Posts Tagged ‘Count Basie’

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It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing: A History of Swing

May 21, 2010

Duke Ellington & Loius Armstrong

The era of swing jazz is said to have began in the early 1930’s and carried on into 1940’s but, like any musical style it is next to impossible to get a handle on what exactly defines the different stylistic periods within the music’s history.

Swing is said to have been born when rhythm sections in jazz bands started using a four-to-the-bar beat instead of the two-beat emphasis commonly used in Dixieland and New Orleans style jazz. This new rhythm coupled with the horn sections that used more surprising syncopation techniques gave the music a sound that seemed to have a swinging motion, leaving listeners with the compulsion to get up and dance. Some argue that it was the dance that inspired the music and not the other way around. It is said that when people started dancing to jazz in an “edgier” fashion the performers had to adjust their style to keep up with the people on the dance floor. Regardless of its origins there is no debate over the fact that both the music and the dance go hand in hand giving birth to such sensational dance forms as the Lindy Hop, the jitterbug, the St. Louis shag, and countless other extravagant dance moves.

The swing era may have started in the early 1930’s, but the seed was planted in the 1920’s. Many claim that it was in the mid 1920’s that Louis Armstong, with his unique timing, phrasing, and overall style on the trumpet, was the pioneer beginning the evolution of swing jazz. Through its growth stages, it wasn’t until the mid 1930’s that swing had really “taken off” with appearance of “The King of Swing,” Benny Goodman. Although Goodman is credited with the popularizing of swing music, much of the success belongs to jazz greats such as Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Bennie Moten, and Count Basie, who were not given the recognition they deserved, due to the colour of their skin in a time where racism was prevalent.

Though the swing era is often considered the golden era of jazz, it, like many things, couldn’t survive the Second World War. Due to the large number of band members that got drafted, the remainder of the band was forced to hire whoever they could to fill the void, often resulting in taking on unskilled musicians. Another factor contributing to the death of swing was that during the war fuel rationing made touring next to impossible, especially since most swing bands were comprised of more than ten musicians. Through the necessary demise of the swing era, just as its predecessors, it made way for the perpetually changing sound of jazz.

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Kansas City: The Birthplace of Modern Jazz

March 9, 2010

There are many cities associated with Jazz, yet few have had  as much of an influence upon the genre as Kansas City. Not only is it the birthplace of  Jazz legends, a city where Jazz evolved, and a place where jazz matured.

The history of Jazz in Kansas dates back to the 1920’s but the scene really boomed in the early 1930’s. Kansas had become a crossroad city, with the transcontinental airliners stopping in the city to refuel and a hub of the railroad network being based in city. This led to great growth and drew people from all across the United States, bringing their music, culture and experiences to the city.

Tom Penderagast the man who 'ran' Kansas City

At the time of this great growth  a man named Tom Pendergast was helping fuel the city’s notoriety. Pendergast was the ‘City Manager’ who controlled the city council and due to the immense political power he held ‘ruled’ the city.  His influence extended across all city institutions including the police force. This led the force as whole to turn a blind eye to alcohol and gambling during prohibition. This disregard to prohibition and the all night party scene it created attracted many musicians from across the country. Musicians from the previous Jazz centres of New Orleans and Chicago were attracted by the relaxed nature of the city and the burgeoning musical scene.

The legendary Reno Club in downtown Kansas City

The mixing of musicians made a hotpot of creativity leading to the creation of the city’s own style, ‘Kansas City Jazz‘.  Kansas City Jazz differed from the more traditional forms of the genre that had been played in New Orleans and Chicago previously, creating what was regarded to be a more modern sound. One of the main differences between the styles came in its bar structure. Kansas City Jazz had a heavy blues influence which led it to be played with a 12 bar structure (blues style) as opposed to the traditional jazz 8 bar structure. It also became famous for improvisation and use of solos. Due to the length of the sets at clubs, (in many cases 8-12 hours) songs could go on for hours with a band improvising with frequent and elaborate riffing. The skills and techniques the musicians were acquiring began to really shape the music in the city. This new and innovative form of jazz began to dominate the national scene influencing many musicians from across the country. Kansas City Jazz can also be credited with being the catalyst for the transition from the dominance of big band, by creating swing and then the improvisational style of Bebop.

Photograph of Charlie Paker statue, 'Bird Lives' in Kansas City

Kansas City’s ties to jazz are strengthen as the birth place and home to many key figures in jazz history. The city’s most famous son is probably Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Born in August 1920, Parker grew up in a time when Kansas reigned supreme in the world of jazz. Although being too young to be an active participant in the early Kansas scene, Parker was undoubtedly influenced by the music and creativity in the city in his formative years.  After his untimely death in New York in 1955 at the age of just 34 Parker’s body was returned to Kansas City where he was laid to rest in Lincoln Cemetery. Another jazz legend Count Basie spent many years in the city and was one of the major innovators in this new form of music. Basie played regularly with his band at the Reno Club in the 18th district which was home to the city’s jazz scene.

American Jazz Museum

Kansas City today still has many links to its Jazz history. The 18th and Vine District is synonymous with jazz in the city and is home to the American Jazz Museum. The museum houses numerous items from jazz history and has exhibits focusing on key figures in jazz. It also operates the Blue Room and Gem Theatre which hold live performances of jazz. The whole area is also filled with establishments playing and dedicated to jazz and blues music.

The jazz era in Kansas City was effectively ended in 1940 when Tom Pendergast was arrested and subsequently jailed for tax evasion. The political vacuum left was filled by more conservative figures leading to a crackdown on liquor laws and on the jazz clubs of the city. This led to many musicians to leave the city. Kansas City would never recapture this vibrant and creative scene, but in that brief 15 year period the world of jazz and music had been changed forever.

Take a tour of the 18th and Vine Area of Kansas City with Google Street View

Kansas City official Website

American Jazz Museum in Kansas City Website

There are many cities associated with Jazz, yet few have had  as much of an influence upon the genre as Kansas City. Not only is it the birthplace of  Jazz legends, a city where Jazz evolved, and a place where jazz matured.

 

The history of Jazz in Kansas dates back to the 1920’s but the scene really boomed in the early 1930’s. Kansas had become a crossroad city, with the transcontinental airliners stopping in the city to refuel and a hub of the railroad network being based in city. This led to great growth and drew people from all across the United States, bringing their music, culture and experiences to the city.

 

At the time of this great growth  a man named Tom Pendergast was helping fuel the city’s notoriety. Pendergast was the ‘City Manager’ who controlled the city council and due to the immense political power he held ‘ruled’ the city.  His influence extended across all city institutions including the police force. This led the force as whole to turn a blind eye to alcohol and gambling during prohibition. This disregard to prohibition and the all night party scene it created attracted many musicians from across the country. Musicians from the previous Jazz centres of New Orleans and Chicago were attracted by the relaxed nature of the city and the burgeoning musical scene.

 

The mixing of musicians made a hotpot of creativity leading to the creation of the city’s own style, ‘Kansas City Jazz’.  Kansas City Jazz differed from the more traditional forms of the genre that had been played in New Orleans and Chicago previously, creating what was regarded to be a more modern sound. One of the main differences between the styles came in its bar structure. Kansas City

Jazz had a heavy blues influence which led it to be played with a 12 bar structure (blues style) as opposed to the traditional jazz 8 bar structure. It also became famous for improvisation and use of solos. Due to the length of the sets at clubs, (in many cases 8-12 hours) songs could go on for hours with a band improvising with frequent and elaborate riffing. The skills and techniques the musicians were acquiring began to really shape the music in the city. This new and innovative form of jazz began to dominate the national scene influencing many musicians from across the country. Kansas City Jazz can also be credited with being the catalyst for the transition from the dominance of big band, by creating swing and then the improvisational style of Bebop.

 

Kansas City’s ties to jazz are strengthen as the birth place and home to many key figures in jazz history. The city’s most famous son is probably Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. Born in August 1920, Parker grew up in a time when Kansas reigned supreme in the world of jazz. Although being too young to be an active participant in the early Kansas scene, Parker was undoubtedly influenced by the music and creativity in the city in his formative years.  After his untimely death in New York in 1955 at the age of just 34 Parker’s body was returned to Kansas City where he was laid to rest in Lincoln Cemetery. Another jazz legend Count Basie spent many years in the city and was one of the major innovators in this new form of music. Basie played regularly with his band at the Reno Club in the 18th district which was home to the city’s jazz scene.

 

Kansas City today still has many links to its Jazz history. The 18th and Vine District is synonymous with jazz in the city and is home to the American Jazz Museum. The museum houses numerous items from jazz history and has exhibits focusing on key figures in jazz. It also operates the Blue Room and Gem Theatre which hold live performances of jazz. The whole area is also filled with establishments playing and dedicated to jazz and blues music.

 

The jazz era in Kansas City was effectively ended in 1940 when Tom Pendergast was arrested and subsequently jailed for tax evasion. The political vacuum left was filled by more conservative figures leading to a crackdown on liquor laws and on the jazz clubs of the city. This led to many musicians to leave the city. Kansas City would never recapture this vibrant and creative scene, but in that brief 15 year period the world of jazz and music had been changed forever.

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