19 August, 2021

The Origins of Jazz (Negro Music)

Posted by Socrates in Black music, Donald Day, jazz at 7:16 pm | Permanent Link

“Thirty years ago, jazz had not yet entered polite society. It was a new
form of music born in the back rooms of Negro saloons in the slums of
New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago.
The original jazz
players were all Negroes and were natural born musicians. The
orchestras were small. They were comprised of a piano, a bass and
snare drum, a comet, a trombone and a banjo. The saxophone was
unknown. A few of these little assemblies had a Negro artist who
played a horn constructed from an elephant tusk.

These orchestras played without music. At their rehearsals the piano
player would play a popular song once or twice to give the lead and
they would play it together, each musician giving his variations. In
musical slang, each of these performances was “a jam session,” which
serious musicians would undoubtedly term a form of musical
masturbation. This primitive form of music, born in dives, and
brothels and saloons, in Chicago was discovered by newspaper
reporters whose search for news made them acquainted with these

Late one night during a poker game in the Chicago Press Club the
manager of the New Stratford Hotel was complaining that his hotel
would soon be bankrupt if he could not discover some new attraction
to entice patrons. This hotel was one of the oldest in the city. Its
clientele had abandoned it in favor of the new Blackstone Hotel,
where the professional dancers Vernon Castle and Irene Dunn were
making a tremendous hit with their new form of ballroom dancing:
dream waltz and hesitation waltz.

Another reporter and myself told the New Stratford manager to come
with us and we would show him a new sensation. We brought him
down to the red-light district and showed him these bands. He was
delighted and immediately engaged one of them and brought them to
his hotel in taxicabs where he sent the regular orchestra home and
ordered the Negroes to play. He also engaged several Negro couples to
dance the one-step and its variations, for the foxtrot had not yet been

This music was an immediate success and after a few dances some of
the guests appeared on the floor to imitate the gyrations of the
Negroes. The other reporter and I looked at each other and without
saying a word we dashed back to our city-rooms and wrote a story on
how the black-and-tan society of the Negro district was teaching the
society of the “gold coast” to dance. Our stories appeared on the first
page of our papers.

Early the next morning the manager telephoned. He was furious. He
claimed we had inveigled him into engaging the Negroes just in order
to “obtain a story” and, claiming we had mined. his hotel, he said he
was going to sue us both for damages in civil court. That we were
going to obtain a story from this exploit never entered my head, and I
told him I would come down to his hotel immediately. I arrived at his
office an hour later and he met me with profuse apologies. It turned
out that our stories had been the best advertisement his hotel had
received in many years and when he had arrived at his office he had
discovered every table in his restaurant had been reserved for a
fortnight in advance. He wished our assistance in aiding him to
contact the members of the two orchestras and sign a contract with
them to play in his hotel for six months. It developed my colleague
and I had helped him to make his fortune. He presented us with a gold
fountain pen and the privilege to eat as often as we pleased at his hotel
free of charge.

A few weeks later another popular restaurant in Chicago, the College
Inn, engaged a jazz orchestra and this new type of music quickly
developed into a regular industry. I know that New Orleans claims to
be the home of jazz. But the real home of Jazz was the Negro saloon.
This lowly birthplace is not mentioned as a detraction. Jazz is a great
and widely popular contribution which the Negro has made to the
White Man’s civilization. It is music in its adolescent form. Its
exuberance and vulgarity intensify its appeal.”

— from the book “Onward Christian Soldiers” by Donald Day (the new version with previously missing text), 1942/1982.

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