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The evolution of jazz. A survey of American art form from Scott Joplin to Lenny Tristan over. The evolution of jazz as 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 jazz from its roots in Europe and Africa. And considers the musical as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr. Hunter. At the end of last week's hour we had reached the blues. The most important form of Afro American folk music in terms of the evolution of jazz the blues mature at the time of the Civil War and after they go back. As I indicated earlier to the field hollers and
calls and other very early afro american folk musics in the first volume of the ethnic Folkways history of jazz Charles Edward Smith cites this field holler old Hannah as a sterling example of the closest musical ancestor to the blues. He writes is the Deep Song of the South that inspired man to take up instruments and play them in new and unexpected ways to bring out beauties of tone and rhythm that would have a profound influence upon our music as a whole. The verses make it obvious that this is a prison Hanukkah from the Brazos bottoms of Texas. It's chant like form is derived from older plantation hollers. Well I don't know. I don't know. I don't you go down.
And. Now I know. Where the spirituals are coral and you know in origin and inspiration
the blues are usually solos spirituals are intensely religious though not without rebellious overtones and the blues are intensely worldly. The spirituals were created in the church or its nearest plantation or city facsimile created communally for the most part the blues sprang from everyday life. The origin of the blues is associated in part with the many social and topical songs used by the negroes and dances and parties. But the Blues basically is a product of the work sons and the spirituals and the whole African influenced heritage of Afro American music. As an example. Well first of all let's look at volume two of ethnic Folkways. Their series on jazz records be found three very early birds with accompanying annotations by Fred Ramsey Jr. there as well as
the night sung by one Blind Willie Johnson a spiritual singer whose new song brought her I'm groups is one of the very very rare recorded examples of a spiritual that is chanted throughout. There are no words to this song and this song illustrates how the blues and the spirituals could cross influence each other. The somber and birth of a blind Willie's voice in the cho insistent chord struck on the guitar. Tell us more about the birth of the blues. Says Ramsey then the range of popular songs that has been composed on this theme.
There are a few recordings of a blues song acapella without a continent of any so I think this is one of those it sounds black woman was heard in a male version in a previous lecture on the field hollers and this is Vera Hong was a black woman.
Why. Don't you. Go. Starting as Lauren alone songs of individuals at work and at play or as field calls and chants continues Fred Ramsay worked their way into the repertoire of minstrels who has children in her then around home and into the repertoire of the tenor and musicians who wandered on through the side. When the children grew up and took to the road strumming and singing as they went restlessly up down across the board as of a dozen Southern states to make a ragged living by music alone
the blues went all the way with them. This is the legendary brined Lemon Jefferson the traveling blues singer and guitarist Brian Lamb and chance on this record made in the 20s but the chance are now more than injected into the Blues growing up and on the road now are already articulate telling a hydra story. While still in his teens the famous Negro folk singer Hudson led better Leadbelly was the lead man for Brian Lennon. His job was to lead him around the streets. And as I recall the association with his teacher with great nostalgia. Then years later Josh White for a time was lead man for Blind Lemon Jefferson many traces of Brian Lemon style were in Lead Belly's delivery we heard some of the early songs in the spiritual section and in a very attenuated way they remain part of Josh White's. Here is Blind Lemon Jefferson.
I don't know. Blind Lemon Jefferson and the Black Snake Moan notice how he used his guitar as another voice commenting on the song sometimes sardonically sometimes with considerable sympathy. Before we start traveling with the blues here is another example of how in the early days of the blues the blues and the spirituals interacted through the wandering singers like Blind Willie Johnson. This is Blind Willie
and a very powerful statement. Jesus is coming. When I was done the week on a. Week and a night got out it was an unarmed man. God come in. Read the love and pick out their power. But then there is the wanderer who calls himself
only by the name the blind Pilgrim. He calls this motherless children. They are. Loaded.
Nobody. Nobody. They directly honest and certainly not mocking tribute to mother. Another characteristic of the blues. They were honest music the blues or Sidney Finkelstein states were music of the semi feudalism that arose in the South after the failure of reconstruction the negro was tied down as much
as possible to the land surrounded by innumerable restrictions. He traveled he traveled under extremely hard conditions. The blues became Likewise both a tool and an expression of his struggle for freedom of movement and travel for freedom of labor for the decencies of family life. They created new images drawn from more realistic experience than the Biblical imagery of the spiritual as they spoke of the gambler the outlaw the railroad and Steamboat the chain gang friar and flood the laboring giant by John Henry. This imagery Likewise having a double meaning. They spoke bitterly of man woman relations the resentment of the deserted man or of the deserted woman. The assertions of independence that's in an often seemingly comic way resentment could be expressed against a much more real oppression Duke Ellington once said of the Southern negro and his use of music. What they did not say openly they expressed in music. The seeming conflicts of sexual life became symbols for the negro's
people. Resentment at any confinement of their freedom though the man woman conflicts were nonetheless quite real. He seems Cambo in his chapter on the blues in the book jazz men wrote the blues are simple elemental. They have the profound depths of feeling that are to be found in any race that has known slavery in the American Negro is no stranger to suffering out of the work songs and spirituals that they sang sprang this melancholic note rising in a higher key because of its intensity and enveloping the spirituals because of its very earthiness one cannot continually ride in chariots to go ride when the impact of slavery is so ever present and real. Someday I'm going to lay down this heavy load going to grab me a train going to climb aboard. I'm going to go up north going to ease my pain. Yes slowing going to catch that train. This isn't mystical. It was a cry of a human being under the lash of slavery of darts of fear is the tearing apart of families the caprices of plantation owners. And after the Civil War the new fear is going down
it's the new insecurities with the knowledge. Freedom was not necessarily synonymous with good jobs and equal rights. Campbell continues. And yet it was never a rail but a steady throbbing undertone of hope. Times is bad but there will be bad always. Is the lyric carried in a score of blues songs going to get better because they can't get worse. Their songs of sorrow chimes with satire with that potent quality of ironic verse clothed in the arraignment of the buffoon. They were more than releases temporary releases from servitude the Blues were the gateway to freedom for American Negroes in them a negro expressed his true feelings his hopes aspirations and ideals and in the Blues Campbell points out as well as in other forms of Afro American music. It was often a hidden meaning for negroes only as for example in the Underground Railway symbolism of the spiritual as the gospel train on the common. The Blues could work as a means of communication even while the wide cross might unwittingly be listening. As in this bit of breeze on down
that road son you've been a breeze on down that road. It's a challenge from town and feeling good. You better write in that heavy road from one to another that song was taken up and passed along the field it simply meant there was a white man from a different town and it arrived in the plantation and the young negro who was working among them guarded zealously from the lights of the big house had better leave town negroes frequently had one of their own who had sought refuge among them and they were telling him in code that he had better leave the plantations that night. A further background of the blues is provided by the English critic Rex Harris in his book jazz. He points out the blues came into full existence after the civil war and continues. What is more natural then that they should express the natural feelings and day by day experiences of the race which had no education and external images upon which to draw. We have seen earlier that West African music was always functional and just as the work songs express the act of work. So naturally enough the blues express the
act of living sleeping eating making love and dying flavored with all the usual human nuances of jealousy hatred fear rust envy and above all loneliness. Paris denies the presence of any joy in the blues but there was some occasionally a kind of mordant joy the feeling that the joy would probably not last. But the Blues really had elements of self pity and so could celebrate the pleasures of life with the same skeptical ironic pungency. With which they commemorated the hurts of existence. So one very frequent sub subject of the blues was impermanence.
God can. Take you. I'm. Not and. I'm not you. Why.
Did you. Yes. The Blues were certainly subjective and as Rex Harrison understates the case
there is a physical and mental fear and I productive of sonnets to a mistress's eyebrows on this matter of impermanence and the blues that explains the frequency of trains cymbals and sometimes imitation of train sounds and instrumental blues and piano blues. The train could be a symbol of hope and a symbol of despair.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Origin of the Blues, Part One
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, explores the origin of the blues, a crucial building block for jazz music.
Other 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.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
African Americans--Music--20th century--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:42
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 5; Origin of the Blues, Part One,” 1953-12-04, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 19, 2022,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 5; Origin of the Blues, Part One.” 1953-12-04. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 19, 2022. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 5; Origin of the Blues, 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