Monday, 28 December 2009

Kid Ory

Kid Ory was one of the first exponents of jazz trombone. He was there to hear the original strains of jazz in New Orleans at the turn of the century and was even asked to perform with Buddy Bolden's band, however his parents forebade it. Later he formed one of the most popular bands in the 1910s. Louis Armstrong, Joe King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Johnny Dodds would all grace his band at one time or another. He was also part of the first African American band from New Orleans to record jazz, when he and his band were touring in L.A., in the early twenties. He later performed with King Oliver's Syncopators and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Pepper Band in the 20's. He was also involved with Louis Armstrong's Hot Five Band, which is largely regarded as some of the finest offerings of early jazz.


Unlike his contemporaries, Freddie Keppard, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton, Ory survived the Great Depression and was present for the Dixieland revival in the 1940s. As such, he left many recordings from this period so it's possible to hear one of the original New Orleans jazz men in recordings of much better quality than those of the 1920's.

Here's a great recording of Muskrat Ramble:

Here's another clip of Ory giving an interview in the 1950s, talking about his early days in New Orleans. Unfortunately I can't embed it.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

James Reese Europe And The Castles.

Moving away slightly from the linear movement of jazz from New Orleans to Chicago, I think it would be important to look at a number of people and events that were happening in New York City prior to the 1920's. James Reese Europe was at the forefront of early jazz, although, parodoxically, it wasn't technically jazz music that his band played. However his work with Vernon and Irene Castle helped to establish the notion of "acceptable" dancing behaviour in American society. This cannot be overlooked. As mentioned in a previous entry, American and British societies were heavily constrained by Victorian morals and values. The idea of a couple dancing something like the foxtrot would have been abbhorant to a lot of people in the late 19th century. (This is the era where even the legs of stools and pianos were deliberately covered up!)The Castles approach to dancing changed all that. And as jazz is essentially "dance" music then it was only natural that people sought to hear this new form of music.

James Reese Europe

Vernon & Irene Castle

Europe's career was brief. He did record with his band as early as 1914, however they are not regarded as jazz records as such. He later did record a number of dixieland standards after he returned from World War I, including St Louis Blues and Memphis Blues. He was also innovative in introducing the saxophone into the line up. Until then it was regarded as something of a novelty instrument.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Joe"King" Oliver.

Every musical genre has it's folklore. From Robert Johnson's crossroads, to Jerry Lee Lewis' burning piano to The Beatles' shenanigans at Buckingham Palace and Van Halen's brown M&Ms. It seems that jazz has one of the earliest tales though - the night they crowned Joe Oliver as the "King" of jazz. So began jazz's royal lineage (after he had taken it from Freddie Keppard). The list goes from King Oliver to The King of Swing, Benny Goodman right through to The Baron, Charles Mingus.


Joe King Oliver's contribution to jazz cannot be overstated. He was after all the man who contacted a young Louis Armstrong and asked him to come to Chicago and join his band, The Creole Jazz Band. They ended up being among the first black artists to commit their tunes to 78rpm vinyl and in doing so signalled the shift away from the New Orleans rag influenced jazz to the swing era of the 1920s. On a stylistic note, Oliver was a pioneer in his use of mutes and cups when playing his cornet. Such was his influence that many years later rock guitarists would attempt to emulate his wah wah sound.

The tracks that I have chosen clearly demonstrate the direction that jazz would be taking, especially with Louis Armstrong in the thick of things. It sounds cliched but the music "swings" more and isn't as stiffling as the rag inspired tunes recorded in 1917. There are a lot more in the way of solos although my research has shown that the solos weren't improvised on the spot.

Canal Street Blues
Dipper Mouth Blues
Snake Rag
Farewell Blues
Chimes Blues
Doctor Jazz
Jazzin' Babies Blues

Again the method used to record these tracks was extremely primitive. The musicians would stand around a large horn and play their music directly onto the vinyl. However the music illustrates the seriousness with which the musicians regarded the music and in turn distancing themselves from the vaudevillian novelty of tracks like Livery Stable Blues (although the Creole Jazz Band used some novelty stuff in some of their tracks). Dipper Mouth Blues stands out for Oliver's three bar cornet solo (see the video attached)

It seems that things didn't stay on the up for the King though. He managed to turn down a regular gig at the Cotton Club in New York (although this paved the way for Duke Ellington to take it) and probably due to his sweet tooth a gum disease ravaged his mouth and he was unable to perform his solos when audiences later requested him.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Freddie Keppard.

Taking about the "birth" of jazz and the music that was around between 1910 and 1917 takes quite a lot of imagination. As mentioned before, the first jazz recording wasn't made until 1917 and even then further recordings were sporadic into the 1920's. So, to get a sense of what was being played we have only recourse to the recordings made by those artists in the 1920's. This does display a certain amount of disconnect though, in my opinion. When artists are at the peak of their game it is quite difficult for them to reclaim the old magic 20 years later.


Case in point seems to be Freddie Keppard. A legend in New Orleans at the beginning of the century, he seems to have taken the baton from Buddy Bolden and taken jazz to the next level. A suspicious man, it is said that he took to playing with a handkerchief over his hand so no one could see his fingering on the cornet. Such was his suspicious nature that he declined to make a recording of his music when the Victrola Company asked him to as far back as 1915. It seems he was afraid of the competition listening to his music and eventually bettering him. So was passed up the opportunity to have the very first jazz recording.

There doesn't seem to be many recordings around where Keppard is definitely contributing. The Red Hot Jazz website lists Salty Dog and Stockyard Strut as two songs that he definitely played on. The latter borrows heavily from the chord structure of Tiger Rag but shows Keppard's improvisational skills to the fullest. The recordings are very dated and the boundaries between rag time and "hot" jazz seemed blurred. However you can see the direction that the music is taking.

Keppard is also a good example of someone who instigated the move away from New Orleans and spreading jazz across the country. After moving to the east coast he eventually settled in Chicago.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Jelly Roll Morton

It seems the consensus is that the lynch-pin or the pivot between ragtime and jazz is Jelly Roll Morton. A piano player that hailed from New Orleans around 1880, he was in the thick of the action concerning the "birth" of jazz. He seems to have been quite a character. He even pronounced, most audaciously, that he actually invented jazz. This of course seems a little far fetched but he is highly regarded as the first jazz composer - the first one to get it down on the record. He wouldn't record his first music until the 1920's, however, he was a person who was instrumental in spreading the music across the States, once he left New Orleans around 1907 or so. Photobucket

His music proved to be highly influential especially when jazz later developed in the 20s and 30s. I have chosen 12 songs to introduce myself to his music.

Black Bottom Stomp

Buddy Bolden's Blues
Deep Creek Blues
Mamie's Blues
Original Jelly Roll Blues
Doctor Jazz Stomp
Jelly Roll Blues
King Porter Stomp
The Pearls
Wolverine Blues

You can hear the heavy blues influence in Jelly Roll's playing. You can't help but listen to his rolling piano style and think of later piano heroes like Fats Domino and Jerry Lee Lewis. You can also picture how his new brand of music would have been received in the sporting houses of Storyville in the early part of the century. This was music that people could dance to - and break away from the shackles that the Victorian era had put on society. This was new music for a new century.

In my research of Jelly Roll I was delighted to discover that he left behind a huge volume of work in the form of the Library of Congress recordings, made by Alan Lomax. I have heard clips of him reminiscing about his early playing days in New Orleans and the music that he wrote. I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on all 8 CDs and will post my reactions here.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Melting Pot II

So it seems that I'm learning quite a lot already as I have to go back and correct something that I mentioned in my second post. I basically assumed that the musical roots of jazz were African. This is way too simplistic a thing to say. Sure, the slave trade from Africa brought along a lot of spirituals that made their way via the Caribbean to the American south. But we also have to consider how even that music got mixed up with the Spanish flavour of music in that neck of the woods. This mix of African and European (in particular French) influences is at the crux of the debate regarding the "origins" of jazz.

Which brings up the next issue - why New Orleans specifically? Geographically it seems obvious enough with its proximity to the Caribbean and the rhythms it soaked up from there. There was also the influence of the creole population - people of mixed race descended from African and French settlers predominantely in this region. Up until the end of the 19th century I think it would be fair to class them as having property, power and a high level of education. This all changed however with a Supreme Court ruling in 1896 (Plessy v Ferguson) that basically upheld the Jim Crow laws of the time and effectively allowed for racial segregation. This forced the creole population into a situation where they could not integrate socially with the "white" population. Musically, this provided the essential mix of high musicianship provided by the creoles of color with the more guttural form of blues found in New Orleans at the time.

New Orleans was also pretty much party central at the turn of the century (and probably still is). Being a vibrant port linking the two American continents and the Caribbean link to Europe it isn't hard to imagine the scene of parties, cribs and brothels with the particular music being generated that was specific to New Orleans at the time. This also included piano music - some places were probably too small to accommodate the larger "jass" bands so the piano took a foothold as an important instrument in the development of jazz.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Buddy Bolden

The name that crops up time and again when researching the origins of jazz is Buddy Bolden. The King of the cornets he was a major figure around the Storyville area in New Orleans at the turn of the century. The amazing thing is that, what they were playing didn't have a specific label at the time. The etymology of the term "jazz" only crops up in and around 1913. The predominant music of the time was rag-time. This was a very formal style of music intended to be passed down by way of sheet music as audio recording was very much in its infancy. It seems that Buddy Bolden and his contemporaries attempted a more improvisational style that eventually influenced a lot of jazz players years later. Mixing the music of rag-time and blues and playing the after midnight scene in the clubs and bars, Buddy Bolden it seems paved the way. Not only a forerunner of the jazz scene but he also performed a song called "Funky Butt", one of the earliest mentions of funk, in a musical sense. He left no audio recordings of his work although there is a legend of a sound cylinder that he and his bands made in the 1890s. Cue a jazz style "Crossroads" movie in search of the lost song...

Actually, there is a movie scheduled for release in 2010

Thursday, 10 December 2009

The Melting Pot

From the limited research that I've done it just seems to me that the jazz explosion from the beginning of the century to the end of the War seemed almost inevitable. It seems widely acknowledged that the music was born in the city of New Orleans which, by all accounts, was a thriving metropolis by the turn of the century. The socio-political-economic brew of the times enabled this young, brash and improvisational artform to thrive. The U.S. was still a very young country, had just come through a devastating civil war and was still expanding its territory. It's probably fair to say that it was only finding its feet in the world economically at the beginning of the century. New Orleans was itself a port where many immigrants from around the world congregated. Jazz took the form of the blues and provided the entertainment, hence the upbeat nature of all the dixieland tunes that I've been listening to lately. It was a celebration of individuality. An expression of freedom in this expanding republic.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Livery Stable Blues

So where better than to start at the beginning (of the audio recorded history that is). As the wikipedia entry pointed out the origins of jazz are strictly American - primarily from the deep south and the emergence of the dixie style. I won't endeavour to explore the African routes of the music going back into the 19th century, although surely a topic for a different time. However, Art Blakey would surely disagree!

The origins of jazz are clearly shown in the movement that came out of New Orleans at the very beginning of the 20th century. The primary instrumentation - cornet, trumpet, trombone, piano, string bass and drums. The essence of "Dixieland" jazz is the fusion of these instruments around the main melody. The trumpet usually takes the lead and the other instruments move around it. The influence on later music is clear to see - just listen to any Fats Domino record.

So what's acknowledged as the first recorded jazz song is Livery Stable Blues from the Original Dixieland Jass Band.


I always think that it is very eerie to hear such very early recordings. They contain an almost ghost like quality. To consider that when this was being recorded in New York in 1917, WW1 was being waged across the Channel.

Other notable songs to come out of this era were Tiger Rag, Margie and Royal Garden Blues.

Let's start!

So for my first post I suppose I had better try and rationalise the purpose of this blog. As mentioned in my profile I want to have a more structured appreciation of jazz, blues and world music, and hopefully the layout of this blog will help me to do that. I will link to many outside sources regarding musician bios and albums. I will include information I have gathered regarding music that I will make an effort to listen to. I will not rate the albums in a numerical way as I don't believe I have the qualification to so that. I will let the many intracacies of the English language do that for me. As I also mentioned I will try and include my experiences at the numerous jazz bars and clubs in and around Seoul and try to get a perspective of the scene here.

So to begin with here is what I know about jazz in a nutshell. Primarily an American art form that developed from the beginning of the 20th century. I associate this time with Dixie jazz bands and straightforward jazz standards. Think "When the saints go marching in". Following the migration of workers from the south to the larger northern cities like Chicago we then witness the rise of the likes of Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. The outbreak of war sees the rise of the big bands and the introduction of bop. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie being the biggest exponents. The 50's sees the classic albums of A Kind Of Blue and Blue Train from Miles Davis and John Coltrane respectively. The 60's and 70's see the form take a more avant garde form - Charles Mingus and John McLauglin. I associate the 80's with a very polished form of jazz - George Benson.

So there it is. Pretty woeful and probably wrong in a lot of places.