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Call and Response (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Call and Response (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz) The strong partecipatory character of jazz comes from the African understanding of making music
Call and Response is one of #jazz defining characteristics. Instrument and musicians will respond to each other improvisations, creating a strong communal experience Click To Tweet
C - Call and Responce (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz)

Call-and-response is one of the most defining characteristics of jazz, one that comes straight out of the music’s African origin.
In the work songs, there would be a leader calling a line and a group responding to that line. So in jazz (especially early jazz), there would be an instrument proposing a melody and the other instruments would respond to it, would improvise around it.

But call-and-response went beyond the bandstand. The same way musicians influenced and prompted each other, so would the public. The audience’s reaction was vital to the performance because musicians would improvise on the base of the audience’s input.
This was particularly true when people danced to jazz music. Dancers would react to the music, improvising new steps, and musicians would catch the new steps, their rhythm, and improvise new music on that.
Jazz was a powerful communal creation any way you looked at it, still how call-and-response was understood and practised was always one of the things that most distinguished black from white jazz in America.

St Louis Cotton Club Band (Missouri 1925)
St. Louis Cotton Club Band Jazz Postcard Photo: Block Bros Studio, 1925 Missouri

White jazz was not only more mellow compared to the hot black jazz, it was also consumed in a more ‘European’ way. There would always be an invisible line between musicians and audience that was very seldom crossed.
In black establishments, the public would participate in the performance and would actually influence it. In addition to communal creation of music between musicians and dancers, listeners would often comment the music and would protest loudly if they didn’t like it, or cheer hotly when they did like it. Throwing objects to the band to signal the audience’s displeasure wasn’t unheard of.
White establishments tried to adopt a more direct enjoyment of jazz by trying to blur the barrier between audience and performers, for example by bringing the show on the dance floor, on the same level as the audience. Dancers would often move among the tables, the audience was encouraged to show their appreciation or displeasure by clapping their hands or banging cutlery on the tables. But it always remained, at heart, a very different kind of involvement than the African American version.


Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989

Jazz in America – African music


  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 08:05

    Interesting – I hadn’t appreciated that difference before – there is a similar difference between Gospel and ‘European’ church music.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:13

      That’s probably a difference that exist in all call-and-responce kinds of music in comperison to ‘European’ music. I suppose it’s a cultural difference.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 09:29

    Black Jazz sounds much more interesting than White Jazz. I did not realise there were such big differences between the way audiences appreciated the art.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:19

      I’ve seen it live just when I was reserching jazz for my story. A friend of mine invited me to a concert where her husband played. He had just entered a gospel group (all kids in comparison to him and all from Nigeria, he’s the only Italian).
      There were both Italian and Africans of different nationality in the audience, I saw we reacted in different ways and immediately I was reminded of the call-and-responce.
      And by the way, it was a fantastic concert. Those kids rocked!

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 09:37

    C is definitely for Cotton Club! Audiences call the shots in Call-and-Response, I like that concept. Also that the musicians would improvise based on the audience response. Takes a special talent to change up a routine according to nightly whims.
    Thanks for visiting by site for C-Day, Sarah!

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    C is for Chili Wisconsin-Style (and Characters taking over)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:21

      Many I’ve read said that difining jazz is basically impossible (Louis Armstrong said that if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know), but all agreed that call-and-response is a defining element of jazz.
      It’s really a very special music 🙂

  • Ella
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 13:53

    I love this post~ Great video-I love that song~
    Cheers, to you! This post makes me wanna dance-thank you~

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:22

      Happy you liked it.
      Finding videos for my osts is one of my favourite activities for this challenge. I’m discovering so many songs I like 🙂

  • Zeljka
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:53

    We definitely need more jazz clubs in Serbia 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:00

      LOL! You never know. We have quite a popular jazz festival here in Verona… and I’m not even sure how that happened 😉

  • Stephanie Bird
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 13:54

    Interesting, unique and brave analysis of the differences in Jazz types. I do really enjoy Call and Response music.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:23

      It’s a very special kind of music. I enjoy it very much too 🙂

  • Modern Gypsy
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 15:06

    Interesting! I knew that jazz has very strong African-American roots, but I didn’t realize there was this distinction between the way they played compared to white musicians. I’m really enjoying this Jazz history on your blog!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:02

      It’s all about people. People is culture, and culture is people, and history is people and culture. That’s what makes us what we are.

  • durba dhyani
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 15:42

    This post has put me in a very happy mood 🙂 Great info and a wonderful video to top it up!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:03

      I enjoyed the video very much too. I’m enjoying hunting for videos for this challenge 🙂

  • Mary Burris
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 16:03

    I am really enjoying your theme! And learning quite a bit, too!
    Thank you for that..

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:04

      Oh, I’m happy to hear it. And I love to share what I’ve learned, that’s the best part of this challenge 🙂

  • Laura Hile
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 16:40

    Great article, Sarah. I’m enjoying this series, thank you.

    Happy A to Z!


  • Linda
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 16:49

    What a great post! I love music from the 1920’s to 1940’s. Thank you so much for sharing, and warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. 🙂

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:06

      Hey, I’m happy to see a fellow enthusiast of the era music.
      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 17:21

    Your posts are great lessons in Jazz music and its history. Am enjoying your series!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:07

      Thanks Shilpa. I’m enjoying your challenge too. You often surprise me with your little stories 🙂

  • Alina K. Field
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:26

    Very interesting post. We have a small jazz club near us but I haven’t been in years–and yeah, it’s a pretty sedate audience, come to think of it!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 07:47

      The beauty of jazz is that there is nothing sure. Anything can change for the slightest event of happening. I think this is what makes jazz (which is undoubtedly a very definite cultural and historical experience) so universal 🙂

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 19:05

    I always have a very hard time “politely” listening to any music 😀 Once I was at a jazz concert on campus, and I kept moving to the music, and an American student next to me finally turned to me and said “You are not from around here, are you?” 😀

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  • Jeffrey Scott
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 19:35

    Great addition to the Jazz theme. Liked the video attached. How those dancers did the jump-splits, or those split-slides without killing themselves is beyond me.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 20:09

      They are incredible, aren’t they? I’ve seen other videos of their numbers and they are simply unbelievable.

  • Megan Morgan
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 23:36

    Yet another thing I’ve learned about jazz! I’m learning a lot from this theme, actually!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 07:48

      So happy to hear this 🙂
      I’m trying to keep this informative.

  • Sheena-kay Graham
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 13:34

    I remember seeing this in some old cartoons as a child. Never really thought about it but the music was a lot more entertaining and interactive that way. Blog: QueendSheena .

  • Sabina
    Posted April 6, 2016 at 13:50

    I love how call & response has endured as music has evolved. It’s the easiest way to hear the influence of jazz in modern music.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 6, 2016 at 19:18

      Especially in the 1920s, jazz was a very influential music. No wonder we can see its influence even now 🙂

  • Sir Leprechaunrabbit
    Posted April 10, 2016 at 01:59

    Dearie, I am amazed at the different faucets that make Jazz what it is.
    I am so enjoying these lessons!
    Thank you

    Sir Leprechaunrabbit

    • Post Author
      Posted April 10, 2016 at 06:20

      History is always a discovery, don’t you think? 🙂

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