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Jazz 101: Rag, Blues and Stride

by Seth Colter Walls

Jazz 101: Rag, Blues and Stride


Jazz history is massive enough at this point to be a touch intimidating. With so many box sets and so many compilations to choose from, where to start? We've got you covered, era by era, with our Jazz 101 series, which you can follow here. Each daily playlist offers up five-star performances, and tips you off to albums with plenty more gold left to explore after the intro course is over. Enjoy.

Our time: The 1920s, when New Orleans was into group improv based on ragtime and the blues, while up north in Chicago and New York, a strong new piano technique known as stride was being born.

Don't let the early-recording fidelity fool you. This isn't soft, old-time stuff; it's exciting, hot music with a radical tinge that's never faded in the century since jazz was first born. For confirmation of this, just check out the barroom abandon of James P. Johnson -- and those famous Harlem rent parties -- in the oom-pah stride-piano power of "You've Got to Be Modernistic" and "Keep Off the Grass."

Meantime, Art Tatum was showing the world all the things a piano could really do, whether with the brisk perfection of "Runnin' Wild," or else when ragging the classical tradition (see his take on Massenet's "Elegie"). Before any of that happened, though, Jelly Roll Morton codified New Orleans style with his Hot Peppers (as well as with his solo piano flights). Plus, you might take note of a young soloist in Fletcher Henderson's 1924 band: a certain Louis Armstrong.

Check the appended playlist for all these artists and more -- including a trio of modern cats each of whom still finds inspiration in the likes of proto-jazz jams such as Scott Joplin's "Maple Leaf Rag," as well as the immortal tunes by Mr. Jelly and James P.