The Age of Jazz

This month’s lecture by Radio 3 presenter Sandy Burnett had been especially anticipated because last year we enjoyed a visit to the Age of Jazz Exhibition, at 2 Temple Place. Well known in his own right as a musician, he traced the roots of jazz and its impact on Britain’s music scene since 1918.

He began with Black Bottom Stompand Jelly Roll Morton who claimed he invented Jazz. Although the musicians came from New Orleans, recordings were made in Chicago. The organized chaos of traditional jazz was a hallmark of early jazz. Congo Square, New Orleans was the only place slaves were allowed to meet on a Sunday.  They danced and made music. After the Civil War residents took the abandoned Confederate instruments and played them in their marching bands. Making music gave relief from miserable experiences as slaves and then sharecroppers. It was integral to their culture.

Early jazz was about modulating the sound of the instrument and making it sound like the human voice. With disparate origins, not all Blues sounded the same. Composers Debussy and Ravel were both good at inventing new sounds. Ravel wrote a blues movement within his violin sonata and in his Ragtime, Stravinsky realized the potential of this new musical style. Ragging the time, syncopation, the art of many beats slightly off kilter gave a lovely rhythm to the music. The American Establishment could tolerate Scott Joplin’s Ragtimebut not all his music because of its origins in the black population.

In New York, The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, made the first jazz recordings and their Livery Stable Blueswas the first jazz record issued. Not being so used to percussion, people were drawn to how blues gave the drum kit its full range. Aiming to entertain, they played at elegant but affordable dancing venues. Some of these ‘palaces’ could hold up to 3000 people. The dance band circuit evolved. Ted Heath, a big band leader in the 50’s started with a jazz orchestra touring Britain. Before 1926 when electrical recording was invented and microphones came in, recordings were primitive and involved singing into a cone. Dancing to jazz was sexually liberating, especially for women. Critics compared the sounds as reminiscent of animal love.

Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Bluewas composed for an experimental classical-jazz concert in New York. It and Bix Beiderbecke’s cornet solos saw jazz becoming more lyrical. It could be ‘musical and beautiful as well as hot’ (Carmichael). Ronnie Scott was just one example of many Jewish musicians in the London Jazz Scene while Chicago born Benny Goodman played at Carnegie Hall, the home of classical music. His father once advised him to ‘become a musician …it’s a well paid profession’. Glenn Miller and his freelance big band had a trice weekly series with CBS. During WW11 he formed an Army Air Force Band. It performed in England in 1944. His music helped raise morale and was used in counter-propaganda.. From disparate beginnings through the swing era came jazz’s pure orchestral sound.

After the summer break, on Thursday September 5 at 2pm, in Grayshott Village Hall, Julia Musgrave will explore the life and work of Caravaggio.

For more information please contact Caroline on 01428714376