The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

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

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The role in jazz history of the guitar and related instruments (banjo, etc.) has been overshadowed by the greater dominance in later years of the piano as a medium for ragtime. Yet long before the seeds of ragtime as a piano art were sown, primitive banjos and guitars were in use in the hands of itinerant folk singers deeply rooted in the blues. In homes that could scarcely afford furniture of any kind, let alone a piano, the heart of the musician, seeking a manual release, found its outlet not at the keyboard but on any plank of wood or metal across which a few wire strings could be arranged in simulation of the rough, vigorĀ­ous sounds of the minstrel show's banjo and the wandering laborer's guitar.
The theory has been advanced that ragtime itself was a tributary of the early flow of banjo music. The piano, according to this hypothesis, was employed in ragtime to imitate one or two banjos; indeed, a very early published rag entitled New Coon in Town (1884) is significantly subtitled Banjo Imitation. The use of the banjo among American Negroes probably goes as far back as the American Revolution; Thomas Jefferson in 1781 referred to it as an instrument brought here from Africa.
The imitative process was eventually reversed: Huddie Led-better, a blues singer more generally known as "Leadbelly", tried to copy on his guitar the left hand of boogie-woogie piano when he heard it around Texas about 1910. Leadbelly represented, vocally and instrumentally, the folk-blues idiom that had a propulsive effect on early blues-ragtime-jazz forms. As a young