The Age of Dixieland
Legend has it that an 18th century slaveholder, Mr. Dixy, owned property in Manhattan, New York, where slavery was legal until 1827. Because he was considered a kind slave owner, "Dixy's Land" was deemed an ideal place to work. Most scholars, however, reject that charming story as totally false, and believe that the term comes from the ten-dollar notes issued by the Citizens' Bank in bilingual Louisiana before the Civil War and bearing the French word dix (ten) on the reverse side. Soon, New Orleans, then Louisiana, and eventually the entire South were called the Land of Dixie and later Dixieland (Flexner 1976, 124).
A certain special kind of music from the South, then, came to be called Dixieland jazz. The creation of the word "jazz" is surrounded with speculation and conjecture, incidentally. One theory is that it is a Creole word meaning "to speed up" any process or activity (Funk and Wagnalls 1959, 5202). Another theory is that "jazz" is Cajun argot for "jazz-belles," a corruption of the Biblical "jezebels" (Palmer 1976, 34). What is believed to be the most likely source though, is the now-obsolete term "jasm", slang for "spirit" and "energy", which certainly captures the essence of the music.
Whatever the derivation of the word, it was in use by the early 1900s to refer to a unique socio-musical blend of European and African elements. Some scholars call the entire field of black music "jazz". Other scholars hold that true jazz happened only in the 1920s, and everything after that – the big bands, be-bop, etc. – is really something else. Still other scholars believe that be-bop is the only jazz to reach the level of "art", and everything before and after is preparation or decline.
Best, perhaps, to consider the entire field-at-large to be African-American music, and all the various styles – ragtime, blues, gospel, Dixieland, spirituals, jazz, be-bop, fusion, funk, Motown, rap, etc. – to be different manifestations of that African-American musical genius at work under different socio-cultural and historical conditions.
"Dixieland jazz" certainly sprouted in other cities – Memphis, St. Louis, New York – but not with such intensity because these other cities did not have quite the same sociocultural mix and historical roots as New Orleans.
In the warm outdoor society of New Orleans, every lodge, firehouse, police station, fraternal organization, and civic institution had its own little marching band to play for picnics, carnivals, funerals, weddings, fairs, parades, excursions, fish fries, and parties. These bands served a social function much like the popular high school and college pep bands of today.
New Orleans was a manufacturing center for wind instruments for several years, and as a port of embarkation for troops leaving for the Spanish-American War, it was loaded with cornets (similar to a trumpet, but with a shorter, more conical tube), clarinets, trombones, and drums in the pawn shops and second-hand stores.
Bands were the entertainment on the river boats, and bands helped advertise prize fights, department store bargain sales, and ball games (Ewen 1977, 132). The band might consist of five to ten members, with, surely, guest musicians often invited to help out.
Then, too, New Orleans had a wild mix of cultures, religions, races, and ethnic communities – Spanish, French, African, English, Irish, German, Cajun, West Indian, Creole, Native American, Catholic, Protestant, and Voodoo, among others. The city was one-third black, with a rigid caste system between whites, blacks, and "creoles of color" (mulattos, quadroons, and octoroons of black/French mixtures) (Gridley 1988, 41). Famous indeed were the so-called "Quadroon Balls" where mothers would bring their beautiful daughters for the specific purpose of entering into an "agreement" with the white male guests who came to the ball. The orchestra for such an event would usually be composed of male "creoles of color" (Southern 1971, 135).
At one time in the 1800s, there were three opera companies in New Orleans. The big churches all had rich choral music traditions. A Negro Philharmonic Society of one hundred members presented concerts and recitals, and brought in guest artists on a regular basis. Trained music teachers were abundant. Mardi Gras was (and still is) non-stop music.
In 1897, Sidney Story, a New Orleans alderman, persuaded the city fathers to legalize and limit prostitution to sixteen square blocks specifically bordered on the north by Robertson and on the south by Basin Street. To his dismay, the area of containment came to be known as Storyville, and it flourished until 1917 when the U. S. Navy declared it illegal to operate a house of prostitution within five miles of a military institution.
Most of the brothels had piano players, "professors", who entertained the guests with ragtime selections, pop tunes, and blues. Sometimes, in more up-scale establishments, there would be a small band of three or four members.
The New Orleans funeral tradition is frequently discussed because of its historical importance in the development of jazz. On the way to the cemetery, the band would play selections of hymns in a solemn and sacred manner. After the burial, on the way home from the cemetery, the band would often play the same hymns, but now in a wild up-tempo ecstasy, for the loved one had finally been released from all worldly sorrow, and entered heaven. This was a cause for rejoicing!
If some of the band members were on a flat-bed wagon, the trombone player would be put on the back of the wagon, pointing his instrument away from the band members and away from the children and dogs running alongside, so that his trombone slide would not bump anyone or get damaged. His was a "tailgate trombone" function as he played contrapuntal lines to complement the cornet leader's main melody. Clarinet, banjo, tuba, and drums would be the logical addition to the trombone and cornet.
Because of their accomplishments and influence on later musicians, several figures tower over the hundreds of splendid musicians in New Orleans in the early 1900s. They began in New Orleans, but traveled much, and often achieved even greater fame in Chicago, New York, and Europe.
Edward "Kid" Ory (1886-1973) organized his own band at age 13 and was on the road at age 15. He played saxophone, piano, banjo, bass, guitar, trumpet, clarinet, and drums, but it was as a splendid "tailgate trombonist" and band leader that he made his mark in the world of jazz. He hired and worked with the best jazz men in New Orleans. While in California for five years, he made the first jazz recording in history by a black group (1919). He later settled in Chicago and played on some of Louis Armstrong's Hot Five and Hot Seven recording dates.
Kid Ory was noted for a big, robust tone, and a strong rhythmic Dixieland trombone style. His most famous composition was "Muskat Ramble", later spelled "Muskrat Ramble", a jazz classic (Gridley 1988, 76). He is nearly always mentioned first in any list of important jazz trombonists.
Sidney Bechet (1897-1959), one of the first great soloists in jazz history, was a profound influence on later saxophonists. Best known for his highly original soprano saxophone work, he also played clarinet. He "double-timed" with ease, playing a slow tune at twice the tempo while maintaining the same duration of time for the chord changes, sometimes for long periods, sometimes just for sections of a tune. Louis Armstrong and all succeeding great improvisers were capable of doing the same.
Bechet also created dramatic intensity by preceding certain central notes in his improvised lines with various scoops, smears, and ornaments which drew attention to those important notes. Music critics have said that Bechet's solos are "blues drenched" (Gridley 1988, 75). Bechet spent many years in France, and became a kind of national hero there.
Jelly Roll Morton
Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton was a New Orleans star before he went to California, Chicago, and New York. (See page 115 for more information.)
Charles Joseph "Buddy" Bolden (1877-1931), often called "King Bolden", is said to have recorded several cylindrical discs. Jelly Roll Morton said that on a quiet night you could hear Bolden's brilliant horn twelve miles away. Bolden spent his last twenty-four years in an insane asylum, after an episode of acute alcoholic psychosis at the age of 30.
George Lewis (1900-1968), clarinetist, enjoyed a second career in the 1950s and 1960s traveling around America with a Dixieland group. His raw and earthy style, with "more emotion than skill", appealed to the purists among jazz aficionados.
Tony Jackson (1876-1921), the acknowledged number one solo entertainer in New Orleans, played by ear in any key, and sang in that gentle manner that Nat Cole later made famous. Jackson played fiendishly difficult ragtime with such ease that when he sat down to perform, "all the other pianists wanted to take up drums" (Dexter 1964, 15). Jackson enjoyed the distinction of being highly praised by Jelly Roll Morton, and Jelly Roll was hard to please.
THE NEW ORLEANS STYLE
In a pattern that happened often in American music, the most famous proponents of a given style of black music, in this case New Orleans style Dixieland jazz, were white musicians. The ODJB, Original Dixieland Jass Band, later spelled Jazz, formed in Chicago, and lasted only two weeks because of personality conflicts. Regrouping with new men brought up from Louisiana, the ODJB played a few months in Chicago, opened for a famous engagement at Reisenweber's Cafe, near Columbus Circle, in New York in 1917, then made a very successful tour of Europe in 1919.
Their 1917 recording, "Livery Stable Blues", was the first jazz recording in history. The song caught the fancy of the nation's music lovers, and the ODJB became extremely popular. Given to imitating farm animals on their horns and on-stage clowning (for which serious jazz scholars dismiss them), the ODJB made "Dixieland" style a household word.
What was that style? In brief, it was continuous collective improvisation, between and among three melodic instruments – Nick LaRocca on cornet, Larry Shields on clarinet, and Eddie Edwards on trombone – sustained by the three-man rhythm section – Russell Robinson on piano, Harry Barth on string bass, Tony Spargo on drums.
Most of the early Dixieland bands had cornet, clarinet, and trombone for melodic assignments with a rhythm section of several instruments which might include banjo, guitar, bass saxophone, string bass, piano, drums, or tuba. No one had all those instruments in the band, of course, but the rhythm section came out of that list. Many variations occurred, but the theoretical model would be cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano, string bass, and drums.
Continuous collective improvisation over a relentless 4/4 rhythmic-metrical bed was fine for shows and even recordings, but it gets a little overbearing all night long. What America calls New Orleans Dixieland (in theme parks, on television, and in the movies) is really Chicago-style Dixieland. The differences are modest but musically important.
THE CHICAGO STYLE
With the closing of the Red Light District in New Orleans in 1917 and the passage of the Volstead Act to enforce prohibition in 1919, the great days of New Orleans' cabarets, dance halls, ballrooms, saloons, cafes, and night clubs came to a close. Then, too, the boll weevil destroyed much of the cotton crop in the South in the early 1920s, and large numbers of blacks and whites were thrown out of work. Many of them moved to the mobster-controlled big cities of the North that promised full employment to waiters, bartenders, bellhops, maids, cooks, laundry workers, and musicians. By the middle of the 1920s, Chicago had replaced New Orleans as one of the entertainment centers of the nation – and that called for jazz.
In New Orleans, marching bands were strong and active all year long. In the cold and windy city of Chicago, marching bands were possible only a few months each year. The real action was in the flamboyant speakeasies (the word probably derives from the English underworld's "speak-softly shops", referring to a smuggler's home or place of business (Flexner 1976, 288)). Jazz seemed to summarize, at a subliminal level, perhaps, the collective mentality of the day.
Night life in Chicago after World War I did not have to compete with the radio and talkies (those came later), and its cabarets put on lavishly produced shows – some also featuring a jazz band, usually a large one. Chicagoans seeking entertainment frequented such spots.
Being a direct, concise expression of the times, jazz appealed not only to the prohibition gangsters, but to other Chicagoans who were caught up in a whirl of protest against a Constitutional amendment they did not like. Biting and incisive, jazz personified this protest – this direct, raw approach to life, which offended the "solid" citizen and was looked upon as sinful by pulpiteers and preachers and as cheap and tawdry by small-minded classicists (Dexter 1964, 34).
The Chicago musicians, many of them from elsewhere, opened up the New Orleans style. They prepared specific introductions and endings to their tunes, and took longer internal solos, occasionally separated by modulations and interludes. They lightened up the rhythmic-metrical density by playing much of the time in a "two-beat" delivery – that is, with piano left hand, string bass, and bass drum providing counts one and three, while the piano right hand, banjo/guitar, and smaller percussion instruments offered something strong on counts two and four. (Today's rock musicians call that a backbeat.) Then the tenor saxophone came in, and the trombone began to take on a more melodic, less strictly "tailgate", duties. A new style had materialized.
The dominant voice in Chicago for a while was that of Joe "King" Oliver (1885-1938). A well-known New Orleans jazz giant, Oliver was summoned to Chicago by Bill Johnson to play in the band at the Royal Gardens Cafe. Lawrence Duhe met the train hoping to persuade Oliver to play at the Dreamland Cafe. Since the clubs were within walking distance, Oliver signed on with both bands, and for a time played alternating sets in each club.
After a brief spell in California, King Oliver returned to Chicago, sent to New Orleans for Louis Armstrong to join him, and made the illustrious two-cornet ensemble the talk of the Mid-West. Musicians drove hundreds of miles to Chicago to hear Oliver and Armstrong trade jazz licks and challenge-complement each other in vigorous musical dialogue. Many years later, Armstrong confessed that he and Oliver had worked out some of those brilliant exchanges before the set. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band made several historic recordings in 1923. Hundreds of musicians, black and white, memorized every note of those classic recordings.
New Orleans Rhythm Kings
Comparing favorably with Oliver's Creole Jazz Band was a splendid white band, NORK, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. They were not from New Orleans, and never played there, but for several years they made Dixieland's name ring. Their 1922 Gennet recordings in Richmond, Indiana, of "Tin Roof Blues", "Tiger Rag", and "That's a Plenty" reveal a clean and inventive ensemble at work. After some changes, drummer Ben Pollack assumed leadership of the band. When NORK broke up in 1925, the business-minded Pollack formed a commercial dance band that included for brief periods such sterling musicians as Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden.
The Austin High School Gang
In and around Austin High School, another group of white hot-bloods formed a Dixieland style band. Jimmy McPartland (cornet), Lawrence "Bud" Freeman (drums, then saxophone), and Frank Teschemacher (sax and clarinet) are best remembered. McPartland later married the gifted English jazz pianist, Marian Page, and although they have seldom worked in the same band, each has had an illustrious career.
Intermixed with the Austin High School gang were several free-lance musicians, bright youngsters still in their teens, who later went on to national fame: clarinetists Benny Goodman, Joe Marsala, and Don Murray; drummers Gene Krupa, and Dave Tough; pianists Art Hodes and Joe Sullivan; guitarist Eddie Condon; and C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer.
Another group, the Wolverines, remembered mostly because of their remarkable cornet player, Leon Bismark "Bix" Beiderbecke (1903-1931), made several magnificent recordings in 1924 for Gennett, among them "Jazz Me Blues", "Riverboat Shuffle", and "Tiger Rag". Beiderbecke's liquid, lyric, but firm and melodic solos are treasured jazz classics. He died of pneumonia (possibly with the contributing factor of alcoholism) at age 28, and has since become a legend – "the greatest white trumpet (cornet) player ever." Each year, thousands of jazz buffs gather in his hometown of Davenport, Iowa, for a festival to honor Bix and his style of Dixieland.
Chicago was full of great musicians, but the giant of them all was Daniel Louis Armstrong (1900-1971), sometimes called the single "most influential jazz musician ever" (Martin 1986, 107). As a teenager in New Orleans, Armstrong was encouraged by King Oliver, and he replaced Oliver in Kid Ory's Band when the older musician went to Chicago. He soon joined Oliver in Chicago for the beginning of an illustrious career.
Lil Hardin (1898-1971), Oliver's pianist, became the second Mrs. Armstrong in 1924, and encouraged Louis to assume control of his own musical destiny. For the next six years, his musical productivity and impact changed jazz history. Recordings by studio groups called the Hot Five and the Hot Seven appear on everyone's list of the greatest jazz records of all time, largely because of Armstrong's dazzling improvisations. His solo on "West End Blues" (1928) has been transcribed and studied by several major jazz scholars as an example of a new age being created in jazz.
The High Note School. What made Louis Armstrong so different from a lot of other fine cornet players of the day were his brilliant high notes. Three and four notes above "high C" are not so unusual today, but in the 1920s they were just electrifying.
After he switched to trumpet, the effect was even more pronounced. When he appeared in Paris, the trumpet players in the symphony orchestra went backstage to examine his horn. They thought it was a trick, that his horn and mouthpiece had been modified for those special high notes.
Following Armstrong's inspiring example, generations of trumpet players have made high note virtuosity part of their professional equipment – Cat Anderson, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie, Maynard Ferguson, Bill Chase, and many others. The purists in this crowd, especially Cat Anderson and Maynard Ferguson, came to be known as "screech" trumpet players. Armstrong was the first to open up this whole musical territory.
The Low Note School. Armstrong also played the trumpet in the poetic lower register, and delivered a blues-flavored lyric sound of broad emotional warmth. Ruby Braff, Warren Vache, Art Farmer, Chet Baker, Bobby Hackett, and a host of others followed this path of musical expression.
A wide range of colors, then, plus the remarkable invention of always new motivic figures which grow out of previous ideas, made Armstrong one of the greatest trumpet players of all time. Add to all of these musical gifts an infectious smile, an appealing stage manner, an endless string of cute verbal remarks, and the result is one of the most famous and best-loved American jazz musicians in history.
Earl Kenneth "Fatha" Hines (1905-1983) from Duquesne, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, first came to national recognition when he settled in Chicago and recorded with Louis Armstrong in the late 1920s. He's on Armstrong's famous "West End Blues", for instance. Soon after, he began an eleven-year engagement at the Grand Terrace Ballroom, and with network remotes, his fame increased immeasurably. Two generations of jazz pianists heard and were inspired by Hines' radio broadcasts – Teddy Wilson, Nat "King" Cole, Art Tatum, Billy Kyle, Bud Powell, and others (Gridley 1988, 63).
Hines trained rigorously in classical piano studies, and it shows in his wide technical innovations. He could play stride piano with the best of them, and occasionally did for select passages, but he seldom remained in any specific mode for long. His fertile mind propelled him into brilliant horn-like phrases, complete with what seem to be breathing spots, in powerful right-hand octaves that could cut through the musical fabric of the moment. Some writers call this his "trumpet style" derived from his close musical association with Louis Armstrong. Then with flowery embellishments and bursts of double-time over walking-tenth left hand support, plus occasional explosions of off-balance bass rhythms, Hines stunned a good many jazz piano hopefuls in the radio audiences of the 1930s. He remained active and popular right up to his final days.
The 1920s were exciting times for jazz, and the activities in Chicago and New Orleans appeared in nearly every major city in America. Kansas City and New York, especially, had active jazz movements which set the stage for the next major shift in America's dominant popular music, the Age of the Big Bands.