Joe Zawinul and the Path of the Honorary American

Joe Zawinul was an extremely accomplished an well known jazz pianist. He played with other renowned artists such as Miles Davis, Cannonball Adderley, Yusef Lateef, Ben Webster, Dinah Washington, and many others. Despite being born and raised in Austria, he is considered an “honorary American.” Like many Europeans, he was classically trained, but he was always more focused on the feel of his music than his technique. His ability to swing in a way that most European players couldn’t do is what makes him an honorary American. This is the story of how Joe Zawinul became a significant player in the American jazz scene.

Joe Zawinul’s career as a professional musician began in 1953 when he made his first recording in Austria with Alexander Jenner, another pianist. Over the next four years Joe Zawinul made a name for himself in the Viennese circuit playing with the group The Austrian All Stars. Unlike most others, Zawinul didn’t stop there. Despite being popular in Austria his real dream was to go to the United States to learn from American jazz players and become one of the greats. So in 1958 he applied for a four-month scholarship to the Berklee School of Music in Boston. He was one of seven people to actually receive this scholarship. The next step for Zawinul was to claim his scholarship and enter the American jazz scene, which is exactly what he did.

Zawinul only attended Berklee for three weeks before getting an offer to fill in for Ella Fitzgerald’s piano player at a local club in Boston. The same night Maynard Ferguson’s ex band mate Jake Hanna was in attendance. When Hanna saw Zawinul perform he called up Ferguson, who was looking for a pianist at the time, and told him to look into Joe Zawinul. The next day Joe took a train to New York City to audition for the role. He was immediately hired. As a result, he dropped out of Berklee and began playing with Ferguson full time.

After six months of playing with Ferguson’s group, Zawinul was asked to leave the group. Immediately he was offered a job playing piano for Dinah Washington, a blues singer. He ended up backing Washington for two years. During this time he traveled all around the United States and met tons of other jazz musicians. One day after coming home from a gig he received a phone call. It was Cannonball Adderley. He wanted to hire Zawinul to play in his band. Over the next nine and a half years Cannonball, Zawinul, and the rest of the Cannonball Adderley Quintet were one of the highest demanded jazz groups around.

Zawinul’s career really took off during his time with Cannonball Adderley and he ended up writing and arranging a lot of the group’s songs including “Scotch and Water,” “Dizzy’s Business,” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” Zawinul flourished in Cannonball Adderley’s group because his primary mission was to be playing innovative instrumental jazz. He loved playing, writing, and doing new things with music. He actually turned down a full time, higher paying gig playing with Ella Fitzgerald because in Cannonball’s group he would not just be simply backing up a vocalist. He wanted to do groundbreaking things with music and he did. His music was humble, yet innovative. He was a tasteful player but he was by no means a show off. That being said he could solo and write music in a way that displayed vast knowledge of musical structure and technique while maintaining a ear-catching soulful feel. His whole life leading up to success he strived to be a part of the African American jazz and bebop culture. Despite the odds against him he persevered and took every open door he could find into the scene. His soul shines through in his music because it reflects his story; the story of a lone outcast who pushes through every obstacle and emerges as an unlikely hero whose musical innovations would go on to help shape the genre. He never got sick of this. He played music up until his death in 2007. He played with Miles Davis on the album Bitches Brew after leaving The Cannonball Adderley Quintet. He went on to release a large body of solo work and also start the legendary jazz-fusion group The Weather Report. Zawinul became an important name in jazz, playing with the best of the best of American players. This is why he is worthy of the title “Honorary American.”




The Third Stream: Does it Deserve the Respect Given to its Parent Genres?

Jazz has always built its foundation on allowing its performers to basically do whatever they want. On the opposite end of the spectrum, classical music is meant to be played exactly as written, note for note. The birthplace and eras associated with each type of music tells us as much: classical music came from a time where kings and queens ruled, where falling in line and doing as you are told was expected of you. Jazz comes from the rough streets of early 1900’s America, a place where freedom was held dear and the notion of being ruled over was frowned upon. It is easy to see why young Americans took to the easy-going, free-natured essence of jazz. While many musicians flocked to this new, free style of playing, many of them still grew up with classical training. So it is no surprise that these jazz artists would attempt to update some of the classics with jazz elements.

The Jacques Loussier Trio is one such Third Stream group known for doing jazz renditions of European classics. Listening to the Trio’s version of Bach’s ‘Toccata & Fugue in D minor’ is a very interesting experience. The Trio’s use of ground bass is a  clever nod to the similarities of jazz music and the Baroque period. Their version is performed flawlessly; the rhythm and feeling of the piece maintain the original’s intensity while making it clear that this rendition has something new to stay. Furious note playing transitions into smooth, jazz chord transitions without so much as a blink of the eye. Jazz and Baroque blend together with such ease by the Trio that one would believe this was how it was always played. There is no mistaking where the members of the Jacques Loussier Trio got their roots from. The attention to detail is so immaculate, one would have a strenuous time making an argument against the Jacques Loussier Trio’s incorporation of jazz into one of Bach’s greatest creations.

One might say that the true birth of the third stream came in 1924, when George Gershwin blended jazz with symphonic music in his ‘Rhapsody in Blue.’ Although it is popular with some, purists claim adding jazz to a classical piece taints the original and vice versa. Pulitzer prize winning composer, Gunther Schuller claims he was attacked on both sides of the argument—i.e., by the classical musicians who looked down on jazz, and by the jazz musicians who worried that classical music would stultify jazz. While the debate may remain unsettled, Schuller knows that his vision is important for all future fusions of genres and hopes to see more classical musicians embrace this way of thinking. He is proud to see his legacy have such a profound impact, especially at places such as the Kathmandu Jazz Conservatory in Nepal, where Third Stream has been added to the curriculum. While both genres are honored and respected as they exist now, there is room for growth in the ‘Third Stream’ genre.

Adding an improvisation over a classic in no way means you are defacing the original. If someone is willing to take the time to expand upon an existing creation, it is because the existing creation is part of what inspired that person to get where he/she is musically. Music is at its best when boundaries are dropped, and artists explore sounds and combinations of genres that have never been heard before.





Dave Brubeck: Classical Swing

American composer and pianist Dave Brubeck had a huge influence on jazz in the 20th century. Brubeck started playing piano when he was four years old, while growing up on his family’s ranch in Concord, California.[1] Later in life he became extremely popular as a jazz performer and composer. His music combined jazz swing with time signatures that looked like algebra and standard musical forms like rondos.[2] This combination of European compositional ideas, complex rhythmic structures, and jazz song-forms and improvisation put Brubeck at the forefront of an emerging American-European style of jazz.[3] To be sure, Brubeck’s improvisational music did not seem as bluesy or earthy as that of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins or other African American jazz musicians.[4] It might be said that Dave Brubeck’s talent lay in a different area: namely incorporating aspects of music from across the Atlantic.

In 1944, Brubeck led an army band that toured Europe during the Second World War.[5] Brubeck was known for including African Americans in his army bands, and caused controversy while doing so.[6] Brubeck was mindful of racism and was considered a humanitarian.[7] After the war, Brubeck studied at Mills College with classical composer Darius Milhaud.[8] It was here that Milhaud showed Brubeck the complexities of polyrhythm and polytonality that he would later incorporate in his music.[9] 1954 was known as Brubeck’s breakout year when he was touring with the great American Composer, Duke Ellington.[10]

During this time Brubeck experienced great success with Ellington, as well as his own quartet. While on tour, TIME magazine interviewed both Brubeck and Ellington. Once the magazine was released, Ellington knocked on Brubeck’s door and showed him the TIME magazine with Brubeck’s face on it.[11] Brubeck describes the event as a tragedy, “The worst thing that could have happened to me was that I was there before Duke, and he was delivering the news to me.”[12] While Brubeck appeared innocent and claimed he would much rather have Ellington’s face on the cover of TIME magazine first. Brubeck’s critics claimed he was a sell out because he made so much money. He was also criticized for showing a fondness towards European classical devices with his complex tempos, while other jazz artists were pouring out their soul into their improvisation.[13] It is very possible that Brubeck’s face was on Time magazine first because of his skin color. This is not the first time a white musician achieved greater success simply due to their skin color and a racist society. Similarly Fatz Domino’s “Ain’t that a shame” topped the pop music charts when white vocalist, Pat Boone, covered it. Clearly Domino’s version is much more authentic, however Boone’s rendition achieved greater success.

The transatlantic aspect of Brubeck’s music is audible. The European classical devices that Brubeck was fond of can especially be heard in his quartet’s famous song “Take Five.” The track is of the record “Time Out” was the first post bebop million selling record in 1959.[14] Odd time signatures were favorites of Brubeck’s, and “Take Five” was written in 5/4, very clever. Throughout the song there is a repeating “A” section as well as a “B” section, similar to classical music form. In another famous song, Blue Rondo à la Turk,” Brubeck again implements the use of classical European devices by taking the listener through a pattern of 9/8 time with a 4/4 feel swing. The first three measures of the rhythm can be subdivided into “ 2+2+2+3”, followed by one measure of “3+3+3.” “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” are representations of Brubeck’s style consisting of syncopation and repeating musical ideals. Brubeck didn’t always swing the way others thought he should, but he continued to implement European techniques throughout his career.

[1] Bulger, John, “ Dave Brubeck the Humanitarian”

[2] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[3] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[4] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[5] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[6] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[7] Blake, John, “What the Tributes to David Brubeck Missed”

[8] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[9] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[10] Blake, John, “What the Tributes to David Brubeck Missed”

[11] Blake, John, “What the Tributes to David Brubeck Missed”

[12] Blake, John, “What the Tributes to David Brubeck Missed”

[13] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

[14] Fordman, John,” American Jazz pianist annoyed the purist by finding global fame”

Fela Kuti and the Classical Music of Nigeria

Fela Kuti was a radical who utilized music to spread his anti-colonial message. He jumpstarted a social, political, and musical movement in Nigeria during a volatile era in post-colonial Africa. Fela was a Pan-African revolutionary who went to great lengths and risks to unify his people through music. His music—which he called afrobeat —was a synthesis of traditional West African dance music, American jazz and funk, Afro-Caribbean rhythms and Europeans writing and arranging. Though his unyielding message called for African independence from its European oppressors, one has to acknowledge how his experience in Europe and his studies of Western music was also vital in the foundation of his original music.

In 1958, Fela enrolled in the Trinity School of Music in London. It was here that he learned about western instruments and techniques, which he would later digest and integrate into popular musical genres back at home in Nigeria. Fela’s exposure to the multi-cultural music scene in London was just as important, if not more, than his formal training in music school. After World War II, there was mass immigration to London from Africa, Asia, and the islands of the Caribbean. London became a fertile ground for cross-cultural communication. This is where he was first exposed to calypso, highlife, ska, mambo and American jazz and funk (Veal 39). In an interview, Fela noted:

“The colonial government only let us hear what they wanted us to hear; I didn’t know black music until I went to England (Veal 45).”

It is interesting, then, that Fela had to escape the confines of colonial Nigeria to find his own musical identity and discover the different styles of African American music across the globe. The vibrantly diverse culture of London gave him this opportunity to absorb music and culture that he never would’ve come in contact with.

After studying western harmony and fully immersing himself in the diverse jazz scene in London, Fela moved back to Nigeria in 1963 to introduce jazz to his own people. He formed the Fela Ransome-Kuti Quintet and played mostly jazz standards. The jazz that they performed was based off of the modern styles of bebop and modal jazz. The music of this group was not received well by the people of Nigeria (Veal 43). Bebop and modal jazz provided a different social function from the danceable swing music of the past. It was meant for reflective listening rather than dancing in a social gathering. Fela recognized this and strived to transform this music into something more accessible and invigorating for his fellow Africans. Highlife was the most popular style of West Africa at this time. It was characterized by Afro-Cuban rhythms, multiple guitars, and jazz horn lines. It was a powerful movement that Nigerians felt a strong connection with. Highlife was a synthesis of traditional African folk music with Afro-Caribbean musical elements. Fela took this trans-Atlantic fusion and added his own flavor to the mix. This was the birth of afrobeat.

Fela Kuti’s arrangements and compositions encompassed elements of western harmony and technique, along with jazz elements that he was exposed to while studying in London. His compositions were written in a big band style, with a larger horn section than most highlife groups. His music was characterized by elaborate horn themes, a modal harmonic approach, and tightly-knit Afro-Caribbean influenced percussion (Veal “Jazz Music..” 12).  The horn players reflected a jazz sensibility in their extended improvised solos that demonstrated the virtuosity of the performer.

Some of these elements can be heard in the song, “Zombie,” that he released in 1976. The song starts out with a repetitive guitar riff, going back and forth between a minor seventh chord and a minor chord with an added sixth, insinuating the four chord. This repetition creates a modal harmonic approach, allowing the soloist to improvise on a dorian scale over the entirety of the song.  The layering continues in the song as Fela, on the tenor saxophone, plays an intro solo that embellishes upon the melody which is introduced soon after this section. Then the full horn section comes in with a tight staccato melody that was hinted at in the previous solo. The use of this modal harmonic movement, the layering of parts, and the staccato horn line all display these elements of Western music that Fela Kuti incorporated into his own style. The power of this collaboration of traditional African music with European, American, and Afro-Caribbean musical elements proved to be a force to be reckoned with; especially in the eyes of the Nigerian colonial government. Fela called this music afrobeat; the classical music of Nigeria.

Works Cited

Fela Kuti-Music Is the Weapon. Dir. Jean J. Flori. Perf. Fela Kuti. Universal Import, 2004. DVD.

Veal, Michael E. Fela: The Life & times of an African Musical Icon. Philadelphia, PA: Temple UP, 2000. Print.

Veal, Michael. “Jazz Music Influences on the Work of Fela Anikulapo Kuti.” Glendora Review 1 June 1995: 8-13. Worldcat. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Hiatus Kaiyote: Tawk Tomahawk

As a representative of Australia’s underground music scene, Hiatus Kaiyote has described itself as “Multi-dimensional Polyrhythmic Gangster Shit.”[1] Fronted by the eccentric singer and guitarist known as Nai Palm, the band has been garnering well deserved critical acclaim, and their 2012 debut album Tawk Tomahawk provides plenty of reasons why. The quartet of Melbourne natives have gained plenty of recognition from big names such as Questlove, David Byrne, and Erykah Badu.[2] The album itself is a thirty five minute journey through a blend of jazz, soul, hip-hop, with some psychedelic electronic tendencies thrown in for good measure. Although the album may lack improvisation, the way the tracks weave and blend effortlessly through these different genres grips the listener’s interest throughout the entirety of the album.

The sheer variety this album encompasses is stunning. It moves between dark and haunting tracks, through smooth instrumentals, and even light hearted, somewhat poppy numbers. The album’s opener “Mobius Streak”, with its melancholy intro, leaves the listener with an uneasy feeling until they are saved by bassist Paul Bender who establishes a tight groove. The other band members are then able to fit around one another to make this track come to life. The band’s use of electronics to provide a wall of sound is similar to fellow Australian artist Tame Impala. This track crescendos all the way until the end and then slips into the smooth jazz track “The World It Softly Lulls” which makes excellent use of latin sensibilities and rhythms. The singing on this album is provoking as well. Nai Palm manages to sing powerfully while remaining mysterious with her smoky voice; the singer’s way of articulating and stressing certain syllables creates a disjointed effect, yet the phrasing provides a smooth result.


Towards the middle of the album, as the track “Malika” fades out the listener is overcome with the bombastic drumming of the song “Ocelot.” Starting out in a seemingly simple meter the track dramatically shifts to a compound feel. This transition is so tight it’s almost disorientating, however the track is less than two minutes long. Out of the eleven tracks on the album, five of them are less than two minutes. These tracks, while a bit underdeveloped, are really there to serve as bridges between the longer tracks and to improve the overall cohesion of the album. The album’s ending tracks are two versions of their most popular song “Nakamarra” which are almost identical except the last track features a rap verse by the artist Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. The latter was actually nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Performance.[3]

Seeing as Australia does not have a tradition in this style of music, it provides an interesting insight into the debate of cultural appropriation. When asked if she felt she was doing something un-Australian, Nai Palm answered, “That’s just it. Aside from indigenous culture here there is no identity, so there’s no real musical lineage that you have to adhere to. The natural expression of Australian culture is a fusion of everything. I don’t feel we’re alone in that.”2

[1] Bailey, Rachel. “Hiatus Kaiyote: The Best of What’s Next.” Paste Magazine, 8 Oct. 2013. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

[2] Todd, Bella. “Premiere: Listen to Hiatus Kaiyote.” Hiatus Kaiyote Premieres New ‘By Fire’ EP. Red Bull, 24 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

[3] “Hiatus Kaiyote.” Facebook. Flying Buddha/Sony Music, 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Sun Ra Scandaleux: Early Reactions of French Critics

Standout jazz artists and performers make their mark by harnessing the spirit of individuality and freedom to diverge from tradition. With their radical and highly stylized performances, Sun Ra and his Arkestra characterized the opportunity for innovation within jazz. The unknown and unfamiliar often cause defensive hysteria or curious fanaticism. Early accounts and reviews illuminate the curiosity (and dismay) surrounding Sun Ra. Of particular note are the confused tones of many critics’ reviews of his early performances in France. That critics were jostled may in itself have been an early indicator of Sun Ra’s future status as a jazz icon; it spoke to his dismissal of restraints.

Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount in 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama. Beginning at age 11 (when he received his first piano from his great aunt Ida), Herman visited black theatres and clubs, gaining exposure to thrilling and innovative jazz performances.[1] The future Sun Ra performances would display characteristics of some of the more notable musicians and bands that he saw as a young boy: the brilliant choreography of Duke Ellington and his big band, the commanding presence of Ida Cox, the elaborately dress of Ethel Waters, and the animation and authority of Fats Waller.[2] As Sun Ra developed as a performer, he incorporated ever more flamboyant displays into his stage theatrics; his stage productions were sensational, which can be seen in video recordings such as Sun Ra and his Arkestra at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1976.

Before Sun Ra had ever performed in France, a French panel of critics had already discussed his work, characterizing his 1965 album The Heliocentric World of Sun Ra as “violently aggressive.”[3] His earliest performances in France were met with amusement and confusion. He choreographed surreal narratives through the music and props. Given the jostling compositions and rambunctious stage presence of the Arkestra, the cosmic themes of his shows no doubt came across as cryptic and disjointed. Was it genuine expressionism? Was it a complex commentary on so-called reality? Jazz Magazine (of France) published a discussion between critics regarding two of the first performances. One critic suggested inauthenticity of African influence, calling it “drugstore-style Africa.” Another detected clichéd stage production and themes, saying, “Sun Ra uses very old practices.”[4]

It is interesting that French critic Francis Marmande regarded Sun Ra’s work as “a deconstruction of the music.”[5] Deconstruction is an analytical concept popularized in 1967 by Jacques Derrida in which the meaning of a text, philosophy, or art is taken apart to find a subtext.6 Deconstruction of music and performance, therefore, would consider not what is in the forefront, but the ideas and/or contradictions beyond the apparent. Given the influence of such awareness, it is possible that some French critics (and audiences) may have lacked the inclination to compartmentalize Sun Ra and his Arkestra. But he was already trying to buck the system; no critic (on this planet) could categorize him, which was his whole point. But perhaps it is safer to say that he was preaching a bit more to the choir in France.

Sun Ra’s place in jazz history is similar to that of other musical innovators before him: unsettling at first to many, and later familiar and welcomed by most. This is a longtime trend in the arts, and especially in jazz. If jazz audiences today and those to come welcome forth rule-breakers more readily, could jazz be graced with more out-of-this-world artists?

[1] John F. Szwed, Space is the Place (New York: Pantheon Books, 1997), p. 11.

[2] Ibid, p. 12.

[3] Ibid, p. 291.

[4] “Un Soir au Chatelet,” Jazz Magazine 196 (January 1972) pp. 14-17.

[5] Reynolds, Jack. La Trobe University.

Josephine Baker and Beyoncé Knowles: Feminist Divas Fighting for Sexual Equality

“We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes.” – “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, featured in “Flawless” by Beyoncé Knowles

There she was – twerking on stage wearing nothing but a skirt of phallic shaped bananas. Josephine Baker, the banana dance girl. In Josephine Baker’s performances, it is clear how her 1920s jazz dancing style (along with musical characteristics) translate into a present day hip-hop style. Eighty years later, Beyoncé Knowles took the stage performing a tribute to Baker’s iconic banana dance. Generations apart, Josephine Baker and Beyoncé Knowles represent African American, feminist divas who use music and dance to validate women’s right to sexual expression.

Josephine Baker is recognized as the first female black superstar. Her career gained traction in America when she got the role as a chorus girl in Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake’s extremely popular Broadway production, Shuffle Along. However, she was frequently regarded as too small to be a chorus girl, so she moved to France at age nineteen to further explore her career.[1] The French loved La Josephine. Baker was the banana dance girl – the exotic, rhythmic, sexual, ebony goddess that mesmerized French audiences.

The banana dance, formally titled La Folie du Jour, was an immediate hit when Baker performed it for the first time in France. People flocked to the theaters to watch Baker “Shaking, shimmying, writhing like a snake, [and] contorting her torso.”[2] Baker used the bananas to represent “Phalluses [being] stimulated by female agency.” This was a very strong statement about her role as a successful female artist. She was embodying sexual, savage Africanisms that French audiences could not get enough of, while simultaneously emancipating herself from the control of the social system.

Knowles was also able to capture the imaginations of the French just like Baker. Knowles racked in over ten million dollars in 2014 from two nights of performing her “On the Run” tour with her husband, Jay-Z Carter at the French Capital. Her presence is so welcomed in France, that the couple has actually considered moving to Paris. As African American women, both Baker and Knowles found comfort in a foreign French land that was both accepting and in awe of these flawless sexual superstars.

Beyoncé Knowles embodies the dance style and passion of Josephine Baker regularly. In a 2006 interview, Knowles expressed how Baker influenced her as a performer. When performing:

I wanted to be more like Josephine Baker because she didn’t—she seemed like she was just possessed and it seemed like she just danced from her heart, and everything was so free. … This record sounds like a woman possessed.

The controversy that both Baker and Knowles have faced is whether being openly sexual and nearly naked on stage uplifts women’s rights or perpetuates women as sexual toys for men. Baker and Knowles manage to flaunt their pride in the female body with grace. The idea that female performers only express sexuality to please men overlooks sexual liberation as a major aspect of gender equality.

Through music, both Baker and Knowles found a feminist voice to liberate women’s right to sexual expression, along with sexual choice. In Baker’s, “Don’t Touch My Tomatoes,” she scolds a man who only wants to feel her up and has no sexual imagination. She sings “Mister, take advice from me/The more you look is the less you’ll see.” Baker empowers women to say no to pushy men who, in the long run, do not care about pleasing women as much as touching their “tomatoes.” All the while, she maintains a South American influenced, upbeat jazz tone, which appeals and entertains audiences. A great way Baker got audiences to listen to this social message was to mask it within a palatable song, so the message was engrained in the listeners’ minds before analyzing the true message. Knowles does this frequently. In Knowles 2013 song, “Partition,” she sample the lines “Men think that feminists hate sex, but it’s a very stimulating and natural activity that women love” from the French version of The Big Lebowski. She makes the point to include this phrase because it addresses a common misconception that feminist do not see sexuality as an aspect of equality.

Josephine Baker and Beyoncé Knowles have addressed a plethora of social, political and economic problems, through their music, dance, and lifestyle. As seen through their work, influential icons have the ability to start a much-needed conversation on the state of diversity and equality in our world.

  • [1] Dalton, C.C. and Henry Louis Gates. “Josephine Baker and Paul Colin.” Critical Inquiry. The University of Chicago Press, 1998.

Biguine: The Original French Jazz?

While jazz had a turbulent time being accepted in America in its start, France readily accepted the controversial music genre. One of the reasons for France’s interest in jazz is “Negrophilia”, a term that describes France’s obsession with everything African, particularly art[1]. While this period of interest was controversial, this period had its benefits. Black musicians could find work and not face the same discrimination that they would in America.

Negrophilia had a type of a hierarchy. France had a limited focus on African-American culture, especially in this particular case of jazz. France did not take to account other countries of the African diaspora. Because of that, France may have neglected to look at their own involvements in Africa and its other colonies, mainly though colonialization, and its various effects on those various cultures.

Did France overlook a jazz created by their own direct influence?

Biguine is a music genre that combined 19th century French ballroom music with African rhythms. Similarly to jazz, it combined aspects of European musical tradition with aspects of African musical tradition. The genre started in Martinique, a former French colony located in the Caribbean Islands. Martinique is now described as “a department of France” and it continues to have significant cultural and political ties to France. Their official head of state is the French president, and the official language is French[2]. The compositions of biguine are described as featuring a “lively 2/4 meter and an eight-bar structure” that acted as the central characteristic that displays the fusion of European and African[3].

There are various theories why biguine was overlooked in favor of jazz. One reason was a bias for American culture in France. Biguine and its performances were usually not presented with the glitz and glamour as with the case of American jazz in France. In France, American Jazz was performed in theatres, which made the music and performances more of a spectacle. A French newspaper’ reaction to jazz performer Josephine Baker’s debut in La Revue Nègre, a famous jazz show in Paris in 1925, stated “This is no woman, no dancer. It’s something as exotic and elusive as music, an embodiment of all the sounds we know”[4]. In contrast, many of the biguine performances in Martinique were much more lowbrow, with it being performed in casinos and ballrooms. This made the music more interactive, in which people could dance to it.

Despite biguine being the underdog to jazz, an aspect of it did incorporate itself into popular culture during the 1930s. The beguine, which was inspired by the music, a dance similar to the rumba, and has bolero rhythm[5][6]. The dance is described as “spirited but slow, close dance with a roll of the hips”. When the dance’s popularity spread internationally, many adaptions of the dance were created including a famous tap dancing version. That version starkly contrasts in comparison to the original. It is up for debate whether these adaptions could be seen as deviating from the original style or expanding it.

Biguine music has not been the subject of popular culture or academic writings. While scholars continue to have more of a complete view on the history of jazz and its origins, hopefully the biguine genre will get the recognition as a genre that carries similar characteristics to jazz and prevalent around the same time as the Jazz Era.

[1] Sowinska, Alicja. “Dialectics of the Banana Skirt: The Ambiguities of Josephine Baker’s Self-Representation.” 2005-2006. PDF File. 12 March 2015.

[2] “Martinique”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2015. Web. 26 Apr. 2015 <>.

[3] Gangelhoff, Christine and Cathleen LeGrand. “Art Music by Caribbean Composers: Martinique.” The International Journal of Bahamian Studies 19.2 (2013). Web. 11 March 2015.

[4] Sowinska, Alicja. “Dialectics of the Banana Skirt: The Ambiguities of Josephine Baker’s Self-Representation.” 2005-2006. PDF File. 12 March 2015.

[5] “beguine.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 13 Mar. 2015. <>.

[6] “Beguine.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Jazz Invasion of London Nightlife: The Birth of British Jazz

In the early 20th century music started to change. In America, black musicians in New Orleans started a new, hot sensation called jazz. Jazz started to explode and resonate around the world. Europe felt this wave of jazz and many different nations were inspired by this jazz music. One of the cities that got hit with the jazz explosion was London and from this birthed British Jazz.

In the late 1910’s London was exposed to American Jazz for the first time by a touring band, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band played for the first time in London at the Hippodrome, which was a theater first opened in 1900 to host performances and shows [1]. Following this exposure to jazz, London’s music scene slowly started to change over the next couple of decades. Musicians in London started to listen to American Jazz records and became influenced by them, and in turn learned to play jazz themselves [2]. Clubs in London would encourage these musicians to come out to the bars after hours to jam and get a few drinks; this was the first introduction to jazz that London nightlife had seen. The jazz that these musicians mainly played was known as hot dance music, a.k.a. ‘hot jazz.’ This infiltration of hot jazz in the 1920’s and 1930’s made groups such as The Nat Gonella & His Georgians and Bert Ambrose & His Orchestra popular. Bands like this traveled through London more frequently and started to gain popularity.

However, it wasn’t until the 1940’s that jazz started to gain popularity in London. This popularity occurred despite the fact that World War Two caused many of the musicians that had been playing jazz to join the war effort. As a result many clubs faded away, as did the hot dance music fad. Even though many clubs went out of business a few were able to stay afloat. A club called the Feldman Swing Club, now called the 100 Club, opened in 1941 and was considered one the first ‘jazz clubs’ in London. The Feldman Swing Club obviously hosted swing music and played a big part in the jazz scene. “It was an instant hit and adopted a socially liberal door policy which made it a unique melting pot. American GIs stationed in the capital to await D-Day loved the place – not least because it let them dance the jitterbug, which was outlawed in many other venues [3].” These relaxed rules attracted the black community to participate and go to the club. Now these jazz clubs in London were attracting American jazz artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Art Pepper, and Duke Ellington etc. Jazz was on the up-rise in London.

Americanization was also taking effect in London. “The earliest modern British jazz of the late 1940s and early 1950s was strongly influenced by American Bebop [4].” American Bop artists would tour in London and influenced artists in the area through their unique style of playing. In addition, during the 1950’s there was a mass emigration into England that brought many players from the Caribbean such as Harry Beckett, Dizzy Reece, and Joe Harriott etc. Clubs such as the Flamingo Club and the Feldman Swing Club became a true melting pot of race and music [5]. It was in the clubs that the combination of Caribbean influence and hard bop style from America began to fuse to become the start of British jazz.

British Jazz is currently still alive with jazz musicians such as Django Bates, Julian Argüelles, Iain Ballamy keeping it afloat. There are many venues playing jazz in London still, just a quick search on the web and you can find many such as Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. There are also jazz festivals, which happen in downtown London every year such as EFG London Jazz Festival. British Jazz is still alive and well, check out some of the artists recommended above.
[1]The London Hippodrome, Hippodrome Corner, Cranbourn Street, City of Westminster.” The London Hippodrome, Hippodrome Corner, Cranbourn Street, City of Westminster.

[2]Time Line – British Modern Jazz.” Henry Bebop. N.p.

[3]The Blues Club That Can’t Pay the Bills.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media, n.d.

[4] Dr Jason Toynbee; Dr Catherine Tackley; Dr Mark Doffman (28 August 2014). Black British Jazz: Routes, Ownership and Performance. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. pp. 96–. ISBN 978-1-4724-1756-5.

[5] Ibid

Women in 1940s Big Band: The Case of Glenn Miller

The role of women in 1940s big band music was very different from that of male musicians. Although there were all female jazz orchestras, the musicianship of the ladies involved was rarely considered with any seriousness; instead, emphasis was placed on the highly constructed presentation of gender and sexuality by these groups. As shown through bands such as the Glenn Miller big band, women were treated as polished accessories in the big band dynamic, much the same as African Americans were in society at large during the time. They were involved in the music making, but in a very distinctly different way than the white, male musicians. The Glenn Miller Big Band perfectly exemplified the “typical” big band of the era.

The band was carefully crafted into an idealistic microcosm of America. Miller carefully selected mostly white, but also Italian, Jewish, and often other non-African races to paint the perfect picture of a multicultural melting-pot of American society. His occasional inclusion of woman singers in the band served this same purpose: to put America on display as an all-inclusive egalitarian nation without crossing too many lines or risk tipping the white-male power dynamic. Of course, this hypocrisy is the very reason that many American jazz artists chose to move and work abroad; over seas women and people of varying ethnicities, so long as they were talented jazz musicians, had many more genuine opportunities than here in America. Just like his music, Miller kept his women from being too “hot” and cultivated the image of a sweet girl-next door to give troops abroad the hopeful idea that their sweethearts would still be waiting at home for them when they returned from war. In recordings of “I Got a Gal in Kalamazoo” (featuring Anne Rutherford in Orchestra Wives) and “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (featuring Paula Kelley from “Sun Valley Serenade), the female vocalists are shown encircled by a group of men made slightly comedic by their obvious enthrallment with the young ladies. In the background, “manly” musicians stand stiffly raising their phallic horns into the air. This stark contrast between these serious musicians and the woman bobbing and smiling with her goofy posse up front was a deliberate tactic by Miller and many other big bands of the time to ensure that each gender group be encouraged to enthusiastically support each other in the united struggle against Nazi Germany, while also encouraging women to stick to their subordinate role in the status quo.

Wooing the soldiers in this way definitely improved morale, but had severe implications for women musicians. Because women musicians were set up as idealistic images for army men to long for, they essentially became nothing more than models who could also sing or play an instrument.  While men who valued for their ability to play, bassist Carline Ray recalls that “Females were not looked on with the same attitude. The guys can have white hair and glasses and can weigh 300 pounds, but if they can play, great; the girls have to look like a bunch of film starlets.” This expectation of women in jazz big band can be easily exemplified just by examining the names of some of the all female big bands. The international Sweethearts of Rhythm, The Harlem Playgirls, and Miss Babe Eagan and Her Hollywood Redheads are just a few of these titles, and they all articulate an expectation aesthetic and sexual appeal for women as opposed to superb musicianship. However, these women were forced to market themselves in this way because without this appeal  they would never be hired to play venues, and it was already an unspoken rule that women would not be hired in jazz orchestras run by men, with very few exceptions. As a result of this sexism and the need for popular big bands such as the Glenn Miller Jazz Orchestra to present what was seen as the traditional, idealistic picture of American society women were largely unable to achieve the musical respectability that they desired at the time. Instead, the pressures of traditionalism and war ensured that women were forced to fill the passive role of “model” and “sweetheart” for men audience members to enjoy. This stigma against women continued far beyond the 1940’s as well, and for many this blatant sexism is a motivating reason to venture into European jazz. European jazz bands tend to pride themselves on being “colorblind” and integrating members in their band regardless of sex or cultural background. The idea of “masculine” jazz is very often associated with American Jazz, where as other transatlantic parties such as the European Steve Lacy big band boast ideals of equality and often have just as many female members as male. This contrast is one of the factors in the modern day enthusiasm for non-American jazz orchestras.


Erenberg, Lewis A.. Swingin’ the Dream : Big Band Jazz and the Rebirth of American Culture. Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press, 1998. p 209.

Mcgee, Kristin. “The Feminization of Mass Culture Andthe Novelty of All-Girl Bands: The Case of the Ingenues.” Popular Music and Society 31 (2008): 629-62. Web.

“Girls In The Band Chronicles Women Of Jazz in 1930s and 1940s.” Tribunedigital-thecourant. N.p., 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Rouy, Gerard. “Farewell Paris.”  Down Beat.  Oct. 2002.

Ethio Jazz and the Circular Nature of African Folk Music

The birth of Ethiopian jazz, begins with the defeat of the Italians at the battle of Adwa in 1886. Under the reign of Emperor Menelik II, Ethiopia began to receive gifts from many countries seeking to build diplomatic relationships after hearing about this impressive victory. Nicolas II, the Tsar of Russia during this period, sent a gift that would become the catalyst for Ethiopia’s modern music evolution. This gift was actually several gifts, and they were the essential Western instruments needed for a full brass band. While at this point in time Ethiopians were very against Western expansion, they had no idea how radically these gifts would change their music.

The wheel truly began to turn in 1924 when Ras Taferi, before he became Emperor Haile Selassie, embarked on a diplomatic tour through Europe. He first stopped in Jerusalem to view the Tomb of Jesus Christ, and upon his welcome he encountered a marching band of 40 Armenian orphans: Arba Lijoch (orphans of the Armenian genocide that took place in Turkey, 1915 – 1918). Impressed, he ended up adopting all of them, in the hopes that this would become the foundation for his new royal music group. He would also bring along their Armenian bandleader, Kevork Nalbandian. Nalbandian would go on to compose the first Ethiopain National Anthem and along with his successors foster the cultivation of modern Ethiopian music.

After a nominal Italian rule during the Mussolini era (1935 to 1941), Ethiopian modern music truly hit its stride in 1955, so much so that this period is now referred to as the “golden age” of music and creativity. Singers in military bands and state-owned theatre orchestras such as the Haile Selassie and the Hager Fikir were creating new compositions at a prolific rate. All contributed to the rapid growth in the number of Ethiopian pop singers, instrument players, lyric writers, and music arrangers. From the 1960’s onward private bands flourished. A creative trend appeared; Ethiopian folk tunes fused with Western music styles. Big band jazz was one of the biggest influences, but rock n roll, R&B, and soul also stirred in the melting pot. The undisputed father of this new music—referred to as “Ethio Jazz”—is Mulatu Astatke.

Astatke almost went down a much different path while studying aeronautical engineering at Lindisfarne college, an English college residing in Wales. He realized his true calling after observing his fellow Nigerian and Ghanaian classmates fuse jazz with their traditional music. Switching academic lanes, Astatke would become the first Ethiopian (and in a broader context, African) student of the Berklee College of music in Boston, at the time the only jazz school in the world (“A Brief History”). There he figured out how to combine the unusual pentatonic scale-based melodies of traditional Ethiopian music with the 12-note harmonies and instrumentation of Western music. Astatke’s “Tezeta” is an essential example of Ethio jazz aesthetics.

Ethio jazz is now enjoying an Indian summer. Some of the best-selling instrumental jazz records of the last few years have been from Ethiopia. Why is this? What makes Ethio jazz unique amongst the plethora of jazz-folk hybrids available to the common jazz fan? Francis Falcetto, head of French label Buda Musique and passionate curator of the much-celebrated Ethiopiques series has an idea: “Unlike any other African country, it has been independent for 3,000 years, apart from the six years the Italians were colonists”1. In other words, Ethiopia’s resistance to Western expansionism allowed it to produce one of the truest forms of an Afro-Jazz hybrid. Truest because, unlike Congolese (Rumba) and Cuban jazz, Ethiopia’s isolation has kept it from being influenced by Western musical aesthetics. This raw aspect lends a sublime quality that can’t be reproduced by other African cultures that were heavily colonized by Western countries.

It’s cyclical in nature how jazz took to shape from African musical aesthetics in the Euro-American context of New Orleans, and then re-filtered itself through the different cultures of Africa, Ethiopia being the most unblemished of the African folk styles. With the popularity shift of jazz swinging towards the European landscape, it’s nice knowing that Ethio jazz is claiming stake and representing the African elements of the form in the mercurial axioms of transatlantic jazz.


“A Brief History.” A Brief History. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <>.

“Éthiopiques: Mulatu Astatke and the Story of Ethiopian Jazz.” Peter.culshaw. Web. 16 Mar. 2015. <éthiopiques-mulatu-astatke-and-story-ethiopian-jazz>.

“In The Company of Emperors: The Story of Ethiopian Armenians.” In The Company of Emperors: The Story of Ethiopian Armenians. Web. 26 Apr. 2015. <>.

An Analysis of Squarepusher: Is This Jazz?

The acid house scene spawned many electronic musicians during its apex in the mid-nineties. One of the more unique artists to come out of this scene would be Tom Jenkinson, known by his artist name, Squarepusher. Since 1996, Jenkinson has released albums continuously, composing new LPs every one or two years. In that time, he has explored many different sub-genres of electronic music from breakbeat to IDM. In 1997, Jenkinson released an album Entitled Hard Normal Daddy. This album, and his subsequent, somewhat lesser known album, Music Rotted One Note, mark his first departure from pure hard-hitting breakbeat to what some critics, such as Sean Cooper, of, describe as his “jazz roots.” So then, is this jazz?

In an interview with The Redbull Music Academy, Jenkinson shared his thoughts on the concept of Hard Normal Daddy in relation to jazz. From the interview:

For me, Hard Normal Daddy, for example, I daresay has been accused of having references to that kind of music, to these kind of fusion-y type records, but for me the references were more like the Death Wish soundtrack from Herbie Hancock, or something like that.

In other words, at least from the artist’s perspective, this album is not meant to inspire thoughts of jazz despite being influenced by an accomplished jazz musician. If however one listens to songs found on the album such as “Beep Street” and “E8 Boogie”, there are obvious influences beyond funk. If there were any doubt that jazz became an important inspiration for Jenkinson by this time, this is put to rest in his subsequent record, Music Rotted One Note, which, as Jenkinson stated in an interview with Perfect Sound Forever, uses Miles Davis as a direct influence.

In addition to the Euro-jazz feel that songs like “Beep Street” have, there are other elements that link Jenkinson’s personal style at the time to jazz. When playing live, Jenkinson even today has a tendency to improvise during his performances. Also apparent is Jenkinson’s use of long, complex bass melodies and drum tracks. While in previous material Jenkinson stuck almost exclusively to jungle-inspired, faster-than-light drum tracks, in this album there are markedly more “comprehensible” rhythms. Most of the percussion was still complex enough to fit with his established style, but had more genuine-sounding instrumentation, and just slightly less overwhelming speed. These changes from previous material make the songs on this album playable by actual musicians, albeit ones of considerable talent. All of this in effect makes the influence of jazz in Hard Normal Daddy apparent.

Since the release of Hard Normal Daddy, Jenkinson has delved into a much more expanded musical territory. He’s created an entirely acoustic album, performed modern harsh sound-scape jams and even lead a genuine jazz trio. In terms of musical evolution though, it seems to start with Hard Normal Daddy whether Jenkinson sees it that way or not. His marriage of jungle beats with European-influenced jazz marked the beginning of what has shown to be not only an important aspect of Jenkinson’s personal style, but also an important step in the development of electronic music in regards to jazz, as critics in the field reference it time and time again.

In the end, Jenkinson’s fluctuating style has consistently utilized elements that are decidedly of a European-jazz nature. His incorporation of over-the-top, mechanically intense percussion, complex chord changes, and at times improvisational lead parts lend to a sense of postmodernism that is commonly associated with European jazz. Even the common Euro-jazz narrative is at play here. In several interviews, when asked about his influences, Jenkinson states that he wishes to continue on and further develop the work of musicians like Miles Davis in terms of establishing fusion genres like electro-jazz as musical genres. This post-colonial, High-art outlook of musicianship is ostensibly the definition of the European jazz narrative. Though some could see the individualistic nature of his recordings more indicative of an American jazz style, overall Jenkinson’s modus operandi seems to stray further toward a European jazz influence than to any other direction.

Punked-up Jazz Skunk

Matthias Schriefl is a German-born jazz trumpeter with a unique message.  His many achievements within the German jazz scene include winning a national competition at age 11, directing his school’s big band in the ninth grade, and becoming a member of the Bavarian State Jazz Orchestra and the German Young Jazz Orchestra at age 15.  Now in his twenties, this young musician leads an eccentric quartet described by ACT Music and as playing “awkward melodies, edgy rhythms and darting references to classical music,” “musical pranks” and “daredevil experimental jazz that in no way sounds clean or intellectual.” (ACT music)(Stewart) Currently, Shreefpunk is quickly making a name for itself in European jazz circles.  Critics praise the band greatly for its virtuosity, creativity and edgy nature but don’t even allude to the actual feeling Shreefpunk evokes from its listeners.

Transatlantically, the interesting thing about Shreefpunk is that it a band of jazz musicians that poke fun at American jazz as obviously as it can.  In the composition “Aua”, for example, the members of Shreefpunk sing a simple, patriotic-sounding jazz anthem with awkward coughs sprinkled throughout, interrupting the sublime melody with atonal screeches.  This feels like an intentional political display that pokes fun at America and American jazz music.

Shreefpunk’s “Blues” is a satire of the very foundation of jazz music.  As the title suggests, the piece makes fun of the blues, but simultaneously seems to embrace it as well.  It starts with an awkward melody and presents numerous blues solos that continually get distorted and cluttered in different ways.  These musicians show that they are schooled in the blues, but as the song progresses it becomes clear through the clashing melodies and seemingly random time feel shifts that they are playing the blues to satirize it.

It’s hard to tell what Shreefpunk’s actual stance towards jazz is, since it pokes fun at jazz but is a jazz band in the sense that all the musicians in it are decorated jazz musicians.  according to “The Jazz Breakfast,” Matthias Schriefl himself has played with American talents Phil Woods, Lee Konitz and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  The other members of Shreefpunk (Robert Landfermann, John Behr and Jens Düppe) are also respected jazz artists in Germany.  These artists studying the “American classical music” are spearheading a project that uses jazz to make fun of itself.  I believe this could be a reflection of Germany’s attitude towards jazz.  Germany loves jazz, but the music represents America and there is a deep-seeded resentment and frustration for not only America itself but its mastery of the jazz tradition.

Much as a comedian has to have a sharp understanding of the people around him, Shreefpunk’s satire of jazz demands a great understanding of the tradition from its musicians.  The music combines an understanding of many different styles of jazz to create a full satire and, like jazz music, it utilizes not only jazz but all different types of musical influences.  In this way, does it become jazz?  If one compares Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” to James Booker’s “Black Minute Waltz”, it is clear that satirizing other genres of music through understanding them has long been a part of the jazz tradition.  It can be argued that Shreefpunk’s satire is the very thing it makes fun of.

Memories of The Willem Breuker Kollektief

Of all the jazz LP’s my father used to play when I was a kid, there is one that stands out in my memory far and away above the rest. No, it’s not Miles Davis, although he loved Sketches of Spain, and no it’s not Coltrane, or Brubeck, or Bill Evans. Instead the jazz of my childhood was defined by a 1983 About Time Records release from the 11 piece Dutch group the Willem Breuker Kollektief (their first and last for an American record company) kindly titled for the English speaking world; Willem Breuker Collective. In my mind the album is synonymous with my father; wacky, hilarious, complex, enigmatic. Listening back now it is easy to see why I was so drawn to the music as a child. Breuker’s compositions are frenetic and full bodied romps through a kaleidoscope of genres, all with a fascinating combination of brash humor and sometimes terrifying earnestness. Note this excerpt from a Bill Barton review of a 2002 Kollektief performance at Jazz Alley in Seattle;

Raymond Scott, foxtrots, circus bands, Cab Calloway, waltzes, barrel organs, Rachmaninoff, boogie-woogie, marching bands, Prokofiev, tangos, klezmer groups, Duke Ellington, habaneras, Dixieland bands, Kurt Weill, polkas, rockabilly, Grieg, rumbas, cabaret singers, Ennio Morricone, national anthems, campy pre-WWII pop songs, Chopin, grand opera then soap opera, Italian “Banda,” Gershwin, schottisches, boozy Las Vegas lounge singers, Rossini, Busby Berkeley production numbers, spaghetti western soundtracks, Henry Mancini, the bunny hop, German oompah bands, Bartok, vaudeville, theatre orchestras, Ravel, tangos, burlesque, Nino Rota, swing, Tin Pan Alley, Haydn, hard bop, hornpipes The mental images and aural snapshots come fast and furious when listening to the Kollektief‘s sometimes raucous but always impeccably crafted music.[1]

Breuker and his ensemble weave between these diverse sounds with seamless theatricality, as if invoking a host of distinct characters or perhaps more often, caricatures. On top of this multitude of textures, the soloing ranges from sweet to berserker, often within the same solo. Breuker explores the extreme edges of his instrument’s pallet, often overblowing or squealing through the horn, with a guttural and often disturbing result that often sounds like the death agonies of any number of different animals. In these moments Breuker leads the listener onto a knife’s edge between agony and satire, one moment full of pain, the next with the quacking of a duck.

Perhaps it is the element of satire that has in part come to define the Dutch’s unique contribution to the world of Jazz. Before the formation of the Kollektief Breuker formed the New Acoustic Swing Duo with dummer Hans Benninck, now known for playing on a drumkit made from wheels of cheese. Bill Barton’s review of a Kollektief concert describes “Burlesque hijinks” as a constant part of the show, including choreographed dance moves, pantomime, balancing trombones on outstretched palms, etc. Given Americas very serious claim on the very serious tradition of jazz, it is no hard to imagine that Breuker’s whimsy rubs some American critics the wrong way. Enter Leonard Feather of the Los Angeles Times;

The set, which became increasingly comedy-oriented, hit a low point when Breuker, on soprano saxophone, gave his impression of a quacking duck, a barking dog, a bumblebee and then of laying an egg–with an actual egg passed around among the musicians. It got worse, with some whistling, a pseudo-comic operatic aria and two trombonists hugging one another while playing simultaneous duets. Seldom has a more dismal grab-bag of second-rate sounds and third-rate humor hit the local jazz scene. In short, this was no Dutch treat. [2]

Feather’s article is titleed Breuker Kollektief a Big Disappointment at Bakery, and for anyone seeking a “traditional jazz” leg to stand on I can imagine that it would be a disappointment indeed. On Willem Breuker Collective when the group does play in a style reminiscent of “American jazz” it is usually squeezed in between sections of bombastic circus music or something harkening to an absurdly pompous royal fanfare. For the Kollektief it seems that to pay homage to an influence and to satirize that influence are often one in the same. When American jazz traditionalists expect European musicians to recognize or pay tribute to jazz’s true roots, perhaps this isn’t exactly what they had mind.

As a composer, arranger, and educator, it is clear that Willem Breuker was dead serious. He composed more than 500 works for theatre, opera and film, ran his own recording and publishing company, and was instrumental in the establishment of government subsidies for jazz musicians in the Netherlands. [3] When it came to playing music however, it seems that his goal was truly to play. In a world of jazz that often prides itself in being challengingly complex, intellectual, and serious, it is that playfulness that appeals to my imagination as much now as it did 24 years ago.


[2] Leonard Feather, LA Times. Breuker Kollektief a Big Disappointment at Bakery


Black Saint Records

In the mid-40s in a small country town just outside of Milan, Italy, Giovanni Bonandrini started buying American jazz records with a severance check.1 78s of the American greats (Armstrong, Ellington, Gillespie, etc.) fueled his jazz interest.2 By the 70s, Bonandrini’s had accumulated enough knowledge to became an advisor and partner to a prominent jazz music importer in Milan, Hi-Fi & Record Center. Through Hi-Fi, his personal collection grew further yet. In 1977, he was presented with the opportunity to take over Black Saint Records, which he accepted.1

Black Saint Records launched in 1975 with Billy Harper’s album Black Saint.3 Its mission was to provide an outlet for those many talented avant-garde jazz musicians who would have otherwise spiraled, unheard and underappreciated, into obscurity.2 Unfortunately, in the two years prior Bonandrini’s acquisition, the label only accumulated a catalogue of 13 titles and had changed hands multiple times. In his words, “Black Saint was in serious trouble.”1

The new management proved itself by the end of 1977. Bonandrini and company, immediately after acquiring the label, recorded four new releases in New York.1 By 1979, Bonandrini had expanded Black Saint to include a more “mainstream” sister label: Soul Note Records.1 Notably, Billy Harper contributed the launch release for Soul Note: Billy Harper Quintet in Europe.2 Both Black Saint and Soul Note proceeded with vigor; their humble beginnings forever testaments to the structural integrity one devoted fan can establish and develop within an independent record label.

Bonandrini spent the 80s and 90s further developing his labels. From 1984 to 1989, Black Saint/Soul Note won the Down Beat Critics Poll best record label title (tallying to six consecutive victories).1 By that time, their catalogues had exploded, each label sporting hundreds of releases.6 In the early 90s, Bonandrini’s son, Flavio Bonandrini, relocated to New York to handle U.S. distribution. He foresaw a surge of new recordings from Black Saint’s established core roster and signed a new wave of artists, adding his personal taste to the extensive catalogue the labels had to offer.1

The original mission, to ensure that musicians would receive the recognition they deserved, withstood the test of time. Black Saint and Soul Note, unlike many other labels, made (and make) a point of not retiring any of their releases. “What we are doing is important mainly for the artists and we are proud for keeping all of their recordings still in print,” Bonandrini said in an interview for Jazz Weekly.2 In 2008, Cam Jazz, an independent publishing group based in Rome, Italy and New York City, USA, purchased Black Saint and Soul Note and integrated them into its roster of labels, keeping Flavio Bonandrini on staff as a consultant for the label.7 Giovanni Bonandrini spent over 30 years raising and nurturing Black Saint Records, and his efforts were not in vain. It lives today as one of the most recognized avant-garde and free jazz labels to date, and its success spread a massive collection of music internationally.


  1. Stockton, Jeff. “Black Saint / Soul Note.” All About Jazz. 5 May 2007.
  1. Jung, Fred. “A Fireside Chat with Black Saint and Soul Note Founder, Giovanni Bonandrini.” Jazz Weekly.
  1. Yanow, Scott. “Giovanni Bonandrini Biography.” All Music.
  1. “Black Saint Releases.” Cam Jazz.
  1. “Soul Note Releases.” Cam Jazz.
  1. “About Us.” Cam Jazz.
  1. Morton, Brian. “Far Cry.” Point of Departure. 1 Jan. 2008.

Joe “King” Oliver and the Role of Creole Culture in Jazz

Tracing where jazz truly first emerged and came into existence as a genre is a question that has been hotly debated by music historians for close to a century. Tracing the various styles that compose the genre is not so difficult. The rhythms of indigenous African and Caribbean culture combined with classical European song and melodic structure, played with the emotion of sacred music found in slave states in southern America and the French colony in Saint Domingue. Thomas Fiehrer says that “The prosopography of early jazz reveals at its core a tight-knit Creole establishment of classical orientation, descended from the ancienne population, at least two dozen performers of Caribbean and Mexican origins, and a small but influential contingent of Sicilians.” (Collier, 1995) These various ethnic components all seem to converge in New Orleans, which served as a geographical intersection point where the elements of English, Spanish, and French society came into contact to form a distinctive Creole culture.

Many popular African-American artists from New Orleans were raised within this subculture of America that valued artisanship and musicianship highly and were fortunate enough to grow up in a location where it was possible to be taught musical techniques that many other African-Americans living in other states did not have access to because of prejudice. James Collier stated the musicians “had been born in the ragtime era before jazz existed, but were playing the jazz as it was developing out of what had gone before.” (Collier, 1995) By providing an environment that fostered cultural expression and exchange, New Orleans directly contributed to the development of jazz. Many musicians throughout history have been credited as being the creators of jazz. Joe “King” Oliver, pioneer cornet player and mentor to Louis Armstrong, is one of the individuals who can justly lay claim to being the king of jazz, his solo stylings and innovative techniques shaped the diverse genre and established it as American music.

storyville new orleans

The red light district of New Orleans (known as “Storyville” at the time) offered many venues for White and African-American performers to come together, and the clientele associated with many of the clubs were very diverse for the time. Joe Oliver played in various sites across New Orleans and amassed a large fan base of various ethnicities; he is also credited as being one of the first artists to employ the technique of muting an instrument to achieve a different sound. Oliver used plungers, hats, bottles, and various other instruments to alter his horns sound. Muting instruments would soon become a trademark sound of the genre and commonplace amongst jazz performers. What truly sets Oliver apart are his solos, which are advanced beyond their time and are more indicative of what future jazz players would play, as indicated here, where the seemingly free stylings of his solo are evident.

The rise of Jim Crow legislation and the legal persecution of many African-American performers within the area (Joe Oliver included) ultimately culminated with Storyville being closed in 1917. Following the district’s closing, Joe Oliver and many other jazz musicians migrated to Chicago. While in Chicago Oliver started his second band, King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band, which included his ward Louis Armstrong. Oliver’s influence upon Armstrong is evident when hearing the two play alongside one another, the solos follow similar patterns and both use complex rhythms that are seemingly signature of their styles. Being that Louis Armstrong is considered to be one of the most influential jazz players in history, by association much credit should also be given to Joe Oliver. A medical condition known as periodontitis would handicap him later in life and hinder his ability to perform. The disorder coupled with his being taken advantage of by his management ultimately affect his legacy, if not for these unfortunate circumstances Joe “King” Oliver would be regarded as such by more individuals.

Even the Nazis Liked to Swing

Jazz is an enjoyable art form that allows for people from all backgrounds to come together and leave their worries at the door. Nazis aren’t the first people we think of when we think about people that in their free time relax with jazz. During WWII Nazis tried to keep jazz out of peoples’ ears, but eventually had to embrace the genre to try to stay relevant.

To explore why jazz endured in Germany during this time we have to go back before WWII and look at the Hoch Conservatory and a man by the name of Dietrich Schulz Kohn who was listening in on lectures by Mátyás Seiber. These were the first jazz courses in Germany, which made them revolutionary in their own right. Kohn had experience with music and jazz from a young age and even got to see Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong perform in England. Before the war was in full swing he opened the first jazz club in Konigsberg, was a jazz editor for Telefunken, and had done work with German record labels.

As the war broke out Kohn joined the Air Force and rose to the rank of a Lieutenant. He had grown up in a Nazi home, but disagreed with the position on jazz. Kohn felt that he had the opportunity to enjoy jazz as a youth so it should not be affected by this war. Kohn went so far as to say that he felt that jazz would strengthen the third Reich.1 When asked later about his statements on the topic he said he didn’t remember saying such a thing but also did not deny it; however, firsthand accounts confirm that he did in fact say these things. General consensus from Nazis in German about jazz, however was that it would only survive if they lost the war. Kohn disregarded this by attending jazz clubs in Germany and even appeared in a famous photo with Django Reinhardt. Kohn wrote a newsletter about the jazz happening in the Nazi controlled cities.

Was he just naïve? German cultural critics like Adorno saw jazz as such a bad thing, representing conformity and predictable structure rather than freedom. Adorno felt like jazz shows were very scripted and not actually improvisational as Americans advertised it. Jazz was the American and allies’ form of entertainment and enjoyment. It was a way to relax, take your mind off of the war, and to integrate cultures. Hitler felt that this was threatening to the control on his people; therefore the Nazis shut it down for a time but eventually changed their minds and allowed it again. They realized they would lose more and more support if they continued to hold jazz hostage.

After the war Kohn, Dr Jazz, who had saved thousands of records, became a journalist and radio host. In 1948 he began work on jazz broadcasts in Cologne and didn’t stop until 1992.2 He used the platform to help Germany heal, by using the popularity of jazz in America as a beacon of freedom for this country in its postwar state.3 Clearly, Schulz Kohn is one of the more interesting figures in German jazz history. Stanley Kubrick was even reportedly interested in making a movie about Dr Jazz; the man who was in love with hot jazz.


  1. Mike Zwerin, Swing Under the Nazis: Jazz as a Metaphor for Freedom (Roman & Littlefield Publishing), 31-34
  2. Bernd Hoffmann, Die Mitteilungen, in Wolfram Knauer, Jazz in Germany (Jazz Institute Darmstadt)
  3. Heinz Protzer, A jazz institution: Dietrich Schulz-Köhn, 329-347

Joe Zawinul: Inspiration to Miles Davis

Joe Zawinul is considered one of the most innovative jazz keyboard players of all time. He was a big pioneer of synthesizers in jazz music and was one of the first to play jazz fusion. His aggressive attitude permeated his music. His modern musical style and persona inspired many including the famous jazz musician Miles Davis.

According to Brian Glasser’s book In a Silent Way: A Portrait of Joe Zawinul, war was a normal part of Zawinul’s life when he was a young boy in WWII Austria. He did not know if he was going to live or die because he was bombed on a regular basis. According to Glasser, Zawinul’s father was a truck driver and got into a lot of trouble at beer halls. He was a boxer, weightlifter, and harmonica player. This lifestyle rubbed off onto the young Joe.

Zawinul loved the movie Stormy Weather. The movie was a huge inspiration for him that helped solidify what he wanted to do in his life. He wanted to play with black musicians, whose style and musicianship he admired. Zawinul would soon be learning Miles Davis tunes by listening to the records. He would eventuallymeet Miles Davis at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City Miles approached Zawinul and asked him to play on his upcoming album, which he declined. According to Zawinul this really tore up Miles Davis, who is not used to being declined by anyone. was impressed that the European, Joe Zawinul, did not glorify or idolize him the way many Americans did.Perhaps Davis admired the clear-sightedness that could only come from somebody who grew up in poverty during Word War IIJoe’s childhood made him tough, and that toughness came out in his music and in his interaction with Davis.

Zawinul boxe for fun on a regular basis. In his documentary, Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait, he said he used boxing to keep his body and mind in shape. The reaction and timing of boxing was really important for him and he incorporated this sensibility into his music. Glasser confirms this by noting that Joe plays as if he is boxing: jabbing, circling, ducking, combinations. Because this was Davis’s style as well Zawinul and Davis would become sparring partners both on the stage and in the boxing ring. Zawinul recalls that he would beat up Davis with his nasty left hook when they boxed.

Zawinul, who once told ’Down Beat’ magazine that “Miles ain’t shit (Glasser)”.was constantly putting Miles’ ego at check and pushing Miles Davis mentally and musically. At one instance in their relationship Miles gave Joe a bag of drugs and joe proceeded to flush it down the toilet. Miles was outrages at him for this but later thanked him for it. Zawinul wrote most of ’In a Silent Way’ analbum considered by many to be Davis’s best album and is his first experimental album using electronic instrumentation. The album marked Davis’s transition from traditional jazz into jazz-fusion. On this and following albums, Joe Zawinul’s influence can be heard not only because he wrote many of the tunes but also because Zawinul’s take on jazz and his jabs rubbed off onto Miles Davis in a very profound way.

Works Cited

  • “Joe Zawinul: A Musical Portrait.”Directed by Mark Kidel.
  • “The Miles Davis Story.” Directed by Mike Dibb.
  • “In a Silent Way: A Portrait of Joe Zawinul.” Brian Glasser. February 1, 2001

Hip Hop and Jazz: Multinational High Art

Jazz and hip-hop are both genres that have cultivated virtuosity and innovation on an international level, and the blending of these two genres has become increasingly more popular. Artists like Digable Planets and A Tribe Called Quest had incorporated the jazz influence into mainstream American hip hop in the 80s and 90s. As well, jazz artists have taken to the hip-hop language, and incorporated it into their music. Their fusion, however, has opened an international field wherein various cultures can take their influences and elaborate upon an evolving genre. Europe and America both have artists and fans who now regard jazz-hop as a high art; the two genres seem to elevate each other and inspire more and more artists each year.

Robert Glasper, a Texas-based musician, comes from a mostly jazz and blues background. He has collaborated with hip-hop artists like Lupe Fiasco and Q-tip, and is now recognized by multiple music communities. His 2012 album, Black Radio, is a prime example of how jazz can intersect with hip hop. Glasper incorporates jazz chord sensibilities with moods and styles from soul, r&b, gospel, and hip hop. Now signed with Blue Note, Robert Glasper continue to captivate audiences worldwide. When Don Was, a record producer and now president of Blue Note, was asked about Robert Glasper’s music, he responded, “There’s been a lot of attempts at fusing jazz and hip-hop…And I think Robert’s done it seamlessly. Because that’s who he is” (Chinen). Though Glasper does not claim to be the future of jazz, he is certainly a relevant artist in the fields of jazz and hip hop, if not many other genres.

In Europe, artists like Leo Riegler and Lukas Konig are creating their own innovations. The duo is based out of Vienna, and go by the name Keoniglepold (Leo Riegler is the MC and Konig performs simultaneously on bass and drums). The duo cites hip-hop and jazz among their influences. Konig states, “Our inspiration isn’t coming from jazz alone at all. As a drummer, I am not a specialist in harmonic structures, but rhythmically, I’m more inspired from new hip hop and electronic music productions, which are pointing to morphing and shifting methods, which brings the rhythmic question back to ethnic music or even minimalism” (Mackin). This reveals their appreciation, not only for jazz, but for the music of their homeland, Austria. Their performances have elements of comedy, yet they also stand out for their unique blending of turntables with live instruments like the clarinet. Hip-hop, jazz, and perhaps electronic music, as well, have influenced many in Europe, and that music is now being shared with a wider international audience.

Separately, the genres of jazz and hip-hop continue to branch off and cover new ground. Together, they are a powerful combination that encourages the mixing of electronic beats, vocal improvisation, and live instrumentation. Every year, new artists are contributing to the emerging style. As jazz-hop continues to grow, it will take on more and more meaning through the cultures it represents. America, Europe, and many other places are contributing to the dialogue; and there are millions of music listeners that are waiting to hear the newest innovations.


Works Cited

Chinen, Nate. “Jazz Pitched in Key of Hip-Hop.” International Herald Tribune: 13. Feb 28 ProQuest.Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Fernando Gonzalez. Knight-Ridder Newspapers. “Hip-Hop Reconnects Jazz with Pulse of the

Street.” Las Vegas Review – Journal: 8e. May 06 1994. ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Mackin, Laurence. “From Hip Hop to Jazz, the Alternative Inspiration.” Irish Times: 12. Feb 13 2013 ProQuest.Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Williams, Justin A. “The Construction of Jazz Rap as High Art in Hip-Hop Music.” The Journal of Musicology 27.4 (2010): 435-59.ProQuest. Web. 15 Mar. 2015.

Entertainment as Survival: Jazz and the Gypsies

The Romani musical tradition finally met its match in Paris in the 1930s, when Gypsy musician Django Reinhardt became exposed to foreign recordings of American jazz. Records from players like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington inspired him to turn the guitar into a solo instrument, and play a new style of jazz with a more typically Gypsy instrumental ensemble and melodic ornamentation that would be posthumously deemed Gypsy jazz. Django’s ability to improvise soulful melodies with a distinct Romani voice earned him great respect in the genre which inspired him, and it is not by mere coincidence that a Gypsy musician should find such a comfortable fit in the world of jazz. Jazz and Romani music bear many similarities: a stress on the second and fourth beat, embellishment of pre-existing folk song structures with more complex harmonic sequences, and fast, virtuosic melodic improvisation using altered scales. But besides these formal similarities, it seems also that these two musical legacies share the historical function of cultural preservation and advancement for displaced, persecuted ethnic groups, namely the Gypsies in Europe and the African Americans in the United States, through establishment of a desirable artistic subculture which allowed them to achieve some degree of cultural integration through the acquisition of respect and admiration from the dominant cultures among which they found themselves.

Of all the dislocated populations of the world, the Gypsies are so far removed from their roots historians can only speculate their origin as being descendant from a tribe of musicians extracted as slaves from northern India in the fifth century by Persian king What is known is that as the Gypsies spread throughout Europe, they began to establish a widespread identity as exotic, supernaturally talented performers and entertainers. Anna Piotrowska affirms that by the eleventh and twelfth centuries, “Gypsies were already noted for their talents in public performance.” She continues, “over time, the image of Gypsies as magic conjurers would be joined by associations with fortune-telling, acrobatics, and street music.” Piotrowska argues that in the formation of these stereotypes, the Gypsies managed to create for themselves a relatively stable, marketable cultural identity through which they could sustain themselves and their culture, regardless of disenfranchised they might be in their situation.[2] One group of Romani enslaved by the Romanians during the thirteenth century calling themselves Lautari gained social mobility by forming improvisational bands called taraf, which in a similar fashion to Romani musical groups that spread to other parts of Europe, would draw from regional music to create more complex, faster interpretations over which they could perform virtuosic improvisation on lead instruments such as pan flutes and violins. A contemporary example of this tradition is the Taraf de Haidouks. Piotrowski asserts that such performances would foster two effects on their relationships with dominant cultures: the first being a cultural association of the Gypsies with “entertainment, with having a good time, and…debauchery,” and the second being a medium through which trust and cultural integration could be gained.[3]

This sort of cultural mobility through performance art is functionally similar to that achieved by African Americans in the United States, a process which started with minstrelsy and progressed all the way to the hiring of an African American as a director for the first jazz program at Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. Minstrelsy, while fundamentally derogatory in nature, reveals even in its earliest stages the White association of African Americans with natural predispositions toward favorable talents such as comedy, dance, and musical performance. These cultural stereotypes would ultimately become the avenue through which a number of individuals, such as Josephine Baker and Louis Armstrong, would find social and economic mobility. The cultural exposure gained for African Americans through figures like these would lead them to be evaluated as real artists rather than mere spectacles, initiating a progression toward cultural legitimization which, as Herman Gray illustrates in his book, culminates in the symbolic appointment of Wynton Marsalis by the Lincoln Center in 1991 to direct the nation’s first jazz program at a major institution.[4]

The sense of kinship felt between Louis Armstrong and Django Reinhardt may have extended to the subconscious awareness that they had each become ambassadors for survivor cultures. Both the African Americans in the United States and the Romani people of Europe have avoided cultural deletion through the crystallization of themselves in new art forms for which they could establish themselves as harbingers.

[1] Piotrowska, Anna G, Gypsy Music in European Culture: From the Late Eighteenth to the Early Twentieth Centuries (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2013), ProQuest ebrary, 4.

[2] Ibid., 5-6.

[3] Ibid., 7.

[4] Gray, Herman, Cultural Moves: African Americans and the Politics of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press), Google Books, 34.