Monday, May 11, 2009

Armistice: 1918

Courtland and Jeffries, Oh, It's a Lovely War.
Igor Stravinsky, L'Histoire du Soldat: Marche du Soldat.
Van and Schenck, Tackin' Em Down.
Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra, Aloha Land.
Honey-Land Jazz Band, Steve.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Tiger Rag.
Wilbur Sweatman, Indianola.
Courtland and Jeffries, Good-Bye-ee.

While I am in his office, a neighbor hands him a copy of the Prefect's message to all mayors: The armistice was signed at 5 a.m. under the terms imposed by the Allies. Ring the bells.

Women knock on each other's windows to spread the news. Children run along the road leading to the church; the streets fill up with smiling soldiers; flags appear from every window (they had them ready!)...There is a joyful buzz in the streets, but it is somewhat muted, not the wild scenes that were feared. There is a lot of dignity, a great calm, a feeling of infinite relief.

Capt. Paul Tuffrau (France), diary of 11-12 November 1918, Neuviller-sur-Moselle.

Bayes, The Underworld.

The Artillery do not mean to be saddled with spare shells, and so right up to the minute of time fixed for the armistice, they are pumping over shells as fast as they can...I am nervous as a kitten. If only I can last out the remainder of the time, and this is everyone's prayer. I am awfully sorry for those of our chaps who are killed this morning, mines are still going up...Immediately upon the bugles ceasing the call, a steady stream of civis, British prisoners and prisoners of all nationalities, come across the line to us, and some of the sights are terrible in the extreme.

Private Robert Cude (Britain), diary entry of 11 November 1918, Western Front.

At the end of John Keegan's The First World War, he notes that of French and British men born between 1892 and 1895 who served in WWI, those who were 19 to 22 when it began, the casualty rate was 35-37%. That is, essentially, one of every three men from that group were killed during the war.

Two British soldier anthems: "Oh It's a Lovely War!" composed in 1917 by J.P. Long and Maurice Scott, is a satire charming and clever enough to get past the censors back home, and "Good-bye-ee," in which a march off to likely death becomes a cheery fare-thee-well.

Both performed here by the British vaudeville duo of Courtland and Jeffries ("Oh It's a Lovely War!" was too sharp to be buried for long--it returned during the Vietnam years, performed on the London stage, as true as ever); find here and here.

Chaplin, Shoulder Arms.

I arrived home at noon. I enter the yard without a care, because I already know everyone is alive. Many of the villagers are gathered in front of the school and the yard. We embrace and kiss, then my family arrives. What happiness, what joy! My children are there, but they don't recognize me. They get scared and run away from me.

Milorad Markovic (Serbia), diary of 7 November 1918.

Igor Stravinsky's L'Histoire du Soldat is a piece of musical theater based on a Russian fable (though the libretto, by C.F. Ramuz, is in French), a variation on the standard tale of the traveling musician (here, a soldier with a fiddle) selling his soul to the devil, with the prize in this case being a book predicting the future.

Reflecting the time of its composition, Histoire du Soldat was arranged for a small group of musicians (European orchestras were shells of their former selves, many of their members conscripted). The play opens with a soldier walking back home from the war, which would be a common sight in late 1918 and early 1919.

Stravinsky claimed at the time that Histoire du Soldat was his take on jazz, that the instrumentation (violin, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, bass and percussion) was based on that of the Creole Band. The "Marche du Soldat" starts with a steady 4/4 pulse on the bass that the violin almost immediately disrupts, crashing in, hitting on the fourth, then third, then second beat. This is jazz as only Stravinsky could imagine it, a harsh gypsy strain (nor was it the end of his infatuation--Stravinsky in the '40s wrote a concerto for Woody Herman).

L'Histoire du Soldat premiered in Lausanne on 28 September 1918 (it had been funded and produced almost entirely by a Swiss, Werner Reinhardt); this recording is by the Chamber Ensemble, conducted by Gennady Rozhdestvensky, recorded in the former USSR in 1972, from the Melodiya/Angel LP K-40005.

Girls in Helena, Montana, with masks during the Spanish Flu pandemic, 1918.

Gus Van and Joseph Schenck had performed together since their Brooklyn youth. Schenck played piano and sang the high notes, Van usually sang the main melody and did much of the dialect work (among his specialties were Yiddish and Irish accents). Their break came in 1916 when they filled in as entertainers at a party hosted by Florenz Ziegfeld (the original performer was to be a chimpanzee). They soon joined the Ziegfeld Follies, cut records, and even starred in an early sound film (They Learned About Women). Schenck died of a heart attack in 1930.

Tim Gracyk notes that Van and Schenck seemed designed to supplant the singing duo of Collins and Harlan, who had begun to seem corny and out of date (though many Van and Schenck discs seem interchangeable with Collins/Harlan tracks). "Tackin' 'Em Down," written by Albert Gumble and Bud De Sylva, is a document of the young team at its peak: all Broadway swagger and tightly-tailored vocal sparring.

Recorded 3 May 1918 in New York; released as Columbia A2570 c/w "You'll Always Find A Lot Of Sunshine In My Old Kentucky Home."

Armistice celebration, Winnipeg

America had acquired the Hawaiian islands by sleight of hand, as the group of wealthy settlers who had taken control of Hawaii in the 1880s first forced the abdication of its queen, then pushed for annexation in 1898.

So by the turn of the century, the U.S. had a novelty in the Pacific, and many Americans soon enough became entranced with Hawaiian music, particularly the sound of the Hawaiian guitar and ukulele. It was during the WWI era when Hawaiian music really caught the public imagination, however. (Tim Gracyk cites a popular 1912 Broadway play, Bird of Paradise, as being a primary influence.) By 1915, the likes of Victor Records were churning out a new Hawaiian disc every month.

Naturally, anyone who could play the music had a steady gig. The Waikiki Hawaiian Orchestra was led by Frank Ferera, a Honolulu-born steel guitarist who began recording in 1915. He cut many records with his wife, the ukulele-playing Helen Louise, including two versions of "Aloha Land," for Victor, and the one featured here for Edison. A year after this recording, Louise vanished from a ship steaming from Los Angeles to San Francisco, most likely swept overboard.

Recorded ca. June 1918; released as Edison Blue Amberol 3583; in this archive.

British soldiers conducting the Red Baron's burial, Bertangles, France.

The walk to the prisoners' cemetery had never seemed so far. Gretel said that many of the pupils at her school are ill with flu and I must on no account catch it, because I've become so thin that I wouldn't be able to get rid of it. I laughed and told her I would still resist it with all my energy. Then I pointed ahead: there was the first barbed wire fence surrounding the graves. We were amazed. As soon as we reached the fence, we saw so many crosses! We hadn't been there for a long while; since when the prisoners' cemetery had grown so big--so enormous! So many dead! It was nearly dark, but I could still read the names, not just of Russians as at the beginning of the war but also French names, and English.

Piete Kuhr (East Prussian teenager), Schneidemühl (now Piła, Poland), diary of 29 November 1918.

The Honey-Land Jazz Band doesn't seem to have existed but in the two sides it recorded for Gennett in mid-1918. The speculation is that the Honey-Land Band was basically Earl Fuller's jazz orchestra working under an assumed name, as the tracks were composed by the Fuller's band's drummer Willie Creager ("Steve") and violinist James Caruso ("Pinocle").

Recorded ca. June 1918 and released as Gennett 7645-A; on Ragtime to Jazz Vol. 4.

"Weekly Inspection Party," Cleveland, 1918.

I compared The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, perhaps ridiculously, to the Sex Pistols last time round, and so will keep at it: like the Pistols, the ODJB couldn't hold together long, flaming out and fragmenting after a year or two, but generating, by their mere existence, the birth of a host of bands that had seemed impossible to imagine one day, and were everywhere the next.

In the ODJB's case, this was, as David Wondrich puts it, the explosion of the Original Fives--the Original Louisiana Five, The Original Memphis Five, The Original Georgia Five and even the Original Indiana Five --bands that would serve as the first infantry units of jazz during the early '20s.

"Tiger Rag" is the ODJB's high-water mark, hitting the top of the U.S. pop charts just after the war ended (this was a remake, following a 1917 version). Recorded 25 March 1918 and released as Victor 18472-B; on The Complete ODJB.

T.E. Lawrence, driving through Damascus in his Rolls-Royce tender Blue Mist, October 1918.

We crossed the lines on the 17th and since then have been closely following the evacuating Germans. Belgium and its people were splendid! Their reception of us was gloriously enthusiastic, for we were their deliverers and liberators, the conquerors of the Hun for whom they have only the bitterest hatred. On the whole, I like the Belgians even more than the French. They seem to be a cleverer and more wholesome race--though I have the greatest admiration for the French. Yesterday, we passed into another country--the Duchy of Luxembourg. The resemblance of the inhabitants to the Germans rather than the French is marked. I must say that I do not welcome the change.

Lt. John Clark (U.S.A.), 22 November 1918, Essingen, Luxembourg.

Wilbur Sweatman, along with W.C. Handy, was the among the first African-American bandleaders to cut jazz records. If Handy was considered something of an elder statesman, Sweatman was a brash jokester, making his name on the stage by shoving two or three clarinets in his mouth at once and harmonizing with himself (Tim Brooks).

Sweatman's first records, some dazzling jazz clarinet pieces for Emerson in 1916, were followed by discs cut for Pathe just as the ODJB's first smashes were issued. Columbia signed him as the jazz vogue grew in 1917, and kept him busy in the studio, where he had assembled a hot group of players who seemed to be learning how to improvise on the spot while they cut their records. "Indianola," cut in 1918, is a typical Sweatman track of the era: an exotica that seems on the verge of riot and collapse that the players, led by Sweatman's soaring, swaggering counter melodies, somehow manage to forge into jazz.

Sweatman kept recording and performing until the late '50s, and yet received little credit for his innovations. He was perhaps too jokey, too much a vulgar showman, for the first jazz historians, who uniformly wrote him off as a footnote. (Leonard Feather said Sweatman's only connection to jazz was when he brought Duke Ellington to New York, while Albert McCarthy called Sweatman's records "diluted ragtime.")

"Indianola," recorded 5 June 1918, was released as Columbia A2611 c/w "Oh! You La! La!"; on Jazzin' Straight Through Paradise.

"Peace Party," Heath St., Dagenham, UK, November 1918

I heard that the Armistice had been agreed. Though undefeated, we had to climb into our planes to withdraw, to flee. I can't tell you what was going through my mind. It was the hardest hour of my life. Now I read in this note to America in which we grovel for moderation in the terms. Who would have thought that our compatriots could be so base, so mean, so shameless?...I would not be coming back to Germany, were it not for you. Naturally they have taken neither my gun, epaulets, nor insignia.

Lt. Rudolf Hess, letter to his parents, 14 November 1918.

This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years.

Ferdinand Foch, on the Treaty of Versailles.

Most of the diary entries (and many from the 1914-17 posts as well) are from the invaluable resource Intimate Voices, edited by Svetlana Palmer and Sarah Wallis.

Next: Broken Blossoms

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