Early Jazz, the Chinese connection

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
All the early jazz drum sets sported distinctly Chinese components, tack head toms with dragon motifs, temple blocks, China cymbals, Chinese clash cymbals, etc.

I wonder if anyone has explored how this came about.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
It came about because that was what was available.

The concept of a drum set in the music that would become to be known as jazz goes back to approximately 1890.

Zildjian didn't start making cymbals in America until 1928.

When Ludwig drums formed in 1910, they started with just pedals, drums came later.

Slingerland didn't make drums until 1926 or so.

So drummers in the early 1900's, and even at the start of the roaring 20's, didn't have many choices in drum equipment.

And drummers at the time didn't just play jazz, they played a lot of vaudeville gigs, that required a drummer to have a variety of sound effects.

So Ludwig, Slingerland, and others imported sound effects from China to fill this need, including the tack on toms and china cymbals, blocks any other percussion instruments that seemed to fit into vaudeville, which of course got quickly adapted to jazz.

It wasn't until the early 30's that the major drum companies started making tunable toms, which is also around the time vaudeville popularity declined while big band music became more popular. And thus the drum set evolved more into what we think of a drum set and less of a collection of separate percussion instruments.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
It came about because that was what was available.

The concept of a drum set in the music that would become to be known as jazz goes back to approximately 1890.

Zildjian didn't start making cymbals in America until 1928.

When Ludwig drums formed in 1910, they started with just pedals, drums came later.

Slingerland didn't make drums until 1926 or so.

So drummers in the early 1900's, and even at the start of the roaring 20's, didn't have many choices in drum equipment.

And drummers at the time didn't just play jazz, they played a lot of vaudeville gigs, that required a drummer to have a variety of sound effects.

So Ludwig, Slingerland, and others imported sound effects from China to fill this need, including the tack on toms and china cymbals, blocks any other percussion instruments that seemed to fit into vaudeville, which of course got quickly adapted to jazz.

It wasn't until the early 30's that the major drum companies started making tunable toms, which is also around the time vaudeville popularity declined while big band music became more popular. And thus the drum set evolved more into what we think of a drum set and less of a collection of separate percussion instruments.
It just doesn't seem obvious to me that these Chinese instruments were easily available. Granted cymbals weren't around in the states, but wood blocks, toms, etc? Seems like people had to go way out of their way to get them.
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
It just doesn't seem obvious to me that these Chinese instruments were easily available. Granted cymbals weren't around in the states, but wood blocks, toms, etc? Seems like people had to go way out of their way to get them.
Well, consider when the early European explores came to North America, they were originally looking for trades routes to Asia. The concept of importing Asian goods to the West goes back hundreds of years before the USA existed.

The USA started importing tea, rugs, silk, spices, and other products from China pretty much as soon as the USA was established.

Also, there was a large influx to the US of Chinese immigrants in the 1800's.

So I don't think it's a stretch to think someone realized there was a demand for Chinese made instruments and to put some on a ship that was already US bound.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Well, consider when the early European explores came to North America, they were originally looking for trades routes to Asia. The concept of importing Asian goods to the West goes back hundreds of years before the USA existed.

The USA started importing tea, rugs, silk, spices, and other products from China pretty much as soon as the USA was established.

Also, there was a large influx to the US of Chinese immigrants in the 1800's.

So I don't think it's a stretch to think someone realized there was a demand for Chinese made instruments and to put some on a ship that was already US bound.
That is pretty insightful, but a subtly, is that hundreds of years went by, and no European drum sets constructed with Chinese drums, they could have just as easily been tossed on the back of a camel no?
 

MrPockets

Gold Member
That is pretty insightful, but a subtly, is that hundreds of years went by, and no European drum sets constructed with Chinese drums, they could have just as easily been tossed on the back of a camel no?

That would be because the drum set is a US invention that happened after the Civil War. Maybe the Europeans had no need for drummers to play ore than one instrument at a time/it was looked down upon to do so?
 

DrumEatDrum

Platinum Member
That is pretty insightful, but a subtly, is that hundreds of years went by, and no European drum sets constructed with Chinese drums, they could have just as easily been tossed on the back of a camel no?
Not to be mean, but I'm a bit dumbfounded one could ask that.

Drum set was invented for the music that became jazz.
Jazz was is American invention that largely originated in African American communities post Civil War when African musical influences mixed with European instruments and influences.

Europe didn't develop drum sets because they didn't have such a large population of African people who had been forcibly brought over.

Europeans were still making what we now call classical music at the time.
 

tcspears

Gold Member
That is pretty insightful, but a subtly, is that hundreds of years went by, and no European drum sets constructed with Chinese drums, they could have just as easily been tossed on the back of a camel no?
A couple of points:

1. The US started trading with the Chinese shortly after the revolutionary war (before that the British controlled the American-China trade, which went back to the mid 1600s)... Boston, Salem, and Philadelphia were the biggest Chinese trading ports in the US until well after the Civil War. Ships would go to Europe and Africa and would trade silver for Chinese made goods. It's entirely possible that Chinese goods would have made their way to the states, and that's the prevailing theory.

2. The drum set was invented in the US, specifically to start playing jazz. In the late 1800s, jazz was mostly "hokum", or vaudevillian, and wasn't taken seriously. Because of this, they didn't have the budget to hire a percussion section. Instead, the drum set came to be as a "one man band" sort of contraption. The Chinese tams were used to mimic some of the African drums that were used in the beginning of jazz (Congo Square), and also to mimic the timpani sound of European music. There were no drum sets in Europe as they weren't playing jazz, and they didn't fit into the European traditions. Europe didn't see their first drum sets until after the first world war by most accounts.
 

tcspears

Gold Member
Actually, some of the Asian trade routes with America started in the mid 1500s; so they were very well established by the time the US was formed.
 

SmoothOperator

Gold Member
Actually, some of the Asian trade routes with America started in the mid 1500s; so they were very well established by the time the US was formed.
Thinking about the timing. I suspect that the Chinese influence may have become prominent at about the time the continental railroad was built connecting the west coast ports and Asian trade routes to the American heartland, with Chinese indentured servants none the less.
 

John Lamb

Senior Member
During the time of the US Civil War there was a war in China that drove many to flee - much like the war in Syria today. It was the bloodiest civil war in world history, called the Taiping Rebellion and there was a large wave of immigration to the US, just around the time the drum sets started getting put together.

Like African American but even more so, job options were limited (railroad, laundry, restaurants etc) and many ended up working in theater and night clubs. Thus the connection since many early drum sets lived in theaters to accompany plays and silent movies. They were often used for special effects.
 
Top