/ Contributed by Jack Kopstein
Jazz was still in its embryonic stage in the first decade of the 20th century. Some of the first jazz icons, trumpeter Louis Armstrong
and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke
, were born in 1901 and 1903, respectively. Both began their careers in marching bands .
They were most likely exposed to ragtime
music, a blending of blues, John Phillip Sousa-like marches, and a complex centuries-old dance called the quadrille. Pianist Jelly Roll Morton helped bring the style into the limelight by performing virtuosic and partly improvised rags in brothels in New Orleans.
Soon ragtime music by Morton, Scott Joplin, and others was circulated across the country by sheet music publishers such as W.C. Handy, who was also a composer and bandleader. However, around this period, sheet music began to lose its superiority in the spread of musical culture with the development of piano rolls and the phonograph record.
The C Melody Sax also was an instrument which was useful.
Trumpeter Buddy Bolden began arranging blues and ragtime music for brass instruments, paving the way for early jazz. Arrangements helped shift the music away from a hit and miss style to a definite progression of both chords and melody/harmony. He was one of the first prominent improvisers, although there are no surviving recordings of his playing. In 1907, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and he spent the rest of his life off of the stage, and in a mental institution.
In a matter of years, jazz began to capture the nation’s attention. Improvisation became a featured element of the music, and dance halls began to fill with audiences eager to hear the hot new music.
The early use of the clarinet by New Orleans musicians introduced a unique sound to the early jazz band. The tonality of the instrument lent itself to early jazz because of its ability to play in three distinctive registers. Clarinet players soon learned as well that they could easily double on the saxophone and this added a new dimension to the jazz band. The trombone, which certainly was a welcome addition, could play in a variety of styles and was especially useful in harmony especially in combination of threes which came later. Another instrument that was employed very often in the early combos was the tuba which added depth to the arrangements. Percussion was very much a part of the very early bands. The development of the drum set revolutionized jazz percussion and gave the bands increased flexibility and a diversity which made them great vehicles for not only performance but dancing.
1910 - 1920
During the decade between 1910 and 1920, the seeds of jazz began to take root. New Orleans, the vibrant and chromatic port city in which ragtime
was based, was home to a number of budding musicians and a new style.
In 1913, Louis Armstrong
was sent to live in a juvenile delinquency home, and there he learned to play the cornet. Just five years later, band leader Kid Ory lost his star cornet player, Joe “King” Oliver, to more lucrative pursuits in Chicago. Ory hired Armstrong, and helped give rise to a talent that would change the course of music.
Thanks to the large population of former slaves in New Orleans at the time, the blues
was on the minds of many of the city’s musicians. Composers such as W.C. Handy helped make the sound famous, but not before restructuring and refining it. It was around this time that the blues adopted its regular 12-bar form, and when brass bands played the blues to reviling dancers. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” became a popular hit, and Louis Armstrong later performed one of its best-known renditions. The St. Louis march became a staple of both the jazz band and the military bands of the period.
Along with a standardized blues form, this decade saw the prominence of stride piano. Its rhythmic concept began with ragtime, and soon spread around the country. Most famously, thanks to Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson
, the stride
style had taken a firm hold in New York City, where during the Harlem Renaissance of the following decade it led to further developments in jazz.
The first jazz recording ever was made in 1917. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, led by cornetist Nick LaRocca, recorded “Livery Stable Blues.” The music is not thought to be the most authentic or the best executed jazz of the time, but it became a hit and helped light the fuse that led to the jazz craze.
Freddy Keppard, a trumpet player who was regarded as one of the best musicians of his day, was given the opportunity to record in 1915. He declined the offer because he was afraid that if a recording of his playing circulated, musicians might steal his style.
As can be determined from this brief survey of early jazz players and instrumentalists, the military band had a impact on jazz because of the similarity of the instrumentation. In this case we can draw a very simple parallel with the following chart of military or concert bands. The chart was drawn from photographs of the era from various sources.
||Usual Numerical numbers
||Usual Numerical performers
||Employed much later by Paul Whiteman
oboe as required
||6-12 (includes bass clarinet)
||Double bass clarinet
||3 early bands 1
||3 Divided parts
early bands 1
||3 When divided parts
||Used often in small groups
||Drum set made 1 player only required
||1 often employed
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