Skip to Main Content | Colorblind Mode: On Off
New Orleans
Chapter Outline

While the usual claim for New Orleans as the unique "birthplace" of jazz may be somewhat exaggerated, its distinctive cultural climate provides a microcosm for the social forces that created jazz-in particular, tensions within the nominally black community between "Creoles of color" and lower-class black populations, and the interactions between these musicians and "white" musicians of many ethnic backgrounds. The nascent New Orleans jazz style is exemplified by the music of cornetist Buddy Bolden, whose work was never recorded. This was a music that simultaneously privileged oral musical techniques of lower-class origin while adapting them to the new demands of professional dance music, thus setting the direction for jazz for decades to come. We outline the basic elements of New Orleans style, discuss the Great Migration and its importance to the development of jazz, and look in detail at the music of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Jelly Roll Morton, Joe "King" Oliver, and Sidney Bechet.

  1. New Orleans
    1. Jazz comes from a mixture of African, European, and Caribbean experiences, but it started out as a local musical practice in New Orleans until 1917, when the rest of the country started to hear about it. New Orleans jazz transformed marching band and dance music into an improvised, playful-voiced, cyclic, polyphonic music over a steady dance beat.
    2. The demographics of New Orleans also contributed to the creation of jazz because it was a site characterized by the mingling of newly urbanized blacks with Europeanized Creoles. New Orleans musicians eventually moved to other parts of the United States, such as Chicago, New York and California, as part of the Great Migration. At the same time, the burgeoning record industry made New Orleans jazz available in diverse geographical and sociocultural contexts.
  2. Early New Orleans
    1. New Orleans is a port city. It became a nineteenth-century commercial center focusing on the slave trade on the one hand, with a distinct, more relaxed Caribbean culture on the other. A brief history:
      1. 1718: founded by France
      2. 1763: sold to Spain
      3. 1803: reclaimed by the French
      4. 1803: almost immediately sold to the United States
      5. 1804: Haitian revolution. Many white masters and their slaves fled to New Orleans.
    2. New Orleans had French, Spanish, and English speakers and was the largest, most sophisticated city in the South. This included a very active cultural life from the eighteenth century, encompassing opera, Mardi Gras, dances, parades, and fancy balls.
    3. Race relations were different from those in other parts of the United States. Unlike Protestant North America, New Orleans was oriented to the Caribbean, and like racial practices there, slaves were allowed to retain much of their culture, including music.
    4. Congo Square
      1. By 1817 slaves and free blacks were permitted to dance and play music in a field behind the French Quarter called Congo Square. Whites were shocked to see choirs, drum ensembles, homemade instruments of all kinds, and dances ranging from slapping juba to the slow bamboula. This stopped around 1840. That it lasted this long is important because it gave the tradition an enduring role in New Orleans culture.
  3. Creoles of Color
    1. North American culture recognized two categories: white and black. Caribbean culture, including New Orleans, recognized a mulatto culture as well. This benefited free blacks with lighter skins.
    2. New Orleans mulattos were known as Creoles of Color. Because they were of mixed race, they had privileges and opportunities that blacks did not, including civic power, property ownership, French language skills, Catholic religious practice, decent education, and skilled trades. Creoles lost this status around 1894 with the enactment of Jim Crow laws and U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1896.
  4. A Meeting of Musical Styles
    1. Creoles and Uptown Negroes
      1. Creoles tried to remain geographically separate from blacks by keeping to an area of the city east of Canal Street including the French Quarter. Blacks lived "uptown," on the other side of Canal. But Jim Crow laws forced the two traditions to collide.
      2. Uneducated "Uptown Negroes" played raucous, beat-based, orally learned, bluesy, improvised music based on rags, folk music, and marches. Creoles saw this as unprofessional, but they started teaching Uptown blacks as well as young Creoles.
      3. At first Creoles got the better-paying jobs playing traditional European dances, but blacks offered a new way of playing.
  5. Manuel Perez (1878-1946)
    1. A Creole trumpeter, he learned the skill of cigar making, studied French at school, studied classical music, and played in various bands, which required reading music and no improvisation.
    2. For thirty years he led the Onward Brass Band and other ensembles, playing picnics, riverboats and dancehalls. He influenced many famous New Orleans jazz musicians.
    3. By 1910 he realized that improvisation was becoming more important, so he hired Joe "King" Oliver for that purpose.
    4. By 1937 his style of music had lost its popularity, so he went back to cigar making.
  6. Buddy Bolden (1877-1931) and the Birth of Jazz
    1. Although there are many myths about cornetist Buddy Bolden, it is generally accepted that he was the first important jazz musician, had a large black and Creole following, and represents the triumph of African American culture.
      1. 1877: born in New Orleans
      2. 1895: started working in parades and other functions
      3. 1901-1902: went into music full time
      4. 1906: mental breakdown after years of depression and alcoholism; incarcerated in state hospital for the insane.
      5. 1931: died in the hospital
    2. Bolden's Style
      1. Known for loud and great blues playing. Unlike other New Orleans musicians, who were generally known for their musicianship and clarity, Bolden was known for his individual style. Combine this with his brief career, excessive life style, competitive spirit, and charisma, and we have the template for later jazz and popular music stars.
    3. Bolden and Jazz
      1. Did Bolden invent jazz? He was known as an innovator of a new way of playing; no precursors or contemporary rivals are mentioned. He could play in every setting at a time when there was a huge demand for a wide range of music.
      2. November 1890, New Orleans Mascot, five years before any Bolden performance. Illustration of four musicians (three on brass instruments and one on bass drum) playing from a balcony advertising Robinson's Dime Museum. These are Uptown blacks playing without sheet music and provoking outrage and confusion among whites. Is it jazz? We don't know. But it added to the mix of music for minstrel and medicine shows, spirituals applied to secular music, parades, saloons, and dance halls. These different contexts required different skills, including reading, bluesy expressiveness, and ad-lib playing
      3. Bolden could do all of it-"legitimate" and "stink" music- and was well respected in both. He also played pieces that have remained part of the jazz repertory, sentimental pop, and dance music.
      4. He led many bands, with the best known in 1905, consisting of cornet, trombone, two clarinetists, a guitarist, a bassist, and a drummer . Sometimes a second cornet was added, foreshadowing King Oliver's band with Louis Armstrong.
  7. New Orleans Style
    1. Between the time of Bolden and the first jazz recording in 1917, jazz continued to develop. Photos and interviews give us a picture of this stage.
    2. Instrumentation
      1. There were two sources. First, brass bands provided the "front line" of cornet or trumpet, trombone, and clarinet, as well as the drum set. Second, the string ensemble (violin, banjo, mandolin, etc.) provided guitar and bass. Ragtime players added piano later.
      2. At first, a violin played an unadorned melody against which the cornet "ragged" the melody, but by 1917, the violin had disappeared. Now the clarinet improvised a countermelody around the trumpet line (originally taken from published arrangements), using the underlying harmony. The trombone improvised a line lower than the trumpet and with fewer notes (and originally played cello or baritone horn parts). It typically uses long glissandos called tailgate trombone.
    3. Improvisation
      1. By the time New Orleans jazz was first recorded, it had attained its own distinctive style of collective improvisation, with each wind instrument having its own musical space and rhythm: clarinet was the fastest and higher than the cornet; the cornet was in the middle; and trombone was the slowest and below the cornet.
      2. Occasionally there were other textures as well. The trio part of a performance often contained block chord texture or a single horn with accompaniment, breaks, and stop-time. The rhythm section played an even four, although this is difficult to hear due to recording technology of the time.
    4. Form
      1. Mostly the form was the same as ragtime. At the end, the last strain would be repeated many times. A new structure was the twelve-bar blues. This could be repeated indefinitely.
  8. Storyville
    1. "The District" in New Orleans, where prostitution was legal, lasted until 1917. Bordellos could be mansions or shacks. The purported link between jazz and Storyville is widespread but wrong. At most, there were a few pianists who worked the bordellos. Many jazz musicians worked in Storyville cabarets, but they also worked in parks, parades, excursions, advertising wagons, and riverboats and for dances throughout the city.
    2. But Storyville did play a role. It was a rough area where white values of taste were absent. This made it easier for musicians to develop expressive techniques, slow tempos (for sexy, slow dances), and timbre variation.
  9. The Great Migration
    1. In the late nineteenth century, slaves started to move into cities like New Orleans. With the onset of World War I, they moved north to places like Chicago and New York. They were socially motivated by their powerlessness, the discriminatory practices of sharecropping, widespread racial segregation touching practically all areas of life in the South, and thousands of lynchings for which nobody was arrested. Economically, the draft during World War I opened up the labor market in northern cities for blacks.
  10. Freddie Keppard (1890-1933)
    1. Southern entertainers led the charge north. Trumpeter Keppard played all over the United States with his band, the Creole Jazz Band, before 1917. By doing so, he brought New Orleans jazz to the rest of the country.
    2. By the time he recorded in the 1920s, he had lost much of his technique, which, in his heyday, had been compared to Bolden's. He was offered an opportunity to record in 1916 but declined.
  11. Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB)
    1. The white ODJB came to New York to play at Riesenweber's Restaurant in 1917. They were a sensation. Columbia had them record two pop songs but rejected them as cacophony and refused to release them.
    2. Victor signed them to record two pieces, "Livery Stable Blues" and "Dixie Jazz Band One Step," which turned out to be blockbusters. Although previous ragtime records had hinted at some jazz elements, to most listeners, ODJB's music was unprecedented. They were so popular that they brought the word "jazz" into common parlance.
    3. Origins
      1. Many New Orleans neighborhoods were integrated, and thus white players became familiar with ragtime and jazz in New Orleans and probably influenced black players in terms of repertory, harmony, and instrumental technique. The five-piece format of the ODJB comes from the Keppard band.
      2. There is a significant white tradition centered around "Papa Jack" Lane, who led the Reliance Band. He discouraged improvisation but trained many important white players including members of the ODJB.
    4. Influence
      1. The ODJB has been accused of hiring mediocre musicians and being too vaudevillian. But they played a spirited, unpretentious music that established many Dixieland standards, broke with ragtime, and by visiting Europe in 1919, made jazz international. They broke up in 1922.
  12. "Dixie Jazz Band One-Step"
    1. This is a very well organized piece in ragtime form and highly embellished in its presentation. The famous 32-bar trio section is played three times, each one divided into two 16-bar sections with almost the same melody. Each repeat increases the energy level. This number of repetitions and the way they were handled were unprecedented. The song was also very well recorded.
  13. Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941)
    1. Jazz history can be seen as a mutually influencing relationship between composers and improvisers, as is the relationship between Creoles and blacks in the creation of jazz. Morton fits right in as a Creole composer who learned from and worked with black New Orleans musicians.
    2. Morton had many jobs and claimed to be the inventor of jazz. He was proud of his French Haitian heritage but Anglicized his name from LaMothe to Morton. His boasting alienated many in the jazz world including Duke Ellington. He may not have invented jazz, but he did propel it forward.
    3. He traveled widely, assimilating new musical approaches. He settled in Chicago in 1922 and started recording in 1923 with a white New Orleans band called the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana; this was the first important integrated recording. He introduced some of his originals, including future standards such as "King Porter Stomp."
    4. The Red Hot Peppers
      1. Morton became a successful songwriter. To help increase interest in his work, Victor started recording his studio band of seven or eight players (The Red Hot Peppers) in 1926, when recording was switching from acoustic to electric recording. For many they represent a perfect balance of improvisation and composition in the New Orleans style.
  14. "Dead Man Blues"
    1. A number of blues choruses in collective New Orleans style, this is Morton's take on the New Orleans burial ritual. This is highly organized with even the bass lines written out. There is also an overlay of ragtime structure with various sets of choruses as ragtime strains.
  15. "Doctor Jazz"
    1. Raucous rendition of a piece by Joe "King" Oliver. Morton uses stop-time, breaks, a long-held note in the second chorus, and his own sophisticated vocal phrasing to heighten the drama.
    2. Last Years
      1. Morton harnessed the energy of collective improvisation in the face of racial and critical disdain. By 1930, he was considered outdated, but in 1938 he made some very important recorded interviews with Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress (see bibliography and discography in the text).
  16. King Oliver (1885-1938)
    1. By 1922 jazz musicians had matured, writing many new pieces and demonstrating increased instrumental technique. But jazz had also become associated with gimmickry and comedy. King Oliver resisted this last turn.
    2. In 1905 Oliver started playing cornet in brass bands and saloon groups, before joining trombonist Kid Ory's band in 1917. Oliver was known for his use of various mutes, a practice that was very influential.
    3. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band
      1. Oliver organized many different kinds of bands depending on the specific job. In 1918 he moved to Chicago and spent several years on the road until 1922 to play at a high-end, black-owned nightclub, the Lincoln Gardens. His band was made up of New Orleans musicians except for the pianist, Lil Hardin. Oliver had gum disease, which meant he required a second cornetist to spell him off, so he sent for his old student, Louis Armstrong.
      2. They were a great success. Black and white musicians came to hear the Uptown style of this band. The band's recordings from this period exhibit a mature New Orleans collective style. In 1923 they recorded for Gennett in Richmond, Indiana, using stop-time, breaks, and an improvised, polyphonic "first line."
      3. "Dippermouth Blues" also includes solos by clarinetist Johnny Dodds and Louis Armstrong and a widely imitated one by King Oliver using mutes.
  17. Gennett Records
    1. Gennett was owned by a piano-manufacturing company. The studio was made of wood planks with one megaphone that recorded acoustically, so the musicians had to position themselves in the room to create a musical balance.
  18. "Snake Rag"
    1. As per the title, this has a ragtime structure but also includes bluesy breaks, chromatic melodies (or "snakes"), a repeated trio section (which is used to build excitement), and the signature Armstrong-Oliver "improvised" duo breaks.
  19. Sydney Bechet (1897-1959)
    1. Clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Bechet may have been the first great jazz soloist and he made the saxophone central to jazz; he also traveled abroad early on spreading the word about this new music and wrote his autobiography.
    2. Born a Creole, he was mostly self-taught but did take some lessons; he ended up playing in many of the important marching bands. In 1916 he started touring, which took him to Chicago in 1919. There he attracted the attention of composer, songwriter, classical violinist, and bandleader Will Marion Cook, who recruited Bechet for his band, the Southern Syncopated Orchestra, for their European tour. There were some important results from this tour:
      1. Bechet bought his first soprano saxophone in London.
      2. The band inspired the first serious jazz essay, which was penned by conductor Ernest Ansermet and praised Bechet's playing.
      3. This tour popularized jazz in Europe, and Bechet decided to stay but was deported.
    3. Bechet and Soprano Saxophone
      1. In 1921 he returned to New York and joined Duke Ellington. By this time Bechet was thinking of himself as virtuoso soloist, a new category in jazz. He left Ellington and teamed up with New Orleans pianist, composer, song-publisher, and record producer Clarence Williams and recorded with Clarence Williams's Blue Five. In 1924, the now in-demand Louis Armstrong joined the band, making an even match for Bechet.
    4. "Cake Walking Babies (from Home)"
      1. A combination of New Orleans style and pop music, records such as these were seen as boosting sheet music sales so vocal choruses were included, here sung by Alberta Hunter. The performance contains bravura performances by Armstrong and Bechet.
    5. Last Years
      1. In 1925, Bechet returned to Europe with the Revue Negre starring Josephine Baker, which traveled to many major European cities.
      2. He returned to New York in the early 1930s to form the New Orleans Feetwarmers with fellow New Orleans musician and trumpeter Tommy Ladnier.
      3. He continued to record for many years, including the first piece with rhythm changes ("Shag" 1932) and an early use of overdubbing ("The Sheik of Araby" 1941). He settled in France in 1951, where he was very popular.
  20. New Orleans Style Today
    1. The New Orleans style is still alive at New Orleans's Preservation Hall bands in New Orleans and in bands all over the world devoted to Dixieland jazz. Usually played by amateurs, has kept most of its style characteristics.
Print This Page

Norton Ebooks

The ebook version Jazz offers the full content of the print version at half the price.

Norton Ebooks

The Norton Gradebook

Instructors and students now have an easy way to track online quiz scores with the Norton Gradebook.

Norton Gradebook