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Ten obscure facts about jazz

Compiled by Dionna Hargraves

The harsh restrictions that North American slaves faced between the sixteenth and nineteenth century led to the innovative ways to communicate through music. Many slaves sang songs and used their surrounding resources to create homemade instruments. This tradition continued to develop after emancipation and several black music genres began to form. From its early forms, such as ragtime, this collection of musical styles, sounds, and culture developed throughout the twentieth century as the great American art form: jazz. We gathered ten facts from Mervyn Cooke’s The Chronicle of Jazz to highlight this evolution.

  1. In 1900, John Philip Sousa took The Sousa Band on a European tour, performing ragtime arrangements at the Paris Exposition. Sousa’s Band was well received and had the honor to represent the United States of America as the official band of the country.
  2. During the World War I, Lieutenant James Reese was the director of the all-black military band of the 369th US Infantry, “The Hellfighters”. In France, they played in several cities during a six week period from February to March 1918, and were met with much success.
  3. Having started out as a drummer, Lionel Hampton recorded a vibraphone solo in 1930 and subsequently became this neglected instrument’s first virtuoso. Invented during World War I, the vibraphone is similar to the xylophone and is made of metal bars laid out in a keyboard arrangement. Each bar is suspended above its own tubular resonator, which contains an electrically driven fan that produces an oscillating tone.
  4. In 1939, Duke Ellington and his band sailed to Le Havre for a concert tour of France, Holland, and Denmark. Knowing of Hitler’s antipathy towards jazz, they passed anxiously through Nazi Germany.
  5. Count Basie’s first European tour took his band to Copenhagen, Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, and cities in France, Germany, and Switzerland. Basie is the originator of the brand of Kansas City jazz that became the hottest big-band sound in the 1930s and 1940s.
  6. Portrait of Count Basie, Aquarium, New York, N.Y. between 1946 and 1948. Photo by William P. Gottlieb. Public domain via Library of Congress.
    Portrait of Count Basie, Aquarium, New York, NY between 1946 and 1948. Photo by William P. Gottlieb. Public domain via Library of Congress.
  7. In 1963, Duke Ellington embarked on a tour arranged by the US State Department. His itinerary included Syria, Jordan, Jerusalem, Beirut, Afghanistan, India, Ceylon, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Turkey, Cyrus, Egypt, and Greece. The tour was abandoned after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 22 November 1963.
  8. By the early 1950s, the Hot Club of Japan (founded in 1946) began to flourish, and the climate was ripe for American performers to undertake high-profile tours to locations in Tokyo and Osaka. Many visits were sponsored by Norman Granz’s “Jazz at the Philharmonic” from 1953 onwards, and tours by artists of the stature of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Art Blakey became commonplace in the mid-1960s.
  9. Bill Evans is considered to be one of the most respected keyboard players in modern jazz. His harmonic daring and rhythmic subtlety influenced many emerging talents in the 1960s. In 1996, more than eighty hours of Bill’s previously unknown recordings of live gigs, 1966-80, were discovered at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, New York.
  10. Steve Lacy was a soprano saxophone player and composer who worked with Thelonius Monk, Gil Evans, and Cecil Taylor. In the late 1960s, Steve decided to move to Europe and take free jazz to Italy and France. After thirty-three years spent in Paris, Steve returned to the United States to teach at the New England Conservatory in Boston.
  11. In 2001, Regina Carter played jazz on Niccolò Paganini’s $40-million antique violin in Genoa, Italy, and subsequently recorded on the instrument for the album Paganini: After a Dream. This performance outraged many classical music purists; Paganini was an Italian violin virtuoso.

On 20 November 2013, starting at 9:00 a.m. EST, Oxford University Press is giving away 10 copies of The Chronicle of Jazz to residents of the United States, 18 years of age and older. The contest ends on November 21st, 2013 at 11:59pm. Visit the link for entry details.

Dr. Mervyn Cooke is Professor of Music at the University of Nottingham and has published extensively on the history of jazz, film music, and the music of Benjamin Britten. His most recent books include The Chronicle of Jazz, The Cambridge Companion to Jazz, The Hollywood Film Music Reader, The Cambridge Companion to Twentieth-Century Opera and Letters from a Life: The Selected Letters of Benjamin Britten.

Dionna Hargraves works in marketing at Oxford University Press.

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