the Origins of Jazz

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I’m sure by now all new jazz fans think that jazz was originated by Wynton Marsalis and Ken Burns. While both are undisputed champions of  and very knowledgeable about Jazz neither is even remotely near the age to have been ‘there’ at the beginning.

Wynton Marsalis comes from a musical family and grew up in New O. the place most often associated with jazz. Having been to the ‘big easy’ only once, I can attest to its’ mystical charm and very good food. A Latin quarter, opulent Hotels  A streetcar Named Desire; Trolleys to Dixieland, soul, & Jump jazz. All cohabitate in this musical Mecca.

Ken Burns is a documentary film maker. He has numerous production credits & painstaking, at the end of his jazz series, explained what types of equip. were necessary to make the series happen. With most jazz fans, I get the feeling his major sin was omissions and relying too heavily on ‘certain” points of view. I doubt if any group that puts together “the best this, the top 50, 100, etc. or the very popular “Best of all time” must have an agonizing period where the final number must be cut down to a hard choice indeed. My 1st intro to jazz was a boyfriend who liked Dave Brubeck. My mom once almost OD’d on coca cola trying to figure out a Dave B riff on piano. I’d met, earlier, east coast footballers who told me about Horace Silver, but discovering Horace was to be a lifelong experience one which I still find challenging today. The body of his work, the phases, the realizations, the funk, they’re all there in Horace. Another was Art Blakey, Buhania & early jazz inflected Ray Charles. Always outstanding, however from his early Texas hop music to his final elegant duets, he was always a master!

Chapter 1 – Early Jazz


Early jazz began as work songs, a good call & response and the church. Blues began the same way to most jazzists.  Blues is an integral part of jazz. Probably the best of the migrant troubadours was Lead belly recorded extensively by Alan & his Dad John Lomax. Another pioneer to surface was Robert Johnson who wrote only a limited # of tunes, has found a place in blues heaven. I believe the most sophisticated blues man is Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland. He personifies city, urban, gritty turmoil that is at the heart & soul of the blues.

 Blues in jazz, however, took on a more practical form:  the bands of a jazzist became a waltz, or even a lullaby? It depends on the chord structure they use; often referred to as ‘shading’ They became the best in their area which meant moving to other larger area to see whom you can best. Often these bestings were called ‘cutting contests’. Most present day competitions use this same philosophy, however, a cutting contest you call the song play the tune & best the other players. (Middle Amer is always on the move to find better opportunities, etc., elsewhere) Jazz is no different: get on the road hitchhike, bus it, so it was with jazz sights in the large cities. The likes found each other & various types of the genre were born, depending on your apps, was the way or style U followed as black people are at once reviled and loved at the same time. Nothing stopped pick up bands playing where they were allowed. Their major contemporaries were bombarded with alternatives to play “jazz”. But more often heard it more than they could play it. But that didn’t really matter. Some like Paul Whitman & Benny Goodman asked the arrangers & bandleaders from the Harlem ballrooms to show groups how to play Fletcher Henderson & Chuck Webb showed them the way or played the tunes like PW&BG wanted them played. Through the swing ballrooms of Harlem came EH & S Lowe a dear person fine arranger and trumpeter on “Tuxedo Junction:” a town in Alabama. Sammy’s mom & my grandmother, Dee Dee were contemporaries in Birmingham, AL Many moons ago people got tired of their treatment down south and tried to get out as son as poss; there was a mass exodus heading north to St Louis, Chicago, NY & Detroit. I guess one cannot leave the early years without discussing the genius of Louis Armstrong, the subject of an American Masters Retrospect of his life and times and the many musicians still alive that worked with and knew him. A colorful cat; a genius on the trumpet; and his singing has inspired many as he still does today some --------years after his death. Jelly Roll Alan Lomax wrote a definitive study of the man and archives in the Congressional record or wherever the records were made are listenable today, at least I hope so when I get to the Smithsonian, I will hear them.


Chapter 2 Moving North

Dixieland, barrelhouse, etc.

Jazz moved west and east where jobs were becoming more prevalent for Blacks. The Deep South was beginning to run out of funds that had been way plentiful during and after slavery. They were poor now; not unlike Britain was in the 60’s; after colonial zing practically most of the known world, they were suddenly ‘not in charge’. Jazz followed the musical and social trends.Barrel House was synonymous with brothels but actually they sprung up out back roads and usually sold set ups and the music was hot for dancing and sitting outside.

Not one force or dynamic was at work; there were many dynamics  forces to contend with. Chtlin’ circuits sprung up wherever blacks were concentrated in large numbers. Theatres erected in the black ghettos catered to their people. Many of the clubs in the chitlin circuit had organ trios. The club owner only had to pay three musicians instead of 4 because the organist played bass with his/her foot. Much of the early jazz was consumed by drugs (in some cases, it still is) Herb, marajuweeny, pot, and all its many names continued to be the cheap high for most jazz musicians & hip people around the world. Jazz fit in with these types of people quite easily. Jazz has gotten way, way past that stage, however, taking it to a Cecil Taylor state is not a good idea. He may be entertaining to some; but unless you can tap your foot, sway in your seat, dance to it, it doesn’t swing and therefore is not real hard-core, down home relentless jazz.

West Coast jazz late 50’s

 Became synonymous with cool venues where no noise could be heard, just the steady beat of time keeping and ooh blah dee sung softly by the audience timekeepers. Exponents of the west coast school did play a bit softer and weren’t as driven as the east coast musicians but came up with a great crop of locally highly regarded singers who, of course, were frontrunners in this school.  Exponents were Ernie Andrews Joe Greene, Gerald Wilson, Hampton Hawes the Chico Hamilton Red Mitchell, Barney Kessel, & Kenny Burrell. I really think the birth of the big band hard driving came from bands like Gerald Wilson, Don Ellis, of course Stan Kenton, & later Bob Florence the Knapp Pierce & lately, the Clayton Bros. These banks are associated with the West Coast but not necessarily from the West Coast! There’s a difference. Cool meant drugs which most jazz musicians acknowledge as a sign of the times; fame & constant approval and often rejection is a very personal experience. Some even claimed that being ‘high’ improved their playing.  What ever the reason on the east coast as well as the west coast, the 50’s was the beginning of the end for bop due to drugs. I don’t think it’s really gotten over the haze even today with movies extolling the virtues of certain artists; however, there are many unsung heroes who survived and went on to do great things, i.e. Red Rodney, Jerry Mulligan, and a sterling light through this period was the great late Dizzie Gillespie, no druggie in the midst of druggies.

European migration – beginning in the 50’s

Many top name jazz heroes moved to Europe on a temporary basis; many of them found the climate to their liking so they stayed. They blended well with most of the good euro jazz artists who’d always hailed the music; even during the cold war, jazz & Willis Conover did much to promote the art form That was also the beginning of the overseas ‘goodwill’ tours of renowned most white acts on goodwill tours; Meanwhile, the black musicos were being ignored; they’d come down from Harlem and the ghettos left behind by the other immigrants, and were acceptable in the lounges & supper clubs of our cities most elite areas. However, this was slow & usually limited to a small few. The average jazz musician was being ignored; even though they could read music; play any style at any tempo they did not become the radio; TV/movie house band nor were they theatre house bands nor in Las Vegas! This prompted an out flux to places where they loved jazz & black people; France, Spain, Germany & Italy.

Jazz Sets its’ parameters: the 60’s rock & roll 10 jazz 2

What became after this is was a disaster fro the music; it literally went underground; many artists went to Japan as well as other parts of the globe. Rock took over America led by the Beatles and the rest is history!

What is Jazz, What is blues; Rhythm & blues sets the bar very high; only so many will cross into the real jazz promise-land. The way I see it is as I’ve explained earlier there was an early jazz period which spawned gospel & Dixieland. These forms of music were looking for a way to blend the musical genres and produce a hybrid that would appeal to a broader audience; Out of this amalgamation came, country, pop & rhythm & Blues; still not satisfied because all of these genres could be dominated by a few people: James Brown, Ray Charles & many, many doowop groups. Thus came Rock, which could be followed and danced to by the American Bandstand crowd. (A lotta yelling & hand waving and mucho hip waving almost always never in time with the beat)! So now we have rhythm & blues, country went off on where it wanted to be with rednecks & trailer trash where it belonged. (Sorry about that); Pop which wedded Rock, and thanks to the Beatles, became America’s popular music of our time., Again, Unfortunately, I disagree with it’s popularity (if it’s pop it’s popular and if it’s popular, it’s pop sort of a vicious never ending circle of bad mediocre, awful & boring groups from hell. Then there’s jazz, trying to attract an audience that one might say is intelligent enuf to follow the form, like a classically trained musician must learn to follow the forms of composers to understand what they were getting at and why. Jazz embraced blues to offset some of the negativity of being called elitist music. In order to consume this common form of music, jazz began to use blues synonymous with blues but call it blues changes. This settled it all and for a while a glorious while jazz only had to deal with blues changes which was a godsend for musicians to ‘gig’ with one another. Something other forms cannot due only the all know & play the same song. Whereas Blues changes can be played in any key and in any tempo. Simple structure 12 bar, etc. called by leader or organizer. This became the modem to wonderful cutting contests, jam sessions and many, many records where musicos were too ‘busy’ to rehearse. And if they weren’t busy, the needed to get paid!

Listing of Jazz Times Covers 95-97

Other genres

Smooth jazz, Way Out Jazz, etc. These forms existed and will get short shrift here because I’m not into them at all; except maybe Kirk Whalum (have you heard him play “My Funny Valentine?) and the late, super-great Grover Washington, Jr. Third stream jazz a hybrid of classical & jazz mostly with no rhythm, no time, no key, a big mess? And it definitely doesn’t swing!  Don Ellis & his gang of folks were among the innovators; Sun Ra is the ultimate master of the cosmic experience. Used to see him on Sunday afternoons at a venue in Greenwich Village. Everybody was ‘into it”! Other forms exist but will not be touched on here. The jazz magazines are always preaching how something new keeps jazz alive. My thought is keep on swinging is what will keep jazz alive. Classical music has existed and thrives better than jazz with subscriptions and orchestras in every major city, because most people enjoy the classics. That’s what the lexicon of jazz is: Classic be Bop, show tunes the songs of old & how well you can interpret them is by yardstick by which I measure jazz. Some of the more colorful names might be Sun Ra & his Cosmic Arkestra used to perform on Sundays in the afternoon at one of the spots near or in Greenwich Village. They all wore Dashiki’s and the horn players played straight ahead jazz on other gigs. We’d venture to his gig after sitting and sipping mixed drinks at an outdoor styled shop also in the village; so long ago (62-64) that the details are sketchy. Don Ellis was different; his big band was exciting and new But Gerald Wilson was the eventual winner. A great conductor to watch; writes elegant tunes and has the mutual respect of his fellow musicians. Quite a class act!

Singers in Jazz

Unfortunately, Jazz is a male dominated art form and the singers are left to fend for themselves; they get no help from their fellow jazz players. However, a few singers have been able to overcome these unpleasantries and excel and soar!

The greatest ever, Ella Fitzgerald, period. No one else had her clarity of tone, sense of time, perfect pitch & voice like honey ever did, nor ever will in the future. However, to say that she was the only great singer ever, is to do injustice to the other hardworking people who working yesterday & are working today. Carmen McRae was her equal and then some. She had an ability to experience a song as she once said & you would be a believer, instantly. Another pianist like so many good singer of yore, she chose to use the finest musicians she could find rather than do the task herself. We saw her do just that several times. In clubs when she felt like it. Very accomplished and was a real chordist (one who uses and integrates chords with the wisdom of a schooled & seasoned musician. Singer come and go; some give 100% and others succeed giving 25%. Just follow the criteria and you can’t go wrong. Can you swing? Can you sing a popular ballad from the master writers like Berlin, Carmichael, Van Heussen, and Ellington? Can you sing a blues? Can you sit in with a fast blues? Can you do fours? If you can meet this criteria, you can sing jazz for me any day. Dana Owens (Queen Latifa) is on her way. Of course, she won’t probably need to ever sing jazz for a living. Good for her. But after her rendition of the difficult Lush Life, she’s in the club! The club is broad in scope and age; In Europe age is saluted & glorified but in the good ol’ USA, it’s all about getting to the 18-34 yr olds.

Cassandra Wilson diva of Jazz Singers! One of the more trend setting variety, one wonders if she has really paid her ‘jazz singer’ dues as yet. She started out in funk or what ever M’boom is and catapulted a pouty, deep voice into jazz but hey! If Nora Jones can do it……..!

Jazz publication:

Jazz Times’ esteemed editor emeritus, is also an expert it says in print on the 1st amendment. He seems to be more on a soap box than anything else. He’s rather heartless in his diatribes on what is politically correct behavior. However, his last rant on cleaning out the colleges of left wing liberals was a bit far. For a person who has been around people of color almost all of his working life for his livelihood, he seems to have forgotten lo these many years the inability of AA’s to get studio work, pit band work. Less than adequate royalty and studio rates. Yet he feels that even now.  Older Jazz musicians don’t even have health care, no pension, and no social security! This is a pity that he never writes about that. Shame on you & you know who you are!

A Pictorial History in Jazz:

Page 6: Copies of JazzTimes covers during a stay in Spain

Page 8 Cassandra Wilson

This young lady has gotten a lot of press in the Jazz world. She’s different, colorful & yet controversial. I’ve given my definition of a jazz singer and perhaps one day I’ll see her demonstrate same.

 Page 10 The LA Jazz Scene;

Along with the magazines, a gutsy lady started a newspaper style publication in Los Angeles in the late 80’s She had a marvelous sense of theatre and had a serialized version of one of her stories in her newspaper, along with articles, interviews, listings of clubs, etc. 

Page 11 Los Angeles Jazz Scene Honors the “Wig”

One of Los Angeles’ oldest living musicians is Gerald Wiggins. The “Wig” as he doesn’t mind being called was honored for his long service to the Jazz Community. Playing with and for, he has continued his long excellent ways in furthering the careers of the likes of Lena Horne, IC2, The Cunninghams, Ernie Andrews, and countless small combos.

Page 12 Clifford Brown foundation; La Rue Brown Watson, widow of CB oversees a foundation promoting the works and music of her late husband, Clifford Brown, along with her son CB, jr. she has an excellent website promoting all things jazz including Jazz & You for kids at libraries around the country. Go, LaRue!

Page 13  Jazz in Las Vegas @ The Blue Note

The Blue Note They tried, they really tried. However the club was too large; they tried to be to artsy, even though, in my mind, that’s the way to go. However, with tennis shoe wearing visitors that come to Las Vegas, that’s almost impossible. Elegant surroundings emphasize the elegance of the music! Raise the level of consciousness and perhaps they will come. After all, here in Vegas, the more the shows cost, the better people thing they’re going to be! No always so!

Page 14 What is your Jazz IQ?

Take this jazz test & see if you need some review

Page 15 Music Teacher/performer in Las Vegas

There are a few players here in Vegas that teach at local schools & give private lessons. One has had success playing for the LVJS as well as having played with everyone, everywhere. He and his wife are a duo. That’s the 3rd one that I know of. IC2, we’re retired; The Dacs who’re hangin’ in there and the Aikels.

Page 16 Mr. Aikels (cont. ) Wynton Marsalis

Mr. Mouth but thank goodness; He’s the closest person I can come to as an ombudsman; He knows his craft; he is articulate, he is African-American! He is both loved feared & despised.

Personally I think he is and always is, right on target. 

Page 17 Tommy Flanagan, the gentleman of Jazz;

An article in the New Yorker Magazine sums up the great Tommy Flanagan. I don’t know why he passed away, but we lost an awfully large giant of jazz music.

Page 18 Quotes from a  book on Jazz with a forgotten title.

The Jazz Times continues to show it’s true dedication to the Jazz genre by its stellar articles n the giants of jazz. If you don’t know who these people are, you need to get these issues and bring yourself up to date on a music that is totally American in concept, execution and is a true American spawned genre. No R&B, Rock. Classical, etc. Only jazz can make this distinction. Jazz Times is to be commended in their denial of racial stereotypes.  I do wish however, that their writing staff was as colorful as their covers. Perhaps as Minorities  begin to acquire the time to develop leisure, they will come to enjoy their music. and treasure it As many of us already do.There are many magazines, newspapers and the like that have been devoted to jazz; but seldom

have the longevity that the JazzTimes enjoys. NOTE: Obviously all of the print articles mentioned are not included. When I find a way to put in all the jpegs, using as little space as possible, I will gladly include them. A copy of my essays are being printied in book size & will add it to the ic2 Boutique.  Later............. Claudia Thomas, Las Vegas, NV 2013