WHEN I mention jazz to people, they usually cross themselves, back away and break into a run. Fair enough. Getting into a jazz conversation is a bit like slow drowning, but not so pleasant. What puzzles me is when they flee, they add over their shoulders: “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand or know anything about jazz.”
Well, for them and for all thirsters after knowledge I bring you a potted history of jazz ,which tells you all you need to know so that in future you can flee without having to turn around.
1600-1800 African slaves are brought across the Atlantic in terrible conditions below decks, to the plantations of the Southern states. The bad news, when they arrive, is that not only do they have to pay back the price of the voyage; they now have to sing hymns.
1800 Many slaves run away rather than sing hymns. If they are captured and brought back, they are given the choice of three punishments: go out and sing hymns and invent gospel music; play old Civil War instruments and invent ragtime; or complain about conditions and invent the blues.
1863 Conditions for blacks worse than ever. Many of them complain that as the Civil War has not yet happened, there are no instruments around.
1864 Civil War. Ragtime invented. First listener writes to the BBC: “Sir, your coverage of ragtime is quite disgraceful. When, oh when, are we devotees of ragtime going to get round-the-clock ragtime? PS: or any broadcasting at all?”
1880-1890 Statue of Liberty installed in New York and inscribed: “Bring me your poor, your teeming masses and I will give them such a strict admissions test that most of the will be kicked back to Europe.” Blacks immediately feel better, knowing that if they hadn’t come in slave ships on a free admissions scheme, a lot of them would probably not have been able to enter at all.
1899 Scott Joplin publishes “Maple Leaf Rag’, the first sign in history that America had noticed the presence of Canada. Also, so far, the last.
1917 Jazz comes up-river from New Orleans to Chicago, crosses to New York, takes a boat to Europe and fights heroically against the Germans in the trenches, and goes on furlough to Hammersmith Palais.
1918 Listener writes to BBC: “Sir, Jazz has now been invented for over two weeks, and still there is no round-the-clock programme devoted to it. Yrs etc”
1919 BBC comedian first uses the joke “Is there a WC Handy?”
1920-1930 In honour of jazz, the Twenties are named the Jazz Age. In one of those monumental cock-ups to which jazz has always been prey, the decade is symbolized by Scott Fitzgerald who never mentioned jazz; Paul “King of Jazz” Whiteman, who never played any jazz; and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, which contained not a note of jazz.
1931 Saatchi and Saatchi called in to restore the image of jazz. They recommend using new labels to sell the product: hot, swing, rhythm, etc. They also insist that jazz musicians adopt interesting nicknames.
1932 Policy misfires disastrously when jazz musicians adopt nicknames such as Bix, Bunny, Bubber, Teddy, Bean and Rabbit, and public thinks they are characters in a children’s book.
1933 Saatchi and Saatchi recommend new set of nicknames based on aristocracy such as Earl, Count, Duke, Oscar, etc
1934 Policy misfires when genuine aristocrat, the Duke of Windsor sits in with English bands and turns out to be the worst drummer in history. Course of English jazz set back by 20 years; many flee the country for America locked below decks in the cocktail bar in appalling conditions (George Shearing, Victor Feldman, Leonard Feather, Annie Ross, Stan Laurel, “Sir” Benjamin Britten, “WH” Auden, etc).
1935 Resignation of Duke of Windsor sought. Saatchi and Saatchi brought in. They recommend re-launching him in a new package as Edward VIII.
1936 Multi-million pound re-launch a fiasco when Edward VIII proposes to re-launch Mrs Simpson as Mrs Edward VIII. Duke of Windsor goes on radio and abdicates. Reader writes to BBC: “Sir, Why, oh why, must we have endless programmes on abdication while there is still no wall-to-wall, round-the-clock, 24-hour coverage of jazz?”
Part two of this cut-out-and-tap-your-feet-to Wall Chart of Jazz History tomorrow. Letters from infuriated readers rest of week.
Today we bring you Part Two of our Grand Jazz History wall chart, which you must either cut out and stick up or, of course, not. Part One, which appeared yesterday, has been deleted but will soon be out on CD.
1937 Grand worldwide competition to find the jazz group with the least glamorous name is won by Quintet du Hot Club de France. Prize for musician with hardest name to spell is won by group’s guitarist, Django Reinhardt. Second is Stephane Grappelly.
1939 Germany occupies mainland Europe in an attempt to stamp out jazz, which it claims is a music played by an inferior race, ie jazz musicians. Hitler says jazz musicians turn up late, are hard to get back on the stand after an interval, behave unreliably, get drunk, chase girls and tell obscure jokes.
1940 Britain battered by broadcast by Lord Haw Haw, who jeers at the British, saying: ”All right, so you have got Grappelly, but we have got Django Reinhardt! And you have to put up with Henry Hall!” Thousands of BBC listeners write to Lord Haw Haw to complain: “Why, or why must you put on this non-stop propaganda, which is of little interest to the average listener, when thousands of us would listen regularly if you played some jazz?”
1941 Japanese attack Pearl Bailey. Furious, the Americans enter the war and put the war effort into the hands of Major Glenn Miller.
1944 Within sight of victory, Glenn Miller is lost over the Channel while en route to Paris to conduct a concert. The concert goes ahead without him, thus proving once and for all that a jazz band can play without a man out front waggling his hands up and down.
1945 In the post-war period jazz splits into two camps and the Cool War begins. One side plays modern jazz, a kind of music devised by black men too difficult for white guys to play. The other side played trad. jazz devised by white men to be too simple to appeal to black musicians.
1946 Headquarters of modern jazz established on 52nd Street, New York, where the best musicians in the world flock from club to club to hear each other.
1947 British musicians flock to New York to hear new music, travelling in terrible conditions below deck in large liners, forced to play in Geraldo’s Orchestra.
1948 It is discovered on 52nd Street that the club’s clientele is entirely composed of musicians flocking to hear each other, entering on the free list. No paying customer has been admitted for two years. Scene collapses. Young visiting Briton, Ronnie Scott, vows to re-establish free list in London, one day.
1953 Django Reinhardt dies. Title of hardest-to-spell musician goes, much to Grappelly’s chagrin to another Belgian, Toots Thielemans.
1950-1960 Modern jazz goes respectable. Dave Brubeck waves bit of paper, proclaiming: ”Time in our piece.” Modern Jazz Quartet dresses up like waiters, just as classical players always have. Studiously suited Gil Evans invents the horn-rimmed orchestra.
1963 Arrival of the Beatles. Jazz forgotten for 20 years. It only survives through the invention of Arts Council jazz, a kind of music devised by black and white men to appeal to grey accountants. As the Arts Council can only disburse money to composers, musicians now have to pretend that everything they play is a suite, and give it fancy names.
1979 Stephane Grappelly changes his name to Grappelli in a late desperate bid to win hardest-to-spell musician award. Title, however, goes to the Swedish trumpeter, Bent Person.
1970-1980 In an attempt to keep jazz alive, it is put on electronic support machines, given rock transfusions, borrowed organs, etc. The result, so-called fusion music, is not expected to live long. It doesn’t.
1980 -1990 In an attempt to cover up impoverishment of rock music, media try every alternative –African bands, Chinese folk music, anything. Even jazz is tried. Amazingly it catches on again. Yves St Laurent names an after-shave Jazz. The music survives even this body blow.
1989 To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the first letter to the BBC complaining about not enough jazz, London gets Jazz FM, a 24-hour jazz station.
1990 Jazz FM receives first letters: ” Why, oh why must you play so much jazz all day long? Would it not be possible to have more country music…?” History of jazz starts all over again.
The Independent 1st Aug 1990