JAMES REESE EUROPE, February 22, 1880-May 9, 1919

Son of a former slave, Europe’s family relocated from his birthplace of Mobile, Alabama to Washington, D.C. when he was nine. Continuing music lessons on piano, violin, and mandolin, he lived for a time just houses away from John Philip Sousa, whose march compositions and U.S. Marine Corps Band dominated American musical tastes. Moving to New York City around 1903, he began directing black dance ensembles and—when opportunities presented themselves—working in musical comedy.

In 1913 Europe achieved renown in New York society when his Exclusive Society Orchestra—one of the earliest jazz bands to perform at public venues—was frequently employed by the highly popular dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. Collaborating with the Castles in early 1914, he played a key role in creating and popularizing the fox-trot. Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of the Castles, Victor signed Europe to record four titles on December 29, 1913 and February 10, 1914, respectively. His best-selling disc appears to have been "The Castles in Europe One-Step"/"Congratulations Waltz" (Victor 35372; 1914), issued in the twelve-inch configuration and retained in the company’s monthly catalog for five years.

Enlisting in the 15th New York Infantry on September 18, 1916, Europe was induced to organize and lead a military band to boost troop morale. After the Armistice, he signed a recording contract with the New York-based Pathe Freres Phonograph Company. Four sessions—three in March and one in May 1919—produced eleven discs in the military band tradition, albeit punctuated by syncopation and other jazz effects. Their popularity, however, was limited because Pathe employed the vertical-cut process (often termed " hill-and-dale"), as opposed to lateral-cut technology, which was soon to dominate the marketplace. Actively collaborating with such major talents as Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, Europe’s promising career was prematurely ended when one of his drummer’s stabbed him in the neck backstage during a Boston concert, just two days after recording his last six sides for Pathe. [Gracyk. 2000.]

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