FOUR TYPES OF MUSIC
Four significant types of music were present in New Orleans around the turn of the century to 1900 which influenced the beginnings of America’s great art form, jazz.
These include Ragtime, Blues, Minstrel and Classical Music.
Ragtime was America’s most popular music from 1890-1915 and is typified by the Composer Scott Joplin and his two masterpieces “The Maple Leaf Rag”,
and a piece that is still a popular ring tone, The Entertainer”,
Ragtime music was written down and used a fairly complex formal organization with as many as four different melodies and little repetition. The capital letters stand for sections of melody:
Ragtime was often recorded on piano roll making it playable by seemingly “ghost pianos” in an age before records and radio.
Ragtime made its way to the marching band or concert band, which was also popular at the time. A great trombone soloist named Arthur Pryor featured ragtime with his band, including the “The Ragtime Drummer”
Later recordings of bands used a victrola to cut a record. Musicians had to distance themselves from the victrola to ensure balance. Another great Ragtime pioneer was James Reese Europe, one of the top society band leaders in New York. While playing a special mix of music based on Ragtime, Reese’s band seemed to point to a future of jazz.
Reese Europe and many black Americans lobbied for their own regiment, “The Harlem Hell Fighters”, and crossed the lines against the Germans. During World War I -America entered in 1917. This was a terrible war including trench warfare, chemical warfare, more than 15 million deaths and more than 20 million injuries. This also coincided with the great Spanish Flu Epidemic.
The influence of classical music on jazz is considerable. From the concepts of harmony and notation to the very instruments themselves, all are derived from Classical Music.
Classical music popular in New Orleans around the time of Jazz would have included the Music of America’s March King, John Phillip Sousa. Consider one of his biggest hits, “The Star Spangled Banner”.
Other dance music popular around the world would have been the Vienese Walzes of Johann Strauss like “The Blue Danube Waltz”.
New Orleans had at least two opera houses, and Verdi must have filled the streets, like “Finiculi Funicula”.
Since New Orleans was easily the most French influenced city in the United States, the music of France was of particular interest. French music at this time was exceptionally innovative harmonically. “Creloes of Color”, were sons and daughters of Whites and Blacks. They enjoyed French status in New Orleans above many whites and even owned slaves themselves. The musicians among the Creoles of Color were famous for master dance music, but also French Harmony. Perhaps some would have even been educated at the Paris Conservatory. This arrangement of Claude Debussy’s “Claire de Lune” is an example of French Impressionism in music.
MINSTREL MUSIC was considered by some to be a common cultural experience from 1840-1920, and included skits, acts and songs. While it often denigrates blacks, Wynton Marsalis has observed that it also admired them. In some cases, minstrel music afforded white and black musicians access to one another’s music.
James Bland was a master minstrel composer. “Oh ‘Dem Golden Slippers”, is one of his biggest hits.
He also wrote “Carry Me Back to Old Virginny”, performed here by Ray Charles
Another famous minstrel composer was Stephen Foster, most famous for “Oh Sussanah”, performed here by Roy Rogers.
The “Father of the Blues”, W. C Handy spent some of his early career as a minstrel band leader. Two composers who would become bedrock composers of the American Song Book, George Gershwin and Irvin Berlin contributed to minstrel music early in their careers.
“Swanee”, by George Gershwin is sung by the most famous minstrel performer Al Jolson. Al Jolson appeared often in blackface, but was said to have spent much of his career honoring and supporting black musicians. Jolson was the star of the first film with sound, entitled, “The Jazz Singer”