This Week On Riverwalk Jazz: The Test Of Time: A Century Of Song


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This week on Riverwalk Jazz, The Jim Cullum Jr. Jazz Band gives the “hot rhythm treatment” to rags, parlor songs and spirituals composed a century or more ago. From Jack Norworth’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” to Kerry Mills' Cakewalk “At a Georgia Camp Meeting” and Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” we’ll explore the roots of hot jazz in a century of song, with help from guest artists Topsy Chapman, Bob Barnard, Mike Walbridge, Evan Christopher and Kenny Davern.

The program is distributed in the US by Public Radio International, on Sirius/XM satellite radio and can be streamed on-demand from the Riverwalk Jazz website.

How did music in America get hot, when it started out sounding so straight-laced? What was shaking things up on the music scene a hundred years ago?

Imagine yourself walking down a city street, listening to your iPod, in about 1908. You might be surprised by the variety of music available in those days—long before there were any recordings of jazz and blues. Your playlist back then could have ranged from a genteel waltz to a military march by John Phillip Sousa to the raucous sound of black vaudeville.

The music publishing district in lower Manhattan, nicknamed “Tin Pan Alley," was cranking out volumes of sentimental popular songs about motherhood, unrequited love, and newfangled gadgets like telephones and automobiles.

A couple of dance fads shook things up. The black vaudeville team of Williams and Walker sparked a craze called the Cakewalk. The press condemned it as a disgusting “sex dance,” but everyone in America, from the upstairs maid to the Vanderbilts, just had to learn it.

A few years later the piano rags of Scott Joplin made the Cakewalk passé. Ragtime turned into far more than a dance fad—its raggedy rhythms found their way into the heart of American music and set the scene for a new music just around the corner.

Jazz came strutting out onto the vaudeville stage, stealing melodies from the song factories of Tin Pan Alley. Brass bands in New Orleans and elsewhere had supplied legions of players skilled on cornets, clarinets, trombones, and tubas. From the majestic 300-year tradition of African American musical forms, jazz was infused with blues tonality and hot, syncopated rhythm.

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