James Reece

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b. 22 February 1881, Mobile, Alabama, USA, d. 9 May 1919, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. After a formal musical education in Washington, DC, Europe worked in New York soon after the turn of the century.…
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b. 22 February 1881, Mobile, Alabama, USA, d. 9 May 1919, Boston, Massachusetts, USA. After a formal musical education in Washington, DC, Europe worked in New York soon after the turn of the century. He became a prominent figure in the city’s musical circles, leading bands at high society balls and other prestigious functions. He was one of the founders of the Clef Club, an association to advance the cause of black musicians. In 1914 he presented the Clef Club Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, using an astonishing 125 musicians. The music played was typical of the society orchestras of the day - marches, tangos, waltzes and, because these were black musicians, a selection of so-called plantation songs. The enormous splash this concert made established Europe as the top black band leader in the city and this led to jealousy and dissent at the Clef Club. Europe soon quit and formed a new organization, the Tempo Club.

Europe became closely associated with the popular white ballroom dancers, Vernon And Irene Castle, and with them was largely responsible for popularizing the foxtrot, the dance-craze that swept the USA. In 1917, Europe enlisted in the army and formed the 369th Infantry regiment’s band, the Hellfighters. This band played to army and civilian audiences in France and by the time the war was over Europe’s popularity was immense. The music he played, as documented on the handful of records he made, was an intriguing combination of Sousa-like brassiness and perky ragtime. Europe’s music was by no means jazz, but it did hint at his awareness of early black vernacular music and, thanks to his unprecedented popularity with white audiences, he appeared the man most likely to make this music a crossover success. It was not to be. On 9 May 1919 an altercation with one of his musicians, drummer Herbert Wright, degenerated into a brawl and Europe was stabbed to death.