This is a blog about music, photography, history, and culture.
These are photographs from my collection that tell a story about lost time and forgotten music.

Mike Brubaker
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All That Jazz

15 March 2019

A very tiny micro story
sketched from a large photo

David turned toward the curtained end of his studio, put his finger to his lips, and paused a moment in thought. "Okay, boys. Here's what we're going to do." He pointed to the piano. "Julius, you're in the center. I want you to turn the piano so I can see the keyboard. Then don't sit so much on the bench as leap at those ivories. I want to see your claws out!" 

"Yes, sir, Mr. Bloom." snapped the young man.   

Now directing his attention to the lanky trombonist, David inspected the man from head to toe. "I don't think we want you to look like Arthur Pryor, do we Joe?" 

The boy grinned and said, "No way, Mr. Bloom. We sure ain't no marching band."

"That's what I thought," said David. "How about you crouch down just there by the piano leg. Is that comfortable? And move Julie's banjo up. Yeah, that's right. Can you give me one of those big growls? That kind of smeary sound with the slide?"  

"Sure thing! It's my specialty." Joe blew a loud ripping noise as he slowly drew in the slide. "Always gets the girls attention."   

David laughed. "Perfect! Keep your arm out like that."

"Now three more. Let's see you fellas." David faced the other musicians and cocked his head. "You, the cornet. Bert? No. Bud! That right?" The man nodded. "You get down opposite Joe and point that horn just left of the camera."

"Now for our virtuoso concertmaster." David patted the shoulder of the violinist. "How's your mother, Sol? I hope she's well."

"She's good, Mr. Bloom," said the young man.

"Swell, that's nice to hear. You give her my regards when you see her next. I took photos of her troupe years ago when she was playing the Imperial circuit. She still dancing once in a while?"

"No, Ma put her tap shoes up in the garret a long time age." Sol smiled. "But sometimes if I play an old waltz she'll take a spin around the kitchen linoleum."

David chuckled. "Swell, swell. You give her my best." He waved his hand at the piano. "You get behind Julius. There. No, wait, don't stand, you're not tall enough." He paused again with finger to lips. "Step onto that chair, and try sitting on the back. Can you do that? Great!"

With a deft twist David spun around to the last musician. "Now you, the drummer, Vincent was it?" he asked. The man wagged his head. "Let's put you and your gear on the other side of Sol. Get some sticks ready like you're going to set fire  a string of firecrackers."

David framed a rectangle with his fingers and thumbs and squinted one eye. "That's the idea. A little closer to the frog, Sol, and reach for the high note. Vincent, get those sticks up, maybe use more cow bell. And Bud, you make like you're blasting dynamite too."

"That just perfect, fellas." David walked quickly to the camera flipping a black cape over his head. "Hold it," he shouted. "Let's turn the heat up on that jazzy music to full boil. One. Two. Three!" He squeezed the shutter bulb. As he ducked out from under the camera shroud he exclaimed,  "Just swell! I think it's a keeper. I'll print these up tomorrow and they'll be ready for you to pick up later. Say after 3:00, okay?"  

The boys of the quintet beamed and chattered as they began to put away their instruments. "Say, fellas," David called, "Before you go, could you give me a sample of your stuff?" 

"Sure, Mr. Bloom," said Sol. "Here's a little hot-pepper tune we just learned last week for that college gig we got. We're still not sure what to call it. Maybe something Dixieland." He ran his finger up the keys in a fast gliss to a crashing chord. "Hit it, Vince!"

In a flash David's photography studio seemed illuminated by a bonfire of wild frenetic music. It wasn't just the unexpected loudness that startled him but the fast upbeat rhythms seemed alive with a primal intensity David had never experienced before. The five musicians kept a lively beat that wasn't like any patriotic march he'd ever heard. The melody was sprightly enough but it was much more intense and entangled than the usual love-struck song from an operetta. It sounded like the spring on the Victrola was broken, unleashing a turbulent froth of sound.

He suddenly realized he was tapping his foot. It was disconcerting to not understand the music and yet still get caught up in the noise. "Very peculiar," he thought, "Maybe it will catch on." He grimaced. "Then again maybe not. Just another fashion of youthful energy." He waved to the boys in the band as he escaped into his darkroom.

* * *

In a keyword search of the vast historical databases of newspaper archives the terms "jazz music" or "jazz band" do not show up until the winter of 1916 – 1917. In most texts they appear in advertisement listings for gramophone records, the big technology craze of the time. In the late 1910s the word "jazz" was not a commonly recognized musical style, even though for some years before it was part of musicians' slang in the ragtime and tin pan alley entertainment world. But until the gramophone came out as the new marvelous machine, capable of playing music anytime and anywhere, journalists and music critics had no reason to use a word which the general public did not understand. But by 1918 the musical term JAZZ took off, becoming a word for a new age.

This 8"x 10" photograph of five anonymous musicians has no date or note. There is just the photographer's logo to give a location and a suggestion of time period. But the pose of this youthful  quintet and the way they hold their instruments is obviously a brash style more appropriate to the post-WW1 era rather than to the reserved gentility seen in American culture before the war. Did they play "jazz" music? That's hard to say with complete certainty. The group certainly fits the instrumentation of early jazz combos, combo being a more recent word. They probably used the word "jazz" to describe their music but it probably sounded closer to ragtime and Dixieland styles than to the swing jazz of 1930s big bands or improvised tunes of 1940s bebop musicians.

The photograph was taken in the Bloom Photography Studio of Chicago owned by David Hyman Bloom, who along with his younger brother Samuel Bloom and sister Beatrice Bloom, ran the studio from about 1910 to 1935. Their family with sisters Mary and parents Max and Bertha Bloom were Jewish immigrants from Russia, specifically Lithuania. According to the 1910 US Census the eldest son David Bloom, who was age 23 and a photographer, arrived first in 1902 followed by the rest of his family in 1905. (Though in the 1920 census, the years are marked 1906 and 1908; and in 1930 unknown)

Initially their photography business in downtown Chicago, a block from Grant Park on the 5th floor of 144 Wabash Ave., was named the DeHaven Studio, and in some of my early blog stories I've featured photos from this studio. The location of the studio was close to Chicago's theatre district and the Blooms made a specialty of photographing musicians, actors, and entertainment troupes for publicity photos. These promotional photos were not produced as souvenirs for the fans but instead were duplicated in the hundreds for theatre managers and booking agencies. It was the best way to hook a date on the vaudeville circuit, which is why a good photo had to describe a show biz act in a single picture. 

In October 2011 my story entitled A Vaudeville Girl began with a DeHaven photo of a young entertainer, a multi-instrumental female musician, someone I still hope one day to identify. Then in February 2012 I wrote about a series of large format DeHaven photographs of the The Verdi Sextett, a small troupe of musicians who played the vaudeville theatre circuits. In those photos, my best estimate is that they were produced around 1914-16. Shortly afterwards the DeHaven studio's logo on photos changed to Bloom Chicago.

Earlier this year, 2019, I presented one of my longer musical histories on The Three Weston Sisters, a trio of talented sisters who had a long career performing music on the vaudeville stages of America. After finding many other images of this group in newspapers, I determined that my two photos of the Weston sisters was taken in the Bloom Studios about April 1918 or possibly a little earlier.

If we compare the Bloom photos of the Weston Sisters with the photo of this Jazz Quintet, we can see that they all posed on the same carpet.

It doesn't prove much, but a first-class photography studio would have kept its set wardrobe of props, i.e. curtains, chairs, carpets, etc., current with the public's taste for furnishing. Who would want to pose on the same old-fashioned frilly carpet in 1930 that was used for your photo in 1920? So I think it very likely that the Jazz Quintet came into Bloom Studios sometime between 1917 and 1920 to sit for their lively photo. Or maybe I should say "cut a rug"?

This is my contribution to Sepia Saturday.
Does anyone know what the kids today are up to?


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