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
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.
KANSAS CITY STYLE & JAZZ DANCE BANDS
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.
TROMBONE, and CLARINET
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;
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,
RHYTHM AND BLUES
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
JAZZ TAP DANCE
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).
NEW ORLEANS, DIXIELAND, AND RAGTIME
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
RAGTIME BANJO AND PIANO
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