Creoles, a term used for people who were born in New Orleans, were both of European and mixed descent, the latter referred to as Creoles of Color. These multi-ethnic and multi- racial people were some of the most prolific musicians at the turn of the century and made significant contributions to the idiom of jazz. Some of the most prominent New Orleans musicians that were credited with being influential first generation jazz men were of Creole ancestry. Notables are pianist “Jelly Roll” Morton (1885- 1941), trombonist “Kid” Ory, (1886-1973) and saxophonist Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). Also noted for his considerable influence on teaching New Orleans clarinetists was “Papa” Louis Tio, (1863-1927) of Latin European ancestry.[i]
During the maturation of jazz styles in the nineteen twenties, show tunes were incorporated into Black musician’s repertoires, but the European influence was evident decades earlier. The French and Spanish territories of Louisiana and Upper Louisiana (Missouri) were both Creole settlements where musics diverse as French Opera, Ragtime, and Military style street bands co-existed and flourished among the inhabitants during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In fact, many Creole musicians were educated by Europeans during this time. According to Gridley, “Children in Creole families often received high quality, formal musical training, some even traveling to Paris for study at a conservatory.”[ii] Thomas Fiehrer concurs that “Creoles studied with musicians of the French Opera house and with scores of itinerant Latin American and European conservatory-trained performers.”[iii] These statements support the theory that European influences were instrumental in the development of the music of the Creoles, and that the emergence of jazz was not simply due to the synthesis of African-American forms of music into the culture of New Orleans. Fiehrer takes this argument one step further by concluding “as it emerged from a society West Indian in origin, French in speech, Catholic in belief, European in its dominant tastes, contacts and referents, early jazz was certainly ‘foreign’ to America.”[iv]
Finally, Gospel and Blues were unique forms of music that were performed by African-Americans originally in the deep South, and remain unique idioms. While exhibiting some commonalities with jazz, and carrying some cross-over elements, they remain separate genres to this day. The African-American genres that were based on call and response, field hollers, and spirituals were “less formal” and retained some African elements.[v] The culture that was responsible for introducing this type of music was the English speaking slaves and later free people who inhabited the area of New Orleans North of Canal St. They were known as “Uptown Blacks”. First as slaves, and later as free Blacks they danced on Sundays in an area known as Congo Square, and brought such African musics as blues, spirituals, and African drumming to the culture of New Orleans.[vi]These musicians learned mostly by ear, and were influenced by the call and response style of music as well as the rural music of the church and plantations from which they came. Up until the segregation law of 1886 they did not socialize or congregate with the French speaking Creoles of the downtown area. Some of the most influential of these Black musicians were Charles “Buddy” Bolden, Joe “King” Oliver, and later Louis Armstrong. Their contributions are well documented, and need not be elaborated on in the scope of this essay.
[i] Burton William Peretti, “Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America: The Creators of Jazz” (Doctoral Dissertation, University of California, 1989).
[ii] Gridley, Jazz Styles: History and Analysis, 40.
[iii] Fiehrer, “From Quadrille to Stomp: The Creole Origins of Jazz,” 28.
[iv] Ibid.: 29.
[v] Ibid.: 40.
[vi] Joan Brown et al., “Jazz History: New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park,” www.nps.gov/archive/jazz/jazz%20History_origins_pre1895.htm.