Myth has it that jazz was born in the brothels of New Orleans' famous Red Light District, Storyville. In fact, much of the music in 'the District's' high-class bordellos sounded more like 'parlor music' than jazz. On the streets, in dance halls, and in Storyville cabarets like The Big 25 and Pete Lala's, Freddy Keppard and King Oliver experimented with music so new, it didn't even have a name.
As many are coming to terms with the human devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast, many within the United States and around the world also are expressing concern over the fate of cultural icons and places critical to the development of New Orleans' musical heritage.
Louis Armstrong Park, the location of Congo Square, historic site of African slave gatherings, the only place in North American where pure West African religious ritual and musical traditions were performed.
Congo Square is considered the wellspring of all New Orleans music and, consequently, so much of the world's most popular song. It is also the site of the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (1970), the Municipal Auditorium, and WWOZ, the world's greatest radio station.
HISTORIC SITES, ARTIFACTS
A BLEND OF MUSICAL CULTURES
When post-Civil War segregation in New Orleans forced the comparatively affluent Creoles more firmly into the African-American community, their musical cultures blended.
In adapting new styles during the late 19th century, military brass instruments, such as trumpets, that many Creoles were trained on, mimicked the former slaves' church spirituals and blues in their tone and intonation. Thus, blacks and Creoles together invented a new style of music.
"Like the city that gave it birth, like the country that would soon embrace it, this new music would always be more than the sum of its parts," the Burns film said.
With many of the city's music venues located in Storyville, the local red light district, the new music started out with an association with the underworld - a connection that later would be enhanced during the 1920s Prohibition era when it would be performed in speakeasies which illegally served alcoholic beverages. The new music was called 'jass', reportedly from the jasmine perfume worn by prostitutes, and was shortly thereafter corrupted to its present form 'jazz'.
As the locale for the birth of this new art form, of course, the first, and some of the most renowned jazz artists were New Orleans natives.
Buddy Bolden, a trumpet player, was the first musician celebrated for playing jazz. He invented the 'big four', a syncopated rhythm that became exclusive to the new form of music, and he led the first jazz band.
A young Creole pianist named Ferdinand Joseph La Mothe used to sneak away to play clubs in Storyville, telling his grandmother he was working as a night watchman. Rechristening himself as Jelly Roll Morton, he was the first jazz musician to put his compositions on paper. Once his grandmother discovered the 17-year-old was frequenting New Orleans' red light district, Morton left home and began his life as a traveling performer.
Sydney Bechet, another Creole who played clarinet and soprano saxophone, has been called 'the poet of New Orleans music.' Joining vaudeville shows touring the South and the Midwest, his playing style was characterized by vibrato and attack.
Joe 'King' Oliver, a cornet player and band leader in Storyville, played in brass bands, dance bands and in various small groups in New Orleans bars and cabarets before leaving for Chicago in 1918.
And perhaps the most famous jazz artist of all, trumpeter Louis Armstrong, was born into poverty in 1901 in the violent section of New Orleans known as "The Battlefield." As a boy, Armstrong led a band at a New Orleans waifs' home and played steamboats traveling up and down the Mississippi River before joining King Oliver's band in Chicago and eventually achieving international stardom.
THE EXPANSION OF JAZZgeorgeschmidt.com
George Schmidt's lithographs are reproductions of his original oil paintings.
Mr. Schmidt's works are included in the collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art,
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Jazz expanded as musicians left New Orleans for places such as Chicago, New York and Kansas City. The first ever recording by a jazz artist in 1917 brought the music to a wider, multiracial audience and expanded its popularity.
Gerald Early, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, says in Burns' film that one explanation for the music's spreading appeal is that it 'was a way for people to break with the old.'
'Black people, when they invented this music, weren't looking back to Africa. They were looking at America and looking at the future and looking at what they were as Americans. Europeans who came to this country were attracted to this music [and] found in this music a way to break free from Europe,' he said.
And jazz, as well as other forms of music, remained an integral part of New Orleans life thereafter.
"Music is part of the big three," said Jack Stewart, a member of the New Orleans Jazz Commission in a September 11 article published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "New Orleans is food, architecture and music. Everyone in New Orleans is a musician or has a relative who's a musician, whether they are professional or amateur."
And perhaps partly as reassurance or even defiance, organizers of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival announced September 12 that the event indeed will take place in 2006. If it does not materialize in the ruined fairgrounds, "It will be as close to New Orleans as we can get it," producer-director Quint Davis told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
As the floodwaters recede, news reports are filtering in about the fate of famous musical venues.
Preservation Hall, a celebrated jazz club located in the middle of the French Quarter, apparently was spared, and its Website now is serving as a network to connect displaced New Orleans musicians.
However, the fairgrounds, which hosts the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival every spring, has barely survived, and the roof reportedly has been torn off the grandstand.
In a September 1 article published by the Village Voice, musicologist Ned Sublette expressed alarm over the fate of artifacts and other primary historical items that catalogued the development of jazz music as an American art form.
"Everything from documents to recordings to things that are in private hands [are lost]. Many of the more serious archives are on higher floors -- presumably many of them have survived the floodwaters. But what condition are they in? How quickly will cultural workers be able to get in and rescue the patrimony which is very important in understanding where American music came from?" Sublette asked.
John Robichaux's Orchestra playing at the Japanese Room at Antoine's.
Visit the George Schmidt Gallery
Prior to Bolden's rise to fame, the most popular society band in New Orleans was John Robichaux's Orchestra, made up of Creole musicians known for their polish and ability. Bolden's success forced Robichaux to add get off men to his band in order to attract a jazz following. His orchestra played for white and black audiences, and went on to become the pit band at the Lyric Theater, the city's premier black vaudeville house in the early 1920's.
A NEW MUSICAL FORM
A little more than a century ago, there was no such music as jazz. The accumulated classical western musical tradition in the United States, while loved and respected, beautiful and complex, did not encourage improvisation or syncopated rhythms, and was often the exclusive purview of the privileged.
In Jazz: A Film By Ken Burns, which first aired on public television in 2001, director Ken Burns explored the history and development of this American music form from its beginnings through its more contemporary styles.
According to the film, jazz 'grew up in a thousand places, but it was born in New Orleans, which was in the early 1800s, the most cosmopolitan and the most musical city in America.'
Jazz ultimately was a combination of black music styles: Caribbean rhythms, the Baptist church call-and-response hymns, and slave work songs, along with some classical styles played by educated New Orleans Creoles -- people in the city of all races who shared a French or Spanish background -- who performed in brass bands and parades. The combination of all these styles led to ragtime and the blues, and ultimately to jazz.
Burns says the art of improvisation, one of jazz music's defining characteristics, was partly due to the fact that African slaves, brought to a new land and confronting a new status, culture and language, had to improvise by necessity. 'To survive in America, slaves needed to be able to incorporate everything they saw and heard around them, [and] had to find ways to make it all their own,' Burns said.
George Schmidt is a history painter.
He has produced several series of paintings that accurately depict New Orleans Jazz and Carnival history.
Through extensive research, he has documented the early days of Jazz history with great attention to detail and historical accuracy.
Visit the George Schmidt Gallery
The "Big 25," known earlier as Pet Lala's, was Storyville's foremost musicians' hangout;
Oliver led a band there. This 1954 photo was taken shortly before it was torn down..
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, San Francisco 1921
Ram Hall, Honore Dutrey, King Oliver, Lil Hardin-Armstrong, David Jones, Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Palao, Ed Garland
Top row: William Warner, William Cornish, Charlie "Buddy" Bolden, James Johnson
Seated: Frank Lewis, Jeff "Brock" Mumford
They marched (without the bass and piano) to wakes and from them in Negro New Orleans. They marched for weddings and for political rallies, when they were summoned away from their ghetto precincts. They marched again and again, just to march, for the pleasure of the members of the fraternal organizations and the secret orders with which their culture abounded. There were always plenty of other parades too for the Fourth of July and Labor Day and Jackson Day and Carnival, for funerals and during election campaigns. And when the bands got going and the beat became irresistible, the followers, chiefly youngsters, fell in, dancing behind the musicians and keeping up the friendly, informal infernality. The bands played all the standard hymns, such as "Rock of Ages" and "Nearer, My God, to Thee" and "Onward, Christian Soldiers," and they made of some of them immortal jazz compositions, lifted forever from the parade or the funeral to the night club and the recording studio and the concert hall. And such a transfiguration as they turned out of "When the Saints Go Marching In" deserved the larger audience it finally found for its humors, at once delicate and assaulting, satirical and deeply religious. There were the "Saints" and the "Rock" and the "Soldiers" to move the deceased nearer to his God as he was brought to his resting place in the special section of the cemetery reserved for Negroes. Once he was interred, the music changed. "Didn't He Ramble?" the bandsmen asked rhetorically and followed the tale of a rambling townsman with their freely improvised, booming, blasting choruses, one after another, leading from the "Ramble" to Alphonse Picou's polka-like "High Society" and Jelly Roll Morton's tribute to a fellow Mississippian pianist, King Porter, after whom "King Porter Stomp" was named. Maybe they'd finish off with a rag, Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf" perhaps, or the most famous of all, "Tiger Rag," fashioned from an old French quadrille. Whatever they played, the bands blew a mighty sound along the streets and through the alleys and into the squares of New Orleans. And when they were finished with parades they played for dances, little and big, and they brought with them into the makeshift and the more solidly constructed ballrooms and into the parks all the atmosphere of the marching band. Their dances looked and sounded almost like the big ballroom blowouts of the twenties and thirties in Harlem at the Savoy or the Renaissance, or in Chicago or St. Louis or any other town where Negroes gathered to listen and to dance to their music.
It's colorful. It's amusing. It is also a picture of depravity, in which humans are reduced to inanimate things for sheer pleasure. Some jazzmen succumbed to the several lures of their surroundings; most didn't. Some became pimps, increasing their income from music by their industrious procuring; most were content to be paid for playing the music they loved. It cannot fairly be concluded that jazz must live in such an atmosphere. At times jazz has thrived on vice and vice has lived luxuriously upon it. Music has always accompanied debauches; it has not necessarily reflected or condoned them.
Jazz musicians on the whole would probably prefer to live in a healthier environment than Storyville provided. Their wholesale departure from New Orleans after World War I was perhaps an attempt to find such an environment, as well as a search for new employment. The former was much less successful than the latter, but the struggle of sensitive jazzmen to achieve dignity has never ceased, and it has succeeded more often than the legends and the newspaper chronicles have ever suggested.
(per) DANNY BARKER
Whore house - managed by a larceny-hearted landlady, strictly business
Crib - Two or three stars venture for themselves, future landladies.
Clip joint - While one jives you, another creeps or crawls in and rifles your pockets.
And here are some sporting women and the nicknames of a few well-known Crescent City characters:
(per) LOUIS ARMSTRONG
The district, a sizable chunk of New Orleans, was at first open to Negroes and mulattos, at least in certain sections, and they brought their trade and their music with them. In the last eight months of organized Storyville a restricted Negro district about half the size of Storyville proper was established. But for most of the two important decades Negro and white women, Negro and white musicians, worked side by side. Here in what their owners and residents invariably called palaces, chateaux, and maisons, in what are accurately named honky-tonks, in saloons, and in all the other entertainment places except perhaps the "cribs," the tiny dwellings of the cheapest prostitutes, jazz was played. The well-placed white man in New Orleans looked down upon Storyville, publicly regarded it as a civic disgrace, whatever his private behavior; but at Carnival time, and especially on the day of Mardi Gras, this Orleanian lost none of his propriety and gained much in warmth by joining with the district in a celebration long since world-famous. The white Carnival had its King Rex, and the Negroes their King Zulu and their music, easily the most distinguished contribution to the jubilant festivities.
The Countess (Willie Piazza) apparently was the first to hire a pianist, and there is a story, perhaps apocryphal, that his name, self-adopted or conferred by the customers ("club boys"), was John the Baptist. Another of the Countess's pianists was Tony Jackson, a showmanly musician who brought vaudeville into the brothel, and after 1908 became an established name in New York. He will be forever associated with his song, "I've Got Elgin Movements in My Hips with Twenty Years' Guarantee."
Lulu White could also boast some fine pianists, notably Richard M. Jones, who died during the 1940s in Chicago, and Clarence Williams, who when he came to New York probably brought more of New Orleans with him than any other man, in his song-writing, record-making, and public performances. The most famous of the Anderson Annex pianists was Ferdinand Joseph (Jelly Roll) Morton, the Gulfport, Mississippi musician, who will be remembered as long for his spoken jazz narratives as for his piano-playing and composing.
Lulu White's Mahogany Hall and adjoining saloon, at the corner of Bienville and Basin Streets, makes a good starting point for a tour of the area where jazz flourished from the late 1880s to 1917. Right before us, as we face south, is the Southern Railroad, a stretch of tracks leading along Basin Street to the terminal on Canal.
A block east, on Iberville, is Tom Anderson's Annex, and back of it, on Franklin Street, the 101 Ranch, which had changed by 1910 from a kind of waterfront saloon, though some distance from the river, into one of the most impressive of the jazz hangouts, where King Oliver and Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster and Emanuel Perez played some of their strong early notes.
Billy Phillips, owner of the 101, opened the Tuxedo Dance Hall diagonally across from the Ranch. The Tuxedo was the scene of many police raids and ultimately of Phillips's killing.
Freddie Keppard played his driving cornet at the Tuxedo, and later Johnny Dodds was the featured clarinetist and Oscar Celestin led the band named after the hall, the Tuxedo Band, which in a later edition was still playing on Bourbon Street in New Orleans in 1951.
Two blocks away from Lulu White's, at Liberty and Bienville, was the Poodle Dog Cafe a name used in city after city; it was popular from 1910 through the early twenties as far north as Washington, D.C., where a cafe of the same name was the scene of Duke Ellington's first piano-playing job. North one block and east another, on Iberville, was Pete Lala's Cafe, much patronized for the music as well as the barrels of liquor, and where, at one time or another, Kid Ory and King Oliver and Louis Armstrong led bands.
Lala also owned "The 25" club, a block down from the Tuxedo, another of the some-time jazz places.
Down the railroad tracks, as one goes away from the center of town on Basin Street, are cemeteries. Up Iberville and Bienville and Conti, going north, are cemeteries. If you follow the tracks, past the cemeteries, past St. Louis Street and Lafitte Avenue, you reach what is now called Beauregard Square, where now squats the Municipal Auditorium, graced with flowers and grass shrubbery. Now, in season, there are band concerts and rallies and public events of all sorts here.
In 1803, Fort St. Ferdinand, built by the Spaniards on this spot, was destroyed in an attempt to wipe out yellow fever, thought to be caused by the stagnant water of the moats and the abundant filth of the city's ramparts. The park which replaced the fort was at first used as a circus ground, then enclosed with an iron fence and made into a Sunday-afternoon promenade ground and pleasance for Orleanians. For the city's Negro slaves, granted a half-holiday every Sunday, the new park was a wonderful gathering-place. Named Congo Square, the great open area was used by the Negroes for games, for singing to the accompaniment of tom-toms, for Voodoo ritual and ceremony. Here such of Africa as remained passed into Negro Creole life in America. Here were uttered the strange chants, the curious sounds, the ancient cries of the tribes, transformed, subtly but unmistakably, by French and Spanish culture: "Pov piti Lolotte a mourn" softly, not clearly; "Pov piti Lolotte a mown" more firmly now, and clearer to the ear, repeated like the first line of the blues; then, twice, "Li gagnin bobo, bobo" the second time with a variation, "Li gagnin doule"; then, again, the first line, sung twice; and finally, "Li gagnin bobo, Li gagnin doule" The hypnotic effect must have been irresistible. The affinity with the remaining traces of Voodoo in Haiti, and in the rites of the Candomble in Brazil is unmistakable music, incantatory words, and dancing. The dancing, before the half-holiday celebrations ceased during the Civil War, attracted its share of tourists to sway and be moved in spite of themselves by the hypnotic beat.
The bamboulas, huge tom-toms made of cowhide and casks, were the bass drums, pummeled with long beefbones. Bamboo tubes produced a skeletal melody. Staccato accents were made by the snapping together of bones the castanets. An ass's jawbone was rattled; the instrument is still used in Latin-American music and is known as the guajira, a word that means "rude" or "boorish," "rustic" or "rural" in present-day Cuban Spanish. Many Negro instruments, rhythms, and dances came to be used in Central and South America, leading eventually to the rhumba and the conga, the samba and the mambo, in Cuba, Argentina, and Brazil, where, as in New Orleans, music developed in numbers of Congo Squares, half-holiday games and chants and dances. The effect of Congo Square was twice felt in jazz; once directly, as it filtered through the tonks and the barrelhouses, the Storyville parlors and ballrooms; again indirectly, when bebop musicians went to Cuba to reclaim their earlier heritage.
By the end of the 1880s New Orleans Negro musicians were no longer playing jawbones, hide-covered casks, or bamboo tubes. As they grew more interested in the meaning and mechanics of music, they became more interested in the white man's instruments, which offered broader, fuller expression. These men, like many members of the American Federation of Musicians today, were part-time instrumentalists, who by day cut hair or served food or lifted bales or ran errands, but by night or on Saturdays or Sundays, for special or ordinary celebrations, played the instruments of the white man. The instrumentation of jazz at the end of the nineteenth century was in a sense conventional, although it was not the dance-music instrumentation familiar to most Orleanians. For the string trio (heard even in brothels) and the larger polite organization of bows and gut, Negro musicians substituted brass-band horns, cornet and clarinet and trombone, with an occasional roughening contributed by a tuba. Rhythm came, naturally enough, from drums and the string bass (more often than the tuba), and sometimes from the piano. These were the logical instruments, for the first large contribution to the new music was made by marching bands.
Jazz was absorbed into Negro New Orleans and passed on to interested whites. It was taken up with that mixture of casual acceptance and rabid enthusiasm that is always found when an art form becomes an integrated part of a culture. Whole bands were hired to advertise excursions on the river, picnics by the lake, prize fights, and dances; whole bands were lifted onto furniture wagons, bass, guitar, cornet, clarinet, and drums, with the trombonist's slide hanging behind as he sat on the back edge, feet hanging down, slide hanging down, forming the "tailgate" of the wagon. Music was everywhere in the last years of Storyville and the first years of jazz.