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And yet as true as all of this is there is little doubt that New Orleans was the main birthplace and that the major initial jazz influences came from the man who learned to play in that setting. As Louis Armstrong said nothing. To set the framework for they material were about to cover it. Here is a
description of New Orleans at the height of its musical development in the early 1900s described by Ernest Borneman. They saw actual foundations of Pioneer jazz were well rooted in the state economy of Louisiana municipal economy of New Orleans and the peculiar economic structure of the third war and the Vieux Carre the Irish Channel in the whole story Vale district. From the cotton fields and the sugar cane country from the levies in the river boats from the railroads in the canals there came the works on the hollers and shanties of the Negro workers. From the rural play parties came the song game of the sucky tunes in the other folk rhymes and dance songs of the rural negro. From the rural churches and the roving camp meetings came the spirituals him Camp Meeting songs Jubilee songs revival chants and ringing shouts of the faithful. From the cabin on the big house alike. Then came the lullabies cradle songs and nursery
rhymes of the negro mother. From the flourishing tender lines came the ballads and bad men song of the songs of women and liquor and drugs and so the so-called sinful songs from the urban street vendors came the calls and cries that wail and tune and words to many urban blues and ballads of right a year. From the municipal functions of the city came the march music of the negro brass bands every branch of Negro music was thus rooted in one branch of the local economy and the social hierarchy. Jazz crystallized around New Orleans for a definite social and economic reasons land sales BBQ store openings circus visits tent shows cooking contests Iceman's championships cotton and trucking men's competitions provided an outlet for brass band music. Civic and religious holidays called for parades. The brass bands without the slightest change instrumentation were paid to play for the rent parties of the Uptown slums in the hunting bars of the West End crowd for the quadroon bars in the country club dances for
proms at Tulane University and for subscription dances in the downtown Creole section for the lodges and secret societies of the white aristocracy and the Negroes in the Reich. Christenings weddings and funerals called for music but a vision between March music and dance music was practically nonexistent at first. The same tune slightly changed served as brass band tunes quad reels and rags alike the same musicians with their aprons turned around played for dances today and funerals tomorrow. There was no clear cut division between professional and amateur musicians. At first music was truly part and parcel of people's lives. It was this deep interrelation between the city's social and economic life on one side and its musical culture on the other that produced and maintained the growth of a true urban folk music. To find out why New Orleans was so important it will be necessary to examine the sociological and musical background of the city.
New Orleans was founded in 1717 while the French were in possession of Louisiana. But in the course of French English and Spanish wars and treaties secret and otherwise the territory changed hands frequently four times between 17 states 63 and 18 three and finally became part of the United States in 18 3. As a result almost from the very beginning of its history New Orleans were extremely heterogeneous in its citizenry and culture perhaps more so than any other American city. The first layer was 500 from the Guinea coast arrived in 1719 and eventually negroes constituted a third of the population of the Louisiana territory. After 1750 several thousand French Canadians who had lived in Acadia and had been deported by the English came to the easy Anna and their descendants of the known and as occasions. Another important group were the Creoles the Appalachian Creole originally referred to white descendants of French or Spanish settlers in Louisiana. But the word came
also to be used to describe the people of mixed pride the descendants of the union of Negro and the original Creole or of Negro and new friends settlers or new Spanish settlers. And these Creoles generally spoke a dialect of French. And sometimes Spanish with occasionally even some African words. During the old regime in the ways E.A. writes Great King in her book on New Orleans the pure about African was never called colored but always Negro colored with wide replied. We're a class upright separated from and regarded as a period to the negroes. And this can system seems to have existed from the first introduction of slaves. Many of the Creole negroes became free Negroes long before the advent of Haitian proclamation. The numbers of free Negroes were increased in the early days because of the fact that numerous mulatto children were born to negro slave women. And in many instances the fathers that these women
free under the law are children always share the condition of their mother. And once they became free also. The free Creoles were proud of Louisiana from a very early date. And I specifically mentioned in the BNP has black code promulgated in 1720 for seven years after the founding of the city. In that code they are forbidden to marry even their own slaves. For many did own slaves or slaves owned by white man. 1779 there were seventeen hundred free college in Louisiana. And more 3-D girls came in after Louisiana became part of the United States especially during 89 in 1910 when about 3000 Santo Domingo negroes who had taken no part in the slave insurrection on that island arrive from Cuba and other West Indian Islands where they had sought refuge. I return to the subject of the Creoles letter because of the importance of their contribution to the beginnings of jazz in later new ones. It's interesting by the way that until recently there were many negroes in Louisiana who spoke only a Frenchman twice and no English. In fact there still may be some
reason a reason French right on the lake has listed three main idioms that evolved in Louisiana from the original Old French Creole like Asian from the Crow French-Canadians and gumbo gumbo was a dialect spoken by the negro slaves of the Creole. The study was made even more heterogeneous by its position for many years as the capital of the enormous Louisiana territory that at one time stretched up the Mississippi to Canada and included St. Louis for years later through all the changes in the south's economy. New Orleans was always a focal point when cotton ruled the south in the 19th century and the packet boats rule the river New Orleans and really Bush's words became for the river man a dream at the end of the long run downstream a destination where a shining American silver dollars could be exchanged for a wild free right after the Louisiana Purchase. The business life of the city was stimulated even more and to quote Rex Harrison as the years passed the population more than doubled itself owing to the influx
of immigrants from the West Indies whites mulattoes and slaves. Many of the incoming Creoles from the West Indies being of the same ancestry as those of French stock on the mainland and together they form the major pride of the population of this now prosperous city. Indians were to be seen on the street some Chinese and by nineteen hundred there had been Italian German and Irish immigrants and always remnants of several. Afro-American cultures because the city had been the chief slave market of the old regime. Around the turn of the century the city was flourishing as Lang described it. New docks were being built along the 20 miles of river frontage the rowdy heyday of the Mississippi River traffic had passed but railroad development made up for that. And added even further to the polyglot nature of the city and export figures were climbing there was plenty of work handling the sugar and molasses Rice tobacco Indian corn wheat flour pork and cotton that poured into and out of the point. Wages were good. So there was money to stay in for
street parades for dances and barbecue. And saw Jelly Roll Morton recalling his early days in New Orleans for a recording session at the Library of Congress. I was able to say we had every different kind of a person in New Orleans. We had French we had Spanish we had West Indian we had American and we all mixed on an equal basis. The last part of that state unfortunately was not true except for a story though the city within a city. But if there was a Jim Crow law and it was not as strict as elsewhere in the south the original. And for the free Creoles it was even less stringent. And since music cannot be legislated against. There was a mixture in New Orleans on an equal basis of the wondrously rich mixture of musical cultures to be found in that city. It's rather an ironic footnote Although music cannot be legislated against some regimes have tried it. Jazz as you may know is illegal in most of these tin Europe. Let's examine some of the resulting mixtures. First to what extent did Africanism survive.
Well it should be remembered as Charles Edward Smith wrote. That the auction block in New Orleans the slave trading center of the South West brought to the cultural amalgam of preponderance of negroes who were already American including some whose ancestors had begun to create for us spirituals and others whose forebears had been baptized in Catholicism in early Louisiana despite the remnants of voodoo ceremonies and so on by the early 19th century the dominant culture of the negroes on the dollar as elsewhere on the mainland was a frost a culture which they already regarded as their own and quite naturally so. Rod Smith goes on to point out that elements of African musical style did survive but quite out of context with any remembrances of tribal culture in Africa. As he puts it one other point that should be emphasized is the viral strength of the musical see that one is African for not once in our history but four times it determined the unique character of folk rooted musical developments all of which represented complex relationships to other
music from him to honky tonk piano. These were the first flowering of spirituals freedom songs with their environmental complements of Hollars plantation storms and so forth. Next the bros an interrelated spirituals the blues that probably began much earlier. And has a have a direct tie with the work song but have the greatest impetus of the bitter disillusion that following emancipation resulted from the imposition of a slavery of color then the impact of ragtime and finally jazz music so closely allied to these growths and to the brass band music that had been a feature of the Louisiana life since at least the early part of the 18th century. In looking for the historical beginnings of jazz we cannot fail to see that. None of the developments mentioned has been in any time rigidly compartmented and. At times they were overlapping or represented parallel phenomena. An example of such parallel patterns is evident in New Orleans jazz history of the 1880. When the city's musical
life included jazz bands usually without piano and related directly to bronze bands. Rose sung with jazz bands or sung alone with a guitar or with piano or with a trio. Pianistic ragtime as distinguished from orchestrated Ragtime which was also being played sometimes in string bands. And at the same time the Congo Square dance moves which had become little more than colorful entertainment carrying echoes of the talking dramas of the West Indies. Possibly Smith concludes with a cleavage of technical style factors of African music from their cultural historical associations. Ashore and their subsequent fluidity making possible the fact of such a potent family line. Smith talks about the Congo Square dance moves. From very early in the history of New Orleans negroes were allowed more freedom than elsewhere in the south. Drums for example which were prohibited in many pre-civil war southern regions for fear of their being used as adjuncts to every vote were allowed in New Orleans
and soon after the Louisiana Purchase. The American authorities are recognizing the value of a measure of recreation and social intercourse and keeping the negro content began to allow the slaves to gather for dancing. According to her but as Ray's book the French Quarter these assemblies appear to have begun about 805. And at first were held in various places in and near the city. Among them an abandoned brekky I had. The most celebrated of all the slave rendezvous However it was a large open space at Rampart and Orleans street. In early times this field and many used by the Indians as a place of celebrating their corn feasts. And the eyes of the red man was holy ground. When the slaves began to use the place for dancing the whole area was popularly known as the class name. And later as the cargo planes and the square itself to which the slaves were restricted when the planes were divided into building lots was called Congo Square. Until the latter part of 18 20 when grasses shrubs and sycamore trees were
planted by order of the then mayor the square was merely an expanse of barren dusty ground rugged and pitted by the shuffling of hundreds of feet. Congo Square was finally designated in 1817 by the mayor as the only place to which slaves might resort for recreation and thereafter all such gatherings were held under police supervision. Much of as Ray's description of what happened incidentally came from the diary of a German traveller who had been in New Orleans in 1917. The dancing was stopped at sunset and all slaves were driven out of the square and sent home. Under the as in other regulations the custom of permitting slave dancing in the Congo Square continued for more than twenty years. When it was abolished for reasons the old city records do not make clear. In 1845 the practice was resumed and during the fifteen years which preceded the Civil War this weekly concourse of the slaves in Congo Square reached the height of its popularity and sometimes they were almost as many white spectators surrounding the square as there were negro
dancers inside it. The slaves usually began to assemble in Congo Square about an hour or so before the time fixed for dancing. At a signal from a police official. The slaves were summoned to the center of the square by the prolonged rattling of two huge beef bones upon the head of the cask. Out of which had been fashioned a sort of. Drum or tambourine called a bomb blew out. As the dancers took their places the rattling settled into a steady drumming. Which the Negro who wielded the bones maintained without a pause and with no break in rhythm until sunset. The favorite dances of the Slayers were they called Linda. A variation of which was also used in the voodoo ceremonies. And the dance of the bomb. Both of which were primarily based on the. West African dances but with copious borrowings from the Concordance of the French and early indication of the manner in which French and African music interacted in New Orleans. Basically. The movements of the dance
with the women scarcely lifting their feet from the ground swaying their bodies from side to side and chanting. Song is monotonous so it appeared to the German direst as monotonous as a dirge. And the man with pieces of tin or other metal attached to their ankles by ribbons prancing back and forth leaping into the air stamping in unison the movements of the dance were basically of African origin. This description of course goes fairly early 817 as was the study but syncopated rhythm. As brain continues the history of Congo Square he said the Sunday afternoon dances there were abandoned during the troublous days that followed the capture and occupation of New Orleans by. Union forces during the Civil War. And while an occasional gathering of this sort was held in reconstruction times there were never again a regular feature of the Negro life. As late as the middle 1880s however a considerable number of negroes most of whom had been slaves frequently assembled on Sunday afternoons in the back yard of an
abandoned property far out on the main street where they trod the measures of the bamboo and other Congo Square dances which appear to have changed a little since way of great times. I doubt that as a matter of fact this is as Ray's description as all three of four times removed. The correspondent of The New York world thus described the dancing somewhere around the middle of eight in the 1880s. A dry goods box in an old pork barrel form the orchestra. These were beaten with sticks or bones use like drum sticks so as to keep up a continuous rattle while some old men and women chanted a song. Owing to the noise I could not even attempt to catch the words. I asked several old women to recite them to me but they only laughed and shook their heads. And thereby Twi they told me no use you could never understand it said a Congo. That ans was certainly peculiar and I observe that only a few old persons who had probably all been slaves knew how to dance that the women did not move their feet from the ground they only ride their bodies and swayed and Angela tore emotions from
ankles to waste. The men leaped and perform feats of gymnastic dancing which. Reminded me says the reporter of some steps in the court. I wrote the names on. Spanish dancing small bows were attached to their. Ankles and an old woman asked me who complain they plan said don't slobber. I did not altogether understand a bit appeared to be more or less lascivious as I saw it. I offer the woman some money to recite the words of the Congo song she consulted with another and both went on shaking their heads I could obtain no satisfaction. Close quote. As the reporter observed only a few world persons who had probably all been slaves knew how to dance the dance as to whether it was a lascivious or not. It's not likely that his judgment can be entirely trusted because of the fact that it was all so exotic appearing to him. In any case By 1880 the patterns of Afro American music in New Orleans had changed considerably. Which
explains why only the old people remembered the bands. Before we see how this afro american music. Exemplified in one of its aspects by the Congo Square dances had changed with the infusion. Of all the many varieties of music that were to be found in New Orleans. The Creole French and Spanish predominating. There are interesting descriptions of musical life in New Orleans after the Civil War by Lafcadio Hearn and George W. Cable. Neither qualified as a musicologist but from their observations we can get some idea of certain developing aspects of musical life in the city. Heard and noted that the French characteristics of the Creole songs he heard were mingled with what he assumed to be African isms. And they discovered one song with what appeared to be direct African influence of cable gave this description in Century Magazine in 1885. Of the Negro Ensemble in New Orleans. The
drums were very long hollowed often from a single piece of wood open at one end having a sheep or goat skin stretched across the other one was lied to the other much smaller the tight Skinned heads were not held up to be struck. The drums were laid along on the turf and the drummers B strode them and beat them on the head with anger as fists and feet with slow vehemence on the great drum and fiercely and rapidly on the smiling one. Sometimes an extra performer sat on the ground behind a larger drum and its open end and beat upon the wooden sides of it with two stakes. The smaller drum was often made from a jointed to a very large bamboo in the western days where such could be got. And this is said to be the origin of its name for it was called bamboo rod. One important instrument was a good partly filled with pebbles or grains of corn and flourished violently at the end of a stout staff with one hand and beaten upon the palm of the other. Other performers rang triangles and others twain from Jews hypes an astonishing amount of sound. Another instrument was
the job of some ox horse or mule and a key rattled rhythmically along its weatherbeaten teeth. At times the drums were reinforced by one or more empty barrels or casks beaten on the head with the shank bones of cattle. You can see the ingenuity with which these instruments were improvised. The author continues his description of this ensemble which included at least six musicians and adds others including one who played a sort of Marimba and then notes I'm calling this description by the way from Goethe man's book in jazz from the Congo to the Metropolitan. Or the portentious title and then notes. But the grand instrument outlines the first violin as one might say was the banjo. And then there was that long drawn cry. He continues of tremendous volume richness and resound to which no instrument within their reach could make the faintest approach. All the instruments silent. While the cry rose and swelled with
mighty energy and died away distinctly. Then the crash of savage drums horns and rattles. In short a break as in the blues it occurred to them as they were sometimes out of the pans pipe. About three reeds made from single joints of the common brake cane and called by English speaking negroes the quilts and such was the full band. But even by 1885 the date of this description very few New Orleans negro musicians were playing John Boehner's high covered casks or mambo or similar improvised instruments. And this leads us both into a study of the instrumentation of really New Orleans music and more specifically an account of European influences on the kind of music that evolved from Congo Square and similar occasions into Storyville in New Orleans and later and they are into jazz. First of all you know talking about New Orleans negroes we have to make a
rough description distinction between the Creoles the descendants of the free peoples of color. And the emancipated slaves whose musical heritage was based. Much more directly on the field holler and the works on in the spiritual and the blue. So. Let's for the moment see how the descendants of the slaves approached the musical opportunities of the new chances in New Orleans. The Creole experience was quite different and it was the joining of it with that of the far less formally two descendants of the slaves that brought jazz into being for they suddenly emancipated and quickly disillusioned former slaves. His music remained largely vocal for at least 20 years after the Civil War. He simply could not afford to buy an instrument. Of course there had always been considerable ingenuity in constructing homemade instruments homemade banjos and other string instruments were constructed with the aid of washtubs or almost anything to which strings could be attached. As late as a few years ago when Vang Johnson's New Orleans band was playing at the Stuyvesant Casino in New York the bass
player slow drag showed a reporter a picture of one of his proudest possessions a bass that he had made 30 years before from a barrel. And of course in the pre-Civil War period there were all kinds of homemade drums when they were allowed. Some were made out of nail kegs or logs with the skin tightly stretched over one end and there were homemade horns in the kinds of ingeniously constructed instruments mentioned by George cable and by the German traveler in their descriptions of early New Orleans music previously quoted. After the Civil War a kind of historical accident helped. Those of the former slaves who wanted to acquire more formal instruments the pawnshops became filled with bronze instruments discarded by returning Confederate bands and these could be prejudiced because of the huge supply at low cost more expensive instruments like the violin and cello and piano which were not likely to be found in pawn shops were acquired for later by the Negroes. Well the Creoles that had them for some time. Since before the Civil War free negroes and a few slaves
had been providing dance music with strings for white functions and many of the New Orleans Creole as were well trained highly skilled musicians some with symphony experience but the former field hands and cotton pickers were quite pleased to pick up use trombones and cornets and occasional tuba. What do they do with the instruments once they had them. For that. Both in verbal and much more cogently in musical description. Next week's lecture. You have been listening to the evolution of jazz recorded series prepared and produced by Nat Hentoff under the auspices of Northeastern University and presented by the Lowy Institute cooperative broadcasting Council. The hour you should have jazz was recorded in the Boston studios of WGBH Af-Am. This is the national educational radio network.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Growth of Jazz, Part Two
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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 growth of jazz, as it begins to form in various cities around the U.S. and, particularly, in New Orleans.
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: 55-32-9 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:16
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 9; Growth of Jazz, Part Two,” 1954-01-08, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed April 25, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 9; Growth of Jazz, Part Two.” 1954-01-08. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. April 25, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 9; Growth of Jazz, Part Two. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from