J is for Jazz (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)

ROARING TWENTIES - Jazz - There's a reason the 1920s is also called the Jazz Age. Jazz expressed everything new and exciting abotu those time. But also everythign controversial

JThe “devil’s music” had such a powerful influence on American life in the 1920s that the decade is also known as the Jazz Age.

Jazz influenced fashion, dances, accepted moral standards, youth culture, race relation, thought it could also be said that all these phenomena found a fitting expression in the jazz music and its way of performance, so that it’s truly very difficult to separate one from the other.

Although it’s universally accepted that jazz as a form of artistic expression was born in the South of the United States, most probably in New Orleans, the origin of jazz is still quite mysterious and shrouded in legend. Scholars tend to think it probably emerged from the mixing and evolution of different African and European forms of music that eventually created a completely new, different musical expression.

King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band

King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band

Jazz is very difficult to define because it brings together several different elements and styles. 1920s jazz in particular was about breaking the rules. Instead of following traditional music structure, it realises heavily on improvisation and personal interpretation, which may factor in the lyrics, melody, harmony, time signature and in fact any element of the music. In the Twenties, jazz made its own rules, and that was seen as corruptive, barbaric, disharmonic and downright ugly. At least by academics.

In the Twenties, most of the club were segregated and would only allowed white bands in white clubs, though some very popular black bands played also in white clubs where black customers were not allowed. Black musicians were not allowed to play in most establishments, so they played where they could, which may be brothers, speakeasies and other venues of questionable repute. Because of this association with prostitution, alcohol, gambling and organized crime, jazz was considered immoral.
It also originate within the black community and the most popular jazzmen were African Americans. Aspiring white jazzmen went to those speakeasies to listen and learn from them.

Still, there has always been a difference between black and white jazz and this was particularly true in the earlier decades. Jazz as interpreted by the black community was a lot more involving and liberating. Lyrics were often very explicit on many levels, a rough language was common. Rhythms were syncopated and especially the relation between performers and audience was fluid and tight. The “call-and –response” technique that worked between instruments inside the band also worked between performers and audience, so the one influenced the other, continuously changing both the music and the audience’s reaction. This characteristic added to the perception that jazz – and especially black jazz – was barbaric and chaotic.
White jazz tended to be more sedate and certainly there wasn’t that element of “call-and-response”. Audience would listen to the performers, with very little interaction.

In a moment where behaviour, ways of thinking, lifestyle were breaking lose from the past, jazz, this so new, so cutting edge music, was the ideal soundtrack for this generation.



The People History – The 1920s
University of Chicago Library – Jazz
Academia – Influence of Jazz in Women’s Fashion and Society in the 1920s
PBS – The Devil’s Music: Jazz
The Guardian – A history of Jazz
All Music – 1920s Greatest Hits
The Old Shelter – AtoZ Theme Reaveal Blogfest Day 2016 (Jazz Age Jazz)
The Old Shelter – Jazz Controversy (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Color line and jazz (pdf)

Gara, Larry, The Baby Dodds Story Edition: As Told by Larry Gara. Rebeats Pubblications, Alma (MI), 2003 (revised edition)
Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989


ROARING TWENTIES AtoZ - Jazz - There's a reason the 1920s is also called the Jazz Age. Jazz expressed everything new and exciting abotu those time. But also everythign controversial

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About the Author

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.

27 Comments on "J is for Jazz (AtoZ Challenge – Roaring Twenties)"

  1. What an appropriate topic for you!

    I love all your articles. You’re a great writer!!

    Mee (The Chinese Quest)
    Mee Magnum recently posted…“I” is for Ice Cream #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  2. I love some types of jazz. Like Ella Fitzgerald doing scat. Or Harry Conick, Jr. And some types I just don’t care for.
    Visit me at: Life & Faith in Caneyhead
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    Barbara In Caneyhead recently posted…Musical Memories: Intermediate SchoolMy Profile

  3. Ooo I love Jazz.
    anna recently posted…#AtoZchallenge: Jesus At The CentreMy Profile

    • Have you watched Bessie Smith’s video? I think her voice is powerful even coming from the 1920s primitive recordings. Listening to her live must have been quite an experience.

  4. I have to admit to never being overly fond of jazz, but it is an incredible musical phenomenon that changed so many things, so I definitely respect it. I make an exception for Ella though – such an amazing voice.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)
    Tasha recently posted…AtoZChallenge2015 – J is for Jareth, JasmineMy Profile

  5. While I’m not a fan of jazz, I have always liked the culture that surrounds it. There’s something really empowering about music being able to break the molds of accepted behavior (something we saw again with rock, and hip-hop.)
    Alex Hurst recently posted…J is for 旅行My Profile

  6. We have been reading about jazz and American culture a lot this semester in my history class. I learned a lot of things about how jazz was used in cultural diplomacy… It’s a fascinating topic 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary – Epics from A to Z
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    Tarkabarka recently posted…J is for the Jómsvikings (Epics from A to Z)My Profile

  7. I loved that period of time for Jazz. I like a lot of older music. 🙂

  8. It doesn’t differ from “traditional music structure,” it differs from European music structure. It actually matches quite well the traditional music structure of West African music, which is most obvious in blues–like the call-and-response technique you mention. Other than that, you hit the nail on the head here! (I’m currently taking a course about blues, jazz, and other black music and its history in the U.S., so I’m hyperaware of all this stuff)
    Sabina recently posted…Journey of 971 StairsMy Profile

  9. I’ve never been particularly into jazz, though I know it’s important to listen to it to get a feel for books set in the Twenties and Thirties. On a recent Rap Critic episode, I was really surprised to discover the so-called King of Jazz was a white guy named, for real, Paul Whiteman. I’d never heard of this guy, and would’ve thought a title like The King of Jazz would go to someone like Duke Ellington or Louis Armstrong.
    Carrie-Anne recently posted…Dr. Jozef JaksyMy Profile

    • Well, in the same period Joseph Nathan Oliver (King Oliver) was called King for a reason.

      The fact is that when jazz became popular, it was discovered by white musicians as well and they thronged to the black sections of cities to listen to black jazzmen and learn from them. Then, of course, they started make their own music inspired to what they have been listening.

      Jazz was a very new, shocking-inspiring music in its original incarnation. These young white musicians took what they thought best, sanitized all the rest (as Kathy J. Ogren says in her book) and produced their own music.

      Now, they lived in segregated America. This means many places were inaccessible to African Americans and the new recording industry was one such place. Because jazz was becoming so popular, but the recording industry was barred to black musicians, it was white musicians who got to record jazz first and so the wide audience who didn’t go slamming but liked music, came in contact with jazz through these guys. Also consider that white jazz of the earlier period was easier to accept to a wide audience because all the edge of black jazz was taken off.

      So, although jazz was born inside the black community, it became widely popularized by white musicians, and I suppose this is why Paul Whiteman, who – if I remember – was the band leader of the first white jazz band, was presented as the King of Jazz. Though, personally, I think that’s disputable 😉

  10. I love jazz, at least I think I do. I don’t listen to a lot of music, but I like music that I can feel to the core and that makes me want to move or moves me in some way. So I like jazz because it speaks to my feet and to my heart.
    Jody recently posted…J is for JunkerMy Profile

  11. It tends to have that effect, doesn’t it?

  12. Jazz is a funny one – I really want to like it, and I like some jazz, but I just don’t seem to click with it as much as I would want to. I love the overall aesthetic associated with jazz, but the music itself doesn’t resonate as much with me as I’d like.
    Celine Jeanjean recently posted…A lightening quick non A to Z updateMy Profile

  13. I’m not a huge fan of Jazz but I do like some of music from the Big Band era. It’s interesting to see how music has had such a profound effect on society over all these years.
    Lanise Brown recently posted…J is for JapanMy Profile

    • You know? Jazz had such a huge impact on everyday life and way of thinking, that is very very dificult to pin it down. This is one of those things I’m not confident I described at my best in my novel. Yet 😉

  14. It was really nice to hear you explain full out the differences between white and black jazz. The African style of call and response, that influenced some jazz, is part of African inspired musical stylings and storytelling styles.
    Jeri Burns recently posted…Daily Ghost Post – K is for KinyamkelaMy Profile

    • That’s so true. After learning about this in Ogren’s excellent book, I was invited by a friend to a show of a spiritual group here in my city..
      I could see with my eyes the difference in how African audience responed and how Italian audience responded. It was very intersting.
      And by the way, I enjoyed the show a lot. Fantastic musicians and singers.

  15. I’m not a big fan of Jazz, but I do like ’30s Swing. My favorite singer is Bea Wain. Lovely voice. She’s apparently still alive. In her 90s now.
    CW Hawes recently posted…The Golden Fleece AffairMy Profile

    • I like jazz, instead, I enjoy the 1920s jazz too. Bessy Smith is my favourite singer. She’s incredible even on the 1920s recordings, such a powerful voice even on those first recordings. Live, she must have been absolutely outstanding. Can’t even imagine.

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