Thursday, January 7, 2010
From cakewalk to ragtime 1998-1916
Metropolitan Orchestra - Smoky Mokes (buy) (1900)
The Victor Minstrels - The Cake-Walk (buy) (1902)
Europe's Society Orchestra - Down Home Rag (buy) (1913)
Trying to trace the origins of jazz in pre-1920 recordings may prove a bit frustrating. The great New Orleans bands only started to gain the interest of producers in the mid-twenties. So all you get before is mostly music recorded by Victor in New York City, generally played by white bands with a military, vaudeville or classical background.
But that doesn't mean such explorations are useless and uninteresting. Proof is this compilation by French label Frémeaux & Associés featuring original recordings of rags and its direct ancestor, the cakewalk.
This styles are very important because they formed a link between 19th century European music and the music played by the black slaves. The cake-walk was derived from the dances of black people who mocked the European dances like menuets.
As this great article at basinstreet.com says, "Instrumental rags and ragtime-styled music (an ancestor and influence of jazz), were important in Jazz’s evolution because they: 1) brought Negro rhythmic music to the usually sophisticated American White society; 2) non-reading bands listened to and imitated the more learned orchestras heard performing ragtime song; 3) the large demand for dance orchestras during an era when dancing was the most popular form of social activity; and 4) they provided the style for the ‘ragging’ of marches by adding syncopation and blue notes by the piano players of the era."
Nowadays, when you think about ragtime, what comes to your mind is Scott Joplin's piano pieces (see previous post), but cakewalk and ragtime were mostly played and recorded by orchestras or by banjoists, and that's what you will hear in this compilation. These 36 sides may sound stiff at times, but it is a great document anyway on the influence of black music in the turn of the century, and on the popular roots of ragtime.
Included are American and European recordings. The cakewalk and ragtime came to France by 1900 with the Exposition Universelle, and the British started to take an interest in cakewalk at this time (as a 1903 piece by banjoist Olly Oakley attests).
"Cake-Walk" (listen to the mp3 above) is one of the earliest attemps to capture the autentic spirit of an Afro American dance contest. The MC is one of the vaudeville stars of the era, Len Spencer.
The most important bandleaders of the era were John Philip Sousa (specialized in marches), Arthur Pryor (an ex-Sousa band member) and Jim Reese Europe, the first great African-American bandleader who introduced jazz in France during World War I. Europe's Society Orchestra's "Down Home Rag",under the leadership of drummer Charles "Buddy" Gilmore has a drive and feel which is "the best of what was available in NY at the time. This is highly-polished orchestral ragtime, which stops just short of being jazz.", as Olivier Brard says in the interesting liner notes.
See the CD's tracklist here.