Demons of discord down under

‘Jump Jim Crow’ and ‘Australia’s first jazz band’


  • John Whiteoak Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music, Monash University, Victoria, Australia



Minstrelsy, ragtime, early jazz, popular stage


The 1918-19 vaudeville act called 'Australia’s First Jazz Band' is the most appropriate metaphor for the commencement of an ‘Australian jazz’ tradition where this tradition is considered from the present-day perspective of a self-aware, long established Australian jazz movement. Yet improvisatory African-American-inflected antecedents of jazz can be traced back at least to the first colonial Australian performance of the blackface minstrel song and dance act Jump Jim Crow in 1838 and though blackface and, later, African-American minstrel show music and dance and two decades of ragtime music and dance before 'Australia’s First Jazz Band'. Taking its cue from Bruce Johnson's statement that early ‘jazz’ in Australia was an example of an ‘oppositional subculture’ that led back to our foundation criminality and ‘took over the spirit of convict and treason songs’(Johnson, 2004: 9), the article seeks to show that a continuum of African-American-inflected popular entertainment and its performance practices from Jump Jim Crow to Australia’s First Jazz Band functioned as the 'medium' for an oppositional 'spirit' that combined globalized oppositional values with others that are, arguably, traceable to colonial 'foundation criminality'.

Author Biography

John Whiteoak, Sir Zelman Cowan School of Music, Monash University, Victoria, Australia

Dr John Whiteoak is an Adjunct Professor in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music, Monash University. He completed a jazz studies PhD on improvisatory music in Australia under the American jazz musician, ethnomusicologist, author and theorist, Dr Jeff Pressing in the 1990s that was published in 1999 as Playing Ad Lib: Improvisatory Music in Australia, 1836-1970. He has lectured and tutored in jazz and improvisation studies and was co-general editor and the major contributor to the Currency Companion to Music and Dance in Australia (2003). He has since published on a very wide variety of popular and light music and dance topics, including minstrelsy, ragtime, jazz and Latin (see


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How to Cite

Whiteoak, J. (2015). Demons of discord down under: ‘Jump Jim Crow’ and ‘Australia’s first jazz band’. Jazz Research Journal, 8(1-2), 23–51.