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The History Of Jazz - Part 2
- Jazz In The Twenties

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The History Of Jazz - Part 2
- Jazz In The Twenties

Most of the vital developments which occured in jazz during the twenties took place in two cities, Chicago and New York. Both were hotbeds of the entertainment industry and both were magnets for the black immigrants who were streaming out of the Southern States in the first half of the century in search of a better lifestyle.

By the twenties there was a black quarter in Chicago, the South Side with a population of around 100,000 people, whilst New York's Harlem was already a sort of capital city for the black population of the USA. In both Chicago and New York young white musicians were catching on to this novel black music as they had in New Orleans and were beginning to make their own bespoke contributions.

Chicago was the place where most of the classic recordings were made by New Orleans musicians like King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Baby Dodds, Freddie Keppard, Jelly Roll Morton and Jimmy Noone.

Other up-and-coming musicians came to Chicago from other parts of the country such as the dazzling young pianist from Pittsburgh Earl Hines, and young white musicians from allover the Midwest whose ears had been enchanted by jazz, the cornettist Bix Beiderbecke from Davenport, Iowa, guitarist Eddie Condon from Indiana, and the clarinettist Pee Wee Russell from Missouri.

There they met a native Chicagoan coterie who had all attended a single school, Austin High and which included a number of important musicians including the brilliant drummer Dave Tough and an extraordinary clarinettist named Frankie Teschmacher.

Some of these youths had flrst been inspired by the recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), a rather frenetic copy of New Orleans jazz, but they soon realized that it was the great black musicians who were the fountainhead of the music and consequently went to sit at the feet of King Oliver at the Royal Gardens and Johnny Dodds at Kelley's Stables.

Curiously, this white Chicagoan jazz did not turn out to be a carbon copy of the sounds of these men. The feeling was different, New Orleans jazz was deeply relaxed. In comparison these middle-class white Chicagoans sounded individualist and anarchic which was probably because that was what they were i.e. middle class drop-outs, bohemians, they were the kind of people from whose ranks jazz (and later rock music) musicians and fans have so frequently been recruited.

Paradoxically these iconoclasts turned out to be surprisingly conservative. It was white players like Muggsy Spanier who preserved the archaic styles of King Oliver and company. The bands of survivors gathered by Eddie Condon in the Fifties and Sixties were playing much as they had in the Twenties, and still it should be added they were playing excellent music. In the music of men like clarinettist Kenny Davern the tradition still thrives today.

By the end of the Twenties, most of the major musicians in Chicago, white and black had moved on to seek their fortunes in New York. There they found some jazz developments that had been happening in the north-east. In New York jazz had also been taken up by white musicians, most of whom took their cue from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. In general the results were more sedate than in Chicago, but the guitarist Eddie Lang, violinist Joe Venuti and trombonist Miff Mole evolved a refined chamber jazz idiom.

A more important factor in the north-east however was the local school of advanced ragtime pianists which is known to history as "stride". The name comes from the powerful and technically demanding bass patterns which were the hallmark of the style. These consisted of alternating widely spaced chords and single notes giving the impression that the pianist's left hand was striding vigorously up and down the keyboard.

Like classic ragtimers, the stride pianists wrote elaborate compositions intended to dazzle audiences and subdue their rivals, but in performance these could be extended indefinitely into a semi-improvised sequence of "tricks", such as harmonic runs or riffs (i.e. repeated phrases), designed to build up momentum and display virtuosity.

The stride pianists were loners and dandies inclined to silver-topped canes and elaborately pleated overcoats. When they met one another a gladitorial battle of music was likely to result, as might happen at the private fund-raising rent parties which Harlem dwellers would throw in their flats.

Of the Harlem pianists, the most typical was James P. Johnson (1894-1955), the most idiosyncratic William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholoff Smith, known as Willie "The Lion" (1897-1973), and the most famous, Thomas "Fats" Waller (1904-1943).

Johnson's fiendishly difficult 'Carolina Shout' was the benchmark of stride, the piece that all younger players had to master, but it was perhaps Waller, Johnson's pupil and close follower who left the most irresistible examples of the genre.

One more key event was happening in New York at this time, various black musicians were finding ways in which to blend the freedom and improvisation of New Orleans Jazz with the instrumentation of the kind of large ensemble that worked in New York dance halls and clubs. In other words, this was the birth of Big Band jazz.

The most brilliant musician in at the delivery was Duke EIlington, but his contribution was so individual that it had little influence in the short term. It was in the band led by Fletcher Henderson that the standard formula for big band arrangements was worked out. Saxophonist Don Redman carried out the groundwork for this.

After his departure the easy going Henderson continued refining the division of the band into sections, trumpets, reeds, trombones and simplifying what they played into riffs. The result was a Big Band that would play with the pared-down ease of a small group, the blueprint for the forthcoming Age Of Swing.

Next Time in Part 3 - The Age Of Swing

* Also see :- Louis Armstrong Biography
* Also see :- Dave Brubeck Biography
* Also see :- John Hammond Biography
* Also see :- Nica de Koenigswarter Biography
* Also see :- 52nd Street
* Also see :- Tin Pan Alley

Wes George (former Sony Jazz webmaster)
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