Just after World War I, the musical style called jazz began a waterborne journey outward from that quintessential haven of romance and decadence, New Orleans. For the first time in any organized way, steam-driven boats left town during the summer months to tramp the Mississippi River, bringing an exotic new music to the rest of the nation. For entrepreneurs promoting jazz, this seemed a promising way to spread northward the exciting sounds of the Crescent City. And the musicians no longer had to wait for folks upriver to make their way down to New Orleans to hear the vibrant rhythms, astonishing improvisations, and new harmonic idioms being created. Simply put, when jazz went upstream, it went mainstream, and in Jazz on the River, William Howland Kenney brings to life the vibrant history of this music and its seduction of the men and women along America's inland waterways. 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 alike. 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 our own times.
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.