JAZZ: Gary Giddins, W.W. Norton & Company
"Giddins on jazz"


How did jazz expand beyond U.S. borders during the ‘30s and ‘40s?

Expansion of jazz beyond the United States was almost instantaneous, once recordings existed. Now even before recordings, the world was paying attention to American music. One of the first moments was Irving Berlin's Alexander's Ragtime Band in 1911, which became very big in Europe and made people wonder about what was going on in what used to be known as Tin Pan Alley, the new kind of American song. So when jazz, after the original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded in 1917, they went over there. But even before that, Will Marion Cook had taken the Southern Syncopaters, an all-black group, to Europe in 1914 and he had a teenager playing the clarinet named Sidney Bechet. And a famous European conductor, Ernest Ansermet, who had introduced Stravinsky's A Soldier's Tale, and was a quite well-known . . . conductor, wrote a review, the first jazz

review ever published, in Switzerland. And uh - or he was a Swiss conductor - and at the end of it, after discussing what they play, he says, "And now I must tell you about this clarinetist, this young black boy, who seems to invent it as he goes along," and he says, "Listening to him I'm reminded of what the early folk musicians that people like Mozart and Haydn listened to, that they got their inspiration from." And he says, "We shouldn't be surprised if in the near future, the whole world moves down the road of this young black man, Sidney Bechet." Incredibly prophetic.

And the Europeans are open-minded, they don't have the race problem, Josephine Baker goes over there, becomes a huge celebrity. But what really excites Americans in return is when we start hearing about jazz musicians that aren't just imitating white players. And probably the first guy who really, and maybe the greatest of all the European jazz musicians, is a guitarist named Django Reinhardt; a gypsy born in Belgium who became a huge national hero in France, especially during the war. Duke Ellington loved him, brought him to the United States in 1946. And from that point there have been major jazz figures in virtually every country in the world. If I have one regret about our book, it's that we don't do justice to the world, the international - and we focus on American jazz. You really, to do justice, it would have to be a separate volume.