Earlier this month, you read a review of the second episode of the Ken Burns film JAZZ. On to part three!
The third episode delves into the Harlem Renaissance, in which culture blossomed in the New York City neighborhood. Mostly Black musicians entertained Blacks and Whites alike in separate venues in Harlem’s heavily segregated speakeasies. One of the most famous music venues was The Cotton Club, and it was a jazz musician’s dream to play there. Duke Ellington and his band secured a job playing there on a regular basis, after a four-year gig at the Kentucky Club. Playing the Cotton Club was widely regarded as the point Ellington went from being a rising star to the brightest star on the scene at the time. The Cotton Club is also the namesake of a venue the Yoko Miwa Trio has played in Tokyo! Just like the Yoko Miwa Trio’s residencies with Les Zygomates and Ryles Jazz Club, Ellington’s relationship with the original Cotton Club was fruitful for the musician, the venue, and the loyal fans.
Another feature of 1920’s jazz was that music recording was continuing to expand. As one of the featured speakers in the series explained, the Jazz Age and the advent of recording coincided in a way that meant that improvisation was documented and respected like it never had been. “Improvisation, of course, exists before jazz. Beethoven was a celebrated improviser… but there was no way to document it.” Jazz records showed that “An improvisation can be just as coherent, imaginative, emotionally satisfying, and durable as a written piece of music.” Records also helped spread the jazz craze to Europe, and soon, jazz became a staple of European nightlife, although many of the most famous performers were American. Some, like the singer Josephine Baker, moved overseas permanently. Many White Europeans treated jazz as exotic, finding its rhythms sexy but also primitive and savage. One thing was for sure, though, and that was that people loved the music.
If you love good music, too, be sure to get your tickets for the Yoko Miwa Trio’s April 18 show at The Regattabar.