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5

Dixieland and the Swing Era

footnotes

1. All styles of jazz from Dixieland to contemporary are still being performed and recorded today. All style dates given are approximations of when each respective style came to the forefront of jazz and experienced its most concentrated development; of course, styles and dates overlap.

2. For information on ordering The Instrumental History of Jazz 2-CD set, click here.

I. Dixieland (AKA Early Jazz)

jazz images 1

Armstrong Hot Five

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clarinet

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Jelly Roll Morton

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trombone

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Louis Armstrong


A. The Music

   

Dixieland developed in the early 20th century (1900 – 1928);1 its four main influences were ragtime, military brass bands, the blues, and gospel music. 

      

1.

The usual instrumentation of a Dixieland band was (and still is) trumpet (or cornet), clarinet, trombone, piano, string bass (or tuba), drums, and banjo (or guitar). 

      

2.

The primary feature of Dixieland jazz is “collective improvisation,” that is, rather than each musician taking a solo in turn (as in most styles of jazz today), Dixieland jazz musicians all improvise at the same time. 

      

3.

Each instrument has its own specific role: 

            

a.

trumpet or cornet: plays the melody (jazzed up) 

            

b.

clarinet: adds to (embellishes) the melody 

            

c.

trombone: usually embellishes the bass line but sometimes plays the melody; plays “afterbeats” (adding to the rhythm) and sound effects such as “smears” and “slides” 

            

d.

piano and banjo (or guitar): play chords 

            

e.

string bass or tuba: plays the bass line 

            

f.

drums: keeps the beat steady and swinging 

      

4.

Dixieland bands (excluding piano and using tuba rather than string bass) were originally small marching bands. 

      

5.

Besides playing for dances and parties, in the early 1900s Dixieland bands would also play for funerals (marching along with the procession) in celebration of the life of the departed. 

      

6.

There were few long solos in Dixieland jazz until the appearance of trumpeter Louis Armstrong

            

a.

Louis Armstrong was the first great jazz soloist (improviser) and one of the most important figures in jazz history. 

            

b.

There are those who say that without Louis Armstrong, there would be no jazz today. 

      

7.

Almost all early Dixieland jazz musicians were African American. 

            

a.

Interestingly, the very first jazz record was made by an all white group known as the Original Dixieland Jass Band (this group spelled jazz "jass"). 

            

b.

It was entitled "Livery Stable Blues” and was recorded in 1917. 

            

c.

Most early jazz recordings were made on brittle hard plastic (shellac) records called 78s; the number 78 refered to the number of revolutions per miniute (RPM) that the record would make when played on a record player of the day. 

      

8.

Listen to recordings of early jazz: 

            

a.

King Oliver and Louis Armstrong’s “Dippermouth Blues” and the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Dixie Jazz Band One-Step” on The Instrumental History of Jazz2

            

b.

Louis Armstrong’s “Workingman Blues,” the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s “Livery Stable Blues,” Jelly Roll Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues,” and Bix Beiderbecke’s "Singin’ the Blues” (click below): 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer Working Man Blues - Louis Armstrong
speakerspacer Livery Stable Blues - Original Dixieland Jazz Band
speakerspacer Jelly-Roll Blues - Jelly-Roll Morton
speakerspacer Singin' The Blues - Bix Beiderbecke


B. Cultural Implications

      

1.

The collective improvisation of Dixieland jazz represented, in part, African Americans' newfound freedom. 

            

a.

Although hardly experiencing civil rights, African Americans were no longer slaves and celebrated their newfound freedom through jazz improvisation, playing whatever they wanted; they were not "restricted" to notes written on a page, but instead could play whatever they "heard" in their hearts and minds (the music was not read, it was played "by ear"). 

            

b.

Freedom was and continues to be an integral issue regarding all styles of jazz. 

      

2.

Early jazz made its way from New Orleans, to Chicago, to New York, to the rest of the country. 

      

3.

Dixieland was the musical backdrop of city life during the Roaring Twenties (AKA the Jazz Age) and the early years of the Harlem Renaissance

the thelonious monk institute of jazz
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