Starting twenty years ago in New Orleans, it has swept from coast to coast and is invading Europe — Exponents in bitter dispute as to origin — Broadway historian settles question
Mr. Kingsley is the most profound authority on jazz, which has swept over this country and is now invading Europe. Maurice is now teaching the shimmy dance in Paris to Jazz music to French pupils. Mr. Kingsley has interviewed every artist of the Keith circuits who might have been by way of picking up any information on the subject, and they have brought back to the Palace Theatre much light on a topic that has mystified the lighter musical authorities. The importance of “jazz” may be understood from the degree to which it has supplanted the earlier and simpler syncopation we knew as ragtime.
By Walter J Kingsley
“Jazz” is a teasing, provocative monosyllable; it gets folks dancing, shimmying, swaying, finger snapping. The word has a rasp for the nerves that react in steps synchronizing with supersyncopatlon.
Whence comes the noun “jazz” and the verb “to jazz”? What sublime genius of the lowest common denominator of music coined this pandemic term?
As head of the bureau of research of the B. K. Keith Vaudeville Circuit, I have delved deeply into folklore of the African west coast, the Mississippi delta, the Barbary Coast and the Chicago underworld on the trail of jazz.
In a previous article for The Sun, I described the primitive jazz music of the native African and the transplanted darkey [term as used in original] of the plantations; I told how it crept up the levees from New Orleans and rode the bumpers east from San Francisco. It remains to tell the history of jazz since it became the musical paprika of a dance mad generation and, quitting the underworld, set out to rule the dance floors of public places and the ballrooms of private homes.
Twenty years ago, a blind newsboy of New Orleans known to all the river city as “Stale Bread” mastered a few “blues” and “hesitations” and acquiring a fiddle from Al G. Fields’s Minstrels, set out to play his way into local fame on the street corners. He collected crowds and sold papers. One by one other newsboys with an ear for exotic rhythms and barbaric chords joined him until lie had a band of live motley musicians which ho christened “Stale Bread’s Spasm Band” to the delight of New Orleans, whose inhabitants still consider “spasm music” a more pictorial and satisfying term than “jazz music.”
Barred in polite place
This was street music, and the polite resorts of New Orleans would have none of it, though it flourished in the resorts of horizontals. This fact prejudiced fashionable New Orleans against the lawless music of “Stale Bread’s Spasm Band.” One gifted musician, John Spriccio, loved jazz for its own sake and reveling in “blues” and tricky syncopations, he taught his violin pupils what we now call jazz long before it won a place in the sun. Now comes the daybreak of jazz.
In 1915, Bert Kelly was playing in the College Inn, Chicago, with an orchestra made up of himself, drums and director; Wheeler Wadsworth (now with Lucile Cavanagh), saxophone; William Ahearn, USA, piano, and Sam Baum, drummer. Thin quartet played “blues” and “hesitations” and quaint syncopated melodies, and were quite the craze in the night life of Chicago,
Thomas Meighan, the movie star, gave a party one night for movie folk and had the Kelly bad for dance music. In the party were such famous folk as Emmy Wehlen, Julian Eltinge, Jeanne Eagels and Grace George. Motion pictures were taken by Richard Travers of Essanay, and on the film showing the musicians, he placed n caption reading, “The Originators of Jazz.” Thereafter it was the “Jazz Band,” and the word has Europe now invaded that party really started the countrywide vogue of jazz music. Kelly and his band are now playing for Frisco and making a musical hit of their own.
It was Raymond Lopez, now with Blossom Seeley, who first muted his cornet with a derby hat, and Tom Brown of New Orleans was the pioneer in using a hat on his trombone for effects. Jugs were tried by colored jazz artists, but were never adopted by white musicians, who declared them “honkytonk” and “no class.” The slouchy jazz musician gets effects with a squealing saxophone and by playing off key. The three great clarinet players of jazz are “Yellow” Nunez at Reisenweber’s, Gus Mueller, now in the army — he can play jazz in any key — and Lawrence Shields of the Dixieland Jazz Band. “Yellow” Nunez is the only man who can take his clarinet to pieces down to the mouthpiece and keep up with the band.
Bert Kelly is the jazz pioneer north of the Mason-Dixon line. He knows more about jazz than any man living outside, of the famous jazz professor of New Orleans, John Spriccio, the veteran violinist. All the famous jazz artists in this country have imitated him or his pupils. He was playing jazz and “blues” a generation before they reached Chicago. Bert Kelly began with four men in his jazz band. He now has five and plays a banjo instead of a cornet, which instruments, in his words, “blatts too much.”
Kelly and his “Frisco Four” were dubbed a “jazz band” in 1916, as already stated. In 1906, Brown’s band from Dixieland came to Chicago direct from New Orleans. They knew all the old negro melodies, with the variations played by Spriccio, and once Kelly heard them he knew that jazz and “blues” were going to be popular, so he signed up clarinets and cornets who jazzed. This bunch from New Orleans played by ear entirely.
Dixieland Band in town
Harry Fitzgerald brought Brown’s band from the Lambs Cafe, Chicago, to New York and tried them out all over town, but Broadway was not ready for them. They went into vaudeville as the Five Rubes and then broke up. Raymond Lopez, cornet, returned to Chicago and joined Kelly, but the others returned to New Orleans.
“Yellow” Nunez, who had been guitar player for John Spriccio, the daddy of jazz, brought the original Dixieland Jazz Band to Chicago in 1917. They played in more or less important resorts In Chicago in 1917, often appearing without coats and all shimmying. Max Hart brought them to Now York, where they scored an instantaneous and lasting hit.
They did phonograph records of their “Livery Stable Blues,” which they had adapted from the “Moro Power Blues” and into which “Yellow” Nunez put breaks and pony calls and to which Trombone Edwards added neighing.
All this, however, was derived from the New Orleans blacks and John Spriccio. Nunez sold the number to Roger Graham. Larocca, the cornet of the band, claimed it and the case wont to court. Judge Carpenter asked Nunez to define “blues,” whereupon he made his famous reply:
“Judge, blues is blues.”
The court held that “blues” could not be copyrighted, inasmuch as they could not be described and orchestrated. Kelly says that ragtime is not exact syncopation and “blues” are not exact harmony.
Jazz is mighty interesting. It stems from the African jungle via the slave ships and the plantations. Old John Spriccio of New Orleans knows all the music of the darkies, and some enterprising writer of popular melodies ought to visit him. He is responsible for jazz melodies, and Bert Kelly originated the jazz band.
Inasmuch as the pioneers of jazz music are quarreling over credit to an extent that led the police to be called out recently in Harlem, when two jazz bands met outside the stage door of the Alhambra Theatre, it is necessary to submit a sworn statement by Bert Kelly. This is exhibit A in the great musical controversy which is raging wherever jazz players meet:
“The phrase ‘Jazz band’ was first used by Bert Kelly in Chicago in the fall of 1915 and was unknown in New Orleans. In March, 1916, the first New Orleans band of cornet, clarinet, trombone, drums and piano arrived in Chicago to play in the Lambs’ Cafe; it was called ‘Brown’s Band from Dixieland.’ The band was brought from New Orleans on recommendation of Frisco, who was then dancing in the Lambs’ Cafe. Note they did not use the ‘Jazz band.’ The band consisted of Tom Brown, trombone (how with Bert Kelly’s Jazz Band): Raymond Lopez, cornet (now with Blossom Seeley); Gus Mueller, clarinet, United States Army; William Lambert, drums, United States Army.
“This was the first and by far the best band that ever came from New Orleans. Gus Mueller, clarinet player. joined Kelly in the spring of 1916, and was placed at White City, Chicago, with the following combination: Gus Mueller, clarinet; C. O. Brush, banjo; Fred Miller, saxophone; Jack O’Neill, piano, and Fred Oxenius, drums. At this time Harry James’s meteoric career as a cafe manager was starting and he was in charge of the Boosters’ Club in the Hotel Morrison, Chicago, and had a ladies’ orchestra playing for his dancing.
“Kelly approached him with a proposition to furnish him with better music, but he could not see Kelly’s figures. Kelly advised James to raise his prices and print cards for his tables reading: ‘On account of the big expenses of hiring Bert Kelly’s Jazz Band for the entertainment of our patrons, it has been necessary to raise the prices as follows:’ &c.
“This was in the fall of 1916, and the land from White City was the first band ever to be advertised as a Jazz band — it was a big success, and in the spring of 1917 James sent to New Orleans for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and insisted upon their using the words ‘Jazz band.’
“This was in 1917, and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first New Orleans band to use the term, while Bert Kelly used it in 1915. Bert Kelly had about twenty orchestras known as Bert Kelly’s Jazz Band, and when the Dixieland arrived, they adopted their name of ‘Original Dixieland Jazz Band.'”
A. J. Baquet, the “first and original” jazz clarinet player, is now at the Alamo Cafe in 125th street. He was born and raised in New Orleans and comes of French, Spanish and Indian ancestry. At the start of his career he played entirely by ear, but later learned to read music and took a course in classical music under Prof. Santo Giuffre. This enables him to develop more difficult syncopations and variations than do the players by ear alone. He has developed a school of jazz and clarinetists.
Baquet is a student of his art and enjoys a high standing among his fellow jazz artists. It is interesting to note how he works out the animal effect and imitations in “The Livery Stable Blues.” He explains: “The band makes a sudden stop or break in the second part of the number, the clarinet taking as a solo a rooster crow imitation, followed by a cornet solo. In regular dance tempo, imitating a horse neighing or pony calling. This is followed by a trombone solo imitating the mooing of a cow. Then the whole band falls in together.”
Sophie Tucker’s share in it
Sophie Tucker is an innovator in jazz music, and it was she who first introduced shimmy dancing to New York. She did a shrug of the shoulders and a wriggle of the arms which might be called “polite shimmy” as compared to what passes current in cabarets nowadays.
Her instructions to the jazz band: for effects with “Shimmy Blues,” and “Another Good Man Gone Wrong,” bid fair to be classics wherever drums, clarinets, cornets, saxophones and trombones mingle in the new music.