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Creating Jazz Counterpoint

Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues

Vic Hobson
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Creating Jazz Counterpoint
    Book Description:

    The bookJazzmen(1939) claimed New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz and introduced the legend of Buddy Bolden as the "First Man of Jazz." Much of the information that the book relied on came from a highly controversial source: Bunk Johnson. He claimed to have played with Bolden and that together they had pioneered jazz.

    Johnson made many recordings talking about and playing the music of the Bolden era. These recordings have been treated with skepticism because of doubts about Johnson's credibility. Using oral histories, theJazzmeninterview notes, and unpublished archive material, this book confirms that Bunk Johnson did play with Bolden. This confirmation, in turn, has profound implications for Johnson's recorded legacy in describing the music of the early years of New Orleans jazz.

    New Orleans jazz was different from ragtime in a number of ways. It was a music that was collectively improvised, and it carried a new tonality--the tonality of the blues. How early jazz musicians improvised together and how the blues became a part of jazz has until now been a mystery. Part of the reason New Orleans jazz developed as it did is that all the prominent jazz pioneers, including Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, and Kid Ory, sang in barbershop (or barroom) quartets. This book describes in both historical and musical terms how the practices of quartet singing were converted to the instruments of a jazz band, and how this, in turn, produced collectively improvised, blues-inflected jazz, that unique sound of New Orleans.

    eISBN: 978-1-62674-025-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. IX-2)

    The questions raised in this book began to take shape at a joint conference of the Historic Brass Society and the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University in 2005. I had written a paper for the conference questioning how the blues had become a part of New Orleans jazz.¹ Bruce Raeburn (curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive, New Orleans) suggested that the interviews that the archive held with early New Orleans jazzmen might be a good way forward. The following spring, as New Orleans struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina, I took my first visit to the Crescent City....

  4. 1 Jazzmen
    (pp. 3-6)

    Today jazz is studied in universities, discussed at academic conferences, and is the subject of musicological research. It was not always so. Early jazz researchers were not, in the main, historians or musicologists, but enthusiasts—people for whom day jobs got in the way of their real passion—collecting “hot jazz.” This was a small, dedicated band of phonograph record collectors in search of what were known at the time as “race recordings.” At the center of the American section of the loose confederation of hot jazz collectors was Frederic Ramsey Jr.¹ After graduating from Princeton in 1936, Ramsey took...

  5. 2 The Bolden Legend
    (pp. 7-31)

    The legend of buddy bolden did not begin with the publication ofJazzmen. In 1933, African American journalist E. Belfield Spriggins first described the role that Bolden played in the early years of jazz. Donald Marquis in 1971 discovered back copies of these articles in theLouisiana Weekly. A search of the telephone directories established that Spriggins was still alive. Unfortunately, in 1965 Hurricane Betsy had destroyed Spriggins’s personal archive, and the experience of losing his life’s work had rendered him speechless. He never did recover and died in 1973.¹

    In 1933, Spriggins wrote: “For quite some years now there...

  6. 3 Just Bunk?
    (pp. 32-46)

    It has not been easy for jazz researchers to decide what credibility to give to William Geary “Bunk” Johnson. He had undeniable musical ability, but his cavalier attitude to dates reflected badly on his reputation as a reliable witness to the early years of jazz in New Orleans.

    TheJazzmenauthors first heard of Bunk Johnson through New Orleans soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. He described Bunk as “one of the three great trumpet players in jazz.” Given that he cited Buddy Bolden and Louis Armstrong as the other two, this was high praise.¹ Louis Armstrong seemed to have agreed with...

  7. 4 Cracking-up a Chord
    (pp. 47-58)

    As long ago as 1930, percival r. kirby argued in “a study of Negro Harmony” that spirituals showed evidence of African harmonic features. More recently Gerhard Kubik has suggested that “jazz harmony at its structural and aesthetic level is based predominantly on African matrices.”¹ It is beyond the scope of this book to attempt to trace the harmonic practices of the spirituals and jazz back to Africa, but it can be shown how African American vocal practices of the late nineteenth century related to New Orleans jazz.

    An early report of African Americans singing together comes from Frederika Bremer, who...

  8. 5 Bill Russell’s American Music
    (pp. 59-78)

    In this discussion of New Orleans jazz, Bill Russell seems to have recognized that there was a strong relationship between the instruments of a New Orleans ensemble and song. As a trained musician and composer, Russell wanted to understand the principles that underpinned this music. Bunk Johnson, Bill Russell believed, offered a way to explore this relationship. Bill Russell wrote inJazz Quarterly(Fall 1942):

    Often when Bunk’s band first announces the theme of a simple chorale-like number, such as the spiritual “I Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” or “Storyville Blues,” all the parts are played in a sort...

  9. 6 The “Creoles of Color”
    (pp. 79-94)

    It has long been assumed that downtown creole musicians learned to play jazz from uptown musicians. While contact between musicians across Canal Street—the street that divides uptown and downtown New Orleans—was doubtless an important factor in spreading blues-inflected jazz, the availability of sheet music may also have been a significant factor for some Creoles. In 1908, Anthony Maggio published “I Got the Blues.” In an article of around four hundred words titled “The Birth of the Blues,” published in 1955 in the journal of Local 47 of the American Federation of Musicians, Anthony Maggio, a classically trained musician...

  10. 7 The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
    (pp. 95-108)

    When the original dixieland jazz band (odjb) recorded “the Livery Stable Blues” on February 26, 1917, this was the first recording of a “jazz” band. The success of “The Livery Stable Blues” led to a copyright dispute. Chicago music publisher Roger Graham had produced the sheet music to “The Livery Stable Blues,” but so had Leo Feist of New York, titled “The Barnyard Blues.” Feist’s edition had a front cover stating that it was identical with the “Livery Stable Blues,” as recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

    Varietyof October 19, 1917, reported on the court proceedings, noting that...

  11. 8 New Orleans: Capital of Jazz
    (pp. 109-125)

    Robert goffin visited new orleans in 1922 and on that occasion met Bob Lyons, who had played bass with Buddy Bolden. On his return in 1944, Goffin decided to begin his research by finding Lyons. Lyons told Goffin that he was born on September 16, 1870, in St. Jean Parish.¹ Bob remembered that the first band that had a “notion of ragtime” was led by Charlie Galloway, who played at Masonic Hall at the corner of Perdido.² Galloway had a barber shop at the corner of Julian and Rampart Streets.³ It was here that Bob Lyons set up his shoeshine...

  12. 9 The Blues and New Orleans Jazz
    (pp. 126-130)

    The blues in its relationship to jazz has been described by Wynton Marsalis as “the roux in the gumbo,” an essential ingredient in the authentic jazz mix.¹ In 1991 Paul Oliver raised some interesting questions about how the blues became a part of jazz.

    The role of ragtime, because the published compositions are specifically datable, is less contentious, while the presence in New Orleans of known black brass marching bands in the 1880s and 1890s is well-documented. But what is the evidence of the presence of blues in New Orleans as an idiom distinct from jazz which could have exercised...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 131-154)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 155-162)
  15. Index
    (pp. 163-168)