Thursday, 21 July 2016

Lieutenant James Reese Europe - Weird War 1 369th Infantry Harlem Hellfighter and band leader

James "Jim" Reese Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama to Henry and Laura Europe. His family including his older sisters (Minnie and Ida) and older brother (John) moved to Washington, D.C. when he was 10 years old. He moved to New York in 1904.

In 1910, Europe organized the Clef Club, a society for African Americans in the music industry. In 1912, the club made history when it played a concert at Carnegie Hall for the benefit of the Colored Music Settlement School. The Clef Club Orchestra, while not a jazz band, was the first band to play proto-jazz at Carnegie Hall. It is difficult to overstate the importance of that event in the history of jazz in the United States—it was 12 years before the Paul Whiteman and George Gershwin concert at Aeolian Hall, and 26 years before Benny Goodman's famed concert at Carnegie Hall. The Clef Club's performances played music written solely by black composers, including Harry T. Burleigh and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  Europe's orchestra also included Will Marion Cook, who had not been in Carnegie Hall since his own performance as solo violinist in 1896.

Cook was the first black composer to launch full musical productions, fully scored with a cast and story every bit as classical as any Victor Herbert operetta. In the words of Gunther Schuller, Europe "... had stormed the bastion of the white establishment and made many members of New York's cultural elite aware of Negro music for the first time".  The New York Times remarked, "These composers are beginning to form an art of their own"; yet by their third performance, a review in Musical America said Europe's Clef Club should "give its attention during the coming year to a movement or two of a Haydn Symphony".

Europe was known for his outspoken personality and unwillingness to bend to musical conventions, particularly in his insistence on playing his own style of music. He responded to criticism by saying, "We have developed a kind of symphony music that, no matter what else you think, is different and distinctive, and that lends itself to the playing of the peculiar compositions of our race ... My success had come ... from a realization of the advantages of sticking to the music of my own people." And later, "We colored people have our own music that is part of us. It's the product of our souls; it's been created by the sufferings and miseries of our race."

His "Society Orchestra" became nationally famous in 1912, accompanying theater headliner dancers Vernon and Irene Castle. The Castles introduced and popularized the foxtrot—"America learned to dance from the waist down." In 1913 and 1914 he made a series of phonograph records for the Victor Talking Machine Company. These recordings are some of the best examples of the pre-jazz hot ragtime style of the U.S. Northeast of the 1910s. These are some of the most accepted quotes that are in place to protect the idea that the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded the first jass (spelling later changed) pieces in 1917 for Victor. Unlike Europe's post-War recordings, the Victor recordings were not called nor marketed as "jazz" at the time, and were far from the first recordings of ragtime by African-American musicians.

Neither the Clef Club Orchestra nor the Society Orchestra were small "Dixeland" style bands. They were large symphonic bands to satisfy the tastes of a public that was used to performances by the likes of the John Philip Sousa band and similar organizations very popular at the time. The Clef Orchestra had 125 members  and played on various occasions between 1912 and 1915 in Carnegie Hall. It is instructive to read a comment from a music review in the New York Times from March 12, 1914: "... the programme consisted largely of plantation melodies and spirituals [arranged such as to show that] these composers are beginning to develop an art of their own based on their folk material ..."

During World War I, Europe obtained a commission in the New York Army National Guard, where he saw combat as a lieutenant with the 369th Infantry Regiment (the "Harlem Hellfighters"). He went on to direct the regimental band to great acclaim. In February and March 1918, James Reese Europe and his military band travelled over 2,000 miles in France, performing for British, French and American military audiences as well as French civilians. Europe's "Hellfighters" also made their first recordings in France for the Pathé brothers.  The first concert included a French march, and the Stars and Stripes Forever as well as syncopated numbers such as "The Memphis Blues", which, according to a later description of the concert by band member Noble Sissle "... started ragtimitis in France".

Attributes: Agility d6, Smarts d8, Spirit d8, Strength d6, Vigor d6

Skills: Fighting d4, Knowledge (Battle), Knowledge (Music)  d10, Notice d8, Persuasion d8, Shooting d6

Charisma: 0; Pace: 6; Parry: 4; Sanity: 6; Toughness: 5

Hindrances: Heroic, Stubborn

Edges: Command, Common Bond, Elan, Rank (Officer)

Gear:  Uniform, canteen, steel helmet (+1), M1911 Pistol with 21 rounds (Range 12/24/48, Damage 2d6+1), binoculars, map case with maps.

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