[Dixielandjazz] N.O. Marching/Brass Bands and Rhythm

D and R Hardie darnhard at ozemail.com.au
Fri Apr 30 12:55:13 PDT 2004

Dear Listmembers,
It is nice to see a contribution with so much substance.
   Charles rightly pointed to the  break in continuity of African 
rhythmic influences in New Orleans in the 18th century. The Congo 
Square dances were apparently discontinued before the Civil War  though 
it appears the performances of the Mardi Gras Indians may have retained 
some of the rhythmic characteristics of the Bamboula.  Jack Stewart 
also rightly pointed out that syncopated rhythms reappeared in the 
melody line of  late nineties  ragtime and other commercial popular 
music of the time. This appears to have been the result of the earlier 
imposition of slave rhythms upon the jigs and reels of a basically 
Scotch-Irish American folk tradition by way of plantation songs and 
banjo jigs developed in the Minstrel theatre. They were also current in 
the melody lines of piano jigs, jump ups and reels of the black and 
white vernacular folk traditions throughout the states and in New 
                           Dee Dee Chandler who played in the John  
Robichaux Orchestra brought the trap drum set into New Orleans dance 
music in 1896. Robichaux was a brass band bass drummer and Chandler’s 
invention enabled him to play both bass and snare drums as well as  
cymbal, freeing Robichaux to play violin This was clearly a brass band 
tradition imposed on the popular dance music of the time.
                           These various influences came together when 
Chandler played in Buddy Bolden’s band and other early syncopating 
bands, and it became necessary to adapt the original brass band 
four-four  beat. Other drummers quickly adopted the trap drum set.
                          An important element of this transition was 
the impact of the spiritual rhythms of the Uptown Holy Roller churches. 
These charismatic congregations had retained African syncopations that 
were stressed in spiritual Jubilee singing. Importantly they included 
after beat stresses performed by Basers, who responded to the lead 
singing  preacher with foot stamping and hand clapping, moaning and 
shouts. This tradition is thoroughly described and illustrated  in 
Eileen Southern’s “The Music Of Black Americans”.
                          There is substantial evidence that Bolden 
belonged to such a church and brought these rhythms into his 
improvising dance band that played popular ragtime tunes as well as 
vernacular blues, jump ups and dance songs. There, the two beat 
syncopated rhythm emphasising the off beats  was  superimposed on the 
four-four brass band tradition. It appears it then  spread from there 
back into the marching bands around 1900.
Dan Hardie

On Friday, April 30, 2004, at 04:21  AM, Charles Suhor wrote:

> Hey, DJMLers,
> Talkin' about--N.O. marching and brass bands, past and present, hot 
> and not
> so hot, and rhythmic influences on those  bands and jazz in general. 
> If the
> topics interest you, read on and please respond, if you'd like. This 
> is a
> sum-up of an recent exchange with a N.O. friend. We started out talking
> about drumming in current marching and brass bands and wound up looking
> also at the sweep of history as we understand it.--Charlie Suhor
> In the beginning... African drummers brought to the New World musical
> elements--unusual accents, syncopations, ensemble counter-rhythms, 
> timbres,
> extended improvisation, and what we'd call odd time signatures  --that 
> were
> under-used or even unknown in Western music. Those elements came to be
> superimposed on Western structures of 2/4, 4/4, etc. As Jack Stewart 
> says,
> it's clear that the complex rhythms weren't first adapted by drummers. 
> They
> showed up in the brilliantly syncopated and accented melody lines of
> ragtime compositions and in the early jazz wind instrument players'
> embellishments and improvisations.
> Western military drumming and (our rhythmic sophistication in general) 
> were
> pretty confining--child's play, compared to African percussion. The 
> snare
> drum rudiments did invite further accentuation, though. Also, the 
> oom-pah
> zest of 2/4 and cut-time was a good grounding for adornment of cadences
> along lines suggested by African rhythms and by ragtime melody lines. 
> The
> contrasting snare drum/bass drum/cymbal sounds of conventional marching
> bands were also limited, but they were at least suggestive of the 
> varied
> ensemble sounds in African drumming.  (I believe the bass drum was 
> slower
> to take on rhythmic variety because it was the core of the military 
> band's
> guide to  right/ left foot marching.)
> As African-influenced drumming was creatively translated to the drum 
> set,
> the early jazz players deviated further from march-based approaches and
> used the traps both as time keepers and as voices that added color to 
> the
> ensemble. Baby Dodds is of course the best known early drumming 
> genius. His
> sense of form and varied palate of colors came through with the use 
> snare,
> bass, tom-tom, woodblock, etc. I think also of Zutty Singleton, Tony
> Spargo, Paul Barbarin, and later, Ray Bauduc, etc.
> Sonic approaches to drumming diminished during the swing era (another 
> whole
> topic) but were taken up with incredible complexity by Kenny Clarke, 
> Max
> Roach, Ed Blackwell, and others in modern jazz. Also, as rock drumming
> matured, funk styles (e.g., Zigaboo Modleliste, James Brown's drummers)
> became really rich and were meshed with second line and brass band 
> drumming
> (e.g., Herlin Riley, Johnny Vidacovich).
> The early development of marching band and jazz drumming came to a 
> head in
> New Orleans for reasons well documented by historians--e.g., drum 
> sessions
> in Congo Square, a huge local marching band tradition (military, civic,
> social clubs, etc.),  many dances, picnics, and other venues where the
> music could evolve, and so on.
> But the continuity of the marching/drumming traditions in the city is, 
> as
> we discussed,  questionable and probably exaggerated.  It's become the
> standard view that there was an unbroken line of enthusiastic New 
> Orleans
> marching band players from the turn of the century to the present.
> But from the mid-forties to around the sixties, when modern jazz 
> became the
> dominant music of young players, there was a widespread indifference 
> and
> even hostility to playing in the traditional marching bands. As you 
> pointed
> out, the marching bands and earliest jazz styles were still around and 
> had
> to be an influence, but they weren't embraced by many young black 
> players
> as a music of choice.
> The young second liners of the time were white kids like Fountain, the
> Assuntos, Gerard, Connie Jones. etc., who played Dixieland rather than
> earlier styles, specifically emulating the likes of Fazola and Sharkey
> Bonano's band. (There were exceptions like Bill Huntington's early
> apprenticeship to Lawrence Marrero in George Lewis' band and Wallace
> Davenport's playing with marching bands as a kid. But they soon added
> modern styles to their repertoire.)
> The resurrection of the marching/brass bands for young players probably
> came with Danny Barker's Fairview Baptist Church Brass Band around 
> 1970.
> They had both older models and recent innovations to follow. The latter
> included interesting breaks from tradition like young Melvin Batiste
> playing scream trumpet in the Olympia band, John Brunious and Sam 
> Alcorn
> playing be-bop rides over the Congo Square band, and bass & snare 
> drummers
> working out interplay at the end of eight bar phrases in the style of
> modern drummers' left hand and bass drum interplay. (I reported those
> things in Down Beat--. the Picayune didn't give a damn in those days.)
> Finally, the international fame of Preservation Hall in the early 60s 
> had
> made the prospect of playing in older styles much brighter.
> Things like that helped to close the gap. Kids born around that time 
> did
> get a sympathetic exposure to marching bands without the image of
> "old-timey" or "Uncle Tom" music that was around in our generation, 
> and the
> music became an authentic part of their repertoire.
> Then, the brass and marching bands became all the rage--around when, 
> the
> middle or late 80s?--and it's now questionable as to whether too much
> success poisoned the well. We have many bands that are solidly in the
> tradition without being trapped in its conventions, but there are two 
> other
> breeds also--the slick pop/rock groups that make good music of a sort 
> but
> are far removed from the style, and the bands that make a virtue of 
> crude
> amateurism, playing hackneyed riffs, with many of the players giving no
> hint that it's a good idea to be a passable instrumentalist. Ellis 
> Marsalis
> talked about the city advertising it's embarrassments with the quaintly
> inept groups. Maybe we should just be grateful for the good stuff 
> that's
> there, but it's pretty hard to see inventive musicians out of work 
> whole
> others make a living blasting away with fortissimo clichés.
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