In December 1926, seven musicians from New Orleans assembled in a recording studio in Chicago and created one of the greatest jazz records in history. The group was Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers. The title of the piece was “Doctor Jazz”, sadly forgotten today.
It took three minutes took to record “Doctor Jazz” and the music could not have been heard outside in the street below. But today, ninety four years later and nearly seven thousand kilometres away, I can hear them, exactly as they played all those years ago – whenever I wish.
Assuming I have the equipment, I can choose between a carefully preserved 78rpm record, an LP, an audio cassette, a CD, a DVD, YouTube or Spotify. When I load or connect the source device and flick a switch, the music performed long before I was born is brought to life.
In 1926 the record was the source and the wind-up gramophone was the device. Often it would run down and need to be wound up before a long piece on a 12-inch record had finished.
Nevertheless it was a remarkable innovation allowing us in the fifties to hear “Doctor Jazz” through a tinny speaker built into the arm that tracked the sounds from the revolving record grooves through a metal needle. Even more remarkably, somebody in a studio in London could pay the record and the music could be transmitted to someone at home in Oxford by means of a wireless set.
The fact that in 1926 we had the technology for this miracle is extraordinary. The telephone of those days was remarkable enough. How incredible to be able to converse with somebody thousands of miles away by use of air waves!
In 1926 the very concept of smart-phones, laser surgery, bar codes, contactless debit cards, scanners, sensors, facial recognition, digital cameras, driverless cars, space travel, remote control devices and so many other features of everyday life did not exist. However, 450 years earlier, some of these ideas may have been surfacing in the mind of Leonardo da Vinci.
This painter, inventor, engineer, scientist, mathematician, anatomist, physician, musician and poet foresaw the motor car, air travel, the machine gun, the armoured tank, the suspension bridge and the robot, centuries ahead of his time.
He backed up his theories with designs. And as he envisaged that, one day, we should be enjoying air travel, he invented the parachute! But, even he could not have predicted the procedures in Chicago in 1926 – let alone the concept of communication technology, medicinal advances and space stations today.