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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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"It's the MOST... jazziest tiiime of the yeeear...!"

Posted by Job O Brother, August 24, 2009 01:03pm | Post a Comment

I know it’s probably plastered all over your calendar already, but just in case you didn’t know, this is Jazz Week at Amoeba Music Hollywood. This means that, in addition to our normal, totally tubular jazz selection, we’ve squeezed in some additional, choice inventory, plus we’re hosting jazz-spinning DJ’s and such. I think I saw a colorful banner with the word “JAZZ” in bold letters somewhere, too. I mean, people – come with your party hats on!

The back room of Amoeba Music Hollywood is what we call the “jazz room”, though it hosts many other genres of music*, one of which is the Soundtrack section, where I’m most oft found. Some well-meaning employees once tried to get people to nickname the room “jazzical” for the large section of classical music that frames the opposite side from jazz, but it never stuck, partially because people were so accustomed to saying “jazz room” and partially, I’m assuming, because saying “jazzical” makes you feel like an effeminate fat kid, which isn’t a fresh sort of feeling at all.

“Can I have some more toffee and McMuffins? They’re jazzical!”

Within the soundtrack section are some great jazz albums, which will be the focus of this blog entry. So for those of you hoping for a 500 word exposé on actress Edie McClurg, I’m sorry but this isn’t the blog for you.

The first jazzy soundtrack that comes to my mind is the score, composed by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, for the Otto Preminger film, Anatomy of a Murder.


This work is significant, not only because it’s the first Hollywood film-score composed by African-Americans in which the music’s presence isn’t “justified” by the appearance of band-leaders or a combo on the sidelines, but because it’s the first and only music that Duke Ellington composed while living in Antarctica. (Ellington and Strayhorn had moved to the polar continent in an effort to cultivate a stronger following there, after accounting records showed very poor sales among penguins, fur seals, and krill.)


"All jazz sounds the same to me."  The Northern krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica)

Probably my favorite jazz soundtrack is Miles Davis’ music for the Louis Malle film, Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud [English translation: Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit].


I love to play this album when I’m taking a hot bubble bath. I light candles, sip a glass of wine – really treat myself to some luxury. Maybe I’ll exfoliate my skin with some lavender oil and salt crystals, or sometimes I’ll place slices of cool cucumber over my eyes and let them soak, soak, soak the stress away. Occasionally I’ll get hungry during these baths and I’ll make a delicious cucumber salad with salt and lavender oil dressing. Sometimes I won’t even take a bath – I’ll just live in squalor and filth, huddled in a corner, chomping on cucumbers and sobbing. Sometimes the dog across the street tells me the name of the Devil and it means I have to kill my grandma again. Miles Davis was a genius!

Another fantastic album is Sonny Rollins’ music for the movie Alfie (the 1966 British version starring Michael Caine, not the 2004 Hollywood re-make featuring Marjan Neshat).


Hoo boy, I love me some Sonny Rollins!

A notable mention is the soundtrack to the David Cronenberg film Naked Lunch, an adaptation of the novel by William S. Burroughs. While composer Howard Shore’s work isn’t a jazz score, per se, it does feature some intoxicating horn blowing by free jazz pioneer Ornette Coleman. It’s spooky stuff – perfect for opium dens, rotted whorehouses, or when you’re hosting your next Wiccan blood-letting.


I’d be remiss not to mention Antonio Carlos Jobim’s masterpiece of bossa nova as realized for the film Orfeu Negro (we call it Black Orpheus). Listening to this album is a transportive experience and will flood your mind with rich and hallucinogenic imagery, even if you’ve never seen the film itself. We play it in the jazz room at least once a month. I think it’s law?


There’s other noteworthy recordings on this theme, such as Gato Barbieri’s score for Last Tango in Paris, Herbie Hancock’s score for Blow-Up, or David Amram’s jazz-influenced music for The Manchurian Candidate, plus more besides. I could go on but, fact is, I have to wrap this blog up for now, as I’m practically starving, and I’ve got some cucumber pie cooling in the windowsill. Topped with a little whipped cucumber or a slice of hot, melted cucumber? Yummy yummy yum!

So stop by Amoeba Music Hollywood this week and make a point to embellish your jazz selection at home. Owning Kind of Blue is a good thing, but don’t you think it’s time to delve a little deeper? If you come find me in the soundtrack section, I’ll be happy to help. I’ll be the guy with cucumber skins caked in the corners of his mouth.

Oh, and I’ll be wearing pants.

Happy Jazz Week! ...Oh, and since you've been so well-behaved, here you go:













*To be exact: Blues, New Orleans, Gospel, Contemporary Christian, Pop Vocals, Soundtracks, Lounge, Kids’ LP’s (but not the CD’s – those are upstairs), Experimental, Classical, New Age, Stand-up Comedy, Avant-garde, Opera, Early Music, plus DVD’s for the above genres (excepting Stand-up Comedy, which is upstairs, also) in addition to DVD Audio, SACD, reel-to-reel tapes, cassettes, 8-tracks, mini-discs, and partridges in a pear tree. Did I get everything?

The Amoeba Jazz Blowout

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, August 24, 2009 02:04am | Post a Comment

In celebration of the Amoeba Hollywood Jazz Blowout sale, I’ve been spending time on my computer checking out older Jazz videos. In the process, I have rediscovered the many great performances from the Montreux Jazz Festival, which is held in Switzerland during the month of July. The festival, which started in 1967, was originally held at the old Montreux Casino until, of course, it burned down in 1971. The fire was apparently caused by “some stupid with a flare gun” while Frank Zappa was playing. You might heard about it in a little ditty by Deep Purple called “Smoke On The Water.” The casino was rebuilt but due to the enormity of the festival, it is now held at the larger Convention Centre in Montreux with two main stages and several small stages.

Perhaps every legendary jazz artist you can think of has played Montreux. Over the years the festival has become less about jazz and has opened its doors to all kinds of music. Still, for any musician, this is the place to be seen. Over two hundred thousand people attend the festival every year and even more see the performances via television, web casts and through the many DVDs that have been released over the years.

Just watching the highlights of the forty-two year history of the festival on Youtube was overwhelming. There have been thousands of solos of all kinds and excellent musicianship throughout; however, it's the vocalists that provide some of my favorites performances. I picked three videos that feature Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone and Elis Regina.

Aretha Franklin’s “Call Me” was originally released in 1970. It was a number one single on Billboard’s R&B chart. This performance is from the 1971 Montreux Jazz Festival.


You got to love Nina Simone! She takes Morris Albert’s buzz kill of a song, “Feelings,” and just takes it out! Listen to how she mocks the original song in the beginning. The audience must have been in shock that this legend would even attempt to play this shallow song. But in the end, her amazing vocal performance is only matched by her incredible piano playing, and the feelings are indeed unleashed. This performance is from 1976 and you can catch more of it on her Live At Montreux DVD.


During the mid-seventies, the festival began to open its doors to many Brazilian artists. I love this performance by Elis Regina. Not only did she perform a medley of Milton Nascimento songs, but she completely swayed a dull and bored Swiss audience by her sheer will. 


Not to cause confusion (since she's not technically jazz), but you can find Elis Regina releases in Amoeba Hollywood's World Music section, located under Brazil. Also, since Aretha is the Queen of Soul, that is is the section you'll find her in.

Amoeba Jazz Blow-Out Sale continues until August 28th. I have found some true gems for myself dirt cheap!

On Wednesday from 7-10 pm, Amoeba Hollywood's very own Rick Frystak will be doing an all jazz deejay set for your shopping pleasure. Do not sleep on this!

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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