Just after World War I, jazz began a journey along America's waterways from its birthplace in New Orleans. For the first time in any organized way, steam-driven boats left town during the summer months to travel up the Mississippi River, bringing this exotic new music to the rest of the nation. In Jazz on the River, William Howland Kenney brings to life the vibrant history of this music and its newfound mainstream popularity among the American people. Here for the first time readers can learn about the lives and music of the levee roustabouts promoting riverboat jazz and their relationships with such great early jazz adventurers as Louis Armstrong, Fate Marable, Warren "Baby" Dodds, and Jess Stacy. Kenney follows the boats from Memphis to St. Louis, where new styles of jazz were soon produced, all the way up the Ohio River, where the music captivated audiences in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Jazz on the River concludes with the story of the decline of the old paddle wheelers - and thus riverboat jazz - on the inland waterways after World War II. The enduring silence of our rivers, Kenney argues, reminds us of the loss of such a distinctive musical tradition.
But riverboat jazz still lives on in myriad permutations, each one in tune with its own time.
William Howland Kenney is professor of history and American studies at Kent State University. He is the author of Recorded Music in American Life: The Phonograph and Popular Memory, 1890-1945; Chicago Jazz: A Cultural History, 1904-1930; The Music of James Scott; and Laughter in the Wilderness: Early American Humor to 1783.