17th November 2000 at 00:00
Jazz was born in New Orleans - the only place in the New World where slaves were allowed to own drums. Voodoo drummings and dancings in Congo Square, in the city centre, were popular with both black and white people in the 19th century. In the red light district of Storyville, the voodoo drums met up with pianists and string trios and brass bands, as musicians played in the brothels, cabarets and gambling joints. And the joint was jumping. In 1885, Papa Jack Laine's brass band played with "ragged time": the musicians varied the tempo to make it "swing". Cornet player Buddy Bolden, said to be "the first muscian to start a big noise in jazz", formed a legendary band in 1895 featuring trombone, cornet and clarinet for melody and harmonies, with drums, bass or tuba for the beat and guitar, banjo or piano for chord structure, just as shown in this painting, 'New Orleans: Ragging Home' by Romare Bearden (1974). The players improvised, just as they do today, "the joyous anarchy called New Orleans Jazz". From the Creoles (French-speaking people of mixed race) came the European horns; from Mexico and the Caribbean Islands the syncopated rhythms; and from Africa the deep beat of the drums. Victoria Neumark

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