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!

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

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

The ‘Second Line’ Groove

Second line music is traditionally associated with funerals in New Orleans, but is now synonymous with almost any kind of New Orleans party/procession. Conventionally in New Orleans a funeral procession will take place between a church and a graveyard. After the family of the deceased exit the church with the coffin they lead a procession towards the graveyard, behind which, and as the ‘second line’, a brass band will follow playing solemn-dirge music (Just a Closer Walk with Thee is a common tune of choice). Once the graveyard is reached and the body is buried, the procession continues throughout the city with either an up-beat rearrangement of the dirge tune(s) played on the way to the graveyard, or a completely different up-beat/faster tune (When The Saints Go Marching In, Didn’t He Ramble, ‘Lil Liza Jane…).

Distilled to its essence, the groove itself is created by two percussionists. One with a bass drum strapped to his/her chest with a single upturned cymbal on top, and another with a snare drum. The bass drum player plays the bass drum with his/her right hand holding a big beater, and his/her left hand holding a metallic stick to strike the cymbal. Crucially the bass drum player provides the foundation of the groove with a pattern between his/her two hands that leads towards ‘the big four’ – an accent of both hands on beat four at the end of their phrase. The snare drum player plays a clavé rhythm between the hands, by use of accents, that similarly has a particular accent on the beat four at the end of their phrase. Both instruments enjoy some degree of improvisation, but are always aware of how they interlock, compliment the song, and lead towards the ‘big four’.

Below I demonstrate how the second line groove can be adapted for a drum set (link 1), as well provide a link to the rhythm section of the Rebirth Brass Band demonstrating what I have discussed (they present the tradition as well as modern interpretations).

 

 

Blog by Tom Wright

Click here to visit his website