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The evolution of Jebs, a survey of an American art form from Scott Joplin to Lenny Tristano. The evolution of Jebs is a tape recorded feature presented under the auspices of Northeastern University by the Lowell Institute Cooperative Broadcasting Council. Nat Hentoff, associate editor of Downbeat Magazine, discusses the growth of Jebs from its roots in Europe and Africa and considers the musical as well as the
sociological forces that shaped it. Mr. Hentoff. Last week after a brief history of minstrelsy, we arrived at the beginning of ragtime, that basically piano style that became prominent during the last two decades of the 19th century and the first of this. One of the chief sources of ragtime is to be found in the popular dance tradition, and some of the best research work in that has been done by Casey Thompson from whom I quote the following analysis, in common with most of the world's best love music ragtime evolved from dancing, unlike the early folk blues, which were a vocal music, deriving from work songs and spirituals, ragtime was an instrumental art of a complex sort. Before the end of the 19th century, it had achieved an advanced state of notation, for
the more unlike the early folk blues, which expressed the inevitable reactions of an oppressed and sensitive people, ragtime was by no means a music of social protest, and the contrary, it was music of an altogether opposite mood intended to be enjoyed in and for itself. I stress this aspect, she continues to call attention to the fact that the Afro-American sources of both types of music indicate the source material is emotionally elastic and capable of experiencing many moves. In evolving ragtime, the Afro-American utilized older European dance material to suit his own needs and purposes, in proceeding in this fashion he acted in the highest creative sense. The dance material, which the Afro-American adapted and transformed, came from many different sources, quadrioles, waltzes, marches, polkas, masercas, and the like. The presence of imported European dance material may be accounted for quite readily. We had a heterogeneous population, and had not had time to originate native steps of our
own. In many instances, the early derivations left their imprint upon many, many later, rags, portions of maple leaf rag, for example, suggest the unmistakable traces of the polka. At the same point, maybe demonstrated by other evidence, most rags were composed of several strains related through similarity or contrast. This use of several strains had formal precedence in a number of the 18th and early 19th century European dances, such as the quadrio, which commonly consisted of no less than five strains. During the course of his invaluable recordings for the Library of Congress, the extraordinary whirlens pianist Jelly Roll Morton, one of the focal figures in the history of jazz, gave this graphic description of how European dance material was transformed into the Afro-American medium. This is Tiger Rags, having to be transformed from an old quadrilibus in many different
temples. And I'll no doubt give you a might be how it went. This was the introduction, meaning that everyone was supposed to get their partners. Get your partners, everybody, get your partners, and people would be rushing around the hall, getting their partners. It may be five minutes left between that time, and of course, it started over again, and that was the first part of it. And then the next train would be a walled train, I believe. That would be the walled train. Also, they'll have another train that comes right beside it.
I don't really want that. Of course, that was the third strain, and of course, they had another strain. And that was in a different tempo.
So, the two of them. gold to have another one Yeah 🎶
🎶 🎶 🎶 🎶 Now, we'll tell you how it was transformed. It happened to be transformed by your performance at this particular time, Tiger Egg for your approval. I also named it, it came from the way that I played it by making the Tiger on my elbow. I also named it, a person said, once it sounds like a Tiger however, I didn't spy on myself, I said, that's the name, it's our place.
It should be remembered that this performance by Jelly Roll Morton of the Tiger Rag represents the rag as it later came to be played in New Orleans, which was quite different as we shall shortly see from the rag in its original form. Now, we'll tell you how it was transformed by your performance at this particular time. Now, we'll tell you how it was transformed by your performance at this particular time.
Now, we'll tell you how it was transformed by your performance at this particular time. Now, we'll tell you how it was transformed by your performance at this particular time. Hold that Tiger.
Hold that Tiger. Hold that Tiger. Hold that Tiger. So, as you can see, Henry Cowell's use of the elbow on the piano keyboard has New Orleans precedence and also that illustrated much more graphically than the verbal description exactly how the European dance forms became transmuted in rag time.
The interrogator on these Library of Congress sessions will be playing more of them was Alan Lomax, the folklorist, who later wrote a book, an excellent book called Mr. Jelly Roll, which correlates the remembrances of Jelly Roll Morton with original research that Lomax did in New Orleans. To continue with Mrs. Thompson's analysis of rag time, as soon as the Afro-American undertook to transform earlier European dance steps, dance material, newer and more appropriate dance steps commenced to make their appearance. Thus, in the 1880s, early rags were often called cakewalks. They were so named after an Afro-American dance step with somewhat mixed origins. In its earliest reported form, the cakewalk was an intricately executed walking step.
It was dance some years before the Civil War, couples formed a square, the men placing themselves on the inside, the music was played in a moderate march tempo, while the dances strutted along performing neat maneuvers at each of the corners. One or more judges passed upon the talents of the competing couples, eliminating them by turn until the remaining pair of entrants were declared to be the winners, in recognition of which they were awarded a large and impressive cake, thereby the name. Following the Civil War, a number of variations were devised, all of which were called cakewalks, while on the subject it's fitting to mention that the word rag time is simply a shortened form of raggedy time or ragged tempo, a term meaning syncopated. This abbreviated form appears to have come into general use as a means of distinguishing cakewalks from other dance compositions in which syncopation was not as prominent a feature. From the foregoing she continues, it should be plain that early ragged time and a lengthy history, the first cakewalks having been danced perhaps a hundred years ago.
The existence of a well-defined Afro-American dance step at that remote date is not remarkable. It has been estimated, for example, that as much as two thirds of all Southern dance music was furnished by Afro-American musicians in the years just before the Civil War. This implies a rather considerable body of early dance musicians about whom little or nothing has been written in books dealing with jazz history. I'll interrupt there to point out that it's likely most of those early dance musicians were free people of color, and there'll be a section on the development of their music in the New Orleans lecture. Musically, I must have been reasonably proficient, for it may be surmised that they came into being to provide music of a conventional sort for social affairs attended by members of the Southern aristocracy whose taste would have been fairly sophisticated. Consequently, if, when and as, those early musicians indulged their cakewalk predilections, they probably did so at functions of their own. The latter possibilities entirely in keeping with the view that the early cakewalk was an involved step, calling from music executed with more than rudimentary skill.
Not much is known regarding the dance steps that preceded the first cakewalk, while the cakewalk combined features common to several urethian dances. It seems reasonable to suppose that it also retained some of the characteristics of the early plantation dances of the 18th century, which were probably little more than jigs adapted to Afro-American rhythms, and accompanied by banjos. Plainly enough, these dances antedated the spirituals in the early folk blues, though not I would add the works on. It is significant, too, that these same plantation dances are believed to have inspired the Afro-American to invent the banjo, or at least, I don't think that's quite accurate, to evolve what later came to be the banjo out of an instrument that had antecedents in Africa from Islamic influences. This belief, about the evolution of the banjo on the plantation of a company dances, is based upon the fact that the banjo existed some years before 1800, and would have provided precisely the sort of rhythmic accompaniment that dancers would have required to perform steps of a simple kind. In remarking upon the banjo, Mrs. Thompson makes an interesting point. She says, I am mindful that Cakewalk history furnishes a striking example of the manner in which musical instruments, dance steps, and suitable music evolve, one contained within the others.
Actually, in one sense, early ragtime piano represented an extension or enlargement of earlier banjo techniques. It was, in fact, the adaptation of several banjo parts, according to her thesis, scored for an instrument of large and musical dimensions. The stride, for example, a term frequently used to denote Jelly Roll Morton's treatment of musical material with a left hand, could be revealed as in concept the employment of two piano parts by the left hand. Under this scheme of things, the left hand carry the rhythmic parts in the right hand, one or more melodic parts, in a manner of the trio or quartet, just being the maximum number regarded as feasible. Initially, the efforts in an orchestral direction were essentially imitative. This may be detected at least superficially in the plinky quality, reminiscent of the banjo surviving in certain passages of ragtime compositions. Of course, part of that plinky quality is also connected with the nature of the player piano for which many were made.
In the absence of conclusive research, the exact date at which these processes of imitation first of the banjo and later of other instruments of the orchestra in terms of piano, the exact date is difficult to establish. Mrs. Thompson's own suspicion is that the process was progressive rather than abrupt, that it commenced to take place at about the midpoint of the last century or on 1850. The earliest published rag that she succeeded in locating was a number entitled New Coon in Town composed by someone named Gunnar, and published by S. Breinard's sons of New York and Chicago, and the number was brought forth in 1884. What particularly caught her eye was the fact that Gunnar chose to describe it as a banjo imitation. That's the earliest published rag she discovered to date, although certainly other earlier numbers are bound to turn up as more and more research is done on these early sources of jazz. What is important is that the composition of the New Coon in Town is sufficiently well advanced to have been included in an album of other ragtime numbers selected as representative of the period.
Ragtime eventually precipitated the national dance craze. The peak period of composition of ragtime was in the 1890s and carried over into the 1900s, and that dance craze swept this country in 1912 up until that most popular dancing had continued to be a rather diluted expression of forms originating in the 18th and early 19th centuries. However, as a result of the impetus provided by ragtime, more than 100 new dance steps were introduced in the three-year period following 1912. Another example of the influence of Afro-American music on our popular dance patterns. In the course of this series, an anthropologist looks at jazz published in England under the title of the critic looks at jazz. Ernest Bournemont continues this tracing of the dance history of ragtime by writing that ragtime became influential on popular music in the widest sense of that term, not only from the stage or through piano sheet music, but mainly from the ballroom and through a series of new dances and new dance steps, which gradually prepared the American ballroom style for the Afro-American complexities of offbeat dancing.
It was at this turn of the century that the Negro first became the progenitor of the Native American dance tradition, as opposed to the British ballroom style. A Native dance tradition from the slow drag, the ragtime shuffle and the cakewalk to the flock strut, the Charleston, the blackbought on the Lindy Hop, and all the vast complexities of later jitterbug variants, American dancing developed further and further away from its European models. And as was mentioned last week, the coming to popularity within the last ten years and more of South American dance material is simply another extension of Afro-American influences because of the enormous influence that initial African sources had on the development of music in South America and Central America. The signal advent of this development, this influence on our popular dance tradition, was the Chicago World Fair of 1893, which gave the widest possible publicity, born in the notes, to the new Negro dances that were to model the ballroom style of the ragtime era, the cakewalk, the passamala, the huchi-kuchi, the bully dance, and the bomba-shay.
Most of these tunes were, most of the tunes of these dances were of European origin, but their rhythmic beat, and their off-time steps, as performed by Negro dances, were of Afro-American origin. But where the steps and the timing of the tunes were of Afro-American origin, the European prototypes from which the tunes were adapted are interesting to analyze Ernest Hogan's passamala, though composed by an eagle, went back to an Irish strain for its main theme. Berving Jones passamala, my honey, composed by an eagle in 1894, took the theme of its chorus from that old English broadside, a most strange wedding of the frog in the mouse, which, as you know, has survived, has frogwined according. And later served as the basic melody for what you're going to do in the crawfish garden, what kind of pants does the gambler wear?
Similarly, the later cakewalk tunes, like Carrie Mills, Georgia camp meeting, were Anglo-Saxon or Gaelic in inspiration, but when those tunes were danced by Negro entertainers, like Johnson and Dora Dean, who created one of the steps for the cakewalk, they became Afro-Americanisms in timing and expression. That's the cakewalks, incidentally, the camelwalk, I might point out, derived from the early 19th century shuttish. That's the cakewalk, and other dances, finished the great introduction of ragtime to the northern whites, and after getting used to a small sample of the substance, the nation was ready to accept the real thing. In connection with this, it's interesting to cite the observation of ragtime historian, Esperenson Campbell, who grew up in the ragtime center of Cedelia Missouri in the last part of the 19th century. Campbell writes, while ragtime was created by Negroes, it was the white folks of Cedelia, Kansas City, St. Louis, New Orleans, and the northern states, who first made it popular.
They first heard it in the Negro districts of those cities, and invited the Negro pianists and small bands into their homes to play for their parties and dances. At first, it was considered a vulgar music, and was preached against from pulpits, but concludes Campbell soon it became generally accepted and influenced popular music and dance. And its effect on minstrelcy, as you may recall, was described in the last lecture. In connection, also, with this material, after all this material on ragtime's relationship to the dance, it's well to remember that ragtime developed into what was essentially a piano style, whereas the larger body of blues, work songs, and other Afroamerican material that led to jazz was a vocal and multi-instrumental style. There were other differences, which we'll cover shortly, but the point is that ragtime was to some extent a separate strain.
And as illustrated in the description of it by Nassue Ertagun that I mentioned last week, it was a more formalized and a more European influence strain than where the blues and the work songs and the field haulers and the like. Here is a parallel account of ragtime's history, not some of the material not included in Mrs. Thompson's analysis written by Dr. Bartlett D. Sims and by Ernest Bournemann. They emphasized the importance of St. Louis in the 1890s as a center of ragtime, but it should also be recalled that there were several cities and towns that were developing points at that same time for both ragtime and the blues. The piano players in those years, as Charles Edward Smith has noted, used to talk of playing on the line, on the line meant playing anywhere along the Gulf Coast, north to Chicago or to the east and west coast. It meant playing in low-class honky-tongues when the going was rough and in sporting houses in palmier days.
And the sporting house pianist had to be able to play as Jelly Roll Morton expressed it, everything from opera to blues and some played ragtime. According to Sims and Bournemann, ragtime was one of the musical byproducts of the American Negro's emancipation from slavery and plantation labor to free employment and labor mobility. In its northward migration and rise to popularity, ragtime thus marks both the urban resettlement of American Negroes and the infiltration of some aspects of the Negro's own pattern of culture into the urban civilization of America. The urban labor market became the social and economic goal of this migration, and small wonder that it also became the focal center of the new music. As I recall, there was a book by Arne Bonne-Tomp, a few years ago called The Seika City, which describes some of the early phases of this migration. We can easily discern three main trends of this migratory process. The first occurred around the middle of the 19th century with the tide of the abolitionist movement. The second, 25 years later, with the breakdown of the Southern Reconstruction and the Negro's discovery that since the hope of a free life in the south had gone, there was nothing left for him except Exodus.
The third and other quarter century later, with the opening up of a new labor market for colored entertainers at the various world fairs that offered jobs to musicians, restaurants, gamblers, cooks, barmen, liquor dealers, and other hangars on of the entertainment business of both races. This latter movement became first associated with St. Louis and later with Chicago, whereas New Orleans must therefore be ranked as a place of origin of jazz. St. Louis and Chicago, long before the advent of jazz, had reached the status of terminal points in the migratory process of American Negro music. In St. Louis especially, they continue beautiful women, godly dressed gamblers, and inordinately talented Negro musicians met and mingled with their white counterparts, as well as with the wealthy white men in search of pleasure. As always in the south, the official taboo against miscegenation was balanced by an unofficial relation of the taboo within the limits of the tenderloin district.
In this atmosphere, Agtime came into prominence. He a Frankie and Johnny Metton were commemorated, with plenty of work for all and plenty of money, after work the district around Chestnut and Market Streets west of 18th in St. Louis became one of the main breeding places of Agtime, even prior to the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 194. When much of the district was cleared, to make way for the Union Station that was to cope with the influx of visitors from all over the world. Here in the saloons, restaurants, cafes, sporting houses, gambling rooms, tent shows, and outdoor beer gardens, in the early hours of the morning, the ragtime kings would meet for their informal cutting sessions. As modern jazz men may meet for jam sessions after their nightclub work is over. I guess I should translate that part of the vernacular cutting session simply means competitive session, where one pianist would play a version of a rag, and someone else would take over to see if he could excel the preceding interpretation. Bornes and Sims and Bornman rather go on to name several of the outstanding St. Louis ragtime composers and performers, among them Tom Turpin, whose dates were 1873 to 1922, and who wrote his first rag in 1896, the one we're going to hear now, played by the composer in 1903 and recently reissued from a ragtime piano role.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Ragtime, Part One
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WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two, explores the origins and form of ragtime.
Series Description
Jazz historian Nat Hentoff presents a series that traces the history of jazz, from its musical and cultural roots to its contemporary forms. "The Evolution of Jazz" was originally broadcast from WGBH in 1953-1954, and was re-broadcast by the National Educational Radio Network in 1964.
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African Americans--Music--20th century--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-8 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:16
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 8; Ragtime, Part One,” 1954-01-01, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 21, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 8; Ragtime, Part One.” 1954-01-01. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 21, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 8; Ragtime, Part One. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from