Jazz's First Pandemic
by Mike Guy
The Soggy Po' Boys are about the best soundtrack for this "Jazz Anecdote" that I can think of.
While trying to find images combining jazz and the coronavirus for the temporary Seacoast Jazz Notes column “Quarantine Jazz,” I came across the image to the left. It shows two women wearing masks and talking through a car window. The picture came from the swing jazz- and dance-elated website Yehoodi, specifically an April 27, 2020, piece entitled “How Jazz Emerged from the Worst Pandemic in History.”
The media have been making us aware of the 1918 H1N1virus pandemic in the context of our current pandemic, but I quickly reach the point where it’s best to turn off the talking heads (not David Byrne's band) and play some recent Charles Lloyd albums.
Finding the Yehoodi article, and the associated CDC site, really made it clear to me that jazz musicians and fans have been here before. It was in a very different time, but we clearly got through it.
In 1918, recorded jazz had been around for less than a year. The start of radio was still two years away. Charlie Parker was just a gleam in Chris and Addie's eyes.
If the way-back machine could be set correctly or Scotty could beam us back to a gig in 1918, we'd hear Sidney Bechet, James P. Johnson, perhaps a teenage Louis Armstrong or Bix Beiderbecke, and the many great players that we’ll never know of. Man, to hear that music with today’s technology. Anyone have a used Delorean I can borrow?
Today some musicians are surviving financially by teaching online and finding outlets for their creativity virtually. I'm not sure what Russ Grazier's great-granddad did for work, but I'm pretty sure there wasn't a PMAC where Zach Lange’s ancestors could take lessons from Satchmo.
Humor aside, the article in Yehoodi, the "History of Jazz Time Line" from the All About Jazz website, and the CDC site on the 1918 Pandemic are great places to do research while developing your own opinions. Check them out in between Charles Lloyd albums.