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The evolution of jazz is. A survey of American art form from Scott Joplin to Lenny Tristan. The evolution of jazz 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 jazz from its roots in Europe and Africa. And considers the musical as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr Hentoff as a general preface to this set of like Tucson band jazz I should like to restate that I shall not be talking about the large popular dance bands of which species Guy Lombardo has been the most persistent example for several decades. The popular dance bands are not jazz groups just as the huge Paul Whiteman
entourage which can buy music for dancing with large scale theatrical displays from the 20s on was not at all a jazz ensemble. Nor shall I be referring except indirectly to the large bands that in the 30s and 40s were called swing bands particularly those of Benny Goodman the Dorsey Brothers and the like. These bands did often contain jazz soloists of merit. Mr Goodman himself for example. But were largely derivative as bands of the units we are going to discuss what your hand is and Duke Ellington Count Basie Jimmy Lunsford and the like. And so we're not at all formative influences in the evolution of jazz nor for that matter where these swing bands as units particularly creative the way basi and Ellington were. One further point I want to speak as I did last week in a brief description of Ellington's method of composition of writing for a large jazz band. It should be remembered that these groups remain jazz units because there are always extended areas of improvisation left to the
individual soloist. This refers both to the basi band whose arrangements were often had arrangements sketches of the harmonic progressions to be followed by the main structure of the piece and indications of where soloists were to enter and it also refers to the much more intricate compositional work of Duke Ellington. Always there is scope for improv a story solos. Fletcher Henderson is a good place to begin in this study of the jazz band. Judge for has provided some basic biographical information about Henderson himself. He was born in 1898 conscript Georgia his mother a pianist started him at the age of six on the piano. His father was a school teacher and saw that he had all the education he could possibly get. He attended Atlanta University where he majored in chemistry and mathematics while continuing his musical studies
on the organ. He graduated with honors and was slated to take post-graduate work. He arrived in New York City sometime around 1999 ostensibly to further his study of chemistry but he wound up in the music business as a pianist an accompanist he started much as Lil Armstrong had in Chicago little the graduate of Fisk University. He started as a pianist unfamiliar with the jazz idiom but by means of accompanying Bessie Smith on her early Columbia Records. And other artists for the Black Swan record company and then he organized a band to accompany Ethel Waters on the road and gradually he became conversant with the jazz idiom. This band that accompanied Ethel Waters on her tour included the late Joe Smith Cornet who was to have to be a prominent member of his own band later and Garvan Bushnell clarinetist. The tour finished with the entire company stranded in the Midwest. He returned to New
York and decided to develop a new and larger band. It went to work at the club Alabama 1923 winning the job after about 20 other negro orchestras had been auditioned. They stayed six months then moved over to the Rose grand ballroom where he had an earlier group. And there it was a fixture for 15 or more years with many interruptions for national road towards the idea of a jazz band. And in the early days of the Henderson group he didn't he was more than nine for regular work did not originate by any means in the north. As Charles Edward Smith writes Although the growth of big band jazz is sometimes represented as a transition from jazz in the New Orleans style it would be more accurate to regard it as a corollary development. Even in the largely Creole New Orleans orchestra of John Robichaud in the late 19th century one finds resemblances to later a large ensemble but it is true that the impetus for a big band jazz came in the 20s by which time large
white dance orchestras which did not play jazz were an institution. And there were as the judge told her says large negro orchestras playing around the country in the early twenties but most of them playing the popular ballads and novelties of the day from the music sheet and trying to sound like the white dance orchestra. Henderson's concept was different. Roger Pryor died the dancer recalls hearing Henderson at the Roseland Ballroom in 1925. It never occurred to me he recalls that the whole vitality of jazz depended upon improvisation. In fact such solos as that played by Coleman Hawkins before him and seem so perfect and clearly laid out that I attributed it all to the conscious composing of Henderson. I thought the same thing of Charlie Green's trombone solo. Speaking of the solos he had heard on records and I told Henderson how much I liked these solos and asked when he had written them. Always said the hot chorus is I don't write them and they're not
written out they're played ad lib. But it has to be noted that in the early years of Henderson's band the sound of a band of the band as a whole and even of the soloist was not as fluidly by far in the jazz idiom as was that of the small New Orleans units playing in Chicago at the same time. As was noted earlier at first the northern jazz man and musicians from other sections of the country whose early training had been in part almost wholly in many cases in the form of European pattern. At first these men played. With a more legitimate and closer to the beat. Even in their improvised solo. People like King Oliver and Louis Armstrong It was later as men like Henderson and Coleman Hawkins and Benny Conner with their formal backgrounds as these men absorbed the jazz language gradually from contact with other musicians like Louis Armstrong that many of the men would become exceptional jazz musicians. But
you're Henderson describes his early contact with Louis Armstrong and What Happened When Louis came from Chicago in 1924 for a stay in New York with his band. He goes back a bit he says it was about 19 21 when I first met Louis Armstrong he was just a nice enthusiastic youngster blowing a great horn in a small band in New Orleans. I had only recently made my first records for the Black Swan company as a company is to Ethel Waters. Apparently the head of the company like the way we sounded because he had teamed us up as the Black Swan troubadours and sent us out on tour with the band when we hit New Orleans. And I heard Louie the first time the power and imaginative miss of his horn immediately made me want him for my band. So right then and there I offered him the job he thought it over for a while and finally said that he'd like to join me but only if I'd also take on his drummer who was single then I told him that in as much as I had a drummer with me and he was a long long way from home I couldn't see myself stranding the
musician. Well he was pretty young. Way back then of course in thinking it over now and doesn't really remember is I have an idea that this was probably his way of getting out of leaving his hometown alone with a bunch of strangers. When he did leave New Orleans after all that was to join Joe Oliver in Chicago and Joe had been like a father to him. I never could forget that horn though. And three years later I sent for him to take the third trumpet chair in my band in New York this time he came and it was certainly good to have that great cornet driving down the lead on the real tunes and playing in a hot chorus as they were on the other numbers as well. I remember his first rehearsal with us and one incident in particular. We had a medley of Irish waltzes in the book an intricate well-marked arrangement one passage began triple fortissimo and then it suddenly softened down on the next passage to double pianissimo. The score was properly marked with a double t to indicate the pianissimo But when everybody else softened down there was Louis still blowing as hard as he could. I stopped the
band and told him pretty sharply I guess that in this band we read the marks as well as the notes. I asked him if he could read the marks and he said he could. Then I asked him what about the Double T and he answered by that means palm plenty. Louis years later recalled just how uncomfortable and nervous he had been at that first rehearsal. But he impressed the musicians enormously with his playing. And Henderson continues. Needless to say Louis was a big success right from the start. About three weeks after he joined us he asked me if he could sing a number with the band. There's another version of that man in the band claim that Louis had to be coaxed to sing. In any case his initial vocalisation was a great success. The band gained a lot from the way and he gained a lot from us concludes Henderson by that I mean he really learned to read in my band and to read in just about every key. Although it's common today it wasn't usual at that time to write in such keys as E natural or D natural so that Louis had to learn and did learn much more about his own horn than he knew before he joined us. You might say that
we put the finishing touches on his playing. He was great when he came to the band but he found out that there were a lot of things he didn't know and he set about studying them studied with himself. That is not with a teacher. That's how we influenced him but he influenced the band greatly by making the man really swing conscious as Henderson puts it. With that New Orleans style it is. To show you how this band sounded in its early years and how much of an impact much more than Henderson realizes Louis made on the man. Here is a 1925 recording of Joe Oliver's Sugarfoot stop note the leaden sound of the ensemble. The stiff rhythmic feel and then the change when Louis Armstrong breaks in his really jazz tambour the way he plays with the rhythm suspending his own variations around the basic pulse and.
I AM. Hit. Over and collapses. All of these early Henderson arrangements and of the general sound of the band and even of the
hot into a nation of the soloist with the exception of Louis Charles Edward Smith has to say like the early Ben Pollock experiments in notation Pollock was one of the first leaders of a white lie joke is true that used prominent jazz musicians. These were the first steps in a new direction. Jazz phrasing was limited because of the few musicians who knew hot intonation the use of that clarinet trio that you heard was almost a trademark. He was the more effectively later on Henderson as did Mary Lou Williams. But the limitations of Henderson's early arrangements and the playing of them only served to bring into relief the way a man like Louis Armstrong out of the dull background there emerged the charging horn of the way young spirited inventive and much more directly in the tradition of jazz language. Bride by 19 30. As more and more of the man in the band and Henderson himself had become familiar with the jazz idiom listen to how the group sounded then with Rex do it from Philadelphia taking Louise pied. He had been
recommended for Louise chair in the band by Armstrong himself and was one of the many young musicians around New York admin who had been enormously impressed by Armstrong for his time in for them trombone choruses by J.C. Higginbotham from Atlanta whose first musical experience had been gained in Cincinnati. Clyde Jones of bully Oklahoma and Wilberforce University and a budding Tena chorus by Coleman Hawkins who like the other three had been more and more aware of the direct jazz language by hearing other jazz musicians through the 20s and by this time had more successfully adapted the language to his own needs here than five years later as the 1930 Henderson version of the show the flood stopped. I am the one. Yeah.
am. I am. I am. I am. It might be instructive to look briefly at the evolution of Coleman Hawkins as an example of this
general trend. Hawkins you recall born in Missouri had begun his musical studies on piano and cello when he was five and a tenor when he was nine years old at college at Washburn college in Topeka Kansas he had studied harmony and composition and his training then had been largely in the formal tradition. And so despite the fact that he had been traveling in a jazz band since 1921 first with Mamie Smith jazz hounds and with Henderson in 1925 he was still quite unsure in his use of jazz as in this song. Let's go back briefly now to the 1930s solo in the dipper blues
of the voice of the brothers. In terms of jazz that already represents a substantial advance by 1933 the band as a whole and Hawkins himself sounded even better and play jazz even more fluidly as in this recording. I am I
am. I am I am. I am I in the EU I am. I am. I am. I
am. I am. To him. So anything goes Diane as a characteristically able analysis of the
Anderson approach to big band jazz he writes Where the white Chicago groups who have been influenced by the New Orleans musicians remain loyal to the small band Henderson built a large band style where the Chicago groups tended to minimize the actual musical content of Dixie Land a New Orleans jazz Henderson built up a repertoire of rags blues and stops his music and also Irish waltzes which didn't help his music remain however like that of the Chicago man week in overall form as I'm sure you've become aware it rested for its chief interest on the solo is Henderson is in his arrangements for a large band and counted a fundamental law. But one change in any element of the musical texture whether melody harmony or instrumental tambourine requires a change in all of the piano work or a song is orchestrated. The music sounds generally worse rather than better. And there's the orchestrator is daring enough to reconstruct the entire work in terms of the new musical sound. Which makes the work almost a new composition. If a folk song is harmonized
something of its melodic character is lost unless the musician really recreates the song into something new and fresh. If work for a single piano is played by two four or six pianos the resulting music is less rather than more affected. Similarly when we hear a blues line in Henderson's music played by two or three trumpets in unison instead of one or by four reeds in harmony the spontaneity is lost and nothing of importance musically is gained. Later in the recreation of a man like Duke Ellington the entire approach has been changed and so a great deal is gained. The perfect economy of sound. That makes the great New Orleans performance so complete and exciting in music in every detail is often missing in the Henderson kind of arrangement. Much of the character of the blues is lost and the two are more aligned antiphonal music dwindles down to one melodic line often although controlled and sweetened by the accompanying harmonies. I would add to what I think
Austin has said that when the solos in the Henderson performance were performed imaginatively and freshly men by men who had mastered the jazz language these solos transcended much of the less valid accompanying orchestration and in their inevitable use of blues based idioms they provided a valuable musical experience and in their increasingly skilled play with the rhythm they restored a degree of the rhythmic. The creativity that was lost in the Henderson orchestrations themselves to continue with was to think those demands analysis high quality remains Henderson did not choose the big band in order to impress anybody. Nor did he in any way commercialize jazz music. A term sometimes loosely thrown about as if it were a crime for a musician to seek a fair return for his work. Henderson let me point out here that there have been certainly commercialization means that do deserve condemnation from is that expense to continue Hendersonville to a
large band because such a band fitted the musical needs of the times in his band and gave a host of fine musicians a chance to continue to play to explore their instruments and the art of music to make a living as musicians. His changing roster included many first rate jazz men Tommy Joe Smith Rex Stewart Bobby Stark Coleman Hawkins Buster Bailey Charlie Greene Jimmy Harrison J.C. Higginbotham Claude Jones Dickie Wells Kate Johnson Roy Eldridge Henry Allan Chu Berry John Kirby. Many later played a very creative small band jazz as did other graduates of the basi Lunsford Louis Rosseau orchestras and Henderson began as well himself to explore the exciting new possibilities of the large band as a collective musical instrument. Explorations that continued even more create in more creative form by Duke Ellington. Henderson had a powerful
influence on jazz then and for good he brought the blues rags and stomps even in less than perfect form to the attention of the public that had never heard this music before.
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Large Jazz Bands, Part One
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program explores large jazz bands.
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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Big bands--History
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-21 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:34
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 21; Large Jazz Bands, Part One,” 1954-04-02, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 23, 2024,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 21; Large Jazz Bands, Part One.” 1954-04-02. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 23, 2024. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 21; Large Jazz Bands, 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