Friday, 05 October 2012 15:55

Jazz in Wales between the Wars - by Jen Wilson

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Jen Wilson, founder of Jazz Heritage Wales has written an extensive and enlightening document on the country's history and connection to jazz in the mid-war years.  "Jazz in Wales between the Wars 1919-1939: fascists, feminism, fashion and some o’ that Old Time Religion" can be downloaded in full below, and the opening few paragraphs are below.  For more info, visit the Jazz Heritage Wales webstie:

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"There is no doubt that a cultural renaissance had taken place in South Wales during  the First World War.  A Café culture or Café Society had begun to evolve during 1915 providing a safe environment for single or bereaved women and acting as a support network.  Swansea alone had 12 cafes offering two floorshows daily, most produced and directed by women, with up to 1000 at each sitting.

Doris Page, Maye Price and Gretta John were singled out for commendation and were referred to in the vernacular as “right on” women.  Some floorshows had singing waiters and waitresses dancing along the bar counters.  The Cafés also provided extra work for the very popular African American revue and combo musicians touring the theatre circuit.

The word “jazz” first appeared in the South Wales press in 1919.  Music became noisy and brash with revues showcasing sleek production numbers and fast-paced sketches and songs, attracting some surprising customers like the US fleet of 50 submarine chasers at Swansea docks, towing a captured U Boat with 6 German officers and 27 crew on board enjoying the delights of Swansea's noisy night life of jazz in the cafes and assembly halls.

A dancing frenzy had hit Wales fuelled by the new “hot” and “syncopated” jazz music – consequently many local bands found themselves with plenty of work.  Businesses reopened and Victory Fetes, Galas and Reunions took place regularly over the next few years.   Music and dancing license applications flooded the town halls and café culture flourished.  The Café Chantant featured their new revue “Way Down South” with Sand Dancing, Buck and Tango Dancing, with an orchestra of “Cullud Gemmen”.   African American combos were able to fit in extra daytime shifts in the Cafés as well as their usual evening theatre tour bookings. The star of “Way Down South”  was Harrie Coonie, described as “the real article brought from the cottonfields and introduced to Wales by the Café Chantant regime”.

Jazz was performed in school halls, department store roof gardens, parks and the workhouse, all hosting regular jazz nights and dance exhibitions.  For example, in 1921 David Evans Department Store hosted a Follies night in aid of Swansea’s Aged Poor, performing songs and dances from the show “Going Back to Dixie”.  They also performed it in Swansea's Tawe Lodge Workhouse.   The Workhouse redesigned their dining hall as an old Kentucky Plantation and the inmates were entertained by Swansea’s White Eyed Coons and a jazz band.

South Wales was becoming increasingly multi-cultural with the press reporting that there were over 1000 “aliens” now residing in Swansea, described as Russians, Jews, Spanish, Italian and a fair number of Germans – men who had been interned during the war and returning to their old work."