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The evolution of the American market. Is a tape recorded feature presented 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 considers the music as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr Hentoff. Last week the thesis was advanced that the earliest roots of jazz are to be found in the music of West Africa. That section of the continent from which a large proportion of the first slaves were brought. The difficulties of tracing African sources were gone into Among them by the fact that African music itself
has changed so in three hundred twenty five years that any parallels with present day the old recordings made in West Africa I tended it also. Not enough research has yet been done to make any of the cultural linkages that seem to exist conclusive. There are however sufficient indications more of which will be examined this week that they were sort of rivals of certain African elements of musical style that strongly influenced the growth of American Negro folk music in the South before the Civil War. In all cases it maintained that these stylistic survivals are a matter of racial inheritance cultural patterns survive on the basis of social habit and tradition rather than on biological characteristics. So that as mentioned at the beginning of the last hour musicians who grew up in negro districts of New Orleans in the early days of jazz acquired the jazz language from the beginning whereas those know the negroes who grew up in regions where no jazz
was ever heard failed to recognize and understand the early jazz idiom. The African isms that survive did not persist in their original framework. Tribal cultures were obliterated in the United States really in the history of the negro here. What remained as Charles Edward Smith as noted was the retention of certain aspects of musical style not their identification with an ancestral homeland. The comparison was made last week with a white mountain singer who would say that his ballad rate was quote a way of singing unquote not referring it to the British Isles are taking full cognizance of its antecedents there in his thinking about it. If it isn't I don't think ever did think about where it originally came from. These stylistic elements adapted to themselves elements of the richly heterogeneous music to be found in the South before the Civil War. And in turn the evolving Afro American music.
Adapted to the resulting hybridization. So there was a constant cross-fertilization of influences that led to the growth of the uniquely American musical language. Jazz. In listing and illustrating the main distinguishing characteristics of West African music. We mention the three last week. One was the dominance of percussion The other was the constant and highly complex use of. Multiple meter of poly rhythm. More than one rhythm at the same time and the third was the use of beat melodic accents a kind of syncopation that is much more involved much more productive of complimentary rhythms than is the relatively simpler syncopation to be found in European music. The fourth marked characteristic of African music as listed by Richard Waterman professor at Northwestern who
did the musicological notes for the author as Albert's album folk. And Cathay music of with folk tribal and Cathay music of West Africa. The fourth characteristic is overlapping common response patterns and typical song patterning whereby a leader sings phrases which alternate with phrases sung by a chorus. This is known all over the world but nowhere he continues is this form so important as in Africa where almost all songs are constructed in this manner a peculiarity of the African common response pattern found in frequently elsewhere is that the phrase sung by the chorus regularly begins while the soloist is still singing here but later on his part begins his phrase before the chorus is finished. The extent of this overlapping varies according to the overall rhythm scheme of the song. And this was a characteristic by the way of much pre-Civil War Afro-American folk music as documented by the
observers of the time this overlapping call and response pattern. Here are a group of Gold Coast children showing the customary call and response pattern. The translation of the first song is Bird Bird Bird wicked bird Sergeant-Major bird wicked bird followed by the eloquent point. I mean Larry don't come near for I am not prepared to die now. The kind of comment on West African traffic hazards. Got
them. And here recorded in Brandon Mississippi. Well the Library of Congress is the call and response pattern as the children. And then many years later as this is going on.
There was a guy there a stick of African music that was especially important and for it again and do the research work and articles of Ernest Borneman.
This has to do with the fact that the West African language is different from languages we are accustomed to in that there is a third element of articulation beside the vowels and consonants. And that third element is based simultaneously on pitch tambour and timing. That is why as Herskovitz has indicated in most African languages the same word spoken in different pitches has different meanings. There is a three syllable word in front of the Gold Coast language that is spelled okay w a d u. When the word is pronounced with middle tone on the first two syllables and high pitch on the third it means banana. The same or n when pronounced with a middle tone on the first syllable only and high pitch on the last two means wild ox.
This further explains the truth beneath some of the legends concerning so-called drum language. You know the times and kind of movie in which one tribe transmits a message to a tribe hundreds of miles away by means of a relay of drums. Well in a sense that can happen if a language depends on pitch. The bridle and timing for meaning that it is possible to reproduce pitch and stress values of words on a drum head there's a limit of course to how complicated a set of words can be reproduced so the drum talk consists of pre-arranged words whose pitch and stress values are easily understood. So while African drums are not the equivalent of The Telegraph sending messages over a great distance they can beat out praise names of gods and kings they can signal the coming of the enemy or the approach of important guests and the like. Changes of pitch on a drum head I made by changing the pressure on the drum
skin and changes of a bridle. I refactored by vibrating the knees while the drummer of the drum clasped tightly to his lap. In other words then the drums of Africa. I'm not cold drums but talking drums in that their sound is an imitation of human speech which can be picked up by trained interpreters. Here is an illustration of the talking drums of West Africa. Got Together they talked to one then the other TVA because they live with the thought of you live with those. Thank you for all the drama. The found here among some of them was a very very very well thank you said
but. In view of this characteristic of the West African language the musical nature of speech. There is no strict division between music and speech. In West African life as a result one of those investigations of shown the average standard of musical talent is extraordinarily high. Drumming singing and dancing are practiced universally. Children learn to discern subtleties of rhythm melody and tone color as parts of their language. Music making takes a little more skill but is never considered as an art. Before examining further this thoroughly functional nature of music in African life I'd like to point out that this close relationship between speech and music. Resulted in the
later existence of the extremely vocal nature of jazz music an aspect I'll be coming back to frequently. Jazz instrumentalist tend to play as they would sing and jazz vocalist tend to sing. As if they were playing an instrument. Billie Holiday once said in an interview that when she sang she tried to sound like a trumpet or a tenor sax particularly at that time like the tenor saxophonist Lester Young. And Lester young interne once said that when he played his tenor. He tried to sing like. Need to try to play rather like as he would if he were singing the chorus. Or if someone like Billie Holiday was singing it. Now here is an example of the two together on a record and noted the vocal nature of Lester Young's tenor and the instrumental nature of Miss Holladay's voice. Yes.
I'm with. You. Another example perhaps an even clearer one would be this vocal
chorus by Louis Armstrong a record made in the 20s one of the earliest recorded examples of scat singing which illustrates very clearly the instrumental nature of Louie's vocalizing. And later on in the. Play of his cornet and the trombone in the clarinet. There is a play of voices as well as instrumental. Tambourines. Thank you for being here. Maybe it will be a good thing. Returning to West African music one man underlines the fact
and I'm quoting now from his articles in the record changer an anthropologist looks in jazz. That music played a consistently major part in daily West African life. There was no division between music as an art and music as a normal function of diurnal existence like working or praying or playing. What we do know he says with a fair degree of accuracy is the strictly functional nature of 17th century West African music and the complete absence of any music in the European sense of the term. Our West African music from the Gold Coast to the Ivory Coast had a strict purpose in the cultural pattern of the community and each type of song was used by one group within the community and by that group alone to exert an effect on another group around the gods who control the affairs of the group.
That's the rows the seven or eight basic types of song which regulated the community's pattern of culture. There were songs used by the young men to influence the young women songs of courtship songs of challenge songs of scorn. There were songs used by mothers to come and educate their children. Well a buys plays songs and song games. There were songs used by the order men to prepare the adolescent boys for a manhood initiation songs legends to perpetuate the history and tradition of the community. Epic songs ballads of famous ancestors their songs used by the religious and hierarchical heads of the community to keep its members under control. Ritual songs to inspire feelings of mystery and solemnity are submissiveness as well as community songs to arouse common emotions and a sense of joint participation. There are songs used by the royals to arouse courage in battle and instill fear in the
enemy battles songs ballads commemorating past victories legends of dead heroes their songs used by priests and doctors to influence nature medicine's on's rain songs bewitching songs Evil's ons to hurt and kill the enemy as well as good songs to make friends arouse love and heal diseases. And there were songs used by workers to make their task easier work songs to stress the rhythm of labor group songs to synchronize collectively executed work team songs sung by one team to challenge and satirize the other. The point that has to be examined is what happened to this tradition of African music and of its natural place in daily life when the slaves were brought to America on American soil Bornemann continued as they came into contact with the representatives of well-nigh all European nations and of all classes within these
nations. In addition to American Indians of Chinese railroad workers restaurant keepers and laundry men. Finally within each of the national groups of slave owner is the contact of the negroes with the cultures of their European Masters varied in intensity. It's nodes and it's social history of the negro that. House servants and field hands had anything but equal opportunities to know the customs of their masters That's right from the beginning. All those African songs and dances died out that had no functional need in the pattern of slave and master relations there remained those songs and dances which fitted into the new world a new cultural and economic pattern of the new world. Work Songs remain love songs lullabies place on the song games animals on's wedding and funerals on this and a few odd songs to make Magic songs medicine songs in the witching songs of other types. Among the songs that died out swiftly there were the initiation songs the legends
to perpetuate the history and tradition of the African home community. The epic songs and ballads of famous ancestors. The ritual songs to inspire feelings of mystery. The community's songs to arouse common emotions and a sense of joint participation. The battle songs the ballads of past victories and legends of dead heroes and all the other African isms that found no parallel in American Negro culture. But out of the contact with the right with white red and yellow populations. And the process of adapting their music to the negroes own purpose own your wealth of Afro American music arose and it is with this music that we are especially concerned for it is out of that tradition that the whole development from spirituals through blues to jazz took its food and stamina. In attempting a survey. Of Afro American music before 1865. It's necessary to indicate briefly the
social context in which this music was produced. Treatment of the slaves in varied considerably throughout the south. But in general it can be said that there was a large proportion of brutality brutality that probably did not seem at all he human from the point of view of the plantation owners since slaves were considered as chattel as property. Very rarely as human beings of full sensibility. The first slaves arrive in 16 19 when a Dutch man of war landed 20 in Virginia. He says that between 60 and 80 in 1786 two million one hundred thirty thousand slaves were sent to the British colonies in America and one million eight hundred fifty thousand between 1776 and eighteen hundred. Brian Edwards in his history of the West Indies writes that between 1790 an eighteen hundred seventy four thousand annually was shipped from Africa. And eighteen hundred eight the slave trade was made illegal in America yet over two and a half million slaves were landed within the next fifty years.
After slavery. As it was termed going back to the concept of the slave as property the civil code of Louisiana stated that a slave as one who was in the power of the master to whom he belongs the master may sell him dispose of his person his industry and his labor. He can do nothing possess nothing nor acquire anything but what must belong to his master. There were quite frequent revolts with very limited degrees of success according to one source 130 I'm to rebalance between 16 17 18 65 and as a result in many areas in the south the slaves were kept under rigid discipline. But as bring in his book The French Quarter writes that in pre-Civil War New Orleans was a usual practice among slave owners to lock the slaves in their quarters. Soon after sunset with armed sentinels posted around the building to see that none attempted to escape before daybreak and since the fear of the negro uprising was omnipresent in early New Orleans and
Louisiana among other places in the south many laws were promulgated by the French governors to keep both the free and the slave negroes from assembling in smaller groups and to limit as much as possible the negroes relationship with his fellows. The 13th article of governor of the end the black code for a bad sleigh is belonging to different masters to gather in crowds I quote from the code either by day or by night under the pretext of a wedding or for any other cause either at the dwelling or on the grounds of one of the Masters and much less on the highways or in secluded places unquote. Slaves who transgressed were whipped. And for frequent of senses of this nature the code provided that the offenders be branded and should there be aggravating circumstances. Capital punishment may be applied. At the discretion. Of our judges unquote. These laws and customs were liberalized in the Louisiana region when America
took over the territory because the new authorities recognized the value of recreation and a measure of social intercourse and keeping the slaves contented with his role. And through most of the South tacit if not always vocal encouragement was given by the plantation owners and field dances to music making among the slaves. For one thing the work songs obviously increase the productivity of the field hands and ease off their tensions somewhat and the spirituals and ring shouts utilized energies and fervor that might otherwise have been turned to revolt. It's well to remember also that the slaves came from a culture where music was a natural and important part of daily activity. Music became more important during slavery because it helped allay the misery and frequent harshness of the existence learning in any sort of education for the slaves was discouraged with some exceptions on most plantations largely through the fear that an educated slave would be more inclined to revolt and to lead revolts and also because slaves again were regarded more as property as beasts of
burden and fieldwork than as educate about human beings. In some states as a matter of fact laws were passed to forbid the teaching of any written language.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
West African Influence, 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, continues to explore the influence of West African music on jazz.
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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Asset type
Music--Africa--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: 55-32-2 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:50
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, Part One,” 1953-11-13, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 29, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, Part One.” 1953-11-13. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 29, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 2; West African Influence, 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