Jazz Age
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Jazz Age
Carter and King Jazzing Orchestra in 1921, Houston, Texas

The Jazz Age was a period in the 1920s and 1930s in which jazz music and dance styles rapidly gained nationwide popularity in the United States. The Jazz Age's cultural repercussions were primarily felt in the United States, the birthplace of jazz. Originating in New Orleans as a fusion of African and European music, jazz played a significant part in wider cultural changes in this period, and its influence on pop culture continued long afterwards. The Jazz Age is often referred to in conjunction with the Roaring Twenties, and in the United States it overlapped in significant cross-cultural ways with the Prohibition Era. American author F. Scott Fitzgerald is widely credited with coining the term, first using it in the title of his 1922 short story collection, Tales of the Jazz Age.[1]


Jazz music

Jazz music originated in New Orleans in the "sub-style" of Dixieland Jazz.[2] Jazz is the hybrid of African and European influence. From African influence, jazz got its rhythm, "blues" quality, and traditions of playing or singing in one's own expressive way. From European influence, jazz got its harmony and instruments (saxophone, trumpet, piano, etc.). Both influences used improvisation which became a large part of jazz.[3] New Orleans provided a great opportunity for such an occurrence because it was a port city, with many different cultures and beliefs intertwined.[4] While in New Orleans, jazz gained influence from creole, ragtime, and most importantly blues music.[5] Two important aspects of jazz are swing and improvisation. The famous jazz trumpeter Louis Armstrong's most influential impact upon jazz was bringing an improvisational soloist to the forefront of a piece.[5] The birth of jazz music is credited to African Americans,[6] but expanded and over time became modified to become socially acceptable to middle-class white Americans. Those critical of jazz saw it as music from people with no training or skill.[7] White performers were used as a vehicle for the popularization of jazz music in America. Even though the jazz movement was taken over by the middle-class white population, it facilitated the mesh of African American traditions and ideals with white middle-class society.[8] Cities like New York and Chicago were cultural centers for jazz, and especially for African-American artists. People who were not familiar with jazz music could not recognize it by the way Africans Americans wrote it.[clarification needed] Furthermore, the way African-American writers wrote about jazz music made it seem as though it was not a cultural achievement of the race.[clarification needed][7]


Prohibition in the United States was a nationwide constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages from 1920 to 1933.

In the 1920s the laws were widely disregarded, and tax revenues were lost. Very well organized criminal gangs took control of the beer and liquor supply for many cities, unleashing a crime wave that shocked the nation. By the late 1920s a new opposition mobilized nationwide. Wets attacked prohibition as causing crime, lowering local revenues, and imposing rural Protestant religious values on urban America.[9] Prohibition ended with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment, which repealed the Eighteenth Amendment on December 5, 1933. Some states continued statewide prohibition, marking one of the last stages of the Progressive Era. This prohibition was taken advantage of by gangsters, led by Al Capone earning 60 million from this particular illegal venture [10]


From 1920 to 1933 Prohibition in the United States banned the sale of alcoholic drinks, resulting in illicit speakeasies which became lively venues of the "Jazz Age", hosting popular music including current dance songs, novelty songs and show tunes. Jazz began to get a reputation as being immoral, and many members of the older generations saw it as threatening the old cultural values and promoting the new decadent values of the Roaring Twenties. Professor Henry van Dyke of Princeton University wrote: "... it is not music at all. It's merely an irritation of the nerves of hearing, a sensual teasing of the strings of physical passion."[11] The media too began to denigrate jazz. The New York Times used stories and headlines to pick at jazz: Siberian villagers were said by the paper to have used jazz to scare off bears, when in fact they had used pots and pans; another story claimed that the fatal heart attack of a celebrated conductor was caused by jazz.[11]

From 1919, Kid Ory's Original Creole Jazz Band of musicians from New Orleans played in San Francisco and Los Angeles, where in 1922 they became the first black jazz band of New Orleans origin to make recordings.[12][13] That year also saw the first recording by Bessie Smith, the most famous of the 1920s blues singers.[14]Chicago, meanwhile, was the main center developing the new "Hot Jazz", where King Oliver joined Bill Johnson. Bix Beiderbecke formed The Wolverines in 1924.

That same year, Louis Armstrong joined the Fletcher Henderson dance band[15] as featured soloist, leaving in 1925. The original New Orleans style was polyphonic, with theme variation and simultaneous collective improvisation. Armstrong was a master of his hometown style, but by the time he joined Henderson's band, he was already a trailblazer in a new phase of jazz, with its emphasis on arrangements and soloists. Armstrong's solos went well beyond the theme-improvisation concept, and extemporized on chords, rather than melodies. According to Schuller, by comparison, the solos by Armstrong's bandmates (including a young Coleman Hawkins), sounded "stiff, stodgy," with "jerky rhythms and a grey undistinguished tone quality."[16] The following example shows a short excerpt of the straight melody of "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind" by George W. Meyer and Arthur Johnston (top), compared with Armstrong's solo improvisations (below) (recorded 1924).[17] (The example approximates Armstrong's solo, as it does not convey his use of swing.)

Top: excerpt from the straight melody of "Mandy, Make Up Your Mind" by George W. Meyer & Arthur Johnston. Bottom: corresponding solo excerpt by Louis Armstrong (1924).

Armstrong's solos were a significant factor in making jazz a true 20th-century language. After leaving Henderson's group, Armstrong formed his virtuosic Hot Five band, which included instrumentalist's Kid Ory (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Johnny St. Cyr (banjo), and wife Lil on piano, where he popularized scat singing.[18]

Jelly Roll Morton recorded with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in an early mixed-race collaboration, then in 1926 formed his Red Hot Peppers. There was a larger market for jazzy dance music played by white orchestras, such as Jean Goldkette's orchestra and Paul Whiteman's orchestra. In 1924 Whiteman commissioned Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, which was premiered by Whiteman's Orchestra. By the mid-1920s, Whiteman was the most popular bandleader in the U.S. His success was based on a "rhetoric of domestication" according to which he had elevated and rendered valuable a previously inchoate kind of music.[19] Other influential large ensembles included Fletcher Henderson's band, Duke Ellington's band (which opened an influential residency at the Cotton Club in 1927) in New York, and Earl Hines' Band in Chicago (who opened in The Grand Terrace Cafe there in 1928). All significantly influenced the development of big band-style swing jazz.[20] By 1930, the New Orleans-style ensemble was a relic, and jazz belonged to the world.[21]

Some famous black artists of the time were Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.[22] Several musicians grew up in musical families, where a family member would often teach how to read and play music. Some musicians, like Pops Foster, learned on homemade instruments.[23] Urban radio stations played African-American jazz more frequently than suburban stations, due to the concentration of African Americans in urban areas such as New York and Chicago. Younger demographics popularized the black-originated dances such as the Charleston as part of the immense cultural shift the popularity of jazz music generated.[24] The migration of African Americans from the American south introduced the culture born out of a repressive, unfair society to the American north where navigating through a society with little ability to change played a vital role in the birth of jazz.[25]


The rapid national spread of jazz was enabled by the introduction of large-scale radio broadcasts in 1932. The radio was described as the "sound factory." Radio made it possible for millions to hear for free the music--especially people who never attended expensive, distant big city clubs.[26] These broadcasts originated from clubs in leading centers such as New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. There were two categories of live music on the radio: concert music and big band dance music. The concert music was known as "potter palm" and was concert music by amateurs, usually volunteers.[27]

The next type of music is known as big band dance music. This type is played by professionals and was featured from nightclubs, dance halls, and ballrooms.[8] Musicologist Charles Hamm described three types of jazz music at the time: black music for black audiences, black music for white audiences, and white music for white audiences.[28] Jazz artists like Louis Armstrong originally received very little airtime because most stations preferred to play the music of white American jazz singers. Other jazz vocalists include Bessie Smith and Florence Mills. In urban areas such as Chicago and New York, African-American jazz was played on the radio more often than in the suburbs. Big-band jazz, like that of James Reese Europe and Fletcher Henderson in New York, attracted large radio audiences.[8]

Cultural impacts


1920s youth used the influence of jazz to rebel against the traditional culture of previous generations. This youth rebellion of the 1920s went hand-in-hand with fads like bold fashion statements (flappers), women smoking cigarettes, a willingness to talk about sex freely, and new radio concerts. Dances like the Charleston, developed by African Americans, suddenly became popular among the youth. Traditionalists were aghast at what they considered the breakdown of morality.[29] Some urban middle-class African Americans perceived jazz as "devil's music", and believed the improvised rhythms and sounds were promoting promiscuity.[30]

Role of women

Women played an important role throughout jazz's history. With women's suffrage--the right for women to vote--at its peak with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920, and the entrance of the free-spirited flapper, women began to take on a larger role in society and culture. With women now taking part in the work force after the end of the First World War there were now many more possibilities for women in terms of social life and entertainment. Ideas such as equality and open sexuality were very popular during the time and women seemed to capitalize on these ideas during this period. The 1920s saw the emergence of many famous women musicians including Bessie Smith. Bessie Smith also gained attention because she was not only a great singer but also an African-American woman. She has grown through the ages to be one of the most well respected singers of all time. Singers such as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin were inspired by Bessie Smith.[31]

Lovie Austin (1887-1972) was a Chicago-based bandleader, session musician (piano), composer, singer, and arranger during the 1920s classic blues era. She and Lil Hardin Armstrong are often ranked as two of the best female jazz blues piano players of the period.[32][33]

Piano player Lil Hardin Armstrong was originally a member of King Oliver's band with Louis, and went on to play piano in her husband's band the Hot Five and then his next group called the Hot Seven[34] It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that many women jazz singers, such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday were recognized as successful artists in the music world.[34] Another famous female vocalist, dubbed "The First Lady of Song," Ella Fitzgerald was the one of the most popular female jazz singers in the United States for more than half a century. In her lifetime, she won 13 Grammy awards and sold over 40 million albums. Her voice was flexible, wide-ranging, accurate and ageless. She could sing sultry ballads, sweet jazz and imitate every instrument in an orchestra. She worked with all the jazz greats, from Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Nat King Cole, to Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Goodman.[35] These women were persistent in striving to make their names known in the music industry and to lead the way for many more women artists to come.[34]

Classical music

As jazz flourished, American elites who preferred classical music sought to expand the listenership of their favored genre, hoping that jazz would not become mainstream.[36] Controversially, jazz became an influence on composers as diverse as George Gershwin and Herbert Howells.

See also


  1. ^ ""What the Great Gatsby Got Right About the Jazz Age"". www.smithsonianmag.com. Retrieved 2018.
  2. ^ "Dixieland (AKA Early Jazz)". www.jazzinamerica.org. Retrieved 2015.
  3. ^ http://www.jazzinamerica.org/LessonPlan/5/1/249
  4. ^ "Where did jazz come from?". www.jazzinamerica.org. Retrieved 2015.
  5. ^ a b Biocca, Frank (1990). "Media and Perceptual Shifts: Early Radio and the Clash of Musical Cultures". The Journal of Popular Culture. 24 (2): 1. doi:10.1111/j.0022-3840.1990.2402_1.x.
  6. ^ McCANN, PAUL. 2008. "Performing Primitivism: Disarming the Social Threat of Jazz in Narrative Fiction of the Early Sixties." Journal of Popular Culture 41, no. 4: 658-675. America: History & Life, p. 3.
  7. ^ a b Berger, Morroe (1 January 1947). "Jazz: Resistance to the Diffusion of a Culture-Pattern". The Journal of Negro History. 32 (4): 461-494. doi:10.2307/2714928. JSTOR 2714928.
  8. ^ a b c Barlow, William (1 January 1995). "Black Music on Radio During the Jazz Age". African American Review. 29 (2): 325-328. doi:10.2307/3042311. JSTOR 3042311.
  9. ^ Margaret Sands Orchowski (2015). The Law that Changed the Face of America: The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 32.
  10. ^ "The Jazz Age - History Learning Site". History Learning Site. Retrieved .
  11. ^ a b Ward, Geoffrey C.; Burns, Ken (October 8, 2002). Jazz: A History of America's Music (1st ed.). New York: Alfred A. Knopf. ISBN 978-0-679-76539-4.
  12. ^ Cooke 1999, p. 54
  13. ^ "Kid Ory". The Red Hot Archive. Retrieved 2007.
  14. ^ "Bessie Smith". The Red Hot Archive. Retrieved 2007.
  15. ^ "Fletcher Henderson: 'Architect of Swing'". NPR. December 19, 2007. Retrieved 2017.
  16. ^ Schuller (1968: 91).
  17. ^ Schuller (1968: 93)
  18. ^ Cooke 1999, pp. 56-59, 78-79, 66-70
  19. ^ Mario Dunkel, "W. C. Handy, Abbe Niles, and (Auto)biographical Positioning in the Whiteman Era," Popular Music and Society 38.2 (2015): 122-139.
  20. ^ Cooke 1999, pp. 82-83, 100-103
  21. ^ Schuller (1968: 88)
  22. ^ Cunningham, Lawrence, John J. Reich, and Lois Fichner-Rathus. Culture & Values: A Survey of the Humanities. 8th ed. Boston, MA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.
  23. ^ Chevan, David. "Musical Literacy and Jazz Musicians in the 1910s and 1920s." Current Musicology; Spring 2001/2002; 71-73. Print.
  24. ^ "The Jazz Age". Boundless.com. July 21, 2015. Retrieved 2015.
  25. ^ "The Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age". Tdl.org. Retrieved 2015.
  26. ^ Biocca, Frank, "Media and Perceptual Shifts: Early Radio and the Clash of Musical Cultures", Journal of Popular Culture, 24:2 (1990), p. 3.
  27. ^ Linda De Roche (2015). The Jazz Age: A Historical Exploration of Literature: A Historical Exploration of Literature. ABC-CLIO. p. 18.
  28. ^ Savran, David. "The Search for America's Soul: Theatre in the Jazz Age." Theatre Journal 58.3 (2006), 459-476. Print.
  29. ^ Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (1977), p. 22.
  30. ^ Dinerstein, Joel. "Music, Memory, and Cultural Identity in the Jazz Age." American Quarterly 55.2 (2003), 303-313. Print.
  31. ^ Ward, Larry F. "Bessie", Notes, Volume 61, Number 2, December 2004, pp. 458-460 (review). Music Library Association.
  32. ^ For her music see "Black Women in America: Lovie Austin" (June 6, 2011).
  33. ^ Santelli, Robert. The Big Book of Blues, Penguin Books (2001), p. 20; ISBN 0-14-100145-3
  34. ^ a b c Borzillo, Carrie, "Women in Jazz: Music on Their Terms--As Gender Bias Fades, New Artists Emerge", Billboard 108:26 (June 29, 1996), pp. 1, 94-96.
  35. ^ http://www.ellafitzgerald.com/
  36. ^ Biocca, Frank, "Media and Perceptual Shifts: Early Radio and the Clash of Musical Cultures", Journal of Popular Culture, 24:2 (1990), p. 9.

Further reading

  • Allen, Frederick Lewis (1931). Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties. online edition
  • Barlow, William. "Black music on radio during the jazz age." African American Review 29.2 (1995): 325-328.
  • Best, Gary Dean. The Dollar Decade: Mammon and the Machine in 1920s America. Praeger Publishers, 2003.
  • Berger, Morroe. "Jazz: Resistance to the Diffusion of a Culture-Pattern". The Journal of Negro History 32 (October 1947): 461-494
  • Chevan, David. "Musical Literacy and Jazz Musicians in the 1910s and 1920s." Current Musicology
  • Dinerstein, Joel. "Music, memory, and cultural identity in the jazz age." American Quarterly 55.2 (2003): 303-313.
  • Doerksen, Clifford J. American Babel: Rogue Radio Broadcasters of the Jazz Age (2005) [L: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=13658 online review]
  • Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. Hill and Wang, 1995.
  • Fass, Paula. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • David E. Kyvig; Daily Life in the United States, 1920-1939: Decades Promise and Pain. Greenwood Press, (2002). online edition
  • Leuchtenburg, William. The Perils of Prosperity, 1914-1932 University of Chicago Press, 1955.
  • Lynd, Robert S., and Helen Merrell Lynd. Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. Harcourt, Brace and World, 1929. Famous sociological study of Muncie, Indiana, in the 1920s.
  • Mowry; George E. (ed.). The Twenties: Fords, Flappers, & Fanatics. Prentice-Hall, 1963; readings.
  • Parrish, Michael E. Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920-1941. W. W. Norton, 1992.
  • Peretti, Burton W. "The Great Travelers." The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America.
  • Savran, David. "The Search for America's Soul: Theatre in the Jazz Age". Theatre Journal.
  • Snelson, Tim. "'They'll Be Dancing in the Aisles!': Youth audiences, cinema exhibition and the mid-1930s swing boom." Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 37.3 (2017): 455-474.

External links

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