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Chapter
3
The Roots of Jazz
Chapter Outline

While jazz is commonly said to have begun in the first decade of the twentieth century, it is also rooted in the cultural trends that reached back far into the nineteenth century. This chapter explains how jazz synthesized various kinds of (primarily African American) music making, such as:

  • folk traditions, with the emergence of the blues circa 1900, and the development of the blues as a commercial genre (the classic or vaudeville blues of Bessie Smith)
  • popular culture, including the ways in which public images of African Americans were shaped by blackface minstrelsy; the birth of ragtime in the late nineteenth century; and the long tradition of African American professional dance musicians
  • European concert music, including marching bands

This chapter also discusses the radical changes in dance music in the first two decades of the twentieth century and the new technologies of radio and recording.

  1. What kind of music is jazz? Congressional resolution of 1987: art yet also people's music; indigenous American music yet global; ethnically unifying yet African American
    1. Three Categories
      1. Art form: heart of institutional America played by skillfully trained musicians
      2. Popular music: a commodity partly dependent on taste
      3. Folk music: although urban, stems from African American folk traditions
  2. Jazz and Ethnicity
    1. Jazz is an African American music.
      1. But jazz musicians may be black or white or any other ethnicity.
      2. African American: not a race (genetically determined physical characteristics) but rather an ethnic group (cultural)
      3. Ethnic features like music (unlike racial features) can be learned and shared.
      4. African American musical principles include polyrhythm, call and response, blue notes, and timbre variation: the principles are not unique but their combination is.
  3. Folk Traditions
    1. Serve to establish a persistent musical identity
    2. Helped create the hybrid nature of American culture
    3. Various Genres
      1. Ballads: local history through long songs; often include braggadocio
      2. Work songs: accompanied manual labor
      3. Field hollers: unaccompanied, rhythmically loose, accompany farm labor
      4. Spirituals: call and response with religious poetry. Two kinds: polished Fisk Jubilee singers style; orally transmitted Pentecostal church singing. By 1920s, gospel music had developed. Spirituals are highly interactional, which influenced jazz musicians.
    4. "The Buzzard Lope"
      1. From the relatively isolated Georgia Sea Islands (Gullah culture)
      2. In the 1920s a bridge was built to the mainland. Lydia Parrish researched the music and wrote a book (1942); Alan Lomax and Zora Neale Hurston visited and later recorded this music (1935).
      3. "Buzzard Lope" is a spiritual dance representing buzzards devouring slave bodies left in the fields.
      4. Call and response, polyrhythmic background, syncopation
  4. Blues
    1. Three-line (AAB) stanza distinguishes it from other forms, which usually were structured with two or four lines. Blues also has a distinctive chord progression.
    2. Unlike the ballad, the blues was personal, which reflected the cultural shift from slave community to individualism and the former slaves' engagement with freedom.
    3. Country Blues
      1. Combination of folk elements (e.g., field holler) and new technology (wide availability of the guitar)
      2. Performed by solitary male musicians accompanying themselves on guitar in the American South; form was loose
    4. "Soon One Morning"
      1. Mississippi Fred McDowell: born in Tennessee (1904). Moved near Memphis, picked cotton and played dances and juke joints. Rediscovered in 1959 by Alan Lomax, in time for the 1960s folk revival. Thought of himself as modern artist (the Rolling Stones recorded one of his songs) but was admired for his archaic guitar sound
      2. This song is spiritual in text but informed by musical traits of the blues.
      3. Bottleneck guitar: the guitar "sings."
      4. Rural music that mostly influenced rock musicians
    5. Vaudeville (Classic) Blues
      1. When blues crossed over into pop music, jazz musicians got involved. For example, Gertrude Pretchett ( "Ma" Rainey, 1886-1939) heard blues in St Louis and transformed it into a theatrical form for the black vaudeville circuit, featuring a female singer and small band, during the 1910s and '20s.
      2. Blues became more codified (twelve-bar stanzas, written harmony). Jazz musicians played in the bands.
      3. W.C. Handy: cornet player who heard the blues in Mississippi. He started writing and publishing blues for dance ensembles, and a number of them became hits.
      4. Recordings
        1. First audiences for recordings were white, but when Perry Bradford convinced OKeh Records to record Mamie Smith singing "Crazy Blues," audience composition changed.
        2. The growing northeastern urban African American population wanted music that they could relate to, and "race records" were born.
        3. Companies owned by whites did not provide royalties to black singers; they were pressured into giving up ownership of their songs.
      5. Bessie Smith (1894-1937)
        1. Most popular classic blues singer; recorded well
        2. Born in Tennessee, she started as a stage professional on the Theatre Owners Booking Association (TOBA) vaudeville circuit.
        3. First recordings in 1923; jazz musicians learned to accompany her phrasing and copy her tone.
        4. Her career peaked in 1929. The Depression curtailed her earnings. She tried performing swing but was not a success.
        5. "Reckless Blues"
          1. Louis Armstrong on trumpet
          2. Two great artists in call and response. Uses two kinds of mutes.
          3. Not one of Bessie Smith's favorites
  5. Popular Music
    1. Minstrelsy
      1. In contrast to playing for whites, blacks found they could make more money highlighting their blackness.
      2. But racism made it difficult for black performers to succeed, so white performers took on black styles in an exaggerated fashion, performing music and comedy using banjo and bones.
      3. In 1843 in New York, the Virginia Minstrels put on a show in blackface that purported to depict plantation slave culture. It was wildly popular.
      4. Racist exaggerations in appearance and behavior were typical.
      5. White audiences enjoyed these depictions.
      6. Black performers
        1. After Emancipation, black performers started to perform in minstrelsy, accepting the stereotypes of the form: Billy Kersands, James Bland,
        2. Although minstrelsy was on its last legs by the time jazz came along, the racial stereotypes persisted in vaudeville, film (The Jazz Singer), and radio (Amos and Andy).
        3. Although most jazz musicians were not entertainers and therefore avoided perpetuating the stereotypes, musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, who acted in film had to play into these stereotypes.
    2. Dance Music
      1. Early slave musicians used their music for dance; for example, southern itinerant black fiddlers or, rarely, early black bandleaders such as Frank Johnson.
      2. Nineteenth-century musicians were hired as servants.
        1. The dancing craze
          1. Late nineteenth century: respectable people danced formal elaborate dances such as the quadrille, the lancer, or the waltz.
          2. In the early part of the twentieth century. there was a major change: dancing began to be done in restaurants and cabarets. These "animal dances" were less inhibited and more physical.
        2. The Castles and James Reese Europe (1881-1919)
          1. African American-derived dances became a fad for white America (e.g., the Charleston) and were often introduced by white experts such as Irene and Vernon Castle, who toned down these dances for their white audience.
          2. The music was not toned down and was often ragtime.
          3. The Castles' musical director was James Reese Europe, a bandleader who formed the Clef Club. In 1912, his Carnegie Hall concert of 125 musicians played syncopated music. This caught the attention of the Castles.
          4. World War I; Europe formed the 369th infantry band Hellfighters. Their music sounds a little like jazz.
          5. Europe died in 1919 after being stabbed by his drummer.
          6. He left two kinds of dance bands: small and inexpensive, suited for jazz, and large dance orchestra (e.g., Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopated Orchestra, and Tim Brymm's Black Devil Orchestra). Both kinds show up in later jazz.
  6. Art Music
    1. Learning music theory and notation is important to aspiring African American musicians.
    2. Through public education, blacks learned classical music (e.g., Joseph Douglass, Sisserietta Jones, the "black Patti") but whites would not listen to them and the black community was too poor to support the musicians.
    3. Classically trained blacks went to jazz to make a living, thus extending their classical technique and changing the standards, performance, theory, and musical ambition in jazz.
    4. Brass Bands
      1. Originally from England, they became the "people's" orchestra.
      2. John Philip Sousa (1854-1932). Took over the U.S. Marine band and made it into a top-notch, world-famous concert ensemble.
      3. Every town had a brass band made up of local townsfolk to play at parades and dances.
        1. Brass bands and jazz
          1. African Americans formed their own brass bands cum insurance and burial societies, which played dances with boiled-down versions including violin, cornet, trombone, clarinet, and drum set. Usually in duple meter (2/4 or 6/8); example: "The Washington Post"
          2. Influenced jazz directly through march form, which was made up of a succession of distinctive sixteen-bar strains, each of which was usually repeated
          3. The third strain is the trio and is in a new key, often twice as long, possibly introduced by a short passage, and contrasting with the other strains; example: "The Stars and Stripes Forever."
          4. "The Stars and Stripes Forever"
            1. Written by Sousa on Christmas Day 1896. Performed at nearly every one of his concerts.
            2. March form: 4-bar intro, two 16-bar repeated strains, trio twice interrupted by contrasting 24 bars
  7. Ragtime
    1. Like jazz, ragtime embodied the mix of African American and white art, popular, and folk musics.
    2. The name comes from "ragged time." During the Civil War it was mostly played on the banjo. Later it was played on the piano, where the left hand kept a steady 2-beat rhythm between bass notes and chords while the right hand created contrasting rhythms.
    3. Coon Songs
      1. Early form of ragtime (later form of minstrelsy) characterized by racial stereotyping. Called ragtime songs by 1905; example: "All Coons Look Alike to Me" (Ernest Hogan).
      2. Cakewalk: a ragtime exhibition dance parodying white formal dancing
        1. Became a public competition by 1900. Whites took to it as well. Debussy wrote "Golliwog's Cakewalk."
      3. Ragtime pieces and Scott Joplin (1868-1917)
        1. Improvised piano ragtime was toned down and translated into sheet music starting in 1897. Very popular; many composers; Scott Joplin was the best known.
        2. Born in East Texas, believed in racial uplift, studied with a local German piano teacher, turned pro, and toured along the Mississippi River. In 1893 he performed at the Chicago World's Fair.
        3. In 1894 he settled in Sidelia, Missouri, where he led a black marching band and studied composition. In 1899 he wrote "Maple Leaf Rag" and insisted on royalties instead of a flat fee for the piece. His strategy paid off well.
        4. Moved to St. Louis and then New York; published many rags, a ballet, and an opera (Treemonisha). In 1903 he published "The Entertainer," which was made famous in the 1970 movie The Sting.
        5. Died in 1917 of syphilis just as recordings started to take over from sheet music as the best means of distribution.
        6. Many other fine pianists played ragtime but very few recorded, so their work is lost to us.
      4. The Path to Jazz: Wilbur Sweatman (1882-1961)
        1. Wilbur Sweatman represents the new generation of musicians, who used recordings rather than sheet music to transmit and transform their music. A clarinet player in show business, he became well known around 1910.
        2. Ragtime composer; example: "Down Home Rag" (1911), in which he places three-note melodic figures against the underlying duple rhythm (secondary ragtime or novelty ragtime). Recorded in 1913 by Europe.
        3. In 1916 he made his first recordings, which were bluesy, improvisatory, and recorded on soon-to-be-outmoded technology.
        4. "Down Home Rag"
          1. Two similar strains, a trio, and a fourth strain
          2. Sweatman takes liberties on the repeat of strains, which could be called improvising.
      5. When Does Ragtime Become Jazz?
        1. By 1916 recording was taking over from the publication of sheet music, marking a readiness for musical change.
        2. Even though this was a period of intense racism, black musicians provided music that offered a new sense of cultural identity while providing dance music for whites.
        3. Jazz as we know it started in New Orleans, as ragtime, blues, march music, and social dance combined.
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