7571Re: [RedHotJazz] My Banjo On My Knee was RedHotJazz
- Jul 27, 2009[ADMIN : I have no idea why this post had been blocked by Yahoo, and only appeared today as a "pending message". Sorry about this - Patrice]
I don't know enough about the use of stringed instruments in N.O. jazz to comment on whether or not the guitar or banjo ruled before 1914; however, due to the well documented facts concerning the development of the guitar in the U.S., I would lean toward the banjo. But, with no real knowledge, I will give you that.
However, in regard to claiming the guitar was the predominant instrument in string bands (I assume this is an all encompassing designation), I would have to disagree; the guitar, as well as the mandolin and other stringed instruments were in these bands, but the banjo reigned. While minstrel bands are not PC, they did exist, and they were string bands, and it was the banjo, not the guitar that was the focal point. In ragtime, the banjo was predominant. Rural string bands were centered on the fiddle, with the banjo backing it up, until the '20s. Even then on the recordings from the early '20s, the guitar played a back-up role, with it being used to play bass runs, a la Riley Puckett, not chords; however, even then, the banjo was still being used. One would have to discount the large orchestras fielded in the tens and teens by Van Eps and Ossman (both five string players in the classical tradition who both recorded in the 1890s and formed
bands not long afterward) to claim the guitar was the preeminent instrument in string bands. Here is a link to pictures of a few banjo orchestras, with about half from or predating 1915: http://www.classicbanjo.com/groups.php , and here is one to an archive of Ossman and he an his orchestra's cylinder recordings: http://www.archive.org/search.php?query=creator:"Vess+L+Ossman.
Up until the teens and into the '20s the guitar was not predominate as it was not the instrument as it is today; it was primarily a parlor instrument used to accompany singing by refined ladies in lieu of or augmenting the piano. It would be a mistake to imagine the early guitarists with today's powerhouses. The Martin company, the leader in building more substantial guitars did not bring out the OOO version (the auditorium guitar, a term that gives a clue as to the ability to project of previous guitars) until 1902, and, by today's standards, it is rather wimpish--it is primarily used by folkies (Paul Simon uses one) or for "unplugged" events (something that seems to have disappeared). Martin didn't begin producing steel string guitars until 1922, and it was not until 1929 that they came out with the OM-28, which was the first guitar to be built specifically for steel strings. Before 1922 a guitarist in a jazz band would be using an
instrument akin to today's classical, nylon stringed guitar, which no one would claim can rival the "bite" of the banjo. This was about the time they came out with the dreadnought, which was a real monster back then, but today is a medium sized acoustic compared to Gibson's Super Jumbo.
The first real jazz guitar, the Gibson L5 arch-top wasn't produced until 1925, and Gibson made few sales until 1930. When one considers the convergence of the foregoing events, the demise of the banjo around 1930 appears to have been inevitable. However, prior to the construction of a robust guitar taht could hold its own with the horns and reeds, the idea that, while it was undoubtedly used in jazz bands, it was a serious challenger to the banjo in all string ensembles prior to the mid '20s seems hardly credible.
Here is a link to a little blurb about the history of the four string banjo. The introductory quote by Thomas J. Armstrong speaks to the issue. I can't recall, but did anyone mention Bud Scott, a banjoist that is said to have played with John Robichaux (possibly as early as 1904) and Freddie Keppard?
From: David Brown <johnhaleysims@...>
Sent: Saturday, July 25, 2009 3:54:19 AM
Subject: RE: [RedHotJazz] My Banjo On My Knee was RedHotJazz
Many Thanks to Charles and Sheik
I have dug out St Cyr (born 1890) and he is specific that he did not play
banjo till 1914 when he made his own combining banjo body and guitar neck.
He does not say why he switched or whether he continued, as I suppose, to
play guitar. I posit that before this time the guitar was the standard
instrument in N.O. for jazz and string bands and all photographic evidence I
can find supports this. The first photo of a N.O. band with banjo is the
Piron/Williams of (c) 1914 which has two, a short and long neck, the latter
played by St Cyr. This and other photos are available online in the Jazz
Archivist at Tulane. What would have been the impetus at this moment to
switch ? One of the photos of this band shows them in rural minstrel attire,
is that a clue ? The second (?) N.O. band to record, the Louisiana 5 in
1918, used banjo.
Checking discographies I find the banjo prominent if not dominant till
remarkably consistently about 1930. At this point banjoists begin to double
and in a mere year or two the banjo has virtually disappeared. I suggest
therefore that the banjo's relatively brief 15 year career in the jazz
limelight was insufficient to give it the status as insignia of traditional
jazz authenticity. Again I suggest the reason was that it was coincidentally
in use, for reasons of greater audibility, during the era of the early and
influential classic jazz recordings.
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