Tuesday, September 30, 2014

James Reese Europe: Hellfighter

James Reese Europe was one of the earliest figures of jazz music. He was a great bandleader and an inspiration to African-Americans in the early years of the last century. Europe was the leader of Europe’s Society Orchestra that first recorded in 1913. That orchestra ostensibly played ragtime music, the forerunner of jazz; however, Europe’s orchestra played a highly- improvised version of ragtime which could easily be classified as jazz. Europe took ragtime music and speeded it up considerably, making it a frenetic and highly infectious and danceable music.

Europe was the first African-American bandleader to ever make a commercial recording and in 1914, Europe and the Society Orchestra recorded Castle’s Lame Duck” and “Castle House Rag” for the Victor label.

During World War One, Europe was enlisted in the U.S, army as a lieutenant with the African-American 369th Infantry Regiment that was dubbed the “Harlem Hellcats.” Europe also directed the regimental band and with them made recordings for the Pathe brothers while stationed in France. Europe and the band also performed concerts, making a hit of the number, “Memphis Blues.”

Shortly after returning to America at the conclusion of the war, Europe was stabbed in the neck with a pen by one of his drummers during the intermission of a concert in Boston. Europe succumbed to the wound, and became the first African-American citizen to be honoured with a public funeral in New York City.

James Reese Europe and Hellfighters Band