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California Fool's Gold -- Exploring The Arts District

Posted by Eric Brightwell, October 22, 2009 09:22pm | Post a Comment

This edition of the neighborhood blog is about The Arts District... or The Artist District... or is it The Artist-In-Residence District... or perhaps The Artists' District? This, and other issues, will be sorted out by blog's end to everyone's satisfaction.

 


Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Map of the Arts District

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            William Wolfskill                                                                      La Grande Station
 

The area along the western bank of Los Angeles River currently designated The Arts District in Los Angeles has gone through many changes in identity and name over the years. It passed from the hands of the Tongva to the Spaniards to the Mexicans and, most recently, to the Yankees. One of the latter, a Kentuckian named William Wolfskill, planted the land (or had it planted) with citrus trees to sell to scurvy-prone miners who swarmed the area following the California Gold Rush of 1849.

Central City East in 1909

TRAIN HUB

By the 1870s, trains began arriving in the area both to transport the citrus to far off locales and to bring in migrant workers to work in the groves. The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad opened the Moorish-style La Grande Station in 1893. Thirteen years later, a new depot opened at 3rd and Santa Fe.

BIRTH OF SKID ROW

Following the arrival of trains and the immigrant laborers they brought, the area began to rapidly industrialize. Much of the work in Los Angeles, based as it was on agriculture, was seasonal. To cater to the workers between jobs, many bars and flophouses sprang up between downtown proper and the growing industrial district which gradually became known alternately as Skid Row and the Nickel -- because it’s centered on 5th St.

 
Nate Starkman & Son   


                                                                                  Industrial Street after sunset

RISE OF INDUSTRY - THE WAREHOUSE DISTRICT

Between San Pedro and the Los Angeles River, Central City East was soon covered with large factories and warehouses. By 1950, Los Angeles was an industrial powerhouse where more cars were assembled than in any American city besides Detroit. The city’s tire production was only exceeded by that of Akron. Los Angeles also outranked all American cities in garment production except for New York City.

One famous warehouses was owned by George Shima, the first Japanese-American millionaire. Shima was born ???? in Kurume in 1864 and lived in Berkeley (when he bought a house the newspaper headline read "Yellow Peril in College Town." His base of operation was out of a warehouse on 1275 E. 6th Street. After beginning his career as a domestic servant and later becoming a migrant worker, he nonetheless managed to amass a fortune of about $18 million (about $200 million adjusted for inflation) due to his Shima Fancy potatoes commanding 85% of the potato market.


As the population of the city swelled, much of the industry and especially the residential population center moved away from the city center, leaving behind many massive empty buildings.

Looking west near Wholesale and Mill

VIETNAM WAR ERA

In the late ‘60s, many returning emotionally-disturbed and drug-addicted Viet Nam vets joined the older, by then permanent population of alcoholic ex-hobos, tramps and bums. Many missions had long serviced the indigent area and the mostly abandoned industrial area became a hotbed for those both dropping out of society and those expelled from it. Not all of the industrial core was abandoned and as different areas took on different characteristics are still organized around smaller districts, including The Wholesale District (an area where most of the produce, seafood and flowers pass into the city), Skid Row (an area where most of the county’s 10,000 or so homeless pass through), The Fashion District (formerly known as The Garment District), The Toy District and -- on the eastern edge -- The Arts District.

Economy Supply (with large chess pieces on the roof)   

Looking east down 5th St from Alameda


BORDERS OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

Not all of the district's borders have been accepted by all parties. Since it became a highly desirable area, developers have continually attempted to stretch its borders so that they can convert and sell more properties. The western border has always been accepted as Alameda. The eastern border has always been accepted as the L.A. River. Though the northern border is defined in city documents as 1st Street, both Temple and the 101 have also been described as the border and even appear as such in some unofficial maps. Confusingly, the only "Arts District" signs in the area are located at Hewitt & Traction and at 3rd & Santa Fe, intersections within anyone's definition but not marking a border. In 2000, the Central City North Community Plan officially set “Artists-in-Residence District’s” southern boundary at 6th street. Then, in 2007, the southern boundary was officially extended several blocks further to Violet St.

It is bordered by the Civic Center to the north, Boyle Heights to to east, the Wholesale District to the south, the Downtown Industrial District to the southwest, and Little Tokyo to the northwest.



***

BIRTH OF THE ARTS DISTRICT

The area began to take shape as the Arts District around 1976 when artists began to come to the area to inhabit the by-then often vacant buildings, attracted in part by the ample space and average rent of thirty cents-per-square-foot. Since the empty warehouses weren’t zoned for residences, there were occasional raids by the fire department and it was all a bit lawless.

AL'S BAR

In 1979, the storied Al’s Bar opened on the ground floor of The American Hotel when Marc Kreisel bought the property from the titular Al. Over the years, the club hosted many underground and then-obscure acts like The Fall, Gun Club, The Jesus Lizard, The Residents, The Misfits, Mudhoney, Nirvana, Red Kross, Sonic Youth and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even acts that would never likely play there were attracted by its "cred" and so poppier acts like Bad Religion, Coolio and Pennywise all filmed videos there.


 A massive Iron Mountain warehouse   




Mesquit under 6th St Bridge


1981 - AIR ORDINANCE

In 1981, the Artists-In-Residence (AIR) ordinance was passed, allowing artists to live in their work spaces as long as the residences conformed to building and safety standards. After the neighborhood began to build up a bit of Bohemian cache, some enterprising individuals began buying the buildings and the rents began to climb, at first fairly slowly. The area came to be known by a variety of names, including The Lofts District and more often The Arts District.


GORKY'S CAFE 
 

Gorky's (image source: Vespa Vamanos)

Gorky's Cafe opened at 536 E. 8th Street in 1981 by a former librarian, Judith Markoff, and originally catered to local homeless and artists. Fred Powers bought the cafe in 1985, and added a microbrewery, nightly live music, neon and security guards -- promising "Foodski, Funski, Brewski" athe venue, renamed Gorky's Cafeteria & Russian Brewery. It got trendier and Powers opened a second location in Hollywood. The Hollywood location soon closed and a patron, Candace Choi, took over the Arts District location in 1992 before permanently closing the doors in 1993. The building has since been absorbed by the growing Flower District and is home to a flower shop with googly-eye dogs made out of poms and crosses made of flowers. 




In 1982, multimedia artist Stephen Seemayer finished his rough cut of an 8mm film titled Young Turks. Its setting was the area around and including the Arts District between 1977 and 1981, when few of the wealthy loft dwellers would've likely even risked a drive through the area. The stars include artists Bob & Bob, Coleen Sterritt, Richard Newton, Woods Davy, and Al's Bar owner, Marc Kreisel.


BLOOM'S GENERAL STORE


Bloom's General Store  




                                                                               Acme Modern Supplies

As is normally the case in industrial areas, there was a distinct lack of greenery aside from vegetation springing up in hard to access nooks and crannies until some of the locals began planting trees. As the area grew, the distinct lack of nearby services for residents became an issue until Joel Bloom opened Bloom’s General Store. Bloom, along with other community activists, lobbied the city to make The Arts District official. Recognizing the by-then thriving scene, the city began actively encouraging people to move to the district and many of the warehouses were re-zoned and converted into Artist in Residence dwellings. They also installed signs declaring it The Artist District. Even today there are official signs referring to it thusly, or in other cases as, “The Artists' District” but it has long been known primarily as The Arts District, which is what the signs now say. For a while, there was one of the old signs mounted on the exterior of Bloom's store.


Looking east on Conway 



Newly restored building on 6th St.


BEDLAM ART SALON
 
 
Jim Fittipaldi started a speakeasy/art space and magazine of the same name located in the warehouse that is now Molino Street Lofts around 1994. It briefly moved  to Los Feliz in 2000 for a bit before returning to the Arts District, making its home on E. 6th Street (in the Potato King's old warehouse). It closed in 2006.

In a predictable narrative, after the artists begin reversing the long decline of an area with their efforts, gentrification followed. Aiding the speed of the shift were clauses in AIR that exempted the building owners from rent control, so massive developers began to price out and evict long-time residents, converting the buildings in the process into appealing, if less affordable, condos. As the old timers were forced out and the buildings transformed, not surprisingly the character of the Arts District once again began to transform. The American Hotel was sold to Magnum Properties and in 2001, Al’s Bar closed its doors. In 2007, Joel Bloom passed away and his famed store closed its doors after struggling for two years in 2009. Though the intersection of 3rd and Bloom is named Joel Bloom Square, for better or worse (or both), the Arts District has quite a different character than it used to in its heyday as an arts colony.


 Between Barker Block and Molino     

 Former train depot, now SCI-Arc

As with Historic Filipinotown, the Arts District's name now applies largely to an historic population, as most artists can't afford to live in the expensive neighborhood. No longer is the area populated primarily by practicing, struggling artists, but rather by wealthy loft owners attracted by the concept of "artist" as a lifestyle rather than an actual creative pursuit. Although slumming will always hold an attraction for those from a privileged background and realtors bounce around words like “gritty,” “funky,” and “hip” like a hacky-sack in a college dormitory courtyard, in reality the big lofts, including Barker Block, Molino, Toy Factory, Biscuit Company, 2121 and the proposed AMP, are squeaky clean, posh and only affordable to established, celebrity artists or dabbling trustafarians.

The lofts are at least tastefully done (although it would be nice if part of the conversion process had included installing green roofs or walls!) and residents of the neighborhoods busily crowd their ground floor businesses whilst expertly leaving the non-loft areas surprisingly desolate and empty except for the homeless.

There are now a handful of restaurants, stores and bars in the area. I've been known to knock back a few (OK, more than a few) at
Royal Clayton's English Pub in the Toy Factory Lofts. Across the street are The Biscuit Lofts, where Sandra Oh's character lives in Grey's Anatomy. I believe that show takes place somewhere in the northwest which is why, when filming down there, they routinely wet the street.


  The Biscuit Lofts



Looking south at Mateo and 6th
 
To be fair, there is still art being produced in the neighborhood, although much of it has a controlled, prescribed and commodified vibe. Perhaps no space embodies the well-mannered, inorganic and sanctioned "edginess" more than the Barker Block's private, enclosed (and therefore off limits to non-residents) “Artists' Alley.” Most of the rest of the public art in the neighborhood is run-of-the-mill graffiti of the sort favored by the backpack-and-hoodies crowd whose notions of gritty street culture more likely come from Urban Outfitters than firsthand urban experience.

There’s also fair amount of theater in the neighborhood (which I haven't checked out) and several art galleries where you’ll hear terms like “outsider art” and “new ideas” bandied, even though most of what’s being discussed (and most modern art in general) seems to me ironically to be highly uniform, generic and excessively rule-bound. Ironically, much of the online discourse from new residents of the neighborhood revolves around complaining about the twin nuisances of the homeless population, on the one hand, and industrial activity on the other. Sure, Andres Serrano, Chris Ofli and Survival Research Labs type stuff is apparently fine-and-dandy as long as they’re on display in galleries -- but not when the same "media" are on the sidewalks where you walk your tiny dogs on your way to an upscale coffee shop. While I agree that homelessness and pollution are enormous problems in Los Angeles, if you hate water you probably shouldn't move to the coast and then complain that the ocean won't dry up.


In 2000, The Southern California Institute of Architecture moved to the former train depot on Santa Fe. In 2006, Gideon Kotzer opened the last Crazy Gideon’s in the Arts District. His son Daniel runs Café Studio nearby, on Palmetto. The elder Kotzer is trying to get out of the electronics game and now trying to get the approval to convert his property into a truly hideous series of ugly corrugated box residences lined stupidly by palm trees. Given the high standards on display throughout the neighborhood, I doubt the final version will look much like the Crazy One's warped vision.



Currently the Arts District is one of the most unique and physically attractive urban sections of Los Angeles. Not surprisingly, it’s been featured in several films. La Grande Station used to contain a Harvey House, was the subject of (and featured in) The Harvey Girls. In The Limey, Terence Stamp’s character utters his most memorable line before menacingly crossing Willow St. after shooting some pests in a factory there. I'm sure there've been other filmss, (I think Repo  Man), videos and TV shows filmed in part or in whole down there. If you know of any, let me know.


*****


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The roots of jazz - ragtime

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 24, 2009 04:48pm | Post a Comment
Although for most people the strains of "The Entertainer" and other rags now primarily evoke quaint, scratchy images of silent films projected at the wrong speed, when ragtime first appeared around the 1870s, it was the soundtrack of Missouri's whorehouses, parlors and gambling clubs.

St. Louis in the 1870s

Ragtime was also one of the first truly and distinctly American musical forms. After cakewalk, ragtime was one of the first global music crazes. That Ragtime's cradle was the river towns of the Missouri Valley shouldn't be a surprise. Missouri, located at the center of the country, has long been and remains a crossroads of cultural exchanges. No state borders more than Missouri and noted ragtime musicians came from all the neighbors and spread to them (except Nebraska and Iowa, states whose people are known to be deaf to the joys of melody and dance). The character of ragtime -- drawing from folk, European and American marches, minstrelsy, spirituals and other forms -- connects Europe, Africa and North America, town and country, classical and popular, black and white.

Though ragtime is primarily written for the piano, it was also played on other instruments, notably the banjo. Although its syncopation is generally discussed as a defining characteristic, not all ragtime truly is and the term "syncopated" was applied much as “swing” was later, as a sort of shorthand for an indescribable feeling. Scott Joplin even wrote, “Play slowly until you catch the swing,” and described the effect as “weird and intoxicating.”

As insisted upon by "The King of Ragtime," Scott Joplin, ragtime was meant to be played exactly as written. Although discouraging improvisation, James P. Johnson stated that he and other New York pianists would routinely appropriate sections of ragtime and improvise, unaware even of the song's authorship, giving birth to a style known as stride.


THE BIRTH OF RAGTIME

Ragtime is usually said to have first appeared in the 1890s (when it first was published) and 1897 is usually named as the year of ragtime's emergence. However, E.A. Phelps’s "The Darkies’ Patrol," published in 1892, is a rag -- a fact noted on the sheet music by the publisher. Ragtime had, in fact, been around many years before it was commited to paper. Scott Joplin heard ragtime when he first arrived in St. Louis in 1885. Blind Boone, skipping school in the mid-1870s, did as well. The place they both heard it was St. Louis's famed Chestnut Valley tenderloin/red light district, where sporting houses employed pianists to provide a score for their client's various activities. Chesnut Valley had a reputation for being so hot that supposedly cops wouldn't set foot in it. It was in Chesnut Valley, on Targee St. in 1899, where Allen (Johnny) Britt got killed by Frankie Baker a lover's quarrel, a crime immortalized in the song "Frankie & Johnny."

ST. LOUIS'S CHESTNUT VALLEY

       
               Artie Matthews                                  Joe Jordan                                         Charles Hunter

    
      Louis Chauvin                     Tom Turpin                      Charley Thompson                Ralph Sutton

Georgia-born Thomas Million John Turpin, aka Tom Turpin, had strong ties to Chestnut Valley. Turpin's father, Honest John Turpin, ran the Silver Dollar Saloon. Turpin the younger opened two of the most famous venues for ragtime when, in 1900 (the same year he met Scott Joplin), he opened the Rosebud Bar, an enormous venue (with rented rooms upstairs) which featured many of the city's best ragtime musicians. The Rosebud also played host to many traveling musicians and was the sight of cutting contests between pianists from various locales. His other venue was the nearby Hurrah Sporting Club.

For his patronage, work as a publisher, and as a ragtime composer himself, Turpin earned the nickname "The Father of Ragtime." Other venues for ragtime in the district existed too. Arthur Marshall was employed at The Spanish Café. Madam Betty Rae ran a bawdy house that employed Louis "Bird Face" Chauvin and Sam Patterson. The Magic Horshoe was yet another venue.

 
                                        The Rosebud Bar                                                                       Chestnut Valley

As ragtime's popularity grew, the district attracted composers from nearby states. Artie Charles Hunter came from Tennessee and gained fame there. Charlie Warfield came in 1897 when he was just fourteen. Artie Matthews came from across the river in Illinois. Joe Jordan came from Ohio. Charlie Matthews moved there from Illinois in 1905.

Other musicians associated with the city over the years, including natives and transplants, are Sonny Anderson, Paul “Can-Can” Sedric, George Reynolds, Walker Farrington, Owen Marshall, Conway Casey, Rob Hampton, Gertrude “Sweety” Bell, Louella Anderson, Thehodosia Hutchison, Lucian Porter Gibson and Harry Belding. In response to the influx of musicians and composers, publishers like Jos. F. Hunleth Music Co., Buck and Lowney and Placht and Son soon appeared.
 

THE SEDALIA SCENE

   
                     Scott Joplin                                       Arthur Marshall                                       Scott Hayden

No city is as closely associated with ragtime as the tiny Missouri town of Sedalia. It may seem odd that a place with only a few thousand residents could claim primary parentage of so large a phenomenon but several factors made that possible.


First, the George R. Smith School of Music was founded there to provide a respectable education for blacks and soon attracted many aspiring composers and musicians from around the south and midwest, including Texas-born Joplin, Indiana-born Etilmon Justus Stark and Arthur Marshall, of nearby Saline County. Marshall and Joplin, after receiving a musical education, themselves turned to teaching. Without a doubt, their most celebrated pupil was a local Sedalian, Scott Hayden.

Downtown Sedalia

Another factor allowing for the tiny town's contribution to ragtime was the surprisingly vibrant nightlife.  East Main Street was the location of Sedalia's sporting district, where townies and railroad workers alike went after the sun went down in search of sport at bars and clubs like the Williams BrothersThe Maple Leaf Club, Tony Williams's The 400 Dance Club, and Hustlers' Hall and guest houses run by Nellie Hall and Mrs. L. WrightAt these venues, the aforementionEd respectable and talented ragtime pianists (and others, like Otis Saunders) found employment, earning up to $1.50 a night (plus tips).

      

In 1885, John Stark came to town with his publishing company, John Stark & Son. Soon after his arrival, he and Scott Joplin would sell over one million copies of the sheet music for "Maple Leaf Rag" -- the first million-selling instrumental piece in American history. So strong was the pull of the ragtime scene that, at just fifteen, S. Brunson Campbell (Brun Campbell) wisely left Kansas in search of Joplin and Saunders. He found them and they nicknamed the precocious teenager "The Ragtime Kid."

Sedalia's ragtime scene came to a screeching halt with the arrival of reform. Totalitarian teetotalers soon completely succeeded in destroying the town's culture and ragtime musicians responded by heading for greener pastures. Not surprisingly, John Stark & Sons and most of the local musicians headed downriver to Chestnut Valley. Soon after, in 1901, Hustler's Hall closed. By 1909, the sporting belt was dead and all vestiges of culture disappeared. Today, KMOS Channel 6 (the local PBS affiliate for Central Missouri) is the only sign of cultural life.


KANSAS CITY'S 18TH AND VINE

    
        Charles L. Johnson                   Euday Louis Bowman                                  Calvin Lee Woolsey

Though less-widely recognized, Kansas City, Missouri's 18th & Vine district, in Downtown East, is of equal importance as more famed music-associated streets like Basin St., 52nd St., Beale St, and Central Ave. It was there that ragtime flourished, with ragtimers like Ed Kuhn, E. Harry Kelly, Irene Cozad, Maude Gilmore and Mamie Williams all representing Kansas City.

Later, 18th & Vine would be the center of Kansas City's vibrant and more commonly-celebrated jazz scene, but it was ragtime that first took hold, a fact not lost on locals. In the 1930s, "Kansas City’s finest outdoor theater for colored people,” the Highland Garden Theater was enclosed and renamed the Boone Theater after the pioneering ragtime musician.

Though he lived in Fort Worth, Texas, Euday Louis Bowman routinely journied to Kansas City to promote and sell his compositions, including songs like "Fort Worth Blues," "Kansas City Blues" and "Twelfth Street Rag," which became popular with early jazz performers like Bennie Moten and Louis Armstrong. Calvin Lee Woosley was drawn to Kansas City from nearby Tinney's Point.

18th & Vine

Kansas City was an early center of ragtime publishing too. Local ragtime composer/publisher Charles Neil Daniels bought Joplin’s 1898 “Original Rags” and arranged it for Carl Hoffman Music Co. of Kansas City. With ragtime's exploding popularity and the resulting emergence of Tin Pan Alley in New York, there was a talent drain on Kansas City and local composers such as Daniels moved to New York. According to Jelly Roll Morton, by 1911 there were no decent pianists in the city. However, some composers stayed, such as Charles L. Johnson, who preferred KC to NYC. He owned his own publishing company (Charles L. Johnson & Co.) and was so prolific he also published under the alias Raymond Birch. Ethel May Earnist and Fannie Bell Woods were long thought to be other aliases of his but recent discoveries have suggested that both women were quite real. Earnist was a Nebraska-born composer and Woods was from Louisville. Other local publishers included JW Jenkins’ Sons Music Co. and Will L. Livernash.


CENTRAL MISSOURI - LITTLE DIXIE

  
                                  Blind Boone                                                              Wilbur Sweatman

Perhaps more than any other musical figure in the 19th century, John William “Blind” Boone bridged the gap between black and white music. Like Gottschalk and Big Tom before him, he wrote and performed music that drew from both musical traditions and synthesized a uniquely American sound. Born in Saline County, Blind Boone had been sent to a school for the blind in St. Louis where his mother hoped he'd gain a musical education. At first he did, but when the school changed hands and he was instead taught the more practical skill of broom-making, he frequently ditched, prefering to hang out in Chesnut Valley.

Boone's truancy led to his expulsion and the blind musician ended up held captive by an unscrupulous gambler. After a group from his hometown secured his freedom, he moved to Columbia's Sharp End neighborhood. In 1880, Sharp End hosted a cutting contest between Blind Boone and the famed early black musical sensation Blind Tom. There, local publisher Allen Music Co. published several of his works.

Downtown Columbia

Wilbur C. Sweatman hailed from nearby Brunswick and moved to Minneapolis in 1902. However, he retained his ties to ragtime, recording and composing many hits. His wax cylinder recording of Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag" was supposedly the first of the song. He also had strong ties to a then new style, jazz, and was the first black musician to record songs with "Jass" and "Jazz" in the titles.


THE OZARKS - THE CARTHAGE SCENE

    
         James Scott                      Clarence Woods                 Percy  Wenrich               Theron Catlen Bennett

Though today the Ozarks are more recognized for their hillbillies, back in the day, the small town of Carthage boasted a ragtime scene hot enough in its time to attract composers from outside the state.

 
Happening Carthage

Though Carthage is now best known as the home of the Precious Moments Inspiration Park, at the turn of the century, Dumar Music Co. and the local ragtime scene lured the likes of Clarence "Ragtime Wonder of the South" Woods from neighboring states to the town of around only 10,000 inhabitants. Percy "The Joplin Kid" Wenrich, as his name suggests, was from nearby Joplin. Theron Catlen Bennett hailed from nearby Pierce City. The most famous ragtime composer, the celebrated James Scott, originally of nearby Neosho, traveled to St. Louis to meet Scott Joplin but stayed in Carthage until 1914, when he moved to Kansas City to teach piano. 


THE SPREAD OF RAGTIME'S POPULARITY

Ragtime quickly spread around the lower middle west and upper south, first by itinerant musicians and then sheet music and piano rolls. At the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, pianists from nearby states gathered outside to seek money entertaining the crowds and in the process exposed and exchanged the syncopated style. Soon ragtime struck a chord in the major cities of the area such as Indianapolis, Chicago, Louisville and Cincinnati.

1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

In the 1890s, ragtime spread down river to New Orleans where it took root in the storied Storyville neighborhood. Had that not happened, jazz would've probably never happened. After the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition (aka St. Louis World's Fair), visitors from around the country and the world were exposed to rags and the music quickly spread. In Europe, not yet recovered from the throes of an obsession with cakewalk, ragtime became the new thing.


RAGTIME BEYOND THE SHOW ME

Other composers from outside Missouri were soon publishing rags over the following years, including A. Shaw, Abe Holzmann, Adeline Shepherd, Ben Harney, Cecil Duane Crabb, Charley Straight, Charlotte Blake, Clarence C. Wiley, Ernest Reuben Crowders, Felix Arndt, Gene Greene, George Botsford, George Botsford, George L. Cobb, Harry Jentes, Harry P. Guy, Harry Tierney, J. Russell Robinson, Jacob Henry Ellis, Jelly Roll Morton, Johann C. Schmid (under the pseudonym "Marie Louka"), Joseph Lamb, Joseph Russel Robinson, Julia Lee Niebergall, Kerry Mills, Les C. Copeland, Luckey Roberts, May Frances Aufderheide, Muriel Pollock, Paul Pratt, Paul Sarebresole, R.J. Hamilton, Robert Hampton, Roy Fredrick Bargy, Russell Smith, Sadie Koninsky, Theodore H. Northrup, Thomas E. Broady, Thomas Henry Lodge, Tony Jackson, and William Beebe.


HYSTERICAL HISTORICAL QUOTES ON RAGTIME

As with all musical developments, conservatives reacted with reactionary panic to what, over time, seems completely harmless. With ragtime's seduction of America's youth, there was predictable concern among wide numbers of both black and white Americans, albeit for different reasons. Blacks often expressed that it was the worst sort of primitive expression that impeded their collective progress as a people. Whites, on the other hand, usually worried that it was corrupting music and white morality. In some ways, the reaction against ragtime helped unite blacks and whites, just as the appreciation of it did.

Louis Blumberg noted, “It can not be denied that the lower types of 'rag-time' and the bulk of it – has done much to lower the musical taste and standard of the whole musical public, irrespective of color."

The New York Herald warned "Can it be said that America is falling prey to the collective soul of the negro through the influence of what is popularly known as ragtime music? If there is any tendency towards such a national disaster, it should be definitely pointed out and extreme measures taken to inhibit the influence and avert the increasing danger if it has not gone too far. American ragtime music is symbolic of the primative immorality and perceptible moral limitations of the negro type." 

Composer Edward Baxter Perry warned, "Ragtime is syncopation gone mad and its victims can be treated successfully, in my opinion, like the dog with rabies, with a dose of lead. Whether it is simply a passing phase of our decadent art culture or an infectous disease that has come to stay, like leprosy, time alone can tell."

Other composers were more pragmatic. Arthur Farwell said, “I often catch my foot in the act of appreciating it [ragtime] when my higher nature is caught off guard.”


RAGTIME'S CO-OPTION AND DECLINE

As with every black American musical development, ragtime was quickly co-opted and in many cases perverted by whites. And, as with all musical crazes (from cakewalk and ragtime then, to alternative and indie today) the term "ragtime" was eventually applied to almost any new composition, in an effort to cash in on the craze.


COON SONGS

Coon songs arose when composers applied ragtime's syncopated rhythms to the tired old minstrel stereotypes of the pre-Civil War era. Coon songs became so popular in the late nineteenth century that both white and black composers wrote them. Though offensive, the songs nonetheless helped open doors for black composers and black-derived music such as cakewalk and ragtime. Nonetheless, with many coon songs being misleadingly labeled as ragtime, many of the criticisms of ragtime began to come from progressives who were incapable of distinguishing coon songs from the genuine article.

Scott Joplin himself jumped to ragtime's defense, arguing "What is scurrilously called ragtime is an invention that is here to stay. That is now conceded by all classes of musicians... All publications masquerading under the name of ragtime are not the genuine article... That real ragtime of the higher class is rather difficult to play is a painful truth which most pianists have discovered."


LATER DEVELOPMENTS

As it declined in popularity, ragtime at the same time began incorporating and mixing with other genres to interesting effect. In 1912, W.C. Handy's "Memphis Blues" was advertised as "A Southern Rag." However, even this shot in the arm couldn't keep ragtime vital forever. Whereas in 1899, 124 rags had been released, in 1919 there were only seven and ragtime was deposed by its offspring, jazz.


RAGTIME'S REVIVAL

Many years later, in 1951, interest in ragtime was renewed. Again, in 1973, the film The Sting brought it back to life yet again. That year, Scott Joplin's "The Entertainer," featured in the film's ragtime soundtrack, almost unthinkably reached number three on the pop charts. Seems like we're long overdue for another'n.

*****

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The roots of jazz -- cakewalk -- Amoeba's Jazz Week

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 21, 2009 08:00am | Post a Comment
A performative, competitive dance known as the chalk line walk first appeared around the 1850s on the plantations along the Gulf Coast. Its origins lay in the African-derived dance known as the bamboula -- also the name of a drum -- and it was performed in New Orleans, where on Sundays slaves were allowed to congregate. In their limited freedom, they not only danced the bamboula, but also dances like the pile, chactas and the carabine in Congo Square and at their masters' homes. Louis Moreau Gottschalk, a local creole composer was inspired by the dances and wrote "Bamboula, dance des nègres, Op.2" in 1848. By the 1850s, the bamboula's popularity had spread to Florida, where it possibly mixed with the dance traditions of the Seminole. It eventually developed into the cakewalk, which quickly became popular throughout the Gulf Coast. 


Whereas the minstrelsy craze of the 1840s-1860s was the first major cross-racial American musical exchange, cakewalk's heyday from the 1850s-1890s was probably the second and importantly, a reversal. Minstrelsy was a product of white musicans seeking to simultaneuosly imitate and mock black customs, but cakewalks were initially produced by black performers imitating and mocking whites. Thus began a long history of back and forth musical and cultural dialogues that have been behind nearly every significant innovation in American music.

The cakewalk was initially a sort of whiteface satire of the slaves' owners and involved mocking their customs with participants adopting the exagerated postures witnessed in the courtship rituals of their toff masters, making it sort of a reverse minstrelsy. Participants doffed hates, bowed exaggeratedly, puffed out their chests, high stepped and twirled their canes alternating with expressive and more obviously acrobatic moves. The performance judged best earned the winners a cake or other prize. The accompanying music, also known as cakewalk, combined the polyrhthmic character of West African music with the various European-derived forms played by brass dance bands. The result was a syncopated music with a swinging rhythm that led to the development first of ragtime and ultimately of jazz.

  

For their curious white masters, the cakewalk could be co-opted in a simultaneous mocking and expression of fascination with black practices, almost as with minstrelsy, then in decline. The first published cakewalk was Rollin Howard's 1871 hit, "Good Enough!" In 1876, cakewalk was demonstrated at the Centennial of the American Independence. Harrigan and Hart's 1877 jam, "Walking For Dat Cake," followed and the popularity of the music and dance quickly spread. Initially, as with all expressions of minstrelsy, the cakewalks would regularly close blackface medicine shows, helping white audiences overcome their fears of blacks by reducing the recently-freed and no doubt ex-slave-owner-hating blacks to cartoonish images of harmless buffoons who loved life as slaves. At the same time, it cautiously opened the door for black musicians and their music, furthering the great cultural dialogue at the center of American art.

     

Over time, as with most appropriations of black American culture, the watered down version was soon judged to be impure and white audiences began to pursue the authentic black expression. Beginning in 1892, The National Cakewalk Jubilee was held anually, going from 11:00 p.m. till 5:00 a.m. the next morning.


In 1893, the famed duo of Johnson and Dean were a featured attraction at the Chicago World Fair. The monacle-wearing Charles Johnson and his partner Dora Dean were another celebrity cakewalk duo.  Famed black entertainers Bert Williams and George Walker incorporated cakewalk into their routine and played for forty consecutive weeks at Koster & Bial's and appeared in advertisements for Philip-Morris.
 
   
       

Caricatures of cakewalk stars were soon collected and traded like baseball or Pokemon cards today (assuming kids still do that). As evinced by the sheet music, caricatures of cakewalkers could be cartoonish and grotesque, but nowhere near as much as coon songs, the spiritual offspring of minstrelsy. In many cases, the images didn't seek to mock their subjects at all. As the popularity of cakewalk spread, it became accepted amongst high society, whose members used the popularity and subsequent semi-respectiblity as an opportunity to unleash their otherwise carefully repressed libidos.

  

Although John Phillip Sousa disliked cakewalk, his Missouri-born trombonist Arthur Pryor often arranged them and Sousa relented in the face of public demand. Sousa's band performed cakewalk at the Paris Exhibition in 1900, and a veritable cakewalk craze was instigated in Europe. Not long afterward, Pryor left Sousa's band to start his own, explaining, "The regulation bands never got over being a little embarassed at syncopating. The stiff-backed old fellows felt it was beneath their dignity and they couldn't or wouldn't give into it."

      

Soon after, the most famous cakewalkers toured England, France and Germany, where even Kaiser Wilhem shook a tailfeather. In Europe, the cakewalking teams were highly paid celebrities and their exploits were covered in newspapers which had previously banned depictions of blacks. In 1903, Edward VII requested cakewalk lessons for the British royal family. By 1905, the peak of cakewalk's popularity had largely passed.


In 1913, Claude Debussy published "Golliwog’s Cakewalk." In 1915 there was a bit of a revival and cakewalk was increasingly viewed nostalgically. However, the revival proved to be short-lived and by the latter part of the decade, the cakewalk had truly declined and far fewer examples were published. To a large extent, the cakewalk dance had transformed into the Charleston and Jazz had begun to completely supplant cakewalk and ragtime music's position as the new, popular black American music.
 
     

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