Friday, May 6, 2011

"What is Traditional Jazz?" by George A. Borgman

What is traditional jazz? It is the wonderful music that originated in New Orleans, traveled on river boats up the Mississippi River into Memphis, St. Louis, and eventually into Chicago and New York City. In Chicago such black musicians as Louis Armstrong and King Oliver were featured in clubs, and several white musicians from New Orleans formed the Original Dixieland Jazz Band there and moved on to New York, where they made the first jazz recording. The stride piano style allegedly originated in New York's Harlem.

During Prohibition, jazz became so popular in speakeasies and night clubs that the 1920s became known as the Jazz Age, and music performed for the dancers is known as hot dance music. It was played from charts, and solos were improvised, whereas the music of New Orleans and Chicago was performed without music. As time went by, along came such bands as Fletcher Henderson's and Glen Gray's Casa Loma Orchestra, and they began playing a more jump style that led into the swing idiom.

Johann Sebastian Bach
All the styles mentioned above can be called traditional jazz, in my opinion. Many people imply that jazz is the only music that is improvised. That's not true, Johann Sebastian Bach and other organists improvised in cathedrals, and in my opinion any composer - a monk who thought up a Gregorian chant, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, George Gershwin and other Tin Pan Alley composers - were improvisers when they wrote original tunes. So, improvisation is not limited to jazz, trad or otherwise.

I was classically trained on piano, clarinet and saxophone and have two degrees in musicology, but I love jazz and swing, which I used to play in the 1940s and early 1950s. I was never a great improviser, though, and I admire the jazz musicians who can improvise well.

I have one pet peeve, and that is when a bandleader identifies the music of "Louisiana Fairy Tale" as being written by Fats Waller or Louis Armstrong! J. Fred Coots wrote the music for that tune. Let's get it right, guys! And who was the clarinet player who took the solo on "Louisiana Fairy Tale" on the original This Old House on PBS? The answer: Billy Novick of the New Black Eagle Jazz Band.

No comments:

Post a Comment