Jazz Latitutde

After jazz first emerged in New Orleans in the early 1910s, it spread across the country. A 1922 New York Times Magazine article documented how the genre had by then gone global, summing it up in a single 242-word sentence:

Jazz latitude is marked as indelibly on the globe as the heavy line of the equator. It runs from Broadway along Main Street to San Francisco: to the Hawaiian Islands, which it has lyricized to fame; to Japan, where it is hurriedly adopted as some new Western culture; to the Philippines, where it is royally welcomed back as its own; to China where the mandarins and even the coolies look upon it as a helpful sign that the Occident [an antonym of “the Orient”] at last knows what is music; to Siam [modern-day Thailand], where the barbaric tunes strike a kindred note and come home to roost; to India, where the natives receive it dubiously, while the colonists seize upon it avidly; to the East Indies, where it holds sway in its elementary form — ragtime; to Egypt, where it sounds so curiously familiar and where it has set Cairo dance mad; to Palestine, where it is looked upon as an inevitable and necessary evil along with liberation; across the Mediterranean, where all ships and all shores have been inoculated with the germ; to Monte Carlo and the Riviera, where the jazz idea has been adopted as its own enfant-chéri [a term meaning “something that is highly favored”]; to Paris, which has its special versions of jazz; to London, which long has sworn to shake off the fever, but still is jazzing; and back again to Tinpan Alley, where each day, nay, each hour, adds some new inspiration that will slowly but surely meander along jazz latitude.

For a great example of modern-day American music genres spanning the globe, look no further than May’s winner of the annual songwriting contest EuroVision. The winning song was Stefania by the Ukrainian group Kalush Orchestra. 

When I saw the headline that Ukraine had won, I thought, “These contests are so political. I’ll bet the song is actually awful.” But it’s actually amazing.

For one thing, it’s not tragic at all, like I thought it would be — it’s vibrant and shows the kind of culture that the Ukrainians are fighting for. But it’s also unlike anything I’ve ever heard before, musically speaking. I mean, they have the internet in Ukraine, so they hear 21st century American rap stars. It sounds like half modern rap and half 1800s chants from rural mountainous goat herders. But when you watch the live performance, they look like… cool rural mountainous goat herders, somehow? I’ve never seen anything like it. But I love it.

Make sure you watch it with closed captioning on, by clicking the ‘CC’ button near the bottom-right of the YouTube video. That way, you can follow the lyrics along in English. That might be turned on by default, depending on your YouTube settings.

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