Throughout jazz historical commentary, writers and observers concede the pervasive influence of Louis Armstrong and the “New Orleans Clarinet Sound”…in the Jenkins Orphanage bands, there are archetypes, most notably a “Charleston Trumpet Style”…a virtuosic trumpet style that extended the range of the horn. If the sheer number of Jenkins-spawned trumpet players whose high-note fluency brought them acclaim were tallied, the existence of a “Jenkins Orphanage School of Trumpet Playing,” must be acknowledged… the trumpet tradition attracted the attention of band leaders like Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington, who looked to the Jenkins’ ranks for talented and professionally competent trumpeters.
The Charleston Jazz Initiative (CJI) was established in March 2003 by native Charlestonian Jack McCray, jazz journalist and long-time researcher of Charleston’s jazz tradition, and Dr. Karen Chandler, Associate Professor of Arts Management, School of the Arts at the College of Charleston and former director of the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture.
Founded at the Avery Research Center, CJI operates out of the Arts Management Program, School of the Arts and in partnership with Avery. CJI’s oral histories and archival collections are housed at Avery as The Charleston Jazz Initiative Collection.
Historical Context of CJI
Charleston’s jazz music legacy is little known. New Orleans owns the creation myth for jazz, but there is evidence that what happened in Charleston parallels, or perhaps, predates the New Orleans scene, especially if a musicological basis for tracing the history of jazz is used. If the history of jazz is approached as a look at the sociological development of enslaved Africans where European art was Africanized, not just blended with Africanisms, a consideration of Charleston is crucial.
Charleston’s jazz legacy began on the coast of the Palmetto State in the mid- to late 19th century. Many Charleston musicians learned their craft with the Jenkins Orphanage Bands. They were taught and trained at Charleston’s Jenkins Orphanage, one of the country’s first private black orphanages. Reverend Daniel Joseph Jenkins founded the orphanage in 1891 and its acclaimed bands in 1894 for the betterment of children. From 1894 through the 1960s, the institution used music as a learning tool. This 20th century “jazz nursery” fielded several bands over the years and produced many great musicians. Other musicians were taught and trained at Charleston’s Avery Normal Institute, a private (and later public) school founded in 1865 that trained many black Charlestonians for teaching careers. The original, renovated edifice currently houses the Avery Research Center for African American History and Culture at the College of Charleston.
These musicians went on to establish remarkable careers as sidemen with other musicians, jazz orchestras and ensembles including the Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Lionel Hampton, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Erskine Hawkins, Jimmy Lunceford, Harry James, Sidney Bechet, and James P. Johnson Orchestras, and with James Reese Europe’s 369th Regimental Band. CJI records the life stories and documents the social history of these little known jazz musicians who helped birth American jazz.