Early jazz in Australia as oriental exotica


  • Aline Scott-Maxwell Monash University




orientalism, exotica, Chinese music, early jazz, Australia


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.

Author Biography

Aline Scott-Maxwell, Monash University

Aline Scott-Maxwell is an ethnomusicologist and popular music studies scholar with teaching and research specialisations in Asian and Australian musical cultures. Her current research focuses on Australia’s musical engagement with Asia and the music of Australian migration, especially popular music of the Indonesian, Italian and Jewish communities, and she has published extensively in these areas. She is an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow in the Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music at Monash University.


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How to Cite

Scott-Maxwell, A. (2015). Early jazz in Australia as oriental exotica. Jazz Research Journal, 8(1-2), 52–70. https://doi.org/10.1558/jazz.v8i1-2.26834