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The JAZZ Story
An Outline History of Jazz
In the span of less than a century, the remarkable native American
called Jazz has risen from obscure folk origins to become this
most significant original art form, loved and played in nearly
every land on
Today, Jazz flourishes in many styles, from basic blues and ragtime
through New Orleans and Dixieland, swing and mainstream, bebop and
modern to free form and electronic. What is extraordinary is not
has taken so many forms, but that each form has been vital enough
survive and to retain its own character and special appeal. It
open ears and an open mind to appreciate all the many and
delights jazz has to offer.
Jazz developed from folk sources. Its origins are shrouded in
the slaves brought here from Africa, torn from their own ancestral
developed it as a new form of communication in song and story.
Black music in America retained much of Africa in its distinctive
elements and also in its tradition of collective improvisation.
blended with the music of the new land, much of it vocal, produced
than just a new sound. It generated an entire new mode of musical
The most famous form of early Afro-American music is the spiritual.
These beautiful and moving religious songs were most often heard by
white audiences in more genteel versions than those performed in
black churches. What is known as gospel music today, more
reflects the emotional power and rhythmic drive of early
music than a recording of a spiritual by the famous Fisk Jubilee
from the first decade of this century.
Other early musical forms dating from the slavery years include
songs, children’s songs, and dances, adding up to a remarkable
especially since musical activity was considerable restricted under
BIRTH OF THE BLUES
After the slaves were freed, Afro-American music grew rapidly. The
availability of musical instruments, including military band
the new-found mobility gave birth to the basic roots of Jazz: brass
dance band music and the blues.
The blues, a seemingly simple form of music that nevertheless lends
to almost infinite variation, has been a significant part of every
and has also survived in its own right. Today’s rock and soul music
be impossible without the blues. Simply explained, it is and eight
twelve) bar strain with lyrics in which the first stanza is
repeated. It gets its
characteristic “blue” quality from a flattening of the third and
of the tempered scale. In effect, the blues is the secular
counterpart of the
BRASS BANDS AND RAGTIME
By the late 1880’s, there were black brass, dance and concert bands
most southern cities. (At the same time, black music in the north
generally more European-oriented.) Around this era, ragtime began
emerge. Though primarily piano music, bands also began to pick it
perform it. Ragtime’s golden age was roughly from 1898 to 1908, but
total span began earlier and lingered much later. Recently, it has
rediscovered. A music of great melodic charm, its rhythms are
syncopated, but it has almost no blues elements. Ragtime and early
are closely related, but ragtime certainly was more sedate.
Greatest of the ragtime composers was Scott Joplin (1868-1917).
masters of the form include James Scott, Louis Chauvink Eubie Blake
(1883-1983) and Joseph Lamb, a white man who absorbed the idiom
Ragtime, especially in its watered-down popular versions, was
entertainment designed for the middle class and was frowned on by
musical establishment. The music not yet called Jazz (in its
earliest usage it
was spelled “jass”), came into being during the last decade of the
century, rising out of the black working-class districts of
Like ragtime, it was a music meant for dancing.
The city that has become synonymous with early Jazz is New Orleans.
There is reality as well as myth behind this notion.
New Orleans: Cradle of Jazz
New Orleans played a key role in the birth and growth of Jazz, and
music’s early history has been more thoroughly researched and
documented there than anywhere else. But, while the city may have
more and better Jazz than any other from about 1895 to 1917, New
Orleans was by no means the only place where the sounds were
incubating. Every southern city with a sizable black population had
that must be considered early Jazz. It came out of St. Louis, which
be the center of ragtime; Memphis, which was the birthplace of W.C.
Handy (1873-1958), the famed composer and collector of blues;
Baltimore, and other such cities.
What was unique to New Orleans at the time was a very open and free
social atmosphere. People of different ethnic and racial
establish contact, and out of this easy communication came a rich
tradition involving French, Spanish, German, Irish and African
was no wonder that this cosmopolitan and lively city was a fertile
ground for Jazz.
If New Orleans was the birthplace of Jazz in truth as well as in
tale that the music was born in its red light district is purest
Orleans did have legalized prostitution and featured some of the
elaborate and elegant “sporting houses” in the nation. But the
music, if any,
that was heard in these establishments was made by solo pianists.
Actually, Jazz was first heard in quite different settings. New
noted for its many social and fraternal organizations, most of
sponsored or hired bands for a variety of occasions — indoor and
dances, picnics, store openings, birthday or anniversary parties.
course, Jazz was the feature of the famous funeral parades, which
even today. Traditionally, a band assembles in front of the church
leads a slow procession to the cemetery, playing solemn marches and
mournful hymns. On the way back to town, the pace quickens and
peppy marches and rags replace the dirges. These parades, always
crowd attractions, were important to the growth of Jazz. It was
trumpeters and clarinetists would display their inventiveness and
drummers work out the rhythmic patterns that became the foundation
“swinging” the beat.
The best way to account for the early development of jazz in New Orleans
is to familiarize yourself with the cultural and social history of this
marvelously distinctive regional culture.
One might say that jazz is the Americanization of the New Orleans music
developed by the Creoles, occuring at a time when ragtime, blues,
spirituals, marches, and popular “tin pan alley” music were converging.
Jazz was a style of playing which drew from all of the above and
presented an idiommatic model based on a concept of collective, rather
than solo, improvisation.
Ultimately, New Orleans players such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney
Bechet developed a new approach which emphasized solos, but they both
began their careers working in the collective format, evident in the
early recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917), Kid Ory’s
Sunshine Orchestra (1921), the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (1922, 1923) and
King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band (1923).
Armstrong’s impact became apparent with the popularity of his Hot Five
and Hot Seven recordings (1925-28), redirecting everyone’s imagination
toward inspired solos. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, community connections
such as “jazz funerals” in which brass bands performed at funerals held
associations continued to underline the role of jazz as a part of
Jazz may have been a luxury (entertainment) in New York, Chicago, and
Los Angeles, but in New Orleans it was a necessity–a part of the
fabric of life in the neighborhoods. And it still is.
THE EARLY MUSICIANS – Buddy, Bunk, Freddie and The King
The players in these early bands were mostly artisans (carpenters,
bricklayers, tailors, etc.) or laborers who took time out on
holidays to make music along with a little extra cash.
The first famous New Orleans musician, and the archetypal jazzman,
Buddy Bolden (1877-1931). A barber by trade, he played cornet and
to lead a band in the late 1890’s. Quite probably, he was the first
the basic, rough blues with more conventional band music. It was a
significant step in the evolution of Jazz.
Bolden suffered a seizure during a 1907 Mardi Gras parade and spent
rest of his life in an institution for the incurably insane. Rumor
made records have never been substantiated, and his music comes
the recollection of other musicians who heard him when they were
Bunk Johnson (1989- 1949), who played second cornet in one of
last bands, contributed greatly to the revival of interest in
Orleans jazz that took place during the last decade of his life. A
storyteller and colorful personality, Johnson is responsible for
much of the
New Orleans legend. But much of what he had to say was more fantasy
Many people, including serious fans, believe that the early jazz
were self-taught geniuses who didn’t read music and never took a
lesson. A romantic notion, but entirely untrue. Almost every major
in early jazz had at least a solid grasp of legitimate musical
and often much more.
Still, they developed wholly original approaches to their
prime example is Joseph (King) Oliver (1885-1938), a cornetist and
bandleader who used all sorts of found objects, including drinking
a sand pail, and a rubber bathroom plunger to coax a variety of
from his horn. Freddie Keppard (1889-1933), Oliver’s chief rival,
use mutes, perhaps because he took pride in being the loudest
town. Keppard, the first New Orleans great to take the music to the
the country, played in New York vaudeville with the Original Creole
Orchestra in 1915.
JAZZ COMES NORTH
By the early years of the second decade, the instrumentation of the
Jazz band had become cornet (or trumpet), trombone, clarinet,
string bass and drums. (Piano rarely made it since most jobs were
location and pianos were hard to transport.) The banjo and tuba, so
identified now with early Jazz, actually came in a few years later
early recording techniques couldn’t pick up the softer guitar and
The cornet played the lead, the trombone filled out the bass
in a sliding style, and the clarinet embellished between these two
poles. The first real jazz improvisers were the clarinetists, among
Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). An accomplished musician before he was
Bechet moved from clarinet to playing mainly soprano saxophone. He
to become one of the most famous early jazzmen abroad, visiting
and France in 1919 and Moscow in 1927.
Most veteran jazz musicians state that their music had no specific
first, other than ragtime or syncopated sounds. The first band to
term Jazz was that of trombonist Tom Brown, a white New Orleanian
introduced it in Chicago in 1915. The origin of the word is cloudy
initial meaning has been the subject of much debate.
The band that made the word stick was also white and also from New
Orleans, the Original Dixieland Jass Band. This group had a huge
success in New York in 1917-18 and was the first more or less
Jazz band to make records. Most of its members were graduates of
bands of Papa Jack Laine (1873-1966), a drummer who organized his
first band in 1888 and is thought to have been the first white Jazz
musician. In any case, there was much musical integration in New
and a number of light skinned Afro-Americans “passed” in white
By 1917, many key Jazz players, white and black, had left New
and other southern cities to come north. The reason was not the
1917 closing of the New Orleans red light district, but simple
The great war in Europe had created an industrial boom, and the
merely followed in the wake of millions of workers moving north to
promise of better jobs.
LITTLE LOUIS & THE KING
King Oliver moved to Chicago in 1918. As his replacement in the
band in his hometown, he recommended an 18-year-old, Louis
Little Louis, as his elders called him, had been born on August 4,
poverty that was extreme even for New Orleans’ black population.
earliest musical activity was singing in the streets for pennies
with a boy’s
quartet he had organized. Later he sold coal and worked on the
Louis received his first musical instruction at reform school,
spent eighteen months for shooting off an old pistol loaded with
the street on New Year’s Eve of 1913. He came out with enough
savvy to take jobs with various bands in town. The first
musician to sense the youngster’s great talent was King Oliver, who
Louis and became his idol.
THE CREOLE JAZZ BAND
When Oliver sent for Louis to join him in Chicago, that city had
the world’s new Jazz center. Even though New York was where the
Original Dixieland Jass Band had scored its big success, followed
spawning of the first dance craze associated with the music, the
bands seemed to take on the vaudeville aspects of the ODJB’s style
without grasping the real nature of the music. Theirs was an
Dixieland (of which Ted Lewis was the first and most successful
practitioner), but there were few southern musicians in New York to
the music a New Orleans authenticity.
Chicago, on the other hand, was teeming with New Orleans
and the city’s nightlife was booming in the wake of prohibition. By
odds, the best band in town was Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band,
after Louis joined in late 1922. The band represented the final
flowering of classic New Orleans ensemble style and was also the
harbinger of something new. Aside from the two cornetists, its
the Dodds Brothers, clarinetists Johnny (1892-1940) and drummer
(1898-1959). Baby Dodds brought a new level of rhythmic subtlety
drive to jazz drumming. Along with another New Orleans-bred
Zutty Singleton (1897-1975), he introduced the concept of swinging
Jazz drums. But the leading missionary of swinging was,
FIRST JAZZ ON RECORDS
The Creole Jazz Band began to record in 1923 and while not the
New Orleans band to make records, it was the best. The records were
quite widely distributed and the band’s impact on musicians was
Two years earlier, trombonist Kid Ory (1886-1973) and his Sunshine
Orchestra captured the honor of being the first recorded artists in
category. However, they recorded for an obscure California company
which soon went out of business and their records were heard by
Also in 1923, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, a white group active in
Chicago, began to make records. This was a much more sophisticated
group than the old Dixieland Jass Band, and on one of its recording
it used the great New Orleans pianist-composer Ferdinand (Jelly
Morton (1890-1941). The same year, Jelly Roll also made his own
JELLY ROLL MORTON
Morton, whose fabulous series of 1938 recordings for the Library of
Congress are a goldmine of information about early Jazz, was a
man. Vain, ambitious, and given to exaggeration, he was a pool
hustler and gambler a well as a brilliant pianist and composer. His
talent, perhaps was for organizing and arranging. The series of
made with his Red Hot Peppers between 1926 and 1928 stands,
Oliver’s as the crowning glory of the New Orleans tradition and one
great achievements in Jazz.
LOUIS IN NEW YORK AND BIG BANDS ARE BORN
That tradition, however, was too restricting for a creative genius
Armstrong. He left Oliver in late 1924, accepting an offer from New
York’s most prestigious black bandleader, Fletcher Henderson
(1897-1952). Henderson’s band played at Roseland Ballroom on
Broadway and was the first significant big band in Jazz history.
Evolved from the standard dance band of the era, the first big Jazz
consisted of three trumpets, one trombone, three saxophones
kinds of reed instruments), and rhythm section of piano, banjo,
or brass) and drums. These bands played from written scores
(arrangements or “charts”), but allowed freedom of invention for
featured soloists and often took liberties in departing from the
Though it was the best of the day, Henderson’s band lacked rhythmic
smoothness and flexibility when Louis joined up. The flow and grace
short solos on records with the band make them stand out like
a tin setting.
The elements of Louis’ style, already then in perfect balance,
sound that was the most musical and appealing yet heard from a
gift for melodic invention that was as logical as it was new and
and a rhythmic poise (jazzmen called it “time”) that made other
sound stiff and clumsy in comparison.
His impact on musicians was tremendous. Nevertheless, Henderson
feature him regularly, perhaps because he felt that the white
whom his band performed were not ready for Louis’ innovations.
his year with the band, however, Louis caused a transformation in
and, eventually, in the whole big band field. Henderson’s chief
Don Redman, (1900-1964) grasped what Louis was doing and got some
it on paper. After working with Louis, tenor saxophonist Coleman
Hawkins (1904-1969) developed a style for his instrument that
guidepost for the next decade.
While in New York, Louis also made records with Sidney Bechet, and
with Bessie Smith (1894-1937), the greatest of all blues singers.
he returned to Chicago and began to make records under his own name
with a small group, the Hot Five. Included were his wife Lil Hardin
Armstrong (1899-1971) on piano, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, and
Johnny St. Cyr. The records, first to feature Louis extensively,
sensation among musicians, first all over the United States and
over the world. The dissemination of jazz, and in a very real sense
whole development, would have been impossible without the
The Hot Five was strictly a recording band. For everyday work,
played in a variety of situations, including theater pit bands. He
to grow and develop, and in 1927 switched from cornet to the more
brilliant trumpet. He had occasionally featured his unique gravel
singing, but only as a novelty. Its popular potential became
1929, when, back in New York, he starred in a musical show in which
introduced the famous Ain’t Misbehavin’ singing as well as playing
great tune written by pianist Thomas (Fats) Waller (1904-1943),
one of the greatest instrumentalists-singers-showmen in Jazz.
It was during his last year in Chicago while working with another
Earl (Fatha) Hines (1903-1983), that Louis reached his first
Hines was the first real peer to work with Louis. Inspired by him,
in turn able to inspire. Some of the true masterpieces of Jazz,
West End Blues and the duet Weatherbird, resulted from the
THE JAZZ AGE
Louis Armstrong dominated the musical landscape of the 20’s and, in
shaped the Jazz language of the decade to come as well. But the
the Jazz Age was more often than not just peppy dance music made by
young men playing their banjos and saxophones who had little
understanding of (or interest in) what the blues and/or Louis
were about. Still, a surprising amount of music produced by this
dance-happy period contained genuine Jazz elements.
PAUL WHITEMAN – King of Jazz?
The most popular bandleader of the decade was Paul Whiteman
(1890-1967), who ironically became known as the King of Jazz,
his first successful bands played no Jazz at all and his later ones
little. These later bands, however, did play superb dance music,
scored and performed by the best white musicians the extravagant
Whiteman paychecks could attract. From 1926 on, Whiteman gave
occasional solo spots to such Jazz-influenced players as cornetist
Nichols, violinist Joe Venuti, guitarist Eddie Lang (1904-1933),
Dorsey Brothers’ trombonist-trumpeter Tommy (1905-1956) and
clarinetist-saxophonist Jimmy (1904-1957), all of whom later became
bandleaders in their own right.
In 1927, Whiteman took over the key personnel of Jean Goldkette’s
Jazz-oriented band, which included a young cornetist and sometime
and composer of rare talent, Bix Beiderbecke (1903-1931). Bix’s
lyrical, personal music and early death combined to make him the
(and most durable) jazz legend. His romanticized life story became
inspiration for a novel and a film, neither of them close to the
Bix’s closest personal and musical friend during the most creative
his life was saxophonist Frank Trumbauer (1901-1956). Fondly known
Bix and Tram, the team enhanced many an otherwise dull Whiteman
record with their brilliant interplay or their individual efforts.
THE BEIDERBECKE LEGACY
Bix’s bittersweet lyricism influenced many aspiring jazzmen, among
the so-called Austin High Gang, made up of gifted Chicago
only a few of whom ever actually attended Austin High School. Among
them were such later sparkplugs of the Swing Era as drummers Gene
Krupa (1909-1973) and Dave Tough (1908-1948); clarinetist Frank
Teschemacher (1905-1932); saxophonist Bud Freeman (1906-1991);
pianists Joe Sullivan (1906-1971) and Jess Stacy (b. 1904); and
guitarist-entrepreneur Eddie Condon (1905-1973). Their
and occasional comrades-in-arms included a clarinet prodigy named
Goodman (1905-1986); and somewhat older reedman and character, Mezz
Mezzrow (1899-1972), whose 1946 autobiography, Really the Blues,
remains, despite inaccuracies, one of the best Jazz books.
Trumbauer, though not a legend like Bix, influenced perhaps as many
musicians. Among them were two of the greatest saxophonist in Jazz
history, Benny Carter (b.1907) and Lester (Prez) Young (1909-1959).
BLACK & WHITE
A great influence on young Goodman was the New Orleans clarinetist
Jimmie Noone (1995-1944), an exceptional technician with a
tone. Chicago was an inspiring environment for a young musician.
was plenty of music and there were plenty of masters to learn from.
Cornetist Muggsy Spanier (1906-1967) took his early cues from King
Oliver. In New York, there was less contact between black and white
players, though white jazzmen often made the trek to Harlem or
opposite Fletcher Henderson at the Roseland. When a young Texas
trombonist, Jack Teagarden (1905-1964), came to town in 1928, he
startled everyone with his blues-based playing (and singing), very
concept to that of Henderson’s trombone star, Jimmy Harrison
(1900-1931). These two set the pace for all comers.
Teagarden, alongside Benny Goodman, worked in Ben Pollack’s band.
Pollack, who’d played drums with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, was
quite a talent spotter and always had good bands. When Henderson
arranger Don Redman took over McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in 1929 and
made it one of the bands of the `20s, his replacement was Benny
Carter could (and still can) write arrangements and play trumpet
clarinet as well as alto sax. For many years, he was primarily
active as a
composer for films and TV; but in the late 1970’s, Carter resumed
playing career with renewed vigor. (Editor’s Note-Carter just
eighty and is still playing and recording.)
THE UNIQUE DUKE
Another artist whose career spanned more than fifty years is Duke
Ellington (1899-1974). By 1972, he was one of New York’s most
successful bandleaders, resident at Harlem’s Cotton Club–a
catering to whites only but featuring the best in black talent.
Ellington’s unique gifts as composer-arranger-pianist were coupled
equally outstanding leadership abilities. From 1927 to 1941, with
exceptions and occasional additions, his personnel remained
record no other bandleader (except Guy Lombardo, of all people)
Great musicians passed through the Ellington ranks between 1924 and
1974. Among the standouts: great baritone saxist Harry Carney
(1907-1974), who joined in 1927; Johnny Hodges (1906-1970), whose
alto sax sound was one of the glories of jazz; Joe (Tricky Sam)
(1904-1946), master of the “talking” trombone; Barney Bigard
(1906-1980); whose pure-toned clarinet brought a touch of New
to the band; Ben Webster (1909-1973), one of Coleman Hawkins’
disciples; drummer Sonny Greer (1903-1982), and Rex Stewart
(1907-1967) and Cootie Williams (1910-1985), an incomparable
team. Among the later stars were trumpeter Clark Terry (b. 1920)
tenor saxist Paul Gonsalves (1920-1974).
Ellington’s music constitutes a world within the world of Jazz. One
century’s outstanding composers, he wrote over 1,000 short pieces,
many suites, music for films, the theater and television, religious
more. He must be ranked one of the century’s foremost musicians,
regardless of labels. His uninterrupted activity as a bandleader
has earned him a high place in each successive decade, and his
achievement is a history of Jazz in itself.
Three outstanding contributors to Ellingtonia must be mentioned.
trumpeter-composer Bubber Miley (1903-1932), the co-creator of the
significant style for the band and, like his exact contemporary Bix
Beiderbecke, a victim of too much, too soon; bassist Jimmy Blanton
(1918-1942), who in his two years with Ellington shaped a whole new
for his instrument in Jazz, both as a solo and ensemble voice; and
Strayhorn (1915-1967), composer-arranger and Ellington alter ego
contributed much to the band from 1939 until his death.
STRIDE & BOOGIE WOOGIE
Aside from the band, for which he wrote with such splendid skill,
Ellington’s instrument was the piano. When he came to New York as a
young man, his idols were James P. Johnson (1894-1955), a brilliant
instrumentalist and gifted composer, and Johnson’s closest rival,
(The Lion) Smith (1898-1973). Both were masters of the “stride”
Jazz piano, marked by an exceptionally strong, pumping line in the
hand. James P.’s prize student was Fats Waller. New York pianists
met in friendly but fierce contests–the beginnings of what would
known as jam sessions.
In Chicago, a very different piano style came into the picture in
`20s, dubbed boogie-woogie after the most famous composition by its
significant exponent, Pinetop Smith (1904-1929). This rolling,
eight-to-the-bar bass style was popular at house parties in the
and became a national craze in 1939, after three of its best
Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson and Meade Lux Lewis, had been presented
in concert at Carnegie Hall.
KANSAS CITY SOUNDS
Johnson was from Kansas City, where boogie-woogie was also popular.
The midwestern center was a haven for Jazz musicians through-out
rule of Boss Pendergast, when the city was wide open and music
heard around the clock.
The earliest and one of the best of the K.C. bands was led by
Moten (1894-1935). By 1930 it had in its ranks pianist Count Basie
(1905-1984) who’d learned from Fats Waller; trumpeter-singer Oran
Lips) Page (1908-1954), one of Louis Armstrong’s greatest
an outstanding singer, Jimmy Rushing (1903-1972). The city was to
imprint on Jazz during the `30s and early `40s.
The great Depression had its impact on Jazz as it did on virtually
facets of American life. The record business reached its lowest ebb
1931. By that year, many musicians who had been able to make a
playing Jazz had been forced to either take commercial music jobs
the field entirely.
But the music survived. Again, Louis Armstrong set a pattern. At
of a big band with his increasingly popular singing as a feature,
the pop hits of the day in his unique Jazz mold, as such artists as
Waller and Billie Holiday (1915-1959), perhaps the most gifted of
Jazz singers would do a few years later.
Thus, while sentimental music and romantic “crooners” were the rage
(among them Bing Crosby who had worked with Paul Whiteman and
learned more than a little from Jazz), a new kind of “hot” dance
began to take hold. It wasn’t really new, but rather a streamlining
Henderson style, introduced by the Casa Loma Orchestra which
the arrangements of Georgia-born guitarist Gene Gifford
Almost forgotten today, this band paved the way for the Swing Era.
THE COMING OF SWING
As we’ve seen, big bands were a feature of the Jazz landscape from
first. Though the Swing Era didn’t come into full flower until
up-and-coming young jazzmen from 1930 found themselves working in
Among these were two pacesetters of the decade, trumpeter Roy
Jazz) Eldridge (1911-1989) and tenorist Leon (Chu) Berry
Eldridge, the most influential trumpeter after Louis, has a fiery
style and great range and swing. Among the bands he sparked were
Fletcher Henderson’s and Teddy Hill’s. The latter group also
Berry, the most gifted follower of Coleman Hawkins, and the
trombonist Dicky Wells (1909-1985).
Another trend setting band was that of tiny, hunchbacked drummer
Webb (1909-1939), who by dint of almost superhuman energy overcame
his physical handicap and made himself into perhaps the greatest of
drummers. His band really got under way when he heard and hired a
young girl singer in 1935. Her name was Ella Fitzgerald (b. 1917).
THE KING OF SWING
But it was Benny Goodman who became the standard-bearer of swing.
1934, he gave up a lucrative career as a studio musician to form a
with a commitment to good music. His Jazz-oriented style met with
enthusiasm at first. He was almost ready to give it up near the end
disastrous cross-country tour in the summer of `35 when suddenly
fortunes shifted. His band was received with tremendous acclaim at
Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles.
It seems that the band’s broadcasts had been especially well timed
California listeners. Whatever the reason, the band, which included
Jazz stars as the marvelous trumpeter Bunny Berigan (1908-1942) and
drummer Gene Krupa, not to mention Benny himself, now scored
after success. Some of the band’s best material was contributed by
arrangers Fletcher Henderson and his gifted younger brother Horace.
As the bands grew in popularity, a new breed of fan began to
fan wanted to listen as much as he wanted to dance. (In fact, some
disdained dancing altogether.) He knew each man in each band and
the new swing magazines that were springing up–Metronome, Down
Orchestra World. He collected records and listened to the growing
of band broadcasts on radio. Band leaders were becoming national
on a scale with Hollywood stars.
OTHER GREAT BIG BANDS
Benny’s arch rival in the popularity sweepstakes was fellow
Artie Shaw (b.1910), who was an on-again-off-again leader. Other
successful bands included those of Jimmy Dorsey and Tommy Dorsey,
whose co-led Dorsey Brothers Band split up after one of their
First among black bandleaders were Duke Ellington and Jimmie
(1902-1947). The latter led a highly disciplined and
band which nevertheless spotlighted brilliant jazz soloists, among
saxophonists Willie Smith and Joe Thomas and trombonist Trummy
(1912-1984). The man who set the band’s style, trumpeter-arranger
Oliver (1910-1988), later went with Tommy Dorsey.
A newcomer on the national scene was Count Basie’s crew from Kansas
City, with key soloists Lester Young and Herschel Evans (1909-1939)
tenors, Buck Clayton (1912-1992) and Harry Edison (b.1915) on
trumpets, and Jimmy Rushing and Billie Holiday (later Helen Humes)
But important as these were (Lester in particular created a whole
for his instrument), it was the rhythm section of Basie that gave
its unique, smooth and rock-steady drive–the incarnation of swing,
Freddie Green (1911-1987) on guitar, Walter Page (1900-1957) on
and Jo Jones (1911-1985) on drums and the Count on piano made the
rhythm section what it was. Basie, of course, continued to lead
bands, but the greatest years were 1936-42.
EXIT THE BIG BANDS
The war years took a heavy toll of big bands. Restrictions made
more difficult and the best talent was being siphoned off by the
more importantly, public tastes were changing.
Ironically, the bands were in the end devoured by a monster they
given birth to: the singers. Typified by Tommy Dorsey’s Frank
the vocalist, made popular by a band affiliation, went out on his
the public seemed to want romantic ballads more than swinging dance
The big bands that survived the war soon found another form of
competition cutting into their following–television. The tube kept
home more and more, and inevitably many ballrooms shut their doors
good in the years between 1947 and 1955. By then it had also become
expensive a proposition to keep 16 men traveling on the road in the
bands’ itinerant tradition. The leaders who didn’t give up
Woody Herman, Harry James) had something special in the way of
and dedication that gave them durability in spite of changing
The only new bands to come along in the post-war decades and make
were those of pianist-composer Stan Kenton (1912-1979), who started
band in 1940 but didn’t hit until `45; drummer Buddy Rich
veteran of many famous swing era bands and one of jazzdom’s most
phenomenal musicians, and co-leaders Thad Jones (1923-1990), and
Lewis (1929-1990), a drummer once with Kenton. Another Kenton
alumnus, high-note trumpeter Maynard Ferguson (b. 1928), has led
successful big bands on and off.
THE BEBOP REVOLUTION
In any case, a new style, not necessarily inimical to the big bands
different in spirit form earlier Jazz modes, had sprung up during
Bebop, as it came to be called, was initially a musician’s music,
born in the
experimentation of informal jam sessions.
Characterized by harmonic sophistication, rhythmic complexity, and
concessions to public taste, bop was spearheaded by Charlie Parker
(1920-1955), an alto saxophonist born and reared in Kansas City.
After apprenticeship with big bands (including Earl Hines’), Parker
in New York. From 1944 on, he began to attract attention on
52nd Street, a midtown block known as “Swing Street” which featured
concentration of Jazz clubs and Jazz talent not equaled before or
Bird, as Parker was called by his fans, was a fantastic improviser
imagination was matched by his technique. His way of playing
influenced by Lester Young and guitarist Charlie Christian
remarkable musician who was featured with Benny Goodman’s sextet
between 1939-41), was something new in the world of Jazz. His
on musicians can be compared in scope only to that of Louis
Parker’s principal early companions were Dizzy Gillespie, a
abilities that almost matched Bird’s, and drummer Kenny Clarke
(1914-1985). Dizzy and Bird worked together in Hines’ band and then
the one formed by Hines vocalist Billy Eckstine (1914-1993), the
developer of bop talent. Among those who passed through the
ranks were trumpeters Miles Davis (1927-1991), Fats Navarro
(1923-1950), and Kenny Dorham (1924-1972); saxophonists Sonny Stitt
(1924-1982), Dexter Gordon (1923-1990), and Gene Ammons
(1925-1974); and pianist-arranger-bandleader Tadd Dameron
Bop, of course, was basically small-group music, meant for
dancing. Still, there were big bands featuring bop–among them
by Dizzy Gillespie, who had several good crews in the late `40s and
to mid-50’s; and Woody Herman’s so-called Second Herd, which
the cream of white bop–trumpeter Red Rodney (b. 1927), and
saxophonists Stan Getz (1927-1993), Al Cohn (1925-1988) and Zoot
(1925-1985), and Serge Chaloff (1923-1957).
BOP VS. NEW ORLEANS
Ironically, the coming of bop coincided with a revival of interest
Orleans and other traditional Jazz. This served to polarize
musicians and point up differences rather than common ground. The
needless harm done by partisan journalists and critics on both
lingered on for years.
Parker’s greatest disciples were not alto saxophonists, except for
Stitt. Parker dominated on that instrument. Pianist Bud Powell
(1924-1966) translated Bird’s mode to the keyboard; drummers Max
Roach and Art Blakey (1919-1990) adapted it to the percussion
instruments. A unique figure was pianist-composer Thelonious Monk,
(1917-1982). With roots in the stride piano tradition, Monk was a
forerunner of bop–in it but not of it.
In the wake of Miles Davis’ successful experiments, rock had an
increasing impact on Jazz. The notable Davis alumni Herbie
Hancock (b. 1940) and Chick Corea (b.1941) explored what soon
became known as fusion style in various ways, though neither cut
himself off from the jazz tradition. Thus Hancock’s V.S.O.P., made
up of `60s Davis alumni plus trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, pursued
Miles’ pre-electronic style, while Corea continued to play acoustic
jazz in various settings. Keith Jarrett(b. 1945), who also briefly
played with Davis, never adopted the electronic keyboards but flirted
with rock rhythms before embarking on lengthy, spontaneously
conceived piano recitals. The most successful fusion band was
Weather Report, co-founded in 1970 by the Austrian-born pianist
Joe Zawinul (b. 1932) and Wayne Shorter; the partnership lasted
until 1986. The commercial orientation of much fusion Jazz offers
little incentive to creative players, but it has served to introduce
new young listeners to Jazz, and electronic instruments have been
absorbed into the Jazz mainstream.
New York – The Jazz Mecca
New York City is the Jazz capital of the world. Jazz musicians can
be found playing at jam sessions, smoky bistros, stately concert halls,
on street corners and crowded subway platforms. Although the music was
born in New Orleans and nurtured in Kansas City, the Big Apple has long
been a Mecca for great Jazz. From the big band romps of Duke Ellington
and Count Basie at The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem to the Acid Jazz jam
sessions downtown at Giant Step, New York continues to serve as the
proving grounds for each major Jazz innovator.
52nd Street – The Street That Never Slept
Between 1934 and 1950, 52nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues
was the place for music. The block was jam-packed with monochromatic
five-story brownstone buildings in whose drab and cramped street-level
interiors there were more clubs, bars and bistros than crates in an
overstocked warehouse. 52nd Street started as a showcase for the
small-combo Dixieland Jazz of the speakeasy era then added the big-band
swing of the New Deal 30s. Before its untimely demise, hastened by
changing real estate values, The Street adopted the innovations of bop
and cool. So in just a few hours of club hopping, a listener could walk
through the history of Jazz on 52nd Street. Favorites included pianist
Art Tatum, singer Billie Holiday, tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins,
Count Basie and his Big Band, trumpeter Roy Eldridge, pianist Errol
Garner, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and alto saxophonist Charlie
Minton’s Playhouse – Birthplace of Bebop
In the early 1940s, a group of Jazz revolutionaries gathered at an
uptown club called Minton’s Playhouse. Through a series of small group
jam sessions frequented by musicians in their teens and early twenties,
a new music called Bebop was born, sired by alto saxophonist Charlie
“Bird” Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and pianist Thelonious Monk.
Bird was generally regarded as the intuitive genius and improviser of
the group, his magic sound and awesome technique changing the face of
Jazz. Diz was the conscious thinker and showman, a man who spent a
lifetime charming audiences worldwide. Monk was the creative
clearinghouse and refiner, a musical iconoclast whose compositions
At first, Bebop’s eccentric starts and stops, and torrents of
notes played at machine-gun tempos jarred listeners and proved
devilishly difficult to play. But by the late 1940s, when big-band swing
had declined, bop matured and became the Jazz standard.
Birdland – Jazz Corner of the World
Miraculously, just as 52nd caved in, Birdland opened on Broadway.
For more than a decade, from 1949-1962, the survival formula was
memorable double and triple bills, commencing at 9pm and sometimes
lasting untill dawn. Descending the stairs to the jammed basement
nitery, a listener would encounter a racially mixed throng, primed for
an evening of high octane musical invigoration. To add to the
excitement, Birdland’s colorful host was Pee Wee Marquette, a uniformed
midget. Riding the final crest of the Bebop wave, Birdland was a musical
oasis for accomplished improvisors where the finest jazz on planet
earth was presented with a minimum of pretense. The club has let it all
hang out ambiance encouraged musicians to stretch the boundaries with
spirited audience encouragement. Live radio broadcasts from the club,
hosted by Symphony Sid, compounded the excitement.
Diversity is the word for today’s Jazz. Various aspects of freedom
been pursued by the many gifted musicians connected with the AACM
(American Association for Creative Musicians), a collective formed
1965 under the guidance of the pianist-composer Richard Muhal
(b. 1930). Among the groups that have emerged, directly and
from the AACM are the Art Ensemble of Chicago and The World
Saxophone Quartet, and notable musicians of this lineage include
trumpeter Lester Bowie (b. 1941), reedmen Anthony Braxton (b.1945),
Joseph Jarman, Julius Hemphill, Roscoe Mitchell and David Murray,
and violinist Leroy Jenkins, Ornette Coleman has continued to go
way, introducing a unique fusion band, Prime Time, collaborating
guitarist Pat Metheny (b. 1954), and celebrating occasional
his original quartet.
Quite unexpectedly, but with neat historical symmetry, a new wave
gifted young jazz players has emerged from New Orleans, spearheaded
the brilliant trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (b. 1961), who joined Art
Jazz Messengers–a bastion of the bebop tradition–in 1979. Also an
accomplished classical virtuoso, Marsalis was soon signed by
Records and became the most visible new Jazz artist in many years.
Articulate and outspoken, he has rejected fusion and stressed the
continuity of the Jazz tradition. His slightly older brother,
Marsalis (b. 1960), who plays tenor and soprano sax, was a member
Wynton’s quintet until he joined with rock icon Sting’s band for a
has since led his own straight-ahead jazz quartet. As his
Blakey, Wynton recommended fellow New Orleanian Terence Blanchard
(b. 1962), who later formed a group with altoist Donald Harrison
from New Orleans, as co-leader.
Many other gifted players have emerged during the present decade —
many to list here. Many have affirmed their roots in bebop, and
reached even further back to mainstream swing (such as tenorist
Hamilton (b. 1954), and trumpeter Warren Vache, Jr. [b. 1951]), but
almost all, even when choosing experimentation and innovation,
within the established language of jazz. As in the other arts, Jazz
have arrived at a postmodern stage.
We ought not to overlook the increasingly important role being
women instrumentalists, among them Carla Bley, JoAnne Brackeen,
Ira Bloom, Amina Claudine Myers, Emely Remler and Janice Robinson.
The durability of the Jazz tradition has been symbolically affirmed
events: the Academy Award nomination of Dexter Gordon, the seminal
bebop tenor saxophonist, for his leading role in the film Round
and the widely acclaimed appearances of Benny Carter, approaching
90th birthday, at the helm of the American Jazz Orchestra (an
formed in 1986 to perform the best in Jazz, past and present) both
player and composer.
And one may also take heart at the qualitative as well as
growth of Jazz education in this country, and the active
involvement of so
many fine performing artist in this process.
No one can presume to guess what form the next development in Jazz
take. What we do know is that the music today presents a rich
of sounds and styles.
Thelonious Monk, that uncompromising original who went from the
obscurity of the pre-bop jam sessions in Harlem to the cover of
worldwide acclaim without ever diluting his music, once defined
jazz in his
“Jazz and freedom,” Monk said, “go hand in hand. That explains it.
isn’t anymore to add to it. If I do add to it, it gets complicated.
something for you to think about. You think about it and dig it.
You dig it.”
Jazz, a music born in slavery, has become the universal song of
Jazz History – Periods, Styles
Batchelor, Christian: This thing called Swing ; a study of
Swing music and the Lindy Hop, the original Swing dance. London 1997.
Belaire, David C. G.: A guide to the big band era. 1997.
Bergerot, Franck & Arnaud Merlin: The story of jazz ; bop and beyond.
New York 1993.
Berlin, Edward A.: Ragtime ; a musical and cultural history. Reprint
(1980). Berkeley, Calif. [etc.] 1984.
Boyd, Jean A.: The jazz of the southwest;an oral history of
Western Swing. Austin, Tex.1998.
Budds, Michael J.: Jazz in the 60s ; the expansion of musical resources
and techniques. Expanded ed. Iowa City, Ia. 1990.
Carver, Reginald & Lenny Bernstein: Jazz profiles ; the
spirit of the nineties. New York 1998.
Cockrell, Dale: Demons of disorder ; early blackface
minstrels and their world. Cambridge 1997.
Collins, R.: New Orleans jazz ; a revised history ; the development of
American music from the origin to the big bands. New York 1996.
Corbett, John: Extended play ; sounding off from John Cage
to Dr. Funkenstein.Durham, N.C. 1994.
Dean, Roger T.: New structures in jazz and improvised
music since 1960. Milton Keynes 1991
Deffaa, Chip: Swing legacy foreword by George T. Simon.
Metuchen, N.J. [etc.] 1989.
Deffaa, Chip: Voices of the jazz age ; profiles of 8
vintage jazzmen. Wheatley 1990.
DeVeaux, Scott: The birth of Bebop ; a social and musical
history. Berkeley, Cal. [etc.] 1997.
Erenberg, Lewis A.: Swingin’ the dream ; big band jazz and
the rebirth of American culture. Chicago, Ill. [etc.] 1998.
Feather, Leonard: The encyclopedia yearbooks of Jazz.
Reprint (1956 & 1958). New York 1993.
Feather, Leonard: The passion for jazz. Reprint (1980). New
Fernett, Gene: Swing out ; great Negro dance bands. Reprint
(1970). New York 1993.
Goldberg, Joe: Jazz masters of the 50s. Reprint (1965). New
Gottlieb, William P.: The golden age of jazz. New & revised
ed. San Francisco, Cal. 1995.
Griffiths, David: Hot jazz ; from Harlem to Storyville.
Lanham, Md. [etc.] 1998.
Grudens, Richard: The best damn trumpet player ; memories
of the big band era & beyond. Stony Brook, N.Y. 1996.
Grudens, Richard: The music men ; the guys who sang with
the bands and beyond. Stony Brook, N.Y. 1998.
Grudens, Richard: The song stars ; the ladies who sang with
the bands and beyond. Stony Brook, N.Y. 1997.
Hadlock, Richard: Jazz masters of the 20s. Reprint (1965).
New York 1988.
Hall, Fred: Dialogues in Swing ; intimate conversations
with the stars of the Big Band era. Ventura, Cal. 1989.
Harrison, Daphne Duval: Black pearls ; blues queens of the 1920s. New
Brunswick, N.J. [etc.] 1990.
Hennessey, Thomas J.: From jazz to swing ; Afro-American
jazz musicians and their music, 1890-1935. Detroit, Mich. 1994.
Jasen, David A. & Gene Jones: Spreadin’ rhythm around ; black popular
songwriters, 1880-1930. New York 1998.
Jones, Leroi: Black music. Reprint (1967). New York 1998.
Jost, Ekkehard: Europas Jazz 1960-1980. Frankfurt 1987.
Kennedy, Don: Big Band Jump personality interviews. Atlanta, Ga. 1993.
Kennedy, Rick: Jelly Roll, Bix and Hoagy ; Gennett studios and the birth
of recorded jazz. Bloomington, Ind. [etc.] 1994.
Koerner, Julie: Big bands. New York 1992.
Koerner, Julie: Swing kings. New York 1994.
Kofsky, Frank: John Coltrane and the jazz revolution of the
1960s. New York 1998.
Korall, Burt: Drummin’ men ; the heartbeat of jazz ; the
Swing years. New York 1990.
Litweiler, John: The freedom principle ; jazz after 1958.
Reprint (1984).New York 1990.
Lock, Graham: Chasing the vibration ; meetings with
creative musicians. Exeter 1994.
Morgan, Thomas L. & William Barlow: From Cakewalks to
concert halls; an illustrated history of African American popular music
from 1895 to 1930. Washington, D.C. 1993.
Nicholson, Stuart: Jazz, the 1980s resurgence. Reprint
(1990) of: Jazz, the modern resurgence. New York 1995.
Nicholson, Stuart: Jazz-Rock, a history. New York 1998.
Owens, Thomas: Bebop ; the music and its players. Reprint (1995). New
York [etc.] 1996.
Piazza, Tom: Blues up and down ; jazz in our time. New York 1997.
Rosenthal, David H.: Hard bop ; jazz and black music 1955-1965. Reprint
(1992).New York 1993.
Russell, Bill: New Orleans style compiled & ed. by Barry
Martyn & Mike Hazeldine. New Orleans, La. 1994.
Scanlan, Tom: The joy of jazz : Swing era, 1935-1947.
Golden, Col. 1996.
Schuller, Gunther: Early jazz ; its roots and musical development.
Reprint (1968). New York [etc.] 1986.
Spellman, A: B.: Four lives in the bebop business. Reprint
(1966). New York 1985.
Stewart, Rex: Jazz masters of the 30s. Reprint (1972). New
Stowe, David W.: Swing changes ; Big Band jazz in New Deal
America. Reprint (1994). Cambridge, Mass. 1996.
Tracy, Sheila: Bands, booze and broads. Reprint (1995).
Edinburgh (etc) 1996.
Van der Merwe, Peter: Origins of the popular style ; the antecedents of
twentieth-century popular music. Reprint (1989) Oxford 1992.
Vincent, Ted: Keep cool ; the black activists who built the
jazz age.London [etc.] 1995.
Waldo, Terry: This is Ragtime. Reprint (1976). New York
Walker, Leo: The wonderful era of the great dance bands.
Reprint (1964). New York 1990.
Wilmer, Valerie: As serious as your life; the story of the
New Jazz. Reprint (1987).London 1998.
Wyndham, Tex: Texas shout ; how Dixieland Jazz works. Seattle, Wash.
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