We all have heard of The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5, but where did Motown come from and how has it been important? Whenever I think of Motown my mind jumps straight to the thought of Detroit. The … Continue reading
Sheet music is always super exciting. Well, maybe not always. But, that statement probably would have fit popular sentiment in the late 19th and early 20th century as evidenced by all Tin Pan Alley composers, lyrists, and producers who churned an exorbitant amount of music. Looking through the Sheet Music Consortium, one such piece caught my eye because it not only seemed connected to our class discussions on Tin Pan Alley, but also our classes on Jazz and the Blues.
“The Jazz-Me Blues” were published by Palmetto Music Publishing Company in New York in 1921, and were written by Tom Delaney, who surprisingly, seems to be a bit of an enigma in my academic research sources.1 What I did find was that he lived from 1889 to 1963, was an African American composer, and he wrote a lot of jazz and blues songs that were popular in the 20’s and later.2 “The Jazz-Me Blues” are one of his songs for which there are many later recordings, a lot of them include a full band and exclude the vocal line.3 Maybe this is the way that Delaney meant for the piece to eventually be performed, as the cover of the music pictures what appears to be an all-black jazz band, and the piano arrangement was just for individual household consumption.
Something else that is interesting about the cover is that it differs from the sheet music covers we looked at and talked about in class. Most of those depicted fictional scenes or characters, a famous singer or performer, or racial caricatures if depicting black people. Perhaps this is a notable band, and separated from the time, we don’t know that. But what is important is that the fame of the band is not what is being used to sell the music unlike the ones in class. It also is worth noting that this is a positive portrayal of black Americans; not a caricature. Is that only because right above are the words “Jazz” and “Blues”, which were connected to blackness? Or, was this music written for a different audience and purpose than what we looked at in class?
Turning the page to look at the actual provides other examples of the coupling of certain music and race, albeit in a perhaps more covert manner. The melody relies on syncopation, even mentioning the word “syncopation” in conjunction with what jazz is. This is one of the sonic markers of blackness that we spoke about in class. Additionally, the lyrics talk about jazz and “jazz-time”, as well as “ragtime” and, of course, “blues”. Again, these are all musical genres that at the time were considered black.
Another interesting portrait is painted by the lyrics:
Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime,
They play a class of music that is super-fine,
And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine,
You can hear that jazz-in music playing all the time.
It is almost as if the people in Louisiana do nothing but sing, dance, and play jazz. Yet, this also can be read in conjunction with the last line: “I’ve got those dog-gone low-down jazz me, jazz me blues”, implying that life is really is great as long as you have jazz, which seems to thus celebrate jazz.
Ultimately, in thinking about how Rydell argued that sheet music was responsible for normalizing public attitudes, I wonder about what message this song spread.4 I’m not sure. On the one hand, it seems to reinforce a lot of the musical black stereotyping we have talked about in class. Yet, on the other hand, it does come across a celebration of jazz, and, according to some sources, it was this composition, among others, that helped Delaney get out of poverty. Perhaps, like much of life, the answers are not as clear as they may at first appear.
1 Delaney, Tom. “Jazz me blues”. New York: Palmetto Music Co., 1921. Retrieved from: http://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/metsnav/inharmony/navigate.do?oid=http://fedora.dlib.indiana.edu/fedora/get/iudl:338252/METADATA&pn=3&size=screen.
2 The Commodore Master Takes. Recorded February 28, 2006. Universal Classics & Jazz, 2006, Streaming Audio. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C695030. (Delaney birth and death dates)
Harris, Sheldon. “Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney.” In Thomas Henry ‘Tom’ Delaney, 877. New Rochelle, NY: Da Capo Press, 1994. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Creference_article%7C1004410925.
3 Search for “Tom Delaney” and “Jazz-Me Blues” in Alexander Street. https://search.alexanderstreet.com/jazz/search?searchstring=tom%20delaney&is_lti_search=&term%5B0%5D=jazz%20me%20blues.
4 Robert W. Rydell, “Soundtracks of Empire: ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ the War in the Philippines, the ‘Ideals of America,’ and Tin Pan Alley”, European journal of American studies [Online], 7-2 (2012). Accessed on March 22 2018. DOI : 10.4000/ejas.9712.
March of Time, in 1946, did a feature on the boom in night clubs in the United States. For relevant numbers, March of Time cites that there were 70,000 nightspots in the U.S. is 1946. In the central hub of night clubs in the 40’s, New York was home to several thousand of that number.
Clearly nightclubs were prevalent in society, so the roles that employees took in such spaces may reasonably reflect the standard across the U.S. at that time. It is incredibly striking how much March of Time emphasizes the various important role’s that females play in nightclubs. However, is is equally disappointing to see the women constantly referred to as objects for monetary gain.
The documentary starts by describing the various jobs at a nightclub. Once the narration moves past the roll of the door-man, they come to the job of the coatroom or “checkroom girls.” The narration describes that
In most clubs, the checkroom girls are hired at a fixed salary by an outside concessionaire. He picks them for the kind of personality that will attract tips and everything they collect goes into their employer’s box, which is securely locked.
The rhetoric implies a distrust to these girls, and emphasizes that their social interactions are strictly for monetary gain. Certainly, it would not have hindered the narration to indicate the useful service that these women provided for the nightclub.
In contrast to these women, the head waiter does not need to put his money in a lockbox to give to the employer. Rather, the head waiter is seen dealing with thrifty costumers by putting them at poor tables until they tip him generously. On screen, the costumer is seen giving the head waiter a $5 bill to change seats. This was drawn in direct opposition to the checkroom girls who received a half-dollar and needed to put it in a check box immediately.
This March of Time documentary short was meant as an education tool for those who did not go to nightclubs to understand their “social order.” The depictions in this documentary continue to label the women in the nightclub business as objects to be examined and payed according to their visual aesthetic while labeling the men in the nightclub business as individuals who grant a service. This, of course, reflects the social attitudes of mid 20th century America. Nevertheless, it is valuable to examine and take note of such subjugating examples because patriarchal attitudes certainly have not died out by the year 2017.
The value of this documentary short, specifically for american music, is its emphasis on nightclub culture. In the postwar era, genres such as bebop was born in late night club sessions (after the patrons would leave), but most of the music being played was dance music. The music itself is mentioned a number of times as an important key to success for any nightclub, but the individual musicians are never mentioned. This attitude toward musicians views them as providing a function service (much as how the checkroom girls are presented). These social situations are what provided the motivation for beboppers to focus their music on their own personalities.
One of the most prevalent clubs in Harlem was the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played frequently. Although Duke was not mentioned in the video, his music was played throughout. Therefore, I have left a song here for you to enjoy.
In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved.
The closing lines of Upbeat in Music echo the rising nationalist sentiment that permeated America in the 1940s. This film, originally premiered in 1943 catalogues the musical year. And if one quote can sum up America’s musical life in the middle of World War II, it is certainly the one listed above. Upbeat in Music is a short documentary put together by newsreel makers, the March of Time. This year, 1943, in particular is compelling. America was in the middle of World War II and the nation’s sole preoccupation was establishing a strong national identity. Music was not spared from this endeavor. In fact, music is perhaps one of the great definers on American musical identity. This short film while attempting to discuss only 1943 ended up encapsulating the spirit of American Music as a whole in a few key ways.
First, the entire film is preoccupied with the definition of “American” sound. To be fair, the film was made during a time of increasing nationalist fervor. World War II was in full swing and music was not be be exempt from the military industrial complex. In fact, the film points out throughout WWII the US Government printed in “hit kits” (books of five American songs and one song by an Allied Nation) that would be given to soldiers in the field. What got to go inside of the hit-kits was hotly contested. So much so that the government formed Music Committees of msuicians and impresarios like Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Paul Whiteman to determine which pieces of music were “American” enough to be included. At this crucial time in history, it became incredibly important that America establish a cohesive musical identity. And the most American way to establsih and American musical identity is certainly through the formation of a government committee.
Even after the reel moves on from talking about World War 2, it continues to emphasize a true “American” sound. The reel describes the efforts of American composers to create Americna works, referring to the compositions of Duke Ellington, Virgil Thomson, and Aaron Copland. Later, the video goes on to describe the way the Jukebox is changing the music industry and discusses the way musicians are struggling to maintain credit for (and therefore profit from) their work. This struggle reflects a another aspect of American music as a whole: the duality of the musician both as an artist and businessperson. The film spends a great deal of time talking about Serge Koussevitsky and the BSO and acknowledging the Metropolitan Opera and several large symphony orchestras as both important business and important artistic forces.
The last section of the film focused heavily on popular music, pointing out that the American musical landscape is predominantly molded by the desires of a white, middle class market. This too is present throughout all of American music hisotry, the idea of capitalism and music coinciding. The presence of these sentiments from a documentary in the 1940s only proves that markets for music have been driving forces behind musical development in America long before the new millenium.
The film discusses the growing importance of jazz and recognizes the importance of Marion Anderson‘s recordings of spirituals as well, only briefly touching on the subject. While the film does discuss composers like Duke Ellington and performers like Anderson, it is also important to not the racist overtones that permeate the work. Nearly every person in the film is white, and when Ellington was brought up, through praised for his work in jazz, he was contrasted against “serious” composers like Copland and Thomson. Paul Whiteman was considered to be the standard bearer for jazz when it came to determining what should go into the “hit-kits” rather than someone like Duke Ellington who had a great deal of experience in the subject. In fact, no person of color was allowed on the “hit-kits” committee. As I said earlier, this film succeeds in painting a complete picture of American music history, and that history includes racism.
The film closes with the patriotic images of young soldiers giving recitals and the reminder that “In a democracy at war, the cultural values of a young and vigorous nation can and must be preserved”. For a nation at war, the preservation and definition of musical culture was of utmost importance. Upbeat in Music serves both as a time capsule and as an example of the major themes in American musical history. It is an invaluable insight into the ways music interacts with politics, culture, and economics as well as the way we talk about and research music.
One of the most notable compositions that comes to mind when ruminating on symphonicjazz is Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” (1924). Listen Here. In thanks largely to Paul Whiteman’s clever marketing as an “Experiment in Modern Music” and its premiere performance in a well-known venue, the Aeolian Hall, the piece was largely well-received by audiences and critics.1 Much of the praise for Gershwin’s work was that it encompassed what American’s wanted out of distinctly “American Music.” As Crawford points out, it encompassed three strands of development: blues as popular music, the spread of instrumental jazz, and a want for modernism in the classical sphere.2
As we’ve discussed in class, the perception of Gershwin’s music as uniquely American can be troublesome because to some it seeks to exploit and adjust music of cultures aside from Gershwin’s own for the profit of symphonic tastes. As Crawford also points out, it was certainly not the first to present black dance music or jazz in concert settings although many think it to be so simply because the previous works by composers like Will Marion Cook or W.C. Handy are less well known simply because of their minority in that era’s society.3
A story that’s less-often told is that some people really did not enjoy “Rhapsody in Blue” or jazz elements in general. When exploring writings on jazz, I came across an article from our very own campus paper, The Manitou Messenger. Interestingly, an article from 1933, nine years after the premiere of “Rhapsody in Blue,” conveyed stern opposition to jazz band at St. Olaf saying “jazz is profanity in music.”4
“Many…students who aspire to and cherish the higher things in life despise this type of music.”5
Is this negative reception of jazz a sign of the times at St. Olaf in the 1930s? It seems pretty forthright, which at first lead me to think there was room for anti-jazz, conservative thinking on campus at the time. However, in the publication later that month, another student wrote an opinion article which countered that the former article “was of very little consequence” and “hardly worthy of a serious reply.”6 This author claimed that this jazz band nay-sayer was fueling the fire that the college was attempting to paint itself as heavily religious.
“Why be afraid to admit St. Olaf is not a monastery?”7
Interestingly, both authors simply signed their articles with their first initial leaving some room for anonymity. Although we don’t know who these students sharing their opinions were, what they were studying, or where they are now, we do know that responses to jazz were not all in loving favor.
1 Richard Crawford, America’s Musical Life: A History, (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001), 573.
As I sifted through the LPs in the Music Library’s vinyl collection, I was particularly drawn to a section on big bands. The two LPs that piqued my interest the most did not catch my eye because of their cover art, but rather their titles; “SWEET AND LOW BLUES: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 20s,” and “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.” My first thoughts upon seeing these records were: 1. I know a little about big bands, right? and 2. What is a territory band?
These two vinyls are collections of popular territory band recordings from the 20s and 30, and inside each of them are extensive and informative essays on the history of territory/big bands. Today we are more familiar with the term big bands, but at the time these ensembles were called territory bands. Territory bands were regional dance bands in the Midwest, south, and southwestern states. Their principal function was to provide music for ballroom dancing, which was becoming increasingly popular in the 20s and 30s. From roughly the end of World War I until the Great Depression, dance orchestras in the United States grew in number, size, and popularity in response to this call for dance music. However, in the forward to “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,”J.R. Taylor writes that, during this period,
“Jazz musicians were in frequent creative tension with the dance band industry – exploiting and expanding its musical resources, learning its professional lessons, earning its wages, and chafing under its difficult working conditions and many artistic restrictions.”
This complicated relationship existed vice versa as well, because jazz soloists served as a creative source for dance band – the innovative phrasing, rhythms, and “the adaptations and assimilations from classical music,” (Taylor). However, it is important to note that not all territory bands or big bands were strongly jazz oriented – a detail that gets overlooked now as we tend to blend the genres of jazz, big band, and swing (I myself am guilty of making that generalization without thinking.)
Here is a digitized recording of “Madhouse” performed by Earl Hines and His Orchestra — one of the tracks found on “JAMMIN’ FOR THE JACKPOT: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s,” so you can hear the style of music I am referencing.
By the time the Great Depression hit in the 30s the territory bands were failing to survive, as live music was replaced with the radio, and having a disposable income was no longer an option. While all of this was going on, back at St. Olaf a mysterious “L” was expressing their own opinion on jazz music and dancing in the Manitou Messenger. “L” calls the jazz band “contemptible,” “obnoxious,” and “profanity in music.” The author argues that the jazz band and jazz music do not correspond with the (Christian) spirit of St. Olaf College, and should thus be driven off the hill.
“L” does, however, recognize that jazz music naturally calls us to dance. They even pose the question “Why allow temptations such as this to exist?” if we know it’ll just make us want to get up and start dancing. Remember, dancing was forbidden at St. Olaf during this time. When you search the Manitou Messenger archives for “dancing” during this period it is consistently referred to as “folk-dancing” or “traditional-dancing” or “Norwegian-dancing” – safe forms of dancing that correspond with the mission of the college.
So, there’s quite a contrast between the popularity of ballroom dancing accompanied by touring territory bands in the 20s and 30s, and the nasty portrayal of jazz music and dancing by a student from St. Olaf. All I can do is wonder what “L” would think about our jazz bands and swing club.
- “Territory Bands.” Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed.. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/epm/49928.
- Bradford Robinson. “Territory band.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J445200.
- Marc Rice. “Territory band.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/A2276655.
- Taylor, J.R. Jammin’ for the Jackpot: Big Bands and Territory Bands of the 30s.
Knowing little about past artists St. Olaf has brought to campus, I set about my research seeing if any of the few jazz artists I know had ever performed on campus. One of my favorite being Benny Goodman, I began there. Although he never did perform on campus, and his name did not result in many articles, I did find a few important ones that expand on previous posts in this blog. In this post in particular, I will be adding to what Noah Livingston discussed this week as well on diversity within the music department at St. Olaf College.
Kristi McGee, a senior in 1989-90, wrote a strong letter explaining her reasoning for St. Olaf desperately needing a Jazz program in its curriculum. Whereas Noah’s found article seems to have a focus on the lack of diverse students at St. Olaf, McGee focuses on the musical and political benefits in relation to the college that a jazz program would bring.
Politically, McGee states that it is odd that the college does not have a jazz program implemented:
It seems ironic that an institution such as St. Olaf with high aspirations, and goals of diversification has not implemented a formal Jazz program. The emphasis on sacred and choral music and the disregard of other important musical genres, mainly Jazz, perpetuates St. Olaf’s image as a homogeneous, conservative, and conformists institution.
Any college cannot advocate for diverse student body while maintaining a conservative mindset on any matter, and although the college today is very open to dialogue, discussion, and change, it is evident through many of this blogs post that St. Olaf was not always accepting of opposing viewpoints. It appears that in the late 80’s and early 90’s, St. Olaf was in flux as it seeked to gather a larger diverse student body. Though it wished to accept new perspectives, it was not ready to let go of more traditional views on western music forms and what was considered art music and popular music.
To support her argument that jazz music is just as influential as other traditional musical genres, McGee list many influential artists and composers of jazz, and then proceeded to
explain how contemporary composers such as Ravel and Stravinsky had jazz influence their work. The example I will be using is Benny Goodman and how he influenced Aaron Copland’s Clarinet Concerto.
Goodman is a jazz and clarinet legend, and is considered the “king of swing.” His style and work as a clarinetist and as a band leader went on to influence a multitude of other artists and composers. This includes Aaron Copland and his Clarinet Concerto. Although it is now a standard of the classical clarinet repertoire, Copland’s Concerto was inspired by jazz techniques and Benny Goodman’s own playing.
McGee goes on to describe, in her own way, that to acknowledge jazz in an academic way would be to elevate it to a similar status that the school holds its coral and traditional western music to, which would then better acknowledge the work of the African American and other diverse American population that were instrument in creating and defining the one music style that is original to the United States, jazz.
Copland, Warfield, Goodman, Warfield, William, Goodman, Benny, Copland, Aaron, and Columbia Symphony Orchestra, Performer. Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra : With Harp and Piano. Old American Songs [sets 1 and 2]., 1963.
McGee, Kristi. “Jazz program desperately needed in music department.” Manitou Messenger, 06 Oct. 1989, pp. 5.
jazclarinetist. “Benny Goodman – Copland Concerto for Clarinet and String Orchestra.” YouTube, YouTube, 28 Mar. 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=PmMFL1zZ-tU.
Miles Davis is remembered today as one of the most influential figures in the development of jazz in the 20th century. Starting his career with a more conventional cool jazz sound, Davis pushed conventions by experimenting with his playing, compositions, and album instrumentation. I consider the pinnacle of his experimentation to be his 1970 album, Bitches Brew. This album is currently available to be checked out at the St. Olaf Music Library (you need to listen to this if you haven’t already). Unknown to a “Jazz” album at the time, Bitches Brew lacks typical jazz standards, song structures, and melodies in the conventional sense. Instead, Davis gives us a dense and chaotic musical landscapes. The music often sits on 1 chord for minutes, with the musicians improvising wildly over it. Also notable is its bizarre instrumentation of 2 drummers, 2 keyboardists, 2 bass players, 2 percussionists, and a distorted electric guitar. Davis fully embraces this new electric sound, which gives this album a bit of a psychedelic feel.
To me, Bitches Brew is Davis declaring war on all preconceived notions of what “jazz” ought to be. To me, this album is a revolution. I think much of Davis’ rejection of the status quo throughout his career stems from his infamous personality. He had a reputation for his bad temper, a large ego, and general rudeness. To get an idea of what he was like off the stage, I found an interview with Playboy Magazine from 1962. In this interview, Davis talks about his views on other musicians, critics, the creative process, and concerts. Race is a dominating theme throughout the conversation. Given his historical significance and the complex history of race within jazz, I find his comments to be especially impactful.
On prejudices he’s experienced
PLAYBOY: Did you grow up with any white boys?
DAVIS : I didn’t grow up with any, not as friends, to speak of. But I went to school with some. In high school, I was the best in the music class on the trumpet. I knew it and all the rest knew it — but all the contest first prizes went to the boys with blue eyes. It made me so mad I made up my mind to outdo anybody white on my horn. If I hadn’t met that prejudice, I probably wouldn’t have had as much drive in my work. I have thought about that a lot. I have thought that prejudice and curiosity have been responsible for what I have done in music.
On white jazz musicians
PLAYBOY: In your field, music, don’t some Negro jazzmen discriminate against white musicians?
DAVIS : Crow Jim is what they call that. Yeah. It’s a lot of the Negro musicians mad because most of the best-paying jobs go to the white musicians playing what the Negroes created. But I don’t go for this, because I think prejudice one way is just as bad as the other way. I wouldn’t have no other arranger but Gil Evans — we couldn’t be much closer if he was my brother. And I remember one time when I hired Lee Konitz, some colored cats bitched a lot about me hiring an ofay in my band when Negroes didn’t have work. I said if a cat could play like Lee, I would hire him, I didn’t give a damn if he was green and had red breath.
Interviews like these are a fantastic way to get a sense of an artist’s personality. I can see why some might have considered him to be rude or short tempered, but to me, I see an artist with very little care for anything besides his work. Davis was not interested in the superficiality of the entertainment industry. He was a man who simply lived his life and refused to conform. To me, his defiance is admirable.
Erenkrantz, Justin. “Miles Davis. A Candid Conversation With the Jazz World’s Premier Iconoclast” Accessed October 30th 2017. http://www.erenkrantz.com/Music/MilesDavisInterview.shtml
Ruhlmann, William. “Miles Davis.” Allmusic. Accessed October 30th 2017. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/miles-davis-mn0000423829/biography
This Manitou messenger article is a report on a talk given by a St. Olaf professor about jazz music. Even though the article is more of a report on what happened, it seems to be a good representation of students’ opinions and other opinions of the time because the author didn’t feel the need to argue against what this professor said.
It is clear that Overby doesn’t think that jazz music is “good.” The criteria that he sets up for this judgment doesn’t speak well for what jazz is, but it conveys the thoughts that show the well-established differences in popular and classical music. Overby claims that jazz has some goodness through the “modern school of composition.” Walter Damrosch’s view from around the time of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue reflects a similar claim. He argues that jazz is a very low form of art, but that a great composer could lift it up into something with more emotion.
So, Overby is saying that not all jazz is to be condemned. Yet, according to the views expressed in this article, jazz is only praiseworthy once it has been made into symphonic jazz. This goes back to the fact that many things get changed and appropriated to suit audiences so that the product can be acknowledged and respected. Often people validate their actions of appropriation by saying that it comes from a place of respect for the original, but did composers have to respect original jazz sources to begin with in order to use them? Paul Whiteman, known as “the King of Jazz,” called it primitive, which seems inherently disrespectful to me. His orchestra can be heard on this LP titled, “Jazz.” Most people can recognize that the nature of developments like symphonic jazz aren’t entirely favorable for everyone involved all the time, but it is important to reflect on this in order to apply modern issues of cultural appropriation.
Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.
Harrison, Max. “Symphonic jazz.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 31, 2017. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/27249.
Oja, Carol. Making Music Modern: New York in the 1920s. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Ramsey, Frederic, Jr. Jazz. The Blues Folkways Records FJ 2804, LP, 1958.
Duke Ellington (born Edward Kennedy) became a prominent jazz musician throughout the mid 20th century. His name has become synonymous with jazz throughout households in the United States of America. As many jazz musicians, Duke Ellington toured across the United States with his orchestra playing the repertoire that would make the most money. In 1957, this orchestra and the esteemed composer himself made a visit to Carleton College on November 5th. And, in the tradition of great school newspapers, the Manitou Messenger advertised the concert. However, as intriguing as this article was, a little deeper digging revealed a more interesting resource: an article reviewing the concert from the Carletonian. To be fair, the Manitou Mess certainly wasn’t skimping on their coverage: the concert took place at Carleton, so it only makes sense for the more substantial review of the concert to appear in the Carletonian. The intriguing part of the article is the student’s opinion of the concert. The reviewer says that Ellington “proved once again, in Skinner memorial chapel, Tuesday night, that he is still one of the very best jazzmen around, with one of the very best bands.” The author goes on to praise Ellington’s jazz ability, but later in the article notes that despite Ellington’s status as a premier jazz musician, the concert was not “consistently good from a strictly musical standpoint”. The reviewer explains that the audiences more “sensitive ears” would have been repelled by the “exhibitionism” offered by some of the jazz soloists. Below is a recording of one of the pieces that were played at the concert:
As is often true of historical sources, this opinion on Ellington’s orchestra tells us more about the reviewer than the music itself. Duke Ellington’s career was on the decline by this point in the 1950s. He was focusing on writing sacred music and toured playing his most popular pieces. The author of the article points out that Ellington mainly played works that the audience knew and refers to Ellington as an “institution”. Even though the concert may not have been as musically perfect as the audience expected, they still knew that Ellington was an important part of history. Already, just a few decades into his career, Duke Ellington was a sacred relic.
This quick institutionalization of jazz figures is also reflected in the records of the time. While searching through the St. Olaf Halvorson Music Library for records of Ellington’s made around the late 1950s, I found it difficult to find a single record of Ellington’s music alone. The early solo record of his on file is from the 1970s. One record I did find from around the time was part of a Library of Congress series on Jazz music. Ellington appeared once on the record. It seems as if the effort to collect jazz and codify it as a genre began at the same time as the art form itself. This tradition of feeling a need to preserve and codify art forms like jazz was passed down from Blues collectors who also felt a need to define their genre. These two artifacts, in particular, illustrate the incredible spread and popularity of jazz throughout the country. However, they also represent the way white audiences controlled what music became popular and marketable, as well as the way jazz musicians’ careers depended on the benevolence of a fickle American public.
Mostly, however, I chose to write about this particular Manitou Messenger article because Duke Ellington came to Northfield, and Carleton didn’t like it. What a story.
“Ellington, Duke.” Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed October 30, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/08731.and .
Manitou Messenger Archive
In this article is presented a very enthusiastic and nationalistic view of jazz, which aligns with popular opinions today. The history of jazz has been quite romanticized over the past decades, but it hasn’t always been championed as the emblem of American music. Jazz was a music that first emphasized the performer over the composer. It featured improvisation over conventional structure and overall was a very rebellious art form, both musically and socially. Racism at the time created a deep-seated opposition to jazz because its racial associations and untraditional aspects. Jazz went from an unacceptable and rebellious art form to America’s music. How did this happen? First there was a time where many people, including Oles thought that Jazz was an inferior and unsophisticated from of music. And a few decades later, it was celebrated as truly American music revering its original composers and performers.
Soren Lura ’31, for example had a pretty popular opinion in his time towards jazz. His opinions reflect the opposition towards Jazz for its supposed barbaric and unconventional characteristics. He states that jazz is primitive and compared it to the music and dance of cavemen. Oscar Overby, a guest speaker in 1931, also had a similar opinion to Lura with one exception.
“Music develops the whole man physically, mentally and spiritually, and jazz only develops the physical…. However not all jazz is to be condemned. Some of it has good qualities which are being used in the modern school of composition.” ~Oscar Overby
Overby had an exception that jazz was not all that bad because certain qualities were being used in modern composition. This opinion reflected the racial prejudices and divide amongst people. So how did opinions of Jazz change from Overby and Lura to Townsend’s popular view? One explanation is exactly what Overby expressed. Many people might have become more welcoming to jazz as legitimate music when it was adapted for the concert hall. This again suggests that people were only accepting to what they thought of as the most prestigious and cultivated music and that there was a clear hierarchy in music.
George Gershwin was known for his compositions to include jazz and blues idioms, however it was composed for an orchestra, or a small band, both already being established genres of music. Many of his compositions were highly regarded and became the symbol of truly American music. Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue received much praise because if it’s unprecedented innovation in combining jazz and traditional styles, making it more palatable for white audiences. He of course received opposition as well, but over time, Rhapsody in Blue came to hold a permanent place in American music. It is interesting that as soon as a white man redefined black music for white audiences, it was celebrated.
In the recording of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, in the album, Rhapsody: Ferrante and Teiche and their Magic Pianos, there are elements of jazz and concert music. Firstly, the parts are written out, ignoring the improvisational aspect of jazz. It was also meant to performed in a concert hall, instead of settings like speakeasies or rent parties, which ironically, Gershwin frequented. Based on its popularity and number of performances, Rhapsody in Blue popularized jazz for those who otherwise disapproved of it.
Gershwin’s “cultivated” jazz also contributed to what people adopted as America’s sound. Gershwin’s work was so popular because he combined “low” music with modern music and provided America with a sound that was independent of European influence…even though we know it wasn’t. This shows that even as people were struggling to define truly American music, they still turned to the belief that European styles were superior. It is important to acknowledge these problematic issues because they contribute to the misrepresentation and erasure of a culture’s art and innovation.
ClassicFM. George Gershwin and the Art of America.
Ferrante and Teicher and their Magic Pianos. Rhapsody, Belleville, NJ. 1955.
Lura, Soren. “The Jazz Mania.” Manitou Messenger , 25 Nov. 1930, pp. 2.
“Oscar R. Overby Speaks on Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 28 Apr. 1931, pp. 1.
“Rhapsody in Blue.” Nonesuch Records Inc. Nov. 1992.
Townsend, Allan. “An Introduction to Jazz.” Manitou Messenger , 3 Feb. 1956, pp. 3.
Learned in the traditional Classical style, Will Marion Cook “brought the skills of a classically trained musician to an African-American musical theater” (Crawford, 534). Cook heavily inspired and popularized black theater productions, and made a name for himself by combining grand opera traditions with black folk culture.
“I’m Coming Virginia” was written in 1926 by Donald Heywood with lyrics by Cook. The song has been adapted numerous times over the years and is now a staple in dixie-land repertoire. One recording of this song appears on an album by Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong called “Havin Fun”. Recorded from 1949-1951, this two hour album features songs by Crosby and Armstrong recorded from Crosby’s radio program. What I find most intriguing is how the theatrical style of the album echoes that of Will Marion Cook’s original theatrical music and productions.
The first track “Where the Blue of the Night” is all banter between the musicians as they settle in for the night. The first track helps to set the scene for what one can imagine was a program filled with laughter in and out of the music. I think it is a bit of stretch to say that Crosby and Armstrong were performing in this style as an homage to Cook, but I do think that Cook’s works heavily influenced the looser performance styles heard on this album. Crosby and Armstrong were close friends outside of the performance hall, and they both recognized the value created in sharing their friendship with others. Like Cook, Crosby and Armstrong did away with a traditional form of musical presentation. The constant banter mingled with the audience laughter adds a level of genuineness to the album, while the talent of singing and playing by Crosby and Armstrong respectively grounds the album in legitimacy.
As mentioned earlier, Will Marion Cook had a huge influence on the Broadway performance styles of his time. Crosby and Armstrong experienced similar success and influence on their industries. While Cook did not directly influence the duo, parallels in the theatrical performance style are evident. One thing that they also have in common? They were havin’ fun.
Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.
Dryden, Ken. “Havin’ Fun” AllMusic, accessed October 9, 2017.https://www.allmusic.com/album/havin-fun-2-cd-mw0000584963
Havin’ Fun. Recorded June 20, 2007. Storyville, 2007, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 9, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1023638.
New Orleans at the beginning of the 20th century was a hotbed of musical innovation. The rich oral traditions of African Americans and the upbeat, commercial dance music of the day collided in the city’s thriving nightlife, ultimately giving rise to a new style of dance music that melded the harmonic and formal idioms of the blues with the rhythmic vitality of ragtime. This new music was called “jazz.”
The 1917 recording of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band playing Livery Stable Blues (linked below) clearly illustrates the blending of ragtime and blues styles that forms the basis for jazz music. Each “stanza” basically follows a standard 12-bar blues progression: four bars of tonic harmony, two bars predominant paired with two bars of tonic, concluding with two bars of dominant harmony leading back to the tonic. This harmonic scheme is paired with catchy melodic material that is reminiscent of popular song. Clearly meant for dancing, Livery Stable Blues features the driving pulse and jaunty syncopations of ragtime.
Another key element of jazz music is improvisation; it is likely that most of the music played by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was improvised. In his 1946 article entitled “This is Genuine Jazz,” Douglas S Enefer claims that “real jazz is composed by the executants – both individually and collectively – as they play . . . often the theme may be stated only once; thereafter the melodic line is implied rather than stated.” This melodic treatment can be heard in Livery Stable Blues: melody lines are clearly stated in the clarinet and trombone at the very beginning, and are varied, embellished, and commented upon in subsequent verses. Improvising variations in this way is an integral part of the jazz style.
Finally, jazz music is often associated with a spirit of free-spiritedness and abandon. In Livery Stable Blues, the ODJB takes this freedom to an extreme degree, with rooster crows on the clarinet, horse whinnies on the trumpet, and cow moos on the trombone. This musical evocation of a barnyard could be understood as a simple comedic gimmick, or could be interpreted as a critique of the extreme formality and stuffiness of classical concert culture. Either way, it is clear that light-heartedness and subversion are central tenets of the ODJB’s musical style and public image.
New Orleans may have been the birthplace of jazz, but the music quickly spread throughout the nation. The ODJB itself played in many major cities, including Chicago and New York. The new style took hold, and jazz continued to evolve and proliferate throughout the world. Today jazz is studied, performed and enjoyed by a global audience.
Charters, Samuel. Trumpet around the Corner: The Story of New Orleans Jazz. University Press of Mississippi, 2008. ProQuest Ebook Central, accessed 8 October 2017.
Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: a History. 1st ed., New York, Norton, 2001.
Enefer, Douglas S. “This is Genuine Jazz.” The Negro, 1 Feb. 1946.
Livery Stable Blues. Rec. March 1917. Vintage Vinyl, 2014. Music Online: Jazz Music Library. Accessed 9 Oct. 2017.
This article located on the African American Newspapers database provides an interesting and useful African-American perspective on the wake of jazz music and the usage and history of the word itself. The article, titled “What is ‘Jazz’?,” was published in 1926 in The Negro Star, a newspaper run by Hollie T Sims that circulated during the former part of the twentieth century that featured African American news intended for an African-American audience, one of the few newspapers to do so at the time. Having access to commentary during the early stages of jazz from an African-American perspective here is very useful as most of the primary scholarship on the primarily African American genre is from white musicians and scholars. This article in particular offers interesting insight, especially in regards to the coinage and use of the actual term “jazz,” as it points out that much of the reason it is relevant to even discuss is due to the fact that famous white musicians had been using the word to describe certain black music and made claims about its origins, the paper even calling composer W. Franke Harling’s transposition of a black spiritual “a so-called jazz transposition.”
In answering the question of “what is jazz?”, the article describes the complex history of what this term may more accurately refer to and the origins of this style of music described by these white musicians, calling it “the child of ragtime,” and further explains the importance of the unique instrumentation common in early jazz music. But in the end, it tells the truth of the complicated nature of trying to answer the question and locate the origin, as it is the “‘chop suey’ of the musical world.” It is very telling to me to read of a primary source written by an African American during the time the complicated genre of jazz was being born and to see that what is normally thought of as purely an invention of African Americans in fact may have been a sort of appropriation of a term by white musicians to describe a more diverse and complicated array of black music that at the time was colliding.
Sims, Hollie T. “What is ‘Jazz’?” The Negro Star [Wichita] 17 Sep. 1926: 1. Web.
With today being what would be Thelonious Monk’s 100th birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to honor his legacy by making my blog post about him. Monk is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists, and as a jazz pianist, I consider him to be one of my personal idols. Monk had a unique, unpredictable style while improvising, characterized by his angular melodies, use of dissonance, and a highly percussive attack. Monk is often credited as one of the founding fathers of bebop, the dominant style of jazz in the United States from the 40s to the 60s. Monk’s mastery at the keys is rivaled by his ability as a composer. A large amount of his compositions have made it into the standard jazz repertoire, including “’Round Midnight”, “Straight, No Chaser”, “Blue Monk”, “Epistrophy”, and many more. Almost as unique as his playing style is his sense of fashion, which typically included a suit, sunglasses, and a wacky hat.
The Monk song I decided to share in this blog post is “Straight, No Chaser” which is one of Monk’s most popular compositions. In this tune, Monk uses simple a simple 12 bar blues progression and a single melodic idea. The melodic idea is continuously displaced within the measure and has a unique ending each time. The result is extremely original and creative. Since it’s original recording in 1951, the tune has been covered by an array of jazz giants, including Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Keith Jarret, and Cannonball Adderley. Monk’s uniqueness and abrasive style made the general public slow to embrace him, but his genius was slowly realized over time. Thelonious Monk’s passed away in 1982, but he was certainly not forgotten. His impact on the state of jazz is immeasurable.
Enjoy this recording of Monk playing with his combo in Italy in 1961.
ABBOTT, FRANCES. “Monk, Thelonious: (1917–1982) JAZZ MUSICIAN.” In The New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture: Volume 12: Music, edited by MALONE BILL C., by WILSON CHARLES REAGAN, 294-96. University of North Carolina Press, 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9781469616667_malone.135.
Givan, Benjamin. “Thelonious Monk’s Pianism.” The Journal of Musicology 26, no. 3 (2009): 404-42. doi:10.1525/jm.2009.26.3.404.
From fields to labels, African-American music is rooted in rhythm. One of the most evident developments of a rhythmic tradition is that of jazz. As broad of a genre as jazz is, I will focus not on the style of music, but rather the rhythmic elements that were carried over from traditional spirituals found in the fields of slaves to jazz groups of the 20th century.
As noted by Crawford, slaves were not given access to instruments in an attempt by the slave owners to prevent rallying calls of rebellion. In response, a tradition developed known as Pattin’ Juba, or a rhythmic hand slapping to accompany songs. Over time and with the abolition of slavery, instruments (among many things) were available to recently freed slaves.
As generations became more removed from the binds of ancestral slavery, the rhythmic style of Pattin’ Juba was transferred to household objects like jugs and washboards. Still in a state of poverty, the freed slaves created their own instruments to supplement the music they had sung in the fields. Below is an image of a collection of homemade instruments.
With the same accessibility as one’s own hands and feet had been in slave field, drums and washboards played a prevalent role in early post-slavery music. One group that popularized the washboard was the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Donning thus name from 1931-1934, the group was a small band of predominantly black musicians that performed jazz music. From 1930-1935, the Washboard Rhythm Kings recorded a series of collections of their music. The full album can be found here, and I would like to highlight two tracks in particular that draw strong parallels to the slave music before them.
Track #9, “Lonesome Road”, carries many familiar elements of black slave and church music. A speaker engages in dialogue with the other musicians and speaks of “a little revival meeting” and talks of how a singer will “open up this meeting with a little solo”. Following the solo, the speaker speaks to the soloist much like a preacher to a congregation member, saying “Sit down brother. Bless you, bless you.” The song carries on in a freeform fashion.
Track #2, “Washboards Get Together”, is a fantastic example of the rhythmic capabilities of a washboard. Without too much difficulty, the listener can picture a similar rhythm to the washboard rhythm being played out on arms and legs in the Juba dance. As stated previously, the accessibility of instruments like the washboard furthered the intensely rhythmic tradition of the music found in slave fields. Below is a video of the Washboard Rhythm Kings performing an unknown song that highlights the excitement in their playing.
African-American slave and church music exists as an important facet to early American music. Starting in the fields and moving eventually into the popular vernacular, the music continues to play a pivotal role in shaping American music. The rhythmic figures remain a cornerstone in modern jazz, and can be seen in performances by mid-20th century groups like the Washboard Rhythm Kings. Accessible instruments enabled further complications of rhythm, and opened up new opportunities for the rise of jazz.
Berresford, Mark. The Washboard Rhythm Kings, http://www.jazzhound.net/photographs/washboard-rhythm-kings.html. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.
harryoakley. “Washboard Rhythm Kings, 1933”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ig9rs5-hMeY. Accessed October 2, 2017.
Lomax, Alan. Folk musical instruments including homemade horns, homemade drum, and washboard, between 1934 and 1950. Lomax Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs. Accessed October 2, 2017.
The Washboard Rhythm Kings Collection Vol. 5 – 1930-1931. Recorded September 20, 1997. Collectors Classics, 1997, Streaming Audio. Accessed October 2, 2017. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/bibliographic_entity%7Crecorded_cd%7C1031541.
Yanow, Scott. “Washboard Rhythm Kings” AllMusic, accessed October 2, 2017. http://www.allmusic.com/artist/washboard-rhythm-kings-mn0000924443/biography
Disney’s The Jungle Book, released in 1967, was a huge box office success. The film was praised highly for its attention to voice casting as a primary identifier of character’s personality and animation. Unfortunately, it is this exact quality which creates some problematic issues.
The monkeys of the jungle are racially coded as black, a problematic choice of animal characterization, and further worsened by aural stereotypes. In their essay “The Movie You See, The Movie You Don’t,” scholars Susan Miller and Greg Rhode note that “Jungle Book frequently relies on verbal class and gender stereotyping for its “innocent” fun, displacing the visual black and white of Song of the South onto aural stereotypes.” While the animation of monkeys would clearly not be racist, specifically representing those monkeys as African American puts the innocence of intentions a little more into question.
The very lyrics and style of the song King Louis sings become quickly controversial in light of the black coded nature assigned to his character. The famous song, “I Want to Be Like You” which King Louis and the monkeys sing, is all about the desire they hold to be human. The refraining chorus states: “Ooh, ooh, oh! I wanna be like you, I wanna walk like you, talk like you, too ooh, ooh. You’ll see it’s true, ooh, ooh! An ape like me, ee, ee. Can learn to be Juoo ooh man, too ooh, ooh.” Writing an entire song about the monkeys desiring recognition as humans, and clearly coding those monkeys as black poses an incredibly racist issue in the film, highly inappropriate for a children’s animation.
Next, the issue of the black coded nature becomes further problematic by the fact that they are once again played by white actors. Just as Jim Crow in Dumbo was voiced by white actor Cliff Edwards, so King Louis is voiced by white actor Louis Prima. While it would clearly be racist to choose African American voices to present these stereotypes, it is in many ways worse to choose a white actor to play a clear racial stereotype as this is the exact premise behind blackface minstrel performances.
Even within the plot of jungle book itself, the idea of minstrelsy is promoted by the fact that Baloo dresses up in monkey attire, and proceeds to imitate and sing the same song as King Louis. Baloo, as a non-monkey, donning “monkeyface” and performing in exaggerated style, his perceived understanding of what that means, is a close parallel to blackface in which a white, dons “blackface” and proceeds to imitate a black coded performance based on offensive stereotypes.
Comparing the images of Baloo in monkey attire, with images of blackface performers, once again the similarities are disturbingly similar. The hair, large lips, cartoonish body language, Baloo is clearly putting on a blackface performance with King Louis.
The images and parallels, promotion and reinforcement of blackface minstrel performance in today’s society is still present and alive in areas many don’t realize. Perhaps more disturbing is attempting to understand how to respond to such images in our culture. It is difficult to determine the intentionality of these types of images and stereotypes present in The Jungle Book. Are the creators deliberately placing racist material in their films, or are these simply embedded structures that people promote without realizing or understanding the implications of their meaning? Would boycotting any film which presents these stereotypes prove helpful in any regard? Ultimately, the only way that a society can change is through each individual influence on it. Becoming better educated in historical traditions, mistakes, and problems can help us become more aware of them in today’s society and prevent us from incorporating them into our own productions of art, actions, or words. By understanding the history of traditions such as blackface and minstrelsy we can become more aware of their presence in films such as The Jungle Book and make better judgments and criticisms of their problematic issues and hopefully prevent the continuation of them in future films.
Miller, Susan, and Greg Rode. “The Movie You See, The Movie You Don’t.” From Mouse to Mermaid: The Politics of Film, Gender, and Culture.” Ed. Bell, Elizabeth, and Lynda Haas, Laura Sells. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995. 86-103. Print.
The cover of Miles Davis’ 1970 album Bitches Brew has in many ways become more iconic than the album itself. Illustrated by Mati Klarwein, the mystical, Afro-centric imagery fused with psychedelic textures intensely deals with contradictory themes and ideas that were undoubtedly relevant in American political and racial culture at the time. Simultaneously, Klarwein’s contradictory images seem to capture the conflict inherent in Davis’ work throughout his career: how does a jazz giant like Davis continue to innovate without moving too far away from jazz?
His answer was to explore contradictory influences even further. Bitches Brew spearheaded the jazz-rock-fusion movement, replacing numerous components of his ensemble with electronic instruments, and rejecting traditional jazz structures in favor of the looser, long-form rock style. Davis also utilized a massive, rotating group of musicians, on numerous tracks using three keyboardists, two drummers, and two bassists.
This dichotomy was inherent to reception of the album as well. While some lauded Davis’ creativity in synthesizing what was commonly viewed as two divergent forces in American music, jazz purists thought that Davis had crossed the line and had abandoned jazz altogether. Critic Bob Rusch even went so far as to say, “this to me was not great Black music, but I cynically saw it as part and parcel of the commercial crap that was beginning to choke and bastardize the catalogs of such dependable companies as Blue Note and Prestige….” 
In typical Davis fashion, his response to the jazz establishment was essentially a giant middle finger: a second electronic, jazz-rock album titled Live-Evil, released in 1971. As the title suggests, it featured live recordings by Davis and his personnel at the Cellar Door music club in Washington DC, most of whom also appeared on Bitches Brew. But the “live” component made up only half of the music, the rest of which was recorded in Columbia Studios. Again, we see Davis exploring dichotomies in the later stages of his career, balancing the chaotic violence of a live performance with the hyper-controlled realm of a studio session.
The cover art (again provided by Klarwein) provides a striking realization of this strange contrast. The pregnant, yet skinny black woman on the front is a perfect foil to the pale, grotesque, bloated monster on the back. As part of the ‘reflective’ nature of the album, the upper-left corner of the back says “Selim Sevad Evil”: “Miles Davis Live” backwards. John Szwed’s biography of Davis provides some clarity as to the origins and meaning of the cover art, via a quote from Klarwein:
“I was doing the picture of the pregnant woman for the cover and the day I finished, Miles called me up and said, ‘I want a picture of life on one side and evil on the other.’ And all he mentioned was a toad. Then next to me was a copy of Time Magazine which had J. Edgar Hoover on the cover, and he just looked like a toad. I told Miles I found the toad.”
Ironically, Live-Evil was much more well received than Bitches Brew, despite the fact that it took what critics dislike about BB to further extremes. It was lauded for its accessibility and musical purity, even though the tracks had greater levels of electronic manipulation.
But perhaps the biggest difference between the holistic art of the vinyls is the liner notes. Bitches Brew contains a lengthy, poetic assessment of the music by Ralph J. Gleason, American music critic, founding editor of Rolling Stone magazine, and cofounder of the Monterey Jazz Festival. Its an abstract piece of writing that seemingly rejects the nitpicking of other critics concerned with such subjective notions as genre:
“so be it with the music we have called jazz and which i never knew what it was because it was so many different things to so many different people each apparently contradicting the other and one day i flashed that it was music.
that’s all, and when it was great music it was great art and it didn’t have anything at all to do with labels and who says mozart is by definition better than sonny rollins and to whom.”
But when one opens the centerfold of Live-evil expecting to find another passionate defense of Davis’ innovations, they instead find a series of candid pictures of Miles.
Not concerned with critics, nor legacies, these liner notes simply say “This is me.” Or perhaps, “Me is This.”
Notes: –Both Vinyls are available in Halvorson Music Library. Bitches Brew call number: M1366.D3 B5. Live-evil call number: M1366.D3 L5.
– Entire Bitches Brew liner notes by Gleason available at: http://aln3.albumlinernotes.com/Bitches_Brew.html
 Davis, Miles. Bitches Brew. Columbia, 1970. LP.
 Rusch, Bob. Ron Wynn, ed. All Music Guide to Jazz. AllMusic. M. Erlewine, V. Bogdanov (1st ed.). San Francisco (1994): Miller Freeman Books. p. 197.
 Davis, Miles. Live-Evil. Columbia, 1972. LP.
 Szwed, John. So What: the Life of Miles Davis. Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition (January 9, 2004) p. 319.
In the late 1950s and 1960s, as the Civil Rights Movement took precedence in American politics, critics began to view music through the lens of race. Jazz was a frequent subject of scrutiny because of its history as an African American art form commonly performed by white musicians. Until this era, jazz was considered a “colorblind” art form, but as racial tensions rose, it became impossible to ignore the racial implications that came with the performance of jazz.1
Almena Lomax, a civil rights activist and journalist for the African American newspaper, the Los Angeles Tribune, criticizes Ella Fitzgerald for her acquiescent attitude toward white producers in a 1960 article. Lomax asks, “how come once she is on it [a television program] and the magic of her name has been used to snare viewers, she is given the lesser roles . . . and why does she continue to sit still for such patronizing treatment?” According to Lomax, Fitzgerald had the ideal voice to sing Gershwin, but at a recent all-Gershwin program, Fitzgerald was relegated to sing “only the ‘virtuoso’ numbers–in the tradition of the Negro showing his ‘extra heel,’ or his sixth finger, or his tail, or whatever it is that stamps him as something else but human.” Lomax goes on to compare Fitzgerald’s rendition of “How High the Moon” to such Uncle Tom-like behavior:2
We cannot be sure of what rendition Lomax is referring to as the “last time” Fitzgerald sang “How High the Moon.” Fitzgerald first recorded the song in 1956 on her album Lullabies of Birdland, and another performance of it was recorded in 1958 at Mister Kelly’s, but the recording was not released until 2007. So Lomax is either referring to the Lullabies of Birdland version or a performance she heard live. She is not, however, referring to the famous Ella in Berlin: Mack the Knife recording of “How High the Moon” because that concert did not occur until February 13, 1960, about a month after this article was published.
Assuming Lomax was using the Lullabies of Birdland recording as her reference, I am wondering if Lomax may have had different thoughts about the implications of “How High the Moon” after hearing the Ella in Berlin recording. You can hear the transformation Fitzgerald’s interpretation underwent between 1956 and 1960 by listening to the links below:
Lullabies of Birdland (1956)3
Ella in Berlin (1960)4
In the earlier recording (which Lomax may have been referring to), one could feasibly make the argument that Fitzgerald’s scatting merely serves to please white audiences. She begins the song politely, moves into the expected scatting section using her bag of tricks, and then closes nicely in a little over three minutes. By contrast, the later recording carries a markedly more defiant tone. Taking nearly seven minutes, but a much faster tempo, Fitzgerald sings with an almost frightening virtuosity. As she transitions into the scatting section, her voice becomes brassy and her tone almost exasperated on the words:
We’re singing it
Because you ask for it
So we’re swinging it just for you
As her scatting progresses, she sings, “I guess these people wonder what I’m singing” but continues to scat at the same pace, showing that she does not care if the audience keeps up or not. Her scat includes low, exasperated sounds that make it clear she is not singing to please. She also quotes a number of songs, including “Ornithology” by saxophonist Charlie Parker, aligning herself with the bebop direction of jazz. Toward the end of the song, she seems to put on an affected operatic tone that arpeggiates the tune excessively, followed by a low “hng” sound imitating the sound of an instrument. She moves so quickly through these polarized styles that the effect is shocking more than it is impressive or pleasing to the ear.
So while Lomax is wise to be skeptical of Fitzgerald’s exclusive use of virtuosity in comparison to white performers, she could not yet know that Fitzgerald would reclaim this virtuosic style for herself in Berlin. On a final note, in is significant to consider the history of the song “How High the Moon.” Written by white broadway songwriters Lewis and Hamilton and first popularized by white singing duo Les Paul and Mary Ford, “How High the Moon” was in fact transformed into its scatting glory by Ella Fitzgerald. Rather than letting the song own her, she owned it.
1 Monson, Ingrid T. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call out to Jazz and Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
2 Lomax, Almena. “Notes for Showfolks,” Los Angeles Tribune (Los Angeles, CA), Aug. 1, 1960, accessed April 7, 2015 http://phw02.newsbank.com/cache/ean/fullsize/pl_004062015_2134_46699_913.pdf
3 Fitzgerald, Ella, Louis Jordan, Louis Armstrong, Sy Oliver, Gordon Jenkins, Benny Carter, André Previn, and Bob Haggart, performers. Ella: The Legendary Decca Recordings. Recorded August 29, 1995. GRP Records, 1995, Streaming Audio. Accessed April 7, 2015. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/715022.
4 Fitzgerald, Ella, Paul Smith, Jim Hall, Wilfred Middlebrooks, and Gus Johnson, performers. The Complete Ella In Berlin: Mack The Knife. Recorded August 17, 1993. GRP Records, 1993, Streaming Audio. Accessed April 7, 2015. http://search.alexanderstreet.com/view/work/691638.
Many people write epitaphs, either for themselves or in honor of the death of another person. They are usually short texts meant to be inscribed on tombstones. Rarely does someone write a jazz composition that is over 4000 measures long and takes more than two hours to perform for their epitaph. To my knowledge, Charles Mingus has been the only person to create a jazz piece of such epic proportions.
Attempting to record the piece for the first time, however, was fraught with problems from the beginning. First developed in 1962, Mingus conceived this project as a “live workshop” with a big band for newly composed music. The plan was for him to write the music and record it with a live audience at The Town Hall in New York City. Thanks to United Artists Records, the deadline for the music was rescheduled five weeks earlier than originally planned. Mingus not only pushed himself to the limit, but the musicians as well, unleashing his notorious wrath upon them if he was not satisfied. As a result, the musicians were tense and fearful and the music was still being passed around during the live show. The Town Hall concert was so disastrous that Mingus never looked at the score again for the rest of his life.
In 1988, almost 10 years after his death, musicologist Andrew Homzy discovered the four foot high score for Epitaph. The first full-length recording was appropriately recorded after Mingus’ death and the 31 piece orchestra was conducted by Gunther Schuller at the Lincoln Center in 1989. Finally, Mingus’ magnum opus was fully realized.
The importance of this work could not be understated. As a review from the New Yorker stated, “It marks the first advance in the composition of large-scale jazz works since Duke Ellington’s 1943 Black, Brown and Beige” . Even more than 50 years after its completion, the piece still stands certainly as one of Mingus’ most difficult works. However, it is difficult to classify it as predominantly jazz or classical. Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige as well as Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue are considered jazz symphonies, primarily classical compositions with jazz influences. Epitaph transcends this and becomes an integration of the jazz and classical forms rather than a work that contains influences of the other. As The Boston Phoenix appropriately states, “It’s uncategorizable. It has nothing to do anymore with ‘jazz’ or ‘classical’ music, or anything. It’s just Mingus” .
1. “NPR Presents Charles Mingus’ ‘Epitaph.'” Chicago Metro News, Sept. 30, 1989. http://www.infoweb.newsbank.com (Accessed April 6).
2. Balliett, Whitney. “Jazz: Mingus Regained.” The New Yorker, August 21, 1989. http://mingusmingusmingus.com/mingus-bands/epitaph (Accessed April 6).
3. The Boston Phoenix. http://mingusmingusmingus.com/mingus-bands/epitaph (Accessed April 6.)
Crawford notes that the representation of women in jazz music was primarily restricted to vocal performance and singing. That being said, the contribution by these female performers was quite significant and one wonders how the nature of jazz could have been enhanced if more contributions existed of female composers or instrumentalists in the genre.
Sarah Vaughan has been hailed as a revolutionary vocal performer whose vast range of both vocal technique and emotional quality created a new standard of jazz performers. Even within the same piece, Sarah Vaughan’s style can change drastically as seen in her recording of “My Favorite Things”
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While the beginning displays an incredible lyrical and smooth quality to it, the last half of her performance contrasts this with a much crisper consonants, harsher vowels, and an improvisatory, drawn out rhythmic quality.
Entirely other music techniques can be seen in her performance of “Nobody Else But Me” which possess much more of the style of the last half of “My Favorite Things.” Long, held-out alto notes create a power and confidence in her voice steering away from the more soft, sensual or sultry sound of other vocal jazz music.
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The question of women’s role in jazz music can raise interesting questions of how the genre of jazz might have been different if more women composers had been represented. It is also interesting to contemplate how the genre may have changed, if at all, if it had possessed more female composers and more male vocal performers.
When Charlie Parker died on March 12, 1955, he left a massive void in the world of jazz. While tragic, it was inevitable: a long battle with heroin addiction had threatened his life in the past. Though he didn’t invent the genre, he was widely considered to be one of the “fathers of bebop” who had galvanized the transformation of Duke Ellington’s “specialized jungle rhythm” into the virtuosic, intellectual, and cutthroat style of post-war jazz.
Less than a month after his death, the national edition of the Chicago Defender suggested that Parker’s passing also signaled the end of bebop. The article claimed that without ‘Yardbird’ Parker “time and wear may render [bebop] worthless commercially.”
While this concern may seem legitimate in the face of tremendous loss, modern hindsight rejects the notion that death can halt the development of musical style, particularly when that development stems from a genius. Parker, aside from being responsible for the partial transformation of musical sound, was also responsible for the transformation of musical thought. He revolutionized the way jazz musicians though about harmonic approaches to improvisation. He also drastically increased the use of contrafact composition (composing over existing harmonic material), expanding the framework in which jazz musicians could operate and providing a model for how they could develop their musical chops.
For all of the praise that the Chicago Defender heaps on ‘Yardbird’ for his contributions to jazz, they neglect to mention why this was his nickname. The answer is provided in another national edition five years later:
The anonymous author describes a person that, trapped within the gritty and difficult world of the inner-city, finds consolation in thinking about Bird and memorializing him through graffiti. For him, Bird (Parker himself as well as the nickname) symbolizes the ability to know “the freedom inside his head that allowed him to dream- and fly up, out and away” from the challenging circumstances of his life. The author invokes the name of Dadelus, the Greek man who dreamt to fly away from his prison cell via his own ingenuity. Dadelus serves as a parallel to Bird, who used his innovative music to fly away the past and change the landscape of jazz, becoming a mythological figure in his own right.
With these two articles together, it almost seems as though the latter serves as a direct answer to the former. Bird’s music will not die because people’s dreams will not die. And as long as people continue to dream, the creativity and passion of Bird will be memorialized in both stone and flesh. The connection of flight and dreams as they relate to Parker remained relevant into the 1960s, as jazz musicians reacted to the development of the civil rights movement. As Bird did before them, they used their own perspectives to mold jazz into an expression of freedom. Bird and his music lived on, and will continue to as long as musicians continue to dream.
 Special. 1955. “Death of ‘Yardbird’ Parker may Affect Bebop’s Fight to ‘Live’.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Mar 26, 6. http://search.proquest.com/docview/492930917?accountid=351.
 F.L.B. 1960. “Bird Lives.” Daily Defender (Daily Edition) (1956-1960), Apr 04, 1. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493786203?accountid=351.
“It’s not unlawful to sing or play any kind of music in the United States of America, no matter how good or bad it sounds. Jazz is based on the sound of our native heritage. It is an American idiom with African roots-a trunk of soul with limbs reaching in every direction, to the frigid North, the exotic East, the miserable, swampy South, and the swinging Wild West.”
This passage from Duke Ellington’s autobiography, Music is my Mistress, hints at his plain writing style and his lifetime success in jazz. Ellington wrote his biography for the celebration of his 70th birthday in 1973, but its intent is not entirely clear. While he has a few revelations on music, God, and his Sacred conventions, to share, most of the book is spent listing the unique experiences he had and the many people that he worked with or that influenced him, all of whom are described as “good guys.” As Eileen Southern said in her book review in The Black Perspective in Music, “a great deal of essential data is missing…nowhere in the book is a hint of the pain Ellington must have experienced.”
In contrast, his son Mercer Ellington wrote a memoir of his father that painted a much different picture of his life. Perhaps tainted by his experience of not seeing much of his father, Mercer summarizes some of the moments when Ellington was sidelined because of his race, such as when Ellington wrote Black, Beige, and Tan as a parallel and critique to African American history and received a patronizing response from critics or the many moments that Ellington had to prove his bands’ worth in comparison and competition with white jazz bands.
Perhaps the fact that Ellington left out the more bleak and tough moments of his life shows his view on protesting racial issues. Mercer quotes his father, “’I think a statement of social protest in the theater should be made without saying it.’” His piece, Black Beige and Tan, and his 1963 cover of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue have undertones of critique on white appropriation of jazz by the virtuosity, styles, and stories that he implements, but they have to be inferred. Arguably, these conflicting accounts also show Ellington contributing to the white narrative of jazz. Ellington’s success was not only because of his talent as a musician and bandleader, but he did not outwardly fight the racist structures controlling his profession. Since his autobiography was published at a time when Ellington was celebrated by white audiences as a successful American jazz musicians, it makes sense that he chose to leave his African American experience out.
 Edward Kennedy Ellington, Music is my Mistress, (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1973), 436.
 Eileen Southern, “Reviewed Work: Music is My Mistress,” The Black Perspective in Music, 2, no. 2 (1974): 211-212.
 Mercer Ellington, Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir, (Boston: Hougton Mifflin Company, 1978), 94.
When Gershwin wrote “I Got Rhythm” for the 1930’s musical Girl Crazy, he couldn’t have known what effect he had on the direction of jazz for years to come. The chord progressions and simple rhythm changes presented in “I Got Rhythm” have become second nature in the most common harmonic structure of jazz.
It was 1930, and the Gershwin brothers were working on the score of Girl Crazy, their next Broadway show. The chorus of the song, based on a syncopated four-note figure, was cast in standard 32-bar AABA form with a two-bar tag. Of the seventeen lines in the lyrics of its chorus, thirteen are set to the same four-note figure, a rhythmic cell that hits only one of the four strong beats in the two bars it covers.
For Ira (George’s brother and lyricist), “rhythm” in this song was tied up with aggressive, accented, syncopated groupings of beats. Together the music and lyrics would create a catchy tune that would become something so great in very little time.
Within ten days of the opening of Girl Crazy on the 14th, three significant recordings of “I Got Rhythm” were made.
“On the 20th, Freddie Rich, conductor of the CBS Radio Orchestra, recorded it with a group under his own name. On the 23d, Red Nichols and His Five Pennies—all thirteen of them, and including Goodman, Krupa, Miller, and other members of the Girl Crazy pit band, plus vocalist Dick Robertson—made their own version. And on the 24th, one of New York’s best black bands, Luis Russell and His Orchestra, recorded another version. Each can be taken to represent the beginning of a different approach to Gershwin’s number: (1) “I Got Rhythm” as a song played and sung by popular performers; (2) “I Got Rhythm” as a jazz standard , a piece known and frequently played by musicians, black and white, in the jazz tradition; and (3) “I Got Rhythm” as a musical structure , a harmonic framework upon which jazz instrumentalists, especially blacks, have built new compositions.”
The endurance and progression of popularity in the jazz tradition expanded largely due to its extensive use by early bebop musicians. The chords were first used in 1930s and developed into a popular jazz standard. “I Got Rhythm” became extremely common in the ’40s and ’50s when composers listened to the song and wrote a new melody over its chord changes, thereby creating a contrafact- a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure. Gershwin’s influence in jazz music is now ubiquitous. In Robert Wyatt’s book The George Gershwin Reader,
Popular musicians like Sidney Bechet, Lester Young, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker started to imitate Gershwin’s style.
1 Crawford, Richard. “George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” (1930).” The American Musical Landscape. University of California Press. 1993. Web. 23 Mar. 2015. <http://publishing.cdlib.org/ucpressebooks/view?docId=ft0z09n7gx&chunk.id=d0e6504&toc.id=d0e14086&brand=ucpress>.
2 Wyatt, Robert. “George Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” (1930).” The George Gershwin Reader. New York: Oxford UP, 2004. 156-172. Print.
John Coltrane is known as one of the world’s most skilled saxophonists. As a jazz composer as well, his pieces fell into the bebop and hard bop jazz genres before incorporating modes and spearheading the free jazz movement. He was never one to do the same thing twice. He is also known for taking a theme or melody, stretching it out over a long period of time (sometimes as long as 45 minutes), repeating it over and over, playing it differently with each repetition.
In August of 1964, columnist for the Chicago Defender Louise Davis Stone managed to exchange a few words with Coltrane during the intermission of one of his shows. She asked him a question that was on the minds of many: whether or not the jazz genre was fading and losing the interest of many of its listeners.
Coltrane did not give a concrete answer, saying, “I don’t know whether jazz is dying or not. My records are selling well and I’m happy about that. I have no fear about my music being too way out. You are not going to find something new by doing the same thing over and over again. You add something to the old. You have to give up something to get something.”¹ Not having a firm answer can seem a bit disconcerting to some, especially to those to thoroughly enjoy the jazz genre. However, Coltrane’s comments about adding something to the old has merit. How else will an artist forge their own paths if they only cover exactly what has already been written and performed?
When Coltrane arranged “My Favorite Things,” for example (https://play.spotify.com/track/6oVY50pmdXqLNVeK8bzomn), he was not interested in performing it the same fashion as Mary Martin and Patricia Neway from the original Broadway performance (Sound of Music). He turned the vocal line into a solo for saxophone. The general “groove” of the song was changed as well from the original. Coltrane added new things to the old, made it his own, and gave the track a new life and spirit.
To the modern ear of the time, these alterations sounded more new age than what they were used to. That is exactly what Coltrane is not afraid of: new ideas and concepts that make the listeners’ ears perk up.
¹LOUISE, DAVIS STONE. “The Jazz Bit.” The Chicago Defender (National Edition) (1921-1967), Aug 01, 1964. http://search.proquest.com/docview/493094849?accountid=351.
Originally from New Orleans, LA, the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was recruited to Chicago in 1916 to perform at Schiller’s Cafe. There was interest in bringing a New Orleans-style band to Chicago. After a number of personnel changes, ODJB was booked to perform in New York City. Starting in January 1917, ODJB took up residency providing upbeat dancing music at Reisenweber’s Restaurant in New York City.
At the time, the center of the music recording industry was New York City and New Jersey. ODJB had earned their own following in New York and received invitations to record. In the end of February, the band recorded with Victor Talking Machine Company and recorded two sides of a 78 record under the Victor name. The song here, Dixie Jass Band One-Step, and Livery Stable Blues were the first songs released on this record.
With the release of this record, ODJB gained immense popularity in America. The members dubbed themselves “Creators of Jazz” having given the American people their first taste of jazz with their record release. After a successful first release, the ODJB recorded more songs for a total of 25, 2-song records before the group’s disbandment in 1925.
Dixieland jazz is different than what we think of as “jazz” today. It follows the 12-bar blues model, but instead of having a dominant soloist in the foreground, each of the five players play throughout. It sounds as if each player is playing his own solo throughout the whole song. It gives a different flavor of ensemble than we are used to in today’s instrumental music.
One of the primary uses for this music was dance. The complexity of the music itself and each of the five instruments intertwining with each other parallels that of public dancing. Everyone dances to the same beat, but each person on the dance floor is dancing his or her own way. No one looks or sounds the same. The same applies to Dixieland Jazz.
“Original Dixieland Jazz Band.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed March 2, 2015, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J339300..
Jazz is a musical style native to the United States, that emerged in the early Twentieth century. Jazz was influenced from Blues music, which was established most notably by W.C. Handy in 1917. Jazz has new sound that incorporates both the African American musical stylings and the European American form of music. This hybridization of the two heritages created a unique style of music which we now call under a big genre “umbrella,” Jazz. In the Library of Congress photo archives, a photo of the reputable Sarah Vaughan was present among many photos of white jazz singers. She became popular in the late 40s and early 50s when Jazz was really hitting it’s stride as popular music, with the likes of Frank Sinatra.
Vaughan was highly influenced by the early blues style, of W.C. Handy. Handy’s invention or development of the Memphis Blues, drew on the folk style of the old southern plantation music. The emotional context of this music is heard in the vocal stylings of the renowned Sarah Vaughan. The memphis blues eventually took shape to the 12-bar blues, which also led to the development of Jazz.
While Vaughan represents a big part of the Jazz era, more commonly was the presence of white artists, such as Doris Day, Peggy Lee, and Sinatra. They emulated the sounds of a soulful Vaughan, singing on topics that go back to the days of slavery.
“St. Louis Blues” is a great example of an old dixieland jazz band song that evolved over the years. In the recording provided in the above link, the instrumentation, while has elements of a traditional jazz band also still has southern sounds to it… likely from New Orleans. In the video below, the song is presented in a different style of blues and jazz, one that emerged later with artists like Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and Sarah Vaughan.
Gottlieb, William, photographer. “Portrait of Sarah Vaughan in Café Society (Downtown).” Photograph. New York, N.Y.: Library of Congress Prints & Photographs. Aug. 1946. Online.