The Geography of JazzWhen 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 patronson both sides of the Atlantichelped 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, cakewalkwith its oompah rhythmwas 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.