Content/Trigger warning: Racist imagery and lyrics.
Among the origins of jazz are several overlapping musical genres that were popular at the end of the nineteenth century.
- Black musical theater, which, around the turn of the twentieth century, crossed color lines to become popular with white as well as black audiences.
Marti Newland singing “Swing Along,” a song from the musical theater show of the same name, by Will Marion Cook:
The overture to In Dahomey, also by Cook, the first full-length musical written and performed by African-Americans to play in a major Broadway theater (in 1903):
What musical styles do you recognize in these pieces?
2. “Coon songs,” written by both black and white composers, which portrayed black Americans in stereotypical and denigrating ways.
Even Scott Joplin cashed in on the coon song craze with a song about a free black man in the North thinking fondly about his happy days as a slave in the South:
3. Ragtime, from which jazz got its emphasis on syncopation:
“Down Home Rag” by James Reese Europe, whose ensemble, James Reese Europe’s Society Orchestra, were the first black band to receive a recording contract.
4. The rural blues: the semi-improvisatory way that the vocal line wanders freely over the steady rhythm of the guitar:
5. The cultural crossroads that was New Orleans, where the presence of both free and enslaved blacks and French, Spanish, Caribbean, and Creole (mixed French and African ancestry; Creoles were known as gens de couleur) populations created a unique mix of sounds. Jazz was a kind of mash-up of the orally/aurally-transmitted New Orleans black blues tradition with the classically-trained European traditions practiced by Creole musicians.
Pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand LeMothe, 1890-1941), one of the most famous and influential of the early Creole jazz musicians.
Buddy Bolden (1877-1931), a Creole cornet player and bandleader whose skill at improvisation was legendary, and who fused blues, ragtime, gospel, and and marching-band music in his playing. He is credited with leading the first jazz (sometimes spelled “jass”) band in New Orleans.
Jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961) speaks about Bolden and plays an excerpt from one of his most famous compositions, “Buddy Bolden’s Blues” (originally known as “Funky Butt”).
The trailer for a 2019 film about Buddy Bolden:
Nevertheless, the New Orleans band that made the first jazz recordings, The Original Dixieland Jass Band, was all white.
Bandleader and cornetist Nick LaRocca, the son of Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans, went so far as to claim that
Question: New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz. What historical and social conditions made New Orleans the perfect spot for the development this new music? Watch episode 1 of Ken Burns Jazz (linked on the syllabus) before you answer!
Leave your answers in the comments.