10/30 - My first involvement with the Historic Brass Society was at a joint international symposium of the society and the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, New Jersey in 2005. What I suspect nobody (including Jeff Nussbaum) knew at the time was that I was still a graduate student, and Jonathan Impett, my doctoral supervisor, had suggest the conference to me. Despite being surrounded by the world’s leading jazz scholars, I was scheduled to be the last speaker and to close the conference. If that wasn’t enough, I also got to publish my paper, “The Blues and the Uptown Brass Bands of New Orleans,” questioning how the blues became a part of New Orleans jazz, alongside these same luminaries in Howard T. Weiner ed., Early Twentieth Century Brass Idioms (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2009).
The conference put me in touch with Bruce Raeburn who, as curator of the Hogan Jazz Archive, suggested that the oral history interviews that archive held would be a good way to further my research. The following spring, as New Orleans struggled to recover from Hurricane Katrina, I made my first visit to the Crescent City. On my way back to the U.K., I met briefly with Lewis Porter to discuss writing an article “New Orleans Jazz and the Blues” Jazz Perspectives, vol. 5, no. 1 (2011). Although the essay established that the blues in all its forms was played around the turn of the century by New Orleans musicians, what this left unresolved was how they came to play the blues.
A Woest Fellowship in 2009 to the Historic New Orleans Collection gave me access to the original interview notes for the book Jazzmen (1939). Much of the information for Jazzmen came from a highly controversial source: Bunk Johnson. He claimed to have played with Buddy Bolden, the legendary “First Man of Jazz,” and that together they had pioneered jazz in New Orleans. From the original interview notes for Jazzmen it was clear that Bunk Johnson did play with Bolden. This has profound implications for Johnson's recorded legacy in describing the music of the early years of New Orleans jazz.
New Orleans jazz was different from ragtime in a number of ways. It was a music that was collectively improvised, and employed the tonality of the blues. Part of the reason New Orleans jazz developed as it did is that all the prominent jazz pioneers, including Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, and Kid Ory, sang in barbershop (or barroom) quartets. My forthcoming book, Creating Jazz Counterpoint: New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues (Jacksonville, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2014), describes in both historical and musical terms how the practices of quartet singing were converted to the instruments of a jazz band, and how this, in turn, produced the collectively improvised, blues-inflected jazz of New Orleans.
I am currently working on a paper for Jazz Education Network Conference in Dallas, Texas, January 8-11, 2014, exploring how Louis Armstrong developed the musical language of jazz through the application of quartet vocal practices on his instrument. There is still a long way to go, but I got off to an auspicious start at the HBS/IJS symposium back in 2005.