100 Years of Jazz: Ragtime

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

In our last blog, we looked at Congo Square and the origins of Jazz music. Now we visit the 1890’s, when Ragtime appeared in its earliest form.

Unlike the earlier music of Congo Square that was passed down aurally from generation to generation, Ragtime music gained popularity through being passed around as sheet music, and is thought to be the first written ‘pop’ music – Blues, in contrast, was thought by the higher classes to be a lower class rural music (although very important in the history of jazz – we will have a listen to some blues in the next blog.)

Named ‘Ragtime’ because of its ragged, syncopated rhythms, the music became very popular for dances and was written mainly by middle class African American musicians who had gained influence from minstrelsy and classical music, as well as the improvised and traditional music of Congo Square. The music was accompanied by a dance called the ‘Cakewalk’ – this made way for endless variations that the kids of the time loved to get their feet into. Ragtime music was also a very popular choice to accompany silent films in its later years. You might well have heard of “The Entertainer” (or even played it for one of your grade exams); this is a Ragtime piece written by Scott Joplin, the celebrated “King of Ragtime” in 1902, 115 years ago!

Ragtime started off as a music witten only for solo piano, but in the early 1900’s, orchestral and ensemble arrangements became popular. The violin then became the main leading instrument in these ragtime ensembles with this popular line-up:

  • Melody: First Violin (or Cornet with second Cornet harmonies)
  • Beats 2 and 4: Second Violin (prior to the banjo)
  • Beats 1 and 3: Bass Viol
  • *Obbligato: Piccolo or Clarinet
  • Bassline: Trombone
  • Percussion: Strict time drumming

*Obbligato, (Italian: “obligatory”), in music, essential but subordinate instrumental part. For example, in an 18th-century aria with trumpet obbligato, the trumpet part, although serving as accompaniment to the voice, may be as brilliant in its writing as that of the voice itself.

Fancy having a go at learning some Ragtime Piano?

Check out this video with on-screen sheet music of the first known rag, written by the first published African American composer, Tom Turpin!

(If you liked that, check out YouTube user RagtimeDorianHenry’s other ragtime videos!)

In the next blog, we’ll be looking at early blues and how it has played a massive part in the evolution of the jazz tradition!

100 Years of Jazz: Congo Square

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

2017 was a very special year for music – it marks 100 years since the release of the first ever jazz recording, “Livery Stable Blues” by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band! Since then, popular music has foxtrotted, swung, bopped, rocked and rolled its way into the 21st century, but the rich culture of improvised music from New Orleans is still rife today all over the world.

 

Congo Square, the Birthplace of Jazz

Before we look at the journey that jazz music has taken over the past 100 years, we must ask how it came to be in the first place.

Rewind 100 years further to the year of 1817; 198 years after the first Africans were sold into slavery in America. The mayor of New Orleans city council established “Congo Square” (originally known as Beauregard Square and Congo Plains) as an official site for slave music and dance by restricting any kind of gathering of enslaved Africans anywhere else in the city.

Every Sunday, slaves would gather in Congo Square and sell goods to raise money to buy their freedom. In the glimpse of free time that this weekly ‘day off’ provided, they would also gather together to sing, dance and create music. Original instruments used included long, narrow African drums that had previously been banned in America, triangles, jawbones and early ancestors of the banjo.

Dances such as “Flat-Footed-Shuffle” and the ”Bamboula” were performed as these rhythms were played. As time went on, the dances and music evolved with new influences and ideas.

Visitors from all over New Orleans began to gather to spectate and dance along to what was then coined “Black music”, and this culture began to spread across America.

The square became a mixing pot for a rich diversity of traditional African rhythms passed down through many generations, as well as European music that English-speaking Africans were familiar with.

In 1865, after almost 250 years of slavery in America, the cruel trade was abolished, but the musical traditions that had evolved over the past few decades stuck.

 

In the next post, we’ll be looking at how African American music evolved into the new hip trend of the late 19th century – Ragtime!

The History of Mardi Gras

A blog by Louise Balkwill

HAPPY MARDI GRAS 2019, EVERYONE!

Whether you’re partying it up in New Orleans or flipping sad pancakes in your London flat (we speak from experience), it’s great to know what the fuss is all about.

If you’re doing the sad pancake flipping thing and want to upgrade your Mardi Gras…Come down to Oliver’s Jazz Bar tonight (5th March 2019) to party NOLA style with us!

It’s no secret that New Orleans knows how to throw a party, and anyone who’s anyone knows that NOLA’s the place to be during carnival season! But when, where and why did it start?

 

Where did it come from?

The first North American Mardi Gras took place in 1699, but the tradition of Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years and may originally have been rooted in similar Pagan festivals such as Saturnalia and Lupercalia, celebrating spring and fertility. When Christianity became a hit in Rome, religious leaders liked the idea of these Pagan festivals (or rather, adopting them as new Christian traditions seemed easier than abolishing Pagan traditions altogether) and decided to invite themselves to the party.

Not the first time Christianity hijacked a pagan holiday, right? Ho ho ho…

The Pagan festival, Lupercalia – What a party!

However, Mardi Gras celebrations were famously over-indulgent and debaucherous; One school of thought is that, to justify such raucous partying, Christian leaders coined Mardi Gras a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Another is that Mardi Gras celebrations were born to propagate anti-pagan rumours, favouring the Catholic Church’s pristine image of discouraging sex, consumption of meat and hedonism prior to Lent.

 

Will we ever truly know? Either way, the first Mardi Gras celebrations must have been a sight to behold. Mardi Gras followed Christianity as it spread through Europe and eventually boarded ships to America along with new European settlers.

 

The First North American Mardi Gras

So, the first Mardi Gras in North America must have taken place in New Orleans, right? WRONG! The city of New Orleans was founded in 1718, but the first North American Mardi Gras took place 60 miles downriver from NOLA’s future site almost two decades before on the 3rd of March, 1699. French-Canadian explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville remembered that it was Fat Tuesday back home in France, so named his camp Point du Mardi Gras and held a small gala.

As years went by, these Mardi Gras galas moved to Mobile, a newly founded city (now Alabama), and became more and more lavish, boasting massive feasts, masks, costumes and a lot of booze.

 

Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Mardi Gras caught on very quickly in New Orleans, and despite efforts from both the Spanish leaders (who ruled the city from 1762 – 1800) and the U.S. authorities (who ruled from 1803 onwards) to stifle the fun, ban the costumes and abolish the balls, the Mardi Gras spirit persisted.

By 1837, New Orleans had grown from a small settlement to one of America’s most hip and happening cities, and the first Mardi Gras street parade marked a further evolution of the tradition.

If you’re in New Orleans, don’t miss this year’s parades! CLICK HERE to see who’s where and when.

 

Krewes

Twenty years after the first street parade, a group of six men founded a secret society called the Mistick Krewe of Combus – New Orleans’ first and oldest krewe. Their parade, themed “The Demon Actors in Milton’s Paradise Lost”, turned the tides of Mardi Gras’ popularity and marked the beginning of the era of krewes in New Orleans.

It was only in 1992 that New Orleans City Council passed an ordinance that prohibited krewes from discriminating on the basis of race, religion, sexual orientation or national origin. Rex immediately pledged to proceed on a welcoming and inclusive basis but, sadly, Comus, Momus and Proteus chose to stop parading rather than invite black people to join them – a symptom of the racism that is still rife in North America.

Comus is yet to return to the streets, Momus became the Knights of Chaos and Proteus returned to the street parades in 2000 after signing the non-discrimination pledge.

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So, that’s all for now, folks! We hope you have an amazing Mardi Gras, whatever you choose to do. But if you’re in London, you may regret not coming to tonight’s Mardi Gras gig for the rest of your lives, so you should probably do that.

See you at Oliver’s Jazz Bar (Nevada Street, Greenwich, SE10 9JL) at 9pm tonight…
WE HAVE KING CAKE!

Lots of love,

The Old Jelly Rollers xx

Our Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s Debut!

Hold on to your hats, Londoners – we will be making our debut appearance at Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s on Sunday the 24th March, 2019!

We can’t wait to take to one of the world’s most prestigious stages for the first time to share the spirit of New Orleans with our fellow Blighty dwellers. Don’t miss the part of the year!

>>CLICK HERE TO BOOK<<
(Or click the logo below for more information)upstairs-at-ronnies

It would make our year to see all of you wonderful people there – tickets are only £8 in advance, so grab yours on WeGotTickets today!

See you there!

The Old Jelly Rollers xx

Traditional King Cake – History & Recipe

Who doesn’t like a cinnamony, sugary, squidgy, brightly coloured party in your mouth? We are, of course, referring to King Cake!

Martin had his cake and ate it…

The King Cake tradition is thought to have been brought to New Orleans in around 1870 from France. We’re guessing they didn’t use the same colourings back then(!), but this carnival treat is traditionally a cross between a coffee cake and a French pastry, shaped in an oval, like a massive donut. But better.

There is a twist, though – one lucky cake muncher will find a little plastic baby in their slice! This baby-in-a-cake represents

the day Jesus first showed himself to the three wise men. “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “to show”, so in essence, King Cakes are a condensed image of Jesus in a manger with the three Wise Men at his side. Cakes taste better than mangers, we suppose.

Nowadays, whoever find the baby in their slice of cake is named King for a day and must provide the next King Cake and host the next party!

We’ve been hunting for the best King Cake recipe and, courtesy of Southern Living, our prayers have been answered! Now you can all replace your not so traditional/exciting pancake day rituals with the baking of a colourful beacon of NOLA joy.

We’ve handily converted all of the measurement to metric for you – You’re welcome! 😉

Traditional King Cake Recipe

Prep Time – 30 Mins
Cook Time – 10 Mins
Stand Time – 5 Mins
Rise Time – 1 Hour 30 Mins
Bake Time – 16 Mins
Yield – Makes 2 cakes (about 18 servings each – half ingredients for one cake!)
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Ingredients

For the cake:

  • 450g sour cream
  • 50g sugar
  • 40g butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 x 7g sachets active dry yeast
  • 120ml warm water
  • 1 tablespoon sugar (to activate yeast)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 900g bread flour

For the centre:

  • 50g butter, softened
  • 75g sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

For the glaze / topping:

  • 450g powdered sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons milk
  • Purple, green, and gold tinted sparkling sugar sprinkles!

Method

Step 1 – Cook first 4 ingredients (sour cream, sugar, butter and salt) in a medium saucepan over low heat, stirring often, until butter melts. Set aside, and cool mixture to approximately 38°C (still warm, but not hot!).
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Step 2 – Stir together yeast, 120ml warm water, and 1 tablespoon sugar in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes.
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Step 3 – Beat sour cream mixture, yeast mixture, eggs, and a third of the flour at medium speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add enough of the remaining flour until a soft dough forms.
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Step 4 – Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes). Place in a well-greased bowl, turning to grease top.
Step 5 – Cover and let rise in a warm place (approx 30°C), free from drafts, 1 hour or until dough is doubled in bulk.
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Step 6 – Punch down dough, and divide in half. Roll each portion into a 22 x 12 inch rectangle. Spread the 50g softened butter evenly over both rectangles, leaving a 1-inch border. Stir together 75g sugar and the cinnamon, and sprinkle evenly over butter on each rectangle. If you’re keeping it traditional, place you plastic baby in your chosen lucky place now, ready to be rolled in!
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Step 7 – Roll up each dough rectangle, jelly-roll fashion, starting at 1 long side. Place one dough roll seam side down on a lightly greased baking sheet. Bring ends of roll together to form an oval ring, moistening and pinching edges together to seal. Repeat with second dough roll.
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Step 8 – Cover and let rise in a warm place (30°C), free from drafts, 20 to 30 minutes or until doubled in bulk.
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Step 9 – Bake at 190°C for 14 to 16 minutes or until golden. While the cakes are cooking, prepare the creamy glaze – recipe below! Slightly cool cakes on pans on wire racks (about 10 minutes).
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Creamy Glaze
Stir together the powdered sugar, melted butter, fresh lemon juice and vanilla extract. Stir in 2 tablespoons milk, adding additional milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until spreading consistency.
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Step 10 – Drizzle Creamy Glaze evenly over warm cakes; sprinkle with coloured sugars, alternating colours and forming bands. Let cool completely.
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Chef’s Tip: This recipe uses bread flour, which makes for a light, airy cake. You still get tasty results with all-purpose flour–the cake will just be more dense.

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Enjoy!

Big love,

The Old Jelly Rollers xx

Return to New Orleans

Exciting news!

Our singer and founder, Louise Balkwill, will be returning to New Orleans in February 2018 and is currently working on an interview itinerary.

She intends to return to The Preservation Hall, along with other favourite NOLA venues, to talk with more musicians about life in the Crescent City and the future of music education on both sides of the Atlantic.

Who would you like to hear from? Contact us at theoldjellyrollers@gmail.com with your recommendations and requests!

The Preservation Hall Interviews – Part 5

The fifth section of our interview on the 23rd February 2017 with Leroy Jones, Freddie Lonzo, Joe Lastie and Louis Ford at The Preservation Hall, New Orleans.

(Missed part 4? Click here to read it.)

Tom: Do you think another Louis Armstrong could come around and revolutionize music like he did?

Leroy: Well, there will never be another Louis Armstrong.

Freddie: I haven’t seen him yet!

Leroy: Nah, there will never be another Louis Armstrong, but there’s so much talent – there’s a lot of talent around and you know, what I´m saying is the greatest individual at any given thing that they might do, you´ve never heard of because they never got an opportunity to get exposed. A break. So, you know, half the battle is what you know and half of it is who you know. So you know, you have musicians and artists that you´ve never even heard of but they’re so gifted – and then some of them have decided that that’s not really what they want to do! But they have it – the gift. Those really special people, like Armstrong – he had contemporaries, but he was in the right place at the right time too, I think. And he took it to a level that it had not been taken to before. I’m speaking like 1920-21, 1923 through 1933, that period. And you know, the pre-Swing, Big Band, pre-Bop period and all of that stuff. And you can hear…first comes the hearing, then comes the speaking. So you can´t have a concept if you haven’t heard anything. You know, there’s no way. You have to, like a baby leaning to speak, it needs to hear its parent, or hear someone speak to them. That’s how they learn to speak. And with jazz, with music and in particular jazz, it’s the same thing – you have to have a frame of reference – a point of reference. Your influences may be many, but eventually, when it comes out of you, the listener should be able to hear who you’ve been listening to. You know, I mean, in essence. But you take those things and you make them unique to yourself. You take that lingo and you make it…you have your own way of putting it that makes it special and individual, and as special as Louis Armstrong was, as an individual. As jazz musicians, you want to have your own individual sound that distinguishes you from, you know, as a vocalist, you don´t sound like Anita Baker, you don’t sound like Ella Fitzgerald, you don’t sound like Lena Horne – you sound like you. You know what I mean.

Louise: Which is a mix of all of that, plus your own understanding.

Leroy: Yeah, you have to have a concept of interpreting the music.

Louis: There’s something I would like to add to that – It wasn’t always peaches and cream with Louis. Being an African American in an all-white, you know, how he was treated, but New Orleans is known for overcoming adversity, and he overcame that. So you guys are gonna have to think of that as well, you know. For example, what you guys are going through right now with that split – I don’t know what the economy is going to look like in the future. They say it’s gonna be this, it’s gonna be that, you don’t know – but don’t give up your dreams with your music. If there’s a jazz club started up today, and then next month because of the economy it’s gonna shut down, that means you’re gonna shut down. Don’t do that. Keep on keeping on. Focus on that instrument, you know, because some day you’re gonna overcome that adversity, okay? You understand what I’m saying? Because that’s what it is here. It’s not always peaches and cream here. We go through seasonal hurricanes. Not just hurricanes – lately, we’ve been going through tornados, which is something new to us!

Louise: I heard about that one a couple of weeks ago, that was shocking!

Louis: Yeah, yeah right! So we have to be prepared for anything that comes our way, and we have to overcome that and get back on that horse. Don’t let anyone or anything discourage you from what you wanna do, your ambitions in life.

Louise: Very wise words.

Tom: We love the music we play but in our small little circles in London sometimes we feel like we’re kind of blamed, I don’t know if you feel the same, for being musically conservative – I just wondered what you guys thought about that and the music that you play compared to other jazz musicians.

Leroy: You getting fire from the modernists?

Tom: Yeah, yeah!

*laughter*

Tom: How do you feel about that in this country as well?

Leroy: Well, you know, there’s that vibe sometimes as well. But New Orleans is different from the rest of the United States in general in that we have Mardi Gras Indians, we have Brass Bands, we play Secondline music that people are dancing to, rhythms and beats. I mean, it’s like something that you don’t witness anywhere else in this country or in any other country in the same manner. For us, I was told a long time ago by Danny Barker, and also an old piano player by the name of Frank Moliere. They said “Learn those tunes and you will never be out of work.” So learn those songs, the standards and the New Orleans standards, traditionals and you will always be working! And I raise my hand up and I say that I have always worked – there have been times when it’s been a little slow, and you travel and stuff, and you always have a gig. But if I had played with some no-name, top 40 band, cover band, I might have had a little gig on Bourbon Street for a week or two and then they fire the band, another band came in – you know, they’re a dime a dozen. People would come here, and they still come here I think, for jazz – for New Orleans jazz. For traditional jazz. And swing. As opposed to going to some loud club on the corner that’s got a band playing Slade or The Rolling Stones or some music that’s so loud for one thing that you can’t even hold a conversation.

Tom: Yeah, amen!

Leroy: So there’s still hope for us – I think, if you´re playing this music and you’ve got a repertoire, you’re playing these tunes, you can go anywhere and play. And you don’t have to be someone that’s super famous, because you have a repertoire and you can go play – you know, you can work with different people. It’s a universal language, as you know, you can work with different people. I’ve worked with bands where half of the band…I didn’t speak Hungarian and they spoke other languages but we played music together. We understood the chords, the harmonies and the melodies and the rhythm so that’s all I had. And, you know what I mean, there´s a beauty to this music that we chose, that we love – that you chose, that you love – that makes it special in a way that a lot of other idioms…they can’t come close to being the same. I think, you know, just like Louis said, don´t be disheartened. Can you imagine how we feel with Donald Trump as our President?

*groans of disgruntlement all round*

Leroy: I mean, it’s an embarrassment beyond words!

Louise: We’ve been having to bite our tongue on planes and stuff because we don’t know what the general attitude is…

Tom: We were saying “Don’t talk about politics when you go through customs!”

*laughter*

Leroy: Yeah, just “Yes, we love America, Donald Trump is the greatest!” – yeah, bite your tongue!

Laura: It just feels like there are many aspects of the west, if you want to call it that, that are regressing – it’s just like a huge regression, politically, but within music is the freedom. It´s a universal language – the journey, the evolution. Spiritual freedom.

Freddie: Yes, definitely spiritual too.

To be continued