A Depression Era Guide To New Orleans

New Orleans Music: The Birthplace of Jazz

New Orleans has often been said to be the birthplace of jazz (originally called jass ), the outgrowth of cacophony turned out by spasm bands, which made their appearance in the last decade of the nineteenth century. Playing in front of the theaters, saloons, and brothels of the city, these bands regaled the public with their informal ear music. One of the earliest of these organizations, the Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band/ was composed of such colorfu individuals as Stalebread Charley, Family Haircut, Warm Gravy, Cajun, Whisky, Monk, and Seven Colors. Instruments consisted of a cigar-box fiddle, old kettle, cowbell, pebble-filled gourd, bull fiddle constructed of half a barrel, harmonica, and numer ous whistles and horns. However abhorrent the clamor produced by this assortment of instruments might have seemed to music-loving Orleanians, the band attained sufficient popularity by 1911 to warrant an engagement in New York, where its name was changed to Jazz Band.
Other early bands New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Crescent City Jazzers, Creole Jazz Band, Original Dixie Land Jass Band popularized the new type of hot music and introduced it to the North, where its acceptance in the form of a national craze was instantaneous. The famous Dixie Land Jass Band, composed of five players, none of whom could read or write music, reached the height of its popularity in 1915, when it is said to have serenaded Sarah Bernhardt. In the same year the band started on a tour of the country, aiding in glorifying jazz as the national dance music.

A diversity of influences white and Negro folk music, brass band and military numbers, and French tunes are reflected in jazz. Tiger Rag, for example, is said to be based upon a French quadrille; musicians of the old school can still break it down into the tempi and movements of the original dance form. The clarinet chorus of High Society Blues, practically a definitive form for swing players, derives, supposedly, from the flute passage of a march by John Philip Sousa. The influence of Negro folk music is apparent in the numerous blues that have appeared. Canal Street Blues, Basin Street Blues, Milneburg Joys and other songs celebrate the city and show its influence.

The originality and creativeness of New Orleans composers contributed much to the development of jazz. In its formative stage ; bucking and cutting contests, friendly and informal competitions in improvisation constantly vitalized the new music form, adding originality and variety to a field already rich in unconventionalities. In these contests, which usually were held on the streets of the city or at Milneburg resorts, cornetists of rival bands would cut choruses of tunes until one or the other would throw away his instrument in a gesture of defeat.

Negro jazz, made popular by Louis Armstrong, a New Orleans Negro now credited with being one of the world's greatest trumpeters, deserves mention. Armstrong's success in this field was probably due to his practice of leading or crying up to a note instead of striking it immediately and decisively. His long-drawn-out high notes on the trumpet also added to the weird, bizarre appeal of his music. Armstrong, one of the first exponents of the scat style of singing the substitution of such syllables as da-de-da-da for words is noted principally for his individual technique with the trumpet, one of his most popular recordings being Basin Street Blues. Clarence Williams, remembered for his swing technique on the piano, and now a music publisher in New York, published I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate, composed by A. J. Piron, who conducts an orchestra aboard the steamer Capitol, a pleasure craft and one of the few remaining Mississippi paddle- wheelers.

Other New Orleans Negro composers and exponents of jazz are Henry Allen, Jr., Buster Bailey, Sidney Bechet, Barney Bigard, Johnny Dodds, Jelly-Roll Morton, Joe Oliver, Kid Ory, and Spencer Williams.

Among the prominent white jazz artists are George Brunies, Eddie Edwards, Nick LaRocca, Wingy Mannone, Henry Rogas, Leon Rappolo, Larry Shields, and Tony Sparbaro. Louis Prima, another native son, has won wide acclaim on Broadway, over the radio, and in moving pictures.

A peculiar form of jazz, which has been called the polyphonic, a type concentrating on rhythm and time, also developed in New Orleans. Although never popular, and now almost extinct, it portrays an interesting style of harmony. Very little orchestration is used; three or four melody instruments improvise at once, each playing a solo, and contributing to the whole with an almost perfect sense of balance in relation to the other instruments. The success in such a presentation lies in the strict adherence to rhythm and time on the part of each player.

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