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Big Towns and Brass Bands
played the euphonium. We called the music ragtime, whether it was a piano or a band playing. We never heard the word 'jazz' until many years later, long after I came to New York."
W. C. Handy, tbe cornetist and band master later famous as the composer of St. Louis Blues, attests to the growth of jazz-related forms in many southern states during the 1890s. Born in 1873 in Florence, Alabama, he toured as a young man with Mahara's Minstrels, as cornet soloist and musical director. The following conversation took place in 1957 between Mr. Handy and the author:
Mr. Handy, when you were a young man, did you hear anything about the New Orleans musicians that jazz historians are writing about today, such as Bunk Johnson and Buddy Bolden?
No, I didn't hear about them, but I had associations with others; my best trombone player was from there, and I carried New Orleans musicians with me when I had a band in 1896 and '97 all over the United States.
Did the jazz musicians come from New Orleans, then, or from all over the South, or all over the country?
From all over the country. Fewer of them were from New York than any place. You could get them from Philadelphia, but you got your best musicians back in the '80s and '90s from Shreveport, Baton Rouge, Vicksburg, Jackson—Mississippi and Louisiana. Alabama had some, also Florida and Tennessee.
Don't you think that jazz and ragtime and the blues all had something in common and overlapped to some degree?
I think they are separate things in this: ragtime you played as it was written, but in jazz you had improvisation. And ragtime had very Kttle melody—it was mainly rhythm. The blues had a good melodic line. But they did sometimes overlap.
Who were some of the musicians that you associated with jazz, and where did they come from?
It would depend on what you call jazz.
I would like your interpretation of the word.
Well, I played with a fellow in Bessemer, Alabama, and they called him Lard Can Charlie and he made good jazz out of a lard can. See what I mean? I played with another fellow in Huntsville, Alabama. He played with a long iron pipe and the people would