Interview with Professor Douglas Henry Daniels
“Lester Leaps In”, Jazz in Asia, and more

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Professor Douglas Henry Daniels (Emeritus) of the University of California at Santa Barbara is author of the following books:

02One O’Clock Jump: The Unforgettable Story of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils (2007)

03Lester Leaps In: The Life and Times of Lester “Pres” Young (2002)

05Pioneer Urbanites: A Social and Cultural History of Black San Francisco (1991)

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Interview with Richie Gerber author of "Jazz America's Gift: From Its Birth to George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue and Beyond"
Don Cherry: Ornette in Los Angeles and early New York years (1950s and 1960s)


  1. Kent Murphy says


    or. Is the drum solo Chinese?

    Firedrake, described as “Chinese folk music” and “Chinese Classical Music,” is used for jamming radio transmissions, but it actually sounds a lot like what Western jazz and rock musicians describe as jamming, i.e. a jam session. Odd how words work, isn’t it?

    Firedrake – 4-minute sample -

    Firedrake – full 60 minutes -

    Wikipedia says “The government of the People’s Republic of China disrupts shortwave radio communications through this method, typically by broadcasting music, drumming, and other noise, On shortwave, the jamming sound is composed of Chinese folk music, specifically a composition known as The Firedrake,…”

    Satdirectory describes Firedrake as “Chinese Classical Music featuring gongs, flutes and drums.”

    When I first enjoyed Firedrake on my shortwave radio, I immediately thought “that’s the drum solo,” and, since then, it has been in my mind to find out why Chinese music is never mentioned as an influence, when, if you listen to musicians, everything and everybody is mentioned as an influence. Everybody knows China gave us the visual pyrotechnics of fireworks, and people should know that China might have given us – or, did give us? – the musical pyrotechnics of the drum solo.

    Pyrotechnics – 1. the art of…setting off fireworks; 2. a fireworks display; 3. a brilliant display…in the performing arts

    A drum solo is definitely pyrotechnics, when we are lucky.

    I believe China gave us the drum solo, but it’s not on the internet, although there is some circumstantial evidence, and, perhaps, a smoking gun: a quote attributed to Mr. Jazz himself, Louis Armstrong.

    “[Bebop is] Chinese music.”

    Maybe it’s a political thing. Westerners were in China, and not welcome. They brought their attitudes, and they probably also brought their attitudes towards the black American musicians that played in China. And, in America, black Americans were a discriminated-against minority, and, Chinese Americans were a smaller minority who were discriminated against, also.

    Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age, by Andrew F. Jones, provides us with some insight.

    On page 8, we read: “A second and less immediately obvious theme is the extent to which this disdain has blinded critics and historians to the close mutual intertwinement of yellow music with the officially sanctioned leftist mass music that has come to be seen as its historical and ideological `other.’ […] Dismissed until recently in the Chinese academy on ideological grounds, yellow music has also fallen victim to neglect in the Anglo-American context, in part because it slips through a number of disciplinary cracks.”

    And, on page 19, we read: “Chinese music is usually described by nineteenth-century Euro-American listeners as unintelligible noise.”

    China gets no credit for influence in Western Wikipedia. In the China that Jones writes about black American jazz musicians surely would have been exposed to Firedrake-type Chinese music, or at least what “Euro-American listeners [described] as unintelligible noise,” and might have actually liked and been influenced by it, but Western Wikipedia tells us this:

    “Chinese popular music…was influenced by Western jazz artists like Buck Clayton.”

    “Music of China refers to the music of the Chinese people,…Many pieces have influences from jazz and Western music,…”

    “Euro-American” bias against Chinese music for being “unintelligible noise” may have led a leftist writer to misrepresent Louis Armstrong. The British “International Socialism Journal” has an article by Charlie Hore entitled “Jazz – a people’s music?,” and, under the heading “The politics of bebop,” he incorporates Armstrong’s aforesaid quote in this statement: “Louis Armstrong, for instance, famously dismissed it [bebop] as `Chinese music.’”

    “Black Americans Invented Jazz” is the heading under which Hore’s article can be found at this different website:

    Louis Armstrong reportedly loved Chinese food, so the author, Hore, may be wrong when he suggests Armstrong was being dismissive when he described bebop as “Chinese music.” Chinese food-lover Armstrong would surely have heard, and might have enjoyed, Chinese music – including, maybe, Firedrake-type Chinese music – as he sat for many hours in Chinese restaurants – as possibly did many other city-dwelling jazz musicians who knew where to get good food as they travelled city-to-city in segregated America – so, rather than being dismissive, Armstrong might have been merely astutely recognizing the connection between Chinese music and bebop, the former influencing the latter, of course. Or, is it possible that, with this observation, he is telling us that bebop might have originated with jazz musicians who returned with it from China at the outbreak of World War II?

    The web blog “The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong” has an article called “Cornet Chop Suey” (Cor-net, not Comet, as some computers might seem to make it read) that says “I think the title is a play on `Clarinet Marmalade’ that works in Louis’s love of Chinese food, something that started as a kid and continued until the end of his life.”

    The familiarity of jazz musicians with the Chinese communities in the cities might be indicated by Cab Calloway’s song “Kickin’ the Gong Around.”

    Continuing with the absence of recognition of Chinese musical influence on jazz, Wikipedia has a topic entitled “Jazz Drumming,” and, believe it or not, it begins by reaching way back to the Moorish invasion before bringing the discussion up to more recent centuries, where they find these influences: African, Caribbean, Cuban, French, Spanish, Afro-Cuban, Latin, and American. In this big long article, there is no mention of Chinese influence, but, near the end, there is a single mention of “Chinese tom-toms” as a component of the then-newly evolving drumset, just before we read, in the section under the heading “Bebop,”

    “To a small extent in the swing era, but most strongly in the bebop period, the role of the drummer evolved from an almost purely time-keeping position to that of a member of the interactive musical ensemble.”

    The chronology of the development of the drumkit and bebop is very interesting.

    The Australian Drumtek website, in an article entitled “The Evolution of the Modern Drum Kit” tells us:

    “The universally accepted `Modern Drumkit’ of today only began to take shape around 1930.”

    “In the mid 20’s drummers began to realise [sic] the potential of tom-toms in creating and expanding the scope of sounds available to them. The development of the modern tom-tom began with the Chinese tom-tom. […] Usually small in size Chinese toms were hung from a bass drum lug with wire. As their popularity grew so too did the development of the “Trap-Tree or Console.” […] In the early 20’s a craze began and lasted until World War II. Drummers everywhere began using Trap Tables, Trap Boards and Consoles designed to mount Chinese toms, triangles, tambourines, cowbells, temple blocks and cymbals. Consoles were the equivalent of modern day rack systems aided by the convenience of wheels.”

    The website for the George H. Way Drum Company reports that “In 1927 George introduced the Chinese `sneeze’ cymbal, easily recognized today as the modern China type cymbal.” Click on the “history” button at this link

    Various websites report that bebop began in the 1940s, during World War II.

    The Woodshed Music jazz website has a page devoted to “Bebop Solos for Drumset.”

    Chinese music could have influenced Western popular music with the drum solo like this:

    In America, you would have had jazz musicians in environments where they could have been exposed to and influenced by Firedrake-type Chinese music.

    In China, American jazz musicians could have been exposed to and influenced by Firedrake-type Chinese music.

    The American jazz musicians in China surely would have returned to America with the outbreak of World War II in 1941, bringing with them, dare we speculate, the influence of Firedrake-type Chinese music.

    Bebop – what Louis Armstrong called “Chinese music” – began in the 1940s, during World War II, shortly after the return of American jazz musicians from China.

    The evolution of the drumkit, including Chinese tom-toms and Chinese cymbals, as well as multiple other percussion instruments, would enable a musician performing a drum solo to make manifest the influence of Firedrake-type Chinese music on Western music.

    Mr. Jazz himself, Louis Armstrong, said that “[Bebop is] Chinese music.” What did he know? He probably knew, and if he were alive today he would probably tell us, that Firedrake-type Chinese music influenced Western music via the drum solo in bebop, and, later, in rock music. And, he probably wouldn’t mind saying it. After all, giving credit to Chinese influence for the drum solo doesn’t detract from the credit due to black Americans for creating jazz, it just shows that they heard something good, and weren’t prejudiced, and were smart enough to let it influence their music.

    Copyright 2017 Kent D. Murphy

    All rights reserved

  2. Anonymous says

    Prof. Daniels interview is a such a revelation to hear…Thank You…. will get the books too…Henrik Iversen

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