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"Those Frenchmen Got a Hellova Nerve":
European Jazz Discography and the Creation of a New Art Music, 1932-1976

April 28 - June 5, 2005
Reference area exhibit space, 2nd floor

Exhibit Notes

By Bruce Epperson

When asked what jazz was, Louis Armstrong replied, "Man, if you have to ask, you'll never know." But for over a century, critics, scholars and musicians have not only been asking "what is jazz?" but also "when did it start?" and "where did it come from?" Although the first recognized jazz recording is "Livery Stable Blues," made by a white, Chicago-based small group, the Original Dixieland Jass [sic] Band, in March 1917, scholars now believe that Edison cylinder recordings with recognizable jazz elements were made as early as 1897.

Unlike Americans, who considered jazz just another brand of good-time popular music, soon after World War I a few European critics began to consider it a new form of avant-garde art music. In 1932 a Belgian lawyer, poet and art collector, Robert Goffin, published the first serious book on the new genre, Aux Frontiers du Jazz. However, it was never translated into English. Two years later a French critic, Hugues Panassié, wrote the second serious work, Le Jazz Hot. It wasn't translated into English (as Hot Jazz) until 1936.

The first American book to treat jazz as a serious topic came out in 1938. It was written by Winthrop Sargeant, a staff writer at Life magazine. Sargeant believed that the "swing" in jazz music was not some mysterious racial factor, but an adaptation of complex African multi-rhythms to the relatively simple European dance and hymnal music that transported slaves found in the new world. Ethnographic research in the '50s and '60s proved him right.

But Americans ignored literate critics such as Sargeant and Wilder Hobson, another well-informed amateur, preferring titillating accounts of the birth of jazz in the brothels of New Orleans. It wasn't until pioneering Black music composers such as W.C. Handy and Perry Bradford published their autobiographies in the 1950's and 1960's, verifying the work of the Europeans, which scholars started to realize that America had gotten the story of its own native music wrong. "Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié stirred up a hornet's nest," wrote Bradford. "Those Frenchmen got a hellova nerve," he recalled the American writers complaining huffily.

To back up their claims that jazz should be considered a vernacular-based art, the Europeans fought back with the tool they knew best-technical discography, based on exacting study of all the jazz recordings then known. They meticulously cataloged every known recording by date, location, personnel, order of solos and the individual master copy code, known as a matrix number. They then cross-indexed the matrix number with all the known catalog (or label) numbers each master was known to be issued - sometimes under fake names. The Europeans' work not only supported their claims, but also laid the groundwork for a century of jazz musicology and made possible the legitimization of jazz as America's unique art music.


"Those Frenchmen got a hellova nerve"

The first jazz recording was "Livery Stable Blues" by a white, Chicago-based group, the Original Dixieland Jass Band, in March 1917.

Unlike Americans, who considered jazz just another form of good-time popular music, some European critics soon began to consider its possibilities as a new form of avant-garde art music. In 1932 a Belgian lawyer, poet and art collector, Robert Goffin, published the first serious appraisal of the new genre, Aux Frontiers du Jazz. However, it was never translated into English.

Two years later, a French critic, Hugues Panassié, wrote the second serious work, Le Jazz Hot. It wasn't translated into English until 1936.

BOOK #1: Hugues Panassié, Hot Jazz: The Guide to Swing Music. New York: M. Witmark and Sons, 1936.

The first American book to treat jazz as serious topic came out in 1938. It was written by Winthrop Sargeant, a staff writer at Life magazine, who hung out at Milton Gabler's Commodore Music Shop, just down the street from the Time-Life headquarters. The Commodore was the social center for New York's jazz record collectors. The book was published by a specialty publisher, Arrow Editions, in a small print run.

Sargeant believed that the "swing" in jazz music was not some mysterious inbred instinct peculiar to Negroes, but was instead a logical adaptation of complex African multi-rhythms to the relatively simplistic 3/4 and 4/4 meters of European dance and hymn music that the transported slaves found in the new world. Ethnographic research in the '50s and '60s proved him right, and when the classical composer and conductor Gunther Schuller wrote his masterpiece of jazz musicology, Early Jazz, he said Sargeant, a musical amateur, had been thirty years ahead of his time.

BOOK #2 Winthrop Sargeant, Jazz Hot & Hybrid. New York: Arrow Edition, 1938.

BOOK #3 Gary Giddins, Satchmo. New York: Toby Byron/Doubleday, 1988. (p. 153: picture of the Commodore Music Shop, late 1940s)

BOOK #4, Gunther Schuller, Early Jazz. Its Roots and Musical Development. New York: Oxford University Press, 1968.

But nobody read Sargeant's book. A year later Frederic Ramsey and Charles E. Smith edited an anthology entitled Jazzmen. It became the first best seller about jazz, and has remained in print almost continuously ever since. However, many of its anecdotes have proven unreliable. For example, Ramsey and Smith unearthed an 1895 photo of a New Orleans cornetist named Buddy Bolden and his band, claiming that Bolden should be considered the first true jazz soloist. They asserted that much of his unique style came from his crude, self-taught, left-handed playing. It wasn't until a museum curator at Louisiana State University, Don Marquis, reexamined the photograph used in Jazzmen in 1978 that he discovered that the original print from 1895 had been reversed-the valve bar of an Albert system clarinet runs down the left side of the holes, as viewed by the player. Bolden had been right-handed all along!

BOOK #5, Frederic Ramsey, Jr. and Charles Edward Smith, (eds.) Jazzmen. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939.

BOOK #6 John Edward Hasse, Jazz: The First Century. New York: William Morrow, 2000. (pp. 16-17, the Buddy Bolden band photo as reversed. Buddy Bolden is holding his cornet, in the back row, next to the string bass.)

BOOK #7 Donald M. Marquis. In Search of Buddy Bolden. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978. (pp. 80-81, the Buddy Bolden band with the reversed image corrected.)

Some American authors, such as Sargeant and Wilder Hobson, who knew musicology, realized that jazz came just as much from gospel music and Black musical theater as from the funeral bands and brothels of New Orleans. However, they were drowned out by the titillating romanticism unleashed in Jazzmen of jazz as "whorehouse music." It wasn't until some of the pioneering Black music composers, such as W.C. Handy and Perry Bradford, published their autobiographies in the 1950's and 1960's and verified the work of the Europeans, that scholars started to realize that America had gotten the story of its own native music wrong. "Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié stirred up a hornet's nest when they revealed in Hot Jazz Discography that the background on vocal blues and jazz folksongs-the only cultural exhibit America has give to the world-was the brainchild of an early band of American Negroes," said Bradford. Bradford recalled that American writers initially dismissed the overseas critics: "Those Frenchmen got a hellova nerve," he laughed.

The Europeans' technical research, as exemplified in their meticulous discographies, proved to be the weapon they used to show up the Americans at their own game.

BOOK #8 Wilder Hobson, American Jazz Music. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1939. (pp. 64-65, transcript of W.C. Handy's "Yellow Dog Blues.")

BOOK #9 David A. Jasen and Gene Jones, Spreadin' Rhythm Around: Black Popular Songwriters, 1880-1930. New York: Schirmer Books, 1998. (pp. 224-225, biography of W.C. Handy)

BOOK #10 Perry Bradford, Born With the Blues. New York: Oak Publications, 1965.


Discography: The Thankless Science

For Europeans, jazz meant jazz records. They were expensive, wore out quickly, and at three minutes long, reduced the most profligate soloist to a single thirty-two bar chorus, gone in thirty to forty seconds. But expensive ocean travel and restrictive European labor laws made concert tours almost impossible until after World War Two, so continental jazz fans became enthusiastic record collectors. With no late-night club hours, many of the best-known critics came from the middle and upper classes. Belgian Robert Goffin was a lawyer. In England, columnist and author "Francis Newton" was a pseudonym for economist/professor/historian Eric Hobsbawm.

BOOK #11, Robert Goffin (Walter Schaap and Leonard Feather, trans.), Jazz from the Congo to the Metropolitan. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran & Co., 1944.

BOOK #12, Francis Newton [Eric J. Hobsbawm], The Jazz Scene. London: MacGibbon and Kee, 1959.

BOOK #13, Eric J. Hobsbawm, The Jazz Scene. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.

BOOK #14, Eric J. Hobsbawm, Interesting Times: A Twentieth Century Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 2002.

In 1936, another Englishman, Hilton Schleman, wrote Rhythm on Record: A Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Bands. Published by the British music weekly Melody Maker, it was the first jazz discography.

BOOK #15, Hilton Schleman, Rhythm on Record: A Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Bands, London, Melody Maker, Ltd., 1936 [since rebound].

BOOK #16, Hilton Schleman, Rhythm on Record: A Who's Who and Register of Recorded Dance Bands, London, Melody Maker, Ltd., 1936 [original binding].

Schleman was a born collector, not a jazz scholar. Critic Stanley Dance, who helped him, reported that after the book was done he turned from records to cigarette cards. A few months after Rhythm on Record, Charles Delunay came out with the Hot Discography. The first edition (1936) and the second edition (1938), were in French, but in 1940 Milt Gabler of the Commodore Music Shop paid for a third edition in English, printed in New York.

BOOK #17. Charles Delaunay. Hot Discography. New York: Commodore Music Shop, 1940.

Schleman organized his records by catalog, or label, number, but Delaunay had the foresight to organize the Hot Discography by matrix number.


Of Men and Matrix Numbers

Record companies of the era often leased out their master recordings to other firms, frequently without the permission of the artists. The other companies typically re-issued the recording under a different title, or even under a fake band name, all to avoid paying royalties. On the other hand, musicians were not adverse to recording the same tune with two or three different record companies. Thus, the catalog number (the number on a record's label) was often meaningless. What mattered was the matrix number, the code number engraved into the matrix, or master disc, readable in the shellac itself just outside of where the label is pasted.

For example, on November 29, 1926, Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra recorded "East St. Louis Toodle-O" for Vocalion, the "race records" subsidiary of Brunswick. It was assigned matrix number E-4510W. By 1938 it had appeared under the following catalog numbers: Vocalion 1064; Brunswick 3480; Brunswick (France) 500247; Brunswick (England) 01681.

By the following spring, Duke Ellington was a star, and on March 14, 1927 the Duke and his Kentucky Club Orchestra recorded for Brunswick again, but this time in the "big" Brunswick studio in Chicago. The matrix number for this version (now "East St. Louis Toodle-oo") was E21871-2-3. By 1948 it had been issued as Brunswick 3480; Brunswick 6801; Brunswick 80000; Brunswick 500247, Brunswick (England) 02299; Brunswick (Germany) A403; and Brunswick (Germany) 81064.

Note that catalog number Brunswick 6801 could be either from the November 1926 or March 1927 recording session!

On March 22 (or 27), 1927 Duke Ellington and his Washingtonians recorded "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" for giant Columbia. It took three tries, and was assigned matrix number W.143705-3 (the -3 standing for the third "take"). By 1948, it had been issued under these catalog numbers: Columbia 953D; Columbia (England) 4420; Parlaphone (England) R2202.

BOOK #18: John Edward Hasse, Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993. (pp. 90-91, ad for "East St. Louis Toodle-O" and text explaining problems with the various versions of the name.)

It's easy to see why the matrix number is so important and the catalog number often so useless. Lest this be seen as an oddity from the early days of recording, when John Coltrane's 1966 Long-Playing album "Ascension" was issued (a single 40-minute song spanning both sides of the LP), the masters for the first and second takes were mistakenly switched, and the second take was used for the entire second printing, even though the order of the solos on the album cover didn't match the music!


After World War II: Bop and Beyond

World War Two disrupted most European jazz. Hugues Panassié's long-awaited second English-language book, The Real Jazz, was published in New York in 1942 only after an onion-skin manuscript was smuggled out of Vichy France.

BOOK #19: Hugues Panassié, The Real Jazz. New York: Smith and Durrell, 1942.

It was rumored that in France, Charles Delaunay had completed a new edition of Hot Discography, but unlike Panassié, couldn't get it out of the occupied zone. In America, Orin Blackstone published the first of a four-volume set called the Index to Jazz for a private patron in 1944. In 1947 The Record Changer, a small jazz magazine based in suburban Washington, D.C., reprinted all four books with some outstanding cover art.

BOOKS ##20-22: Orin Blackstone, Index to Jazz, Vols. I-III. Fairfax, VA: The Record Changer, 1947.

Delaunay's New Hot Discography finally made it out in 1948. It was published by a major American publishing house in at least three separate printings-not only a first for a jazz discography, but also probably a first for any technical discography.

BOOK #23: Charles Delaunay; Walter Schaap and George Avakian eds., New Hot Discography. New York: Criterion, 1948.

Other European and European expatriate-jazz aficionados were attempting to untangle other snarls getting in the way of accurate jazz scholarship. Leonard Feather started work for the English labels Decca and British Columbia in the mid-1930's, moved from London to New York shortly before the war, and eventually settled in Hollywood. He published his Encyclopedia of Jazz, a biographical compendium of every known jazz musician who would respond to his letter of inquiry, in 1955.

It was eventually published in five different editions, not counting reprints, the most recent of which was issued in 1999, two years after Feather's death. The first two editions of the book even listed the home address for each musician! In 1960, trumpeter Richard "Blue" Mitchell lived at 1818 NW 3rd Court in Miami, just north of Overtown.

BOOK #24: Leonard Feather: The Encyclopedia of Jazz. (second edition). New York: Bonanza Books, 1960. (p. 335, "Blue" Mitchell entry)

BOOK #25: Leonard Feather and Ira Gitler: The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

BOOK #26: Graham Marsh and Glyn Callingham: Blue Note Album Cover Art: The Ultimate Collection. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2002. (pp. 182-182, Blue Mitchell album "Bring it Home to Me.")

But the greatest of all the discographers was (and is!) Englishman Brian Rust. Starting in the late 1950's Rust set out to catalog every jazz recording made in the traditional era. He self-published his Jazz Records, A to Z, 1897-1931 in loose-leaf format in 1961. The fourth edition, in two hardback volumes and extended to 1941, was published in the United States in 1972. In 1976, Rust published an even more comprehensive discography of dance band music from 1917 to 1942. In 2003, a sixth edition of Brian Rust's Jazz Discography was published. He continues to actively research the discographic history of the blues, ragtime, gospel, Black theatre music and jazz.

BOOKS #27-28: Brian Rust, The American Dance Band Discography, 1917-1942. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1976. 2 volumes.

BOOK #29: Jim Godbolt, A History of Jazz in Britain, 1919-50. London: Quartet Books, 1984. (Facing p. 178, photo of Brian Rust).

Americans have followed Rust's pioneering efforts mostly by cataloging the recordings of individual musicians or bands. For example, D. Russell Connor has spent thirty years perfecting the discographic history of clarinet player and bandleader Benny Goodman. This is his second effort, from 1969.

BOOK #30: D. Russell Connor and Warren Hicks, BG on the Record: A Bio-Discography of Benny Goodman. New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1969.

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