The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

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

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descension. His assets were (and still are) a crystal tone, im­peccable intonation and a superlative jazz beat. Possibly because some of bis extensive studies were undertaken in Budapest there is a gypsy strain running through some o£ his jazz; not surpris­ingly, his best recordings were those he made in France with Django Reinhardt in 1937. It is a major tragedy of jazz history that South, now in his fifties, has spent much of his life in obscure second-rate night clubs while he was perfectly equipped to enter the concert field, in which he could have offered programs ranging from jazz and tzigane melodies to classical concert works. South gave the jazz world too much too soon; in his prime he had to face the twin stone walls of Jim Crow and the complete lack of concert openings for jazzmen.
Joe Venuti, almost exactly South's age, had a far more suc­cessful career, recording incessantly in the late 1920s and making frequent radio appearances with Paul Whiteman and the other big white bands of the day. Venuti possesses most of the same qualities as South, without the gypsy traits, and where South's jazz melodic lines sometimes had a tendency to merge into country and western music, Venutfs have always been unmis­takably jazz and have never been outswung. Though the golden age ended for him with the death of his guitarist partner Eddie Lang in 1933, Venuti has retained the elements that first brought him to prominence. Three decades have neither dimmed his vitality nor dated his style. An innovation created by Venuti but never followed up in jazz was a technique that involved tying the bow around the body of the violin so that the gut would strike all four strings simultaneously, enabling him to improvise passages in four-part chords. Some of the most attrac­tive of the Venuti solos were created in this manner.
The joker in the violin deck is Stuff Smith. Discarding all the rule books, scraping away with a hacksaw tone at an amplified violin from which concert musicians shielded their eyes and ears in agony, Stuff took 52nd Street by storm in 1935, singing, clowning, and always playing with humor and a jaggedly pro­pulsive beat. Stuff proved that barrelhouse jazz could be coaxed from a violin, in contrast with the swinging but conservative rule-observances of South and Venuti. To some degree his precepts