Louis Moreau Gottschalk

(1829-1869)

Over half a century before jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton argued the importance of “The Spanish Tinge” to jazz, Louis Moreau Gottschalk was incorporating the same Afro-Caribbean rhythmic cells (tresillo and habanera) within his Romantic-era piano pieces. A celebrated, virtuoso star performer in the mid-19th century, Gottschalk's compositions serve as an early example of the rhythmic and harmonic combinations later so embedded in ragtime and jazz.

Gottschalk was born in New Orleans in 1829 to a German Jewish father and a French Catholic mother whose family had fled Haiti to Louisiana after the slave rebellion in the 1790s. As a child, he was brought to Paris for piano training, and at the age of 15, his acclaim began to spread after Chopin praised his successful recital. Not long after, Gottschalk debuted the composition Bamboula, which includes the habanera rhythm that he learned at home from his grandmother and her slave Sally, who were both from Haiti. This was the first of many compositions that prefigured ragtime by including elements of Haitian and Cuban contradanzas (also see Ojos Criollos, which sounds even closer to Jelly Roll Morton because the syncopated rhythms are in the bass in the left hand, rather than the higher pitched right hand figures).

Gottschalk was praised as a musical spokesman of the New World, and he spent of his life in Latin America and the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, Guadaloupe, Martinique, Cuba, Peru, Chile, Uruguay and, at the end of his life, Brazil. Many pieces that he wrote during his travels in the Antilles, such as Souvenir de Porto Rico, Danza, and Réponds-moi are now clearly recognizable as precursors to ragtime and jazz, in particular songs that feature what Jelly Roll Morton refers to as "The Spanish Tinge."