Some Hustling This! Taking Jazz to the World, 1914-1929

Article excerpt

Some Hustling This! Taking Jazz to the World, 1914-1929. By Mark Miller. Toronto: The Mercury Press, 2005. [207 p. ISBN 1-55128-119-8. $19.95] Bibliography, index, photographs.

This is the latest in an impressive series of books by Mark Miller, the jazz critic for the Toronto Globe and Mail. His earlier monographs include The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada and Canadians in Jazz (Toronto: Mercury Press, 2001), Such Melodious Racket: The Lost History of Jazz in Canada, 1914-1949 (Toronto: Mercury Press, 1997), and Cool Blues: Charlie Parker in Canada, 1953 (London, ON: Nightwood Editions, 1989), among others. Miller has also written for Down Beat, Coda, The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada, and other publications.

Four years of research and writing went into this project, which Miller describes as "the product of a much longer interest in the lost, the forgotten and the overlooked in jazz history" (p. 9). As he explains,

The theoretical implications [of] early exposure to, and contact with, American jazz musicians [abroad] have become a popular subject for critical analysis, bringing together . . . the interrelated cultural and sociological themes of modernism, primitivism, exoticism, racism, identity and "otherness." . . . Missing from this body of writing, however, is a basic account of who went where, when, and did what. (p. 11)

Beginning with the first trip of singer-drummer Louis Mitchell to Europe in 1914 with the Southern Symphony Quintette (a ragtime ensemble), and closing with the precipitous demise of a night club Mitchell opened in Paris in 1929 and his subsequent return to the United States, Miller covers the intervening fifteen years, later known as the Jazz Age, during which many American musicians followed Mitchell abroad, bringing their talents and the nascent jazz genre to the far corners of the globe. This is an account of the sojourns by those musicians, only some of whose names are still widely recognized, including Sidney Bechet, Freddie Keppard, "Jelly Roll" Morton, and Willie "The Lion" Smith.

Meticulous research, incisive writing, and clear layout are hallmarks of all of Miller's books. For this project, in addition to checking the normal historical, biographical, and autobiographical print sources, Miller viewed microfilms of many newspapers from around the world, some long defunct. One wonders about the state of his eyes after four years of such research, but these sources proved invaluable. For example, many letters from the musicians them-selves were published in the Chicago Defender and other stateside newspapers, giving first-hand accounts and impressions of their experiences abroad. These provide a significant counterpoint to the reviews published in contemporary newspapers and periodicals.

Puzzled, even hostile, reactions to jazz were a common journalistic theme from the early years. The book's chapter headings cite numerous examples, such as "Fearsome means of discord" (p. 22), "Hellish disharmony" (p. 87), "Noisy antics" (p. 40), "Half a dozen cacophonists" (p. 105), and "Squirmy cerulean harmony" (p. 118). Another theme the book explores was the marketing of, and reporting about, "race artists" (p. 166), i.e., black musicians. The book's title derives from a laudatory 1917 review of Louis Mitchell's drumming with the second band he led in London, the Seven Spades. As Miller points out, the

racial inference [of the band's name] was direct, unlike the subtler geographic allusion, for example, of 'Southern Symphony Quintette.' . . . [F]ew black jazz bands working in Europe even in the 1920s announced their ethnicity so explicitly. At this early date, though, 'Seven Spades' may well have been chosen to celebrate the group's race as one of its defining attractions, (pp. 34-35)

Coverage of, for instance, the opening of the Five Jazzing Devils in Kristiana (later Oslo) in 1921, and of Thompson's Jazz Band in Copenhagen in 1923, was typical of that found in many foreign newspapers in its "pointedly racist rhetoric," including "simplistic allusions to . …

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.