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When Mexican bands contributed to the birth of jazz

When Mexican bands contributed to the birth of jazz

When Mexican bands contributed to the birth of jazz

At the end of the 19th century, Mexico was successfully exporting its music to the United States, through bands of military origin that staged innumerable tours, to the point of contributing to the birth of jazz, according to a French scholar.

Mexico had just lost more than half of its territory to the United States (war of 1846-48), and was barely recovering from the French invasion of 1864-67. “Mexico does not have a positive image in the world. And Porfirio Diaz wants to change that”, Dan Vernhettes, a former musician and scholar of the origins of jazz, explains to AFP, referring to the Mexican president.

In 1884, Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) sent the orchestra of the Eighth Mexican Cavalry to New Orleans, explains Vernhettes. “They arrive in December 1884 and it’s crazy. The triumph is such that they stay until June ” the following year, adds this self-taught historian, whose book “Visiting Mexican Bands” has just been published by Jazz’Edit.

It is the beginning of a whole unknown musical epic, says Vernhettes, who spent six years researching it.

From the “Habanera” to the danzones

Until the 1950s, hundreds of bands, first military and then folkloric (such as the well-known mariachis) crossed the entire United States to make the country’s music known.

Well paid, these bands sometimes played before thousands of spectators, who adored their classic interpretations, from Spanish zarzuela airs to the “Habanera” of the opera “Carmen”, as well as the danzones or the boleros.

In 1893 the Chicago International Fair was held. “Very important, because it is a moment of transition in American music. Ragtime begins to emerge”, direct predecessor of jazz, explains Vernhettes.

And at that fair, among others, the Mexican Typical Orchestra of Juventino Rosas, a violinist and composer of more than a hundred works, among them “Sobre las olas”, a tune that was enormously successful in the United States.

“’Sobre las olas’ is one of the first melodies whose chords are based on what is currently known in Europe as the 32-bar ‘rag’ of traditional jazz”says Vernhettes in his book.

Scott Joplin, an American pianist and one of the creators of ragtime, also attended Chicago. “Vernhettes follows the investigations of the Italian Marcello Piras, and asks himself: did Rosas’s music influence Joplin?”, explains Antonio Saborit, director of the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology, in the preface of the book.

We are at the dawn of jazz, which was born on the banks of the Mississippi.

A musical gumbo

“When listening to the recordings of Jerry (Roll) Morton, who is the first great genius to emerge from New Orleans, when he plays a blues, he does it imitating the Habanera (from the opera “Carmen”) but out of time”says Vernhettes.

Other musicians continue to arrive in New Orleans, such as a curious Italian adventurer, Carlo Curti, who had founded an imitation of the Spanish student bands called Estudiantina Figaro.

An Italian living in Mexico, who recycles Spanish music, with enormous success, in an American city subject to the influence of Caribbean rhythms and traditional European music (France, Great Britain…)

All the ingredients came together for an explosive mix, explains Vernhettes with a smile. “It’s a kind of musical gumbo”indicates. “But it’s not all”, he adds with a smile.

A vintage photo shows the proud orchestra of the Eighth Mexican Cavalry with four or five saxophonists. Until then “no one had ever seen a saxophone in New Orleans”says Vernhettes. “And that was a shock”emphasizes the historian, who points out, however, that this musical instrument also reached the United States through the north of the country, thanks to European musical bands.

But its importance in jazz, which was born in the South, cannot be ignored, he explains. “The saxophone began to be adopted by New Orleans ‘Creole’ musicians in the 1890s. Beginning in 1925, all New Orleans orchestras have had a saxophone”add.

Jazz was born, but that’s another story.

Source: Elcomercio

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