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Creating Jazz Counterpoint - New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues

Creating Jazz Counterpoint

New Orleans, Barbershop Harmony, and the Blues

By Vic Hobson
Series: American Made Music Series

Hardcover : 9781617039911, 224 pages, 1 b&w photo, 43 musical examples, March 2014
Paperback : 9781496807786, 180 pages, 1 b&w photo, 43 musical examples, January 2016

A full study of Buddy Bolden and Bunk Johnson confirming their roles in the real blues roots of New Orleans jazz


The book Jazzmen (1939) claimed New Orleans as the birthplace of jazz and introduced the legend of Buddy Bolden as the "First Man of Jazz. " Much of the information that the book relied on came from a highly controversial source: Bunk Johnson. He claimed to have played with Bolden and that together they had pioneered jazz.

Johnson made many recordings talking about and playing the music of the Bolden era. These recordings have been treated with skepticism because of doubts about Johnson's credibility. Using oral histories, the Jazzmen interview notes, and unpublished archive material, this book confirms that Bunk Johnson did play with Bolden. This confirmation, in turn, has profound implications for Johnson's recorded legacy in describing the music of the early years of New Orleans jazz.

New Orleans jazz was different from ragtime in a number of ways. It was a music that was collectively improvised, and it carried a new tonality--the tonality of the blues. How early jazz musicians improvised together and how the blues became a part of jazz has until now been a mystery. Part of the reason New Orleans jazz developed as it did is that all the prominent jazz pioneers, including Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, and Kid Ory, sang in barbershop (or barroom) quartets. This book describes in both historical and musical terms how the practices of quartet singing were converted to the instruments of a jazz band, and how this, in turn, produced collectively improvised, blues-inflected jazz, that unique sound of New Orleans.


"In Creating Jazz Counterpoint Vic Hobson delivers a meticulously researched and incisive musicological analysis of how four-part 'barbershop' harmony and the blues influenced the development of New Orleans jazz heterophony. The book offers refreshingly new perspectives on Buddy Bolden, Bunk Johnson, Nick LaRocca, and Robert Goffin, as well as 'baptism by total immersion' in early jazz repertoire. Highly recommended."

- Bruce Boyd Raeburn, curator, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University