Friday, August 27, 2010


American Slavery
Scholars, Musicians, Tenured Professors, and Obsessed Facebookers alike are perpetually locked in a debate: What is the true origin of this music called Jazz? The prevailing wisdom seems to be that enslaved Africans, brought to America against their will and forced to suppress, if not abandon, their native culture, created a unaccompanied vocal form known as the Blues which came from field hollers and work songs. The Blues and African-American influence then permeated other forms such as cakewalks and hymns (which became Spirituals) and was further disseminated through traveling minstrel shows. This eventually led to the development of Ragtime in the late 19th Century and early 20th Century, which was at first a structured piano style that used the forms of European marches, but then became practiced by African-American brass bands in New Orleans. It's debatable as to how much of the music was spontaneously improvised, but regardless, the music has always had a "improvised" and "syncopated" or "ragged" feeling. Ragtime as a piano style eventually morphed into "stride" piano (think Fats Waller, James P. Johnson) and the band ragtime concept became swing (think Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson).

Antonio Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza
All of this is fine and dandy; however, this conventional understanding of the origin of America's so-called "original" art form couldn't be farther from the truth. I did a little research (admittedly after a few cocktails) and what most people don't know is that Jazz was actually invented in 1738 by an Italian named Antonio Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza, who was a famous doctor and pasta chef (being a doctor didn't pay what it does now, so Signore Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza had to moonlight. He was also a notary public for a while in the 1720's.). Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza, during a primitive blood letting experiment (in which  he tried to teach the leeches a simple form of sign language), started to imagine a musical scale which could, if played properly in front of a patient, could remedy all kinds of ailments from gout, to extreme gout, to seborrheic goutarrhea (a particularly painful kind of gout. Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza was sort of a gout specialist, although he majored in pediatric enemas at Eastern Bologna Medical College).

restored harpsichord
The renowned doctor/chef worked night and day at the harpsichord, pounding out scales, until one night, after a double shift at the restaurant, Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza discovered a primitive form of the blues scale. It probably had something to do with the fact that Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza was so drunk on Sambuca that he fell on his harpsichord as he walked into his apartment (It was a small apartment- this was during the Bologna Real Estate Boom of the 1730's. Even a studio apartment would cost you an arm and a leg. In fact, Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza later lost his medical license for amputating an arm and a leg, from an unsuspecting patient, just to pay two months rent.) The harpsichord was badly damaged:It could now only play the notes C Eb F F# G Bb and C, the notes of what we now know as The Blues Scale. This is documented by letters which Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza wrote to his cousin in Padova, the great violinist Giovanni Aebersoldo:

"I have discovered a musical scale which, when I play it over and over on my broken harpsichord, makes me feel sad, but then happy, because I am sad. I know this makes no sense, but I cannot think straight after 5 leechings and 3 amputations today. Plus I had to work late at Il Piccolo di Caesar's AGAIN! I know, I know; even as a respected physician with a private practice, I STILL can't make ends meet. I have to work two jobs and I'm starting to get them confused: I think I put leeches in somebody's Pasta Primavera last night. And I tried to cure Signora Bufalino's Scarlet Fever by using a Bolognese sauce on her head! I'm a SLAVE to my work and only playing this scale can take away my ......I don't know, if only sadness had a color that represented it, like red, or even blue......"

I'm guessing, dear reader, that you are thinking that I'm an idiot. Well, that might be true, but I teach at a University, and although it is in Canada, that means that you have to accept whatever I say as a scholarly viewpoint. Even if that viewpoint is very radical, and by radical, I mean completely wrong.

Shogun Tsunayoshi's court, where
SWING was invented
So if Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza (who died in 1746 during a coughing fit, due to an excessively powdered wig) invented the blues, then who invented swing? If you guessed Jelly Roll Morton, or Louis Armstrong, or even Wynton Marsalis, then you're WAY off. New comprehensive research, which came to me in a dream after a meal of funnel cake and onion rings, shows that the rhythmic concept of Swing was actually invented by the Japanese in 1683 in the Edo period, during the reign of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi. The Shogun Tsunayoshi trained his five sons in the art of samurai sword fighting. The youngest son,  Barry Tsunayoshi, stood out from the other sons, mostly because his sword fighting sucked. The problem seemed to come from the fact that when Barry would hear swords clashing together in a consistent, but slightly uneven rhythm, Barry would just start dancing around the Shogun's palace. Barry soon became uninterested in Samurai training, and would only play his swords like they were a musical instrument. (Many historians believe this is the earliest evidence of a "drummer" mistakenly believing that he was a "musician".)

This shamisen player probably got
a lot of gigs cause he had a car.....
Eventually, Barry would bring his swinging swords to the musicians of the court , who were performing for the Shogun, and try to "sit in". The group consisted of musicians playing traditional Japanese instruments of the period: koto, shakuhachi, and shamisen. After many evenings of "jamu sesun", the Barry Tsunayoshi Quartet was formed. The Shogun was at first displeased with his son's music, but when he saw that Barry was popular with chicks, he decided that he wanted to form his own band. Eventually, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi  ended up taking credit for the "sowingu" style of music, and was referred to as the "Sowingu Shogun", or "King of Swing". Barry Tsunayoshi was forced to commit suicide: not with the Samurai custom of seppuku(self-stabbing), but by eating sushi that had been sitting out on the counter for a whole week.

So there you have it: The true origins of Jazz. Hopefully, this will put the controversy to rest, and Facebookers can get back to posting videos of talking dogs and smoking infants. I invite you readers, if you are still reading this and aren't totally annoyed, to join me for my next music history lesson installment, in which I will propose that Ludwig Van Beethoven wasn't really deaf, he was just faking because his publicist said it "made a good story"...


  1. You are too much George! An amazing composer and musician who can seemingly play every instrument ever invented and an excellent observer of the current jazz scene who can write funny pieces too. Plus I love that you've finally given us Italians credit for being the true inventors of this music! LOL

  2. I must make one correction to your otherwise no doubt accurate and fascinating history of jazz.

    Buried documents were recently found which would indicate that Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza did not, in fact, die of a coughing fit from an excessively powdered wig in 1746. He died after putting on his tights, which he had washed in water that was too hot as it was intended for a batch of pasta, but he had forgotten this because he was, again, excessively drunk on Sambuca. The tights had shrunk, and no longer due to the strain of the effort to get them on again after shrinking, Jazzopiccolinodigiornopiazza had a stroke from which he never recovered. This was in 1748.

  3. Thanks for the correction. One of my interns did most of the research. Some of it was written in crayon, so it was sort of hard to read off the napkin.

  4. Thanks George for sharing this information. All your posts are very interesting and I share them via "addthis" on my facebook wall and my twitter timeline

  5. I know, George, you must be so frustrated. The days of quill pens, calligraphy and scribes are long gone, much to my dismay.

  6. Often left untold is the tragic tale of the epidemic of Sambuca abuse amongst Renaissance jazz musicians trying to be like their mentor. (Not to be confused with the epidemic of Richie Sambuca abuse in the 1950s.)

  7. Thanks for the info now i know the real origin of jazz.


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