Jazz is viewed by many as the music of freedom, of creativity and emotion, yet it arose out of the stench of slavery and bondage.
Americans are proud of their heritage, and many are happy to proclaim that it is the home of jazz. On February 26, 1917 in Chicago, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, an all-white band from New Orleans, recorded Dixie Jass Band One-Step, for the Victor Talking Machine Company having previously auditioned for, and been rejected by, Colombia. One-Step was a dance; on the other side of the shellac 78rpm disc is Livery Stable Blues, a foxtrot.
The previous dance ‘craze’ was ragtime, itself a hotchpotch of influences.
“The ‘light rag’ was based on a dance called the Cake Walk which was performed at minstrel shows. This dance was based on a dance called the Pride Walk performed by black plantation workers, descendants of African slaves. This dance in turn was a parody of dances performed by their masters.”
The genesis of jazz was among African slaves who retained something of their music culture as they were transported across the Atlantic. Once started, jazz soon circled the globe and reached Batavia just two years later, in 1919. Local senior high school students started their own bands using sheet music and a few 78rpm discs to forge their sounds.
In 1928, they were treated to a real American “negerband“, that of the orchestra of drummer Jack Carter*, whose sound was much better than their scratchy recordings. But that’s another story.
Jazz and African music have both since transcended regional and political borders. Just four of the musicians who head up my compilation are (or were) African-Americans, and Jimmy Dludlu is the only musician whose music has left Africa rather than vice versa. He is South African, as is Steve Eliovsson but whose only album was recorded for the ECM label in Germany while he was living in the States. (Jazz recorded in Africa deserves a separate compilation.)
The late Johnny Dankworth was a major figure in the post WWII British jazz scene, and a mentor to many of the UK’s finest, including John McLaughlin and the recently deceased Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor, who played in his various bands. Dankworth also travelled widely and played with the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman,and Oscar Peterson. His 1961 recording of Galt MacDermot’s African Waltz peaked at No.9 in the UK Singles Chart, and remained in the chart for 21 weeks.
Of the rest, few need an introduction to the Americans Jack DeJohnette and Bill Frisell. Bass player and cellist Lars Danielsson is Swedish – check your ECM and ACT album sleeve notes. Accordionist Régis Gizavo was born in Madagascar and guitarist Nguyên Lê in Vietnam, while bass player extraordinaire Krzysztof Scieranski is Polish.
01. Jack DeJohnette w. Bill Frisell – Ode to South Africa
02. Johnny Dankworth Orchestra – African Waltz
03. Jimmy Dludlu – Afrocentric
04. Chico Freeman – Kings of Mali
05. Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus & Max Roach – Fleurette Africaine
06. Lars Danielsson – Africa
07. Régis Gizavo & Nguyên Lê – South Africa
08. Steve Eliovsson – Africa
09. Krzysztof Scieranski – African Cargo
* Jack Carter is seen and heard here singing Happy Feet in London two years later.)