Honky Tonk (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Honky Tonk (Jazz Age Jazz Series) Born in shady places, considered for a long time a lesser kind of music, honky tonk piano slowly became its own recognised genre

Jazz Age Jazz - Honky Tonk

JAZZ AGE JAZZ - Honky Tonk #AtoZChallenge Where #jazz moved the first steps Click To Tweet

H - Honky Tonk (AtoZ Challenge 2016)In the Old West, honky tonks were a mixture of bawdy music hall, cheap dance hall and brothel. They were lawless, violent places most of the time.
Where the saloon had its own social role in that it offered a place for men to meet up, socialise and exchange information on events inside the community and work (it often double up as post office), the honky tonk was really a den with no recognizable positive quality.

But there was music. The honky tonk was often a piano bar where a music related to ragtime was played. The pianos in those establishments were often poorly taken care for and were out of tune – when keys weren’t altogether missing. Thus this music would emphasise rhythm more than melody or harmony. It tended to be very straightforward.
These distinctive characteristics made honky tonk music evolve into a genre of its own and later acquired a kind of middle-brow status.

Because African Americans were barred more attractive work possibilities, most musicians played, and learned to play, in honky tonks, and here’s where jazz most probably acquired a few of its characteristics.
Honky tonks were working class places with a reputation for fleecing their customers and like saloons, they catered exclusively for men. They offered music and even shows where vocalists and dancers often mingled with patrons in what was a very basic form of communal creation. Later, they became very popular for jam sessions. Many early jazzmen remembered honky tonks with great fondness.



Neil Powell, The Language of Jazz. Routledge, 2000

World Wide Words – Honky Tonk


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I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

30 Comments on "Honky Tonk (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)"

  1. Pianos with missing keys! Goodness gracious, great balls of fire! Oh wait, I think that’s a big later… 😉

    This post makes me think of that Rolling Stones tune, “Honky Tonk Woman”: https://youtu.be/8bto3iHQDq4

  2. Being a Texan, I have loved me some music that evolved out of the Honky Tonk style. Hank Williams, Gary Stewart. I suppose I never thought about jazz having roots in it. But there is that strong back beat it much of the jazz music, as it is in the blues and modern honky tonk.

    • Truth is, lots of different influences converged into jazz. Apparently, that’s why it’s so difficult to define: because of its complexity and diverse texture 🙂

  3. Informative. I haven’t heard of that one so not much of an idea.
    Parul recently posted…H for Happy To Bleed #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

  4. Some amazing things can come out of very dodgy places it seems 🙂
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…H – Jennet Humfrye – Fictional Phantoms #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

  5. I would definitely hang out in a honky tonk if I was around back then. 😉
    Megan Morgan recently posted…H – HyperboleMy Profile

  6. Haha! I didn’t know that about the untuned pianos, but it makes a whole lot of sense 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

  7. I grew up with my parents talking about honky tonk music. My dad especially loved it – although I can’t envision him ever visiting a honky tonk 🙂
    Molly recently posted…A-Z Challenge: H is for HaussmannMy Profile

  8. How interesting! I’ve only ever associated honky-tonks with Country music.

  9. Who said pianos are only for the fancy folk? Loving your posts.
    Sheena-kay Graham recently posted…Hunger Games MoviesMy Profile

  10. YES! This type of music I know well!
    My father had an album with a beautiful young lady on it sitting before an upright piano.
    “The World of Winnifred Atwell” was the album name.
    He played it often and I always wondered why her piano sounded so funny. Dad’s didn’t sound like that!
    He then told me that to achieve that staccato tinniness, brass tacks were pushed into the felt hammer heads. These tacks would then make contact with the piano strings.
    I wanted to do that so badly, but my Father said No (because thepiano belonged to Grams!).
    Thank you for this topic, Dearie!
    Sir Leprechaunrabbit recently posted…HEARSAYMy Profile

  11. Hello from A to Z, Sarah, and thanks for visiting my blog today. I’ve heard of honky tonks before. Since brothels are associated with honky tonks, I wonder if it meant that any woman who wanders into one of these is automatically considered a prostitute.

    • Well, before Prohibition, women were not supposed to be in any bar: not saloons, not honky tonk. So I suppose that yes, any woman in these places would get a very bad reputation.

      Besides, even in the 1920s, when women went to speakeasies without any problem, if they were unaccompanied, they still got quite a reputation.

  12. The honky tonk music is the kind of music that reminds me of the old black and white movies like Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin 🙂
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X
    Sophie Duncan recently posted…Murder Most Foul! – H is for Hidden Killer – Cozy Mystery #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

  13. That’s funny the pianos had some missing keys. So much for trying to be reputable. LOL
    Still, they did what they had to. Great music still.
    Jeffrey Scott recently posted…Nostalgia TV – HMy Profile

  14. Jo-Ann Carson | 10th April 2016 at 5:47 pm | Reply

    I’m hooked. Totally hooked. Your post was not only informative, it evoced the atmosphere of the honky tonk. Great writing. I’ll be back.
    Jo-Ann Carson

  15. I’ve always thought of Honky Tonks as a place to hear Country Western music, line dance, and hang out with the “good old boys”. I had no idea that Jazz got a start in them!
    Jen recently posted…The 2016 A-Z Challenge brought to you by The Letter “I”My Profile

    • Well, it isn’t really correct that jazz ‘got a start’ in honky tonks. Rather, the way honky tonk music sounded and was made influenced how jazz sounded and was made.

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