David R. Adler

David R. Adler is an adjunct lecturer in jazz history at the Aaron Copland School of Music, Queens College. He is a regular contributor to JazzTimes, Stereophile and other publications. As a (former) professional guitarist, David has worked in jazz, pop/rock, cabaret, gospel, musical theater and other settings.



"Ghost Train: Pre-Swing Big Bands and Urban Experience"

Pre-swing big bands of the late 1920s fulfilled unique roles in city life — a fact brought vividly into relief by a CD released in 2011 called Hot House Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem. This album, by trumpeter Brian Carpenter and his Ghost Train Orchestra, features music by early (and relatively obscure) African-American big bands: Tiny Parham and His Musicians, Fess Williams’ Royal Flush Orchestra, Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra and McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. Carpenter’s arrangements are new, and his Ghost Train Orchestra includes leading-edge modernists of the New York jazz scene.

Using Hot House Stomp and several of the original vintage recordings for contrast, I propose an audio tour of late-’20s big band jazz. How did the sounds of Chicago and Harlem differ, and why? How did racial politics and economics affect the availability of long-term work in cities, as opposed to the grueling demands of constant touring? How did these business realities impact the music itself? Finally, how is it that this extraordinary and often innovative music — particularly that of John Nesbitt with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers — came to be almost completely forgotten, even by jazz enthusiasts?

With these questions as a guide, I plan to uncover details about this neglected period prior to the commercial explosion of the Swing Era. Here we can gain new insight into the evolution of jazz, America’s urban soundtrack par excellence, and also draw possible parallels to today’s inescapably city-based jazz culture.


My Speakers Sessions

Saturday, March 24

4:00pm EDT