Roots of jazz; New Orleans: The early years
The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the fourth in a series on the roots of jazz in the United States. In this program we discuss the early years in New Orleans. Yeah. The Blues began after the Civil War in the fields and on the levees. The secular song of the Negro they reflected the spirit
delivering they reflected the work song in their content. But negroes after the Civil War had little work to do in the open country and large numbers moved to the cities move to northern cities and their music was absorbed by the Northern fashions. They left their mark. But it was only a mock. It was no longer pure rose moved to Southern cities and did not permit the negro music to be absorbed with the white. And under these conditions the blues began to change. I know that you know already long history. In America.
Of all the cities in the south the most cosmopolitan the most liberal in its treatment of Negroes was New Orleans. Here is the history of New Orleans as told by Rex Harris in his book Janice. When the Treaty of Paris was concluded in 1763 between France and England Louis the Fifteenth amid New Orleans and the transfer of territory to England and had by a secret treaty passed that city over to Spain much to the sorrow of the inhabitants. Their poor buildings were unnecessary however for it was thanks to the Spanish governor that great improvements took place in the shape of brick built houses shops. The Town Hall Hospital and cathedral. Then the treaty of Madrid and between Spain and the United States of America laid the real foundations of a thriving port with all it was agreed that New Orleans should be opened to the Americans as a port of deposit with no duty payable but a reasonable storage price to be paid on produce landed. Then came what was surely the best bargain ever struck between
nations. The purchase of Louisiana by the United States in 18 0 3 the Louisiana Purchase and an even greater stimulation of business. The streets were thronged with a heterogeneous and public black people. As the years passed the population more than doubled owing to the influx of immigrants from the West Indies whites mulattoes and slaves. Many of the creos being of the same ancestry as those are French dock on the mainland and together they form the major part of the population of this now prosperous city from 1812 onward the history of New Orleans is colorful to say the least. Even melodramatic massacred by drunken Choctaw Indians roaming the streets rape and pillage by the infamous lucky pirates who held back tarea Bay regular ship wrecks on the dangerous bars at the river entrance yellow fever epidemics secession from the union in 1861 defeat in the Civil War friars political intrigues and in an icing strive not to mention
terrible river floods. It was the great port and Darkseid town of all the southern states far exceeding in size and population. All the others for many hundreds of miles and its urban character tended to create a more tolerant attitude toward the slaves than existed in the rural districts. This is proved by the fact that soon after the Louisiana Purchase negroes were permitted to meet on Saturday and Sunday nights for dancing and general recreation in a field adjoining Rampart Street which became known as Congo Square where they chanted and prance to the accompaniment of improvised drums and tom toms and such crude things as Job bones of animals in which the loosened teeth produced a rattling effect. This practice became so ingrained that it continued after the Emancipation. And there are still records of Congo Square dances although probably performed for the benefit of tourists as late as 1885 when it was reported in The New York World
negroes moved to New Orleans where they were permitted freedom to gather and enjoy their pastimes. They found work there and their music developed there. The high development of French culture in New Orleans made it a city of music. The French opera was well known and well supported symphony orchestras would be heard and whole families could trace the musical tradition back several generations. Music was taught to these Creole children in the classic way and families always enjoyed the home music of their children. Here is the voice of Studs Terkel telling of what happened in New Orleans. Something happened here culturally became a tremendously exciting city following the Civil War. Here were people who suddenly found themselves as people always were but now people legally and not property. And so they were expressing themselves the best way they knew how. And it was a culture that great excitement like am Lomax in his very remarkable book Mr. Jelly Roll when Allen tells the story of
General Martin. It's more than a story of jazz and of course a great deal is with New Orleans back in the early days of Galileo's very first reminiscences a little boy. It was very exciting. Well as a result of that many things happened a new year in New Orleans. It became. Exciting country in other respects too will eat french up what was a French as well as Negro influence the Creole in Cowen's General U.S.A. and so jazz not just negro alone though the negro was obviously predominant that was not the French squad drills were part of early jazz too and still make themselves felt in certain tones that we hear today revive what was a French Opera House back in those days and that virgin in quite a place which operates in the great stars of the of the period came. I think that's tied in together with the advent of the Negro to New Orleans expressing himself in a new way. Studs refers to the influence of Jelly Roll Morton and a jelly rose early reminiscences of New Orleans. Here are the words of Jelly Roll Morton.
A New Orleans Frenchman. This is his music also. We always had some kind of a musical instrument in the house including guitar drums piano trombone and so forth and so on. Hi Monica. We had lots of them and everybody always played for their play or whatever it was they desire to play. We always had ample time it was given us in periods to rehearse our
lessons which was given to anyone that was desires and except in my songs. But of course the family never had imagined that they wanted musicians in the family to make their living. They always had it in their minds that a musician was a tramp. Other than a French opera house players which they always patronized they only thought they was the great musicians in the country and I myself was inspired by going to the French opera. So no all humans have a sympathy with musical expression born of its history unique in the south history of French Spanish and English blood with Negroes from the plantations of Georgia and the Carolinas mixing with Negroes from Haiti Cuba Jamaica and South America. New Orleans was a city where the influences of the
plantation negroes with their spirituals and blues met the influence of West Indian negroes with their Calypso's and bamboo rhythms and voodoo religion. New Orleans was where the long traditions of classic music from Europe through France and Spain met and influenced these Negro contributions. And that is why jazz was born in New Orleans. The city's unique situation musically allowed jazz to begin and it could not have happened anywhere else. Here is my you Jackson who was born in New Orleans telling of her town as she remembered it and of how it was before she knew it. I knew that I'd know as much. For my people. And the people in New York are that
be be agreeable to be. Long gone and they are. All different just like and like we didn't have the tribe out of Africa and the king and the Indians they have a massive life an Indian and if we go. Get a massive black union has an obligation. The Red White and the Yellow Pocahontas. What we're doing not saving money
for. A good cause. And as Mahela told of the beauty and pageantry of New Orleans in the Mardi Gras season. We capture a tinge of the ambulance spirit that father jazz but always not so peaceful in New Orleans. It was a rough and tough town too. And now Mayor you told us about the people of New Orleans during the rest of the year but the people in your own. People that there is a class of people you know that very believe that they never worried about tomorrow they would just have a good and a merry making merry making and it didn't take much for them to be happy
with where everything lived up. What made you know there's a pretty fair play. Race track they had all those they would go to dances. I remember it all when I was a little girl. Proper fellas and all of those musician it used to be around to come uptown and to be in a New Orleans was a city of merrymaking. It was a city of organizations to lead organizations were mostly social
clubs but they occasionally performed community services. They ran dances. They had parades. They promoted prizefights every club paraded in Mardi Gras and they all hired marching bands with the occasion. Yeah. May you tell us about these clubs and you all of them noted. Well I have an awful lot of clubs and lot of different factors. And they would always have a lot of. And your bank if you come up the neighborhood Avoca be on a truck you know. Where you can train the music that people would come out to. Yeah you could be a place uptown where. I live a count of pride a car and that was a very big and Iraq musician
would come up with a card for people who are near from. New Orleans was a city of social clubs. And here are some of the names names which reflect this merrymaking which Mahela speaks of the merry go round social club the Tammany Social Aid and Pleasure Club the both the hobgoblins the young men 20s The Jolly Boys the diamond swots the original swell and there are many others and just as French opera and the Western instruments made a part of jazz. So did these clubs these clubs had dances and the early negro bands played these dances a handbill advertising an eagle dance had this heading the eagle boys fly high and never lose a feather. If you missed this dance you'll have the blues forever. But they played at all kinds of occasions not just dances.
In the daytime bunk put on his brown uniform is Eagle hat and led the band in all their parades. New Orleans could always find an excuse for a parade. Not only during carnival but for every national holiday. Jackson Day Emancipation Day and election campaigns. The most unusual of all where the funeral processions under the auspices of the lodges clubs and societies. Everyone in New Orleans belonged to some secret order or society when a member died. He had to have a band. He was nothing if he didn't have a band. This is how it is used one side of their aprons for parades and the other for funerals. When the church bells tolled out mournfully a couple of the brethren down on Rampart Street paused Dorrie Mark. What's that I hear 12 o'clock in the daytime. Church bells ringing.
Man you don't you know church bells ringing twelve o'clock in the daytime. Yes indeed. Somebody must be dead. Nobody dead. Somebody must be dead drunk. Oh I think there's a funeral. Why look here. I see there is a funeral. I believe I did a trombone. Whether Sloan poising tread the procession marched through the graveyard
with the exception of a few older downtown cemeteries that had their whitewashed tombs above the ground graveyards were usually a couple of miles up or back of town. Most of the cemeteries such as Cypress Grove St. Joseph's and Lafayette had plaques for the burial of negroes on the way out to the graveyard the band played in Dead March time with muffled drums soft and somber day including Free As A Bird. And when the saints go marching on and Nearer My God To Thee and real funeral marches. But Judy Singleton well-known New Orleans drama says that once the body was interred the morning got over quick right out of the graveyard. The drummer would throw on the snares roll the drums get the cats together and light out the cornet would give a few notes and then about three blocks from the graveyard they would cut loose.
Play hard. So I think first of all they swung out on diddly ramble ramble round the town till the butcher got him down. And so you know it has been forged and now we must see what happened.
This is the music of what is now called a spasm band. It has a regularity which is not part of the music you've heard on previous programs. It bears the influence of the West but it shows you the use of homemade instruments instruments such as wooden blocks washboards cowbells banjos kazoos jugs and whistles. These instruments were left behind by the end of the 1880s when negroes began to learn the use of Western instruments. Here are the words of William Russell and Stephen W. Smith in their book Jasmine. In New Orleans after the Civil War negroes began to use more and more of the usual wind and spring instruments of the winds. Such sentiments were already widely used by the Creole negroes. Most of whom though skilled in written music were not so close to the
blues background. The latter were improvisational and character. Soon negro groups having learned to play by ear were engaged to play for dances and by 1880 were found on some of the packets on the Mississippi River on the boats. The negroes worked as porters barbers and waiters during the day and entertain the passengers with music at night. And again these writers comment on the significance of the negro who not being able to breed music played by ear although naturally influenced by the music of their former masters. The negroes retained much of the African material in their playing. The leader of the first great orchestra but he bowed and was already in his teens before the Congo dances were discontinued. The negroes were accustomed to endless repetition of short motives and were not bothered by the brevity of form in the white man's popular song nor did they worry about the trite character of the melodies for being unaccustomed to read music. They quickly altered the tune anyway and thus was born that single most distinguishing
characteristic of jazz improvisation. Improvisation was not a new ingredient in the history of the world's music. In fact almost every culture which has music as part of its bundle of artifacts has at some time practiced spontaneous creation on the spot. Improvisation lyrically the Calypso singers still hold to this means of artistic expression. Almost all folk music began this way is not difficult to imagine the Indian faker to doing new ideas on his pipe or the Scotsman on his chanter or indeed on his bagpipe and even the great classicists of Western civilization have had their kicks out of improvising. Here are a few lines from a letter written by a certain under a mug was in 16 39. Upon the occasion of a visit to Rome I will describe to you the most celebrated and most excellent concert which I have heard. As to the instrumental
music it was composed of an organ a large harpsichord two or three art Willetts and Archiv yodeler and two or three violins. Now a violin played alone to the organ then another answered another time all three played together different parts. Then all the instruments went together. Now when our lute made a thousand divisions on 10 or 12 notes each of five or six bars length than the others did the same thing in a different way. I remember that a violin played in the true chromatic mode and although it seemed harsh to my ear at first I nevertheless got used to this novelty and took extreme pleasure in it. But above all the great fresco baldie exhibited thousands of inventions on his harpsichord the organ always playing the ground. It is not without cause that the famous organist of St. Peter has acquired such a reputation in Europe for although his published compositions are witnesses to his genius yet to judge of his profound learning you must hear him
improvise. That quote came from Arnold don't match is the interpretation of the music of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Here are the words of Roger Pryor dodge. Music critic for hound and hone in the year 1934. When we consider that not only for ask about the but Handel Bach Haydn Mozart and even Beethoven were all great improvisers. We realize it was intellectual superiority which made them write down what they could improvise more easily. Not the limitations of a modern academic composer. We realize that such individuals who could improvise the most difficult and inventive counterpoint and fugue on a keyboard needed only to push their minds a step further to dispose parts into an orchestra. On the other hand when we consider that the negro instrumentalist is apparently an interested and incapable of writing down his own real the improvisations then we can understand perhaps
why this structure of jazz this musical development by the instruments themselves and the different musical styles that implies is at a standstill. As far as native written composition for solo or symphony goes and jazz has never been written down. Fresh COBOL he could write down his own jazz and neither could King bodybuilder because jazz is improvisation. There are other ingredients such as swing syncopation but the one essential quality is that there must be improvisation. In the world of music writing a song. Composition is the art of the composer arranging a composition for an orchestra or some other instrumental or vocal unit. Is the art of the arranger. But jazz is the art of the musician. And it is a peculiar rock. It is a hazardous one. All relies on the spontaneous creation of an idea in the song.
There is no going back and beginning again once the note is sounded it cannot be retracted. Improvisation is his effort at creative art.. He may be a great artist and this may be his masterpiece or it may be. Maybe the best efforts of a mediocre artist. The point I'm trying to make is that this is the art of the musician and this art couched within certain forms and limitations is what makes jazz an art for you. This art of jazz began in New Orleans negroes gave it birth because they didn't know how to read music but they did have a rich musical background and a full life of experiences and traditions on which to draw.
And from these early primitive almost hard to listen to renditions developed almost all of our American music. Most of our dance music the cakewalk The struck the Big Apple the child's been jitterbugging and many others. It all began sometime between 1880 and 900. It began after negroes learned how to play white man's instruments and learned how to express himself in an instrumental group. That was New Orleans. The birthplace of jazz from here on. These programs will tell about individuals. The people who made jazz what it is today. The artists of this form of expression.
- Roots of jazz
- New Orleans: The early years
- Producing Organization
- Iowa State University
- WOI (Radio station : Ames, Iowa)
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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- Episode Description
- This program talks about the early development of jazz in New Orleans.
- Series Description
- Music-documentary series in 26 parts, covering various aspects of jazz.
- Broadcast Date
- Media type
Director: Cleary, Norman
Engineer: Vogel, Dick
Host: Chotzinoff, Samuel, 1889-1964
Interviewee: Harris, Rex
Interviewee: Terkel, Studs, 1912-2008.
Interviewee: Jackson, Mahalia, 1911-1972
Producing Organization: Iowa State University
Producing Organization: WOI (Radio station : Ames, Iowa)
Speaker: Geesy, Ray
Writer: Cleary, Norman
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 56-24-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “Roots of jazz; New Orleans: The early years,” 1956-07-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed March 29, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bg2hbx8t.
- MLA: “Roots of jazz; New Orleans: The early years.” 1956-07-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. March 29, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bg2hbx8t>.
- APA: Roots of jazz; New Orleans: The early years. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-bg2hbx8t