100 Years of Jazz: Traditional Jazz

Blog written by Louise Balkwill for The Becky Dell Music Academy

If you have been following this blog series, you have read about ragtime music – a genre of piano-based music played from sheet music for high society. You will have also heard some blues – heavily improvised music, used primarily as a form of expression among black slaves and musicians and frowned upon by the upper class white folk.

Now picture this – a story of the origins of jazz that I was told a couple of weeks ago in the birthplace of jazz by a pianist at the New Orleans Jazz Museum;

“You’re a black musician. It’s 1900, or thereabouts. There’s a gig this evening at one of the hottest clubs in the quarter, but the trumpet player is ill, or has taken another gig, or, for some other reason can’t make it, and has asked you to step in and do the gig instead…

At the time, “rags” were popular and had become more complex, with various written parts for various instruments that the musicians were expected to play. However, if you were offered a gig but your part was missing, you couldn’t afford to turn down the gig – you’d just have to make up the part!

And thus began improvisation in a band setting, using preconceived chord patterns and melodies.”

As time went on, new compositions were written in a way that supported this new improvisational style. To begin with, songs still felt very “arranged” and could have all manner of forms that sounded “rag”-esque. There were written melodies, chord patterns and some harmony parts, but the nature of being a busy musician in this era had changed; You had to understand the role of your instrument and be able to improvise in a band setting.

Roles of Instruments in a Traditional Jazz Band

If you wanted to play in a band in early 1900’s America, you had to understand how your instrument worked in a collective sense. You also had to develop technique and a good understanding of musical harmony.

Voice: Most instrumentalists would double as singers. The vocal chorus would appear in the middle of a performance instead of being the main feature of a song.

Trumpet/Cornet: `Frontline (plays the melody and solos)

Clarinet: Frontline (plays an agile countermelody/obbligato that weaves in and out of the melody. Also plays improvised solos)

Trombone: Frontline (harmonises with higher brass and fills in with scoops and slides)

Piano: Frontline & Rhythm section (plays “stride” but can also solo and play countermelodies)

Banjo/Guitar: Rhythm section (plays on the beat every beat – “chg-chg-chg-chg”)

Bass/Sousaphone/Tuba: Rhythm section (plays generally roots and fifths on the 1st and 3rd beats of each bar

“Dixieland”

The first jazz recording dates back to 1917, and was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band:

“Dixieland” is, however, a controversial term. It was used by white musicians to describe their generally sped-up, “cleaned-up” version of the slower, more blues influenced traditional jazz music that was being played by black musicians. This term is not well received to this day amidst New Orleans’ traditional musicians.

The “Invention of Jazz”

Jelly Roll Morton was said to be the self-proclaimed “inventor of jazz”, although his actual words were quite different. He wrote;

“All my fellow musicians were much faster in manipulations, I thought than I, and I did not feel as though I was in their class.”

So he would write songs to be played at a slower tempo, leaving more room for flexibility when it came to improvising.

When Jelly Roll Morton started recording his own compositions with his band, he could play to the strengths of his fine comrades. The music became faster (this was popular at the time as it was more fun to dance to) and more virtuosic.

This new style that he had suggested paved the way for a new generation of jazz musicians.

Check out this 1923 recording of “High Society” by King Oliver and his band – just listen to that clarinet go!

The reality is that the invention of jazz music cannot be accredited to any one musician. It is a genre that celebrates collective playing and improvisation and welcomes influences from a wide variety of backgrounds and influences.

A blog about this era is not complete without a glimpse of one of the world’s greatest musical heroes in the formative years of his musical journey. Here’s a treat for you – Louis Armstrong playing “Potato Head Blues” in 1927 with his Hot Seven!

Next time, we’ll be looking at how traditional jazz swung its way into popularity with the swing era – big bands, crooners, endless dancing and pioneers of the 21st century!

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