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Eh, La Bas (3:00)

Songwriter:
Traditional
Performed by:
Wooden Joe Nicholas from "Wooden Joe Nicholas" recorded 1945

That's a Cajun song. They played a lot of the Cajun songs. It's got a lot of, well, not exactly French, but French influence. Everything was mixed together. They were just playing the popular music of the day. "Eh, La Bas" was a popular tune of New Orleans and so they played it. In the early days of jazz the black musicians were trying to copy the white man's dance music, but they didn't have the training, they didn't study music so they didn't know how do it, so they improvised on it. And out of that attempt -- which was, of course, a complete failure to copy the white man's music -- they came up with a form of music that was so far superior. We reached for the improvisation, and the art of improvisation had dropped out of classical music, and jazz brought it back.

The art of ensemble improvisation is the most important part of New Orleans jazz, where in Chicago style jazz the art of solo improvisation became more important. The basic instruments of the ensemble were trumpet, trombone, clarinet, maybe piano, then banjo, bass and drums. And everybody's improvising. The trumpet took the melody, the trombone filled in, clarinet played obligato and so forth. They were all improvising but they didn't clash, they were all playing their parts. Not playing the same thing, but doing their own thing in their own parts.