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Hello, Central, Give Me Doctor Jazz
Negroes with cash money in their jeans every Saturday night, Negroes who were called Mister and Missus every day in the
week—when these folk heard the triumphant and happy New Orleans marches leap out of the trumpet of King Oliver, when they heard their own deep song, the blues, voiced in gold by a big band, they began to shout. From that moment jazz was no longer a New Orleans specialty; it became the music of the whole Negro people, asserting their new-found confidence and reflecting, presently, the novel ironies of their harsh lives in city slums and heavy industry. So The Royal Garden, Dreamland, The PeMn, The Elite and other gaudy Southside gin-mills and dancehalls rocked to the stomps and blues of Oliver and Keppard, Dodds and Bechet, Perez and St. Cyr.
All this loud, happy music, especially the charming ringing of the cash registers, did not fail to attract the attention of other Chicagoans.
At the fringes of the South Side crowds stood a gang of music-hungry, life-hungry white kids. Mezz Mezzrow, who was one of these white urchins, has described how he felt the first time he heard New Orleans music—"That was my big night, the night I really began to live. . . . My mind kept telling me that this was where I really belonged, I had found my Utopia and I began scheming to come back every night, including Sundays and holidays. . . ." *
These Chicago high-school kids hung around the bandstands of the South Side, soaking it in, then went and tried the jazz idea out for themselves, as the white New Orleans DMelanders had done a few years earlier. They did well; not only were they talented, they were the right color. Within a few years Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, Gene Krapa, Eddie Condon and their followers would have the money and the fame while old Doctor Jazz died hard in Atlanta and his boys were still scuffling in the honky-tonks.
In later years, some of the lesser Chicagoans even learned to draw the Jim Crow line, refusing to sit on a bandstand with
* Really the Blues, Mezzrow and Wolfe, Random House, New York, 1946.