We have heard native son Randy Newman’s plaintive “Louisiana (1927)” many times since Hurricane Katrina struck. On the Sunday morning when I awoke to learn that Mayor Nagin was ordering mandatory evacuation, I played the original version for my ‘toot toot,’ who not only never heard it before but has never even been to NOLA, let alone Tip’s. He had to hear it, that’s all. I mourn for him and my brother and all the others who never stood up covered in powdered sugar or dripped gumbo on their seersuckers, or strolled the levees, or searched for the House of the Rising Sun. (Me, I saw it, yes sir.) And when, after eight long days, I received the e-mail I was hoping for from my missing running buddy who finally turned up in Florida, he wrote few words, but he did include the words Delta music devotees recognize immediately: “Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline.” We heard native son Aaron Neville sing it on TV last Friday night. We saw the suffering on his face, on the faces of Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick, Jr., peeps we know and respect, we heard it in their voices, in Wynton’s horn, but it was nothing compared to the anguish on the face of the little boy in the red shirt now imprinted on our retinas every time CNN cuts to a commercial, or the lady near extremis wiping her brow after sitting in the sweltering heat for days, or Harry Jackson, who lost his wife when the waters rose and he could no longer hold onto her hand. “Take care of the kids,” were the last words she said to him.Some people got lost in the flood
What we haven’t heard, however, is “Sail Away,” another gripping Randy Newman song, one that actually made a big splash (forgive the pun) upon its release. And I’m wonderin’ why:
“In America you get food to eat.” Oh really? Young mothers could not keep their infants hydrated with Pedialyte or water, let alone formula. What had that woman wiping her brow eaten for all the days she sat in the sun and heat? Perhaps a potato chip while the Feds couldn’t get in but FOX News’ Shepard Smith sure could. We at this Network ordinarily eschew politics, but while the world watches our disgrace, offering aid that for reasons of red tape were not immediately accepted and might never be: cruise ships of Grecian registry, food and engineering from Germany, Lord knows what from the UK, the makeshift morgue set up in St. Gabriel, Louisiana, gets bigger and bigger. Tulane University Medical Center, a private teaching hospital of superlative quality, managed to evacuate its staff and patients at the first opportunity – but not so Charity Hospital, the city’s largest and direst. As the patients lay dying and the dedicated personnel shot each other up with parenteral nutrition and IV meds in the dark and the heat, in the unbearable stench and unspeakable conditions they had endured since the weekend before the storm, the promises made by Randy Newman’s slave catchers seemed as hollow as when they were first made, didn’t they?In America you get food to eat
In my relief at learning of my running buddy’s survival, I am one of thousands who must acknowledge that our loved ones who assure us that they are okay are just a little off kilter as they laughingly tell us not to worry – they are still in shock. Randy Newman didn’t enter the holy trinity of the N’s as I like to call it (Newman, Nilsson and Nyro) by writing only satire:Aint no lion or tiger
That pretty much describes my friend’s condition at the mo’, I’d say.Beat up little seagull
Newman wrote those lyrics about another deserted city, Baltimore.Junk lyin’ on the sidewalk
So please note, this is not about politics, I am continuing to eschew politics, I am writing about music, I am just being my lil ole ethnomusicological galself, when I introduce Texan Barbara Bush into this interpretation of a song written about the roots of slavery more than thirty years ago. “[S]o many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this, this is working very well for them," Mrs. Bush told American Public Media's "Marketplace" program, before returning to her multi-million dollar Houston home.
Oh, really? Hooey Benjy. Reckon so. Dubya’s mother said it, so it must be true. Happy as a monkey in a monkey tree.In America every man is free
The musicians speak for the city. But the music of the Delta speaks for the spirit of every human born with a soul and a conscience. Long before he lost his house and at least one relative in Hurricane Katrina, Dr. John decided to go directly to the source for some answers:
My, my, my. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee the night they drove ole Dixie Down. I went down to St. James Infirmary. I was bound for Potter’s Field but here I am now in St. Gabriel. No tag, no ID, no saints, just haints. Hello God.Hell of a world down here
Time and love, everybody ---I don’t wanna know bout evil
September 7, 2005
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Early New Orleans Jazz
Dr. Bruce Boyd Raeburn
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Tulane University, New Orleans Louisiana
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"JELLY ROLL" MORTON
A Brief History of New Orleans Jazz
The Origins of Jazz - Pre 1895
A review of New Orleans' unique history and culture, with its distinctive character rooted in the colonial period, is helpful in understanding the complex circumstances that led to the development of New Orleans jazz. The city was founded in 1718 as part of the French Louisiana colony. The Louisiana territories were ceded to Spain in 1763 but were returned to France in 1803. France almost immediately sold the colony to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.
New Orleans differed greatly from the rest of the young United States in its Old World cultural relationships. The Creole culture was Catholic and French-speaking rather than Protestant and English-speaking. A more liberal outlook on life prevailed, with an appreciation of good food, wine, music, and dancing. Festivals were frequent, and Governor William Claiborne, the first American-appointed governor of the territory of Louisiana, reportedly commented that New Orleanians were ungovernable because of their preoccupation with dancing.
The colony's culture was enriched not only from Europe but from Africa as well. As early as 1721 enslaved West Africans totaled 30% of the population of New Orleans, and by the end of the 1700s people of varied African descent, both free and slave, made up more than half the city's population. Many arrived via the Caribbean and brought with them West Indian cultural traditions.
After the Louisiana Purchase, English-speaking Anglo- and African-Americans flooded into New Orleans. Partially because of the cultural friction, these newcomers began settling upriver from Canal Street and from the already full French Quarter (Vieux Carre). These settlements extended the city boundaries and created the "uptown" American sector as a district apart from the older Creole "downtown." The influx of black Americans, first as slaves and later as free people, into uptown neighborhoods brought the elements of the blues, spirituals, and rural dances to New Orleans' music.
Ethnic diversity increased further during the 19th century. Many German and Irish immigrants came before the Civil War, and the number of Italian immigrants increased afterward. The concentration of new European immigrants in New Orleans was unique in the South.
This rich mix of cultures in New Orleans resulted in considerable cultural exchange. An early example was the city's relatively large and free "Creole of color" community. Creoles of color were people of mixed African and European blood and were often well educated craft and trades people. Creole of color musicians were particularly known for their skill and discipline. Many were educated in France and played in the best orchestras in the city.
In the city, people of different cultures and races often lived close together (in spite of conventional prejudices), which facilitated cultural interaction. For instance, wealthier families occupied the new spacious avenues and boulevards uptown, such as St. Charles and Napoleon avenues, while poorer families of all races who served those who were better off often lived on the smaller streets in the centers of the larger blocks. New Orleans did not have mono cultural ghettos like many other cities.
New Orleans' unusual history, its unique outlook on life, its rich ethnic and cultural makeup, and the resulting cultural interaction set the stage for development and evolution of many distinctive traditions. The city is famous for its festivals, foods, and, especially, its music. Each ethnic group in New Orleans contributed to the very active musical environment in the city, and in this way to the development of early jazz.
A well-known example of early ethnic influences significant to the origins of jazz is the African dance and drumming tradition, which was documented in New Orleans. By the mid-18th century, slaves gathered socially on Sundays at a special market outside the city's rampart. Later, the area became known as Congo Square, famous for its African dances and the preservation of African musical and cultural elements.
Although dance in Congo Square ended before the Civil War, a related musical tradition surfaced in the African-American neighborhoods at least by the 1880s. The Mardi Gras Indians were black "gangs" whose members "masked" as American Indians on Mardi Gras day to honor them. Black Mardi Gras Indians felt a spiritual affinity with Native American Indians. On Mardi Gras day gang members roamed their neighborhoods looking to confront other gangs in a show of strength that sometimes turned violent. The demonstration included drumming and call-and-response chanting that was strongly reminiscent of West African and Caribbean music. Mardi Gras Indian music was part of the environment of early jazz. Several early jazz figures such as Louis Armstrong and Lee Collins described being affected by Mardi Gras Indian processions as youngsters, and Jelly Roll Morton claimed to have been a "spyboy," or scout, for an Indian gang as a teenager.
New Orleans music was also impacted by the popular musical forms that proliferated throughout the United States following the Civil War. Brass marching bands were the rage in the late 1880s, and brass bands cropped up across America. There was also a growing national interest in syncopated musical styles influenced by African-American traditions, such as cakewalks and minstrel tunes. By the 1890s syncopated piano compositions called ragtime created a popular music sensation, and brass bands began supplementing the standard march repertoire with ragtime pieces.
Early Development of Jazz - 1890 to 1917
Brass bands had become enormously popular in New Orleans as well as the rest of the country. In the 1880s New Orleans brass bands, such as the Excelsior and Onward, typically consisted of formally trained musicians reading complex scores for concerts, parades, and dances.
The roots of jazz were largely nourished in the African-American community but became a broader phenomenon that drew from many communities and ethnic groups in New Orleans. "Papa" Jack Laine's Reliance Brass Bands, for instance, were integrated before segregation pressures increased. Laine's bands, which were active around 1890 to 1913, became the most well known of the white ragtime bands. Laine was a promoter of the first generation of white jazzmen.
A special collaborative relationship developed between brass bands in New Orleans and mutual aid and benevolent societies. Mutual aid and benevolent societies were common among many ethnic groups in urban areas in the 19th century. After the Civil War such organizations took on special meaning for emancipated African-Americans who had limited economic resources. The purposes of such societies were to "help the sick and bury the dead" - important functions because blacks were generally prohibited from getting commercial health and life insurance and other services.
While many organizations in New Orleans used brass bands in parades, concerts, political rallies, and funerals, African-American mutual aid and benevolent societies had their own expressive approach to funeral processions and parades, which continues to the present. At their events, community celebrants would join in the exuberant dancing procession. The phenomena of community participation in parades became known as "the second line," second, that is, to the official society members and their contracted band.
Other community organizations also used New Orleans-style "ragtime" brass bands. Mardi Gras walking clubs, notably the Jefferson City Buzzards and the Cornet Carnival Club (still in existence), were employers of the music.
By the turn of the century New Orleans was thriving not only as a major sea and river port but also as a major entertainment center. Legitimate theater, vaudeville, and music publishing houses and instrument stores employed musicians in the central business district. Less legitimate entertainment establishments flourished in and around the officially sanctioned red-light district near Canal and Rampart streets. Out on the shores of Lake Ponchartrain bands competed for audiences at amusement parks and resorts. Street parades were common in the neighborhood, and community social halls and corner saloons held dances almost nightly.
New Orleanians never lost their penchant for dancing, and most of the city's brass band members doubled as dance band players. The Superior Brass Band, for instance, had overlapping personnel with its sister group, The Superior Orchestra. Dance bands and orchestras softened the brass sound with stringed instruments, including violin, guitar, and string bass. At the turn of the century string dance bands were popular in more polite settings, and "dirty" music, as the more genteel dances were known, was the staple of many downtown Creole of color bands such as John Robichaux's Orchestra.
But earthier vernacular dance styles were also increasing in popularity in New Orleans. Over the last decade of the 19th century, non reading musicians playing more improvised music drew larger audiences for dances and parades. For example, between 1895 and 1900 uptown cornet player Charles "Buddy" Bolden began incorporating improvised blues and increasing the tempo of familiar dance tunes. Bolden was credited by many early jazzmen as the first musician to have a distinctive new style. The increasing popularity of this more "ratty" music brought many trained and untrained musicians into the improvising bands. Also, repressive segregation laws passed in the 1890s (as a backlash to Reconstruction) increased discrimination toward anyone with African blood and eliminated the special status previously afforded Creoles of color. These changes ultimately united black and Creole of color musicians, thus strengthening early jazz by combing the uptown improvisational style with the more disciplined Creole approach.
The instrumentation and section playing of the brass bands increasingly influenced the dance bands, which changed in orientation from string to brass instruments. What ultimately became the standard front line of a New Orleans jazz band was cornet, clarinet, and trombone. These horns collectively improvising or "faking" ragtime yielded the characteristic polyphonic sound of New Orleans jazz.
Most New Orleans events were accompanied by music, and there were many opportunities for musicians to work. In addition to parades and dances, bands played at picnics, fish fries, political rallies, store openings, lawn parties, athletic events, church festivals, weddings, and funerals. Neighborhood social halls, some operated by mutual aid and benevolent societies or other civic organizations, were frequently the sites of banquets and dances. Early jazz was found in neighborhoods all over and around New Orleans - it was a normal part of community life.
Sometime before 1900, African-American neighborhood organizations known as social aid and pleasure clubs also began to spring up in the city. Similar in their neighborhood orientation to the mutual aid and benevolent societies, the purposes of social and pleasure clubs were to provide a social outlet for its members, provide community service, and parade as an expression of community pride. This parading provided dependable work for musicians and became an important training ground for young musical talent.
New Orleans jazz began to spread to other cities as the city's musicians joined riverboat bands and vaudeville, minstrel, and other show tours. Jelly Roll Morton, an innovative piano stylist and composer, began his odyssey outside of New Orleans as early as 1907. The Original Creole Orchestra, featuring Freddie Keppard, was an important early group that left New Orleans, moving to Los Angeles in 1912 and then touring the Orpheum Theater circuit, with gigs in Chicago and New York. In fact, Chicago and New York became the main markets for New Orleans jazz. Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland left New Orleans for Chicago in 1915, and Nick LaRocca and other members of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band headed there in 1916.
Maturation of Jazz - 1917 to the Early 1930s
In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band cut the first commercial jazz recording while playing in New York City, where they were enthusiastically received. The Victor release was an unexpected hit. Suddenly, jazz New Orleans style was a national craze.
With the new demand for jazz, employment opportunities in the north coaxed more musicians to leave New Orleans. For example, clarinetist Sidney Bechet left for Chicago in 1917, and cornetist Joe "King" Oliver followed two years later. The appeal of the New Orleans sound knew no boundaries. By 1919 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was performing in England and Bechet was in France; their music was wholeheartedly welcomed.
King Oliver, who had led popular bands in New Orleans along with trombonist Edward "Kid" Ory, established the trend-setting Creole Jazz Band in Chicago in 1922. Also in Chicago, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings blended the Oliver and Original Dixieland Jazz Band sounds and collaborated with Jelly Roll Morton in 1923.
Perhaps the most significant departure from New Orleans was in 1922 when Louis Armstrong was summoned to Chicago by King Oliver, his mentor. Louis Armstrong swung with a great New Orleans feeling, but unlike any of his predecessors, his brilliant playing led a revolution in jazz that replaced the polyphonic ensemble style of New Orleans with development of the soloist's art. The technical improvement and popularity of phonograph records spread Armstrong's instrumental and vocal innovations and make him internationally famous. His Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-28), including his celebrated work with Earl Hines, were quite popular and are milestones in the progression of the music.
Jelly Roll Morton, another New Orleans giant, also made a series of influential recordings while based in Chicago in the 1920s. Morton's compositions added sophistication and a structure for soloists to explore, and his work set the stage for the Swing era.
New Orleans musicians and musical styles continued to influence jazz nationally as the music went through a rapid series of stylistic changes. Jazz became the unchallenged popular music of America during the Swing era of the 1930s and 1940s. Later innovations, such as bebop in the 1940s and avant-garde in the 1960s, departed further from the New Orleans tradition.
Once the small-band New Orleans style fell out of fashion, attempts were made to revive the music. In the late 1930s, recognizing that early jazz had been neglected and deserved serious study, jazz enthusiasts turned back to New Orleans. Many New Orleans musicians and others were still actively playing traditional jazz. Recordings and performances by Bunk Johnson and George Lewis stimulated a national jazz revival movement, providing opportunities for traditional jazz players that persist today.
Quotations from Jazz Pioneers on the Early History of Jazz
Sidney Bechet, "Treat It Gentle"
There was this club, too, that we played at, the Twenty-Five Club. That was about 1912, 1913; and all the time we played there, people were talking about Freddie Keppard. Freddie, he had left New Orleans with his band and he was traveling all over the country playing towns on the Orpheum Circuit. At the time, you know, that was something new and Freddie kept sending back all these clippings from what all the newspapermen and the critics and all was writing up about him, about his music, about his band. And all these clippings were asking the same thing: where did it come from? It seems like everyone along the circuit was coming up to Freddie to ask about this ragtime. Especially when his show, the Original Creole Band, got to the Winter Gardens in New York...that was the time they was asking about it the most. Where did it come from? And back at the Twenty-Five these friends of Freddie's kept coming around and showing these clippings, wanting to know what it was all about. It was a new thing then.
Baby Dodds, "The Baby Dodds Story"
[Big Eye Louis Nelson] lived downtown, and I lived uptown. He was on the north side of town, and I was living on the south side. In other words, he was a Creole and lived in the French part of town. Canal Street was the dividing line and the people from the different sections didn't mix. The musicians mixed only if you were good enough. But at one time the Creole fellows thought uptown musicians weren't good enough to play with them, because most of the uptown musicians didn't read music. Everybody in the French part of town read music.
Louis Armstrong, "Satchmo: My Life in New Orleans"
The funerals in New Orleans are sad until the body is finally lowered into the grave and the reverend says, "ashes to ashes and dust to dust." After the brother was six feet under the ground the band would strike up one of those good old tunes like "Didn't He Ramble", and all the people would leave their worries behind. Particularly when King Oliver blew that last chorus in high register.
Once the band starts, everybody starts swaying from one side of the street to the other, especially those who drop in and follow the ones who have been to the funeral. These people are known as 'the second line', and the may be anyone passing along the street who wants to hear the music. The spirit hits them and they follow along to see what's happening.
Pops Foster, "Pops Foster: The Autobiography of a New Orleans Jazzman"
From about 1900 on, there were three types of bands playing in New Orleans. You had bands that played ragtime, ones that played sweet music, and the ones that played nothin' but blues. A band like John Robichaux's played nothin' but sweet music and played the dirty affairs. On a Saturday night Frankie Duson's Eagle Band would play the Masonic Hall because he played a whole lot of blues. A band like the Magnolia Band would play ragtime and work the District...All the bands around New Orleans would play quadrilles starting about midnight. When you did that nice people would know it was time to go home because things got rough after that.
Jelly Roll Morton, "Mr. Jelly Roll" (Alan Lomax)
You see, New Orleans was very organization-minded. I have never seen such beautiful clubs as they had there...the Broadway Swells, the High Arts, the Orleans Aides, the Bulls and Bears, the Tramps, the Iroquois, the Allegroes...that was just a few of them, and those clubs would parade at least once a week. They'd have a great big band. The grand marshall would ride in front with his aides behind him, all with expensive sashes and streamers.
Nick LaRocca (interviewed by Richard Allen, May 26, 1958)
"[T]he Livery Stable Blues" became a national hit. It was all over the world, even down in Honolulu and all where American forces went...we entertained over a million men... I played on the bill with Caruso. I played on the bills with Jolson. I played on the bills with Eddie Cantor.
Jazz Origins in New Orleans, 1895-1927
Even before jazz, for most New Orleanians, music was not a luxury as it often is elsewhere–it was a necessity. Throughout the nineteenth century, diverse ethnic and racial groups — French, Spanish, and African, Italian, German, and Irish — found common cause in their love of music. The 1870s represented the culmination of a century of music making in the Crescent City. During this time, the European classical legacy and the influence of European folk and African/Caribbean elements were merged with a popular American mainstream, which combined and adapted Old World practices into new forms deriving from a distinctive regional environment. Just after the beginning of the new century, jazz began to emerge as part of a broad musical revolution encompassing ragtime, blues, spirituals, marches, and the popular fare of "Tin Pan Alley." It also reflected the profound contributions of people of African heritage to this new and distinctly American music.
The early development of jazz in New Orleans is most associated with the popularity of bandleader Charles "Buddy" Bolden, an "uptown" cornetist whose charisma and musical power became legendary. After playing briefly with Charley Galloway’s string band in 1894, Bolden formed his own group in 1895. During the next decade he built a loyal following, entertaining dancers throughout the city (especially at Funky Butt Hall, which also doubled as a church, and at Johnson and Lincoln Parks). In 1906 he collapsed while performing in a street parade. The following year he was institutionalized at the state sanitarium at Jackson for the remainder of his life.
Dancing had long been a mainstay of New Orleans nightlife, and Bolden’s popularity was based on his ability to give dancers what they wanted. During the nineteenth century, string bands, led by violinists, had dominated dance work, offering waltzes, quadrilles, polkas, and schottisches to a polite dancing public. By the turn of the century, an instrumentation borrowing from both brass marching bands and string bands was predominant: usually a front line of cornet, clarinet, and trombone with a rhythm section of guitar, bass, and drums. Dance audiences, especially the younger ones, wanted more excitement. The emergence of ragtime, blues and later, jazz satisfied this demand. Increasingly, musicians began to redefine roles, moving away from sight-reading toward playing by ear. In contrast to society bands such as John Robichaux’s (representing the highly-skilled "Frenchmen" or Creoles of color), bands such as Bolden’s, Jack Laine’s Reliance, or the Golden Rule worked out their numbers by practicing until parts were memorized. Each member could offer suggestions for enhancing a piece of music, subject to the approval of the leader. Gradually, New Orleans jazzmen became known for a style of blending improvised parts–sometimes referred to as "collective improvisation". It appealed to younger players and dancers alike because it permitted greater freedom of expression, spontaneity, and fun.
After Bolden, several bands competed for control of the "ratty" (as it was called) music market. Trombonist Frankie Dusen took over Bolden’s group renaming it the Eagle Band after a favorite saloon. Cornetist Manuel Perez had the Imperial Orchestra–a dance band featuring "Big Eye" Louis Nelson Delisle on clarinet. He also led the Onward Brass Band in a looser, more improvisational direction. Other dance bands, such as the Olympia, Superior, and the Peerless, began to play the exciting sound of jazz. "Papa" Laine’s Reliance bands continued to attract young white musicians who wanted to play jazz. However, the band which best represented the transition from Bolden’s early experiments to the classical jazz bands of the 1920’s was Kid Ory’s Creole band.
Edward "Kid" Ory, the son of a white Frenchman and a Creole woman of Afro-Spanish and native American heritage, was born in La Place, Louisiana, and classified as a Creole of color. In 1901, at the age of 14, he was already leading a band of his own, organizing dances for his neighbors, and casting an ambitious eye toward New Orleans, the Mecca of jazz. In 1907 Ory took his Woodland Band to the city. Over the course of the next decade, he upgraded his personnel to include such future jazz stars as Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny and Warren Dodds, and Jimmie Noone. Ory was also a talented promoter. It is said that he revolutionized the practice of "cutting contests" between bands that advertised on horse-drawn furniture wagons when he introduced the use of motorized trucks–no band could escape him! For several years his band held forth at Pete Lala’s saloon in Storyville.
The site of his greatest triumphs was probably Economy Hall — a dance hall in the Treme section, bordering on Storyville and the French Quarter. As the headquarters of the "Economy and Mutual Aid Association," the Economy was typical of numerous social aid and pleasure clubs and benevolent associations. These organizations provided a variety of social services, including brass band funerals and dances, to the New Orleans black community. Outside entrepreneurs like Ory, who maximized attendance at his dances could also rent the Economy by renting nearby Hope’s Hall and keeping it closed. Ory’s career as a bandleader in the Crescent City (1908-1919) coincided with the years in which the "collective improvisation" approach of New Orleans musicians reached maturity. His band became an incubator for the development of black jazz talent, much as Jack Laine’s bands did for young white musicians. Ory was the first black New Orleans jazz bandleader to make a recording — "Ory’s Creole Trombone" in 1921.
The early development of jazz in New Orleans was connected to the community life of the city, as seen in brass band funerals, music for picnics in parks or ball games, Saturday night fish fries, and Sunday camping along the shores of Lake Ponchartrain at Milneburg and Bucktown. There were also red beans and rice banquettes on Monday’s, and nightly dances at neighborhood halls all over town. The New Orleans sound was "good time" music, delivered in a rollicking, sometimes rough manner, which suited everyday people seeking music "with a feeling." This spirit or emotional content connected the performer to the audience. It offered a musical communication in which all parties could participate (as with the "second line" dancers who turned out for brass band processions). Despite their popular success at home, New Orleans bands often experienced difficulty in trying to win over new audiences in places like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. Coinciding with the First World War (1914-1919), New Orleans musicians began to travel extensively. They frequently found themselves at an initial disadvantage in their attempts to introduce dancers to the New Orleans sound.
The story of the original Creole Orchestra is a case in point. This band was organized in Los Angeles by bassist Bill Johnson, who traveled with a band to that city as early as 1908. By 1914, Johnson had attracted some of New Orleans best "hot" jazz players, including cornetist Freddie Keppard (widely regarded as Bolden’s successor), clarinetist George Baquet, and violinist James Palao. While performing at a prizefight, the Creole band fell victim to the venom of a writer for the Los Angeles Times, who characterized their playing as "a vile imitation of music." Yet from 1914 to 1918, the band traveled throughout the country, playing prestigious theaters, which should have guaranteed success. However, theater audiences were not in a position to respond appropriately because New Orleans jazz was essentially dancing music. In 1916 the Victor Talking Machine Company offered Keppard and the Creole Orchestra an opportunity to record, but he refused. Keppard feared (with some justification) that recording would enable the competition to copy his style. When the Creole Orchestra disbanded in 1918, there was little to show for their efforts. The individual members went on to join or form new musical alliance as best they could. In retrospect, however, they were the first New Orleans style band to travel extensively, pioneering a path that would be followed by others.
Bill Johnson landed in Chicago, where a growing economy attending American entry into the Great War created a boom, which meant jobs for ambitious musicians. Johnson sent for Joe Oliver who, at age 33, had earned a reputation as one of the Crescent City’s top cornetist. His early work with the Onward Brass Band, the Olympia, the Superior and the Eagle bands led to his association with Kid Ory in 1917. Then a series of problems resulting from police raids on the saloon where he was performing convinced him that he should pursue greener pastures elsewhere. Observers of the early New Orleans jazz scene, particularly Johnny Wiggs and Edmond Souchon, have credited Oliver as the first to depart from the Bolden/Keppard approach to leading a front line, which they described as more ragtime than jazz. Souchon and Wiggs heard Oliver many times at subscription dances at the Tulane University Gymnasium. His use of mutes to achieve vocal effects, his fluid and adventurous sense of rhythm, and his blues phrasing, made Oliver a major influence on all who followed, including Louis Armstrong, his most famous protégé. Oliver’s presence in Chicago served as both an anchor and a magnet for other New Orleans musicians, and during the 1920's he led some of the most celebrated bands in jazz history.
Chicago was also the destination for many of the white jazz musicians who left New Orleans in search of fame and fortune. In 1915, trombonist Tom Brown took his band from Dixieland to the Windy City at the invitation of a talent scout who heard them on the sidewalks of the Vieux Carre. Cornetist Ray Lopez remembered that the band spent its first weeks at Lamb’s Café trying in vain to entice dancers to respond to New Orleans music. Business picked up when the cast of a traveling show, "Maid in America," demonstrated how much fun could be had with a jazz band. (They had previously heard the group in New Orleans.) Brown then took his band (billed as the Five Rubes) to the vaudeville stage of New York, but they suffered the same fate as the Creole Band.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) was more successful. They arrived in Chicago in 1916 and then went to New York at the beginning of 1917. Crucial to the band’s popularity was a booking at Reisenweber’s, a cabaret in mid-Manhattan, where dancers were soon lining up (after some initial hesitation) to experience a night of "jazz". The band became an instant hit, which led directly to interest for the nation’s top record manufacturers, Victor and Columbia, who were eager to exploit the new "jazz craze." After a failed audition for Columbia, the ODJB had greater success with a recording of "Livery Stable Blues" for Victor in February 1917. Within six months of its release, over one million copies had been sold, thus fusing the New Orleans sound with the term "jazz" in a commercial product which could be widely distributed. While sheet music continued to be an important medium for the spread of new music, phonograph records were far superior, capturing almost every nuance of a performance and conveying aspects of playing style that were essential to jazz but difficult to write down.
The records made by ODJB were extremely influential in spreading jazz throughout the nation and the world, but they also had an important impact on musicians back home in New Orleans. An advertisement by Maison Blanche (a local department store) affirmed that these records promoted all New Orleans music and were a model for further development: "Here is positively the greatest dance record ever issued. Made by New Orleans musicians for New Orleans people, it has all the ‘swing’ and ‘pep’ and ‘spirit’ that is so characteristic of the bands whose names are a by-word at New Orleans dances." Furthermore, despite the impact of segregation, the records’ appeal transcended the color lines. Louis Armstrong was known to have collected the ODJB’s records. Violinist Manuel Manetta recalled being let go by one of the City’s most successful bands because "Joe Oliver and Kid Ory wanted to follow the format of the Dixieland Jazz Band and use only five pieces." The success of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band through the medium of phonograph recording completed a revolution in dance and instrumentation begun in the 1890's by Buddy Bolden and fathered some two decades earlier. This standardized the jazz band lineup and demonstrated dramatically how recordings could be used to promote the music.
It is not by coincidence that the decade of the 1920s has come to be known as "The Jazz Age." This was the time when jazz became fashionable, as part of the youthful revolution in morals and manners that came with the "return to normalcy" following World War I. Americans were now more urbanized, affluent, and entertainment-oriented than ever before. The music industry was quick to take advantage of the situation. In 1921, 100 million phonograph records were produced in the United States (compared to 25 million in 1914). Two years later production remained high at 92 million, setting a trend, which continued, for the better part of the decade (until the impact of radio). This prosperity relied heavily on the demand of records by dancers. They could be used at home for practicing the latest steps, including such exotic dances as the Shimmy, the Charleston, the Black Bottom, and the more utilitarian Fox Trot, also known as "the businessman’s bounce." Along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, steamboats offered dance excursions, which provided employment for many New Orleans jazz musicians. In 1918 the Streckfus Company asked St. Louis bandleader Fate Marable to organize a New Orleans band, first on the S.S. Sidney, and then on their flagship the S.S. Capitol. Marable had high musical standards, and his musicians were expected to read music as well as improvise. Marable’s recording of "Frankie and Johnny" (recorded in New Orleans for Okeh in 1924) indicates that improvisation was more an afterthought than an objective. This recording still effects a jazz feeling, much like that of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra, which dominated the 1920s New York scene.
Other bands which worked on the riverboats out of New Orleans were the Sam Morgan Jazz Band, Oscar Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, and Ed Allen’s Gold Whispering Band. The excursion trade became important for many of the city’s black jazz bands. These bands had to file their contracts with the Mobile, Alabama chapter (the closest black local), which was well over a hundred miles away. Having been denied membership into the Musicians Protected Union No. 174, New Orleans white music union, Celestin and others petitioned to establish a local chapter (496) of the American Federation of Musicians in 1926, which ultimately was chartered in Gulfport, Mississippi, because you couldn't have two unions in the same state.
Another of the top performance sites for local jazz bands was the Pythian Temple Roof Garden, part of the multi-story complex run by the Knights of Pythia. Whereas the Streckfus officials usually hired black bands to play on the boat for white audiences, the clients of the Pythian Temple was black affluent, representing a cross-section of New Orleans black middle and upper classes. By the mid-1920s, jazz bands were in demand at the Pythian Temple and debutante balls in the mansions of the Garden District. Jazz musicians who had been earning $1.50 a night working in dance halls and saloons in the District ten years earlier were now making $25 for a night’s work at these upscale locations. Growing social acceptance allowed jazz musicians to transcend associations with crime and poverty, which had sometimes haunted music in its earliest days. Even so, for those who wanted to make it to the top of the entertainment industry, all roads led out of town.
During the better part of the recording boom of the 1920s, Chicago was the place to be. The years 1922-1923 yielded a number of important recordings by two bands of New Orleans musicians who had come together in Chicago: the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (originally the Friars Society Orchestra) and King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. These two groups continued to use many of the elements associated with early jazz recordings, such as stop-time, breaks, and ensemble riffing. However, they did much more with them, thus taking the concept of collective- improvised jazz to a higher artistic level. This included an expanded repertoire of "riffs" and new compositions, a more consistent and "swinging" rhythmic pulse, and "solo improvisation".
Cornetist Paul Mares led the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, another Laine alumnus, who had worked the riverboats in 1919 before relocating to Chicago in 1920. In late 1921, the band opened at the Friar’s Inn on the North Side, where it remained for almost a year and a half. Its most notable players were clarinetist Leon Roppolo and trombonist George Brunies, whose development of solo improvisation is evident in the group’s recordings. The first of these were made for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, in August, 1922, and consisted mainly of ODJB songs such as "Tiger Rag" and "Livery Stable Blues" and ragtime-era standards such as "Panama" and "Bugle Call Blues." In March 1923, NORK began to concentrate on original material, especially "Tin Roof Blues," and popular material of the day, such as "Sweet Lovin’ Man," a Lil Hardin composition soon to be recorded by Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Perhaps the band’s most interesting recordings were those done in July, 1923, with the famed composer and pianist Jelly Roll Morton, a New Orleans Creole of color who had been among the first jazz musicians to take the music on the road. Classic renditions of "Milneberg Joys" (sic), "London Blues," and "Clarinet Marmalade" resulted, but the sessions were not only musically significant. This was the first racially integrated jazz recording session. Crossing the color line in Indiana–a state where the Ku Klux Klan was politically powerful in the 1920s–was potentially hazardous, even for something as anonymous as a recording session. Yet, what mattered to the individuals were the respective talents of the musicians involved. They all shared a common understanding of the New Orleans idiom that enabled them to interact effectively.
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band is often remembered today as the vehicle, which brought a young Louis Armstrong to wide public attention. In its recording heyday the band was a cooperative outfit which depended on the considerable talents of all its members to create a sensation in the nightclubs of Chicago’s South Side and in the recording studios of Gennett, Paramount, Columbia, and Okeh. Armstrong’s arrival in the summer of 1922 was the final touch in the band’s evolution. The band was known for spectacular dual breaks which Oliver created with his young protégé. Many observers and listeners regarded the Creole Jazz Band as the finest jazz band of its day. It was the first black jazz band to record extensively. Oliver had a hand in the composition of most of the recorded material. He shared credit for "Snake Rag" and "New Orleans Stomp" with clarinetist Alphonse Picou; "Dipper Mouth Blues" and "Canal Street Blues" with Louis Armstrong; and "Working Man’s Blues" with Lil Hardin, in addition to his own tunes, "Chimes Blues" and "Just Gone." These recordings were a summation of the best elements, which had formed New Orleans-style jazz up to this point. The contributions of Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Johnny Dodds as soloist (like those of Roppolo and Brunies) indicated the course that jazz was destined to follow. However, the glory days of the Creole Jazz Band were of short duration. Following the success of the records, the band’s cooperative spirit started to disintegrate. Several members felt that King Joe had become too dictatorial, refusing to share credit for the records’ popularity. In 1924, Lil Hardin (who became Mrs. Armstrong in that year) persuaded Louis to join Fletcher Henderson as a star soloist in New York. The Dodds brothers were pursuing a career on their own. Oliver was left to pick up the pieces, forming a big band, the Dixie Syncopators by the end of the year.
Shifts in popular tastes began to undermine the influences of New Orleans style bands in a number of ways. Orchestras became larger, following trends set by Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Jean Goldkette, and Paul Whiteman. Star soloists took the spotlight, abandoning the collective approach to improvisation. Composers and arrangers controlled the balance between soloists and sections of instruments that supported them in the big band format. Ironically, it was two New Orleans musicians who perhaps best illustrated these trends. Jelly Roll Morton became recognized as the first great jazz composer.
The goal of every jazz musician is to find their own "voice," a sound that is at once unique and identifiable. One of the best examples is Louis Armstrong whose distinctive tone on cornet and personal singing style changed the course of American music. Armstrong’s Hot Five was the vehicle for his growth as a jazz musician. In this group, he raised the New Orleans collective concept to unparalleled heights of creativity and then set a new direction with the sheer brilliance of his solo performances. Although the idea for the Hot Five is often attributed to Lil Hardin Armstrong, it was in fact a New Orleans musician and promoter, (Richard M. Jones), who conceived the notion of showcasing Armstrong in a recording band. Beginning in November 1925, the Hot Five produced almost three dozen records for Okeh (which was acquired by Columbia in 1926) and revolutionized the jazz world in the process.
The band’s first hit was "Heebie Jeebies" (recorded in February, 1926), which was notable for Armstrong’s "scat" vocal, a practice using wordless syllables to create instrumental effects with the voice. However, it was not until the spring of 1927 that Armstrong broke entirely free of the collective format with his rendition of "Wild Man Blues" (credited to both Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton). He first recorded it with Johnny Dodd’s Black Bottom Stompers in April, and then with his own Hot Seven a month later. The earlier Hot Five recordings contained numerous dramatic examples of the cornetist’s solo artistry (as in "Cornet Chop Suey," "My Heart," and "Gutbucket Blues"). "Wild Man Blues" was mainly a series of extended solos, one after another, in which the intensity kept building to a dramatic climax. Armstrong’s breathtaking display of technique combined with ingenuity here confirmed his status as the first superstar of jazz.
For many, Jelly Roll Morton’s principal contribution to the growth and development of New Orleans jazz lies in his accomplishments as a composer and band leader. Morton has been identified as the first great composer of jazz–a role that started with the publication of his "Jelly Roll Blues" in 1915. Especially with his Red Hot Peppers recordings from 1926 to 1930, Jelly combined elements of ragtime, minstrelsy, blues, marches and stomps into a jazz gumbo which anticipated many of the characteristic associated with the larger Swing Bands of the 1930’s. He polished the New Orleans style according to his own vision; balancing intricate ensemble parts with improvised solos by carefully chosen side men. Morton was also a brilliant piano soloist, capable of using the full extent of the keyboard to recreate the sound of a band. As a composer, soloist, and ensemble player, Morton moved rhythms beyond the stiffness of ragtime into the looser and more exciting feel of swing. In addition, Jelly Roll Morton was quite likely the first "philosopher of jazz". He was the first to expound on the principles that governed the music, and his Library of Congress interviews with Alan Lomax in 1938 became for many a last testament for understanding the work of New Orleans jazz pioneers. Yet, by 1938, Morton was already a "forgotten man," having been dropped by Victor, his recording company, in 1930. While Armstrong managed to adapt to the changes in the music business during the Depression years Jelly sank into obscurity. He died in 1941, just as his music was being rediscovered with the New Orleans revival. The magnitude of his recorded legacy lives on in compositions such as "Black Bottom Stomp," "Jungle Blues," "The Pearls," "Steamboat Stomp," and "Georgia Swing". His creative imagination was particularly evident in "Sidewalk Blues," which combined hilarious "hokum," the blues, classical themes, various rhythmic effects and mood changes. "Dead Man Blues" opens with a quote from "Flee As A Bird," a dirge common at New Orleans brass band funerals, providing yet another indication of how Morton took his inspiration from the city of his birth, no matter where his travels led him. While Morton’s music reflected elements drawn from the mood and spirit of many places, and musical styles, the influence of the crescent city remained ever present as a source of inspiration.
Like democracy itself, the collective improvisation which characterized New Orleans-style jazz required a delicate balance between the individual’s desire for freedom and the community’s need for order and unity. While the collective approach was crucial as a context for musical experimentation in the earliest days, it was individual creativity and charisma, which propelled jazz along the path to the future. Many of the jazz "stars" of New Orleans left town to follow their destiny–Oliver, Armstrong, Ory, Morton, the Dodds brothers and Sidney Bechet became legends —but the jazz scene back home continued on its own terms after their departure. Indeed, many of the most significant features of the Crescent City’s musical landscape, especially the brass bands, remained unknown outside of New Orleans. As far as the recording industry was concerned, these groups were not commercial. It wasn’t until the mid-1940s that an attempt was made to document this part of jazz heritage. The first brass band recordings were of smaller groups created especially for the sessions. Bill Russell recorded Buck Johnson’s brass band in 1945 and Rudi Blesh did the Original Zenith in 1946. Finally, in 1951, Alden Ashforth recorded the Eureka, a regular New Orleans brass band. Yet, brass bands were absolutely essential to the New Orleans environment throughout the entire period.
Furthermore, many gifted players stayed home in the 1920s, giving rise to the remarkable diversity found in local jazz recordings by Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, the Halfway House Orchestra, A.J. Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, the New Orleans Owls, Johnny DeDroit, Louis Dumain, the Jones & Collins Astoria Hot Eight, John Hyman and Bayou Stompers, and the Sam Morgan Jazz Band. None of these recordings became "hits" in the manner of Armstrong and Morton, but they reveal an essential truth–that the New Orleans music scene remained a fertile ground for creative musicians of diverse backgrounds, who were united by a common love of the music and a reverence for the culture that produced it.
This history was prepared by a National Park Service study team to be included in the Special Resource Study and Environmental Assessment of Suitable/Feasable Alternatives for the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park in 1993.
Sources of Contribution: Subcommittee Participants
Jack Stewart, PhD
Michael White, PhD
Bruce Raeburn, PhD
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