Monday, October 20, 2008

You Don't Own the State, 1904-1905


Tap room, San Francisco, 1904 (Shorpy).

Giacomo Puccini, Madama Butterfly: Dovunque al mondo.
William Tuson, Heart Bowed Down.
Hager's Orchestra, Rooster Dance.
Peerless Orchestra, Smoky Mokes.
Charlie Rogers, Smoky Mokes.
Haydn Quartet, Sweet Adeline.

Mr. Governor, you notified your dogs of war to put me out of the state. They complied with your instructions. I hold in my hand a letter that was handed to me by one of them, which says "under no circumstances return to this state." I wish to notify you, governor, that you don't own the state. When it was admitted to the sisterhood of states, my fathers gave me a share of stock in it: and that is all they gave you. The civil courts are open. If I break a law of state or nation it is the duty of the civil courts to deal with me. That is why my forefathers established those courts to keep dictators and tyrants such as you from interfering with civilians.

I am right here in the capital, after being out nine or ten hours, four or five blocks from your office. I want to ask you, governor, what in Hell are you going to do about it?

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones, letter to Colorado Gov. James Peabody, 26 March 1904. Peabody had ordered Jones deported from Colorado for aiding strikers.

Some Americans found the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics a bit unnerving, with its thousands of dancers and drummers working in complete synchronization and everywhere the barely-veiled suggestion of great reserves of manpower, confidence and wealth. They might consider that Europeans felt the same way about the United States a century ago.

Puccini's Madama Butterfly is, in part, an Italian's take on the rising Yankee empire (composed just as the Philippine Insurrection was crushed). "Dovunque al mondo," an aria early in the first act, is sung by the U.S. Navy Lt. Pinkerton and the American counsel Sharpless--it's a boast by a Yankee sailor who has a girl in every port, and a portrait of a brash, adolescent country entering the springtime of its dominance. It opens with a few bars of "The Star Spangled Banner" and ends with Pinkerton and Sharpless singing, whiskey glasses in hands, "America forever!" Today, it just seems so terribly sad.

Madama Butterfly debuted at La Scala on 17 February 1904; this 1959 performance, conducted by Tullio Serafin and performed by the St. Cecilia Academy Orchestra, is sung by Carlo Bergonzi (Pinkerton) and Enzo Sordello (Sharpless).

Alice Roosevelt, most glamorous First Daughter ever, 1904. She once told Gore Vidal how much she resented her cousins Franklin and Eleanor. "We were the President Roosevelt family. But then came along the Feather Duster [FDR] and we were forgotten."

The earliest recorded instrumental soloists were either classical players or the spotlit members of a popular orchestra. The latter included the cornet player Herbert Clarke, of the Sousa Band, and the clarinetist William Tuson, who recorded like a madman from 1899 to about 1906. Their popularity was in part owed to their gear--as we've noted before, acoustic-era recordings favored instruments with great projection--as well as their dazzling technical skill.

A Clarke or Tuson solo is quite unlike the types of soloing later developed by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, or Coleman Hawkins to John Coltrane. If Tuson has a modern equivalent, it's the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen: technical perfection; runs of showstopping feats; and devoid of much surprise or soul. You get the sense that Tuson could have pulled off an exact duplicate of "Heart Bowed Down" a minute after recording this piece, and maybe he did.

That said, it's also likely that the young Armstrong heard some of these records, and got a sense of what could be done by a performer out on the tightrope alone.

"Heart Bowed Down" is an aria from the Balfe opera The Bohemian Girl; released as Edison Gold Moulded Record 8455 (Edison had introduced the line, a more durable type of wax cylinder, in 1902). Featured in this archive.

"Rooster Dance" was recorded sometime in 1904 by one of the studio orchestras that Frederick Hager led, in this case for the Zon-O-Phone label. It's unclear who wrote the piece, or where it came from, though there is also a contemporary Edison recording of "Rooster Dance." The Edison Amerbola Monthly noted the latter was from a Broadway show called "The Runaways," in which some poor soul had to dress up in a rooster costume and dance around. "It is a Record made of the music to which the comedian dances. It is a very clever characteristic composition," the sparkling ad copy reads.

So this is likely just Hager's take on the same piece. What happened, however, is that over the decades the track's catalog information was lost, and it wound up on several early jazz LP compilations simply titled "Cakewalk," as recorded by unknown players, dated to around 1900, and offered as a prime contemporary example of the cakewalk dance. This led to speculation as to who the mystery players could have been--was it an early recording of a black band? Minstrels? Broadway veterans?

Allen Lowe puzzled it out in his book That Devilin' Tune. Rather than being some lost Rosetta stone of American music, "Rooster Dance" is simply a crack studio band blasting out a recent hit. There's little of the primordial about it. But as Lowe wrote, it "is much more engaging than most other (usually "military") band recordings of the day, and seemingly on the verge of a very early, pre-jazz form of musical levitation."

Jack London in Korea, covering the Russo-Japanese War, 1904.

Ragtime gave the [brass] bands what they lacked: funk, snap, swerve. All those massed horns blasting on the beat had already guaranteed that their marches would drive, but the added syncopation transformed the bands from bulldozers to M1 Abrams tanks.

David Wondrich, Stomp and Swerve.

Abe Holzmann, according to the New York Herald (who published a profile on him in 1901) was "a German of high musical education. His knowledge of bass and counterpoint is thorough and his standard compositions bear the stamp of harmonic lore." No one cared about his standard compositions, however. What they loved, as the Herald wrote, was "his propensity for composing darkie dances."

Yes, Holzmann slummed as a writer of cakewalks and rags, with all the usual racist accompaniments. "Smoky Mokes" ("mokes" being a slur, possibly of Welsh origin, for blacks), published in 1899, was his first and biggest hit. Sousa debuted it in 1900, and soon enough every studio orchestra took a crack at it. Here's a version by Edison studio regulars the Peerless Orchestra: a take that's all swagger and drive.

Released as Edison 712; on Cakewalks, Rags and Blues--Military Style.

As a contrast, here's a banjo version of "Mokes" recorded by the British banjo prodigy Charlie Rogers. He was thirteen when he cut this track. Rogers, who the British (naturally) considered a better banjoist than Vess Ossman, enlisted in the army at the start of the First World War and was maimed in battle in 1916. He never played professionally again.

Recorded (possibly with Alf Brooks on piano) in London, February 1904, and released as Nicole 3142. On Ragtime to Jazz Vol. 4.

"Sweet Adeline" seems so eternal that it's hard to imagine it having an origin. But here it is:

A prizefighter named Harry Armstrong came up with the melody while he was training in 1896 (the first part of the chorus is basically a variation on the well-worn "Westminster Chimes"), using his fellow boxers to work out the harmonies. Armstrong originally called the tune "Down Home in New England," and cast about for a suitable lyric, trying out everyone from Charles Lawler to "Gentleman" Jimmy Walker, the future mayor of New York City. At last he found Richard Gerard, who suggested the tune be called "Sweet Rosalie." Armstrong and Gerard struck out in finding an interested song publisher, however. So, acknowledging that the chorus hook "For you I pine/Sweet Rosalie" didn't really rhyme, Gerard tried a new tack: after he saw a sign for a performance of the opera singer Adelina Patti, Gerard rewrote the lyric, and "Rosalie" became "Adeline."

The song was published at last in 1903, but it was neglected until a Philadelphia-based vaudeville quartet called the Quaker City Four began performing it on stage. And then, suddenly and all at once, everyone was singing it (including Boston's mayor (and JFK's grandfather) John Fitzgerald, who used it as his re-election theme song). In 1904 alone there were three recorded versions, the most popular being the Haydn Quartet's.

Recorded in Camden, NJ, on 12 July 1904 and released as Victor 2934.


Shoeblack stand, NYC, start of Jewish New Year, September 1905

John Taylor (or Charles D'Almaine), Medley of Old Time Reels.
Richard Strauss, Salome: Dance of the Seven Veils.
Bob Roberts, Now What Do You Think of That.
Billy Golden, Rabbit Hash.
Prince's Orchestra, St. Louis Tickle.
Ossman-Dudley Trio, St. Louis Tickle.

She had never hung so near the dizzy brink of the unreal. Sleep was what she wanted--she remembered that she had not closed her eyes for two nights. The little bottle was at her bedside, waiting to lay its spell upon her. She rose and undressed hastily, hungering now for the touch of her pillow. She felt so profoundly tired that she thought she must fall asleep at once; but as soon as she had lain down every nerve started once more into separate wakefulness. It was as though a great blaze of electric light had been turned on in her head, and her poor little anguished self shrank and cowered in it, without knowing where to take refuge...

She could bear it--yes, she could bear it--but what strength would be left her the next day? Perspective had disappeared--the next day pressed close upon her, and on its heels came the days that were to follow--they swarmed about her like a shrieking mob. She must shut them out for a few hours; she must take a brief bath of oblivion. She put out her hand, and measured the soothing drops into a glass; but as she did so, she knew they would be powerless against the supernatural lucidity of her brain. She had long since raised the dose to its highest limit, but tonight she felt she must increase it.

Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth.

Picasso, Lady With a Fan.

I found "Medley of Old Time Reels" on Lee Hartsfeld's "Music You Possibly Won't Hear Anywhere Else" site some years ago, where he made the convincing case that while official histories generally state that "country music" only started being recorded in the early 1920s, discs like 1905's "Medley of Old Time Reels" suggest far otherwise. It's intriguing to think how many early country records are out there, still left to be discovered.

The reels in the medley include "Flower of Edinburgh," "Speed the Plow," "Tom and Jerry," "Roger's Reel," "Miss McCloud's Reel," and "Auld Lang Syne." This is dance music, flat out, and this is ancient music. People in 1905 considered these to be "old time reels," remember.

There is some confusion as to who actually recorded this track, as both John Taylor and Charles D'Almaine are credited on the label, depending on the individual disc. Whoever it was, they did it on Victor 16393.

Mr. and Mrs. J.P. Morgan

"Dance of the Seven Veils" is the lurid centerpiece of Richard Strauss' opera Salome, in which Salome performs an elaborate striptease for her stepfather Herod so she can demand the head of John the Baptist. It's an orchestral interlude so over-the-top at times that Gustav Mahler thought Strauss had blown what ought to have been the highlight of the opera. It does seem as though Strauss envisioned Cecil B. DeMille staging his opera, and even today, conductors approach it at their peril--one can easily turn the dance into "an outtake from the Showgirls pole dance scene."

Still, the dance fulfills its intentions, as it reflects Herod's decadent, kitschy tastes, and provides a contrast to the remainder of the opera, which is marked with dissonance and murder.

Salome debuted in Dresden on 9 December 1905; "Dance of the Seven Veils" is performed here by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert von Karajan.

Humor is often corroded by time. Am I the only one who's thumbed through Aristophanes stone-faced, desperately trying to find something to laugh at? (Maybe it was a lousy translation.) And musical humor certainly isn't immune--even the Firesign Theater seems a bit creaky these days, and I wonder what the shelf-life of "Weird Al" Yankovic records is. However, for those brave enough, here are a couple of comic pieces from 100 years ago to try out.

Bob Roberts' "Now What Do You Think of That" is your standard vaudeville comic number, geared to make the audience sing along with the chorus. There are plenty of gags shoved into its two-minute timespan, though it ends rather strangely.

Released as Edison Cylinder 9046; found in this Roberts archive.

Matisse, Woman With a Hat.

And "Rabbit Hash" is pure Southern minstrelsy: it's barely comprehensible, and marked by Golden laughing heartily at his own jokes. You could call it the ancestor of everything from "Hee Haw" to skit tracks on rap records.

Billy Golden, born in Cincinnati in 1859, was doing blackface routines by the mid 1870s. He became famous enough that, twenty years later, he was one of the first "celebrities" that Emile Berliner asked to make then-experimental shellac records. "Rabbit Hash," one of Golden's popular routines, was recorded first in 1895 for Berliner, and he later cut it for Edison and Victor. Golden, whose most popular record was "Turkey In the Straw," performed and recorded for decades to come (his contribution to the war effort was the tasteful "The Colored Recruit"), and he kept reworking old routines, including "Rabbit Hash," until he died in 1926.

This version of "Rabbit Hash" was recorded on 10 May 1905 and released as Victor 622 (Victor, in its record catalog, listed "Rabbit Hash" under the heading "Original Negro Shouts and Songs.")

Tokyo, 1905.

Though it was copyrighted in 1904 by an obscure ragtime publisher, "St. Louis Tickle" may be stolen goods. The jazz legend Buddy Bolden was rumored to be its real composer, as was the white pianist Theron Catlen Bennett. But it probably had no single author: as David Wondrich writes of "Tickle," "it's a folk rag, three simple and swervy strains plucked out of the whorehouse air and stitched together." The second strain is based on a filthy Mississippi Valley folk song, often known as "Funky Butt" (and which, years later, Jelly Roll Morton rewrote as "Buddy Bolden's Blues").

Here are two versions: a decent take by Prince's Orchestra, released in December 1905 as Columbia 32843; and one by a string trio consisting of the banjoist Vess Ossman, Audrey Dudley (mandolin) and either Roy Butin or George Dudley on harp-guitar--their take (which seems to be hinting at the blues and bluegrass all at once) was recorded on 24 January 1906 and released as Victor 16092-B; in this archive.

Derain, Le Phare de Collioure.

Next: Threads (an occasional series): The Wretched Refuse.

Sources: Gage Averill, Four Parts, No Waiting ("Sweet Adeline"); Tim Gracyk, Popular American Recording Pioneers; Wondrich, Stomp and Swerve; Lowe, That Devilin' Tune.

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