Sunday, October 13, 2019

Columbus Day Seemingly Prompts Jazz Screed in 1919

A minor interest here is the diffusion of jazz in the early 20th century. The word and evidence for a kind of jazz first appeared in Salem newspapers in 1917. Its frequency of use picked up in text, and as popular culture it was seemingly embraced by a significant subculture.

August 2nd, 1919
In 1919 the only visible celebration of Columbus Day was a dance held by the Knights of Columbus and Daughters of Isabella for soldiers returned from the war. With the conservative sponsorship, perhaps jazz was not featured. The small notices in the paper do not discuss the music.

October 13th, 1919
Perhaps coincidentally, or perhaps not, as it touches on many of the themes Columbus Day expresses and invokes, the holiday also seemed to prompt an editorial screed against jazz.

"The jazz is a relapse to the barbaric music"
(October 13th, 1919)
Here's the whole:
JAZZ is a word so newly coined that it does not appear in the latest dictionaries. It is applied to rythmic clamor produced by a medley of more or less discordant musical instruments. Apparently there is little attempt at harmony and none at melody. The blatant jars and discords are popularly supposed to add "pep" to the noise.

The jazz is a relapse to the barbaric music of primitive peoples. It can be heard in the wilds of Africa as the natives beat their tom-toms and whang their crude musical instruments. To it the South Sea islanders writhe their sensuous contortions and the dancing girls of the orient sinuously whirl. Even the American Red-Skin galloped his tribal dances to a stately jazz.

The jazz has succeeded rag-time as the popular music, and like it is a jungle gift from the American negro. Naturally, as it degraded music from civilized to savage standards, it has lowered the dance to vulgarity, a source of disgust to the spectator and frequently debasement to the participant. The jazz dance is a discord in civilized society, though harmonizing well with the jungle.

The popularity of the jazz is symptomatic of the times. It reflects the popular unrest and discontent, the breaking away from established standards and the return to the primitive in the search for the new. After the strain of five years of fighting, the world has a bad case of "nerves" and the noise of jazz succeeds the noise of battle, for music has lost its charms in the discord of war.

The jazz is not confined to music. We have it popularized as "futurism" in art, a crazy attempt to out do the aboriginal in primitiveness. We have it popularized in politics as Bolshevism, a fantastic and frenzied effort to turn society upside down and elevate brawn by decapitating brains. We have it popularized in business in the almost universal profiteering of the money-mad. We have it in industry in the frequency of needless strikes. We have also the jazz in the United States senate in the brain storm over the league of nations and the unending clamor of abuse hurled at the President. Let us hope as conditions return to the normal, the jazz will go the way of the rag.
September 22nd, 1919
The racist themes are obvious, and it is also interesting to see how jazz is aligned politically with Bolshevism and strikes. So much of the pearl-clutching is in bad faith! (But there is also truth: Jazz was indeed commodified in the new media of records and their marketing and distribution.)

Back to Columbus Day, altogether it does not seem to matter much in 1919, and we might adduce this to arguments for cancelling Columbus Day and transferring the national holiday to another day, like Election Day.

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