African-American Baseline Essay -- Music

by Jim Cuomo


commissioned by the Portland School System 1995

People make music. This essay is about them.




Any approach toward analysing the impact of African-American music
must include a certain editorial stance regarding inclusion and exclusion.
Some important musicians will be left out. Certain impossible comparisons
must be made. It all has to do with sound. Music is organized sound.
Those who organise these sounds into patterns are the composers and
performers. Humans have hands and feet. They clap and they dance. We all
have voices. Around the world we have used our voices in song. The variety
is intoxicating. This is the same all over the world and in every time 
period. External events influence how these organized sounds reach others.
A singer with a microphone will more likely be heard than one without.
Throughout the development of the human race, certain have had control of
that microphone and many have had to remain silent. In the eighteenth
century it is said that the young Wolfgang's older sister was the real 
talent in the Mozart family. It was however impossible for the people of 
that century in Europe to imagine a career for her. This prejudice is still
with us today. The history of African-American music is also a history
of missed opportunities. Women simply did not have the chances afforded
men. If a woman is in a band, it is assumed that she is the singer. This
continues today. With this barrier to acceptance before them, it is a 
miracle that any women were able to be heard. An interesting work needs 
to be done. Historians must research and find recordings of these 
under-represented innovators. This is not the intention of this work.

African-American music has been completely dominated by men since its
inception. Some women have had their music heard. Many gave up their
instrumental prowess to concentrate on singing. The purpose of this
short essay is to present the music of the most enduring and influential
African-American composers and performers.

There are many quotes in this essay that date from decades ago. 
Throughout the last several centuries terminology has continued changing.
Thus the quoted use of terms like: Negro, colored, black, Afro-American,
African-American, people of color. The astute observer can even date the
quotes from Leroi Jones or W.E.B. Dubois as to the way they use these
terms. If in doubt check the dates in the footnotes. 

The term "American" often refers to the United States. In reality it, 
of course, includes all the nations of our hemisphere. 
When other countries are meant they are mentioned by name, otherwise the 
USA is meant.

Another evolving term - tribal. Unhappily in many languages this word 
has been used perjoratively. As we now realize that all of us come
from some tribal group, we thankfully have left those days behind. 
Anyone studying African social organization today knows that value 
judgments of that kind have no place in scholarship.

This essay is only words. The musicians discussed have left a legacy.
It is based in tradition and expanded by innovation and thankfully can
be heard today. Just listen. 

Throughout this work the importance of individual achievement and influence will be seen by citing dozens of musical innovators. By discussing these musicians and their relationship with their cultural surroundings and the musical influences they found around them one will be able to reassess properly the monumental influence African and African-American music has had on everyone everywhere.

In each corner of the world one can easily hear the pervasive influence of African-American music. All countries have popular music. This popular music, mixed as it is with ethnic themes, has one over-riding connection.

That connection is Africa. More precisely- African-American music.

These questions form the basis of this work.

Who is to answer them? In the past one hundred years much has been written about the phenomenon of African-American music. Lesser known are the opinions of the musicians themselves. The creators of this diverse music have strong views on all these questions. Their views are stronger yet when discussing each other. Thoughts by many musicians are included here. Sometimes stories conflict. As none of the early history was recorded we must surmise how the music was performed by tracing the musical line backward from the first recordings.

Certain of those featured wrote music and successfully distributed it throughout the world. For the most part, the history of African-American music is an aural history. For this we need sound recordings. Included with this work is a selected discography from the Multnomah County Library. This subject can best be taught with sound not words.

  • African-American music is today itself an amalgam of several musics of our time. Jazz and its antecedents, certainly. Jazz and its descendents, most obviously. The advent in the past fifty years of rhythm and blues, soul, reggae, funk, and rap, and the links between these are discussed. Anyone who knows this subject has favorites. This essay attempts a balance. The famous are here; innovators above all are analyzed; many unsung creators are mentioned. The influence of all is put into perspective. One hopes that the mosaic that is African-American music is herein presented in a way that spurs research. Of the innumerable musicians not mentioned, no slight is intended. Each of those discussed will point to other great composers and solists. Follow the sound. The teacher and the student are invited to listen to the accomplishments of the creators of African-American music and to complete the survey by searching for their own favorites. The musicians discussed are beyond doubt innovators in their fields whose influences can be heard everywhere in the world.

    It will be seen that today's music was indeed made from several musics in its formative period. Some of those germ elements continue to exist on their own such as blues and spirituals. Other root sources, having finished their job, are seldom heard today such as work songs, shouts and hollers, and minstrelsy. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------

    A new African-American music

    is today forming and, as it always has, is taking elements from all over the world and creating a tapestry of styles all united by one ineffable ingredient...rhythm. The basic drive, aggressive variety, and improvisatory fury all played a part in early ragtime and blues. European brass band music was subsumed and jazz came out. Now after decades more of collaboration, coincidence, and diversity the original fascination with Africa is being renewed. This time the fertilisation happens directly. A century ago the African influence on America was already several generations removed. The complex cross-rhythms of Ghana and Dahomey are coming back to America fresh, new and original.

    This time all the complexities are being studied. How different ancient jazz and modern jazz is from modern African drumming. The accents are there, as is the forward motion. The cross-rhythms that Africans find so easy and natural are still a mystery to most musicians.

    Long ago transcription was abandonned when it was discovered that trying to notate African rhythm was impossible for the simple reason that European music can not cope with multiple rhythms, much less simultaneous tempi. Real African percussionists play with a unique floating sensibility. One tempo is embroidered with another. One instrument's down-beat becomes another's up-beat. Then it imperceptibly shifts revealing a third or yet a fourth counter-rhythm. African-American music has yet to assimulate the complexities of African rhythmic tradition. However in America, with the wonderful music of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles, Jimi Hendrix, George Clinton, and Bob Marley, one can begin to appreciate the variety and cross-fertilization. These are the main musicians discussed. A list of the musicians with whom they co-created their music runs into the thousands. Each an important voice, so wonderfully diverse is African-American music.

    If history has anything to offer we can guess that this music will continue to benefit from this fusion. More than ever African-American music has simply become America's music. -------------------------------------------------------------------------
    "Jazz is what I play for a living" Louis Armstrong {1}

    It is generally conceded that jazz is a synthesis of many musical forms being performed in the nineteenth century. These earlier forms--ragtime, minstrelsy, brass band, creole, spirituals, work songs, shouts and hollers, and the blues (which unlike some of the other sources is alive and well.) are all important. Jazz has succeeded by creating an amalgam of these and has been most successful when welcoming new influences. This universality can be seen by the rhythms found in every popular music.

    In every field of endeavour there are pioneers, creators, perpetuators, preservers, archivists. In jazz there is a constant stream of pioneers. Each jazz era, each style, in fact each performance has a pioneer. The true jazz musician is constantly creating. Jazz is an improvisatory art. Even those who play music from earlier periods can create. It is open-ended. The next solo played may be the best ever played. Each of the pioneers felt this. Parallel to the men and women who made jazz, there are the innovators in other African-American forms. Once Duke Ellington hoped for a time when the barriers would all come down. Now is the time. The variety apparent on listening to modern world music makes it clear that a new fusion has taken place.. -------------------------------------------------------------------------

    These names are by any standards giants of African-American music. By examining their lives, their music, and their associates we can make some sense of an impossibly diverse subject.

    A second group can be referenced here:

    Special sections on Mary Lou Williams and Benny Carter. ----------------------------------------------------------------------


    Louis Armstrong, born in New Orleans on July 4, 1900 became the dominant
    figure in jazz. His music has had a lasting influence to this day.
    Louis learned the trumpet in the Waif's Home for Boys when he was thirteen
    having been caught in an over boisterous New Year's celebration involving
    firearms. This year and a half stay turned out well for Louis and of course
    for jazz.
    >From 14 to 17 years old he regularly heard the best groups in town, above
    all Joe "King" Oliver [cornet] who played with the band led by
    Kid Ory [trombone].. Ory had a rollicking band and Oliver was the star.
    When King Oliver got an offer to go to Chicago, Louis at 17 was given the
    trumpet chair.
            (A cornet is like a trumpet but shorter and more compact. They play
            in the same key and are interchangeable in sound and technique.)
    One view of the dynamic Louis Armstrong:
                    In the small hours, a friend and I were wandering
                    around the French quarter, when suddenly I heard a
                    trumpet in the distance. I couldn't see anything but
                    an excursion boat gliding through the mist back to port.
                    Then the tune became more distinct. The boat was still
                    far off. But in the bow I could see a Negro standing
                    in the wind, holding a trumpet high and sending out the
                    most brilliant notes I had ever heard. It was jazz.
                    It was what I had been hoping to hear all through the
                    night. I don't even know whether it was "Tiger Rag" or
                    "Panama." But it was Louis Armstrong descending from
                    the sky like a god. the ship hugged the bank as if it
                    were driven there by the powerful trumpet beats. I
                    stayed absolutely still, just listening, until the
                    boat dropped anchor.
         ...Jack Teagarden [trombone] recounting his New Orleans visit of 1921
    At 22 Louis received a telegram from King Oliver inviting him to Chicago to
    join the band. That band had Lil Hardin on piano. Louis and Lil soon
    wed. Louis first recorded with King Oliver in April 1923. Louis was making
    his mark. By 24 he had accepted an offer to join Fletcher Henderson [arranger]
    in New York. Here is one view of his arrival there.
                    Then Louis Armstrong hit town! I went mad with the rest
                    of the town. I tried to walk like him, talk like him, eat
                    like him, sleep like him. I even bought a pair of big
                    policeman shoes like he used to wear and stood outside
                    his apartment waiting for him to come out so
                    I could look at him. Finally, I got to shake hands and
                    talk with him!
                    ...Rex Stewart [trumpet] {3}
    At 25 Louis returned as featured soloist in his wife's band-
    Lil's Dreamland Syncopators. Always the featured soloist, his aggressive
    confident style was being copied everywhere. They tried, at least.
    The "Hot Five" and "Hot Seven" recordings made when he was 25 to 28 are still
    the classic small group jazz formation. These recordings have had an enormous
    impact on generations of musicians. His soaring trumpet, ready to burst, yet
    always in control still thrills today. Even Charlie Parker a generation
    later would quote from Armstrong's solos.
    Louis also may have invented "scat singing". Legend has it that the
    lyrics fell off the music stand and Louis simply sang a chorus of swinging
    nonsense syllables. It became so famous that it was printed in the sheet
    music. By his 30th year his star was secure.
    The musicians surrounding him were starting to catch up with his virtuosity.
    Style was changing rapidly now with radio and movies. Louis remained king
    of his personal vision. Every jazz musician has been touched by his music.
                    One trumpeter who had begun to master the high-notes
                    that Armstrong played with such ease was told:
                    "Now, you made your point. Now, let them think it's
                    a little hard for you to do it. You're making it look
                    too easy."{4}
    Today many if they know him at all, think of his chart-topping version of
    "Hello Dolly" recorded at 63 years old. One misses the true Armstrong if one
    starts here. Criticized- by jazz elitists too young to remember his glory
    years as an innovator-for doing such a popular Broadway tune he replied.
                    It's not the number that counts, it's the way you play it.
                    That's what makes jazz. {5}
    Here are the salient aspects of Louis Armstrong's accomplishments.
            1. First as a singer his "jazzy" style can be seen in the work
               of Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, etc..
            2. Prior to the 1940's Louis Armstrong was the most widely
               imitated jazz improvisor.
            3. He at once popularised and extended the New Orleans trumpet
            4. In addition to the creative energies he displayed, his technique
               was beyond comparison being far ahead of anyone around until
               the thirties.
            5. He was the first to leave the melody during his flights of
               improvisation thus creating new melodies. This continues to be
               the way jazz is played.
            6. His rhythmic style was the transition to free-flowing swing from
               the rigidity of ragtime. His solos marked the change from
               group improvisation, inherited from the brass bands, to featured
               artists, a style that dominates music today.
             When told by Clark Terry [trumpet] that Harvard wanted
            to give him an honorary degree Louis dismissed it. "Where
            were they forty years ago when i needed them?"
            It was the breaks Joe King Oliver and Louis Armstrong
            played together that had the musicians wondering.
            Whenever Joe made a break, Louis would be right there
            with the second to it, and he never missed. And people
            couldn't understand that. But Louis Armstrong was a genius.
                            Preston Jackson [trombone]
    Fletcher Henderson remembering Louis Armstrong arriving in New York.
            "Truthfully, I didn't expect him to accept the offer, and I was very
            surprised when he came to New York and joined us.
            The band at first was inclined to be a bit reserved toward the
            new arrival and there seemed to be a little tension in the air.
            At rehearsal he was perplexed by the trumpet part I gave him...
            the parts were well marked with all the dynamics of the music
            and at one point the orchestration was indicated as fff
            (fortissimo or very loud) with a diminuendo down to pp (pianissimo
            or very soft) The band followed these notations and was playing
            very softly while Louis still played his part at full volume.
            I stopped the band and said "Louis you are not following the
            arrangement." Louis objected, saying, "I'm reading  everything
            on this sheet." I said, "But Louis, how about that "pp"? and
            Louis broke us all up by replying," Oh, I thought that meant
            'pound plenty." There was no tension after that. {7}
    When Armstrong died at 71. Duke Ellington [composer] said"
                    If anyone was Mr. Jazz, it was Louis Armstrong.
                    He was the epitome of jazz and always will be. Every
                    trumpet player who decided he wanted to lean towards
                    the American idiom was influenced by him... He is
                    what I call an American standard, an American original...
                    I love him. God bless him."
    There were other wonderful musicians of this era. One important
    contributor was Sidney Bechet. Starting in New Orleans and ending
    in Paris (where many musicians went to be able to develop their vision.)
    he has been called the "Louis Armstrong of the soprano saxophone."{8}
    Ernest Ansermet [conductor] said upon hearing Sidney Bechet in Europe.
            The first thing that strikes one about the
            Southern Syncopated Orchestra is the astonishing
            perfection, the superb taste, and the fervor of its playing.
            There is in the orchestra an extraordinary clarinet virtuoso
            (Bechet would later find his real voice on the soprano
            saxophone.) I wish to set down the name of this artist of genius.
            As for myself, I shall never forget it--it is SIdney Bechet..one
            who can say nothing of his art, save that he follows it
            his "own way" and when one thinks that this 'own way' is
            perhaps the highway the whole world will swing along tomorrow."
    The first real composer of African-American music, the most prolific,
    and certainly the most important was Edward Kennedy Ellington born in
    Washington D.C. in 1899. Already composing in his teens, Ellington's
    success as an innovator continued until his death at 74.
    The orchestra was his instrument. Although an excellent pianist in the
    rambunctious post-ragtime/boogie woogie style, his compositions transcended
    style and even today many of his works sound avant-garde.
    His influence on all big bands to this day and all composers forever can
    be witnessed by his enormous repertoire.
    In essence the Duke Ellington Orchestra had many guises.
            1. His sacred works, though less-known, point to the synthesis
            he hoped would eventually occur between jazz, classical, and
            religious music.
            2. He was the first to write music for specific players. This
            resulted in a repertoire of special works featuring the wonderful
            soloists that stayed with his band through decades.
            3. Ellington could present an entire evening of concert music
            using many of his extended works. Most artists would concentrate
            on the short three minute form that 78 rpm records afforded.
            Although creating hundreds of pieces for this format, Ellington
            also wrote long, extended pieces obviously meant for performance.
            Later when 33 rpm became the norm, these extended works could
            be recorded in their entirety to the delight of new generations.
            4. World music, today's catch-all category, may well have been
            conceived by Ellington as he prepared his band for pieces like
            "Caravan," "Latin American Suite," and his Africa-based work.
            5. Ellington's band could be sweet. A repertoire loaded with
            songs like "Prelude to a Kiss," "Sophisticated Lady,"  "Satin Doll,"
            "Daydream."  made an evening with his orchestra into a romantic
            night out.
            6. Finally as a composer, he could point to a quite modern
            repertoire of experiments and orchestral textures. Ellington
            loved color--sight and sound. His titles even reflect this:
            "On a Turquoise Cloud,"  "Mood Indigo," "Black and Tan Fantasy."
            7. As a popular composer Ellington can claim "I'm Beginning to
            See the Light," "Solitude," "Don't Get Around Much Anymore,"
            "In a Mellotone," and many more including movie scores for
            Paris Blues, Anatomy of a Murder, Asphalt Jungle,
            Assault on a Queen.
    With few other musicians does one have the problem of knowing where to start
    as one does with Duke Ellington's career. In one way, it is easy. He kept a
    big band together for almost fifty years. Some of the musicians stayed with
    him for that entire time. He wrote more than a thousand pieces; counting
    arrangements that number easily doubles.
             Ellington, in fact, is a real composer, the first jazz
             composer of distinction, and the first Negro composer of
             distinction. His works, apart from a few minor details, are not left
             to the caprice or ear of the instrumentalist; they are scored
             and written out, and the best American records of his music may be
             taken definitively like a full score, and they are the only
             jazz records worth studying for their form as well as their texture.
    His innovations: fresh orchestration techniques mixing instrumental voices
    in new ways, finding combinations of instruments which when put together
    make new sounds, writng for his musicians thus creating a highly personal
    band. Ellington's unique sound can be identified after only a few moments
    of any of his works.
    Almost impossible to copy, his sounds nevertheless found their
    way into all subsequent jazz writng to this day. Ellington is even
    present when a band chooses not to sound like him. That conscious choice
    shows the power of his music and how he dominated the scene for most of this
    Charlie Parker changed the sound of jazz. Swing had become repetitive.
    Much of the creative juices had been expended. There were wonderful
    soloists coming from the orchestras of Duke Ellington, Count Basie.
    Among these Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Benny Carter. The repertoire
    was stale. For much of the 1930's the majority of the songs played were
    from Broadway or Hollywood. The songs were as good then as they are now.
    They form the basis of the common repertoire of jazz jam sessions today.
    By 1940 those same songs had been played often and in the ubiquitous
    swing style. Charlie Parker discovered some of his harmonic ideas while
    playing a standard. What he did with it is another story. His melodic,
    rhythmic, and lyrical sense was certainly as revolutionary in the 40's
    as Armstrong's was in the early days of jazz.
    Parker developed a fluid style so immediately different, so instantly
    engaging; a style that so divided the jazz world. Unlike Louis Armstrong
    of whom only wonderful things were written, Charlie Parker had the entire
    musical establishment against him, so radical was his approach.
    He said he admired Benny Carter's alto saxophone solos.
    The frenetic energy of Coleman Hawkins was evident as was the sweet coolness
    of Lester Young. So...was Parker a mere synthesis?
    That and ever so much more. He actually began finding notes to play that
    at first sounded wrong to every one. Parker found ways to make these notes,
    thought wrong, sound right; if you could follow him. His harmonic concept
    of using extensions of the chords as the basis of the improvisation formed
    the basis of modern jazz.
    This caused a lot of musicians to lose their way. What seemed like chaos was
    in fact the most disciplined tonal system yet devised in American music.
    The proof of this sweeping statement can be heard. Playing bebop is playing
    Parker. Generations of musicians have studied Charlie Parker's solos with
    the same single-mindedness associated with the study of Mozart.
    Did the development of the common bebop language come about because of
    this fascination with the work of one man? More likely, Charlie Parker
    inherently played the most logically complete musical language. It
    seems everyone studied the right musician.
    His innovations certainly do not stop at harmony. Linked with these
    exotic extensions was a unique rhythm sense. Unique then, not now.
    The new syncopations Parker found were of course a result of the
    lovely melodies he invented. For the time they seemed so angular, so
    shocking, so surprising. The seemingly jagged rhythms are now considered
    at once commonplace and exciting. When one listens to any jazz from
    eras past, a process of unlearning must be attempted.
    What did they know and when did they know it?
    Listening to the Count Basie band swing so effortlessly in 1940 one must
    imagine a time before Charlie Parker. As crystal-clear as
    Ellington's arrangements might be, those musicians had not yet heard
    Charlie Parker. Their greatness lies in doing what they did. The inability
    to predict the future should not be held against musicians of the past.
    Even a few years ago Charlie Parker's music had not truly soaked into the
    fabric of America but now his influence is even heard in elevators,
    supermarkets, and yet still at the highest levels of creative jazz.
    It must be noted that many of the great musicians of the past took
    their disdain for Parker's revolution with them to the end.
    Parker was not totally alone in this work. With him were a few other musicians
    in their early 20's who had already played in the swing bands of the late
    30's and who like Parker were searching. Among these was, above all, Dizzy
    Gillespie [trumpet], Max Roach [drums], Kenny Clark [drums], Thelonious
    Monk [piano]. The revolution had already started with these men when Parker
    arrived from Kansas City in 1942 at 22 years of age.
    What they all shared was firstly the ability to understand Parker and
    secondly the capacity to invent new procedures to deal with the new tonal,
    rhythmic, and harmonic language being developed. Considering the magnitude
    of the task surprisingly few missteps occur.
    There were swing musicians who saw the future and tried to jump on the train.
    Most of these efforts failed even when accompanied by the pioneers.
    Suffice it to say, the recordings made by Charlie Parker,
    Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach, Kenny Clarke, Oscar
    Pettiford [bass], Bud Powell [piano]. changed not only the world of jazz
    but also the complete spectrum of African-American music and thus the popular
    music of the world.
    Charlie Parker did not have a happy life. He died at 35. The coroner thought
    he was 55. Few in such a short life have done so much to change music.
                    "And this cat gets up there, and I'm
                    telling you he blew the bell off that thing!
                    It was Charlie Parker, just come in
                    from Kansas City on a freight train. I guess
                    Bird was no more than about eighteen
                    then, but playing like you never heard --
                    wailing alto then. He blew so much
                    until he upset everybody in the joint, and
                    Goon Gardner took him home, gave
                    him some clothes to put on and got him a few gigs.
                    Bird didn't have a horn,
                    naturally, so Goon lent him a clarinet
                    to go and make gigs on."
                    Interview Billy Eckstine [singer] {11}
            What Charlie Parker and Dizzy would do, They would put their
            horns under their coats and run in on Coleman Hawkins,
            and run in on Illinois Jacquet and all of them, and start
            to playing, down on Fifty-Second street.
            And they would just wipe out the session, But if the cats
            saw them coming with their horns, they'd get off the stand before
            it started. In the middle of a tune, they's slip up on the
            stand and eat them up. Dizzy continues this by saying:
            "This was known as an ambush." 
                    Alto saxophonist, Charlie Parker was one of
                    the two most exciting soloists jazz has seen so far;
                    the other, of course, being Louis Armstrong. {13}
                            ...Leroi Jones  
    >From the mid 1940's through the 1990's one name appears in the forefront
    of every musical movement: Miles Davis. After briefly attending the
    Juilliard School the teen-age Miles found himself in the club scene of
    52nd street listening to and soon after playing with his idols. He was
    soon recording with Charlie Parker. So why is Miles not simply listed
    as a bebopper?
    Miles Davis immediately began transcending the whole idea of style.
    His first departure came with the monumental Birth of the Cool album of 1949.
    This was a reaction to the harshness of the bebop revolution which had a
    long way yet to go. Miles found new musicians; or they found him. Lennie
    Tristano [piano], Lee Konitz [alto saxophone], Gerry Mulligan [baritone
    saxophone], Gil Evans[arranger], Tadd Dameron [arranger].
    For a group that only existed for a few recording sessions and barely
    played live an enormous amount of influential music was made. Miles was 23.
    Several careers were launched those days and in his late 20's Miles formed
    his famous quintet with John Coltrane [tenor saxophone],
    Red Garland [piano], Paul Chambers [bass], Philly Joe Jones [drums].
    This group ranks with the Louis Armstrong Hot Five of the 20's and
    the Charlie Parker/Dizzy Gillespie groups of the 40's. The maturity of
    the soloists, the restraint and power of the textures, and the sustained
    atmosphere- cool, yet exciting- make these recordings share the timeless
    quality of classic works. Miles Davis raised the bar for combo playing in
    a few short years.
    Miles went on to collaborate on several beautiful orchestral albums with
    Gil Evans. Was it jazz? Miles Ahead, Porgy and Bess, and Sketches of Spain;
    these albums transcend description.
    Yet a new version of Miles Davis's music; he was not yet 35 years old.
    Had Miles retired in the sixties his place in history
    would have been assured, but Miles had much more to offer. At this age, the
    musicians of the previous generation, with few exceptions, had stopped
    their development and were content to mine the same territory. They were
    just catching up to Charlie Parker's bebop revolution. Miles was two
    revolutions ahead of them.
    Swirling all around Miles were new sounds. Former sideman John
    Coltrane [tenor saxophone] was already moving into new territory and
    young Ornette Coleman's alto sax was out there inventing free jazz. What
    did Miles do? First he simplified his language with a series of modal
    bands. Modal refers to the use of a scale as the basis of improvisation.
    Conventionally a harmonic progression or series of chords formed the
    basis of improvisation. it had been this way since Armstrong. Now one
    could maintain a mood by playing around one scale or mode.
    The modal system forms the real fundamentals of all African and European
    music. These modes had not been extensively used in
    their pure form for many centuries. Certainly the blues scale shared
    characteristics of a true mode but the blues keep shifting, often being
    based on the 12-bar chord progression. What if the chord progression was
    stripped away? One could just play in the mode. Miles made beautiful
    albums in the modal style starting with "Milestones" and "Kind of Blue."
    Some of this may sound like Miles was desperate to find something new at
    any cost to stay ahead of the crowd. The different directions Miles took
    throughout his career have, in every case, pulled everyone along with him.
    No matter what other musicians were up to, Miles pointed the direction.
    This is never more true than with "Bitches Brew" when he was 43. Seemingly
    the last barriers were down. Miles had now essentially invented jazz-rock.
    Electronic instruments, sound flurries, almost anarchic textures, certainly
    free-er jazz, but now bound by an intense rock-inspired rhythm section.
    Again all his sidemen went on to other adventures. Without a big band Miles
    launched as many important soloists as Basie or Ellington.
    Miles Davis's fascination with texture and experimentation continued to
    the end at 65. Was Miles the best trumpet player of his generation?
    By most standards no. There were others: Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown,
    Art Farmer. Miles however never failed to make subtle intelligent musical
    The supreme good taste and innate class of all of his recordings
    are testament to his genius. His influence, not only on all trumpeters
    since, but on small group playing of all kinds will be proof forever of
    his enduring importance.
    It is impossible to imagine rock and roll without Chuck Berry.
    His seminal recordings in the 50's changed the face of pop music.
    Drenched in the blues, Berry represents a new synthesis. This was
    happening throughout rural America. Chuck Berry was merely the best.
    Rock and roll was the triumph of folk music as heard in the blues over
    schmaltz or show tunes. After a century the people's music had won out.
    The blues that forms the basis of Berry's music was a particular
    blues folk music championed by Louis Jourdan [saxophone] in the 40's
    and even Lionel Hampton [vibraphone]. Jazz is never far behind.
    The urban blues of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and especially B.B.King,
    form the predominant influence on Berry. His synthesis is a rhythmic one.
    The almost boogie-woogie approach to guitar playing, well-known blues
    form, tongue-in-cheek lyrics, wonderful on-stage persona--these all
    became one in Chuck Berry.
    Soul music developed out of rhythm and blues. The distinct gospel
    influence is evident. Many of these elements in different degrees are
    found with the blues in forming the variety of the music. None of
    this synthesis can be forced. It is most successful when someone like
    Ray Charles comes along. Charles's use of big city blues, folk,
    rock, and rhythm and blues made at last a music found attractive to the
    masses. The music was not dumbed-down to achieve this. With an intense
    emotional core, Charles was, through his soulful voice and almost
    jazz piano (again with gospel elements) able to touch many Americans
    who had no knowledge of the blues.
    Ray Charles even brought country and western music together with soul
    and blues as it no doubt should have always been.
            As for radical innovators in the history of African-American
            music, the amazing Jimi Hendrix deserves a unique place.
            He re-invented the electric guitar, no-one who has played it
            since has been un-moved. In a few short years, he had converted
            guitar solos mired in the blues and the comparatively undisciplined
            rock playing into a domineering, aggressive, controlling lead sound.
            His use of devices such as the wah-wah pedal have virtually prohibited
            their use except to imitate Jimi himself, so complete was his
            dominance. No rock player today plays without his influence.
            Jimi Hendrix was a magician of multi-faceted and
            iridescent ideas, a man whose playing radiated with
            vision and whose wealth of ideas expanded not merely
            the musical scene, but also the consciousness of his listeners.
            Among instrumentalists, he probably was the real genius
            of the rock era of the sixties. Hendrix's (playing with
            electronics) was a new idea, something spiritual that
            radiated not only over his guitar, but over all instruments.
            The new, electrifying aggressiveness of sound stems from
            Hendrix and concerns not only all guitarists who follow him.
            It also concerns, for example, the best electric pianists in
            contemporary jazz; it even concerns the horn men who use
            electronics--insofar as they use them more imaginatively
            than merely for "effect."
            Jimi admired the black blues artists--above all Elmore James,
            B.B. King , and Muddy Waters. But he only admired
            them and learned from them; he did not soak up their
            tradition as had the black guitarists of Chicago's southside. {14}
            The music of Jamaica has had an important impact on African-
            American music. In some ways Jamaica stands at mid-point between
            Africa and America. The music that has had the most important
            effect is reggae and its most engaging innovator is Bob Marley.
            In two ways, Marley was able to change the view of Jamaican
            music. In equal measure the impact of his political views was
            expertly mixed with an engaging musical style. Musically reggae
            is a distant cousin of rhythm & blues. The off-beat accents that
            permeate reggae may have come from the early r & b records that
            showed up in Kingston in the 1950's. Some say the unique drumming
            technique comes from a misunderstanding of which drum heard on
            those primitive phonographs was the larger-the bass drum or the
            tom-tom. By reversing them a new style was invented. The freeing
            of the bass from a regularly plodding role to an almost soloistic
            element is one of reggae's endearing aspects. Marley brought all
            this together with great charm and personality. His involvement
            in the political scene in Jamaica as a spokesman for the down-
            trodden was expertly woven into a music whose world-wide impact
            is well noted.
    Innovators come in all styles. Much of the African-American music of
    the 1980's and 90's owes a debt to George Clinton. His early work
    from the 70's with Parliament and later Funkadelic defined funk and
    urban dance music. The rhythmic textures over-lapped in a new vital sound
    inspiring many musicians since. His influence on hip-hop and rap is
    evident in the bass-heavy rhythms and relaxed vocals added to this
    percussive mix. All modern African-American music is in his debt.
    Although few would doubt the significance of the musicians mentioned, one
    could very likely have included many many more. No list could begin to cover
    the vast dimensions of African-American music. Throughout the discussion
    other names have been mentioned. Each and every name could be followed
    up with a minimum of research. African-American music is well-documented
    and is always a wonderful voyage of discovery so rich is the treasury.
    A second group is mentioned for certain unique contributions.
     Fletcher Henderson  --an arranging genius who with Don Redman
                    helped invent big band scoring. Generally credited with
                    the development of the background riff. Many of the great
                    players from the early days as well as from the coming
                    swing era spent time under Fletcher Henderson. He went
                    on to be one of the most sought after arrangers of the
                    30's and 40's.
    Sidney Bechet  --the master soprano saxophonist who chose
                    to spend his creative life in Europe. There are more
                    monuments to him in France than there are to Charlie
                    Parker in America. His early life in New Orleans formed
                    his style on clarinet.
     Jelly Roll Morton --he represents the transition from ragtime to
                    jazz. He brought exotic style to jazz. Fanciful claims from
                    the earliest days about inventing jazz notwithstanding
                    Morton's manner of organising a small group around his
                    ragtime piano pointed toward the thirties. Morton's music
                    seems carefree; it was in fact precise.
      Charlie Christian --virtual inventor of electric guitar. Played
                    with Benny Goodman when very young. Though he died soon
                    after he began his career he had already figured prominently
                    in the birth of modern jazz. After Christian few jazz
                    guitarists used acoustic instruments.
       Count Basie         --band leader who nurtured a host of soloists-
                    Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Harry Sweets Edison, Ben
                    Webster-among others. Basie's rhythm section became the
                    standard for swing for decades. His band was always
                    precise, with a smooth saxophone sound showing Benny
                    Carter's influence. Basie played well into the 80's.
        Billie Holiday      --the epitome of the jazz singer, virtually
                    inventing the repertoire sung everywhere today. Her
                    silky style is often copied today but has never been
                    duplicated. Her life was emotion itself and that showed
                    in every song she sang.
           Max Roach   --with Kenny Clarke invented modern drumming.
                    While in his twenties, Roach discovered discontinuous
                    rhythm as some called it. His habit of launching bass drum
                    attacks against the flow of the rhythm became the norm
                    in jazz drumming and remains so to this day.
            Thelonious Monk --The  unique pianist who helped invent bebop.
                    Monk's style seems at times more like contemporary classical
                    music in its form. At all times a furious creativity. He
                    wanted to make music no one could steal. He succeeded.
            Charles Mingus --bass genius who sowed the seeds of free-jazz.
                    Following the work of Jimmy Blanton and Oscar Pettiford,
                    Mingus developed solo bass lines and a free context. More
                    like a painter with sound, his work is the precursor of
                    free jazz while harkening back to the shouts and hollers
                    of the previous century.
            Clifford Brown--an impeccable cerebral soloist who perfected
                    a post-bop trumpet style. He was the logical choice to follow
                    the early Miles Davis style. Miles had moved on; Fats
                    Navarro and, above all, Clifford Brown followed. He
                    recorded a series of crystalline solos in the 1950's that
                    concluded that work. Brown died while in his twenties.
            Dizzy Gillespie--bebop master, innovator, furious soloist,
                    philosopher. For fifty years, starting with Cab Calloway,
                    through his seminal work with Charlie Parker and then on
                    his own, Dizzy always invented, entertained, and
                    never failed to amaze audiences with his soaring trumpet.
           John Coltrane   --saxophone genius who brought a spiritual
                    element to his music. After establishing a voice with
                    Miles Davis in the 50's Coltrane fixed his art on a quest
                    for a new musical language. Based on long searching
                    improvisations and dense flurries of notes that seemed
                    to ring simultaneously, Coltrane developed an improvisatory
                    style that influenced all saxophonists since. The same
                    general sadness for a genius lost pervaded the musical
                    world upon his death, as the passing of Parker did in
                    the fifties.
            Ornette Coleman --out of nowhere, with a plastic saxophone,
                    he formed the first free jazz group with Don Cherry.
                    Highly scorned upon his arrival (much like Parker a
                    generation earlier, Coleman was a true original. His
                    angular concept is still a mystery to many. Some hear
                    strange allusions to the earliest days of African-American
                    musical traditions. Atonal hollers, wails, work chants, and
                    blues lines, played over almost anarchic rhythm--this forms
                    some of the musical adventure of Ornette Coleman.
            Wynton Marsalis     --He is one of the few modern musicians who
                    has successfully sustained a double career as
                    a jazz innovator and a classical soloist.
    Here are some more quotes about musicians, often from fellow musicians.
                    People chastised Roy Eldridge because he didn't
                    sound like Louis Armstrong; then jumped on Dizzy when he
                    showed up not sounding like Roy. Miles was spoken of
                    rather derogatorily, I remember, because he didn't
                    hear up in that register in which Gillespie
                    usually does his thing. And now I've heard a man
                    want to know why Don Cherry wasn't soft and given
                    to a purple lyricism. But even so, Cherry has
                    learned from Miles, just as Dizzy learned from
                    Eldridge and Eldridge learned from Armstrong and
                    Armstrong learned from Joe Oliver. The things Cherry
                    got from Miles, like the things Gillespie got
                    from Eldridge, went to make a different song for a
                    very different story. {15}
                            ...Leroi Jones
                    Klook (Kenny Clarke) plays drums just like I would
                    play them if I played drums. He's too much. {16}
                            ...Dizzy Gillespie
                    The Ornette Coleman "Double Quartet" which was called
                    "Free Jazz" was one breakthrough to open the 60's.
                    It seems now to me that some of bassist Charlie
                    Mingus' earlier efforts..provide a still earlier
                    version of this kind of massive orchestral
                            ...Leroi Jones
                    I think that in drumming, Kenny is more akin
                    to Thelonious Monk. To me Kenny Clarke was the
                    first to play in broken rhythms. {18}
                            ...Max Roach
                    I would say Max Roach did (for the drums what Bud
                    Powell did for the piano.) Max is too modest. {19}
                            ...Oscar Pettiford
                    Whereas Clarke was the link and the groundbreaker,
                    Max Roach was the one who elaborated the style,
                    bringing more complex cross-rhythms to play. He
                    proved to be the perfect accompanist for the
                    conception of Parker.{20}
                    Right at this moment (in 1963) three of the most
                    daring innovators in jazz are saxophone players.
                    And a curious coincidence is that like Coleman
                    Hawkins, Lester Young, and Charlie Parker, the
                    proportion remains the same. i.e. two tenor
                    saxophonists and one alto player make up the
                    triumvirate. The tenor men are Sonny Rollins
                    and John Coltrane. The alto player is Ornette
                    Coleman, the most controversial of the three.{21}
                            ...Leroi Jones   
    Here are two musicians as influential as any of the giants yet curiously
    overlooked and undersung.
    Mary Lou Williams composer/arranger/pianist/leader
            Mary Lou Williams is the only woman in instrumental jazz
            whose name can be mentioned in the same breath with those
            of the important males. {22}  
            A prodigy already touring as a child pianist she joined Andy Kirk's
            Clouds of Joy and began writing arrangements and compositions for
            him and later Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many others.
            At first as all pianists her models were Fats Waller, Jelly Roll
            Morton, and Earl Hines. With prodigious technique and profound
            musical depth, she became at 35 a kind of mentor for the creators
            of bebop. Her modernism in the early 1940's helped sow the seeds of
            the harmonic and rhythmic revolution soon to overtake music. Her
            ideas from this era can easily be heard in the later experiments of
            Thelonious Monk and the others would come to study and eventually
            to play their new works for her. Very influential both musically and
            in spirit for the whole movement, she became a champion for the new
            music while remaining a transitional figure from the swing era.
            In the forties her orchestral work The Zodiac Suite was performed
            (featuring Ben Webster on tenor saxophone) in New York. It beyond
            doubt shows a mature modern composer many years ahead of her time.
            Later her piece "Black Christ of the Andes" with choir, instrumental
            soloists, and featuring her piano is possibly alone as Christian
            religious jazz music, with a bow to Duke Ellington.
                    My reason for feeling that bop is the 'next era' music
            is that it came about spontaneously in the some way as our blues
            and classic jazz, or any other music that a race of people produces.
            And I contend that bop is the only real modern jazz, despite
            the contentions of the copyists of Stravinsky, Hindemith and
            The swing era produced smooth eighth notes which many of our
            theoreticians are still playing. The phrasing and timing of bop
            puts it in a different category altogether. The American
            Negro musician of today is born to this new phrasing, just as in
            the past he was born to the rhythm and phrasing from ragtime
            or boogie and naturally played those styles of music.
            Bop has become a powerful and, I believe, permanent influence
            on our native music. The guys who originated it were as gifted
            as the creative musicians of the Thirties and the eras that
            came before.
            For, regardless of whether the music is bop or something else,
            it will have to have the jazz foundation -- a beat! {23}
                               ...Mary Lou Williams
            (She is) a kind of one-woman retrospective of an entire movement.
            Fragments of boogie-woogie basses--in 6/8, rather than 4/4 time,
            frequently appear in her introductions. These are relieved by
            muted left-handed figures and right-hand chords that
            abstract the melody. Spare single note lines surface in the
            right hand. These melodic lines, strung between the
            chords of the tune like telephone wire, soon thicken, and she
            moves on to intense chords, often in double-time or placed off
            the beat. Things begin to rock insistently and lightly, and after
            a few cloudlike melodic statements she returns to the 6/8
            introduction. Along the way, a Fats Waller stride bass or an
            Ellington dissonance drifts by; a Basie aphorism is struck;
            big-interval Hines chords leap up and down the keyboard;
            a serpentine Bud Powell figure is carefully unspooled.
            But uppermost are a delicacy and wit and lofty intention
            that imply absolute knowledge. Rarely conscious of tempo
            one is simply carried along at speeds that suggest wings and
            plenty of space.{24}
            Count Basie recounts a jam session:
            All of those other saxophone players were up there calling for
            their favorite tunes, and then Coleman Hawkins went up there,
            and he knew all of the tunes, and he started calling for all of
            those hard keys, like E-flat and B-natural. That took care of
            quite a few local characters right away. Not many piano players
            were too eager to mess with that stuff. I knew I wasn't going up
            there. There is a story about Ben Webster going and getting Mary
            Lou Williams out of bed to come down and sit in on piano. I will
            say that if they were looking for somebody who could play in all
            them keys Hawkins was calling for, Mary Lou was the one to get.
     Benny Carter    arranger/saxophone/trumpet/clarinet/piano/leader
    From the twenties into the nineties, Benny Carter has spun his wonderful
    influence throughout the world and has touched musicians from many eras.
    His saxophone was a model for many subsequent stars including Charlie
    Parker. His arrangements heralded the beginning of sophisticated big
    band styles from Ellington, to Basie, and on to Benny Goodman.
            I call him King. You know why? Because he
            knows more than anybody. Besides alto, he
            plays the piano, trumpet, clarinet, drums, tenor, and
            writes..He is king.
            He's a perfectionist, that's why. Did you ever taste
            his cooking? This man can bake a cake. and he's fast
            with these (showing his fists) Yes, he's the king.{26}
                    ...Ben Webster [saxophone]
            Benny Carter was most admired for his scoring
            for saxophone sections: a passage in his recording
            of his own composition Lonesome Nights in 1933 recorded
            again the following year by Benny Goodman under
            the title Take My Word, can be offered today as an
            undated and completely charming example of voicing for four
            saxophones. {27}
                    Benny Carter, joined the jazz elite about
                    1929 recording with a series of groups known
                    as the Chocolate Dandies, and from 1933 with his
                    own big band. Though Carter has distinguished
                    himself in a half dozen roles, as trumpeter,
                    clarinetist, composer, arranger, leader, it is
                    the alto saxophone that is his automatic association in the
                    minds of the countless jazzmen whose respect he has
                    gained and retained during the past ...decades.
                    There has never been another alto man comparably
                    close to Benny. There is in Carter's work, even in
                    his earthiest moments, a certain dignity and assurance,
                    mirroring the personality of the man: his passion is
                    deep but contained. {28}
    Many African-American musicians find the living is easier in Europe or
    Japan where America's only native art is honored and rewarded.
    The same musicians who created this music, the innovators themselves chose
    to leave to pursue their art. Starting with Sidney Bechet, the exodus
            It's difficult at best for a jazz musician because the music
            itself is not subsidised and it's not pop music,
            although you can hear the essence of jazz in almost all
            commericial music on the air, I mean on
            programmes like detective stories, things like that.
            But for the real hard-core jazz musician, making a good
            living is very difficult. For me, though, it's been very
            nice in Europe. That's why I've stayed."{29}
                    ...Johnny Griffin
            In Japan they give you the due respect that
            you should have because you are contributing something
            to the culture. They really are avid fans. I enjoyed it
            enormously. I went over with Benny
            Carter in August... A fantastic concert, and the
            first time I've ever played to 40,000
            people--that just doesn't happen to jazz
            any more. Yes, I think Japan
            is coming to the rescue of jazz and jazz artists
                    ...Harry "Sweets" Edison [trumpeter]
            Jazz is too good for Americans! By that I meant Americans don't
            seem to appreciate our own native music here, as well as people do
            in foreign lands-in Europe, Asia, South America, and Africa.
            They really go wild over it; they study it; they take it more
            seriously. And that is still true to a large extent.
            Would somebody please tell me why? {To Be or Not to Bop p. 439}
                    ...Melba Liston [trombone]
    The Roots of Jazz...
    >From the very beginning the musical prowess of Africans was noted:
                    Thomas Jefferson:
                    In music "they are more generally gifted than the
                    whites, with accurate ears for a tune and time,
                    and they have been found capable of imagining
                    a small catch. (a tune or melody)
                            from "Notes on Virginia"
                    Jazz is an important contribution to modern musical
                    It has an epochal significance--it is not superficial,
                    it is fundamental. Jazz comes from the soil, where all
                    music has its beginnings.
                                    Serge Koussevitzky  on Jazz
                    The "Creole Show" opened that year (1891) with a
                    nucleus of veteran minstrels. This show played
                    a whole season in Chicago during the World's Fair
                    in 1893, where also, oddly enough, a strain of genuine
                    Negro music that was to revolutionize American music
                    had come up from Memphis and the Mississippi. For
                    W.C.Handy had come to the World's Fair seeking a fortune
                    (he) did not get but with a future (he) could not
                    have dreamed of. Eventually the tap-stream of undiluted
                    folk music and dance was going to be channeled into
                    American life and entertainment through the stage talent
                    of vaudeville and Negro musical comedy. The Mississippi was
                    preparing a musical flood which is not over yet.{31}
                    Jazz has come to stay because it is an expression of the
                    times, of the breathless, energetic, super-active
                    times in which we are living,--it is useless to fight
                    against it...
                    Already its new vigor, its new vitality
                    is beginning to manifest itself..America's contribution to the
                    music of the past will have the same revivifying effect as the
                    injection of new, and in the larger sense, vulgar blood into
                    dying aristocracy. Music will then be vulgarized in the best
                    sense of the word, and will enter more and more into the
                    daily lives of people. The jazz players make their instruments
                    do entirely new things, things finished musicians are taught
                    to avoid. They are pathfinders into new realms.
                                    Leopold Stokowski  on Jazz
    Vocal retentions and development...
    The relationship African vocal music has to modern African-American music
    can be seen in  several ways. The "call and response" heard in many forms
    of today's music and the individual vocal inflection that harken back to a
    more natural state. Easily heard in the blues, the "call and response" has
    actually become part of the form. The classic blues form of twelve
    measures was perfected on records by Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Both
    of these singers shared the glory when singing together. Later they each
    made classic recordings using a variety of settings from piano alone to
    quite large New Orleans style bands. But the music was always the blues.
    There is far less cross-over effect between jazz and blues during this
    period. Jazz became more and more an urban phenomenon while blues was
    performed in rural settings. When radio and recordings became more common
    the door finally began to open. Allowing first Mamie Smith and later
    Bessie Smith. Bessie became the dominant figure in blues. Her stylings
    became the basic language of blues phrasing; the subjects of her
    songs became the foundation of blues composing to this day.
    Many singers, even popular and jazz, show their debt to Bessie whenever
    a blues-tinged passage appears in a song.
    Of the many singers of the next generation to learn from Bessie, the
    most important were Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and
    Carmen McRae.
    The emotion that imbued all of Holiday's work found its light side in
    Ella Fitzgerald. Her choice of repertoire reflected the bebop era and
    in fact brought scat singing from the previous era together with
    bebop phrasing into a crowd pleasing mix. Fitzgerald's depth can be
    heard in her many recordings as guest vocalist with various big bands.
    She hired Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Clarke to play in her orchestra before
    the modern jazz era had taken hold. She eventually fired them both, too.
    Her career continued well into the eighties when her voice often seemed
    Sarah Vaughn had the double talent of vocalist and pianist. Even
    Count Basie acknowledged that Vaughn was the only one who could substitute
    for Earl Hines. As vocalist she was sometimes called upon to take over from
    the great pianist. She downplayed her excellent piano playing to concentrate
    on singing and developed into an especially smooth stylist. Other jazz
    musicians loved playing with her. The vocal nuances that Vaughn brought
    to each note remind one of the ever-changing quality of African song.
    There the singer would embellish each principle melody note with a flurry
    of subtle alterations. Sarah Vaughn innately understood this as her voice
    quality would change and slide through the most complex melodies.
    She would improvise melodies around the original creating alternates.
    Quite unlike Fitzgerald, her lyrical choices seemed to weave a new melody
    while creating an unmistakable style.
                    But by 1912, three Negro conductors led a syncopated
                    orchestra (today we would say a jazz orchestra) (1937)
                    of a hundred and twenty-five Negro musicians in a
                    "Concert of Negro Music." The formal coming-out party
                    was at Carnegie Hall, the audience, the musical elite
                    of New Youk, the atmosphere and the comparison challenged
                    that of any concert of "classical music."{32}
                    In 1903, Handy organized his own band in Clarksdale,
                    Mississippi. In Cleveland, according to his own story,
                    he was confronted at a dance engagement with a rival
                    "sidewalk orchestra" of "three seedy-looking Negroes equipped
                    respectively with guitar, mandolin, and bass viol," who
                    played a backyard "over-and-over" wail that brought more in
                    tips from the audience than his uniformed band received
                    in pay. Some weeks later, Handy started on his search for
                    folk music seriously and took down first a version of
                    the "Joe Turner" blues heard at a country railroad station.
    African-Americans have worked in classical music
     throughout the last two
    hundred years. From Gottschalk to William Grant Still, on
    to performers of all kinds--with innate musical talent many had found their
    way into the composition and performance of European classical music.
    Louis Moreau Gottschalk was the first American composer to make an impact
    in Europe. He was in fact a major attraction in the mid-nineteenth century
    even being admired by Chopin. Works like The Banjo, The Bananier, and
    the Peanut-Vendor Rumba, written decades before their appropriation by the
    popular music industry, establish him as one of the most important seminal
    figures in African-American musical development.
                Paul Robeson's versatile career from star athelete to Rutgers'
                    College scholastic honors, and from folk-song singing to
                    recitalist, actor and movie star is a symptom of an
                    ever-widening range of ambition and recognition for Negro
                    talent. For Robeson sings the Negro folk songs in their
                    flesh and blood reality.{34}
                Marion Anderson has mezzo-soprano, lyric soprano and
                    contralto ranges, all under thorough control, and
                    operatic calibre of voice as well as oratorio and
                    lieder techniques.{35}
    Other sources of the African-American experience are found in the blues.
                    Blues, until the time of the classic blues singers,
                    was largely a functional music; and it emerged from
                    a music, the work song, that did not exist except as a
                    strictly empirical communication of some part of the black
                    slave's life. But the idea of the blues as a form of music
                    that could be used to entertain people on a professional
                    basis i.e., that people would actually pay to see and
                    hear blues performed, was a revelation. {36}
                            ...Leroi Jones
                    The blues is many things--the music of people, a
                    style of music, a type of performance, a despondent
                    state of mind, and a musical form. As all these
                    things, the blues has contributed to jazz.  Within
                    the formal concept of continuous improvisation over a
                    constantly recurring harmonic framework, the blues
                    has given jazz its most significant element.{38}
                    Congo Square, in New Orleans, would nightly rock to
                    the "master drums" of new African arrivals...The
                    worksong took on its own own pecularities in America for
                    a number of reasons. First, although singing to
                    accompany one's labor was quite common in West
                    Africa, it is obvious that working one's own field in
                    one's own land is quite different from forced labor
                    in a foreign land. And while the physical insistence
                    necessary to suggest a worksong was still present,
                    the references accompanying the work changed
                    radically. Most West Africans were farmers and, I am
                    certain, these agricultural farm songs could have
                    been used in the fields of the New World in the same
                    manner as the old. {37}
                            ...Leroi Jones
    One of the obvious elements connecting African music to modern
    African-American music is the influence of the griots.
    They are essentially story-tellers, much like the town-criers of old.
    They exist throughout West Africa. The instruments are often of single or
    double stringed guitar-like design. The similarities are marked when
    one listens to the early Delta blues men. Even the strained upper register
    vocal quality harkens back to these itinerant African musicians.
    Griots even travelled from village to village carrying their
    message. This is much like the tours of levees and work camps that many
    early bluesmen undertook. The guitar improvisations and interludes have a
    striking similarity.
    New Orleans not only served as a crucible for a new American music, it
    was itself a crossroads. Cultures from all over the world came and went
    leaving their traces-Africa, French, Native American, Spanish, British,
    German, Italian, and others.
    Every aspect of these great cultures was mixed in every way. Music was
    played, heard, copied, replayed, altered, played again for many generations.
         This is one of the songs that a friend of mine wrote back in the
         Twenties. 'Course he recorded it in the Twenties but we'd been
         singin' this thing all up and down the levee camps and the street         
         camps and the road camps and different places. The guy was named          
         Huddie Ledbetter...The title of this is "Take This Old Hammer."
                             Big Bill Broonzy
            Those qualities of light rhythm, swing and subtle syncopation
            which characterise the music of many blues singers, those
            aptitudes for improvisation in music and in verse, those
            repertoires of traditional song, stock-in-trade lines and phrases
            and sudden original words and verses - all these are no less
            recognizably the hallmarks of the griots. {39}
       The Delta blues style developed in an area spanning Tennessee,
       Mississippi, and Arkansas. Plantations were set up in the mid-nineteenth
       century and slaves were brought up to work. The isolation of this
       formerly empty area became a style.
       The work, as has been seen, was often accompanied by hollers, shouts,
       and other work-songs. These, through the generations, became the blues.
       The music that seemed so natural, so ancient, was changed once instruments
       were added. The social situations expanded so that now dances, picnics,
       church gatherings were featuring a more and more sophisticated form.
       Now the fiddle and eventually the harmonica and guitar were added. The
       influence of generations of unknown vagabonds is still reflected today.
       The line is unbroken; phrasing, rhythm, melody, and melancholy- continue
       to imbue blues with unique expression in the same way as before.
         I'll tell you where the blues began. Back there working on them
         cotton farms, working hard and the man won't pay 'em, so the started      
         singin', "Ohhh, I'm leavin' he one of these days and it won't be          
         long." See, what's happenin' is givin' them the blues. "You gonna         
         look for me one of these mornings and I'll be gone, ohhh yeah!"{41}
         --Sonny Terry
          ...the antiphonal "leader-and-chorus" patterns which have
            persisted so strongly in Negro religious song, and in the
            worksongs, are unfamiliar in the blues vocal as such. but there
            is a frequently expressed opinion that the use of the
            'answering' guitar in some blues traditions is a retention from
            the custom of leader-and-chorus singing (found in Africa.){42}
         All I can say is that when I was boy we was always singing in the
         fields. Not real singing, you know, just hollering. But we made up        
         our songs about things that were happening to us at the time, and I       
         think that's where the blues started.{43}
                            ...Son House
    The rhythmic drive and the melodic nuances found in both African and
            African-American roots music are not the only connections.
            Harmony especially in call and response singing has a direct
            conncection. The use of sixths and thirds as harmonic devices
            is not unusual in Africa. Transferring this to gospel music
            and hymnal singing is not at all far-fetched.
    >From this, one can assume that neither the unison nor the
            thirds group had much difficulty in integrating their melodies
            into Western harmony'. The Western tradition between app. 1700
            to 1900 developed exclusively along the triadic principle of
            building harmonies in thirds.{44}
    The idea of blues as protest goes back as far as the music itself.
            Many African societies use music to exchange political ideas.
    The use of music for political purposes of various sorts
            should be noted. Evidently in some of the African tribes,
            it is easier to indicate discontent with employers or with
            government if the discontent is sung than if it is spoken.
            We therefore find many songs expressing criticism of authority,
            but also songs composed especially to praise chiefs and the
            wealthy. Songs are used to spread current events of interest
            and gossip, and to perpetuate knowledge of these events,
            much in the way that broadside ballads functioned as newspapers
            in the eighteenth century England and America.{45}
    In 1925, Blind Lemon Jefferson became "the first southern
       self-accompanied folk blues artist to succeed commercially on records,      
       and his success can be said to have opened the door to all the others       
       who followed in the next few years."{46}


    Ragtime refers to the style of piano music perfected by Scott Joplin around the turn of the century. It was a written music and was popularised by the distribution of printed musical scores. Ragtime demands great technique, reading ability, and rhythmic prowess. Joplin heard the music of the minstrel shows, camp meetings, and itinerant songsters. His unique talent was the inventive way he used these to weave a melodic and rhythmic tapestry that still pleases today. The cakewalk, a dance that had become very popular, required energetic music. Ragtime at the hands of Joplin provided and in fact perfected the style. His works, Maple Leaf Rag and The Entertainer are classics heard all over the world. Along with boogie-woogie a simply blues based piano style, ragtime played an important part in the birth of jazz. -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Scott Joplin's music was classical ragtime. Other players played it differently. None of them sounded like Joplin but it was the same idea. My knowledge of ragtime came from hearing it all my life. {47} ...Eubie Blake [piano] -------------------------------------------------------------------------- Another blues music to appear in the cities around this same time was what was called boogie-woogie. Basically a piano music, boogie woogie rose to its greatest popularity in the rent parties and juke joints of The North, even though, characteristically enough, it had its origins in the primitive blues of the Southern country Negro. It seemed to be a fusion of vocal blues and the earlier guitar techniques of the country singers, adapted for the piano.{48} ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Red Callender [bass] applied for work as a copyist with W.C. Handy: I presented myself in Handy's office in the Brill Building. Handy himself received me. He was a bald, stocky man, ensconced behind a big oak desk. he still had his sight then, was very cordial. Clearly I was bubbling with enthusiasm and hope. Handy let me down easy. "Son, I've got to tell you that this office is just a front to get me out of the house. i've been living off the "St. Louis Blues" for the past twenty years. {49} ------------------------------------------------------------------------- I think (jazz and ragtime and the blues) are separate things in this: ragtime you played as it was written, but in jazz you had improvisation. And ragtime had very little melody--it was mainly rhythm. the blues had a good melodic line. But they did sometimes overlap. ...W. C. Handy 1957 ------------------------------------------------------------------------- St. Louis Blues... Tracing one song throughout the century shows the impact Handy still has on many forms of music. Although it has lost its early Cuban rhythms over the years, the "St. Louis Blues" is one of the most oft recording melodies in the world. By the 1920's it had taken Europe by storm with even royal heads of state tapping along. Almost a medley at its inception, taking an earlier Handy tune, adding some of the newly discovered blues forms, and mixing that with the Cuban habanera, the "St. Louis Blues" became the epitome of blues to generations. It is not in the standard twelve-measure blues form. Ethel Waters heard a show version of it in New York and became the first woman to perform it and make it her own. A later version made it the first blues million seller. It is thought that by this time an African nation even adopted it officially. Bessie Smith actually appeared in a short film featuring it as the title song in 1929. Handy had engaged singers and many prominent jazz musicians for this event. Almost thirty years later Nat 'King' Cole played Handy in a movie featuring Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Spirituals are the "Sorrow Songs" of W.E.B. Du Bois. Slaves expressed their sadness and expressed their expectations in the face of the catastrophe. References to biblical characters, and mentions of redemption and eventual freedom were some of the most important elements of the word of mouth tradition. Many "sorrow songs" have forms very similar to that of the blues. The song "The Midnight Special" is an excellent example of program music. Depicting an actual train that went past a prison on the way from Houston to points west. The sight of that train lighting up the night and passing them by was reason enough for a hopeful song. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Musicians have seldom had good business heads. The blues continues. John Hammond [producer] recounts helping Count Basie: "Let me see what you signed," I said, fearing the worst. Basie showed me the contract. It called for twenty-four sides a year for three years for $750 each year. To Basie it seemed like a lot of money. To me it was devastating for both of us. There was no provision for royalties, so that for the period when Basie recorded "One O'Clock Jump," "Jumping at the Woodside," and the rest of those classic hits, he earned nothing from record sales. It was also below the legal minimun scale demanded by the American Federation of Musicians for recording." {51} ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Many lesser-known performers shone throughout this period. Leroy Vinnegar is typical of the kind of support to be found in every jazz era. Leroy Vinnegar turned the California-based rhythm sections built around Shelly Manne upside down, insofar as Shelly found many melodic potentials in the drums, while Leroy's bass delivered the rhythmic foundation that made the swing felt. He (was one of) the most frequently recorded bassists during the period of West Coast jazz. {52} Leroy Vinnegar moved to Portland in the mid-80's. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- BLUES Not everyone sees the similarities between blues and spirituals. No greater an expert than the emotive Mahalia Jackson, the foremost gospel singer, finds them at odds. Anyone who sings the blues has a broken spirit-they are burdened and they sing the blues to relieve that feeling that they have. Being oppressed or worried about something and not knowing God, they've sought a way of trying to relieve themselves...you get relief from spiritual songs, but you don't get real relief when you sing the blues because the spiritual song has divine power behind it and lifts man up, but the blues makes you feel moody and sad and makes you cry." {53} ...Mahalia Jackson ------------------------------------------------------------------------- The blues comes directly from the African-American experience of slavery in the south. The important manifestations of this music, already a combination of earlier roots, came in the 1920's and 1930's. By now recording was taking place all over America. It was possible to record anyone anywhere. Blues genius Robert Johnson's short life resulted in little more than some recordings. These, however, are the basis of much of the blues played today. Blues did however evolve. Throughout the century the blues have added elements from the jazz world. Having been one of the rich sources for jazz itself, the blues continued to change and modernize. This culminated in the fifties when blues again became the source for new music: soul, rhythm & blues, rock & roll. --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Other blues performers had impact on generations of blues lovers. Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Mamie Smith One can see how the cross-fertilization continued as singers would have dual careers with popular blues bands or modern jazz bands. ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Frankie and Johnny is important because of its blues form and its early date. Some say as long ago as 1840-50 it was heard, It was sung at the siege of Vicksburg, and was known in St. Louis in the 1880's. More mystery surrounding the source of the blues. While ragtime was being developed in Chicago a troop of musicians from Dahomey were performing at the 1893 World's Fair. How early did the mix begin? ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Whether the two forms overlapped slightly, (ragtime and blues) extensively or not at all, this much is certain: at the dawn of the twentieth century, while America listened and danced the cakewalk to ragtime, singers in rural areas, accompanying themselves on simple string instruments, were developing the sad, slow songs that came to be known as the blues, and the faster, less melancholy folk themes that were soon to be blended with ragtime. Contemporaneously another interrelated branch was developing that played a vitally important part in framing the the background of jazz: the music of the brass band. {55} ------------------------------------------------------------------------- "For me, jazz has its roots in African rhythms, the feeling of African rhythms, you know. It's a different motion. That's why when you find jazz musicians reading a phrase and classical musicians reading the same phrase you get a different concept. And, well, I have the feeling that free jazz or so-called avant-garde music has adopted a lot of European concepts. {56} ...Johnny Griffin ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Jazz was the product of a specific social environment in which a group of people, the American Negroes, largely shut off from the white world, developed cultural patterns of their own. {57} The music we recognize today as jazz is a synthesis drawn orginally from six principal sources: rhythms from West Africa; harmonic structure from European classical music; melodic and harmonic qualities from nineteenth-century American folk music; religious music; work songs and minstrel shows. {58} ------------------------------------------------------------------------- ...the Negro had created a music that offered such a profound reflection of America that it could attract white Americans to want to play it or listen to it for exactly that reason. The white jazz musician was even a new "class" of white American. {59} ...Leroi Jones ------------------------------------------------------------------------- "There is no more interesting feature of this movement than the way in which the white musicians studied jazz, and from a handicap of first feeble imitation and patient hours in Negro cabarets listening to the originators finally became masters of jazz, not only rivaling their Negro competitors muscially but rising more and more to commercial dominance of the new industry."{60} --------------------------------------------------------------------------- A student of our music, if he goes back far enough, will find out that the main source of our music is Africa. The music of the Western Hemisphere (not just our music)- All have something in common from the mother of their music. Rhythm. The basic rhythm because Mama Rhythm is Africa. In Africa you can go one way and hear some rhythms, then go two miles away and the cats are playing something different. They play what they live. Africa's children in the Western Hemisphere used different means of expressing their closeness to Mama. The Brazilian Africans created the samba, the West Indians created the calypso, the Cubans created the rhumba and various other rhythms. and my own is blues, spirituals. All of them showed different characteristics. Yet they're together, so it was a natural thing for me to fall under the influence of these different rhythms. {61} ...Dizzy Gillespie --------------------------------------------------------------------------- There are many levels on which one can study African-American music. The most basic is, of course, listening. Unlike other disciplines, the creators left traces one can hear. The sounds tell the story. Each aspect mentioned in this essay can be turned into a career project, so vast is the uncharted territory for research. Much has been written about origins of this music and its evolution and dissemination around the world. Most important is how it sounds, not how it got here. For the story lies in the music. Who can miss the Cuban influence in the opening measures of the W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues" as performed by Louis Armstrong? Once stated Louis then rolls out his new interpretation. This can be heard. The "Jungle Music" that launched Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club with its tongue-in-cheek roots references? The myriad of Parker and Gillespie tunes based on the blues and played side side with their adaptations of the best of the Broadway tunes? One can hear how Charlie "Bird" Parker used "Indiana" as a premise for his own "Donna Lee." Charlie Mingus's rousing free shouts and soul-wrenching jazz hollers must reach everyone with their emotional punch. Who can deny being moved by John Coltrane's spiritual anthems spiced with his soaring, almost supernatural, tenor saxophone journeys? All this can be heard. Ancient scholarship and polemic have less place in music then in other fields because everyone has ears, taste, tradition, memory; and the ability to put them all together.

    Music on planet Earth in the end of the 20th century

    is inconceivable without Africa.

    some sounds