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Artist Repertoire for the Modern String Player Beginner to Professional
From Fiddle and Banjo to Early Jazz
From Fiddle and Banjo to Early Jazz
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Compiled by Gayle Dixon
The original "King of Jazz," James Reese Europe recorded in 1913
James Reese Europe (1880 -1919)
James Reese Europe was a classically-trained African American violinist and pianist, born in Mobile, Alabama. His father Henry Europe, a former slave, worked for the US postal service. His mother was born free. Employment opportunity for the father brought the family to Washington, DC, where James and his siblings received fine music educations. Young James studied with Enrico Hurlei, assistant director of the US Marine Corps Band (director at the time was John Phillip Sousa). When their father died in 1899, three of the Europe children turned to careers in music to provide for the family. Mary Europe, in particular, was a noted pianist, teacher and accompanist.
I James Reese Europe followed his older brother to NYC in 1903. When his efforts to find work as a violinist failed, he built a successful career in Black musical theatre. In 1910 Europe founded the Clef Club with other prominent Black musicians of the day, a combined musician's union and club date office which soon held a monopoly on music for high society dances and balls from New York to Palm Beach.
In 1912, the Clef Club Orchestra of over 100 musicians played an historic concert of syncopated music at Carnegie Hall. Europe employed an extraordinary instrumentation of plucked and bowed strings, plus 11 pianos! The orchestra played ragtime and popular songs, arrangements of slave spirituals and plantation songs, as well as classical works. According to legendary pianist and composer Eubie Blake, Europe often conducted from the piano while holding his violin (quoted in Tim Brooks' book, Lost Sounds: Blacks and the Birth of the Recording Industry 1890-1919).
I In 1913, Europe became orchestra leader of choice for international dance superstars Vernon and Irene Castle. The Castles could not get enough of Europe's syncopated rhythms, and their insistence upon having the Europe Orchestra created no small stir in the segregated musical environment of the day. Together they created many new dances, the fox-trot being the most important. Europe biographer Reid Badger states that the fox-trot has historical importance as the basis for many subsequent dances and much American music. It represents the first "diffusion of the blues into mainstream American music."³ Europe stated that the fox-trot was inspired by W.C. Handy's Memphis Blues. According to Vernon Castle, the steps were derived from an old African American dance, a slow drag called "Get Over, Sal." The stature Europe gained from working with the Castles led to his first recordings for Victor Records, in 1913 and 1914.
I During World War I, James Reese Europe led the US 15th Infantry Band (later renamed the 369th) to France, where they earned distinction as the first Black soldiers of the war. The soldiers received the nickname Hell Fighters for their ferocity in battle. Europe engaged wind and brass players from the US and Puerto Rico for the band. They made jazz the sensation of the continent, and returned to NY in triumph. The Hell Fighters recorded for Pathé Records in 1919.
At Red Hot Jazz hear Europe's Society Band, recorded in 1913. Noteworthy are Down Home Rag, composed by clarinet virtuoso Wilbur Sweatman, and Too Much Mustard ("Tres Moutarde").
For comparison, listen to Tres Moutarde performed by Princes Band, recorded in 1913. This popular tune of the day was written by British composer Cecil Macklin. Hear Too Much Mustard at the Internet Archive:
Paul Whiteman was a classically-trained violinist and violist, born in Denver, Colorado. His father, Wilberforce Whiteman, was a noted music educator. Whiteman began his professional life playing viola in the Denver Symphony and other orchestras, then led a large navy band during World War I. Following the war, he formed a series of dance bands. In 1920, his band recorded Whispering (composed by J. Schonberger and R. Coburn; arranged by Ferde Grofé), which sold over a million copies. The Whiteman band became the most successful commercial band of the 1920s and 1930s.
Although he was crowned the "King of Jazz," Whiteman was not a jazz musician or composer¹. He was a conductor, impresario and business man whose empire was the burgeoning world of sound stages, film lots and recording studios; he ruled the air waves and concert halls. Whiteman came along when moving pictures were just developing sound and technicolor, and he had a natural instinct for the business. He hired brilliant composers, arrangers, and musicians, and developed innovative techniques, such as pre-recording musical passages, which are still used today.
The Whiteman Orchestra popularized a style of lushly orchestrated symphonic music, derived from the jazz idiom, which was used in numerous films, radio and TV shows, musicals, big band scores and jingles. George Gershwin² wrote the band's theme song, Rhapsody In Blue, orchestrated by Ferde Grofé. Jazz greats hired by Whiteman to play in the band included Bix Biederbecke, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Eddie Lang, and violin virtuoso Joe Venuti. Noted composers, including William Grant Still and Duke Ellington, were commissioned to write for the band.
As Jazzbows is a jazz strings website, we must note that in most of the music played by the Whiteman Orchestra, the string section and jazz band function as separate entities -- for the most part, the jazz begins when the strings stop playing. Contrast this with the string ensemble work in W.C. Handy's Orchestra of Memphis (1917), where the string solo chorus introduces thematic and rhythmic ideas which are then built by the entire ensemble. For a link to Handy sound clips, see Darnell Howard on our Pioneers of Jazz Violin pages. Click here for links to Paul Whiteman sound and video clips.
Whiteman made over 600 records, and had over 50 bands working under his name at one time.
¹ Searching the databases of large music licensing organizations, there are no compositions listed under Paul Whiteman's name.
² George Gershwin credited James Reese Europe as an early influence.
Visit the website of the Colored Musicians Club of Buffalo, NY: