|The magnificent staircase at Two Temple Place
Photo credit: Geoff Winston © 2017. All Rights Reserved
Jazz before Jazz was Jazz
(Two Temple Place. 12 November 2017. EFG London Jazz Festival. Review by Daniel Bergsagel. Drawings and photographs by Geoff Winston)
(We had two writers, Geoff Winston and Dan Bergsagel, attending different parts of the day at Two Temple Place. Link to Geoff Winston’s piece below)
Emphasis is more important than we think. Jazz before Jazz was Jazz could be tautology at its finest, but instead was a journey down the rabbit hole into the context that let jazz flourish into the pillar of modern music it is today. This was a long evening of seminars, concerts, and everything in between: layering knowledge, experiences and context to generate a heady atmosphere steeped in the early ’20s.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2017. All Rights Reserved
The crowd entered to Marcus Bonfanti crying in the hall with his resonant blues voice and comfortable guitar style. But it was Dr Peter Shaw set the scholastic tone of the evening, inviting people to gather in the salon for a lecture on the birth of jazz in Britain via the early 1900s ragtime, and the demise of Music Hall on the way. Playing wax cylinder snippets and early shellac recordings there was a tangible excitement as he ploughed through a life’s work in a short half-an-hour, covering the rise and fall of Mark Sheridan and Harry Champion and how they slipped from the music hall Victorian themes of food/drink/work/sex/mother-in-laws to the US and ragtime of Scott Joplin. Andrew Oliver played and provided commentary on Gottschalk pieces as the development of rags from classical influences, and Alex Bishop took us on a whirlwind tour of the development of the guitar in to the instrument of Django Reinhardt’s day, with unexpected insights in to the internal structure of a guitar, and it’s influence on tone.
The underlying theme of the short seminars and helpfully descriptive musicians’ contributions was that jazz formed out of the melting pot of the 19th/20th century southern US – Joplin Parnell did a beautiful job of taking people through the pre-jazz story through selected records and brief explanations. The political and social context left New Orleans and around as a crossroads of African, Caribbean, European and American culture, and ragtime and dixie formed from the working songs and blues. This spread to the formation of the ‘jazz guitar’, developing the middle-eastern Oud into the guitar picking up styles and changes across the European Mediterranean. What was interesting in Two Temple Place was the nuanced view on how jazz affected the British music scene – as a cultural shock to the Edwardian system, cemented in place through the circumstances of WWI.
The scholarly atmosphere was partly imbued by the venue itself. Two Temple Place was built as a neo-Gothic showpiece at the end of the 19th Century, and bestowed a sense of collegiate wonder on the crowd which saw jazz more as an oddity to be studied than a visceral thing. Built at the time of the birth of jazz, Two Temple Place very much embodied the establishment jazz was overthrowing, and the juxtaposition between the wood-panelled rooms, ornate ceilings and stained glass windows somehow suited the speak-easy cocktail bars and musical stages. The Victorian soundproofing struggled to contain the strains of opera and blues from ragtime analysis.
No evening in London covering the dawn of jazz could do better than having Kansas Smitty’s House Band close proceedings. They’ll be at the equally historic Shoreditch Town Hall next Saturday
LINK: Geoff Winston’s review