The Chicago jazz scene takes… Monterey, California?

What does a beach town with a nationally renowned aquarium and Chicagoan jazz legends like Thelonious Monk have in common? If you are a jazz musician today and don’t live under a rock, you might know the answer – the Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the biggest and most prestigious jazz festivals in the country. Founded in 1958, it is the longest continuously-running jazz festival in the world, and, today, only the best of the best of professional jazz musicians get invited to perform (1).

The Festival was co-founded by Ralph Gleason, a jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle, and Jimmy Lyons, a jazz disc jockey. It took them over two years to organize the first festival, but they worked on overdrive to book jazz musicians from all the major jazz epicenters, like New Orleans, Harlem, and Chicago (2). In the very first festival, the two pulled the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday (whose particular performance became famous, especially since she died suddenly about nine months later), and Dave Brubeck, who coined and was the first supporter of the idea of the festival (1).

Seen in newspaper articles from the Chicago Defender, there was not only considerable effort made by the festival to recruit top talent in jazz, but also efforts made to uplift the communities that the musicians hailed from and where there were fans. Check out this article advertising the musicians in the 1961 festival (3) and 1963 festival, which included Thelonious Monk (4):

The jazz festival has been popular for years, and has drawn as many as 40,000 people over the three days per year. It has also implemented programs for outreach, including funding music scholarships at the Monterey Peninsula College and Berklee College of Music, a summer jazz camp for students, and honor ensembles, including a big band, a vocal jazz ensemble, and women-only combos. Another outreach program of the festival is its Next Generation Jazz Festival, in which big bands, combos, singers, and jazz choirs from schools and universities across the country compete to even make it into the prestigious three-day event (5). This festival is especially cool for me because I was lucky enough to get to perform at it in high school with my vocal jazz ensemble! (I’m pretty sure we got close to the bottom of the competition rankings, though: California has a pretty fantastic jazz scene, both in general and at high schools.)

Sources:

(1) “Monterey Jazz Festival.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 16, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monterey_Jazz_Festival.

(2) “The Monterey Jazz Festival Collection.” Spotlight at Stanford. Accessed November 20, 2022. https://exhibits.stanford.edu/mjf.

(3) Monterey jazz festival boasts allstar lineup(2). 1961. The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967), Aug 19, 1961. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/monterey-jazz-festival-boasts-allstar-lineup-2/docview/492970249/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(4) Line up jazz festival for monterey, calif. 1963. Chicago Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1960-1973), Aug 26, 1963. https://www.proquest.com/historical-newspapers/line-up-jazz-festival-monterey-calif/docview/493965032/se-2 (accessed November 21, 2022).

(5) “JazzReach – Education – 65th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival.” Monterey Jazz Festival. Accessed November 21, 2022. https://montereyjazzfestival.org/education/program/jazzreach/.

Jazz, genre fusion as stereotyping, and Gershwin

George Gershwin was an internationally renowned composer most famous in the 1910s through the 1930s. Starting out as a song plugger, he eventually worked his way up the food chain as a composer, and he got so far up that, when he asked Maurice Ravel to teach him composition, Ravel said that Gershwin should teach him (1)! Much of his body of work is still performed today, such as “Rhapsody in Blue”, the opera “Porgy and Bess” and the most famous song from it, “Summertime”, and “Fascinating Rhythm” (2).

The most prominent feature of Gershwin’s compositional style is the fusion of jazz with other classical advances in composition. Other composers of the time period, like Copland, were also fusing genres, but Gershwin was more outright about including specific techniques and harmonic progressions that were known to be used solely in jazz. “Rhapsody in Blue” is a prime example of this. Gershwin also was inspired by French composers like Ravel, Debussy and Nadia Boulanger, and fused those along with jazz and other American musical tropes (1).

While Gershwin helped bring attention to jazz as a legitimate genre amongst concertgoers (3), many Black musicians share understandably mixed feelings about how Gershwin adopted Black music conventions. One of the primary reasons for these criticisms comes in “Porgy and Bess” (here is a link to its most famous number, “Summertime”).

The Gershwins' Porgy and Bess and the Quest for American Opera – UMS –  University Musical Society

“Porgy and Bess” is a story about Black characters that stereotypes a lot of their actions, as the novel upon which the opera was based was written by a white man and displayed how he thought Black people lived (6). Within the plot, there is a cocaine dealer with purchases made off him, a murder, and marital infidelity, which isn’t abnormal for the plot of an opera, but in the context of minstrelsy stereotyping that Black people thought infidelity was fine, it is certainly questionable (4). In terms of cocaine, it was demonized at the time and was stereotyped as a Black drug that caused them to commit more crime, especially in the South (5). Karen Henson also argues that each character in “Porgy and Bess” represent certain common minstrel characters: Porgy resembles ‘Samba’, the cocaine dealer Sportin’ Life represents ‘Trickster’, and Bess represent ‘Jezebel’ (7).

Apart from how problematic “Porgy and Bess” is, there were positives in getting actually Black actors and featuring Black styles of music more respectfully than most in the traditionally white-dominated field of opera at the time. While helping jazz and Black music become more respected and legitimized was helpful, other people were also doing it at the same time just as well as he was who were actually Black, like Burleigh and Joplin. Efforts should be made to uplift Black voices from this time period more.

Sources:

(1) “George Gershwin.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 6, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Gershwin#Musical_style_and_influence.

(2) Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Fascinating Rhythm. Vinyl recording. New York, New York: Victor, 1924.

(3) Downes, Olin. “Gershwin Caused New Jazz Values.” The New York Times, July 12, 1937, 86 edition.

(4) Lemons, J. Stanley. “Black Stereotypes as Reflected in Popular Culture, 1880-1920.” American Quarterly 29, no. 1 (1977): 102–16. https://doi.org/10.2307/2712263.

(5) Courtwright, David T. “The Hidden Epidemic: Opiate Addiction and Cocaine Use in the South, 1860-1920.” The Journal of Southern History 49, no. 1 (1983): 57–72. https://doi.org/10.2307/2209306.

(6) “Porgy and Bess.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, October 23, 2022. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Porgy_and_Bess#Synopsis.

(7) Henson, Karen. “Black Opera, Operatic Racism and an ‘Engaged Opera Studies.’” Journal of the Royal Musical Association 146, no. 1 (2021): 219–30. doi:10.1017/rma.2020.27.

Ragtime and the Stark Music Company

Ragtime is a genre of music created by Black pianists that was popular between 1890 and 1920. Known by such a name due to its highly syncopated nature (which was originally referred to as “ragging the time”), ragtime emerged initially in the Mississippi Valley as bar, cabaret, and club music played by “piano-thumping… black piano professors” (1) that was mostly improvisatory. This early ragtime was referred to as jig music, and was all but shunned by white populations. During the Chicago World Fair, many Black jig piano players were hired to play music written by white composers at Fair events, but they were not allowed to play their own music. As a result, they would play in the clubs, saloons, and other social spaces around the perimeter of the fair, which is where their music thrived (1).

It wasn’t until 1895 when the first ragtime tune, “La Pas La Mas”, was actually published, starting a new subgenre within ragtime known as classic rag (2). Classic rag was published as sheet music and was not intended to be improvised off of, rather being played exactly as written. Arguably the most famous classic rag composer was Scott Joplin, with his “Maple Leaf Rag” being the most popular of his works (3).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Joplin’s “Rag-Time Dance”. Full PDF here (5).

Like many composers of classic rag, Joplin was initially a jig pianist who then ventured into classic rag. In 1898, he first began submitting scores to publishing companies, but it wasn’t until meeting John Stillwell Stark, a white music publisher and music store owner, and playing for him in his store in 1899 that he entered a publishing contract. For Stark, this was the first Black and first ragtime composer he conducted business with (3), and this proved to be extremely profitable. The “Maple Leaf Rag”, Joplin’s first work published by Stark, is considered one of the first hit songs on sheet music and sold over 500,000 copies in the first 10 years of its publication (4).

With Joplin’s massive success, Stark decided that if he were going to sell more ragtime music, he would focus on publishing classic rag. Ragtime was a largely Black genre, and, predictably, Stark did not want to be seen as someone who particularly uplifted Black voices, and said that he “[advocated] no class of music”, but alternatively a publisher popular music and anything he thought to be “interesting or useful”, and ragtime just so happened to fit into those boxes. Stark didn’t just limit his classic rag roster to Joplin, but to other accomplished names like James Scott and Joseph Francis Lamb, as well as several of Joplin’s protégés. This turned his company into the primary supporter of and place to purchase ragtime music (2).

Cover art and first page of Stark Music Co.’s version of Lamb’s “Cleopatra Rag”. Full PDF here (6).

One result of the Stark Music Company churning out works by a star-studded list of ragtime composers was the spread of ragtime into white households and communities as a palatable morsel of Black American culture. The acceptance of ragtime seems to have been just another example of Black culture being appropriated and taken advantage of among the many that comprise American music history. One could argue that Stark’s opinion of neutrality rather than support could have been a factor in this, but I doubt Stark was influential enough himself to have significantly challenged his white audience’s overwhelmingly racist views.

Sources

(1) “From Piano Thumping to the Concert Stage: The Rise of Ragtime.” Music Educators Journal 59, no. 8 (1973): 53–56. https://doi.org/10.2307/3394278.

(2) Tichenor, Trebor Jay. “John Stillwell Stark, Piano Ragtime Publisher: Readings from ‘The Intermezzo’ and His Personal Ledgers, 1905-1908.” Black Music Research Journal 9, no. 2 (1989): 193–204. https://doi.org/10.2307/779423.

(3) Reed, Addison. “Scott Joplin, Pioneer: Part 2.” The Black Perspective in Music 3, no. 3 (1975): 269–77. https://doi.org/10.2307/1214012.

(4) “John Stark, 1841-1927.” The Library of Congress. LOC. Accessed October 19, 2022. https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035817/. 

(5) Joplin, Scott. “Rag-Time Dance”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1906. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3681&context=cht-sheet-music. 

(6) Lamb, Joseph F. “Cleopatra Rag”. Sheet Music Consortium. St. Louis, MO: Stark Music Co., 1915. https://scholarsjunction.msstate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3482&context=cht-sheet-music.

Harry T. Burleigh: accomplished composer, talented baritone… and Dvořák’s muse?

One of the most beloved African-American composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries was Harry T. Burleigh. Born and raised in Erie, Pennsylvania, he learned to sing spirituals from his mother and sang in various church and community events throughout his childhood. In his teenage years, he became known as a fantastic classical singer, and got to work at and see many famous people perform, such as Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carreño. Then, a few years after high school in 1892, Burleigh began to attend the National Conservatory of Music in New York on scholarship for voice (1).

But, by the title of this blog post, how does any of this relate to Czech person and well-known composer Antonín Dvořák?

Well, Dvořák happened to immigrate the United States in 1892 also to become the director of the National Conservatory of Music! He both taught classes and conducted the conservatory orchestra, which Burleigh also happened to become the librarian and copyist for. As a result of this, Dvořák and Burleigh worked together frequently, which eventually turned into a friendship. A particularly cute story from their friendship comes from a letter Dvořák wrote to his family back home that his son “[would sit] on Burleigh’s lap during the orchestra’s rehearsals and [play] the tympani” (2).

However, the relationship between the two bettered their compositions as well. Dvořák would often overhear Burleigh singing spirituals to himself while working or in the halls, and, not knowing much about spirituals, would talk to him about them and learn many of the songs from him. Dvořák then encouraged Burleigh to begin composing and arranging these spirituals (1). This would kickstart a prolific composing career for Burleigh, who incorporated spirituals into many of his original art songs, arrangements, and other compositions, and amassed a portfolio of over 200 works. Here is a review of his works from the Afro-American Cullings section of the Cleveland Gazette (3):

Dvořák also found ample inspiration in the African-American folk music he learned from Burleigh and gained a huge amount of respect for it. In fact, he was so displeased that white Americans did not care for African-American music that wrote several news articles in the New York Herald, in which he argued that the soul of American music lies in Black music, which the Herald’s white readers found difficult to swallow, to say the least. Here are a few words from an article he wrote in 1893, with even a picture of Burleigh (4):

Dvořák then composed his New World Symphony (here’s a link to its very famous Largo movement) based off several spirituals, the pentatonic and blues scale – all learned from Burleigh – and Indigenous music, and it gained massive acclaim and spreading rapidly throughout the country (3). Black communities across the country absolutely adored the work, and grew to become very fond of and proud of both Dvořák and Burleigh, as can be seen in this from the Cleveland Gazette (5):Thankfully, and radically for the time, Dvořák gave much credit to Burleigh for the conception of many of the ideas for his New World Symphony (2).

Sources:

(1) “H. T. Burleigh (1866-1949)”. 2022. The Library Of Congress. https://loc.gov/item/ihas.200035730.

(2) “African American Influences”. 2022. DAHA. https://www.dvoraknyc.org/african-american-influences.

(3) “Afro-American Cullings.” Cleveland Gazette, October 30, 1915: 4. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12BC1B62334A2850%402420801-12BA063BD57BDCD8%403-12DBB540D0E6C840%40Afro-American%2BCullings.

(4) Dvořák, Antonin. 1893. “Antonin Dvořák On Negro Melodies”. New York Herald, May 28th, 1893. https://static.qobuz.com/info/IMG/pdf/NYHerald-1893-May-28-Recentre.pdf.

(5) “[America; Dr. Antonin Dvorak; Mr. Harry T. Burleigh; Erie; Samuel P. Warren].” Cleveland Gazette, September 23, 1893: 2. Readex: African American Newspapers. https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/readex/doc?p=EANAAA&docref=image/v2%3A12B716FE88B82998%40EANAAA-12C2B9DB2DFFBDD8%402412730-12C106453A9F6688%401-12D7B8B19C518AD0%40%255BAmerica%253B%2BDr.%2BAntonin%2BDvorak%253B%2BMr.%2BHarry%2BT.%2BBurleigh%253B%2BErie%253B%2BSamuel%2BP.%2BWarren%255D.

Music in the California Missions

Mission building was one of the primary methods of conquest the Spanish used over the native peoples of California. Beginning in 1768, Gaspard de Portolà, accompanied by Father Junipero Serra, built twenty-one missions up the coast of California (then called Alta California, as opposed to Baja California) from present-day San Diego up to San Francisco (1). Here is a map made by Irving B. Richman of the approximate mission locations around 1798-1804, which was during prime Spaniard mission-building activity:

Missions were not just elaborate Catholic churches, but were the centers of communities that were built around them. The towns, run by one or two Franciscan priests and a handful of soldiers, were intentionally built around missions so the Spanish could force the indigenous folks of the area into their way of life. This included wearing woven clothing, learning Spanish and Latin, eating European produce, utilizing European agriculture methods and technology, and – most importantly – converting to Catholicism and its culture.

Music played a large role in the Catholic faith of the time, and the indigenous peoples were taught both to sing and to play instruments for masses. The Spanish introduced an entire orchestra’s worth of instruments, including organs, woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion instruments. Evidence of the teaching of Western music theory includes this large fresco depicting a Guidonian hand, which can be compared to an old form of solfège, on a wall of Mission San Antonio.

The music performed in California missions is the most documented and preserved of any Spanish colony in the US. Musicians wrote and performed both plainchant and polyphonic music during masses, and the most popular way of recording works was by making choirbooks, both with music and with information regarding teaching (2). Pieces were written both in Spanish and in Latin, and could be either sacred or secular. Some of the standout composers of the Missions were Fray Narciso Durán of Mission San José, who was so renowned for his skill that he wrote choirbooks and manuscripts for other missions to use and teach from, and Felipe Arroyo de la Cuesta, who even wrote music in the Mutsun indigenous language (2).

While the culture of the music in missions, as well as the music itself, has had a lasting impact on Latinx culture as a whole, the treatment of these peoples within missions was horrifying. With European colonizers brought European disease, which wiped out much of the indigenous population. Indigenous inhabitants of the missions were treated as slaves with consequences of torture, starvation, solitary confinement, and execution for disobedience (3). Music may have been one of the few sources of joy for the approximately 20,000 indigenous people on the missions, and its study cannot be separated from the cruelty the Spanish inflicted upon them.

Sources:

(1) “Historical Timeline – California Missions”. 2022. California Missions. https://www.missionscalifornia.com/historical-timeline/.

(2) Summers, William John. “California Mission Music”. California Missions Foundation. https://californiamissionsfoundation.org/articles/californiamissionmusic/.

(3) Smith-Christopher, Daniel L. “Missions and Native Americans.” 2022. The American Mosaic: The Latino American Experience. https://latinoamerican2.abc-clio.com/Search/Display/2256931.