[Dixielandjazz] Re: Dixielandjazz Digest, Vol 8, Issue 36

Stephen Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sun Aug 24 23:33:04 PDT 2003

> Anton Crouch wrote:

> Rob McCallum raises an interesting issue with his claim that the Ciro's
> Coon Club Orchestra London recordings of 1916 are the first jazz
> recordings. He also opens a can of worms because, if the Ciro's records are
> jazz, it's open slather all the way back to 1897 to find earlier examples.
> First, I agree with me ole mate Bill Haesler that these Ciro's records are
> not jazz. They are ragtime-influenced banjo performances of popular tunes.
> They are syncopated, but they don't swing and I can't hear any blues
> influence.

Well, maybe jazz, maybe not. Who says jazz has to be blues influenced? Certainly not folks like Bix, and other notable "jazz" icons. Or where it it written that jazz must swing? Certainly the ODJB "Darktown Strutters Ball" (whenever it was recorded) referred to below does not swing, nor do other examples of their work. Also consider Stan Kenton et al when discussing swing as a necessary element to jazz. Finally, there are those who jazz writers who claim that ragtime became jazz primarily when the time was changed to the 4/4 time of early New Orleans Jazz from the 2/4 time of ragtime. Other than that, jazz and ragtime are pretty much identical.

> Steve Barbone's reference to James R Europe is most interesting. A lot of
> Europe's early (pre 1917) work dances along very nicely but, to me, it
> lacks that spark that we call jazz.

Spark? To my ears Europe's records have plenty of spark. Somewhere in my memory banks are examples of jazz writers calling what Europe played jazz, and referring to his Carnegie hall Concert circa 1914 or whenever, as the first jazz concert at Carnegie. I suspect a dedicated researcher could come up with an example or two. Big band, lots of banjos, etc., but who says 92 piece bands can't play jazz? Perhaps it is just a bit different from what we prefer to call jazz, but jazz never the less?

> The BIG issue is "what is that spark"? Its absence or presence can be
> demonstrated by comparing, for example, Europe's March 1919 recording of
> "Darktown strutters ball" with the ODJB's May 1917 (sorry Steve) version.
> Another, even clearer, example is the difference between the performances
> of "High society" by Prince's Band (May 1911) and King Oliver (June 1923).

I agree, "what is 'Spark'"? Darktown Strutters Ball (recorded Jan or May 1917, take your pick ;-) ) as I hear it, is the worst ever example of recorded music by the ODJB. IMO, the above examples are differences in style rather than "Spark".  Even so, we've discussed before whether or not ODJB arrangements were either totally scored or totally memorized. For those who think jazz must be improv, there is precious little, if any, of it on those ODJB recordings. If one writes out the various takes of the same tunes, one sees clearly that they are virtually identical.  Any differences are so very minor, that they suggest "mistakes" in the performance rather than improvisation.

John Phillip Sousa and Alphonse Picou could both, no doubt, play High Society with Spark. Yet Sousa's might not be jazz. Perhaps we need a better definition of the difference? Could it be that 4/4 New Orleans rhythm?

Following up on the New Orleans origins of jazz, it seems to me that perhaps the New Orleans rhythmic figures as applied to various forms of music was a very necessary ingredient to the beginnings of jazz. And as I hear it, the beginning was 4/4 New Orleans time as applied to ragtime tunes.


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