, in a country, United States of America, which was fast developing capitalist society. It was a form which could be played by just a couple of people as a jazz duo, or expand into a community activity as a large jazz band.  At the time jazz was developing in the USA, working class music in this country certainly, with rather poor, as the preindustrial folk music of England was dying and being replaced by the Victorian musical, which never made the grade musically. Interestingly enough this isn't the case with the shows of American musical culture, where Broadway shows produced music that is still going today. A lot of the string quartet repertoire that is played at wedding receptions derives from the Broadway shows. Working-class music in this country develop the brass band, but on the whole they were playing arrangements of classical pieces, and although the bands themselves might have had working class derivation, the music was not. On the folk scene, the original Scottish folk music was being taken over by the theatres and musicals of the day, so was not really developing as folk music itself. Quite differently in jazz, the music was developing apace during this period.

American popular folk music developed apace during the 19th century, and reigned supreme over this country until perhaps the time of the Beatles and onwards. The tables turn to some extent, and folk music in the UK is now strong. People hire bands to perform Scottish and Irish ceilidhs, the book English and American barn dances and even the Welsh Twmpath have gained tremendous popularity in the last 15 years or so for everything from weddings to birthday parties and wedding anniversaries. Whilst the public ceilidh is in large part faded away, along with the public dance halls that played big-band jazz and ballroom dance music, personal music for personal occasions his strong and healthy. String quartets hired to play for wedding ceremonies, perhaps even more commonly now that civil weddings and civil partnerships are now more common than church weddings, probably because the church organist had a commercial grip on the music business in churches, along with the quiet, and for a long time string quartets were not very welcome church weddings. The situation in the last 15 years has changed considerably, and now most churches are extremely welcoming to outside musicians.

Going back now to the development of jazz in the USA, once the core of the music had been developed in the southern states as a black American folk music, it began to evolve rapidly. The vocal blues performance, at the very heart of jazz probably was in existence in simplistic forms even before the American Civil War, although it is probably not in the now standardised 12 bar form, and certainly without the Western European harmonies that now a part of the idiom. The blues probably came from agricultural workers, and we used as work songs to make the work on the day go past more easily, and also they have developed from secularised gospel songs. The key thing with the blues is that it marks not just a musical, but a social evolution as a song form that commented on everyday life.

The blues evolved from simply the ring shout the formula here today, it evolved into the concert spiritual which is probably a long way from the original jazz style. Spirituals and gospel songs have retained their popularity and provides reservoir for musical ideas for jazz. It's surprising that in this country at least, spirituals are not normally part of the wedding music scene, whereas the jazz that derived from it is. So too is the pop music that is derived from the spirituals, through the jazz bands to commercial pop music that has been jazz influenced.

In turn, white composers like Stephen Foster introduced some characteristic Southern coloured American touches into white song, and in the North a flourishing industry of imitation coloured American entertainers developed, black-faced and banjo-strumming. Elements of coloured American music penetrated into American popular music. In fact it was the most important channel through which coloured influences first passed into pop music. But it also served as a training ground for coloured musicians in European-style popular music, and later an an employer of early jazz and ragtime players. In and around St Louis, where West-Midwest and South meet, the first identifiable style of jazz emerged: ragtime. This was almost exclusively a style of solo pianists, trained in European music, often with high musical ambitions: Scott Joplin, its most noted composer-player, composed a still-born ragtime opera in 1915, and James P. Johnson, the glory of Harlem's ragtime pianists, created equally unsuccessful symphonies, choral works and concertos. Perhaps a little later the second independent jazz style appears: the classic blues, sung by professional women entertainers on the music-hall stage.

Although it's often said that jazz was born in New Orleans, at the same time cities in the south USA like Charleston, Atlanta and Mobile centres of the development of a style of Afro-American band music. So, why did jazz appear in the late 1800s and early 1900s question? What was happening in Europe at that time? Well, France produced them Montmartre cabaret style, the 'Dans La Rue'. In the middle classes the operetta, a musical comedy in effect, became popular. In the USA entertainments that was being developed from working class musicians was New Orleans jazz, with its public musical parade. Whereas what happened in Europe had its day of popularity and then died out, the folk music of the black American somehow connected with people of all nationalities in a timeless sort of way, so that it went on to develop into many forms and is still with us strongly today as a community and social entertainment is witnessed by the number of bands booked to perform at birthday parties and the hired to perform at wedding receptions.


What is equally to the point, the striking increase in the demand for entertainment among the white poor in the rapidly growing cities accelerated the development of music among coloured entertainers. Two things helped to precipitate jazz as we know it there: the breakdown of the old traditional slave culture and the fall of the free 'Creoles of colour'.

The end of formalised African entertainment left the way free for a much less inhibited mixture of European and African idioms in the street parades and other brass band music which flourished like poppies in a cornfield after the Civil War.

The fall of the Creoles brought European musical know-how into the new popular idiom, but above all, it secured the musical supremacy of the low-caste, black, 'uptown' coloured Americans, the blues coloured Americans. There are plenty of Creoles in New Orleans jazz, but (except perhaps for the clarinets) they had to learn to play dirty and improvise like the uptown boys. I had to jazz it or rag it or any other damn thing.... We would use most any 4/4, played very slow.

The early development of jazz falls, broadly, into phases: ca. 1900-17 when jazz became the musical idiom of African American popular music all over America while some of its gimmicks (e.g. syncopation and ragtime) became a permanent component of Tin Pan Alley; 1917-29 when 'strict' jazz expanded very little, but evolved quite rapidly, but when a highly diluted infusion of jazz became the dominant idiom of Western urban dance music and pop songs; 1929-41 when 'strict' jazz began its conquest of European minority audiences and avant-garde players, and a much less diluted form of jazz ('swing') permanently entered pop music. The real international triumph of jazz, the penetration of yet 'purer' jazz idioms into pop music - New Orleans jazz, avant-garde modern jazz, and the country and gospel blues -have come since 1941.


The traditional picture of the diffusion of jazz is as simple as it is mythical: it stayed in New Orleans until the American Navy closed down the red light quarter in 1917, after which the musicians, some already with experience on the river-boats, migrated up the Mississippi to Chicago, and thence all over America, notably to New York. This picture not only lacks much relation to the facts, but also makes it totally impossible to understand how jazz developed as it actually did. For it implies that other musicians learned their jazz relatively late, and that they learned it in terms of New Orleans music. Though New Orleans musicians were highly appreciated and very influential, New Orleans jazz as a style had virtually no lineal descendants except among

Plenty of jazz was played in coloured bands by the early 1920s, but it was not in New Orleans style jazz, except when played by groups actually hailing from that city. Plenty of coloured bands were started in that period, but they contained surprisingly few players from the Delta, or even the Mississippi river-line, and very few indeed from Chicago. In fact, jazz emerged after the First World War as a highly varied music, played by musicians all over the country, the New Orleans style being only one among many, though still the most fully formed. Touring was part of the economy of entertainers anyway, and New Orleans, a major reservoir of musicians even before the rise of jazz, must have been frequently tapped. W. C. Handy recalls how his road company (Mahara's Minstrels) took over two New Orleans clarinetists between 1900 and 1903, when African American players took over that instrument, hitherto the preserve of whites: obviously bandmasters would think of New Orleans, The Delta musicians themselves soon discovered the possibilities of engagements further afield.

No doubt they stimulated musicians wherever they went; nothing advances jazz more than a mixing of players. No doubt they influenced ambitious boys, who in turn taught others within the radius of their music. But, as we have seen, all coloured America was ready to burst out into one form or other of the jazz idiom anyway. The ragtime pianists, the blues singers

In the East, for instance, a local piano style, based on ragtime and Appalachian gospel shouts, was almost contemporary with the New Orleans players. Walter Gould ('One Leg Shadow') born in Philadelphia in 1875, piano player and obscure salesman of lottery tickets, or Eubie Blake (bom 1883) claim to recall men who 'ragged quadrilles and schottiscb.es even before their birth: Old Man Sam Moore, 'No Legs' Casey, Bud Minor, 'Old Man Metronome' French. There, it is true, he discovered New Orleans jazz with Keppard's New Orleans orchestra which played a two-week vaudeville season in 1915, and had some difficulty as a trained 'reading' musician in adapting himself to collective improvisation. But how far from New Orleans jazz were contemporary local bands like the Black-and-Tan Band which he joined, a cake-walking, ragtime brass band, originally from Texas, which reshuffled itself into a 'jazz band' as soon as the word had a saleable value in 1918? At most New Orleans accelerated whatever tendencies towards jazz existed locally.

By 1920, therefore, jazz was already a national idiom with different dialects. That is why the subsequent movements of jazz musicians reflect not only the traditional touring routes of vaudeville artists and minstrel shows, but, with some precision, the routes of migration of ordinary coloured Americans. For this mass migration, rather than the temporary purity drive in New Orleans, pushed even the New Orleans musicians northwards.

Jazz music spread with the migrants. Just as ordinary coloured Americans from Florida, Alabama, Georgia, etc., were likely to move along Eastern routes towards Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York, so did the musicians from these areas: Duke Ellington's orchestra (1926) contained no New Orleans man and only one player from St Louis, but it did contain men from Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, South Carolina, Washington DC, and Indiana. Naturally, it was a Washington-New York band. The African American quarters of St Louis were likely to attract migrants (and musicians) from the middle Mississippi valley, those of Kansas City from the Oklahoma-Texas hinterland. There is, in fact, no great mystery about the geographical diffusion of jazz musicians.

For some of the major African American ghettoes proved far more receptive to jazz than others, or rather, produced more musicians and independent musical activity than others. Obviously New York and Chicago led the field in the North, though Chicago, oddly enough, produced surprisingly few African American orchestral jazz players of standing for a city so legendary for its jazz. It also seems that the more industrial the city to which coloured Americans migrated the less fertile apparently its jazz. It is perhaps less surprising that cities on the fringe of the South should have been good nurseries for jazz, though a little puzzling why some of the older centres of the Deep South, Atlanta, Charleston - have not been particularly productive; or for that matter why, in the North, Philadelphia which ran Harlem close in numbers until 1920, has made infinitely feebler contributions to jazz.

Coloured orchestral jazz did not long remain confined to the 'race series', but such series have continued (re-baptised 'rhythm and blues' in deference to African American susceptibilities) to this day. Authentic undiluted jazz made no great impact on the general white public, though the northern tour and the records of the (white) Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917 caused a temporary sensation, and conveniently serve to mark the beginning of the 'jazz age'. This new idiom was undoubtedly influenced by jazz, but it is safe to say that ninety-seven per cent of what the average white North American and European heard under that label between 1917 and 1935 had as little to do with jazz as the costume of drum-majorettes has with battledress.

The triumph of this hybrid jazz is so important a phenomenon that we must look at it more closely. The typical nineteenth-century pop music number, on which the fortunes of Tin Pan rested.

Ragtime and jazz rhythms, which can be used to adapt practically any tune for dancing, were naturally invaluable. (British dance halls came later: the Hammersmith Palais in 1919, characteristically with the Original Dixieland Band as resident orchestra.)  The dance halls of the Shimmy, originally a Barbary Coast dance, was particularly popular in Europe in the 1920s. The success of hybrid jazz in pop music would have been unthinkable, just as the advance of Latin-American rhythms rested firmly on the adoption of the tango, also on the eve of the First World War. The dancing vogue automatically brought an infiltration of Afro-American idioms into pop music: even the Castles had a coloured band, and a craze for drumming and drum solos, such as has periodically seized the more moronic part of the public, was already running its course in 1914-16. From 1912 or so the 'blues' entered popular music. W. C. Handy published some of his finest pieces between then and 1916 (Memphis Blues, St Louis Blues, Yellow Dog Blues, Beale Street Blues'), and 1916 saw a battle between pop music publishers over the priority of their respective blues. From about the same time the term 'jazz' (or jass, jaz) came to be used as a generic label for the new dance music, since few knew that it had hitherto been an African slang word for sexual intercourse. There was not only the Original Dixieland Jass Band, which was a jazz band, but a host of competing 'inventors of the jazz dance', and of Tin Pan Alley numbers of the genus 'everybody's doing the X now': Cleopatra had a Jazz Band, Everybody's Crazy 'bout that Doggone Blues, Mr Jazz Himself, by Irving Berlin, who was quicker off the mark with jazz than with ragtime; all from 1917. Former minstrel and quasi-military bands like Wilbur Sweatman's, Isham Jones's and Paul Whiteman's drove their bandwagons in the new style, and those who could not, added a saxophone to their string trios and called themselves jazz bands.

This mixture was not without its repercussions on authentic jazz. It was from the pop bands that the saxophone came. New Orleans players hardly knew or used it. Saxes entered jazz because they were popular with the audiences: King Oliver was prevailed to try a couple in the early 1920s because another band was attracting the customers with these instruments. Again, the pop song of the immediate post-war period provided a high proportion of the standards for the jazz repertoire of the 'twenties, especially among white bands, and stimulated the publication of a good many straight jazz and blues numbers. 'Why is the jass music and, therefore, the jass band?

On the other hand, the cultural avant-garde hailed it with equal enthusiasm and almost equal ignorance as the music of the machine age, the music of the future, the revitalising force of the primitive jungle and so on; normally on the strength of hearing bands like Mr Jack Hylton's, which the author remembers as the accepted last word in jazz in Central European secondary schools, 1928-33.  Within hybrid jazz itself there were also strivings and ambitions rarely found among the modest craftsmen of Tin Pan Alley. (Incidentally, Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which had its first performance then, is a very reputable piece of jazz-influenced light music.) Jazz has had a hankering for recognition as something more than dance music ever since it emerged from the Deep South, and with reason.

At the tailend of the 'twenties, however, we observe the tiny beginnings of an expansion of the thoroughbred jazz among small obscure and untypical communities in Europe, and to a much lesser extent, in America.

It is fortunate that by the time the Depression swept over America a few hundreds - they could hardly yet be counted in thousands - of European jazz fans were ready. For the Depression virtually killed authentic jazz in the States. Except among coloured Americans, it had been played on sufferance anyway. In the lush period there had been gigs for everybody in the 60,000 bands which America then held, and clubs or dances willing to hire any one of the 200,000 musicians -12,000 of them in New York - however 'loud and crude' their music; at least sometimes. White musicians took refuge in pop bands or in the staff orchestras of radio stations; coloured ones, who had not this choice, went back to labouring, broken by occasional attempts to form temporary bands. Recording sessions were few and cheap. Europe could not provide a major market, but it could mitigate the disaster, e.g. by making it worthwhile for American record companies to produce authentic jazz records for which the American market in the black years from 1930 to 1934 was zero. (The most notable examples are the records made by the great jazz Maecenas, John Hammond, Jr., for the English Gramophone Company from 1933.) European combinations trying to play 'authentic', or 'hot' [jazz also began in the late 1920s: Fred Elizalde's group in ; 1927 is the British pioneer. These were mostly small groups [playing in odd nightclubs, or pick-up bands for recordings into which the already existing fifth column of jazz fans some-j times managed to talk the gramophone executives. The first Norwegian jazz club dates back to 1928, a now highly prosperous music publisher found it worth while to organise 'hot record recitals' in London in 1930, and by 1935 Denmark, which claimed to be 'the world's hottest country' had jazz lectures in its schools and three jazz concerts a year organised by the leading serious newspaper. The most ambitious musical enterprise of these sects, and also the most original enterprise of European jazz up to the present, was the famous Quintet of the Hot Club of France (1934-9) whose star was the remarkable gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt (1910-53). A number of mixed European-American recording sessions were also organised mainly in Holland and France, which became [increasingly the European headquarters of jazz, thanks to the loudly and well-blown intellectual trumpets of its jazz writers and collectors.

If the Depression had almost exiled authentic jazz from America, that country was triumphantly conquered in the middle 1930s. In 1935-40 pop music once again capitulated to jazz (now called 'swing'), as it had done in 1914-20. More-lover, the jazz it capitulated to was a great deal more like the [real thing than it had been in the days when anxious band leaders put some saxes behind their stands, some syncopation [in their arrangements, and played the Blue Danube as the Blue Danube Blues. In fact pop music adopted, almost in toto, the instrumental techniques and arrangements elaborated by coloured players, and especially the coloured big bands, in the 1920s. This was all the easier, since these innovations in authentic jazz had themselves been the result of pop music influence, not to say the natural desire of coloured entertainers to jump on the white pop musicians' gravy train. At all events, the difference in genre between Benny Goodman's band, which became the queen of the musical battlefield, and the ordinary sweet band - itself infiltrated by hybrid jazz - was a great deal smaller in 1935 than such differences had been in 1917, when patrons at Reisenwebers in New York had actually to be instructed that the Original Dixieland Jass Band's sound was intended for dancing.

Why 'swing' conquered in the middle 1930s is therefore not quite so difficult a question as why jazz conquered pop music in 1914-20. Glen Gray Knoblaugh's Casa Loma Orchestra (anticipating the later Glenn Miller Band), which catered largely for college audiences in the early 'thirties, is said to have been the first white band with a deliberate jazz policy, and the pioneer of  'swing'. Benny Goodman's Band (formed in 1934), sold to the business by an ex-college-boy executive, had little success until it hit the teenage and college public in California in the middle of 1935. The 'swing' public was a dancing public, but with a difference, for the athletic, acrobatic dances it evolved.

The period from 1930 to 1941 saw intellectuals 'going to the people', collecting, recording and singing their music with passionate satisfaction. American folk-songs, old and new, became part of the atmosphere of the American left; no party in Greenwich Village or the Hollywood scriptwriters' belt became complete without someone who could sing John Henry to a guitar. Most of the material thus collected was 'pre-jazz'; but among the forgotten music thus resuscitated was early jazz also. The Lomaxes of the Library of Congress produced the most impressive single document of New Orleans jazz in 1938, when they opened their recording shops to a dapper elderly 'Creole Benvenuto Cellini' with gold rings and a diamond set in gold in his front incisor, who wished to defend his claim to be the only inventor of jazz: Ferdinand 'Jelly-Roll' Morton. A parallel movement was gaining force among the specialised jazz lovers, and collectors whose ranks, of course, overlapped a good deal with those of the musical or political New Dealers, friends of the Spanish Republic, Communists and others, in Britain as in the USA. Here it took the form chiefly of a protest against the increasingly 'commercial' tendencies of jazz in the swing era. From about 1938 collectors and critics began systematically to organise the recording of forgotten jazz and blues artists, but especially of attempts by the original players to recapture the quintessential jazz, which was that of New Orleans. In the international world of jazz lovers every one of these records and publications, imported at first in single copies from America, created a sensation. In America itself the archaeologists went farther, and, by the middle of the war-1943 is the crucial year-had reached the point of actually restoring retired old New Orleans players to activity, buying them dentures and trumpets in the process, and launching them on a receptive public of young whites. Even before the first grey-haired player tested his new denture on his new horn, young white players - for reasons to be discussed later the young African American ones were quite immune to revivalism - had begun the painstaking reconstruction of the original New Orleans style. records were issued in Europe (not to mention the impossibility of issuing American jazz in Nazi-occupied territories) postponed the emergence of the young revivalists outside America. The characteristic small cellar jazz band, with its trumpeter trying to play like Louis Armstrong and its clarinet like Johnny Dodds, became part of the West and Central European scene.

Why the Soviet authorities took against the worldwide take-up of jazz, about which they knew virtually nothing, is obscure. Especially as today jazz is much stronger in the East European countries and it is in much of Europe and the USA.  Bing Crosby's brother Bob had launched a semi-commercial Dixieland band in 1937, and in 1939 an old Chicagoan, Muggsy Spanier, launched the short-lived and wholly enchanting career of his Ragtime band, while in New York an even more typical Chicagoan, Eddie Condon, made a hit with the old-fashioned unplanned jazz of his youth. But these were men from the old generations, not youngsters.

The astonishingly rapid urbanisation of African American Africa since 1940 produced the need for an urban popular music, which-for obvious reasons-the orthodox pop industry was slow to satisfy. In South Africa, on the other hand, specially in Johannesburg, the urbanised coloured population took to American jazz, mainly derived, by the sound of it, from the big bands of the swing era. Probably South Africa is today the most flourishing centre of creative jazz outside America.

By the middle 1950s, therefore, jazz had become a world idiom. The Andalusian flamenco, in the lifetime of jazz, has shown considerable powers of propagation within the Hispanic areas, though outside them it has had no popular influence. Latin-American music, on the other hand, has disputed Western popular music with jazz, its attack spearheaded by the tangos, rhumbas and sambas, while it has, since the 1940s, actually encroached upon jazz itself with the fashion for mixed Cuban-jazz music. Flourishing traditions of light and popular music elsewhere have also imposed some limitations on jazz, though they have not prevented it establishing bridgeheads: the Italian canzone, the French chanson and accordion-type music, and various other older idioms have resisted it. Of course, except among particular age-groups or social groups, jazz, however diluted, has nowhere ever had a musical monopoly.

Again, except in the most urbanised Anglo-Saxon areas, jazz has been far slower to penetrate the countryside than the town, the small town than the big city. But there can be no doubt that it is today a world idiom, not only in the hybrid form of jazz-tinged dance-music, but in a much more thoroughbred version. Probably not very much, except perhaps for the original spread of hybrid jazz. The main international agency for the dissemination of the American way of life, Hollywood, has paid very little attention to jazz, since this was and remains a minority taste in America. The American pop music industry has been much less capable of international penetration outside the Anglo-Saxon radius than jazz alone: until almost the present, Tin Pan Alley has not substantially disturbed the national pattern of the French, German, Italian, Spanish, etc., song-hits. In fact, jazz, especially authentic jazz in its various forms, has made its way under its own considerable power. Since 1947 the expansion of jazz has therefore almost certainly owed something to official sponsorship. However, jazz had travelled a long way without it, and would undoubtedly have continued to do so in any country in which jazz records were freely available.

The most recent phase of the expansion of jazz, is perhaps too early to assess: it is the entry of the almost undiluted rhythm and blues into pop music, as in the rock-and-roll or the British skiffle crazes. In many ways it is probably the most formidable of the many advances jazz has so far made, for there can be no doubt that rhythm and blues have not only swamped ordinary pop music in America and Britain during and shortly after the wartime years.

In America the phenomenon was a creation of the pop industry, analogous to the jazz injections of 1914-20 and 1935-40. In Britain, however, it had much more interesting origins, in a wholly spontaneous and uncommercial popular movement of amateur-music-making with guitars and improvised rhythm instruments, with a repertoire of American folk songs. These 'skiffle groups' were the direct children of the New Orleans revival, and indeed consisted originally in the main of singers and guitarists from larger revival bands, who entertained the audience with blues and Leadbelly-type songs while the rest of the boys had a drink. How long the rhythm and blues vogue,

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