Session/Séance 3d: IASPM Panel 2. Thursday/jeudi 25 May 2017. 4:00 – 5:30 pm, EJB 330.
Historiography: Drums, Dance and Discourse
Moderator: MICHÈLE MOSS (University of Calgary)
1. An Historical Investigation of the Relationship Between the Drum Kit, Drummers and Dancers
Matt Brennan, University of Edinburgh
The key trade paper for musical instrument retailers in the USA, The Music Trade Review, noted in 1915 that “an unusual feature of our drum business the past few months is a call for drum outfits, bass drums, pedals, etc., for dance orchestras. It seems to be the fad among the dance orchestra players for a man to play the piano and a drum with his foot. This combination produces the music with the rhythm and melody that the dancers desire.” Drawing on significant archival research, this paper explores the under-examined relationship between the drum kit, drummers, and dancers between the mid-nineteenth and the mid-twentieth centuries. The paper investigates African-American performance practices that informed the development of ragtime: although ragtime arrangements are usually associated with the piano, this paper will focus on the changing role of the drummer in ragtime and its impact on the “animal dance” crazes of the 1910s, including the Foxtrot, Bunny Hug, and the Turkey Trot. It will also consider the relationship between the famed dancing partnership of Vernon and Irene Castle and their drummer, Buddie Gilmore, who had a significant influence on Vernon and the staging of their performances. It will also consider the influence of vaudeville and tap-dancing on many of the swing era's greatest drummers, including Papa Jo Jones (Count Basie), Cozy Cole (Cab Calloway), Sonny Greer (Duke Ellington), and Buddy Rich, and the relationship between swing drumming and popular dances of the 1920s and 1930s such as the Lindy Hop. Ultimately the paper will argue that rather than being on the sidelines of musical practice of the interwar period, it was drummers and dancers who shaped the musical genres of the era and not the other way around.
2. Clops, Swats, and Washboards: Percussive Accompaniments in Early Commercial Recordings
Steven Baur, Dalhousie University
Two landmark innovations in music technology, both introduced during the last quarter of the 19th century, transformed the nature of popular music production and radically reshaped the music industry. While the advent and subsequent history of audio recording, introduced by Thomas Edison in 1877, has been a central focus of popular music studies, the rise of the drum kit, beginning in 1887 with the first bass drum patent and without which most major genres of popular music since the 1920s would be unthinkable, has not. This paper investigates the nature of drumming and percussion practice during the early decades of commercial recording. In spite of their near contemporaneous development and their mutual centrality to popular music production since the turn of the 20thcentury, these two music technologies were not initially well suited to each other. Recording equipment available through the mid-1920s could not easily handle the sonic properties of the drum kit, ranging from low, booming bass drum notes to high, metallic cymbal crashes, and the drum kit was typically excluded from the world of the recording studio, requiring drummers to devise strategies to produce usable rhythm tracks, including the use of woodblocks, clop cymbals, fly swatters (a pre-cursor to brushes), and washboards. Drawing on a survey of over 4000 recordings, this paper explores percussive accompaniments from the 1920s and 1930s and demonstrates how drummers’ creative adaptations to the limitations of the recording studio transformed the nature of jazz and other genres of popular music during the inter-war period.
3. Revisionism and Recalibration: American Exceptionalism, Discourses of Place, and the Articulation of Jazz History
Alan Stanbridge, University of Toronto
Standard histories of jazz have tended to focus on the singular contributions of Great Men – Morton, Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Davis – and this idealized discourse of iconic artistic genius has undoubtedly been a primary factor in the shaping of the now well-established jazz canon. But parallel, and likewise romanticized, discourses of place have been equally influential, situating jazz within a rhetoric of ‘authenticity’ that is firmly rooted in similarly iconic geographical sources: New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, New York. From this perspective, international, non- American contributions to jazz are typically regarded as exceptions to the American (and primarily African- American) norm, and jazz remains, at least in the minds of some observers, quintessentially American. Increasingly, however, claims for the specifically geographical and racial provenance of jazz have been highly contested, and it seems hard to deny the distinctiveness and the specificities of many national jazz scenes in Europe – whether, for example, those in Great Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, France, or Norway – which point to a series of unique cultural and musical identities. But if the endlessly cyclical telling and re-telling of the established, canonical story of a singularly American jazz is problematic, then attempts at constructing ‘alternative’ or ‘revisionist’ histories can be fraught with their own problems, not the least of which is that, in the very fact of their alternative posture, these new histories remain fundamentally trapped within the parameters of embedded discourses. In this paper, I explore the impact that the rhetoric of American exceptionalism has had on the development and shaping of jazz in Canada, which, given the geographical proximity of the United States, has perhaps had a harder time achieving – to employ the provocative term prevalent in German scholarship on this topic – the “emancipation” from American jazz models claimed by some European countries.
Keywords: jazz, place, American exceptionalism, revisionism, Canadian jazz