[Dixielandjazz] Press coverage of early jazz

D and R Hardie darnhard at ozemail.com.au
Sat Dec 18 14:37:15 PST 2004

Hi Charles,
                   Great Post!  If you ,or anyone else ever get hold of  
  the text  of the  E. Bellfield Spriggins article/s I 'd love a copy, 
but Willie Cornish played for King Bolden never Oliver as far as I can 
discover. Keep up the good work.
Dan Hardie


On Saturday, December 18, 2004, at 07:16  PM, Charles Suhor wrote:

> The piece below is long, but the struggle for acceptance of jazz in 
> New Orleans, New York, and Chicago might interest some 
> DJMLers.--Charlie Suhor
> "Jazz Notes," December 2004
> Journal of the Jazz Journalists Association (website www.jazzhouse.org)
> Press Coverage of Early Jazz –A Tale of Three Cities
> Charles Suhor
> In the beginning (of jazz) was the (printed) word. And the word in 
> early newspaper coverage of jazz wasn’t a nice one. Donald Winston 
> notes that even before the term “jazz” was in use, newspaper reports 
> at the turn of the century described music in New Orleans black night 
> clubs as "discordant" …"disgusting"…with an "indecent ring."
> I came across Winston’s and Luther Williams’ woefully underexposed 
> studies of early jazz press coverage in New York and Chicago while 
> gathering similar information about New Orleans newspapers. Winston’s 
> project was very ambitious, covering several papers in New Orleans 
> (1890-1917), the Chicago Defender (1918-26), and the New York Times 
> (1920-27). Williams looked intensively at the New York Times 
> (1921-29). I can give only a quick walk across the coals of history 
> here, but it should be of interest to jazz journalists, musicians, and 
> fans.
> Curiously, Williams' and Winston took different perspectives that 
> resulted in contrary conclusions about jazz coverage in the New York 
> Times. Williams saw dominant patterns of condemnation, implicit 
> racism, ignorance, and virtual exclusion of jazz musicians’ voices 
> during the 1920s. In the Times news reports, editorials, and feature 
> stories, jazz was blamed for, among other things, fornication, 
> suicide, alcohol abuse, the heart attack of an elderly classical 
> cornetist, an unfavorable trade balance between the U.S. and Hungary, 
> the waning quality of Italian tenors, the frightening of bears in 
> Siberia, and the  decline of modern civilization.
> On the positive side, Williams cited a 1926 Times story that included 
> the views of a black commentator sympathetic to jazz. Nicholas 
> Ballanta took a stand that was thoroughly radical at the time, 
> claiming that jazz was derived from many cultures, with distinctive 
> African elements enriching American music by developing the "American 
> sense of rhythm."
> Williams believed that by 1929 the immense popularity of jazz both 
> domestically and abroad trumped the New York Times “hidebound policy” 
> about the negative effects of jazz. Times reportage began to reflect 
> glimmers of pride in the music and recognition of its value as a 
> cultural export. According to Williams, “In April, 1929 the death 
> knell was sounded not for jazz but for the controversy surrounding it 
> in an article in the Times recounting the European travels of Sandhor 
> Harmati, Director of the Omaha Symphony. He said that jazz…was the 
> only American music known by the European generation of that day. It 
> appeared that jazz had arrived to stay.”
> The wider scope of Donald Winston’s study might explain his oversight 
> of many of the Times jazz-bashing reports cited by Williams for the 
> comparable years. But he did uncover some formidable anti-jazz copy, 
> like the March 13, 1925 editorial that urged a quick exodus of 
> American jazz musicians to Europe. He also quoted a January 3, 1922 
> report of an Episcopal minister lambasting jazz as the "savage crash 
> and bang" of "African jungle music."
> More disturbing is the fact that the focus of Winston’s search 
> resulted in an overly generous view of the Times’ reportage of jazz. 
> Relying mainly on reports about songwriters like Irving Berlin, 
> Richard Rodgers, and Jerome Kern and the “symphonic jazz” of George 
> Gershwin and Paul Whiteman, Winston concluded that the paper "came 
> close to good coverage, meaningful coverage” of jazz.
> This bias is precisely what Luther Williams decried in noting that the 
> Times made a sharp distinction “between the ‘respectable’ kind [of 
> jazz] and the kind played by most musicians.”  Jazz musicians, knowing 
> nothing of the classics’ “noble appeal,” were excluded. White 
> songwriters and musicians were lauded for their attempts to marry jazz 
> elements “into the proud old family of the concertos and the 
> symphonies.”
> In his conclusion Winston did acknowledge the Times' "failure to 
> report on the activities of Negro jazzmen." Turning a flaw into a 
> mitigating factor, he surmised that the music of black jazz artists 
> must have "seemed especially crude to the Times reporters and music 
> critics." Confusing cause with effect, he stated that "this failure to 
> cover Negro activity and music …resulted in a poor understanding of 
> the whole jazz environment and its musical sense."
> Winston's rationalizations of the New York Times' jazz coverage are in 
> contrast to his straightforward discussion of The Chicago Defender and 
> the New Orleans press. He saw Defender’s coverage of jazz between 1918 
> and 1926 as a reflection of its editorial mission as a black 
> newspaper: to counter anti-black discrimination by praising the 
> products of African-American culture.
> This made the Defender a rare, if not evenhandedly critical, champion 
> of jazz in its early years. For example, a March 9, 1918, item on the 
> entertainment page praised a band from New Orleans led by cornetist 
> Emanuel Perez. "Have you heard Emanuel Perez's Creole Band?...that 
> wonderful…music that the people of Chicago are going wild about?  It's 
> gripping the dancers of the Windy City, and causing people to come to 
> the Peking dance pavilion…and hear the music that's all the rage in 
> the East and in the West."
> Winston wrote that the Defender's tendency to report about jazz in 
> superlatives seldom included attention to the musicians themselves. 
> And worse, support of jazz was not carried out as a policy when other 
> purposes related to the paper's mission could be served. In connection 
> with a high school essay contest for Music Week, for example, the 
> Defender ran these student comments on June 10, 1922:  "Nothing is bad 
> enough to say about this pestilence…Jazz indicates a tendency towards 
> insanity."
> Information about reportage of jazz in New Orleans papers comes from 
> many sources. Winston’s 1890-1917 search of the Picayune, 
> Times-Democrat, Item, States, and the Bee uncovered the aforementioned 
> barbs about music in black night clubs. He found that the local press 
> regarded the “newer, ‘hot’ forms of music” as “an ignominious peg on 
> the musical ladder.”
> In Storyville, New Orleans (University of Alabama Press, 1974) Al Rose 
> speculates that a cartoon in the sensationalistic weekly Mascot of 
> November 15, 1890, was "the earliest known illustration of a jazz 
> band."  And perhaps the earliest known condemnation.  Both the drawing 
> and the description are racist and contemptuous of the music. Four 
> buffoonish black musicians, playing instruments resembling a trumpet, 
> trombone, clarinet, and bass drum, are on the balcony of Robinson’s 
> Dime Museum on Basin Street. Well-dressed whites are moaning and 
> fainting in the street, pelletted by the notes from the horns.  The 
> text states "we have been visited by a sad affliction….several 'coons' 
> armed with pieces of brass have banded together ….This man Robinson 
> came here with a monkey and a blue parrot….The town knew him not, but 
> a nigger brass band betrayed him…. Robinson's balcony serenade is 
> enough to make the dead rise."
> The archetypal anti-jazz screed is the "Jass and Jassism" editorial in 
> the June 20, 1918, Picayune. It describes jazz as “a low streak in 
> man’s tastes that has not yet come out in civilization’s wash….the 
> indecent story syncopated and counterpointed.” Enjoyment of this “loud 
> and meaningless” music is like excitement at “the sight of flesh and 
> the sadic pleasure in blood.” Although New Orleans has been called the 
> birthplace of this “musical vice….it behooves us to be the last to 
> accept the atrocity in polite society, and…we should make it a point 
> of civic honor to suppress it.”
> Don Marquis notes in his classic biography In Search of Buddy Bolden 
> (LSU Press, 1978) that the first positive feature story about jazz in 
> a New Orleans paper was in the still-extant black newspaper Louisiana 
> Weekly in April, 1933—seven years after the New York Times ran 
> Ballanta’s insightful comments. "Excavating Local Jazz," a two-part 
> article by E. Belfield Spriggins, contained an interview with former 
> King Oliver trombonist Will Cornish.
> Incredibly, the New Orleans dailies continued to treat jazz slightly 
> or disparagingly well into the second half of the century. The true 
> pioneer of jazz journalism in the city was the New Orleans Jazz Club’s 
> Second Line. Beginning in 1949, the magazine tracked and commented 
> faithfully on traditional and Dixieland jazz. An amateur effort by 
> mainstream press standards, it carried an energy and authenticity that 
> utterly eluded the staid Picayune  (which author Walker Percy once 
> called “a house organ for its advertisers”).
> In the sixties, the apathy and ineptitude of the local press resulted 
> in  Down Beat becoming the journal of record for jazz in New Orleans. 
> As a stringer I  submitted twice-monthly club listings and news items 
> and wrote frequent articles on jazz in all styles, many of them 
> collected in my 2001 book Jazz in New Orleans: The Postwar Years 
> Through 1970 (Scarecrow Press/Rutgers Institute of Jazz Studies, 
> 2001). Largely through the influence of the New Journalism movement 
> and the Vieux Carre Courier, a brilliantly feisty weekly of the late 
> sixties, the Picayune was jarred into a belated hipness that is now 
> mandatory, if a bit scattershot.
> The writers and publishers that I’ve discussed mainly reflect 
> university settings, where jazz is regarded as a rich subject for 
> historical study, and painstaking research is valued and accommodated. 
> Luther William’s 1987 project (titled “New York Times Coverage of an 
> Emerging Art Form, 1921-1929”) was a Department of Journalism paper at 
> the University of Georgia. Donald Winston’s study (“News Reporting of 
> Jazz Music From 1890 to 1927”) was a 1996 Master’s thesis at the 
> University of Oklahoma. My work was funded in part by a grant from the 
> National Endowment for the Humanities. Possibly, there are other 
> writings that deal with press coverage of early jazz.  The common 
> pattern in this tale of three cities, alternately horrifying and 
> gratifying, is that the newspapers moved erratically from flouting to 
> flaunting the “newer, ‘hot’ forms of music.”
> _______________________________________________
> Dixielandjazz mailing list
> Dixielandjazz at ml.islandnet.com
> http://ml.islandnet.com/mailman/listinfo/dixielandjazz

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list