Jazz, Social Commentary, and the Harlem Renaissance

Author: Michael Conklin

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 

Carolina Shout!

Carolina Shout!

Carolina Shout Invariably, Johnson’s most resolute ‘cut’ piece was his intricate showcase, “Carolina Shout.” A close analysis of the composition, as published in 1926 in sheet music form, should illuminate its profundity as well as Johnson’s desire to retain the call and response patterns, short melodic 

James P. Johnson, the Emergence of Stride, and the Rent Party

James P. Johnson, the Emergence of Stride, and the Rent Party

James P. Johnson, the Emergence of Stride, and the Rent Party   During the following years, Johnson would meet several musicians who would have a substantial influence on his playing–Willie “The Lion” Smith, Richard “Abba Labba” McLean, Luckey Roberts, and Eubie Blake. Each of these 

James P. Johnson

James P. Johnson

YOU’VE GOT TO BE MODERNISTIC: JAMES P. JOHNSON All the licks you hear, now as then, originated with musicians like James P. Johnson. And I mean all the hot licks that ever came out of Fats Waller and the rest of the hot piano boys. 

Ragtime

Ragtime

The blues, a key ingredient in the complex, musical cauldron of the United States, would amalgamate with another popular musical form, ragtime, to create jazz. Like the blues, ragtime began as an oral tradition among the African American community of the nineteenth century. In the 

The Blues

The Blues

By 1860, there were roughly four million Africans enslaved in the United States. Forcibly transplanted to a new land, they brought with them a rich, African heritage—including songs. Adapted to reflect the hardship of forced labor on plantations, field hollers, work songs, laments, and shouts