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Jazz (Living the Twenties #AtoZChallenge 2020)

It would be impossible to underestimate the importance of jazz in the 1920s. Far from being a mere form of music, jazz was the language of the new world. It incarnated everything modern, new, daring and futuristic. 

The African-American origin

Nobody knows where, when, and how jazz arose. It is generally accepted that it was in New Orleans at the very end of the XIX or very beginning of the XX century, probably as a popular form of art, made by musicians with no formal music education belonging to the African American community. 

From the beginning, jazz went hands-in-hands a bawdy life. Often discriminated, his practitioners found job mostly in underground bars and brothels, managed by the underworld. 

When in the 1910s the Great Migration began, many of the African Americans who immigrated to the northern cities of the US were jazz musicians, who continued to practice their music, very often in the same underground environment. 

But then, at the beginning of the 1920s, Prohibition happened. 

Prohibition and the rise of the Jazz Culture

Ma Rainy and Her Band (1923)
Ma Rainy and Her Band (1923)

When Prohibition went into effect, places like the underground speakeasies became not only acceptable but even fashionable. 

Especially young people thronged to them to have fun at the sound of that music that spoke of everything new and forbidden. Jazz was wild, dissonant, had nothing traditional about it. It allowed for dances were bodies shook violently and touched. Young people from all walks of life recognised their language. 

Jazz then went out of the segregated, secret places, and became a mainstream form of expression which crossed the race line in America, and then the oceans to other cultures. 

Jazz became extremely popular in Europe too, where a new brand of European jazz arose. 

Still, not everything was well for this form of music. 

The Jazz controversy

Jazz was controversial for many reasons, especially in the United States. 

On both shores of the Atlantic, scholars and musicians discussed whether jazz was even music since it didn’t follow any of the traditional rules. Because it rested heavily on improvisation and personal intuition, jazz was even difficult to teach. 

The fact that it was so wildly syncopated suggested that it loosened civil behaviour and restraints, liberating a more primitive, more animal part of the human being. It wasn’t even necessarily considered bad from some of the commentators. 

Far from being a mere form of music, jazz was the language of the new world. It incarnated everything modern, new, daring and futuristic #history #jazz Share on X

In Europe, where the first school of jazz was founded in Germany in the 1920s, this was generally considered good. It was a way to communicate with a more primaeval, more authentic part of the self. 
Jazz became enormously popular, and many European musicians adopted it as their own.

The situation was far more complex in america. The popularity of jazz put the African American community, which had long been suppressed and discriminated, in a position of mastery. The best and more popular jazz musicians were black, and everybody wanted to learn from them. This was a hard stroke to the colour line. Musicians, both black and white, wanted to learn jazz from the African American masters. Youths of every colour and social position adopted jazz ad their language. 

Risen from the heady 1920s environment, jazz died out as the Great Depression loomed over America, and the shadow of nationalism spread over Europe. But the changes it brought about were never forgotten, and in time, decades later, it rose again.


Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989


  • Kristin
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 05:04

    When I was in college I discovered my mother’s jazz records. They were from the 1940s though, not the 1929s. Some of that music is still my favorites.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 09:04

    Every time something new ans exciting comes along in art, especially if it comes from a minority, some people panic like it’s the end of the world…

    The Multicolored Diary

  • Frédérique
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 11:50

    A new music style to shake up traditions and power, of course it wasn’t allowed! But it was just what people needed at this time.

  • NotesinaBook
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 14:54

    Really interesting to hear how complex an issue this was in the US.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 21:42

      Yes. Jazz was a complex matter wherever it arrived, but in the US it was particularly so.

  • Keith's Ramblings
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 15:41

    It was totally different when it appeared and remains so today. Think 20’s, think jazz!

    J is for …

    • Post Author
      Posted April 11, 2020 at 21:43

      True. Even today jazz is a very peculiar form of music and not everybody appreciate it still.

  • Birgit
    Posted April 11, 2020 at 16:24

    I have a record of Bessie Smith and enjoy this music. As in many other areas, Jazz liberated the music and so many musicians were inspired by this music.

  • msjadeli
    Posted April 12, 2020 at 02:19

    Jazz is in a class by itself, an elevated class. The improv of jazz takes music to a higher level. I appreciate your offering on it today.

    Ken Burns did a series on it that you might appreciate. I haven’t seen it yet, but a music-loving friend of mine said it’s a must-see if you are into jazz music:

    • Post Author
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:41

      Jazz really is something of its own. I’m not an expert of music, but even I can see that.
      Oh, I know abotu the Ken Burns series, though I’ve only watched the parts regarding the 1920s and 1930s so far. It’s a very good one.

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 12, 2020 at 03:54

    It’s hard to imagine a world where jazz records often weren’t sold in so-called mainstream music stores, and had to be purchased as “race records” in separate stores. Though it’s not that different from the racist attitudes many modern people have towards rap, dismissing the entire genre out of hand instead of trying to understand why it’s so popular among African-Americans and where some of these lyrics are coming from.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 14, 2020 at 09:43

      True, eh? I suppose that we tend to have a predefinite concept of music and everything different pushes us off balance and so makes us uneasy. Beside, creating unease – and therfore thought – is the job of arts, I think ;-)

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted April 15, 2020 at 16:08

    I enjoy jazz. Informative article!

    An A-Z of Faerie: Dagda

    • Post Author
      Posted April 16, 2020 at 08:20

      I’ve come to appreciate jazz too. It’s a strange music.

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