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Jazz History Weekly update for Oct.

7
Todays topic was the roots of early jazz piano styles. The pieces referred to below should all be on
youtube. Listen to them! Be prepared to define in writing the terms in bold and to identify also
anything in quotes.
We began by listening on youtube to African Single string banjo. We noticed the polyrhythms (3
against 2) and also the syncopation.
Then we listened to some examples of early American banjo, which by the 1800s had been made more
like a guitar by adding 3 more strings (now has 4).
Then we looked at the dance called the Cakewalk, which features the characteristic rhythm of 16th,
eighth, sixteenth (short/long/short) that also appears in Brazilian music for example. The cakewalk was a
dance by former slaves who dressed up and pranced around in the best Sunday clothes, making fun of
the plantation owners. Most jazz instrumental styles began as dance (social) music.
We then listened to Louis Moreau Gottschalks The Banjo (1854) which is a virtuosic piano showpiece
imitating the banjo. Then we listened to Debussy play his Golliwoggs Cakewalk, which also features
the cakewalk rhythm and banjo figurations.
Then we listened to Scott Joplins Maple Leave Rag (1898). Joplin was the first American composer to
fully notate Ragtime compositions that were meant to played without improvisation, just like a
traditional classical piano piece. We noticed of course the cakewalk rhythm and also the use of blues
notes (flatted 3rds and 7ths) and also crushed notes in the melodic figures. The FORM was like a
minuet and trio or American March(so-called because of its use in this same time period by
composers like New Orleans John Philip Souza), with multiple strains (themes), most of which are
repeated. For the trio section there is usually a modulation to the key a perfect 4th higher. There isnt
really a recapitulation (return to the primary theme).
Then we looked at piano rolls (player pianos). We noted that the player piano adds more than two
hands can really play. We also said that besides sheet music, the piano roll was the way in which music
was made available to most people. A high class or cultured household (like Duke Ellingtons for
example) owned a piano!
James P. Johnsons The Charleston (1914) was a big hit and became the dance craze of the Roaring
Twenties. Johnson then composed the first major Stride piano test piece , The Carolina Shout, in
1918. This piece was learned by all the pianists in the next generation of stride piano, like Willie The
Lion Smith (whose Finger Buster we listened to); Fats Waller (whose Handful of Keys we listened
to); and Bix Beiderbecke (who we will hear again as a trumpet player, for which he was better known,
but who wrote the piano piece In A Mist, which sounds like Debussy playing stride piano with its many
whole tone chords).
These pieces can feature improvisation, though they continue to feature the repeated strain type of
form. Because of the improvisation some sound more like playing the changes or theme and
variations form of more recent eras of instrumental jazz.
We concluded by listening to James Bookers Black Minute Waltz (the Chopin Waltz with many blues
effects like crushed notes mixed in). Booker is from New Orleans too, so his music often features the
tresillo / clave rhythm (see notes of last week). Other contemporary New Orleans style pianists of this
type are Professor Longhair and Doctor John. Check them out on youtube.