The Evolution of Early Jazz (1902?-1934)
TA: Andrew Pascoe
To participate in discussion, read the following, including the instructions in the “DISCUSSION ASSIGNMENT” below— and then click on “Post New Entry” above (login to see the button) to submit your post.
Court Carney introduces his article “New Orleans and the Creation of Early Jazz” (2006) with Jelly Roll Morton’s bold assertion that he alone created a new music phenomenon called “jazz.” Regardless of the veracity of Morton’s claims, something was definitely brewing in the minds of musicians and composers in turn-of-the-century New Orleans. Carney’s article begins discussing the social climate in New Orleans that fueled these developments, including pronounced racial tensions.
Soon, jazz artists were leaving New Orleans, spreading their new performance practices in communities along trade routes throughout the the mid-west, and as novelty acts in American cities. But it wasn’t until the 1920s that jazz became a musical language that was understood across the whole breadth of U.S. popular culture. Tucker’s (1990) “Renaissance Education of Duke Ellington” implicitly shows how far this new music had come, that a conservative middle-class upbringing in Washington D.C., far from jazz’s birthplace, could produce a genius who would come to define the apex of the whole jazz era. Yet as we recognize the diversity of Ellington’s musical experiences—quite distant from the culture of New Orleans—difficult questions arise about how “jazz” should be defined. Were Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Cab Calloway outsiders to the “authentic” tradition? If not, is there a fundamental difference between traditional New Orleans and Kansas City jazz forms, and the way they were presented for mass media in the early-mid 1930s? These are tough questions to answer in any definitive way. But on the bright side, they give us a great chance to compare and contrast different styles and influences.
DISCUSSION (Due October 29 — or submit by October 25 at noon to get TA guidance toward an essay): Choose two recordings: a recording from “Two New Orleans Songs” and a song from “Kansas City and New York Swing” listening lists. Compare them in terms of one of the following elements:
(1) Instrumental arrangement—how do the layers of instruments interact? How does the interaction change from one part of the song to another? — you don’t have to be certain of what’s what in the instruments of the band; simply describe what you hear.
(2) Improvisation—how do solo musicians vary their approach, or their expression, in different sections of the recording? Indicate when a musician breaks from the melody to improvise, and try to describe how the improvisation feels, and what it expresses to you.
After thinking about one of the issues above, consider whether what you hear in this song reflects anything you have learned about its time, or its place in the evolution of jazz.
Your thoughts, in about 150-250 words, should be posted to this webpage, by clicking on the “create new post” button on the upper left corner. (You’ll have to login to see it.)
ESSAY (Due October 29 — if you choose to write an essay in this unit): Choose a song from “Two New Orleans Songs” and a song from “Kansas City and New York Swing” listening lists.
First, describe the musical content of the songs using terms and techniques you have learned in class. These fall into two main categories:
a. form — recognizing repetition and contrast within a melody
b. melody, accompaniment, and the role of improvisation in both — recognizing that some aspects of any recording are planned in advance (related to a composition, or an arrangement of a composition) and some are a matter of individual musicians’ personal, immediate expression.
Second, making reference to the course readings on jazz and swing, specifically discuss issues related to the way jazz musicians interpret the songs you have chosen, and how their interpretations fit into the evolution of jazz. Why do you think these recordings might have spoken effectively to the communities in which they were formed? Conversely, what might have contributed to their broader appeal as popular music?
Your essay, in the form of a post to the Early Jazz Essays page, is due on October 29 at noon. It should be about 600-800 words long. Double-check your facts, and proof your work to make sure your peers will understand your argument and your ideas. Please write clearly and concisely — big ideas count more than big words.
When you are done, please take time read your peers’ posts and essays, compare and contrast your thoughts, and continue discussion.
The two songs that chose were April in Paris by Count Basie and St. Louis Blues by The Original Dixieland Jass Band. April in Paris is a much heavier and faster song. It relies on the drummer to keep the band at a fast tempo and to push the group forward. The piece never lets down on the intensity, with the saxophones calling and the trombones and trumpets responding. The trumpet solo is accompanied by a soft drum background with the trombones and saxes playing some fills every few bars. After the solo, the piece goes back to where it was before the solo. The trumpet and trombone parts become more intense to signify the peak of the piece, then the final buildup to the final whole note.
St. Louis Blues is a more calm piece that doesn’t rely on drums to set the beat, but uses the low voices to keep a nice upbeat feel in the background. The saxes and trumpets take the main role here with many parts of the song using call and response to fill out the sound. The trombones sometimes step forward and play the melody for a few bars, then slip back into the beat.
The two songs are not very similar, one is fast and hard, the other is slightly slower and more upbeat. Both use roughly the same instruments, and for the same general purposes, trombones and background and support sometimes being joined by the trumpets who also play loud accents, and the saxes who play the melody and keep the flow of the chart ongoing.