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Midwestern Crossroads1: Americans Old and New2: Midwestern Crossroads3: Southern Fusion4: Louisiana: Where Music is King


Jass, Jasz, and all that Jazz

Context and Background
       No one description of jazz adequately outlines this everchanging music; no definition can pinpoint simply when and where it all began, nor even settle when the name "jazz" took hold over variants like "jass" or "Jasz." The spelling of the word took years stabilize. Jazz represents a multiformity of musical ideas and originating influences.
       African American music forms of slave culture and the black American experience were already shaping this emerging musical idiom (and others) for probably a hundred years. Music of rent and house parties, after work dances, religious song, cries of street vendors, work songs and field hollers, blues, jug bands, and juking are some of the places and art forms formed within African American communities.
       Even before the composed rags of Joplin, Turpin, Scott, and Lamb, in the early 1900s there had existed for nearly two decades "shout piano" or "jig piano." Piano ragging was an improvisational reworking the tempos of known tunes played by ear. Ragging style was applied by the popular virtuoso banjo players, in minstrel show music, in string bands, and for buck dancing. Later, the immense distribution of parlor uprights and player pianos throughout the country allowed ragtime to be easily incorporated into the repertoires of music reading players at home as well as in clubs.
       Jazz's New Orleans roots represent just one stage of growth; it did not simply spring forth as the entertainment of the professional parlors of the Storyville district of New Orleans. The new jazz bore the stamp of Caribbean, Spanish, French, and South American ideas. Although most of the jazz innovators and emulated masters of early jazz were African American, jazz' musical core also incorporates Western European ideas. New Orleans at the turn of the century was home to many music organizations; there were frequent ragtime balls and an availability of brass instruments. Numerous New Orleans Creoles and former slaves were classically trained as well as being accomplished pianists kept busy by the high level of musical activity.
       Missouri played no small role in developing jazz forms. St. Louis was a major stopping off point for musicians headed to New York and Chicago from New Orleans in the 1910s and 20s. Kansas City was on the western edge of the TOBA circuit (Theater Owners Booking Agency, providing bookings for black performers.) It was a major stop for the travelling musicians on a circuit already established by earlier minstrel shows, carnivals, and vaudeville acts where mainstay blues performers such as Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith, and Bessie Smith performed for the mainstream. Kansas City also became home to musicians when tours disbanded which brought no less a contributor than Count Basie to Kansas City when his band broke up.
       Publishing in Sedalia ushered in the smashing success of Scott Joplin's Mapleleaf Rag in 1899 selling a million copies, a first in the publishing industry, and the mutually supportive relationships between entertainers, businessmen, and city officials created the so called "wide open" cities. This generated a context of ample work for musicians in Sedalia when it was a major railhead, and Kansas City, during the Pendergast regime. Work meant, then as now, in any genre, being exposed to outside musical ideas, other artists, and having ample occasion to invent and develop performance and stylistic ideas.
       Jazz was immensely popular as dance music (until the 1940s when bop came in,) and in rural areas, bands regularly played at road houses, dance clubs, movie theaters, juke joints, and vaudeville stops. Bands nurtured enthusiasm for dance and influenced other genres while the bands themselves developed regional styles. The jazz that flourished in Kansas City in the 1930s was so influential it came to be known as Kansas City style. This style swept the nation because of its swing and upbeat, danceable drive, and strong sense of rhythm around which riffs were improvised. St. Louis hosted the development of key blues and rhythm and blues players.
       Leadership still emanates from these cities. In St. Louis the formation in 1968 of The Black Musicians Group (BAG) created a nucleus of musicians devoted to fostering the creativity and livelihoods of not strictly bop musicians by assisting with promotion, concerts, and recording. Kansas City has a Jazz Commission as part of city government. Both cities have jazz and blues organizations and host outstanding jazz and blues festivals and concerts throughout the year.

Program Offerings:

       The elder statesmen of Kansas City jazz who grew up during the 30s and 40s polishing their skills with legendary jazzmen who made Kansas City a home base present the style known for being upbeat, light, and swinging. Numbers include vocal choruses punctuating the instrumental sections and ballads. Programs are meant for dancing as well as listening. In addition, Alaadeen and colleagues do workshops focusing on technique, improvisation, and illustrate the interrelationships of band members. Their message is that the tradition is not a historic artifact, that instead, "Kansas City jazz is alive and thriving." Presenting artists: Alaadeen and the Deans of Swing; Speedy Huggins and the Scamps.
       Solo instrumental traditions of the clubs and neighborhoods are performed by artists who, in their early years, emulated the older masters putting in hours playing side by side with them at sessions. Performances feature trumpet, clarinet, or trombone in trios or quartets. Presenting artists: Carmell Jones; Earlie Braggs; Jerry Epperson.
       Vocalists present blues and jazz vocals accompanied by trios, solo piano or Jazz singers tell the story of the Kansas City and St. Louis jazz and blues communities with accounts of personal experiences and remembrances of performances in their lives as working artists. Dance bands play early jazz instrumentals and vocals. Presenting artists: Mae Wheeler, Speedy Huggins and the Scamps.
       A long time colleague of Henry Townsend, Leroy Pierson provides drive and down home blues with a good dose of blues history. A master of blues guitarist, he brings a diverse repertoire and much knowledge to his performances. Presenting artist: Leroy Pierson,
       A tight band whose members absorbed the performances of touring jazz celebrities in the 50s and 60s stopping at Columbia roadhouses, half way point between dates in Kansas City and St. Louis, Chump Change has played together for years. They are a high energy, upbeat blues band with a repertoire with lots of vocals. Presenting artists: The Chump Change Band
       Richard Martin, as a dancer and master jazz tap dance teacher, illustrates the many cultural contact points and contexts generating American popular dance forms. The cross-cultural sources reveal themselves in foot movements, body postures, rhythms, and verbal interactions which Mr. Martin vividly illustrates. He comments on dance origins and compares dance elements. Martin electrifies dance routines by calling out dance directions to his proteges as they are dancing which they spontaneously put into action. Precision routines ricochet back and forth between performers who play off each other, recreating the competitive context of street dancing of former days and giving audiences an exciting look at the creative process in dance.
       Scat singing is presented in the context in which it originated: as music for the dance when no instruments were at hand. The lively, crisp vocables of Richard Martin's scatting drives the beat for jazz tap dancing and interlocks teacher and dancer as directions to the dancers are inserted into the scat routine. Presenting artists: Richard Martin, Wallace Robinson, Alan McLead, Byron Williams (dancers); Bob Ault (piano and banjo accompaniment).
       Early jazz traditions, dixieland, the more relaxed tempos of New Orleans jazz, and novelty songs of the 1920s and 30s and are presented by the Storyville Stompers. Band leader Butch Antal grew up in St. Louis, absorbing the technique of the older musicians when as a teenager he sneaked out to hear artists playing in the Gaslight District. Antal describes the importance of the aural learning process by saying, Unless you've heard it, you can't perform it: learning note for note cannot transmit the musical nuances that define styles. Presenting artists: Storyville Stompers
       Performer and researcher Bob Ault demonstrates the many sizes, intriguing shapes, and soft sounds of early banjos and banjo cellos. He explains evolving styles and the musical settings for the popular banjo. Turning to the piano, Mr. Ault plays classic and folk rags and will take popular tunes and illustrates the process of "ragging" the tempos. Presenting artist: Bob Ault

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