Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

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 (PDF)

Published: Sunday, February 19, 2022

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

February 20th, 2022 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Music

“Jazz ‘er Up!”: Broadway’s Conquest of Europe

Jazz, that uniquely American art form, was beginning to take Europe by storm in 1921.

In Paris and a score of other European centres of gayety the words “fox-trot” and “one-step” have become so much a part of the local language that natives have to think twice to remember that the words were originally imported from America and are still members in good standing of the English language.

The catch is, it wasn’t the same jazz songs that were taking America by storm simultaneously.

There is a saying that Paris is the place where good Americans go when they die. Be that as it may as regards ourselves, it certainly applies to American jazz tunes when they die in America. It is quite a pleasurable sensation when one is walking along the street in Paris to hear suddenly, issuing from the lips of a light-hearted Parisian, an American tune which anybody around Forty-second Street and Broadway would have told you had died — after long and honorable service on some of the hottest sectors of the Broadway cabaret front — in the Autumn of 1917.

In the modern era where any cultural phenomena can be consumed simultaneously in all parts of the globe, it’s hard to remember that things used to spread worldwide more slowly. This continued for decades to come — in December 1963, the Beatles received their first radio airplay when a Maryland teenager named Marsha Albert requested them, as the band’s music had spread slowly from Europe.

“Jazz ‘er Up!” Broadway’s Conquest of Europe (PDF)

Published: Sunday, December 18, 1921

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

December 22nd, 2021 at 9:15 am

Posted in Music,Overseas

Conspiracy of Silence Against Jazz

By September 1919, jazz was really starting to permeate the country. Some were not thrilled, as in this article which described the genre as “that negation of rhythmical sound and motion.”

The close-up dancing offended the sensibilities of many, such as the article’s author Robert J. Cole:

If there is one thing the dance of the moment lacks it is distance. Distance, enchantment, glamour. And without these it can never hope to snare the favoring attention of those to whom the dance, in spite of all the hurly-burly, yet lives a glory and a gleam in the ideal vision of art.

Of course, by 2019, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll are probably the two older genres most cited by those who claim that modern music is terrible.

The first printed use of the word “jazz” in a musical context was in 1916. The word’s earliest appearance in the New York Times, according to a search in the newspaper’s archives sorted by date, appears to be a September 1917 reference to “Bagpipers, a jazz band” at a tennis exhibition.

Conspiracy of Silence Against Jazz: Exponents of the True Poetry of Motion Seemed to Agree with That Young Author, Daisy Ashford, That Least Said Soonest Mended (PDF)

Published: Sunday, September 21, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 19th, 2019 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Music

No German Music — Lest We Forget

Eleonora de Cisneros, a major opera singer in 1919, argued that April of that year was too soon to enjoy German music, coming so soon after WWI:

There are 800,000 Germans in New York City who want German music! But you men and women who listened to that music, if you have a drop of allied blood in your veins, how could you applaud it? … I would as soon have applauded as I would have laughed at a procession of the weeping, violated women-children of France and Belgium! … The man or woman who can today listen to German music as in antebellum days is either a German, a neutral, or a pacifist!

How long was enough time to wait? Cisneros didn’t say. But in 1963, the song “Sukiyaki” by Kyu Sakamoto topped America’s Billboard Hot 100 chart, 18 years after Japan was America’s enemy in World War II.

No German Music — Lest We Forget (PDF)

Published: Sunday, April 20, 1919

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

April 18th, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Posted in Debate,Music

An International Anthem — Britain and America

 

This attempt for a joint anthem between the United Kingdom and the United States, written in 1913, never really caught on. Why not? Surely it wasn’t the music, because the tune was the same as “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” which everybody still knows today.

Likely people just preferred the lyrics to a singular national anthem rather than a combined one. And after WWI ended, with the exception of WWII, there wasn’t really a geopolitical context in which a joint anthem was considered so necessary. After all, in the World Series earlier this month between the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, who would want to hear a joint U.S.-U.K. anthem sung before the game?

An International Anthem — Britain and America. Tune: “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,” and “God Save the King” (PDF)

From Sunday, November 25, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

November 30th, 2017 at 1:05 pm

Posted in Music

Teaching Uncle Sam’s Fighters to Sing

The War Department (later renamed the Defense Department) in 1916 placed “song leaders” in the training camps for the military. Why?

“‘A songless army,’ says Major Gen. J. Franklin Bell, commander of Camp Upton, ‘would lack in the fighting spirit in proportion as it lacked responsiveness to music. There is no more potent force in developing unity in an army than in that of song.'”

We eventually won World War I, though it’s hard to say how much if anything song had to do with that. Still — from “cadence calls” that cadets sing out in time to their steps as they go on runs, to USO tours which bring popular music performers to entertain the troops overseas, music has always played a part in the U.S. military.

Teaching Uncle Sam’s Fighters to Sing: Organized Work Being Done Under Experienced Leaders in Camps All Over the Country — Difficulties of a Song Leader’s Job (PDF)

From Sunday, September 30, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

September 30th, 2017 at 12:01 pm

Posted in Military / War,Music

‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as Nation’s Anthem

The Francis Scott Key song, though written in 1814, was not fully recognized as the American national anthem until patriotic fervor struck upon involvement in World War I in 1917. The Star-Spangled Banner would not be officially declared as the American national anthem until 1931, and would not even be played at a sports game for the first time until 1918.

As this article notes: “No theater audiences stood while it was being played in 1898, and, in fact, the general disposition at that period, at least in the Northeastern part of the United States, was to elevate ‘My Country, ‘Tis of Thee,’ to the place of honor.”

I can personally attest that being the singer for the national anthem before a sports game, as this column I wrote for my college newspaper years ago recounts:

‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as Nation’s Anthem: Only Since the Present War Against Germany Began Has It Been Generally Recognized — The Real Story of Its Origin (PDF)

From Sunday, July 15, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

July 19th, 2017 at 7:31 am

American Song Makers Seek War Tune of the ‘Tipperary’ Kind

No particularly notable or well-recognized patriotic songs had been composed in the months America’s involvement in World War I, lamented this June 1917 article. That problem was clearly rectified by 1918, when Irving Berlin composed God Bless America, even if the song did not truly take off until World War II a few decade later. Today, it is known by almost every schoolchild, was sung by members of Congress on the steps of the U.S. Capitol on the afternoon of 9/11, and a snippet was even performed by Lady Gaga at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show.

American Song Makers Seek War Tune of the ‘Tipperary’ Kind (PDF)

From Sunday, June 3, 1917

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

May 31st, 2017 at 4:48 pm

City’s Summer Music Problem Solved at Last

From September 3, 1916

City's Summer Music

City’s Summer Music Problem Solved at Last: Success of Popular-Priced Concerts Which Filled Madison Square Garden Leads to Outdoor Opera at City College Stadium (PDF)

An article about the then-recent attempts in 1916 to have low-priced opera and orchestral concerts for the New York City public. This sentence in particular illustrates just how long ago this was: “When you get something like 8,000 persons at a concert in New York it means something!” Later today as of this writing, Bruce Springsteen is playing MetLife Stadium which has a seating capacity of 82,000.

The 1916 article also quotes Oscar Hammerstein, a major figure in orchestral composing at the time. You may better know his son Oscar Hammerstein II, who several decades later as a member of the famed duo Rodgers and Hammerstein composed such legendary Broadway musicals as The Sound of MusicThe King and I, and Oklahoma!

Leave a comment

Written by A Step in the Write Direction

August 30th, 2016 at 4:06 pm

Posted in Entertainment,Music

Rich Men Who Have Organs Built In Their Homes

From September 17, 1911

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES

RICH MEN WHO HAVE ORGANS BUILT IN THEIR HOMES: And Who Employ Organists by the Year to Give Them Music at Their Own Firesides — More Than $50,000 Has Been Paid for Some of These Organs. (PDF)

As mentioned in the article, the “largest and costliest organ in the United States” belonged to Frederick G. Bourne’s and was installed in his Oakdale, Long Island home.

According to the Organ Historical Society’s Pipe Organ Database (who knew?) the residence became a military academy after Bourne died, and in 1948 the organ was sold. Part of it went to Detroit, and part went to San Diego.

Today, the largest organ in the United States may be (and I say “may” because I found conflicting details) the Wanamaker Organ currently displayed in a Macy’s Department store in Philadelphia.

One comment

Written by David

September 16th, 2011 at 10:00 am