Friday, February 12, 2010

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s

I came across this article in the special collections at Tulane University which I've linked at the bottom. I met Bruce a few years back in Moscow, Idaho at the Lionel Hampton archive.

His knowledge is amazing, and this article along with many others has helped me to further research specially on the history of dance.

So, I hope you enjoy it...

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s
by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

"The story of music in New Orleans must begin
with dancing:
Henry A. Kmen, Music in New Orleans: The
Fomlative Years, 1791-1841.

New Orleans has always been a dancing town, and it is no wonder that jazz entered the
local scene -feet first-, as a dance music. Whether on the streets in the -second line, at
neighborhood dance halls, on the riverboats, or for "script" dances at Tulane University, jazz
musicians sought to move an audience in the most direct sense, making dancers part of the
action and feeding on the energy.

This dynamic came early, as trombonist Bill Matthews affirmed in his recollections of Buddy Bolden for the Hogan Jazz Archive: -Everybody was crazy about Bolden when he'd blow a waltz, schottische or old low down blues. He was the sweetest trumpet player in the world... Bunk Johnson got his style following Buddy with his sweetness, but could never play rough and -loud like Bolden: Unlike later jazz critic') who praised -hOT- and scorned -sweet-, New Orleans musicians valued the difference because the dancers wanted variety.

In a given night at Odd Fellow'S Hall, Bolden might offer waltzes, polkas, and quadrilles to his early crowd; upon their departure (usually around midnight), the music would turn rough and rowdy for the nightpeople who preferred slow drags, shags, and belly rubs.

The mixed fare performed by Bolden's proto-jazz band and the less than legitimate style in which it was rendered were characteristic of the New Orleans musician's desire to give the public what it wanted. Also apparent, however, was a divergence of taste between young and old as a new generation demanded greater freedom and excitement in music and dance. The
formalism of the nineteenth century was yielding 10 a vigorous vernacular sensibility, evident in the demand for novelty and a Willingness to experiment in order to achieve it.

When the popular dance learn of Vernon and Irene Castle published Modem Dancing in
1914, they could scarcely have foreseen what the Fates held in store for Terpsichore in the years
to come. As notable dance authorities, their intention was to provide a 'state of the art"
manual of dance etiquette for the average American as a means of 'preserving youth,
prolonging life, and acquiring grace, elegance, and beauty" If the Tango, the Castle's newest
sensation, degenerated into "acrobatic display or "salacious suggestion" it would be "the fault of the dancers and not of the dance..

A decade later, the "naming youth" of the Jazz Age had much to answer for as they flaunted the Shimmy, the Charleston, and the Black Bottom, choosing unrestricted self.expression over propriety. In this transition, New Orleans jazz bands played a major role. But music suited to local dance styles did not necessarily translate readily in other towns.

Cornetist Ray Lopez, with Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland at Lambs Cafe in
Chicago in May 1915, remembered some awkward moments: "Our debut was pitiful.
Those Yankees wouldn't listen or dance. We look turns talking to the customers. 'Folks this is
New Orleans music, HOT music People down South dance, Come on and try "Have fun".

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was more successful in January 1917 at Reisenwebers in New York, but as Nick LaRocca recalled, the response to the band's opening number was "Tell
those farmers to go home!" Only after the proprietor had explained to the customers that
the music was for dancing did the situation improve. Gradually, the ODJB succeeded
because they worked to adapt their "rough and ready" style of playing to the fox trot rhythms
which appealed to dancers in places like Chicago and New York.

Another New Orleans outfit, the Original Creole Orchestra, had been the first to leave the city in 1914 but sought fame on the vaudeville stage, thus eliminating a dancing audience. The ODJB's draw as a dance band led to their famous recordings for Victor in 1917, which heralded the dawn of the Jazz Age and rejuvenated a boom in record sates which had begun four years earlier with the popularity of the Tango.

Between 1914 and 1921 annual production of records jumped from 25 to 100 million, owing largely to the desire of Americans to test new dance steps in the privacy of their living rooms before venturing out in public.Whereas the dances of the nineteenth century
had required certain minimums of deportment and training, utilitarian steps like the fox trot
were comparatively more versatile and accessible. One did not necessarily have to be svelte to fox trot, and it was not by coincidence that the dance came to be known as "the businessman's bounce." From the fox trot to the Charleston, jazz dancing had something for everybody, and the dance mania which swept the nation in the 19205, with attendence, record sales, seemed to prove it.

New Orleans jazzmen factored dance into their repertoires in various ways. On the Streckfus steamers, members of Fate Marable's bands were actually tested by company officials on their ability to execute dance tempos precisely; "Captain Joe Streckfus was very particular about music on the excursion boats. He would attend rehearsals, tap his feet with his watch in his hands, and if the band failed to keep the proper tempo (70 beats per minute for fox
trots and 90 for one steps) somebody got hell.

The New Orleans Owls took a more relaxed approach. As leader and saxophonist Benjie
White explained, during rehearsals at the West End Roof Garden half the band would rehearse
while the other half danced with college girls.

Albert Nicholas joined King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators in Chicago in 1926, a band made up
mostly of New Orleans men. In his interview with Richard B. Allen for the Hogan Jazz
Archive in 1972, Nicholas described how Oliver would instruct the band to play softly in certain
passages to incorporate the sounds of dancer's feet for percussive effect.

Each in its own way, these bands sought to cater to the dancing public for fun and profit Demand for "hot" and "sweet" dance bands did much to improve economic conditions for
New Orleans musicians, especially when debutante balls on Charles Avenue began 10
rely heavily on the services of AJ PiTon's New Orleans orchestra, the New Orleans Owls, and
Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra.

Piron's reputation as a dance band leader was such that he received an offer to accompany the Castles (which he declined). After two trips to New York to record for Victor in 1923 and 1924, the band returned to become one of New Orleans' favorite society dance orchestras at
venues like the Pythian Temple Roof Garden (which Piron bought with royalties from his
compositions and recordings) and Suburban Gardens.

In a similar vein, trombonist William ~Baba" Ridgley of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra remembered how his income increased from $1.50 per night in Storyville to $25 for a debutante ball, another indication of how social acceptance of jazz as a dance music helped it to rise above earlier connotations of vice and poverty.

Ironically, it was the road to broad social acceptance that ultimately spelled the end of the
dance connection for jazz. By the late 1930's jazz critics were organizing concerts, such as John
Hammond's Spirituals to Swing" extravaganzas in 1938 and 1939 at Carnegie Hall, in an effort
to place jazz on an equal footing with classical music. The advent of bebop and progressive jazz
in the mid-1940s accelerated the trend toward "jazz as an," and when Bunk Johnson's New
Orleans Band debuted at the Stuyvesant Casino in New York in the fall of 1945, its musicians
wondered what they were doing wrong when the assembled jazz intelligentsia just sat and listened. Today, from Lincoln Center to Preservation Hall, jazz is regarded primarily as a concert music, but its history as a dance music reminds us that even an art form can be fun when invested with the right spirit and rhythm... by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

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