All About Jazz

Home » Articles » Under the Radar

Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

31

Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe

Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe
Karl Ackermann By

Sign in to view read count

The Geography of Jazz—When Jazz Met Europe

In 2004 Maureen Anderson, a researcher at Illinois State University contributed a dissertation to the journal, African American Review, titled The White Reception of Jazz in America. Ostensibly, her article deals with stories published in high profile periodicals and journals from 1917 and into the 1930s, written by white arts critics and academics, describing jazz in the most hysterical, racist, demeaning and inflammatory terms. A well-known newspaper columnist in the early 1900s, George Ade, went so far as to emphatically state that if the white musician Paul Whiteman were playing jazz, it was "agreeable" music; if a black musician played the same music, it was objectionable noise. Based on the critics of that time, it is difficult to know if the aberrance toward jazz was based on anything more than its African roots. In Western Europe, racial discrimination was less prevalent; reactions to the new music, more thoughtful, balanced and analytical.

Jazz, broadly viewed as a genre that was fully realized in America, had traversed the Atlantic while it was still in its embryonic stage. Innovative rhythms in the form of ragtime, cakewalk, foxtrot and the Charleston entered the lexicon of dance music and many in Europe were electrified at the prospect of a musical revolution. The panic-stricken reaction of numerous conventional classical musicians and patrons—on both sides of the Atlantic—helped fuel a counter-insurgency among open-minded segments of the European population who refused to project the end of an enlightened culture. Well before Louis Armstrong had ushered in the age of modern improvised jazz in the U.S., the music was well on its way to popularity in Europe. At the turn of the twentieth century Western Europe was experiencing an insatiable hunger for American culture and few things stirred European interest more than music that was familiar and distant at the same time. Early on, countries like France, England and Germany were incorporating regional influences into primary jazz forms.

Marches, jigs and polkas were among the most influential of the European styles that fed into the development of ragtime. In the U.S. it was John Philip Sousa who first popularized many of these genres as well as the cakewalk. Originated on slave plantations, the cakewalk's primary origins are believed to be a combination of "The Chalk Line Walk" (about 1850) and the "Ring Shout"; the first derived by Florida slaves from a Seminole Indian processional, the second from the West African Circle Dance, dating back to the 1700s. Some of the mannerisms of the cakewalk dance were related to the quadrille, a European dance from the late 1700s and 1800s that had a structure common with American square dancing. Over time, the slave version of the cakewalk developed into a satire of the mannerisms of Southern white gentry. The parody was lost on white performers whose black-face minstrel shows burlesqued what they thought was an apolitical plantation dance. Context aside, the cakewalk remained popular for decades but unlike the present-day connotation for the word, the dance was hardly simple. Distinct from more urbane ragtime, cakewalk—with its oompah rhythm—was meant for dancing and was more likely to be played by a small ensemble.

In bringing the cakewalk and ragtime to Europe, the importance of black bandleader/pianist James Reese Europe cannot be overstated. The ragtime and early roots-jazz composer, Europe had launched Harlem's Clef Club when he was barely out of his twenties. The club was not a performance venue but a booking agency and union shop. Europe was born the son of slaves in Mobile, Alabama. After the Civil War his family made their way to Washington, D.C. where all four siblings successfully pursued careers in music, in and out of school. Europe moved up to the Tin Pan Alley neighborhood of New York City in 1902, taking advantage of the local music publishing companies and music venues such as John B. Nail's Saloon, Ike Hine's Professional Club and Barron Wilkin's Little Savoy, playing what was termed "Popular Black Music" and ragtime piano, and here, in New York, he established his namesake Society Orchestra.

Tags

Related Video

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Blue Highways and Sweet Music: The Territory Bands, Part II Under the Radar
Blue Highways and Sweet Music: The Territory Bands, Part II
by Karl Ackermann
Published: August 30, 2018
Read Blue Highways and Sweet Music: The Territory Bands, Part I Under the Radar
Blue Highways and Sweet Music: The Territory Bands, Part I
by Karl Ackermann
Published: June 25, 2018
Read State and Mainstream: The Jazz Ambassadors and the U.S. State Department Under the Radar
State and Mainstream: The Jazz Ambassadors and the U.S....
by Karl Ackermann
Published: April 27, 2018
Read Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe Under the Radar
Culture Clubs: Part IV: When Jazz Met Europe
by Karl Ackermann
Published: March 5, 2018
Read Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part III: Kansas City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles & Beyond Under the Radar
Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part III:...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: January 6, 2018
Read Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part II: New York Under the Radar
Culture Clubs: A History of the U.S. Jazz Clubs, Part II:...
by Karl Ackermann
Published: November 7, 2017