Session 12 – NOLA

Saturday 3 September – 13.00-14.15 (Sweelinck)
Chair: Charles Hersch

Panel Abstract

With jazz studies flourishing as an interdisciplinary field of study and jazz performance emanating from sites around the world, we are able to reflect back upon an established legacy that has located the emergence of the jazz tradition in a single place, New Orleans. Though there have been various attempts to demythologize New Orleans as the ‘birthplace’ of jazz, these counter-narratives have not affected the widespread belief that, as Jelly Roll Morton put it, ‘jazz started in New Orleans.’ Recently, however, the origins of jazz have been subject to more scrutiny, revealing the complexity of musical interactions in New Orleans around the time that jazz emerged while also opening up the discussion of jazz’s development ‘elsewhere’ (primarily by tracking the travels of New Orleans musicians before jazz was solidified as a musical style).

This panel furthers this line of inquiry by re-examining pre-jazz music in New Orleans as well as other sites where ‘jazz-like’ music was present. In cities across the United States, musicians were experimenting with musical forms that may, in retrospect, be linked to jazz. In colonies throughout the Americas, the instruments of European wind bands were appropriated by the colonized to propagate highly localized musical traditions, many of which incorporated African-derived musical practices. And in New Orleans itself, characteristics associated with African ring shout dances, European ‘funerals with music,’ and diverse repertoires were present in brass band parades that played an integral role in the development of jazz as social dance music. Each of these case studies point to the need for revaluating which musical activities became identified as ‘jazz’ and what other possibilities have remained comparatively understudied.

Bruce Raeburn – The Other Contenders: Non-New Orleans Jazz Origins Reconsidered

One of the standard tropes in jazz historiography is that jazz was ‘born in New Orleans,’ an idea that is present in historical works such as Jazzmen (1939) and every jazz history survey textbook since, with or without disclaimers to the contrary. Yet since the early days of the music’s dissemination, there have been reminiscences of ‘jazz-like’ music and musicians emerging in other North American cities, casting doubts on New Orleans’s exclusive status as the place where jazz first originated. Citing oral history interviews and secondary works, this paper will explore the claims to jazz origins in places other than New Orleans, such as New York, San Francisco, Charleston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Memphis, reviewing the specific arguments put forth in favour of those locations and inquiring into the possibility of situating a discussion of jazz origins in a national or transnational context.

Matt Sakakeeny – Musical Formations: The Brass Band Parade and the Emergence of Jazz in New Orleans

Virtually every history of jazz begins with the celebrated slave dances in Congo Square and speculates on their role in the development of jazz in New Orleans. The prevailing wisdom is that the ring shouts of slaves ‘straightened out’ into the brass band parades of freemen that were integral to the emergence of jazz at the turn of the twentieth century. While these studies have forcefully established a foundation of Africanized culture upon which American music developed, they have failed to accommodate the rich diversity that characterized the experiences of New Orleans musicians. French and Spanish colonizers brought the brass band ensemble to New Orleans, formed numerous military bands, and organized ‘funerals with music’ that preceded the African American jazz funeral tradition. The first black brass bands were made up of Creoles of mixed European and African ancestry who ultimately played alongside African Americans, Italians, Jews, Irish and others. These musicians brought together improvisatory approaches to Africanderived music making with European instrumentation and arrangements, African and Latin American polyrhythms, and repertoire of ragtime, blues, Baptist hymns, popular song, marches and more. Though the brass band was thoroughly reconfigured as a black music ensemble, and the brass band parade became recognized as a forum for the display of black culture, these traditions encompassed a dizzying history of racial and ethnic interaction that was rather routine for New Orleanians in the period between the Civil War and World War I. Through this case study of the brass band parade we witness the heterogeneity of jazz in New Orleans from its beginnings.

Rob Boonzajer Flaes – The World-Wide Distribution of the Brass Band Ensemble

The presentation covers the world-wide distribution of the brass band ensemble, beginning with a video compilation that is on permanent display in the collection of the Royal Tropical Institute (the KIT). The footage surveys the state of affairs of brass bands in eight countries and includes material on New Orleans. I conclude with a discussion of three characteristics that have struck me as material to a successful conversion from a western to a local type of brass band.

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