In the beginning…
Well, I have to admit…trying to maintain a blog that ties neatly from one subject to another (without using a strict, diachronic approach) is quite a challenge!
So, I have opted to take the easy way out! I hope that you don’t object!
From here on, I will be covering the history of jazz as it unfolded over the course of time.
In the beginning…there was the blues!
Bessie Smith began her professional career in 1912 by joining a traveling show with Ma Rainey (who would become Smith’s mentor) and subsequently performed in various touring minstrel shows and cabarets. By the 1920s, she was a leading artist on the TOBA circuit. In 1923, Smith made her first commercial recording for Columbia records; accompanied by pianist Clarence Williams, Bessie recorded “Gulf Coast Blues” and “Down Hearted Blues.” She recorded regularly until 1928 with important early jazz instrumentalists such as Williams, James P. Johnson, and various members of Fletcher Henderson’s band, including Louis Armstrong. Her rendition of “St. Louis Blues” with Armstrong is considered by most critics to be one of finest recordings of the 1920s. In 1929, she appeared in the film St. Louis Blues. By then, however, alcoholism had severely damaged her career, as did the Depression, which affected the recording and entertainment industries. A recording session, her last, was arranged in 1933 by John Hammond for the increasing European jazz audience; it featured among others, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman. Sadly, her life was tragically cut short by an automobile accident in 1937; while driving in Mississippi, her car rear-ended a slow-moving truck and rolled over. Bessie’s left arm and ribs were crushed and she consequently bled to death by the time she reached the hospital.
Listen to “Gulf Coast Blues”: