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  • Jonathan Fisher wrote on July 31, 2007 report

    Jeff Taylor, in a chapter entitled The Early Origins of Jazz, writes: If recent scholars have refuted many of the established jazz myths, they have not yet replaced them with a cohesive story of their own. As jazz historiography continues to widen its scope, many more important discoveries will no doubt be made. In the meantime, the most one may do is to delve into the rich tapestry of social economic, and musical factors that helped foster this art form, and hope to do justice to the hundreds of artists, many forgotten and unrecorded, who first gave jazz to the world.

    Unfortunately for the jazz student, Mr. Taylor was right " the American jazz story cannot be whittled down to any brief simplicity. However, after some speculation and study, its history can at least offer an insight into the world of interesting circumstances that made jazz possible. In particular, the rise and fall of the once popular musical form called Big Band Swing were due to geographical, economic, social, and musical circumstances of the early 20th century.

    From New Orleans to New York

    The establishment of Big Band Swing is rooted in jazzs shift from its origins in Southern United States to a new center in Harlem, NY. The reasons for this shift are encapsulated by overlapping processes of jazzs migration from the South and its settlement in New York. To understand the first of these processes, jazzs migration, it is important to note that African- Americans in the South were jazzs primary creators.[ii] In fact, one of the reasons that the term jazz as music came into being, was that it implied black roots,[iii] as the derogatory term had previously referred to African-Americans. When African-Americans migrated to escape the oppressive racial policies of the South,[iv] looking for new job opportunities and a better lifestyle in the North,[v] they took their music with them. African-American migration peaked in the 1910s;[vi] consequently, northern jazz appeared soon after.

    In addition to the African-Americans populations move north, African-American traveling orchestras[vii] are becoming increasingly recognized as key to jazzs physical shift. Known as territory bands[viii], these traveling orchestras played in rural areas, where dance bands were in demand but permanent ones were too expensive.[ix] In this way, territory bands spread the music around the country.

    These ensembles [also] provided an important training ground for musicians who would later find their way to the important urban centers.[x] For these reasons, Alyn Shipton concludes, In terms of the

    geographical spread of jazz, and of launching the careers of many provincial musicians who subsequently became famous, these bands were significant.[xi] After jazz players moved to New York, its settling there generated New York jazzs permanence.

    This settling owed itself to both nationwide appreciation of jazz and specific New York culture.

    America, having built up a rising appreciation of African-American entertainment and art over the previous ninety years, beginning with minstrel shows in the 1830s,[xii] was, by the 1920s, ready to accept the African-Americans jazz in the North. Comedy seems to have been the earliest and most prevalent genre of African-American entertainment watched by whites, and was expressed in blackface minstrel shows which quickly became world famous and respectable.[xiii] Although at first only performed by whites in blackface,[xiv] the minstrel show was a direct representation of black art and culture. Thus, when the minstrel show became popular, it was clear that white Americans, then as now, were strongly drawn towards the creativity and vibranc[y] of black culture,[xv] and since they found entertainment in African-American art in general, they were drawn to African-American jazz. The Minstrel show was unique among its type of entertainment in that it found a major audience in New York, and it was therefore directly relevant to the emergence of jazz there.

    The African-American stereotype entertainment initiated by minstrel shows was immediately evident in the first successful commercial jazz, especially in New York. For the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in New York, [E]mphasis was on comedy: Nick LaRocca made his cornet whinny like a horse; Larry Shields crowed like a rooster with his clarinet; Danny Edwards made his trombone moo.[xvi] Although The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was a group of white musicians,[xvii] its music was strictly African-American, and historians have dubbed it a copycatband,[xviii] because of its heavy imitation of African-American jazz. A New York band of African-Americans led by Fletcher Henderson serves as a second example: Hendersons band looked the part of a stereotypical African-American jazz band, and there existed persistence among whites of stereotypes about black entertainment that fueled Hendersons success.[xix] Another indication of this stereotypical mindset is Harlems creation of Black and Tans or racially mixed jazz clubs. Alyn Shipton quotes from a memorable Variety Magazine article, The Black and Tans are staged for the whites, like Paris is staged for the Americans.[xx] The Cotton Club, a Black and Tan, maintained the white- audience-black-entertainer relationship because its high prices alone ensured that it drew a predominantly white crowd. [W]hite patrons enjoyed themselves by watching blacks be primitive " without sharing their enjoyment with black patrons. [xxi] It is no coincidence that we find early bands with names such as the Jass Fools. [xxii] Even though up to this point, all historical appreciation of African-American art seems derogatory, some claim that as early as the minstrel shows, those who depicted African-American art were combining savage parody of black Americans with genuine fondness for African American cultural forms.[xxiii] This attitude is evident regarding later African-American art as well, as Frederick Allen writes:

    Ever since the nineteen-twenties there had been a rising appreciation, amoung intellectuals, of the Negro contributions to the arts, and especially to jazz music; and as time went on there developed among the more ardent students of jazz such a reverence for the pioneering contributions of the original jazz musicians of New Orleans and Memphis and the for the inheritors of the traditions that men like Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong found themselves the objects of a deep and deferential respect among thousands of music lovers. [xxiv]

    Another aspect of jazzs acceptance in New York was based on circumstances more specific to the city than general appreciation of jazz. On the subject of Harlems unique affinity to jazz, Thomas Riis explains:

    New Yorks significance for jazz history lies in its open embrace of all things theatrical and seemingly all life forms with a dramatic or dramatizable element. Because the city possesses a long history of hospitality to the marginalized of the world""not merely twentieth-century immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, but Dutch sailors in the seventeenth century, English loyalists during the American Revolution, Atlantic pirates in search of safe haven, and all manner of scoundrels, scalawags, traders, and freebooters over the last several hundred years""its openness to unusual custom, indeed its flamboyant penchant for self-promotion, has conduced to the process of creating characters in costume, storytellers, and other citizens who work at being visible, striking, and larger than life.[xxv]

    Thus, even before Harlem became the national center of African-American culture, NY supported more professional musicians connected with the stage than any other American city.[xxvi] Riis continues by emphasizing that in addition to the citys generally conducive atmosphere, some of New Yorks other circumstances more specifically related to jazz. The concentration of people, the high level of activity, and the relatively freewheeling social environment in NY allowed ragtime and stomp music to flourish there.

    Extensive numbers of performances took place, and recording was possible.[xxvii] One specific New York precursor to jazz was the art of musical productions at the turn of the century. Most important, they [musicals] stimulated an attitude indissolubly linked with jazz; they seemed to urge wild, spontaneous, sympathetic movement among singers, players, and audiences alike.[xxviii]

    Once jazz had made its way to New York and established itself there, the music underwent a major transformation. With the lack of microphones, or any form of electrical amplification, dance bands had to make other plans in order to be heard in large ballrooms and dance halls, explains Dr. David Schroeder.[xxix] The resulting need for orchestras was resolved with the creation of a specific orchestra called the Big Band, whose new instrumentation transformed jazz. Perhaps most notably, the new music contained much less improvisation, which, with so many players, would have been impossible to listen to.

    Yet, this aspect of Big Bands allowed leaders to create powerful and detailed arrangements. The Big Band also developed a successful variety of sounds made possible by the orchestras size. One most notable new sound was simply a powerful hit, a loud note played simultaneously by the entire orchestra, which yielded a fuller sound[xxx] than when it had been played by a smaller ensemble.

    Swing is here to Stay

    Swing music, established in New York as the new jazz, found popular support in many areas that ensured its success. One such support was technology. The emergence of phonograph records, jukeboxes, and radios offered musicians media through which to publicize, popularize, and sell their new music.

    The phonograph record helped by allowing the public to fall in love with specific recordings thanks to its unique ability to replay songs. In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band released the first successful jazz record through Victor Talking Machine Company in New York, playing their well-rehearsed and already- popular tunes.[xxxi] Most Big Band recordings were commercialized in the late 1930s, the outset of the Swing era, when Big Band recording increased drastically.[xxxii] Perhaps the most powerful tool for spreading jazzs popularity was the radio. Nationwide exposure to swing music via radio broadcasts and recordings enabled the music to thrust into popular culture.[xxxiii] Beginning in 1931 with the introduction of the model 44A microphone and continuing with the 77A in 1933, advances in sound enabled subtle nuances in both playing and singing to be amplified for the first time and made for better live broadcasts.[xxxiv] Alan Brinkley explains that Americans after the Depression began to regain money and their want of entertainment led them to the radio.[xxxv] The number of radios in the country grew from three million in 1922[xxxvi] to nearly twenty-three million in 1935, when radios had become a household appliance.[xxxvii] Because [m]usic took up over 60% of the broadcast time,[xxxviii] national publicity through radio and publications was [able] to assist in propelling jazz to the pinnacle of its popularity.[xxxix] A third major technologically developed supporter of Swing was the jukebox. These large music machines began to show up in popular speakeasies, ice cream parlors, and drugstores by the late 1930s,[xl] helping to bring jazz into social life. In addition to simply offering another way to listen to jazz, the jukebox also increased record sales[xli] as its owners purchased large record collections for it, and it was in a sense an advertisement for the music it played. Even though the cost of playing one song was much lower than that of purchasing a record, that it only played once motivated many to own records and replay songs.

    In addition to technological inventions that improved the market for Swing playing, another major economic source for Swing musicians ironically stemmed from the constraint of current technology.[xlii] America, morphing into a dance and party society, needed music for large socialevents,[xliii] and the primitive state of microphone technology required orchestra music for appropriate volume, provided by Big Bands.

    Americas dance craze[xliv] began in the 1920s, when: The time was ripe.The war spirit was on the loose [1917]. The whole tempo of the country was speeded up. Wheels turned likemad. Every factory was manned by night shifts. Americanslived harder, faster than ever before. They could not go without some new outlet. Work was not enough and America had not yet found out how to play.Meanwhile was brewing in New Orleans a restorative [jazz] for the national nerve complaint [xlv]

    After the depression, this modern phenomenon of Americas fast pace returned strong in the 1930s, when another factor came into play: Kids from a new generation were searching for their own identity, searching for excitement, searching for something to call their own, and searching for the opposite sex. Jazz music through its evolution into swing and these new and energetic dances offered the whole package.[xlvi] In this rushed and excitement-seeking society, Swing was commercially successful. One other minor commercial support of Big Band Swing was musical accompaniment for silent films[xlvii] and productions.[xlviii]

    The Be-bop Revolution[xlix]

    Alas, Big Band Swings success diminished drastically beginning in 1944, never to return to such success until Big Bad Voodoo Daddy in the 1990s.[l] A variety of reasons behind Swings downfall are all linked to the rise of modern jazz, Be-bop. The reasons may be placed into two categories: motivation for musical change and historical challenges facing the Big Band. Many musicians during the Swing Era revolted against Swing. Perhaps the bluntest motivation for revolt was that which is bluntest as a characteristic of Be-bop improvisation. Shipton writes regarding Big Band musicians, for the ordinary sidemen there was little opportunity to play lengthy improvised solos.

  • Spotlight was only given to the bandleaders, who took all of the solos. Additionally, said Cab Calloways band guitarist, Danny Barker, It was a very monotonous deal sitting on a stage playing one and a half hour shows four, five, sometimes six times a day, seven days a week for months and months at a time. Playing the same songs over and over under the hot stage lighting. When the stage show was over you went to the small crowded dressing room, always near the roof of the theater. You practiced, worked with your hobby, wrote letters. Many musicians could not take the daily routine, blew their tops and quit.[lii] Be-bop served as a vehicle for the improvisational and showy musician; its small jazz combo setting allowed for more musical freedom and opportunity for solos. But the internal musical rebellion against Swing contained another element. Some jazz players of the time, for one reason or another, led a conscious revolt against the tightly controlled commercial entertainment offered by the swing bands of the 1930s and 1940s.[liii] There existed a bold resolve to break with the conventional music business, largely because some players had been unfairly put out of business.[liv] Some musicians legitimately claimed that creativity and improvisation were stifled in heavily arranged swing,[lv] and they therefore wanted to change the course of jazz history. Finally, others, such as Charlie Parker, simply wished to put a this is mine stamp on what [they were] playing.[lvi] The resulting Be-bop consisted of frantic creativity and innovation.[lvii] Jazz was now considered art instead of entertainment. One interesting aspect of this changed mentality was the rejection of jazz dancing. The figure to the right depicts young musicians in 1958 playing for listeners only, an idea transcending from Be-bops earlier belonging to the nightclub instead of the ballroom. Max Kaminsky, a Swing musician, was disappointed by the Be-bop change and offered some valuable insights regarding music history:

    Jazz, like Dr. Frankenstein, had all unwittingly created a monster in its own image""the jazz addict""who, in becoming all hopped up aboutits significance as an art form, very nearly snuffed the life out of it [J]azz no longer belonged to the musicians and the dancers; it was taken over lock, stock and barrel by the fans, the addicts, the record collectors, the amateur critics, the recording companies, the promoters, the nightclub owners, the A&R men, the lecturers and writers. These were the people who now decided what was jazz and what wasnt, who dictated how it should be played and on what instrument, and specified who could or could not play real jazz.[lviii] The creation of Be-bop, however, was not all about the end of jazz dancing or the creation of a more intellectual music. Historical events building up in the early 1940s contributed significantly to Be-bop as well. The Recording Ban of 1942 and World War II both significantly affected Be-bop.

    The Recording Ban of 1942, a congressional law deliberately handicapping the recording industry, had two significant effects on the industry, both of which supported Be-bops birth. The ban had been issued in order to protect the financial situations of Swing bands put out of business by the brutally selective jukebox recording companies, through which only a minority of bands was able to achieve success.[lix] Although the Recording Ban may have helped distribute orchestras earnings more equally, as more bands were hired for live music, in the broader picture, Swing music suffered from a resulting inability to publicize or profit from recording. While the AFM recording ban may not have been the official end of the Big Band era it was the straw that broke the camel's back.[lx] The second effect of the Recording Ban related more specifically to Be-bop. Because the recording industry suffered so disastrously and indefinitely, the large label Decca finally capsized in late 1943.[lxi] The resulting lack of competition allowed new independent labels specializing in jazz to open, agreeing to the same difficult terms that Decca had agreed to. These new ambitious labels began to search in earnest for new faces and new sounds.[lxii] Be-bop, the hip, new, creative jazz took Swings place in the recording industry.

    World War II, the major international event of the time, affected Big Band Swings fall in several ways. The war depleted bands of their personnel[lxiii] through the drafting of the musicians among American men[lxiv] and Big Bands suffered special transportation costs because of gasoline rationing and wartime transportation restrictions.[lxv] [A] shortage of shellac needed for the manufacture of phonograph discs[lxvi] led to decreased record sales so that recording orchestras suffered financially. Finally, World War II dealt a purely economic blow to the Big Bands because of wartime musician union strikes resulting from low pay and special taxes imposed in dance halls.[lxvii]

    Big Band Swing may not have lasted long, but it certainly has had lasting impressions on Americas music. As the most popular of all jazz forms, Swing was able to reach out to the masses. It enabled musicians to express themselves to a vast audience. But perhaps even transcending the confines of jazz, Swing opened up a world of music for Americans. It established a mass system of radios, jukeboxes, records, and ballrooms, and it helped lead into an era of nightclubs and concert halls. Swing not only gave birth to modern jazz, it sparked a musical America.



    [ i ] Jeff Taylor. The Early Origins of Jazz in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press,
    2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 39-52. p.42


    [ii] Ibid p.39

    [iii] Riis, Thomas L. New York Roots: Black Broadway, James Reese Europe, Early Pianists in The Oxford
    Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.55

    [iv] Jeff Taylor. The Early Origins of Jazz in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University
    Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 39-52. p.44

    [v] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Early Jazz

    [vi] Jeff Taylor. The Early Origins of Jazz in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University
    Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 39-52. p.44

    [vii] Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz. (London: Continuum, 2001) p.216

    [viii] Ibid

    [ix] Ibid p.219

    [x] Riis, Thomas L. New York Roots: Black Broadway, James Reese Europe, Early Pianists in The Oxford
    Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.51-2

    [xi] Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz. (London: Continuum, 2001) p.216

    [xii] Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. The Minstrel Show. 2006. Accessed May
    7, 2007.

    [xiii] Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. The Minstrel Show. 2006. Accessed May
    7, 2007.

    [xiv] Ibid

    [xv] Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. The Minstrel Show. 2006. Accessed May
    7, 2007.

    [xvi] Geoffrey C. Ward. Jazz A History of Americas Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). p.64

    [xvii] Ibid p.55

    [xviii] Jeff Parker. The Big Band Era And The Rise In Popularity Of Big Band Music - The History of Jazz Music
    Parts I and II.

    [xix] Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz. (London: Continuum, 2001) p.237

    [xx] Ibid p.265

    [xxi] Ibid p.266

    [xxii] Geoffrey C. Ward. Jazz A History of Americas Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). p.65. In the
    musics early stages, the spellings jazz and jass were interchangeable.

    [xxiii] Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. The Minstrel Show. 2006. Accessed May
    7, 2007.

    [xxiv] Frederick Lewis Allen. The Big Change " America Transforms Itself 1900-1950 (New York: Harper &
    Brothers Publishers, 1952). p.182

    [xxv] Riis, Thomas L. New York Roots: Black Broadway, James Reese Europe, Early Pianists in The Oxford
    Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.53

    [xxvi] Ibid p.55

    [xxvii] Ibid

    [xxviii] Ibid p.56

    [xxix] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Swing

    [xxx] Charles Nanry. The Jazz Text (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1979). p.164

    [xxxi] Geoffrey C. Ward. Jazz A History of Americas Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). p.63-4

    [xxxii] Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz (London: Continuum, 2001) p.309

    [xxxiii] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Swing

    [xxxiv] Jeff Parker. The Big Band Era And The Rise In Popularity Of Big Band Music - The History of Jazz
    Music Part II.

    [xxxv] Alan Brinkley. American History: A Survey (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1999). p.752

    [xxxvi] Prescott Hill, K. Liberatore, and J. Greene. Our Century 1920 (New York: Lake Pub Co. 1989). p.20

    [xxxvii] Jeff Parker. The Big Band Era And The Rise In Popularity Of Big Band Music - The History of Jazz
    Music Part II.

    [xxxviii] Prescott Hill, K. Liberatore, and J. Greene. Our Century 1920 (New York: Lake Pub Co. 1989). p.20

    [xxxix] Jeff Parker. The Big Band Era And The Rise In Popularity Of Big Band Music - The History of Jazz
    Music Part II.

    [xl] Ibid

    [xli] Ibid

    [xlii] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Swing


    [xliii] Riis, Thomas L. New York Roots: Black Broadway, James Reese Europe, Early Pianists in The Oxford
    Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.55

    [xliv] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Swing


    [xlv] Geoffrey C. Ward. Jazz A History of Americas Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). p.64

    [xlvi] Jeff Parker. The Big Band Era And The Rise In Popularity Of Big Band Music - The History of Jazz Music
    Part II.

    [xlvii] Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz (London: Continuum, 2001). p.288

    [xlviii] Riis, Thomas L. New York Roots: Black Broadway, James Reese Europe, Early Pianists in The Oxford
    Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.55

    [xlix] Michael Joseph Youmans. The Bebop Revolution (B.A. diss., Harvard College, 1986).

    [l] Scott Yanow. Swing (San Fransisco: Miller Freeman Books, 2000). p.461
  • Alyn Shipton. A New History of Jazz (London: Continuum, 2001). p.443

    [lii] Ibid p.444

    [liii] Scott DeVeaux. The Advent of Bebop in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University
    Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 292-304. p.293

    [liv] Charles Nanry. The Jazz Text (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1979). p.173-4

    [lv] Ibid p.173

    [lvi] Ibid p.168

    [lvii] Ibid p.169

    [lviii] Geoffrey C. Ward. Jazz A History of Americas Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). p.370

    [lix] Scott DeVeaux. The Advent of Bebop in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University
    Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 53-63. p.299

    [lx] The 1942 Recording Ban And The ASCAP / BMI War. http://www.swingmusic.net/
    Big_Band_Era_Recording_Ban_Of_1942.html

    [lxi] Scott DeVeaux. The Advent of Bebop in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University
    Press, 2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 292-304. p.299

    [lxii] Ibid

    [lxiii] The 1942 Recording Ban And The ASCAP / BMI War.


    [lxiv] James Patrick. Charlie Parker in The Oxford Companion to Jazz (New York: Oxford University Press,
    2000). edited by Bill Kirchner, 316-31. p.316

    [lxv] Ibid

    [lxvi] Ibid

    [lxvii] Dr. David Schroeder. Jazz History " Swing



    Bibliography

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    Center for History and New Media, George Mason University. The Minstrel Show. 2006. Accessed May
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  • Chuck Koton wrote on August 25, 2007 report

    hey jack, how you can call yourself a jazz fan and admit you never cared for sonny rollins is perplexing...to be in the same state as rollins, let alone the same small city, and not attend his concert is enough to have you banned from jazz venues...at least there's not much chance of me running into you as you are more likely to be in the audience for john fedchock than one of the music's legends...

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