[Dixielandjazz] Where Did It Go?

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Fri Jun 18 19:55:38 PDT 2010

On Jun 18, 2010, at 6:05 PM, Marek Boym wrote: (polite snip)

> Adding dance floors at jazz places seems like a good thing - most
> young people who went to hear the West Coast revivalists, as well as
> the later university bands all over the US, went there to dance; some
> have remained fans and are on this list.

Dear Marek & List mates

I Can't speak for the West Coast revivalist audiences, however let me  
add a little East Coast USA perspective. By the end of WW 2 there was  
a huge resurgence of Dixieland all along the East Coast.

However, in almost all the jazz clubs where Dixieland was played,  
there was no dancing because the dance floors had been removed when  
the 20% federal cabaret tax was imposed during the war.

Like me, those teenagers in NYC (legal drinking age 18 at the time)  
who went to Nick's, Condon's, Ryan's and the other joints did not go  
there for the dancing. They went for the excitement, the booze, the  
women, and the still naughty reputation of jazz. (mob owned clubs,  
reefers, etc.) The music was part of the ambiance for most of the kids.

Those of us who really "listened" avoided the joints on weekends if we  
could because they was so much noise, we couldn't hear the music  
unless we got there early to get a front table.

The young people were mainly those getting ready to go to college, or  
those already in college and Dixieland was their party music until  
about 1960 give or take a few years. This audience was a relatively  
small segment of the total teen and 20 something population at the  
time, but quite large in terms of the young people who like this music  
today. The older people who went to them were either re-living their  
youth, or sometimes goodfellas  (mafia types) who brought their girl  
friends to Nick's on Friday nights which was for them, boys night out.  
Nick's was "their" joint on Fridays.

However, the main musical attractions for dancing were Swing bands, or  
Lester Lanin bands at the more high toned clubs, and jump blues and  
Rhythm & Blues Bands at the smaller clubs that had dancing, or Elks  
Clubs, American Legion Halls etc. Then in the mid 50s, the swing bands  
started breaking up.

Most Colleges were home to amateur Dixieland Bands from  1945 to 1960  
or so and some great players emerged from them. (Steve Lacy, Roswell  
Rudd et al) And there was an active college circuit every fall and  
spring to which bands traveled on weekends. Even Condon took his  
groups to various colleges. From late 1956 to 1962, I was with two New  
York Dixieland bands that played from Duke University in North  
Carolina to St Lawrence University on the Canadian border on many  
weekends every year. But the scene slowly died out.

Fraternities hired us and their parties were great fun. Usually not  
much dancing until everybody got drunk. Then it was belly rubbing  
blues time for a set before they all passed out and /or left for a  
little loving.

The problem of "mass" audience really started back then. Because there  
was no dancing to Dixieland after WW2, Dixieland never had a chance  
with most of the kids. Then from 1957 or so on they went to Elvis and  
other R & B bands to dance, and the Folk Singers to hear a story.

We old folks might even remember when Elvis tried a Dixieland sound  
early on. When he and the Colonel realized that the music was not  
enough to grab the kids, they changed their program. For a treat, see  
Elvis with The Dixieland Rock at:


Hey, to entice kids, maybe some bands should reprise that song instead  
of  daring them to like "My Canary's Got Circle Under Its Eyes."<grin>

Perhaps the emergence of the Swing Bands in 1935 or so, is what really  
started taking the dancers away from Dixieland bands. Someone older  
than me will have to clear that up for us. <grin>

The bottom line is, however,  that I agree with you that we need to  
play dance music to get the kids back. And we need make them feel like  
a part of the act.

Steve Barbone

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