Thursday, February 11, 2010

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s

 I came across this article in the special collections
at Tulane University which I've linked at the bottom.
I met Bruce a few years back in Moscow, Idaho at the
Lionel Hampton archive.

His knowledge is amazing, and this article along with
many others has helped me to further research specially
on the history of dance.

So, I hope you enjoy it...without people like Bruce,
reseaching, putting the peices together and writting,
it disappears...

Dancing Hot and Sweet: New Orleans Jazz in the 1920s
 by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

"The story of music in New Orleans must begin
with dancing:
Henry A. Kmen, Music in New Orleans: The
Fomlative Years, 1791-1841.

New Orleans has always been a dancing
town, and it is no wonder that jazz entered the
local scene -feet first-, as a dance music.
Whether on the streets in the -second line, at
neighborhood dance halls, on the riverboats, or
for "script" dances at Tulane University, jazz
musicians sought to move an audience in the
most direct sense, making dancers part of the
action and feeding on the energy.

This dynamic came early, as trombonist Bill
Matthews affirmed in his recollections of Buddy Bolden for the
Hogan Jazz Archive: -Everybody was crazy about
Bolden when he'd blow a waltz, schottische or
old low down blues. He was the sweetest
trumpet player in the world... Bunk Johnson got
his style following Buddy with his sweetness, but
could never play rough and -loud like Bolden:
Unlike later jazz critic') who praised -hOT- and
scorned -sweet-, New Orleans musicians valued
the difference because the dancers wanted

In a given night at Odd Fellow'S Hall,
Bolden might offer waltzes, polkas, and
quadrilles to his early crowd; upon their
departure (usually around midnight), the music
would turn rough and rowdy for the nightpeople
who preferred slow drags, shags, and belly

The mixed fare performed by Bolden's proto-jazz band
and the less than legitimate style in which it was
rendered were characteristic of the New Orleans
musician's desire to give the public what it
wanted. Also apparent, however,
was a divergence of taste between young and old
as a new generation demanded greater freedom
and excitement in music and dance. The
formalism of the nineteenth century was yielding
10 a vigorous vernacular sensibility, evident in
the demand for novelty and a Willingness to
experiment in order to achieve it.

When the popular dance learn of Vernon
and Irene Castle published Modem Dancing in
1914, they could scarcely have foreseen what the
Fates held in store for Terpsichore in the years
to come. As notable dance authorities, their
intention was to provide a 'state of the art"
manual of dance etiquette for the average
American as a means of 'preserving youth,
prolonging life, and acquiring grace, elegance,
and beauty" If the Tango, the Castle's newest
sensation, degenerated into "acrobatic display or
"salacious suggestion" it would be "the fault of
the dancers and not of the dance..

A decade later, the "naming youth" of the Jazz Age had
much to answer for as they flaunted the Shimmy,
the Charleston, and the Black Bottom, choosing
unrestricted self.expression over propriety.
In this transition, New Orleans jazz bands
played a major role. But music suited to local
dance styles did not necessarily translate readily
in other towns.

Cornetist Ray Lopez, with Tom
Brown's Band from Dixieland at Lambs Cafe in
Chicago in May 1915, remembered some
awkward moments: "Our debut was pitiful.
Those Yankees wouldn't listen or dance. We
look turns talking to the customers. 'Folks this is
New Orleans music, HOT music People down
South dance, Come on and try "Have fun".

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was more
successful in January 1917 at Reisenwebers in
New York, but as Nick LaRocca recalled, the
response to the band's opening number was "Tell
those farmers to go home!" Only after the
proprietor had explained to the customers that
the music was for dancing did the situation
improve. Gradually, the ODJB succeeded
because they worked to adapt their "rough and
ready" style of playing to the fox trot rhythms
which appealed to dancers in places like Chicago
and New York.

Another New Orleans outfit, the Original Creole Orchestra,
had been the first to leave the city in 1914 but sought fame on the
vaudeville stage, thus eliminating a dancing
audience. The ODJB's draw as a dance band led
to their famous recordings for Victor in 1917,
which heralded the dawn of the Jazz Age and
rejuvenated a boom in record sates which had
begun four years earlier with the popularity of
the Tango.

Between 1914 and 1921 annual production of records jumped from 25 to 100
million, owing largely to the desire of Americans
to test new dance steps in the privacy of their
living rooms before venturing out in public.
Whereas the dances of the nineteenth century
had required certain minimums of deportment
and training, utilitarian steps like the fox trot
were comparatively more versatile and accessible.
One did not necessarily have to be svelte to fox
trot, and it was not by coincidence that the dance
came to be known as "the businessman's bounce."
From the fox trot to the Charleston, jazz dancing
had something for everybody, and the dance mania
which swept the nation in the 19205, with
attendence, record sales, seemed to prove it.

New Orleans jazzmen factored dance into
their repertoires in various ways. On the
Streckfus steamers, members of Fate Marable's
bands were actually tested by company officials
on their ability to execute dance tempos
precisely; "Captain Joe Streckfus was very
particular about music on the excursion boats.
He would attend rehearsals, tap his feet with his
watch in his hands, and if the band failed to keep
the proper tempo (70 beats per minute for fox
trots and 90 for one steps) somebody got hell.

The New Orleans Owls took a more relaxed
approach. As leader and saxophonist Benjie
White explained, during rehearsals at the West
End Roof Garden half the band would rehearse
while the other half danced with college girls.

Albert Nicholas joined King Oliver's Dixie
Syncopators in Chicago in 1926, a band made up
mostly of New Orleans men. In his interview
with Richard B. Allen for the Hogan Jazz
Archive in 1972, Nicholas described how Oliver
would instruct the band to play softly in certain
passages to incorporate the sounds of dancer's
feet for percussive effect.

Each in its own way, these bands sought to cater
to the dancing public for fun and profit
Demand for "hot" and "sweet" dance bands
did much to improve economic conditions for
New Orleans musicians, especially when
debutante balls on Charles Avenue began 10
rely heavily on the services of AJ PiTon's New
Orleans orchestra, the New Orleans Owls, and
Celestin's Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra.

Piron's reputation as a dance band leader was
such that he received an offer to accompany the
Castles (which he declined). After two trips to
New York to record for Victor in 1923 and 1924,
the band returned to become one of New
Orleans' favorite society dance orchestras at
venues like the Pythian Temple Roof Garden
(which Piron bought with royalties from his
compositions and recordings) and Suburban

In a similar vein, trombonist William
~Baba" Ridgley of the Original Tuxedo Jazz
Orchestra remembered how his income increased
from $1.50 per night in Storyville to $25 for a
debutante ball, another indication of how social
acceptance of jazz as a dance music helped it to
rise above earlier connotations of vice and

Ironically, it was the road to broad social
acceptance that ultimately spelled the end of the
dance connection for jazz. By the late 1930's jazz
critics were organizing concerts, such as John
Hammond's Spirituals to Swing" extravaganzas
in 1938 and 1939 at Carnegie Hall, in an effort
to place jazz on an equal footing with classical
music. The advent of bebop and progressive jazz
in the mid-1940s accelerated the trend toward
"jazz as an," and when Bunk Johnson's New
Orleans Band debuted at the Stuyvesant Casino
in New York in the fall of 1945, its musicians
wondered what they were doing wrong when the
assembled jazz intelligentsia just sat and listened.
Today, from Lincoln Center to Preservation Hall,
jazz is regarded primarily as a concert music, but
its history as a dance music reminds us that even
an art form can be fun when invested with the
right spirit and rhythm... by Bruce Boyd Raeburn

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