Trditional Jazz is Dying

Some thoughts by Robert Gilchrist Huenemann August 5, 2016

Traditional, or Classic New Orleans Jazz, sometimes called Dixieland, is music that came out of New Orleans and other southern cities around 1900. It was influenced by ragtime, blues and marching bands.

Traditional jazz is not ‘nice’ music. It is not the music of Broadway or Tin Pan Alley. It evolved in rough bars, whore houses and dance halls. Lyrics are bawdy and cynical.

The traditional jazz band consists of one or two trumpets or cornets, a clarinet or soprano saxophone, a slide trombone and a rhythm section usually consisting of a piano, a banjo or guitar, and a tuba or string bass. Drums are optional.

I have an accompanying list of 184 representative tunes from the traditional jazz era. It shows tunes written between 1897 and 1956. 134 of these tunes were written between 1920 and 1929, with 36 before 1920 and 14 from 1930 on. 33 of these tunes were credited to Ferdinand J. “Jelly Roll” Morton, 16 to Joseph N. “King” Oliver, 14 to Louis Armstrong, 10 to Clarence Williams, 9 to W.C. Handy,  6 to Spencer Williams, 5 to Lil Hardin, and 4 each to Richard M. Jones, Dominic J. LaRocca and Kid Ory. Of this group, only LaRocca was white.

My list shows 28 white composers during the traditional jazz era, and 53 black composers. The white composers wrote 33 tunes, and the black composers 151.

A second list contains 21 tunes from the traditional jazz revival era. They were written between 1942 and 1995. 9 of these were written between 1942 and 1947. 9 were by Melvin Edward Allen “Turk” Murphy, and 7 by Lu Watters. All of the revival composers were white, as were most revival musicians.

Traditional jazz is dying. The bands that still play traditional jazz are old and feeble. I heard some of the revival bands in their prime. Only their recordings remain, along with many fond memories.