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Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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dates it back as far as 1840. This song is important because structurally it has the classic twelve-measure format of the blues (see Chapter 18), with the first four bars on the tonic and the next on the chord of the subdominant, and so on through the regular 1-4-5-1 blues pattern. Considerable doubt exists whether Frankie and Johnny was of Negro or white origin; but it seems certain that the harmonic formula it represented was common in American folk music of both races a century ago, just as the majority of popular songs of the nineteenth century had a simple harmonic base that had been in general use among European composers since Bach's day. The twelve-measure form can even be found in English and French balladry as far back as the thirteenth century. Though this may be coincidence, there can be little doubt that the blues structurally is of white origin, though melodically and harmonically it is the product of an American Negro environment.
The work song is a jazz antecedent of unquestionable folk origin, bom in slavery and raised in protest. "Fearful of the silence of the slaves," Duke Ellington has theorized, "their masters commanded them to raise their voices in song, so that all opportunity for discontented reflection or plans for retaliation and salvation would be eliminated/'4 The work songs, of which Old Man River is a modern travesty, originated in chain gangs, on plantations and among levee camp and railroad workers. Though the stories told by the lyrics have no direct bearing on the musical qualities of jazz, they are a significant reflection of part of its social background, as even some of their titles indi­cate: Nine-Foot Shovel, Chain Gang Bound and Told My Cap'n. (Cap'n, cap'n, you mus* be cross; six 'clock in Hell Jo" you knock off . . . raisqd my hand, wiped de sweat off my head, cap'n got mad, shot my buddy dead . . ,).
The plantation work song might center on the boll weevil, or on the physical prowess of some legendary hero such as John Henry. Often in the work songs one finds examples of the *chant-antWesponseM form, a pattern that has occurred through­out jazz history, from the blues laments of Bessie Smith, an­swered by the ad lib obbligatos of a trumpeter or trombonist, through the simple reeds-versus-brass rifling of the early swing