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Ian Koll History Of Jazz Paper Wolf 11/13/11 Jazz, Race, And The Quest for Authenticity Prior

to the thirteenth amendment, which marked the legal end of slavery1, black slaves fought for what little rights they had by any means that were available to them. This struggle for a social identity, which had no documented starting date, marked the beginning of a newly forming black culture, and became both the basis and a reference point for the majority of the artistic works that would be produced by blacks in the decades to come. Many of these contributions to black culture would come in the form of music, which stemmed from the traditional tribal music brought to America by the African slaves, and manifested itself in the form of field hollers, work songs and spirituals. These songs, which were frequently banned by slave owners to prevent the risk of revolt, allowed the slaves to both connect with one another and escape some of the hardships their stressful work entailed. Many critics of these early forms of black music disregarded the music as merely circumstantial, and that none of the innovations were truly black in nature. George S. Schuyler argued against this black art by stating, If one wishes to speak of the musical contributions of the peasantry of the south, very well. Any group under similar circumstances would have produced something similar. It is merely a coincidence that this peasant class happens to be of a darker hue than the other inhabitants of the land.2 Less forgiving critics such as Johann Tonsor disparage the innovations of black musicians altogether,

Mintz, S. (2007). The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery: Abolition. Digital History. 2 George S. Schuyler, The Negro-Art Hokum, Nation 122 (June 16, 1926): 6623.

saying To one who has passed his childhood in the South, no music of the world is so tenderly pathetic, so wildly, uncouthly melancholic, so fraught with an overpowering heinweh [sic], as that of the Negroes.3 Nevertheless, these slave-born musical innovations would later become the building blocks of one of the largest contributions to American popular music in history: the creation of jazz. Unbeknownst to many whites at the time, early jazz music carried many of the sentimental and spiritual aspects of slave culture with it, and as such was an art form held very dear to many blacks who both performed and listened to it. In the words of Dr. Ruth Katz: First of all, this music is the cultural and spiritual tool and means by which the journey of an entire group of people is chronicled. Second, jazz is the repository of how our ancestors were able to maintain life's energy in the face of inhuman treatment by one group of humans, toward another group. The Holocaustic aberration of slavery is contained within jazz music, in other words, jazz is the symbolic record of our evolution as a people, that describes our development from bondage to freedom. Thus, this particular musical creation has the potential, any time that is heard, played, or talked about, to bring forth very intense reactions.4 For that reason, it has been debated as to whether or not black ingenuity in early jazz necessitates authenticity, or if traditional African influence was merely one piece of the stylistic qualities of jazz. The earliest roots of jazz can be traced back to New Orleans, in the Creole sections of the city. Often referred to as Dixieland jazz due to the popularity of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which was a popular outfit of white jazz performers during the early 20th century, this style of jazz merged influences from many separate forms of music. These musical influences

Johann Tonsor, Negro Music 1892 Katz, M. Ruth Mark. "The Significance of Jazz (African Rhythms) In Our Community." Drums of Change, Drums of Spirit

included the aforementioned rhythm of tribal African music and the harmony of popular European forms of music. The African music supplied much of the underlying beat to jazz, and introduced a feature to the music that would become pivotal to the definition of jazz: polyrhythm. Polyrhythm, or the simultaneous sounding of two (or more) independent rhythms, was an integral part of traditional Sub-Saharan African music, and gave jazz its beat. The European contribution was seen in the form of danceable melodies, which, when combined with polyrhythm, gave jazz its iconic swing sound. The Creole innovators who brought both styles together became renowned throughout Louisiana for their contributions to music. Nevertheless, after the Civil War, many Creoles with African ancestors (also referred to as Creoles of color,) were required to undergo the same racial scrutiny as ex slaves as provided by the Louisiana Legislative Code of 1894. Forced to move to the more impoverished side of Canal Street, the Creoles of color continued to experiment with jazz music, and eventually gained fame in the New Orleans music scene. The clashing of different races and cultures helped fuel the popularization of jazz, and gained the genre an increasing number of black patrons, who were excited to see a genre of music stemming from African roots. After its establishment, jazz gained much of its popularity and cultural following in New Orleanss red light district, which was named Storyville5 after the municipal court member Sidney Story, who, through his connections to the citys legislature, helped established the district. Originally intended to help contain the rampant spread of prostitution throughout the city, Storyville was characterized by seedy establishments that ranged from inexpensive whorehouses to much nicer, more expensive brothels. It was customary for these houses to have some form of live musical entertainment, which gave jazz bands an opportunity to have their music heard.

Weinstock, Len. "The Origins of Jazz." Red Hot Jazz.

There were also dedicated dance halls in the district, which granted many emerging jazz bands publicity. Because the district was located near one of the citys major railroads, many travelers who were looking for prostitutes had their first exposure to jazz music in Storyville.6 Storyville thrived for several decades, and many notable jazz musicians began their careers there. Jelly Roll Morton, a Creole of color, was a fixture of Storyville, and is credited with producing the first jazz composition in 1915, entitled Jelly Roll Blues.7 Morton, despite his contributions to the jazz community, was notoriously renowned as arrogant by his peers in the music industry, and this detracted from his credibility as a performer, going so far as to claim that he himself invented jazz in 1902. While this was far from the truth, Jelly Roll Morton helped bring jazz to the mainstream, and gave it the publicity it required to break out of Storyville and eventually move north. Other important black jazz musicians of the time were Louis Armstrong and Charles Buddy Bolden, who would soon be regarded as seminal figures in the development and popularization of jazz. Storyville, like many of the countrys red light districts, was shut down in 1917 (shortly after the US entered World War I,) when the US Army took a stance against prostitution in an effort to keep soldiers strong and disease free. Soon many of the jazz musicians who had played in Storyville would move north, in search of both work and a better life as promised by the great migration. The Great Migration was a massive cultural movement in which hundreds of thousands of black southerners migrated from plantations to northern cities in search of a better life. In 1910, three out of every four black Americans lived on farms, and nine out of ten lived in the South. World War I changed that profile. Hoping to escape tenant farming, sharecropping, and peonage, 1.5 million Southern blacks moved to cities. During the 1910s and 1920s, Chicago's
6 7

Weinstock, Len. "The Origins of Jazz." Red Hot Jazz. Ibid

black population grew by 148 percent; Cleveland's by 307 percent; Detroit's by 611 percent.8 This enormous movement of Southern blacks to urban cities brought with them many African American cultural innovations, including jazz, which was beginning to gain nation-wide popularity. The Great Migration was a response to the insurmountable social injustice and racism Southern blacks were subjected to in the South, and, through the migration, blacks were able to leave their homes in search of a better life free of oppression. The significance of this movement was seen in the immense concentration of ambitious blacks, who located themselves in communities where they could encourage each other to succeed. This newfound sense of optimism from the Great Migration fueled a wave of artistic and intellectual innovation in the emerging black communities, the most notable of which was the Harlem Renaissance, which began in the 1920s in Harlem, New York and was a direct result of the Great Migration. Harlem had, merely 15 years earlier, been an entirely white neighborhood, but with the massive influx of European immigrants and blacks through the migration, most of the neighborhoods white occupants moved out in search of a more racially homogenous location. Because of this, Harlem became a predominately black neighborhood, and soon became the center of a rapidly emerging black culture. Over 200,000 blacks lived in Harlem after the Great Migration, and this large concentration of blacks helped spread the newly forming sense of black identity throughout the city, which created the opportunity for jazz to become universally adopted as the music of the Harlem Renaissance. After the abolishment of Storyville, the newly emerging hubs of jazz were Chicago and New York, most specifically in Harlem. Jazz musicians who moved from New Orleans found a new home in these cities, and helped bring jazz to the rapidly urbanizing metropolitan landscape.

Mintz, S. (2007). The Jazz Age: The American 1920s. Digital History. Retrieved Dec 04 2011 from

It was in these cities that Jazz began to truly become a fixture of American popular music. Despite the newfound popularity Jazz enjoyed, many were disdainful of the controversial genres message, which was associated with debauchery. After the ratification of the eighteenth amendment, which outlawed the sale, consumption, and transportation of alcohol, alcohol became a highly prized, and highly illegal commodity. Prohibition caused an increase of organized crime and black market industry, which brought many of the nations derelicts underground, where alcohol was bought and sold illegally. Underground bars, called Speakeasies, were in constant competition to gain the upper hand in the illicit sale of alcohol, and would often hire live entertainment to have an edge on competitors. These forms of live entertainment were often jazz bands. The presence of jazz music in the urban underground gained the genre both fame and resentment, with many of the promoters of the prohibition movement attempting to discredit jazz music as immoral, contemptible music. A columnist for the New York Times wrote about the correlation between prohibition and the emerging jazz culture, stating:

The prohibition amendment, as I am informed, has not quite revolutionized the ethics or the morals of the American people. It is odd, is it not, that the very same persons who deplore the American people's blind devotion to an antiquated character of government should be the persons who think that the spirit of America is jazz.9

Despite the social stigma that prohibition placed on jazz, Speakeasies and the outlawing of alcohol proved to be invaluable to the spread of jazz music, and helped the fledgling genre gain nationwide notoriety. Not surprisingly, alcohol played a large role in the bifurcation of whites

About Books, More or Less: In the Matter of Jazz, The New York Times, February 18, 1922

and blacks, with white anti-alcohol advocates casting aspersions on black jazz musicians on the assumption that jazz music, due to its connection to alcohol and lewd social dancing, was detrimental towards society. Jazz quickly gained an immensely large following in the black community, and with social movements like the Harlem Renaissance in full affect, jazz had already become a household name. Many jazz clubs opened in urban cities and offered listeners a safe atmosphere in which they could dance and relax. Clubs like the Savoy Ballroom and Barrons Exclusive Club became notable during the era for the large number of African-American musicians they showcased. A great many of these clubs, however, catered to a white-only clientele, reminiscent of the Jim Crow and segregation laws that had become synonymous with the time. One such club, the Cotton Club, was famed for showcasing many rising black jazz musicians; and yet was only open to whites. Louis Armstrong, who at the time was hailed as one of the worlds greatest trumpeters10, made a name for himself in these clubs after leaving Storyville, playing music that brought the traditional spirit of African heritage back to the jazz scene- a trait that was beginning to be forgotten due to the commercialization of the genre. Despite the fact that Armstrong played to a predominately white audience during the height of his fame, he incorporated many pro-black messages into his lyrics, which gained him favor on both sides of the racial spectrum. Most notably, in 1929 he recorded a version of Black And Blue, a song originally composed by Fats Waller for his Broadway musical Hot Chocolates.11 The song includes the lyrics My only sin, is in my skin. What did I do, to be so black and blue?12 Such overt lyrics were controversial for a


"Louis Armstrong Billed Wednesday." The Atlanta Constitution (1881-1945), Jul 21, 1935. 5B, 11 Teichroew, Jacob. "Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement: How Jazz Musicians Spoke Out for Racial Equality." 12 Louis Armstrong And His Orchestra, (What Did I Do To Be) Black And Blue, OKeh Electric, 1929, Shellac.

black musician in a time of such racial segregation, and carried a heavy message to his preponderantly white audience. Due to his staunch belief in racial equality, and his appreciation for the traditional roots of jazz, Armstrong was credited as being a standard by comparison in determining authentic jazz music, and would later influence many artists who would carry his message in an effort to bring racial tolerance to jazz music. By the early 1920s, jazz had become a genre enjoyed and performed by both whites and blacks, and the racial lines became nebulous. Gone were the days of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who produced the first recorded jazz piece in early 1917, whos access to recording equipment was largely based on their race and social status. In fact, whites did many of the earliest of jazz recordings, as they had access to equipment, as well as being a favorable alternative to black musicians in the publics eye. During this time, however, both black and white jazz artists were beginning to gain supporters, and racial tension grew as a bifurcation occurred between the audiences of black and white jazz artists. Historically, black/white relations were characterized by varying levels of dominance, with the white elite insistent on expressing to blacks that the only way they would every truly attain humanity was through emulating white society. With the popularization of jazz, though, the tables had figuratively turned, and white musicians were desperately trying to recreate the black sound of jazz. Paul Samuel Whiteman, an influential white jazz musician of the time, attempted to bridge the gap between white and black jazz musicians by working together with black performers as much as was possible in a time of such rampant racial segregation and prejudice. Born in 1890, Whiteman became a prominent bandleader during the 1920s, and did his best to incorporate black talent into his bands and performances. This was socially unacceptable to many people, and in many Southern states, even illegal. Jim Crow laws, which were designed to segregate blacks from whites, had been in

effect since 1878, and allowed club owners to decide whether or not to allow mixed-race performances. Much to the distaste of his management, Whiteman encouraged black musical talent, although he was eventually persuaded to stop such behaviors, as they would be detrimental to his public image. Nevertheless, he continued to support black talent, and eventually collaborated with up-and-coming arranger James Fletch Henderson, an African American pianist who would later influence swing jazz. Whitemans dedication to incorporate black artists into his acts made him renowned as being truly dedicated to the advancement of jazz, gaining him recognition from both white and black artists. Due to both his popularity and his race, Whiteman was referred to by the media as The King of Jazz, a title that calls into question the racial tendencies of mass media at a time of such rampant segregation. Many whites throughout the time period harbored a great distaste for jazz, viewing it as equally primitive to the music that inspired it. In a sermon delivered to The Church of Ascension, Rev. Percy Stickney Grant asked his fellowship what jazz was, before responding with A music of animal noises which makes you want to chatter and twist your tail around a tree. It is going back to the tom-tom and the beating upon a hollow log of savage times for music. It is a gesture of the devil- jazz goes back to the jungle."13 This was not an uncommon belief for white gentry, who held the racially intolerant belief that their society was being overtaken by black culture, and that they would soon be in competition with blacks on the social scale. This caused an extreme backlash of racial prejudice, and white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan gained a massive following. Started in 1915 and known as the Second Klan, the KKK gained over four million members during the early 1920s14, as disillusioned blacks that had become accustomed to fairer wages and proper treatment on the home front during World War I angered
13 14

Some Further Opinions on Jazz by Prominent Writers, Metronome, August, 1922 Ruen, Millie. "History Of The 2nd. Klan." Putnam Voice.

whites. The KKK was merely one outlet for this racial hatred- but no matter how the hatred was inflicted, black jazz musicians were treated exceptionally poorly during this time period, and were often not allowed to perform alongside whites at all. Some attempted to characterize jazz as a sexually deviant style of music. An article run in the Cleveland Advocate entitled Farewell, Jazz stated The dancing masters of the country have ruled that "The Shimmy" must go. They claim that it is vulgar- because of the contortions of the body neccessary to produce the proper effect, and to make a dancer of "The Shimmy" reach the acme of perfection, are too suggestive. And further: Some dancing masters are insistent on regulating the famous "Jazz" music to the limbo of the past, because this particular music provokes one to Shimmy.15 By spreading the message that jazz music was immoral and societally damaging, many cities attempted to regulate it. One seminal white artist who attempted to break such racial barriers was Benjamin David Benny Goodman. Goodman, who became successful during the late 1920s and early 1930s, was influential in that he, much like Paul Whiteman, was fond in including African American talent in the bands that he lead. Significant for promoting one of the first well known racially integrated jazz bands, Goodman was a strong supporter of African American ingenuity in jazz music. Credited with being the impetus for the swing movement of the 1930s (a time in which big band swing music had a rapid spike in listenership, eventually becoming the nations most popular form of music), Goodman, much like Whiteman in the decade before him, was praised by media- in this case, Goodman was heralded as The King of Swing. The media at the time often painted white musicians in a more favorable light, as segregation was still a serious issue,

"Farewell, Jazz." Cleveland Advocate, September 09, 1919

and blacks did not receive the same rights that whites did. Regardless, Goodman fervently supported the notion of integrated bands, and hired such black performers as Teddy Wilson, who performed with the Benny Goodman Trio, Lionel Hampton with the Benny Goodman Quartet, and Charlie Christian with other associated acts and ensembles.16 The inclusion of colored performers into his bands was monumental, and helped cause a shift in opinion towards the separation of black and white performers. He also gained support from both sides of the racial spectrum, which helped him claim an authentic jazz sound within the music circuit. While Benny Goodman was not as involved in the early jazz movement, his contributions to the genre are substantial, and helped end much of the segregation that had plagued the jazz music scene since its earliest inception. Race relations proved to be one of the most heavily disputed aspects of the history of jazz. Many argue that true jazz is not complete without the presence of traditional African musical innovations, and that jazz is truly a black art form. Nevertheless, many white performers saw huge success in performing jazz, partly due to the power of the media to portray them in a favorable light, and partly because those musicians were dedicated to both preserving and advancing the genre of jazz forward. In response to jazz musics racially volatile history, jazz singer Nina Simone, who was referred to as The High Priestess of Soul, said during the civil rights movement of the early 1960s that "Jazz is a white term to define black people. My music is black classical music."17 That said, it was a shared desire for many artists, both black and white performers alike, to play together on stage without the implications of any law or social expectation dictating them otherwise. It is for that reason that, as a whole, jazz musicians got
16 17

Benny Goodmans Official Website. Biography. "Nina Simone."

along, and both races were able to add creativity to the genre that would only be possible through collaboration. It is for that reason that, while the most traditional examples of early jazz require an emphasis on African innovation to be described as authentic, authenticity is merely a socially agreed upon construct, and, as such, both races contributed to the qualities that make jazz authentic. Without African American contributions, jazz would be void of the iconic polyrhythm and beat that helped define it. Without the contributions of white jazz artists, however, jazz would not have gained such a mainstream acceptance, and many of the black jazz artists who contributed to the genre in its earliest origins would have been overlooked. The white artists who helped bring jazz to the publics eye often credited blacks as the inspiration for their music, which helped both races receive recognition. While African innovation was a necessary component of producing the famed jazz sound, both black and white artists alike contributed to the authentic jazz sound as the genre evolved and fragmented into different styles and subgenres. Without the presence of racial intolerance and segregation during the earliest years of jazz, the genre would have been a holistically collaborative genre, with both whites and blacks contributing to the musical milieu as they saw appropriate.

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(accessed September 24, 2011). Katz, M. Ruth Mark. "The Significance of Jazz (African Rhythms) In Our Community." Drums of Change, Drums of Spirit. (accessed October 2, 2011). Mintz, S. "The Jazz Age: The American 1920s." Digital History. (accessed September 24, 2011). Mintz, S. The Origins and Nature of New World Slavery: Abolition. Digital History. (accessed October 19th, 2011). Morgan, Thomas L. "Jazz, The First Thirty Years." Jass. (accessed September 24, 2011). Newman, Scott A. "Chicago Race Riot of 1919." Jazz Age Chicago. (accessed September 24, 2011). Ruen, Millie. "History Of The 2nd. Klan." Putnam Voice. (accessed December 5, 2011). Schuller, Gnther. Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968. Sweetman, Ron. Recording Activity in New Orleans in the Twenties: A Discography of a Decade in the Crescent City. Teichroew, Jacob. "Jazz and the Civil Rights Movement: How Jazz Musicians Spoke Out for Racial Equality." (accessed December 5, 2011). Weinstock, Len. "The Origins of Jazz." Red Hot Jazz. (accessed December 4, 2011).