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Roads Not Taken: Jazz Innovation Anachronisms

Randy Sandke

Introduction

When the French painter Gustave Moreau died in 1898, his family, friends, and students (including Henri Matisse and Georges Rouault) made an astonishing discovery. Among the artist’s effects was a series of works done in a totally new abstract style, unlike anything the painter was known for, or, indeed, anything the western art world had produced thus far. What were these strange images: experiments in color or studies in form and texture? Perhaps they were merely mixing palettes for more conventional works. Or what if these paintings were meant to be finished works of art, which he dared not show his peers for fear of derision? The mystery has never been definitively solved.

In a similar way, there are tantalizingly bizarre instances in the history of jazz in which later musical developments are eerily pre-figured. Often these jarring moments occur in the midst of the most pedestrian and of-the-time settings. In this article I will provide a few examples of such musical anachronisms. Readers can make of them what they will. Are they harbingers of things to come or simply oddities without precedent and antecedent? Are they roads not taken? Perhaps they are best understood as pathways that appear seemingly out of nowhere and lead to nowhere, at least until years (sometimes decades) later when these innovations can be more widely accepted and absorbed into the broader musical landscape. In any case, such events should give the historian pause, and perhaps question facile and convenient demarcations of style and era. For in the following examples, musicians seem to step into a time machine that enables them to, if only for a moment, leap over decades and anticipate the future.

Early Odd Meter

Let us start with a little pre-jazz from 1914. In that year James Reese Europe, already established as the leading African American bandleader in the USA, began his collaboration with the famed dancing duo of Vernon and Irene Castle. Europe was also a composer and proselytizer for new types of music, and in 1914 he premiered a piece, co-written with arranger and bandleader Ford Dabney, entitled “Castles’ Half And Half”. What is remarkable about this music is that it is in 5/4 time. The meter is divided into a grouping of three quarter notes followed by two (not like the 5/4 second movement of Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony from 1893, which employs a two-three grouping, but instead like the finale of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe from 1912, as well as Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” from 1959).

Note: This article uses interactive musical notation produced using Sibelius notation software. The Sibelius Scorch plug-in allows for musical notation to be displayed as well as heard. Transcriptions are notated at concert pitch. The play button starts playback from the beginning. Clicking on any point in the notation starts the playback from that point. Key and tempo can be changed by the user. If you do not see the score, get the Scorch plug-in here.

Example 1. “Castles’ Half And Half”.

Obviously, this music was written to accompany a dance created by the Castles. F. Leslie Clendenen’s book, Dance Mad: or The Dances of the Day (published in 1914), describes the Half and Half as essentially a hesitation waltz danced in 5/4 time with three steps over five counts of music, moving on counts one, four, and five. The Castles are quoted as saying “All the modern Waltz or Hesitation steps fit in delightfully after one has caught the rhythm.” [1]

There are other examples of “Half and Halfs,” all in 5/4 time and all written in 1914. There is the “Francine Half-And-Half” by Norman Leigh; “The Celebrated Half And Half” by F. Henri Klickmann; and the “Half & Half: A ‘Castle’ Creation” by Arthur N. Green. None, not even the Europe–Dabney piece, include any syncopation at all. All are multi-strain instrumental pieces without lyrics, and all are marked “Moderato” or “Andante Moderato.” [2] We are left with the image of ordinary and respectable American couples, turned out in their finest formal attire, dancing in 5/4 time (but not too fast) just prior to the outbreak of World War I. Did the war end this new, quirky musical style as suddenly as it appeared?

Likewise, waltz meter has only entered the jazz repertoire in fits and starts. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded two examples of what can only be described as jazz waltzes in 1920, while playing engagements in London. Perhaps it was the management of the Palladium that suggested the band add waltzes to their repertoire. In any case, the two instances that were released, “Alice Blue Gown” and “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”, though not the most inspired material, show the band comfortably adapting their New Orleans ensemble style to good effect, with cornet slightly embellishing the lead, clarinet embroidering quasi-ad-lib obbligati, and trombone sliding through its tenor harmonies and counter lines. Unlike the Half and Halfs, syncopation prevails throughout these performances. And compared to the much better known American Victor recordings by the ODJB, there is an effective use of dynamics on the English Columbias, and particularly in these lilting but rhythmic waltz numbers.

Another unusual but impressive example of 3/4 time, in this case a fully-realized jazz composition, occurs in James P. Johnson’s piano piece “Eccentricity”. [3] The title itself calls our attention to the unusual nature of the work. It is clearly labeled a waltz (and the sheet music is marked “tempo di valse”) and yet syncopation is employed throughout, and in both hands. The piece begins with an introduction in 4/4 time, which is followed by a repeated vamp that establishes the triple meter. [4] “Eccentricity” bears a copyright date of 1921, but Johnson cut a piano roll version of it in 1918 (when he was a mere 24 years old).

Example 2. “Eccentricity”.

Brief examples of 5/4 time pop up again in two odd examples from the twenties. The first occurs in “Symphonic Scronch” recorded by Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra on January 10, 1927. Scott was a band-leading drummer working in Harlem at the time, and his band included a nineteen-year-old Dicky Wells on trombone. This particular tune is credited to Scott along with his pianist and banjo player, Don Frye and Hubert Mann respectively (needless to say, none of them household names). What possessed them to write and record the following passage, which I can only approximately transcribe?

Example 3. “Symphonic Scronch”.

This phrase might be taken as a mistake except that it is played in perfect synchronization by the banjo, piano and drums, and is repeated verbatim three times in succession. It is as if the performers are insisting that, no, your record is not stuck — it is supposed to sound this way. Another odd feature of the recording is the opening passage scored for high clarinets in major seconds.

The second example occurs in “Stop Kidding (Neckbones And Sauerkraut)”, written and arranged by trumpeter John Nesbitt and recorded by McKinney’s Cotton Pickers on July 12, 1928. Once again, the fanciful title is a tip off that musical high jinks may be afoot. In the middle of an ensemble chorus the saxophones, trombone and rhythm section play the following phrase. As in “Scronch”, it is repeated three times to underline its purposefulness:

Example 4. “Stop Kidding (Neckbones And Sauerkraut)”.

Latin Jazz

Latin influences, what Jelly Roll Morton famously referred to as the “Spanish tinge,” have repeatedly asserted themselves throughout jazz history. One of the earliest examples is from Morton himself: his composition “Mamanita”, which he recorded twice for two different companies, Gennett and Paramount, in 1924. The tune is a tribute to Morton’s then common law wife, Anita Gonzales, who was born in Alabama as Bessie Johnson (and a half-sister of Bill and Dink Johnson of Original Creole Orchestra fame), but decided to reinvent herself in order to pass as Mexican.

James Dapogny, professor of music at the University of Michigan and a leading Morton authority, has transcribed Morton’s performance from the Paramount version. [5] In it Morton shows off his ability to maintain a steady Latin montuno (a repeated syncopated phrase) in his left hand while soloing in an astoundingly free rhythmic manner with his right hand. As Dapogny relates in a footnote that accompanies his transcription, “The rhythm of Morton’s right hand [...] is considerably freer than the notation indicates, with most notes attacked slightly earlier than indicated, and the notes being slightly different from each other in time value.” In other words, western rhythmic notation is simply not up to the task of conveying accurately what Morton plays:

Example 5. “Mamanita”.

Such rhythmic freedom would occur in jazz again, but only decades later. Morton’s hands seem to be running on separate but related tracks, and his ability to pull off this feat is nothing short of miraculous.

Tangos were popular in America in the early teens of the twentieth century, and at one time the nightclub district on the fringe of Storyville in New Orleans was known as the “tango belt.” In 1914, W.C. Handy published his perennial hit, the “St. Louis Blues”, the minor strain of which (“St. Louis woman with her diamond rings”) is accompanied by a tango rhythm. This characteristic rhythm is used again to create atmosphere behind the cornet solo on Charlie Creath’s “My Daddy Rocks Me (With One Steady Roll)” recorded in St. Louis in 1925. But band recordings of Latin jazz did not exist until the 1940s. Or did they?

I would submit the following as a curious incidence from 1935 of Latin jazz. It is a tune written and arranged by Chicago bandleader Charlie LaVere entitled “Ubangi Man”. It reminds me of “A Night In Tunisia” (another example of Latin tune with a title suggesting an African connection), except that the ♭II7 to i progression is reversed to i, ♭II7.

If LaVere is an unlikely candidate to be a midwife between jazz and Latin music, consider the equally unlikely personnel, which includes Jabbo Smith on trumpet; Preston Jackson, trombone; Joe Marsala on clarinet; Boyce Brown on alto saxophone; LaVere on piano; and Zutty Singleton on drums. LaVere contributes an interesting piano solo, if less successful than Morton’s, in that his left hand maintains a straight-eighth-note montuno while his right hand wants to swing. The other soloists (Singleton, Brown and Marsala) do a more convincing job of staying true to the Latin (or Ubangi, if you will) feel.

Here is the a cappella drum introduction and first eight bars of the tune:

Example 6. “Ubangi Man”.

Bix Beiderbecke

It is no secret that Louis Armstrong influenced practically all subsequent developments in jazz. Phrases he casually tossed off in “I’m A Ding Dong Daddy” and “Shine” show up later in “Salt Peanuts” and “One O’Clock Jump”. [6] Multi-instrumentalist Scott Robinson maintains that the melody to the verse of “Cornet Chop Suey” is a bebop line. [7] Armstrong’s break on “Ory’s Creole Trombone” reminds me of Don Cherry. Likewise, Bix Beiderbecke had the ability to conjure up the spirit of jazz future in some of his work. Here are a few examples:

The first (Example 7) is from an intro Beiderbecke wrote for his recording of “Somebody Stole My Gal” from April 17, 1928. [8] The use of parallel triads over a pedal point would not become fashionable in jazz until the 1960s. Here Beiderbecke emphases the opening sonority, an E major triad over B♭, which must have sounded shocking and otherworldly to his contemporaries.

Example 7. “Somebody Stole My Gal”.

He uses a different configurations of parallel triads in his ending for “Ol’ Man River”. (Example 8)

Example 8. “Ol’ Man River”.

Another unique intro to a Bix and his Gang recording, this time for Rodgers and Hart’s “Thou Swell,” features a clarinet melody in fourths and seconds over 7th and 9th chords (Example 9a). The arrangement ends on a Major 7th chord; again, pretty radical stuff for 1928 (Example 9b).

Example 9a. “Thou Swell”, introduction.

Example 9b. “Thou Swell”, ending.

The next example comes from “In The Dark”, one of the four piano pieces Beiderbecke committed to paper a year or so before he died in 1931. In it there is a strong suggestion of modal harmony, as well as an emphasis on melodic intervals of the 9th and 11th, so-called “upper intervals,” which would become part of the standard jazz vocabulary only after the passage of a few more stylistic epochs.

Example 10. “In The Dark”.

Beiderbecke inspired Red Novo’s curious “Dance Of The Octopus” from 1933. In fact, the original Brunswick release had Norvo’s arrangement of Beiderbecke’s “In A Mist” on the reverse side. The unusual instrumentation consists of marimba, bass clarinet (played by Benny Goodman), string bass (mostly bowed), and drums. An atmosphere of ambiguity suffuses this piece, with its wandering chromaticism (both in melody and chord structure), and its undulating rubato rhythms before finally settling on a swing feel. “Dance Of The Octopus” appears to be entirely composed, but even that is open to conjecture. Like the best jazz writing, it has an improvised feel throughout, and it is hard to tell where performance parts with paper.

Reportedly, when Brunswick executive Jack Kapp heard the track he was so incensed he tore up Norvo’s contract and ejected him from the studio. [9] The verdict of history has been much kinder. Jazz historian Ted Gioia wrote that the work “displays its avant-garde credentials proudly in every measure. This is no mere novelty number but true jazz chamber music of the highest order.” [10]

Other Assorted Oddities

The following items are perhaps the strangest of the strange. If you did not know the original sources you might suspect some practical joker had pieced together random snippets of tape. Arthur Schutt is one of the unsung heroes of early jazz arranging. From 1922 to 1924 he produced a series of trailblazing scores for the Georgians, a seven-piece group, that very successfully integrate improvised solos with clever, jazz infused ensemble writing. His arrangement of “Land Of Cotton Blues” from 1923 is frequently cited as the first instance of a recorded drum solo, as well as the first use of brushes on record (played by Chauncey Morehouse, of later Bix Beiderbecke fame). It is almost certainly Schutt who came up with this startlingly boppish introduction to an otherwise quotidian arrangement of the old chestnut “After You’ve Gone”. It was recorded on January 4, 1927 for a Red Nichols-led group called the Charleston Chasers. Jimmy Dorsey was the alto saxophonist.

Example 11. “After You’ve Gone”.

It is as if the spirit of Thelonious Monk was channeled into Schutt as he devised these opening bars. The sudden tonal shift from A to C in Dorsey’s break is reminiscent of middle period John Coltrane.

Another wild flight into the outer regions of tonality occurs in Frank Trumbauer’s solo on the bridge of “Shivery Stomp”, recorded on May 22, 1929. The later Trumbauer recordings, after Bix’s tenure with the recording band, are much less well known, and deservedly so. They tend to be more commercial, uninspired, and stodgy in the rhythm section department. However, here Trumbauer plays a phrase that again suggests Coltrane, especially in his ability to suddenly depart from the chord structure and then snake his way back:

Example 12. “Shivery Stomp”.

This last example comes from the great Art Tatum, the super-human master of harmonic intricacy. Here, however, he exceeds all expectations by delving so far into alterations and substitutions that his lines rise above solid tonal ground and ascend into the ozone. Arnold Schoenberg seems to be tapping on his shoulder as Tatum spins out the following phrases on “Sweet Georgia Brown”:

Example 13. “Sweet Georgia Brown” (0:42).

This rare recording was made on September 16, 1941 by then Columbia University student Jerry Newman on his semi-portable 78-rpm disc recorder. He was able to set it up at Clark Monroe’s Uptown House, the famed incubator of bop, to capture Tatum live in a thoroughly relaxed but daring mood. As Dan Morgenstern, the premier sage of jazz, wrote in his liner notes for the LP that introduced this material to the world, “‘Sweet Georgia Brown’, I humbly submit, is one of the most remarkable pieces of spontaneously improvised jazz music ever captured by a recording device.” [11] Amen to that.

I should also mention two other unusual jazz firsts before closing up our little shop of musical anomalies. Coleman Hawkins was the first to record music played exclusively on solo saxophone: his composition “Picasso” from 1948. This performance somehow suggests steady swinging time along with a ruminating rubato, sometimes even in the same phrase. Sidney Bechet took an opposite tack in 1941 when he was multi-tracked by engineer John Reid of RCA Victor playing clarinet, soprano and tenor sax, piano, bass and drums. Released as Sidney Bechet’s One Man Band, the tunes were “The Sheik Of Araby” and “Blues Of Bechet”. This process involved recording individual wax discs for each part, and recording all of them played simultaneously for the final version. Needless to say, this was a very cumbersome and unsatisfactory method from a performance and auditory standpoint. Also, the musicians’ union took exception to the fact that only one musician was paid for a band recording, and vigorously protested. It would not be until six years later, after the introduction of magnetic tape, that overdubbing became a practical option in the recording studio, and the union had to face up to new realities that new technology always presents.

Conclusion

Of course, now musicians make albums without ever meeting face-to-face. Progress perhaps. But as I hope I have shown here, progress can happen at any time, in the least expected places, and often in ways that escape notice. Michelangelo’s bound slaves, Gesualdo’s madrigals, and Sterne’s Tristam Shandy all bear witness. The urge to create the unforeseen and unprecedented lives on, as it always has.

Bibliography

  • Clendenen, F. Leslie. Dance Mad: or The Dances of the Day. St. Louis: Arcade Print Co., 1914.
  • Dapogny, James. Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton: The Collected Piano Music. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982.
  • Schuller, Gunther. The Swing Era. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
  • Williams, Martin. Jazz In Its Time. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

References

[1] F. Leslie Clendenen, Dance Mad: or The Dances of the Day (St. Louis: Arcade Print Co., 1914). Quoted in web article: http://www.kickery.com/2010/07/half-half-variations-the-scroll.html

[2] I thank Vince Giordano for calling these other “Half and Half” pieces to my attention.

[3] I thank Marcello Piras for supplying me with a copy of the published sheet music for “Eccentricity.”

[4] Piras points out that 4/4 introductions to 3/4 pieces were not uncommon in this period, and cites as examples Johann Strauss, Jr.’s “Kaiser-Walzer” (Emperor Waltz), Op. 437, Scott Joplin’s “Harmony Club Waltz”, and Juventino Rosas’s “Sobre las olas” (Over The Waves).

[5] James Dapogny, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton: The Collected Piano Music (Washington D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1982).

[6] Martin Williams, Jazz In Its Time (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 190.

[7] Scott Robinson, Jazz Ambassador: The Music Of Louis Armstrong Arbors ARCD 19275.

[8] Bill Rank, the trombonist on these sessions, confirmed to me in conversation that Beiderbecke himself did indeed write out these intros and endings for the Gang recordings.

[9] Gunther Schuller, The Swing Era (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 514f.

[10] Ted Gioia, http://www.jazz.com/music/2007/12/8/red-norvo-dance-of-the-octopus

[11] Dan Morgenstern, notes to Art Tatum, God Is In The House, Onyx 205.

Author Information: 
Randy Sandke is a trumpeter, composer and author. He has appeared on scores of recordings and several film scores. He has written compositions and arrangements recorded by a wide range of artists, from John Pizzarelli, Jr. and Elton John to the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. His books include Harmony for a New Millennium (Hal Leonard Inc.) and Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet (Scarecrow Press).

Abstract: 
This article deals with instances in jazz history in which later musical developments are pre-figured. James Reese Europe’s “Castle’s Half and Half” from 1914 is an early example of 5/4 time, as are brief passages on recordings by Lloyd Scott and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Jazz waltzes are investigated, as are early examples of Latin jazz. Daring and unusual harmonic innovations are demonstrated in the work of Bix Beiderbecke, Red Norvo, Arthur Schutt, Frank Trumbauer, and Art Tatum. Mention is also made of Coleman Hawkins solo saxophone composition “Picasso”, as well as Sidney Bechet’s 1941 experiments with multi-track recording.

Keywords:
jazz

How to cite this article:

  • Chicago 15th ed.: Sandke, Randy. “Roads Not Taken: Jazz Innovation Anachronisms.” Current Research in Jazz 4, (2012).
  • MLA 7th ed.: Sandke, Randy. “Roads Not Taken: Jazz Innovation Anachronisms.” Current Research in Jazz 4 (2012). Web. [date of access]
  • APA 6th ed.: Sandke, R. (2012). Roads Not Taken: Jazz Innovation Anachronisms. Current Research in Jazz, 4 Retrieved from http://www.crj-online.org/

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