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A Comparative Study of the Development of Ragtime and Dixieland Between 1850 and 1920s

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Blues, work songs, ragtime, spirituals, and minstrel songs were, in their own ways, all part of the great "Africanization of American music" that was originated by enslaved Africans in the southern United States. But the greatest of the musical forms developed in this process was jazz--one of the major American contributions to world culture. Each of these forms of music made essential contributions to the development of jazz itself but each, more or less, retained its own integrity and none could be said to have been transformed into jazz. What differentiated Jazz from these earlier styles was the widespread use of improvisation, often by more than one player at a time. Jazz represented a break from Western musical traditions, where the composer wrote a piece of music on paper and the musicians then tried their best to play exactly what was in the score. In a Jazz piece, the song is often just a starting point or frame of reference for the musicians to improvise around. The song might have been a popular ditty or blues that they didn't compose, but by the time they were finished with it they had composed a new piece that often bore little resemblance to the original song. Many of these virtuoso musicians were not good sight readers and some could not read music at all, nevertheless their playing thrilled audiences and the spontaneous music they created captured a joy and sense of adventure that was an exciting and radical departure from the music of that time. The first Jazz was played by African-American and Creole musicians in New Orleans. The cornet player, Buddy Bolden is generally considered to be the first real Jazz musician. Other early players included Freddie Keppard, Bunk Johnson and Clarence Williams. Although these musicians names are unknown to most people, then and now, their ideas are still being elaborated to this day. Most of these men could not make a living with their music and were forced to work menial jobs to get by. Throughout the growth of jazz music, various forms were created and developed in different geographic regions. Two very notable styles of jazz music are Ragtime and Dixieland. This paper will analyze and explore the development of both Ragtime and Dixieland throughout the late 19th century and early 20th century.

Ragtime rhythms appeared in print as early as the first half of the nineteenth century, but the first published ragtime piece is generally acknowledged to be "Mississippi Rag", composed by William Krell in 1897. Later that same year, Tom Turpin became the first black composer to publish a ragtime composition with his work "Harlem Rag." Both are well crafted and suggest that the ragtime style had been in incubation for some time prior to their appearance.

By the turn of the century, the ragtime craze was in full swing, so much so that highbrow critics felt compelled to attack it. "Ragtime's days are numbered," declared Metronome magazine. "We are sorry to think that anyone should imagine that ragtime was of the least musical importance. It was a popular wave in the wrong direction." That same year, the American Federation of Musicians ordered its members to desist from playing ragtime, declaring that "the musicians know what is good, and if the people don't, we will have to teach them." 1

In the midst of this rapid dissemination of a new musical style, the term "rag" invariably became both overused and misapplied, often being employed to denote a wide range of African-American musical idioms. Many pieces from this period use the word "rag" in their title while bearing little resemblance to what has come to be known as "classic" rag style, just as many so-called "blues" compositions strayed, sometimes considerably, from the standard twelve-bar form. Nevertheless as the style evolved, ragtime developed into a structured four-theme form, with each melody typically encompassing sixteen bars. The most common form for these classic rag pieces was AABBACCDD, with a modulation to a different key typically employed for the C theme.

Although the published ragtime compositions came to include vocal works and band arrangements, this style reached its highest pitch as a form of solo piano music. In many ways, the spread of this jubilant new music went hand in hand with the growing popularity of pianos in turn-of-the-century American households. Between 1890 and 1909, total piano production in the United States grew from under 100,000 instruments per year to over 350,000--and it is worth noting that 1909 marked the peak level not only in American piano production, but also in the number of ragtime pieces published. By 1911, a staggering 295 separate companies manufacturing pianos had set up operations in the United States, with another 69 businesses producing piano supplies. During this same period, player pianos increasingly

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