Those were simpler times. We went to school or work, came home, ate, slept and did other simple stuff. We filled our days just like our parents did before us. Life was not very complicated or very complex, and most things were affordable and doable. When things weren’t going well and we wanted to feel a little better we listened to some feel good music that had silly words and danceable rhythms. As a jazz fan I listened to traditional jazz, just like my parents. When I was little my parents, my sister and I would sit in front of the large radio console and listen to classical music until bedtime. After we were sent upstairs my dad would put on some jazz albums. I would sit on the stairway out of view in my pajamas and listen. Someplace in my psyche I have installed the idea that the jazz from that time would make me feel better. It still does. It was perfect feel good music.
The early jazz recordings my parents played were somewhat limited to white musicians playing black innovations of jazz. Black musicians didn’t have a shot at getting recorded and distributed nationally. I heard a lot of Dixieland and big band jazz, a likely result of my parents being art students during the “jazz age”. For them this was music for dancing and for lifting one’s spirits. It was boisterous, straightforward and fun.
I have always favored traditional jazz. I caught Louis Armstrong and The Dukes of Dixie when they were in town. The Mothers Boys played weekly in Detroit’s warehouse district.. I saw Turk Murphy in San Francisco, The Firehouse Five Plus Two in LA, and spent time listening to Chicago style jazz at Eddie Condon’s jazz club in NYC.
I have no idea what traditional jazz is. “Modern Jazz” started more than 75 years ago. I think we can consider tradition jazz to be all music that jazz artists played before traditional bebop came around. I think we can safely say traditional jazz is what your dad and mom liked, played by people who looked like your mom or dad.
The history of jazz has so many currents of influence, from the blues songs emerging from the African-American tradition, the work songs black field labourers would sing, the call-and-response tradition of black Baptist churches to the classical music coming from Europe. All the while white musicians took note. “Trad” jazz was played in Britain when American jazz drifted overseas.
When I first heard live jazz in high school, jazz had changed. The music I liked had my dad scratching his head. Louis was being featured in sappy movies playing sappy songs. He was still the best thing in the films. When I heard him in a concert with Jack Teagarden, I was taken back to those days listening with my parents and feeling good about the world.
Traditional jazz, hot jazz, good time jazz music are names that I have always attached to early jazz from ragtime to bop.
The Armistice to end World War I brought a sudden sense of relief and a jolt of reality to our country. When it ended so abruptly, we needed a relief valve. Here was an opening for new ideas, creating a fertile atmosphere for America’s musical child, jazz, to spread across America and the world.
Jazz had been born in 1895, the year Buddy Bolden started his first band in New Orleans. Jazz remained local for a while, but soon white copycats began appropriating the sound and style of black musicians. Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz record, Livery Stable Blues in 1917. This was the first instance of jazz music being called “Dixieland”.
When they recorded Livery Stable Blues the all-white Original Dixieland Jass Band borrowed to the point of plagiarism from the African-American musicians they’d heard in their native New Orleans. There was a lawsuit about who wrote Livery Stable Blues.
The judge in the case ruled that since the song was in bad taste and composed by people who couldn’t actually read or write sheet music it would be remanded to the “public domain” with no writer attributed at all.
A lot of traditional jazz bands understandably shy away from being labeled a “Dixieland Band”. The term Dixie has attached itself to the antebellum South, specifically anything south of the Mason-Dixon line. “Dixie” is still a reference to pre-Civil War Southern States.
Black musicians have traditionally rejected the term as a style distinct from traditional jazz, Some consider Dixieland a derogatory term because it was first played publicly without the passion or deep understanding of the original music and because of the unfair practices early jazz musicians endured.
The Dixie Highway was a United States automobile highway, first planned in 1914 to connect the US Midwest with the Southern UnitedStates.
The route was marked by a red stripe with the white letters “DH”, usually with a white stripe above and below. The logo was commonly painted on utility poles.
During the war years it took a lot of gas stamps to get out of town. I knew there was a major road that came down from Pontiac alongside Detroit, headed to Toledo and ended up in Miami. This was the Dixie Highway. Today we have interstate highways and higher levels of integration in our music. Dixieland music now honors the tradition and struggles and is less an act of theft.
After a depression or war we often see a revival of traditional music. When we get into a dreary period in our lives we may put on some early jazz or watch an old movie where we know everything turns out OK.
After WWII there was a revival movement that included elements of the Chicago style that developed during the 1920s. We saw the use of a string bass instead of a tuba. The traditional front lines still consisted of trumpets, trombones, and clarinets, and some ensemble improvisation over a two-beat rhythm.
Dixieland is often today applied to any band playing in a traditional style reflecting the grouping of the Chicago and New Orleans styles of traditional jazz under the same label.
Jazz is derivative, so everytime jazz is played the musicians give a wink of gratitude that jazz was so much fun to play from the very first day.
There are those who say that without Louis Armstrong, there would be no jazz today.
THE DIRTY DOGS
This coming Tuesday, February 25, a new jazz band will be showing up at the Dirty Dog Jazz Café.
Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz’s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen will be treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band named itself ” The Dirty Dogs”.
The music that they play is seldom heard today in its original form. It is, however, part of our musical heritage and its influence can be heard in all the music where you find yourself tapping your feet and feeling an urge to clap your hands. On Tuesday night we will hear some whoops and noticed some smiles on faces of people who before the session proclaimed that traditional jazz wasn’t their cup of tea. Gretchen will likely keep her barstool facing the band through the whole set. The musicians tend to play in Gretchen’s direction.
Gretchen Valade has supported all jazz artists and their explorations into new forms. Sometimes it is good to get a shot of good time music and remember how it all got started.
When the Dirty Dogs finish, the good cheer will continue. That is probably the result of the music and the fact that this is music that is usually listened to with a drink in your hand.
FEEL GOOD MUSIC
Music has always had the purpose of helping us get through our day. Jazz continues to sweep us up and shake out the bad stuff.
Somewhere I read, ” When you bring New Orleans your sad story New Orleans will put a beat to it.” Bring your story to the Dirty Dog on Fat Tuesday through Saturday, they will put a beat to it.
THIS WEEK AT THE DIRTY DOG JAZZ CAFÉ
Seven of our best traditional jazz artists were assembled by drummer Pete Siers as a show of gratitude for one of jazz music’s greatest supporters, Gretchen Valade. For one night Gretchen was treated to the music that brought back fond memories of her first introduction to jazz while a student in New York. The band have named themselves: ” The Dirty Dogs”.
February 26 – 29
Don’t miss this chance to witness some high energy jazz that comes only from Detroit and our young artists. Jeff Canady will play drums the way every kid who has ever dreamed about getting a drum set would like to play. For four nights at the Dirty Dog he will play the role of the kid who got a drum set and then got really good.