• 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.

  • An Official Lion Hunter

    This 1922 New York Times Magazine profile article profiled Jay Bruce, the first official state mountain lion hunter for the state of California.

    By an act of the legislature the position was created in 1918, and on Jan. 1, 1919, a hunter, trapper, and guide from Yosemite National Park was selected by the State Fish and Game Commission for the work. This man was Jay Bruce. For $100 a month, mileage, and $35 bounty and salvage for each lion, he agreed to check the cougars that were killing 30,000 deer and many domestic animals in the mountain regions.

    To date, Bruce has 127 lions to his credit.

    Bruce would hold the position until 1946.

    In 1972, then-Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a law which temporarily banned mountain lion hunting for five years. That policy was extended several times over the years until 1990, when California voters banned the practice permanently with Proposition 117, which passed with 52.4% support.

    However, in 2017, the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife began a policy allowing a special “depredation permit” to kill a mountain lion, if the animal had harmed or killed a person’s pets or livestock, and if attempts at non-lethal force had already failed. The first mountain lion killed under the new policy occurred in 2020.

    Back to Jay Bruce in 1922, he was paid fairly well:

    Not only does he get $20 bounty from the state, but he receives $15 for every good skin. These are made into rugs. If he captures cubs alive, his reward is great. A live lion cub is worth $100.

    But he said the real reward was not monetary, but the pursuit:

    “If I had a million dollars, I would still hunt lions,” he said. “The long chase over the snow, racing after the dogs through underbrush, swimming rivers, jumping chasms, alone in the wilderness — that’s life.”

    Here’s a 1920s black-and-white video of Jay Bruce in action, including his voiceover:

    An Official Lion Hunter

    Published: Sunday, June 18, 1922

  • Soviet Smoke Screen and the Hague

    A June 1922 international conference at the Hague aimed to settle Soviet Russia’s economic issues. For example, should the nation be absolved of its WWI debts?

    Although more than 30 nations participated, primarily from Europe, the U.S. refused:

    The Russian memorandum of May 11… set forth that Russia of the Soviets was not bound to recognize the Czar’s debts, was not bound to pay the money Russia borrowed during the war, and was not bound to make compensation for the foreign-owned property Moscow nationalized. … Secretary [of State] Hughes said, in declining the invitation to send a delegation to The Hague, that it is absolutely no use trying to get along with folks who talk that way.

    Charles Hughes’s prediction proved correct. The conference ultimately resulted in a stalemate, with neither side giving in and no binding decisions being reached.

    Another question the conference aimed (and failed) to resolve: what should happen to the formerly-private property that the Soviet government had recently nationalized? Some of it was owned by foreigners, that is to say non-Soviets, so other nations very much had a stake in this issue.

    Under the Soviet regime, no individuals could own real property. And the Russians were not going to give to foreigners a privilege they refused their own nationals. Not only was it against their principles but, a consideration probably stronger, it would be poor politics.

    In 2022, one of the big Russian economic questions is what to do with the oligarchs’ yachts seized by foreign governments, after international sanctions were levied over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Italy is actually trying to decide what to do right now. One of their options is told an auction to sell off the yachts.

    I enter the news-themed humor contest of the news magazine The Week every Friday, and two weeks ago their contest asked readers to title that hypothetical auction. My five favorite winners:

    • the third-place winner from Kenneth Burgan of Grass Valley, California: “Everything Moscow!”
    • from Glen Alfredson of Durham, North Carolina: “Lloyds of Laundering” 
    • from Patty Oberhausen of Fort Wayne, Indiana: “All Sails Final” 
    • from Michael Grossman of San Dimas, California: “Make us an offer—he can’t refuse!”
    • from Pamela Keating of Phoenix, Arizona: “Leningrab”

    Soviet Smoke Screen and the Hague

    Published: Sunday, June 11, 1922

  • One Hundred Years, More or Less

    Back in 1922, living to age 100 was rare — extremely rare. As this New York Times Magazine article described:

    “When we read of someone’s living away beyond his one hundredth birthday we may feel pretty sure that the fable is narrated of an Indian or a negro or an illiterate white, and that documentary support of the claim is not forthcoming. Like the moving of mountains, it is a matter of faith.”

    According to the 1920 Census, that year there were 4,267 centenarians, or about .004% of the population.

    As lifespans lengthen, those stats have exploded since then. The Census Bureau estimates there are currently 97,914 centenarians in the U.S. That’s about .029% of the population.

    That means the centenarian percent of the population was only about 13% as large back then as it is today. Another way of saying that is the percentage is 7.3x as large now.

    Also curious that the 1922 article would refer to somebody celebrating “his” 100th birthday, since the vast majority of centenarians then were female. The 1920 Census said there were 2,706 female centenarians and 1,561 males, or 63.4% women.

    That’s a fairly large discrepancy even as it was, but it’s actually considerably higher now. The Census Bureau currently projects that there are 73,427 female centarians but only 24,487 males, meaning 74.9% women.

    As the song by the band Five for Fighting goes: “You’ve only got a hundred years to live.”

    One Hundred Years, More or Less

    Published: Sunday, June 4, 1922

  • Authors and Alcohol

    Novels often take 2-3 years to write their works. So during the third year of Prohibition in 1922, the New York Times Magazine asked: do writers need alcohol for greatness, and was Prohibition starting to affect the quality of American literature?

    [Sir Arthur] Quiller-Couch asserted boldly that a total abstainer was imperfectly equipped for high literature. [George Bernard] Shaw took violent exception to this statement. He offered Shelley and himself as examples to prove it fallacious. He said, “If Quiller-Couch asserted that alcohol can add a single inch of gray matter to the brain, then I want to know how much he had had when he said it.”

    Altogether, it seemed too good a fight to leave tucked away in England. So a number of American writers have been asked how they felt about it. Hamlin Garland supports Shaw. Irvin S. Cobb and Charles Hanson Towne stand up for Quiller-Couch, each in his characteristic manner. So does Samuel Hopkins Adams, with certain reservations. Gertrude Atherton and Robert Chambers find the issue incapable of a general solution.

    What actually happened was a number of the most prominent American novelists of the Prohibition area avoided the question entirely by becoming expatriates living in Europe, where they could drink to their heart’s content. Notable examples include Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

    As for my personal opinion on whether drinking improves one’s writing? I’m publishing this blog post on a Sunday, after having just performed at a piano bar on Friday and Saturday night… and it’s hard for me to imagine that heavy drinking improves people’s ability to do much of anything cognitive.

    Authors and Alcohol (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, May 7, 1922

  • From Molière to America

    In 1922, the Western writer and novelist Owen Wister postulated an interesting thesis: that America’s most famous “writers” were not primarily writers at all, not in the way that (for example) Shakespeare was.

    Wister notes that America’s most famous words globally had come from the pens of those like Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and Abraham Lincoln:

    America has produced neither a Molière nor a Shakespeare as yet… If such are to be found at all, I think we shall discover the best of them in pages written by our men of action.

    He who identified lightning with electricity changed science, and his sayings have made the Bonhomme Richard [Poor Richard’s Almanac] remembered. In his day they were translated into almost every tongue, and some still live on the tips of men. He remains our greatest intellect, and he was first and foremost a man of action.

    Then, he who wrote a certain Farewell Address which we count among our few classics, was another man of action. And he who wrote “with malice toward none, with charity for all,” left us in that, as well as in his Gettysburg address, two more classics. Each of those three has written enduring pages more widely known today outside their country, and of more intrinsic weight, than any that I can recall by our men of letters.

    In an interesting tidbit to modern eyes, Wester then references four works of American literature which had achieved some level of international acclaim, three of which are still widely known today — and one of which has been almost completely forgotten.

    It is true that Leatherstockings walked in other lands, that Hester Prynne has made her way beyond English speech, that the gambler of the California mines and the boy on his raft in the Mississippi have voyaged beyond their native shores.

    The first, second, and fourth references were to James Fenimore Cooper’s 1828 The Last of the Mohicans (“Leatherstockings”), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 The Scarlet Letter (“Hester Prynne”), and Mark Twain’s 1884 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (“the boy on his raft in the Mississippi”). But what is “the gambler of the California mines”?

    Googling ‘California mines gambler novel,’ the answer appears to be Bret Harte’s 1868 short story The Luck of Roaring Camp, which Wikipedia says “helped push Harte to international prominence.” Maybe at the time, but that’s the one of the four referenced works which has truly faded to obscurity over the years. You never can predict what will last in the cultural zeitgeist.

    From Molière to America (PDF)

    Published: Sunday, April 30, 1922

  • The Woman and the Stick

    In 1922, New York Times Magazine published an opinion column — written by the pseudonymous “A Barbarian Bachelor” — advocating for wife-beating. It seems a safe bet he remained a bachelor for a while after this.

    Woman feels in her natural sphere, and therefore satisfied and happy when she is controlled absolutely by a man. Therefore, for the happiness of both, it it necessary that the man be dominant.

    Outside of all this bunkum about the soul, there is only one way that the superiority of man appeals to woman — and that is physically. To make a woman happy, a man must keep fixed in her mind this physical superiority at all times. The failure of the New York man to do this is resulting in the decadence of the New York woman.

    The way for him to recover his lost position is by the use of the stick.

    By this I mean the actual physical beating of his wife.

    One wonders what the author would think of the NYT’s 2020 Democratic presidential nomination joint endorsement of Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar.

     

    The Woman and the Stick

    Published: Sunday, March 26, 1922

  • The Wild West’s Own New York

    What place did New York occupy in the American imagination in 1922?

    This piece by Anne O’Hara McCormick acknowledged it was the highest-population city and the country’s cultural capital, but noted that in a nation so geographically large (and still expanding), it couldn’t dominate the nation as some European countries’ political and/or cultural capitals did.

    We read New York papers. We flock to New York shows. We wear New York clothes. We tremble over New York tickers in our business hours and shake to New York jazz in our hours of ease.

    New York has not, it may be, the charm to evoke emotion in the provinces as do older national metropolises. We do not love New York as the English love London. We are not proud of it as the French are proud of Paris. We do not thrill to it as the Italians thrill to Rome.We do not weep over it as the Austrians weep over Vienna.

    Her article also predicted that New York state was perhaps losing its stronghold in that another metric: producing U.S. presidents. Although there was a period where three out of five consecutive presidents counted New York as their political home state — Chester A. Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt — by 1922:

    We watch the political spectacle in New York and Philadelphia and Boston and rejoice in our emancipation from the corrupt and stupid civic slavery of the east. We used to resent it, but since we have abandoned the east to its sins, since we have chosen four out of the last five presidents of the United States from small towns and three from Ohio, since we have enthroned the small town in the Senate and in the White House, and have given Congress over to the west.

    She was wrong: New York’s own Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected 10 years later. As for Ohio, it actually hasn’t produced a president since the incumbent in 1922: Warren G. Harding.

    As for the last five presidents, they’ve really hailed from all over the map: Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, New York, and Delaware.

    The Wild West’s Own New York

    Published: Sunday, March 5, 1922

  • Our All-American Aliens

    From 1907 to 1931, an American woman would lose her citizenship if she married a non-American man, taking the husband’s nationality instead — even if she’d never visited the country in question or spoke the language.

    This 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained the situation: 

    Few people realize that there is in this country a group of individuals born here of native stock, many of whom have never left the shores of the U.S.A., even for a Cook’s tour, and who are, nevertheless, aliens. They are classified as such in the census returns. They cannot vote. They cannot take the civil service examinations. They cannot fill municipal, state, or federal positions. If they left this country it might be difficult for them to return. Some of them may not have moved from the village of their birth. They are indeed as American as the president himself, and yet overnight they have become German, Austrian, English, Russian, Italian, French, or Swedish.

    No similar rules applied vice versa to American men who married non-citizen women.

    Although the Supreme Court upheld the law’s constitutionality in 1915’s MacKenzie v. Hare, after women gained the right to vote nationwide in 1920, the loss of citizenship was being felt more acutely. In September 1922, a few months after this February 1922 article, Congress enacted the Cable Act which partially reversed the rules, though still leaving several exemptions in place allowing some married women to lose their U.S. citizenship upon marrying a foreigner. The law would be fully overturned in 1931.

    Our All-American Aliens

    Published: Sunday, February 26, 1922

  • Putting the Music Into the Jazz

    In 1922, bandleaders like Paul Whitehead were transforming jazz from an art form some considered unrefined, into more classical-infused symphonic jazz like Rhapsody in Blue, the iconic piece Whitehead commissioned two years later.

    Racial subtext was at play here, with “unrefined” and “refined” often serving as euphemisms for what was really going on: jazz originated in the black community and was altered to become more amenable to white sensibilities. As this 1922 New York Times Magazine article explained:

    Jazz was offensive to the trained musical ear. The new dance music does not produce discords, because it is constructed in accordance with the laws of harmony. It might be called good music in slang — as O. Henry was good literature in slang.

    Suddenly the flexible saxophone supplies a gay note of humor — but there is no tossing of instruments in the air. Nobody calls “O Boy!” Instead, color and contrast and rhythm are playing on the senses of the dancers by the perfectly good scientific rules of music.

    Just speaking for myself, I would rather see the performance in which musicians tossed their instruments in the air.

    Putting the Music Into the Jazz

    Published: Sunday, February 19, 2022

     

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