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Northern Society For Jazz Study Vol.2 No.15 0006

Northern Society For Jazz Study Vol.2 No.15 0006

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o..Largely for Newcomers...

...The Relationship Between Jazz and Popular commercial Musitt Is Discussed..«

by Hi


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It is just a quarter of a century since a new kind of popular music began to make its appearance in this country through the song writers of Tin Pan Alley; simultaneously, a new word was added to the English vocabulary — jazz. Apart from its technical interest to the "legitimate” musicians (Constance Lambert, and Professor Sydney Northcotc among them) the subject is of interest to the non-musician, for the vast commercial exploitioa of jazzidiom has had an impact on social trends comparable to that of the motion picture industry«

Some may consider that tho musical fatuity of the popular lmoon-June type* of dance number does not consider any serious consideration.

I grant the fatuity, and the triteness of much (but not all) of popular dance music - but still Insist that something which has become virtually the folk music of modem youthful England demands more than a patronising examination« The cinema Is often enough guilty of fatuity, too. Films like "WINTERSET", *OF MICE AND MEN" and ”

"GRAPES OF WRATH" are the exception to the rule dictated by the box office. - .

The problem facing the serious critic of jazz music is to know where to make a start^ the prolific manner in which popular dance tunes are turned out by the staff song-writing teams, and the strong commercial bias imposed on the'average orchestra, make it extremely difficult to locate the good jazz (or, as the initiated say, to find jazz among the vast amount of "com* for the word "jazz" has become the musicians designation, of honest—to-goodness music as distinct from the "pops* fed to a philistine public). The essential' difference between orthodox music and what ttafr be called genuine jazz is that whereas with the former, the composers musical thoughts are translated into a written notation, in jazz, because of the great prominence given to solo and group improvisation against a rhythmic background, the executant tends to become his own composer.


Basically, this music is, of course, very largely negroid. In its pure form it is the folk music of the coloured people of the U.S.A. and .^.emulates from the South. Various authorities have traced the sociolog-7 ical background of jazz to New Orleans between 1895 and 1912 'when small groups of semi-illiterate musicians broke away from the orthodox music and experimented in unusual tone colours and orchestral effects, hiring themselves out to play in the dance halls and "Sporting houses" of the notorious quarter embraced by Basin Street, Canal St. and tho old Storyville district, in street parades and even at funerals. The negroes were followed by many white musicians, often recruited from brass bands — and very few of either could road a single note of music.

Then, on the level, the young American Jew, Irving Berlin, developed ragtime, which attracted so much attention that Stravinsky oven named a composition after it. But this ragtime music was not really jazz at all, although it marked a transitional ph- asc linking the original Now Orleans music to more developed jazz.

It was in 1909 that the basic negro jazz form, the traditional twelve bar blues (three four bar phrases in 4-4 time), emerged as a piece of written music. This was tho work of W.C.Handy, son of a coloured Methodist preacher, and he utilised the folk-blues formula in a campaign song, which he composed for a mayoral election in Memphis. Subsequently, Handy and other Negro mjrsicians further developed tho written blues, utilising the folic songs, work tunes, spirituals, rivalist shoutings and popular ballads which formed the musical diet of tho whole population along the Mississippi delta.

So that the period 1909—1920 can be fixed as the formative years

of jazz as a vehicle of emotional expression in music. In tho meantime

the white musicians of Now Orleans had become increasingly attracted by

the robust polyphony of noval tone colours devised by the negroes, and'

during the Great War both ^hite and Coloured Bands were engaged by-

Chicago entertainment promoters, one of whom gave the name "jazz bands"

to the numerous orchestras under his control. The early spelling of the

word was alternatively jas, jass, and jaz —— and New Orleans musicians

themselves were not familiar with the expression. The words seems to

have had an obscene meaning in the Chicago slums, and in his scholary -

American Jazz Music", Wilder Hobson states that one of these "new"

orchestras was engaged at a Cafe: a rival proprietor inserted an Item

in a newspaper, referring to the group as a Jass Band — and that this

intended knock drew such a crowd of the curios to the cafe, that the

management promptly put the word up in lights. It seems likely that the

word as a musical term derives from the old minstrel backsuage' crv "sivo

’em the Jasbo" meaning to introduce pep into an act. And since New

Orleans was once a French Possession there may be some connection with the French word iaser.