PART I – A Little Background
*The following was written while on vacation (when I write most of my blogs!), and is pretty much a stream-of-consciousness thing. Apologies for any inaccuracies.
If you’ll excuse me, I need to start with a quick history lesson. In the early years of the twentieth century, New Orleans was a melting pot, not just for cultures, but for music.
Orchestral music from Europe, and styles originating from Africa including field hollers/blues and gospel, percolated with the current American trends of marching bands and ragtime to form an exciting new concoction we know as jazz.
The first recordings of this new music were made in 1917 by “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band.” The fact that a group of white men made the first recordings of music that was largely the creation of African Americans seems like another slap in the face to black people, until you learn that Freddie Keppard had the opportunity to record first, but declined, worried that other cornetists would steal his licks.
The songs recorded by the ODJB sound downright corny today. Silly musical effects and simplicity reveal what jazz primarily was in the early years; a novelty. Few considered it legitimate music, and its association with saloons and brothels didn’t help its reputation rise above the scandalous.
The musical genius of New Orleans native Louis Armstrong went a long way toward the maturation of jazz during its formative years during the 1920s. Although “Jelly Roll” Morton is often credited being the first to write down jazz in the 1910s, it wasn’t until ensembles started to grow in the late 20s that written arrangements became the norm.
Then, in August, 1935, everything changed. That was when Benny Goodman and his orchestra premiered at the Palamor Ballroom in Los Angeles. The band had just completed a disastrous cross-country tour and were on the verge of hanging it up when everything exploded at the Palamor.
Unbeknownst to Benny, West Coast teenagers had been electrified by his band’s hot sound on the “Let’s Dance” radio broadcasts on NBC radio. The band was on late night in New York, but with the time change, it was prime time out west, and the kids ate it up.
Thus began the Swing Era, when big band jazz was THE popular music in America. Benny opened the door for Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, The Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, and many more to make jazz the music of a generation.
This is known as “The Greatest Generation,” and in my opinion they had the greatest music. Sadly, it all came to a sudden and unceremonious halt at the close of 1946. Most of those returning servicemen had married and got to work having kids and generally being grownups. No more time for dancing and buying big band records.
People like Mitch Miller at Columbia Records helped ensure that the next decade of popular music would be an artistic wasteland, and jazz was left out in the cold. However, something had happened that ensured jazz would live forever.
I've included some old blogs along with the new. Should you ever find yourself suffering from insomnia, this is the place for you! That's as poetic as I get...