Early jazz in Australia as oriental exotica

Aline Morna Scott-Maxwell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Australian jazz historians sometimes note how the earliest so-called jazz music to reach Australia via the popular stage was largely perceived as novelty noise due to the use of new jazz percussion effects and other novelty sounds in intriguingly unfamiliar combinations. Notably, Chinese percussion instruments were important novelty noise components of early jazz. Yet, by the onset of the Jazz Age, Australians already had a long familiarity with oriental sounds both through musical representations of the Orient in popular stage and other entertainments and also direct exposure to Chinese music performances, ranging from noisy Chinese opera performances on the mid-nineteenth century goldfields to local and visiting Chinese vaudeville acts in the early twentieth century. The association between oriental exotica and early jazz was such that the strange , exotic, noisy sounds of Chinese music came sometimes to be understood as jazz . This association was successfully exploited by Chinese jazz acts such as Sun Moon Lee and his 14 Oriental Stars with the Chinese Jazz Band during their six-month-long Australian tour in 1927, when they were described as both the real thing in jazz and the real thing in Chinese (Brisbane Courier, 3 May 1927). Tin Pan Alley-style songs with oriental themes became a further important intersection between early jazz and oriental exotica in Australia as a significant sub-genre of Jazz-Age dance band or so-called jazz orchestra repertoire. The article examines various connections and convergences between oriental exotica and early jazz of the 1920s within the Australian context and argues that diverse notions of jazz as exotica contributed to how jazz was presented and perceived in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)52 - 70
Number of pages19
JournalJazz Research Journal
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 2014

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