Tuesday, May 6, 2014

DELVING INTO THE GENEALOGY OF JAZZ - A 1919 Article on Jazz From Current Opinion Magazine


Was It Born in Chicago, Brought Up in New Orleans, Discovered by New York and Glorified by Paris?

GOOD or bad, fad or institution, Jazz was born in Chicago, developed in New Orleans, exploited in New York and glorified in Paris. So writes one of the many authorities who have recently delved into this latest manifestation of American music that has conquered a place in the western world. 

Howard Brockway, the American composer, attempts to explain, in the N. Y. Review, the characteristics and origin of Jazz, but its origin still remains obscure. Chicago claims it, and, according to E. M. King, Chicago still holds the strongest title. But Jazz, claims Mr. Brockway, tho it is new to us in the United States and through us to both England and France, is not absolutely new to the world. He attempts an analysis of this newest musical phenomenon:

“Just what is Jazz? In striving to answer this query, I can not hope to imitate the admirable brevity of the word. Jazz is ordered and calculated noise. It is a compound of qualities, both rhythmic and melodic. It seeks, and with absolute success be it said, to sweep from our minds all simultaneous consideration of other things, and to focus our attention upon its own mad, whirling, involved self. Herein lies a large part of its compelling force and appeal. It may well be that General Gouraud could find the hideous load of responsibility lightened, perhaps even put aside for the moment, as he listened to Europe's jazzing, and that he felt his pulse responding to the virile rhythm, and his emotions joining in the rush of the humorous carefree mood. Certain it is that our dough-boys, fresh from the trenches, with days and weeks of grim endeavor and physical strain behind them, turned to the Jazz furnished by their bands and found in it relaxation and solace and cheer which enabled them to forget what was past and to abandon themselves wholeheartedly to the joyous hilarity of the present moment.

“There is not the slightest doubt that in this maelstrom of rhythm there abides a powerful tonic effect. Through the medium of the physical, it reaches and influences the psychological attitude. I have been convinced of the truth of this fact by personal experience, undergone not once but many times."

Jazz is composed of rhythm, melody and a certain modicum of contrapuntal inner voices, continues Mr. Brockway. But the greatest of these is rhythm. The Jazz band starts out to “get you" and leaves nothing to chance. “It is fairly well established that only an oyster can resist the appeal of syncopated rhythm when it is performed with masterful abandon which absolutely controls dynamic gradations and vital accents.” Here is the real secret of Jazz:

The howitzers of the Jazz band's artillery are stationed in the ‘traps.’ Under this heading we find all the instruments of percussion, such as the big drum, the snare drum, cymbals, triangle, wooden blocks played upon with drumsticks, xylophone, cowbells, rattles, whistles for the production of various weird noises, and in most of other implements, often the personal conceptions of individual players of the traps. The trombones may represent field guns, while the clarinets, oboes, saxophones, alto horns and cornets furnish the rapid-fire batteries. The range being pointblank, it is easy to see why the effect of the ‘drum-fire' is complete!

“The melody will always be borne by sufficient instruments to ensure its ‘getting over.’ Then, in the inner voices of the band, will take place a combination of effects which adds enormously to the total drive of the number. Here are certain of the contrapuntal features which are mentioned above. They consist of a variety of hilarious effects, produced by trombones or saxophones, attained by a curious sliding from note to note. This creates an extremely comical result. This characteristic and droll portamento has become so well known and so popular that it has achieved a specific name—‘blues,’ a humorously apt designation. A striking contrast is made by the mournful soughing of the trombones in the midst of the joyous riot of the rest of the band. Sharp rhythmic ejaculations arise from out the welter of sound, and over the whole tumult the traps-player spreads his array of dazzling accents, brought forth with absolute virtuosity from his motley army of noise producers. It almost seems, at times, like a case of ‘each for himself and the devil take the hindmost.’ But it is not so, and there is definite purpose and ordered means in it all."

In support of his contention that Jazz is not new to the world, Mr. Brockway tells of a Chinese festival held at Paderewski‘s chateau in Switzerland, in honor of the great pianist’s birthday. At that time Mr Brockway discovered phonograph records of a native Siamese orchestra:

“When I first heard them played, I was astounded, for there in this Siamese music, in spite of the strange Oriental idioms, from an Occidental’s harmonic standpoint, was the very essence of— Jazz! The music was like nothing that my ears had ever heard, and uncouth to the point of absolute unintelligibility. But there were the insistent rhythm, the demoniac energy, the fantastic riot of accents from the drums and other percussion instruments, and a humorous mood which made me laugh long and loud. It seemed humorous to me. I have often wondered what that mood really was—in Siamese. There is no room for doubt when we hear our own Jazz!   Wholehearted, boisterous, rough, but the very soul of kindly good humor and care-free merriment."

Other less erudite musical authorities are satisfied that Jazz is purely of American origin. We find the New York Telegraph, Broadway’s own gazette, for instance, giving the credit to Chicago:

“At last we have the genesis of Jazz. Chicago disputes the 'honor' of having first stuffed cotton in its ear, with New Orleans, where so many idiosyncrasies of Senegambian flavor originated. We are convinced that Chicago has made out a good case. ‘Good or bad, fad or institution,’ says the brief for Chicago, ‘Jazz was born in this city, developed in New Orleans, exploited in New York and glorified in Paris.’ And Chicago presents as Exhibit A, Jasbo Brown, a negro musician, who doubled with the comet and piccolo. ‘When he was sober,’ continues the brief, ‘he played orthodox music, but when he imbibed freely of gin, which was his favorite pastime, he had a way of screaming above the melody with a strange barbaric abandon. One evening a young woman frequenter of the café where he held forth, tired of the conventional manner in which the music was played, called out, “A little more Jasbo in that piece!" The cry was taken up. “Jazz! Jazz !" and Jazz music was christened.’ "

Is Jazz one of the spiritual results of our attempt at assimilation of some thirty-nine different races? questions E. M. King in the N. Y. Evening Post. Or have all the itinerant musicians-— masters and monkeys, German bands and hurdy-gurdies, ferry-boat fellows and those who jangle the tambourines — combined in a scheme for self-preservation? A certain professor remarked last winter that Jazz bands were merely outbreaks of irrepressible spontaneity, which would express itself momentarily and then disappear. But they are becoming epidemic, international. Mr. King thinks that Jazz is a ragged combination of letters that suggests bumping and snorting, wind and banging blinds, broken glass and the devil-may-care back of it all. Chicago, therefore, he asserts, is its inevitable origin:

“The traditional place of wind and broken glass, and the geographical center of the Jazz bands is Chicago. Not once in a long journey did a traveler hear more manifestations, morning, noon and night, of what Jazz bands can do under pressure than smote the ear in Chicago. Up and down Michigan Avenue the bands rent the air with their tonal curses and during the height of the loan nothing less than ‘My Country 'Tis of Thee’ was subjected to irresponsible syncopation. Jumping and throbbing, 'Sweet Land of Liberty' was pitiful lèse majesté. Certainly there ascended on Chicago's famous Broadway by the lake actual cosmic vacuums, holes and slashes in space, if you please, pierced by instruments lifted in ethereal massacre. To all appearances, Chicago not only does not mind, but likes it. O Chicago, couldst thou but sit on the parapet once removed and hear! . . . Surely, if the general air in Chicago is preeminently Jazz, if it is true that the good people naturally pitch and roll to the lilt of the many bands, why should the country allow the lake city to constitute itself a propagating choir of Jazz immortal? If one municipality has lost its aesthetic sense, has it no respect for the feelings of others? Shall the popcorn of Chicago blow over all the lot?

“This is a fair metaphor, too. Put a whole band in a giant popper, hold it over the glowing coals of an ample crater, and, shaking well, command it to make some jolly music—the production would be meticulously true to Jazz form: The wheezes of the scorching horns; the popping of the overheated drumheads; the groans and pleadings of the musicians, with now and then a pure silvery note from a thoroughbred piper who cared not a rap that he was to be roasted for his art; the ravings of the crowd looking on; dervishes and holy-rollers expressing themselves; the chuckles of a few cannibals; and over all the raucous imperturbability of old horse fiddles. . . . That would be a Chicago Jazz band.

“So far many parts of the East have been spared. Washington is almost free. New York is rent in spots. Boston is only slightly Jazz. But the Middle West is in the throes—and it may never know it until consciousness returns.”

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded in 1919 playing Satanic Blues.

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