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The History Of Jazz - Tin Pan Alley

Tin Pan Alley was the collection of New York City music publishers and songwriters who dominated the popular music of the USA in the late 19th century and early 20th century. The name originally referred to a specific place i.e. West 28th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Flower District of Manhattan.
The start of Tin Pan Alley is usually dated to be about 1885 when a number of music publishers set up shop in the same district of Manhattan. The end of Tin Pan Alley is less clear cut, some date it to the start of the Great Depression in the 1930s when the phonograph, radio and motion pictures supplanted sheet music as the driving force of American popular music while others consider Tin Pan Alley to have continued into the 1950s when earlier styles of music were upstaged by the rise of Rock & Roll which was centred on the Brill Building.

Various explanations have been advanced to account for the origins of the term 'Tin Pan Alley'. The most popular account holds that it was originally a derogatory reference by Monroe H. Rosenfeld in the New York Herald to the collective sound made by many cheap upright pianos all playing different tunes and being reminiscent of the banging of tin pans in an alleyway. However no article by Rosenfeld that specifically uses the term has ever been found.

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, 'tin pan' was slang for 'a decrepit piano' and the term came to mean a 'hit song writing business' by 1907.

With time the nickname came to describe the American music publishing industry in general.  The term then spread to the United Kingdom where Tin Pan Alley is also used to describe Denmark Street in London's West End.  In the 1920s the street became known as 'Britain's Tin Pan Alley' because of its large number of music shops.

In the mid-19th century copyright control of melodies was not as strict and publishers would often print their own versions of the songs that were popular at the time. With stronger copyright protection laws late in the century, songwriters, composers, lyricists, and publishers started working together for their mutual financial benefit. Songwriters would literally bang on the doors of Tin Pan Alley businesses to get new material.

The commercial centre of the popular music publishing industry changed during the course of the 19th century, starting in Boston and moving to Philadelphia, Chicago and  Cincinnati before settling in New York City under the influence of new and vigorous publishers which concentrated on vocal music.

The biggest music houses established themselves in New York City but small local publishers, who were often connected with commercial printers or music stores, continued to flourish throughout the country and there were important regional music publishing centres in Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, and Boston. When a tune became a significant local hit rights to it were usually purchased from the local publisher by one of the larger New York firms.

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The History Of Jazz - Tin Pan Alley

The song publishers who created Tin Pan Alley frequently had backgrounds as salesmen. Aspiring songwriters came to demonstrate tunes which they hoped to sell. When tunes were purchased from unknowns with no previous hits the name of someone with the firm was often added as co-composer (in order to keep a higher percentage of royalties within the firm) or all rights to the song were purchased outright for a flat fee (including rights to put someone else's name on the sheet music as the composer).

'Song Pluggers' were pianists and singers who represented the music publishers and made their living demonstrating songs to promote sales of sheet music. Most music stores had Song Pluggers on their staff. Other Pluggers were employed by the publishers to travel and familiarize the public with their new publications. ( hence the term we use today Plug i.e. Promote )

Among the ranks of song pluggers were George GershwinHarry WarrenVincent Youmans and Al Sherman. A more aggressive form of song plugging was known as 'Booming', it meant buying dozens of tickets for shows, infiltrating the audience and then singing the song to be plugged. Louis Bernstein recalled taking his Plugging Crew to cycle races at Madison Square Garden: They had 20,000 people there, we had a pianist and a singer with a large horn. They'd sing a song to them thirty times a night. They'd cheer and yell and we kept pounding away at them. When people walked out, they'd be singing the song, they couldn't help it.

When Vaudeville performers played New York City, they would often visit various Tin Pan Alley firms to find new songs for their acts. Second and Third rate performers often paid for rights to use a new song whilst famous stars were given free copies of publisher's new numbers or were paid to perform them, the publishers knowing this was valuable advertising.

Initially Tin Pan Alley specialized in melodramatic ballads and comic novelty songs but it embraced the newly popular styles of the cakewalk and ragtime music. Later on jazz and  blues were incorporated, although less completely as Tin Pan Alley was oriented towards producing songs that amateur singers or small town bands could perform from printed music.

In the 1910's and 1920's Tin Pan Alley published pop songs and dance numbers created in newly popular jazz and blues styles.

* 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 :- The History Of Jazz

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