Crinkle wanted me to plumb the depths of my collection to find some songs for her that she could choreograph for. The challenge: “give me some nice Charleston stuff”. Now, I have an awful lot of stuff you can do the Charleston to, so I needed to think of some limitations myself. First of all I needed to limit my search to tunes that would possibly work for a performance. That removes a bunch of stuff already. Anything too long, boring, fast or slow is out. The second factor was more important — it really needs to have that authentic Charleston feel.
But what does that mean, and how do you go about finding it easily — particularly if you don’t have things categorised for different styles? I do, of course, for the purposes of teaching, but often what you use in a class isn’t what you’d use for a performance. So let’s just pretend there are no playlists helpfully grouping Charleston stuff. The two things I immediately searched on were “stomp” and “rag”. A lot of the songs from that Dixieland era were rags, of course. But I guess it wasn’t until getting that challenge that I’d really started to think about how you’d go about defining Dixieland jazz. This definition sums it up for me:
Dixieland combos usually have a rhythm section with a combination of drum kit, upright bass, piano, and banjo or guitar. The lead instruments are usually restricted trombone, trumpet, and clarinet. The definitive Dixieland sound is the simultaneous playing of the three lead instruments. [Wikipedia]
Naturally enough a lot of Dixieland tunes were rags, having grown out of ragtime. Of course, a heck of a lot of stuff was also blues, the other main jazz precursor. So what’s a stomp? Now, as every good geek knows, Google is always your friend in these circumstances, so I did a search on “definition jazz stomp”. The amusing article I turned up from Downbeat magazine is really interesting: check it out. In summary it’s a piece written in the name of Jelly Roll Morton claiming responsibility for creating “jazz and stomps”. This letter is entirely in keeping with Morton’s character if other historical accounts I’ve seen are right, so I think it may be real (notwithstanding the incorrect date at the top). But even if it’s not, it’s great reading. The first stomp was King Porter Stomp (1906), so stomps emerged after ragtime. Interesting.
Anyway my list for Crinkle is looking good. It has 4 or 5 of my favourites from Fletcher Henderson, various rags from Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, and another 4 Charleston-style novelty songs from Spike Jones, who I love for his craziness. Fats Waller is in there with his performance of the Henderson Stomp, which for some reason I don’t have from Fletcher himself. That should get her started anyway.