Music by Ethel Bridges, lyrics by Howard Johnson, 1920
What stereotypes of Chinese immigrants are present in the lyrics?
What is a kimono (misspelled as "kimonas" in the lyrics)? Where is it from, and is it appropriate to include in a song about Chinatown?
What is the foxtrot? When did it become popular? Does "Ching-a Ling's Jazz Bazaar" have the tempo and meter of the foxtrot?
What other elements of 1920s popular song do you hear in the music? What is the significance of combining these "jazzy" elements with stereotypes of Chinese immigrants?
How does the art on the cover on the sheet music (by Lionel S. Reiss) combine elements of jazz culture with stereotypes of Chinese immigrants?
"Ching-a Ling's Jazz Bazaar" performed by Mack and Miller, available on YouTube.
The recommended performance of this song includes an echoing patter that provides words to the accompaniment. Likely, this is the way it was performed on stage as the two performers danced their way through the song.
Sheet music cover for "Ching a Ling's Jazz Bazaar," Leo. Feist Inc., 1920.
"Ching-a Ling's Jazz Bazaar" revels in the exotic mingling of Chinese and American culture that one might encounter on a trip to Chinatown, which became a popular place for many white Americans to visit in the early twentieth century. A purchaser of the sheet music would have known that this song juxtaposed Chinese and American stereotypes before even glancing at the music or lyrics, for the cover image features a Chinese couple in stereotypical traditional clothing (incorrectly referred to as kimonas in the song's lyrics) dancing the foxtrot in front of a statue of Buddha.
Musically, the song has all the elements of the foxtrot, which were cutting edge at the time: a feel in 4/4 time (groupings of two measures of 2/2, similar to the blues and markedly different from the older waltz and march), a moderate tempo, and snappy syncopations. Although the music does not sound like jazz to many listeners today, the meaning of the word "jazz" was still in flux in these years and most listeners would have understood the song's contemporary sounds to be conventions of jazz. In contrast to the "jazzy" music are the lyrics, which include numerous stereotypes of the Chinese: "almond eyes," pigtails, the presence of idols on their shelves, and the assumption that Chinese people work in laundry services.