Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Jazz first comes to Salem in 1917

August 8th, 1917
One of the interesting things to come out of reading about Riverside Dip was the fact that once the summer bathing season was over, it also had a "dancing pavilion." And even more interesting than the mere existence of the pavilion was the sudden appearance of "jazz" in Salem.*
Have you heard of the Jazz band and the jazz music and the new jazz dance? While very few of the up-to-date dancers are dancing the jazz dance, never the less the jazz band and jazz music is with us and will make its first appearance next Saturday evening at the dancing pavilion of of Riverside Dip. Lyle Bartholomew, who has charge of the Dip during the afternoons will probably also superintend the dancing pavilion. A jazz band to be a real jazz band must include a piano, xylophone, drums and either banjo or saxophone. All the musical instruments must be of the loud kind in order to make more noise than the walking feet of the dancers. The jazz dance is coming.
The word doesn't seem to have appeared in the paper before 1916. In 1916 it first appears.** The context is baseball, though, not music.

May 16th, 1916
The hive mind at wikipedia claims this baseball context was the first use of the word: "The earliest known references to jazz are in the sports pages of various West Coast newspapers covering the Pacific Coast League..." They cite a use in 1912 as the first known instance.

In this citation, Frank Chance, who "still has plenty of jazz," was in 1916 managing the Los Angeles Angels, a PCL team at the time. So this would be an unsurprising first instance for here in Salem.

As music, jazz first appears here in Salem the following year, in 1917.

Here's the first instance I could find, in a music store ad for "the latest jazz - rag selections for players."

May 12th, 1917
A month later "lovers of that new creation which it taking the country by storm - the 'Jazz' band - will have an opportunity to hear it in its fullness tonight...."

June 26th, 1917
The "Jazz one step" looks like Abe Olman's "Oh Johnny, oh Johnny, oh!" (a version with lyrics here, and more on it here) which came out in May of 1917, just a few months after the break-through hit "Dixieland Jass One Step." These were white composers and white musicians, it is important to note.

But it is remarkable that distribution and sales of the records and sheet music conveyed the meme of jazz to Salem in mere months. I was expecting the diffusion of pop culture to take longer to reach here. In print nationally, the word has been documented in the cities along the Mississippi for only a year or two previously. So this really seems like a rapid transmission of the meme of America's great home-grown art.

September 11th, 1917
I say meme of jazz because it's not necessarily clear that what the band was playing is what a person from a big city along the Mississippi would recognize as jazz. The word is here, but maybe not a full musical expression. With local musicians it was almost certainly an interpretation of variable accuracy - an imitation, even appropriation. There was uncertainty: At the Cherrian jitney dance, there was need to distinguish "genuine jazz music" from something inauthentic, to question whether dancers themselves should "jazz," and whether it might be a passing fad or something more enduring. It's like Salemites were trying on the new costume to see if the meme fit. With the music came a style, a whole cultural form, subject to local interpretation. So even at this early stage it was a complex meme, not merely a one-dimensional fad, or music only.

What it all means is hard to say. There's a profoundly knotted history here.

You may recall that "Birth of a Nation" was very popular here in July of 1916, and it enjoyed a return engagement in August of 1917. Throughout the 1900s and 19-teens, Minstrel shows were popular here also.

Here's an ad for a home-grown Minstrel show in 1908. In an article the day of the show, local civic leaders in the Elks are illustrated with caricatures. (You can see them yourself, but they exploit loathsome racist tropes, and do not seem worth reproducing. Here is a review on the second day.)

March 7th, 1908
 Here's advertorial for a show a few years later in 1915.

November 6th, 1915
It also expresses a very casual racism:

Punch Jones Black and Tan Rag Time Opera and Minstrels with their funny comedians, their dancing girls gowned in the height of fashion will lend an enchantment to the scene at the Bligh for Sunday and Monday. The show is of an entirely different nature than an ordinary minstrel show that tours the country now a days. The attraction being composed of some of the foremost performers of the black race. Punch Jones and George Cashmere the principal comedians. Jones is a monologist in a class by himself and a comedian that does not resort to vulgarity or personality to get out a laugh. Cassmere [sic] an excellent dancer and singer makes a good foil for Jones. Splendid singing by singers who know how to sing all graduates from the Booker T. Washington school of voice will be heard during the action of the show, and what is sweeter than songs of the sunny south as sung by the darkies in their own melodious way. Buck and wing dancing, soft shoe dancing and classic dancing is worked through the bill. The press from recent cities where the company has played speak in glowing terms of their entertainment.
Blacks in Blackface: A Sourcebook on Early Black Musical Shows cites a Punch Jones once only, and does not list George Cashmere. Online newspapers suggest Jones and Cashmere were touring other smaller Oregon cities at this time. They also show up in the Sierra foothills, and may be principally a regional troupe.

So this is something of the context for the first reception of jazz in Salem. Unsurprisingly, it was exotic and a little transgressive.

The history of jazz is a giant, fascinating, and important topic, and it may be possible to come back to it. Maybe we will find some first-person accounts of what these first concerts were like. Maybe you know more about the history of jazz and can fill in or correct some of the details. Salem never developed a jazz scene the way Portland did, largely a matter of demographics, and it will likely be more difficult to retrieve a meaningful history. But it's our great home-grown art form and worth knowing about.

* "Music in Salem: 1900 - 1930," in Marion County History, vol. iv, June 1958, is not very informative on popular music.

** This is based on the Daily Capital Journal. The Statesman might show a slightly different result, and maybe we can come back to verifying that. But I would not expect a greatly different result.

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