Jazz - Then and Now (Chapter 3, page 2 of 5)


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Chapter 3

A good example of an efficient work song leader can be found in the chain gang. While bound together in chains, the prisoners moved in unison with the rhythmic tempo of the leader. The leader would sing or call the verses and at the end of his phrases the workers would respond.

Way down south where I was born.

Roll the cotton down.

I worked in the cotton and the corn.

Oh, roll the cotton down.

When I was young and in my prime.

Roll the cotton down.

I'd thought I'd go and join the line.

Oh, roll the cotton down.

And for a sailor caught a shine.

Roll the cotton down.

I joined on the ship of the Black Ball Line.

Oh, roll the cotton down.

The leader set the pace for his group. His usual routine would be to start the workers out slowly and then gradually increase the tempo of his call. Often, the leader would slow his pace to ease up on the workers and give them a chance to rest. Not wanting to cause tension among the workers or slow down production the leader was also careful not to overwork or overtire his crew.

Folklorist Alan Lomax calls the work song a morale-building religious tune adapted to meet the workers' requirements. He also indicates that the work song exhibited more of the West African qualities and very little of the European.

African Musicologist, Nicholas Ballants-Taylor, says in the Slave Songs of the Georgis Sea Island, "Music in Africa is not cultivated for its own sake.

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