The Jacque Schafer Trio

 Listen,  read 1930's & 1940's Music History
What we speak of today as the "classic standards" or Jazz standards,, the music and lyrics that have endured for more than 90 years with new iterations and arrangements even today, began with the African-American rhythms and harmonies just before the turn of the 20th century.

New Orleans to New York and "Hot Jazz"

 The earliest New Orleans Jazz musicians, Kid Ory (trombone) King Oliver (cornet) and Jelly Roll Morton, among others, caught on to the new rhythmic beat, planted the seeds of  the new songs, and inspired lyricists and arrangers who came after.

The new music caught the ear and imagination of the American people, especially the young who sought after
the pulsating excitement of jazz, referred to as "Hot Jazz", or "Jump Jazz." They had simply moved the accent from

 beats 1 and 3 to 2 and 4. That changed everything.

  After World War I, the Twenties that Roared came alive musically. The songs "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Society Blues" were recorded in Los Angeles in 1922. Kid Ory sold two million copies. After 1923, the flood gates opened and African-American Jazz became widely recorded but not entirely widely appreciated, especially among the white middle class.

 Fletcher Henderson's society orchestra, first nationally known for waltzes and foxtrots, over a short time switched to the Jazz rhythms and blue notes, and by the time he had landed at Roseland Ballroom (Broadway at 51st) and picked an up-and-coming trumpet player named Louis Armstrong, Fletcher's was a true Jazz Band.

 The Club Scene Arrives

 Not far behind Henderson was Duke Ellington, the house band for four years at Harlem's Cotton Club, and
Chick Webb's band, fronted by Ella Fitzgerald, ensconced at The Savoy, just a few blocks away. And, there was
Chicago's ornate monument to music and dance, the Aragon Ballroom, a two million dollar exotic monument to the excesses of the 1920s. It was hot! It was glamorous! It was alive!

  Song writers and arrangers produced the fuel for the bands, and kept the customers packing the massive clubs night after night.
The pressure on them was intense; they had to create new charts almost on a daily basis: "St. Louis Blues," Bye-Bye Blackbird," "Sweet Georgia Brown," and "Birth
of the Blues" in the 1920s. Of all the bands,
historians say, Paul Whiteman deserves the title, "King of Jazz." And, Whiteman almost singlehandedly pushed the movement from "Hot Jazz" to dance jazz, or swing. Things began to change in the late 1920s, with the move to Jazz with a swing beat.

 Hot Jazz to Swing

 The "swing" style evolved and ushered in the era of the Big Bands: Artie Shaw (with Helen Forrest), Harry James, Benny Goodman (in photo below), Louis Jordan, Cab Callaway, Paul Whiteman, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and many others,all fronted by a male or female vocalist.  

  By 1935, Swing had established itself, aided by songs from Broadway shows, in movies and on national radio networks. Music was every-where, and dancing replaced playing the popular sheet music on the parlor piano for entertainment. Record sales for the 1920s peaked in 1929, at more than 100 million.


Out of the 1930s came more classic sounds, "Stormy Weather," "Body and Soul," "Pennies from Heaven," "Stardust," (often called Hoagy Carmichael's masterpiece) "All of Me," "But Not for Me," "Mood Indigo," and "Sunny Side of the Street," "It Had to be You," Mack the Knife," "Side by Side" and many others.

 By the late 1930s the Big Swing Band had come of age and the songwriters/arrangers were creating even more songs for movies, Broadway and recordings. In turn, the bands picked up the melodies, then re-arranged them for their own style,
and toured the country, packing auditoriums and dance palaces from coast to coast.

Historian Frederick L. Allen, in "Since Yesterday", pub. 1939, described this musical phenomenon when 5,000 teenagers began lining up at New York City's Paramount Theater for a Benny Goodman swing concert in 1937:
      "These boys and girls were devotees of swing, ready to dance in the aisles  of the theater amid shouts of 'Get off, Benny! Swing it!' and 'Feed it to me, Gene! Send me down!' They were jitterbugs, otherwise 'alligators,'  equipped with the new vocabulary of swing ('in the groove,' 'spank the skin,''schmaltz,' 'boogie-woogie,' 'jam session,' 'killer-diller,' and so on endlessly.

         "A good swing band, smashing away at full speed, with the trumpeters and clarinetists rising in turn under the spotlight to embroider the theme with their several furious improvisations and the drummers going into long-drawnout rhythmical frenzies, could reduce its less inhibited auditors to sheer emotional vibration, punctuated by howls of rapture."

                                       Classic Standards

 The most talented writers, Jimmy McHugh, Sammy Cahn, Johnny Green, Hoagy Carmichael, Billy Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Vernon Duke, Ben Oakland, George Gershwin and Cole Porter and others produced dozens of what today we call the classic standards, the lyrics and melody lines that have an unprecedented enduring quality. They have continued to be recorded or played by bands for more than 80 years.

"Stardust" (1927, Hoagy Carmichael, below) has  been covered by some 50 different known artists;
  it's most recent recording was  in 2007, more than 80 years after its initial release. In 1999, "Stardust"  was included in the "NPR 100", a list compiled by National Public Radio of the 100 most important American musical works of the 20th century.

 "Close Your Eyes", "Stormy Weather" and "All of me", written in the 1930s, have been covered by more than 140 artists combined, and most  recently recorded in 2013, another 80-year life span.

 Remarkably, Rolling Stone Magazine, the bible of rock music, listed "Georgia on my Mind" (1930, Hoagy Carmichael) by Ray Charles as number 44 in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. "Georgia" ranks between Little Richard's "Tutti Frutti" and Elvis' "Heartbreak Hotel."

From its initial release recording by Benny Goodman's band, "How High the Moon" (1940, Hamilton and Lewis) has been covered by more than 110 artists (including Less Paul and Mary Ford, 1951 and Ella Fitzgerald, 1947) from 1940, to its most recent recording in 2010.

Of Dreams, Life and Love

These songs and hundreds of others are defined by music historians and artists as the standards, the classics, the ones marked by a special musical appeal, a great story line in the lyrics, subtlety, intricate, teasing rhythms and syncopation, endurance and an unprecedented longevity.  The songs mirrored an innocence of the time: of dreams and wishes, of love sought after, found or lost, or happy, lighthearted and optimistic, as in:

               "Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money/

                Maybe we're ragged and funny/

                But we'll travel the road/

                Sharing our load/

                Side by Side."

 The lyrics and music have transcended the mundane, ordinary "hit-of the-week" precisely because they were written, crafted and molded by some extraordinary writers and arrangers well tutored and trained by some of the country's leading music schools at the time. The music competition in the three decades from 1920 was fierce; only the best writers and lyricists, and the best songs, not only survived, but also endured. Today their music is testimony to their talent. Their songs still sell.

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