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James Reese Europe

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(1881- 1919) Bandmaster and songwriter

James Reese Europe
Image courtesy of Howard University
James Reese Europe studied violin and piano as a child in Washington, then moved to New York (l9O4) where he later became a director for musical comedies. In 1901 he participated in a pioneering public concert of syncopated music presented by the singer and entertainer Ernest Hogan and in 1910 he organized the Clef Club, a black musicians association. Europe's band was the first black group to make recordings (from 1913).

During World War I he won respect with his superb military band, the 369th Infantry, and for his jazz concerts given in France. After returning to the USA in 1919 he embarked on a triumphant tour of the nation and was hailed everywhere for his "gorgeous racket of syncopation and jazzing," but he died during the course of the tour.

Although the few extant recordings of Europe's compositions reflect the ragtime style that was prevalent at the time, contemporary descriptions of his band's performance style indicate that he stood at least, on the threshold of jazz, this is confirmed by his recording of Memphis Blues. When asked about the unique sound of his music, he ascribed it not only to his wildly syncopated rhythms and use of black folk music materials, but also to a special way of producing tones on the wind instruments, particularly the "jazz spasms" of the trombones, the use of mutes, and his bandsmen's desire to "embroider their parts in order to produce new, peculiar sounds." Europe exerted considerable influence on the development of jazz in France and the USA, both through his performances and his role as the mentor of numerous jazz musicians.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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