Early Jazz


Ragtime is a style of music that was played by many different types of groups but is known primarily as a piano style and it is in the area of piano that the style has survived. It is a highly syncopated style of music that was centered in Sedalia, Mo. It is considered by many to be outside the realm of jazz because, in large part, the music was written down and not improvised. Much of the music, was published and was responsible for the sale of many pianos due to the fact that the piano was the center of family entertainment at the turn of the century. Anyone could purchase the "sheet music" and learn to play their favorite rags.


1. More written than improvised.
2. Usually played on a piano.
3. Highly syncopated.
4. The form of classic ragtime follows the form of a standard march wherein there are equal, repeated strains of 16 measures.
5. The rhythm of ragtime is 2/4 .

Perhaps the greatest known composer of rags was Scott Joplin. He composed hundresds of rags including "Maple Leaf Rag" and "The Entertainer". The movie "The Sting" used his music as a background score and led to a revivial of sorts. His music is readily availabe on CD. Another very famous ragtime player and composer was Jelly Roll Morton. In addition to his solo piano playing he had a wonderful group called the "Red Hot Peppers" not to be confused with the more current Red Hot CHILI Peppers

Harlem stride piano or simply stride, was the first jazz style to develop somewhere other than in the South. Its "inventor", James P. Johnson was born in New Jersey and the music had its greatest success in uptown New York City: Harlem. The "stride" in the title came from the ;practice of playing the bass note and chords in the left hand by "striding" over the keyboard to accomplish this. It was played at "rent parties" where the tennant threw a party to raise the next monthís rent. These parties would go on all night long until enough money was raised. There were often more than one piano player since the music never stopped. This led to a lot of "cutting" contests where each player would try to outdo the preceeding player. It also provided a good setting for a lot of experimentation.


1. It was an extension of ragtime.
2. Stride players applied the style to any tune they wanted to play.
3. Unlike ragtime, stride was more improvised than written.
4. Stride was generally played at much faster tempi than ragtime, which demanded a higher level of technique and execution.

Generally considered to be the most exciting stride player was Thomas "Fats" Waller. From 1935 to 1943 he was one of the hottest entertainment properties in the country and had careers enough for 3 men. Only Louis Armstrong was more popular. Fortunately his legacy is immense: over 500 records as a soloist, accompanist and small group member. An examination of the man and the music is well advised.

The party atmosphere of New Orleans provided many opportunities for musicians to play. In addition many dixieland bands played for funerals in a very unique way. Going to the cemetery the music was slow and dirge-like, while after the burial the music was joyous .

The makeup of the New Orleans dixieland bands was fairly standard and arrived at due to the playing circumstances. Since they played outdoors a great deal and had to march, all the instruments had to be portable. The standard instrumentation is : trumpet(or cornet), clarinet, trombone, banjo, drums and tuba(Sousaphone). All of these could be played while walking and they all had a specific part to play. Not a written part as such but a particular function. The cornet(trumpet) played the melody, the clarinet played a melody (countermelody) above the trumpet, the trombone was responsible for the low harmony parts, the banjo provided the chords, the tuba the bass notes and the drums, the beat. They all improvised together in a fashion called collective improvisation. The cornet, clarinet and trombone were known as the front line. The rhythm of NO Dixieland was a steady 4/4 with every beat receiving the same amount of accent. Solos as such were not that prevalent and it would not be until Chicago Dixieland that this was to change.

When Storyville was closed many musicians migrated to many other parts of the country. In Chicago the music began to change in several ways. The instrumentation was slightly different because no longer was a lot of the playing done outdoors. Therefore all the instruments didnít need to be portable. The piano replaced the banjo, the string bass replaced the tuba, a saxophone was added and collective improvisation fell by the wayside. There was also a drastic change in the rhythm from flat four 4/4 to 2/4. This in part, was due to the fact that by adding a piano player who played in the ragtime style of 2/4 the other members of the group were exposed to this new rhythmic feeling which was not as stiff. The other major change was in the improvisation. Collective improvisation was out and the individual soloist was in. As you will see, one man, Louis "Pops" Armstrong was largely responsible for this change.