Jazz, Social Commentary, and the Harlem Renaissance

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Welcome to Hearing Harlem!

Welcome to Hearing Harlem!

The luster of twentieth-century America was seductive. The age of modernity was ushered in by the automobile, motion picture, radio, and transatlantic flight. The mores of the Victorian era were crushed by a Prohibition-induced defiance. The 19th amendment to the Constitution of the United States bestowed 

“Black and Tan Fantasy”

“Black and Tan Fantasy”

Duke Ellington and “Black and Tan Fantasy”   Nearly a year (10/26/1927) after their recording of “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo,” Duke Ellington and His Orchestra entered the Victor Talking Machine Co. in Camden, New Jersey, where they recorded multiple takes of “Black and Tan Fantasy” with 

Ellington and “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.”

Ellington and “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo.”

By late 1926, Ellington began to reveal an idiosyncratic compositional style.  This musical language, which was not aligned with the modus operandi of the black intelligentsia, was predicated upon blues elements and forms, call-and response sequences, riffs and shouts, improvisational breaks and fills, polyrhythms and 

Ellington, Perseverance, and NYC.

Ellington, Perseverance, and NYC.

Ellington’s first venture to New York was in February of 1923. He was asked by bandleader and banjoist, Elmer Snowden to join his ensemble for an engagement in Harlem’s Lafayette Theater. Ellington recollected his time with Snowden, “We [Ellington, Miley, and Hardwick] joined him in 

Ellington, Ragtime, and His First Composition

Ellington, Ragtime, and His First Composition

Ellington, Ragtime, and His First Composition Ellington revealed, at an early age, to be drawn to the pastime of baseball. However, his mother, who tended to dote on him, witnessed her son take a blow to the back of the head by a “boy [who] 

Black and Tan Fantasy: Duke Ellington and the Harlem Renaissance

Black and Tan Fantasy: Duke Ellington and the Harlem Renaissance

Black and Tan Fantasy: Duke Ellington and the Harlem Renaissance   My men and my race are the inspiration of my work. I try to catch the character and mood and feeling of my people. The music of my race is something more than the 

The Charleston and Its Role in Defining the Jazz Age

The Charleston and Its Role in Defining the Jazz Age

The Charleston and Its Role in Defining the Jazz Age It is apparent that “Charleston,” and its accompanying dance, not only played instrumental roles in the racial uplift of pre-WWII Harlem but, by transcending its initial racial implications, had an acute impact during and after 

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Refrain

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Refrain

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Refrain The form of “Charleston” contests convention, to say the least. The 1920s established a codified musical system for the structure of popular songs—the AABA, thirty-two bar format. This methodized practice was proliferated by the composers of “Tin Pan Alley,” 

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Verse

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Verse

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Verse     With the verse, Johnson modulates to the submediant, G-minor This is prefigured by the arpeggiated D7 chord in the final bar of the introduction. The first two bars present the tonic harmony: Gm—Gm7—Gm6. In the third measure, 

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Introduction

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Introduction

Diggin’ into “Charleston” – The Introduction As published in 1923 by Harms Incorporated of New York, “Charleston” is an infectiously syncopated composition built on a verse-chorus (AB) song form. From the onset, Johnson presents the audience with the primary rhythmic motive and his harmonic invention 

James P. Johnson and the Soundtrack to the Jazz Age

James P. Johnson and the Soundtrack to the Jazz Age

James P. Johnson and “Charleston.” If James P.’s contributions to the history and tradition of jazz ended with “Carolina Shout,” he would assuredly be included in the pantheon of the music’s elite. However, his humanity—his desire to provide a salve for the homesick denizens from