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White Audience (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

White Audience (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz) In the 1920s, hot black jazz and mellow white jazz sounded like two completely different things.
White Audience (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz) In the 1920s, hot black jazz and mellow white jazz sounded like two completely different things. #jazz #jazzmusic #history Share on X
W - White Audience (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz) in the 1920s, hot black jazz and mellow white jazz sounded two completely different things

The history of jazz in the 1920s always ran on two separate tracks: black jazz, on the one hand, white jazz on the other, and very seldom they crossed paths.
These were almost two separate forms of art, happening in very different environments and following very different performing practices.

Black jazz was much more intuitive, more lively and relied on call-and-response both among musicians and between performers and audience.
White jazz sought more symphonic orchestrations, tended to be more mellow and less syncopated, and the call-and-response, especially between performers and audience, was less prominent.

Dominic James "Nick" LaRocca (April 11, 1889 – February 22, 1961), was an early jazz cornetist and trumpeter and the leader of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. He is the composer of one of the most recorded jazz classics of all-time, "Tiger Rag". He was part of what is generally regarded as the first recorded jazz band, a band which recorded and released the first jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues" in 1917.
Nick LaRocca

In many respects, white jazz in the 1920s was less revolutionary than black jazz, and yet it was far more popular and received a lot more recognition.
One of the reasons is that the first instrumental recordings specifically labelled ‘jazz’ featured the Original Dixieland Jass Band, a white band from New Orleans lead by Nick LaRocca. This record was a huge success. It sold over one million copies and made jazz known to a wide public, even those who didn’t frequent nightclubs and speakeasies.

Paul Whiteman's Orchestra was the most popular band of the 1920s. They are also the most controversial to Jazz historians because Whiteman billed himself as "The King Of Jazz". The Paul Whiteman Orchestra rarely played what is considered real Jazz today, despite having some of the great White Jazz soloists of the 1920s in his band
Paul Whiteman

Although, subsequently, many black jazzmen recorded their music, white musicians always had easier access to recording.
This explains why not a black jazzman, but a white musician, Paul Whiteman, is probably the most popular of his time. In the 1920s, he was the King of Jazz in most people’s mind. Besides, most of the public didn’t even have access to black-and-tan and black clubs, where most black musicians were more popular. Slumming was in vogue, but only a small amount of the public did it. Between the limited access to authentic black jazz and the actual attempt at appropriation that white musicians – and especially white critics – were pursuing, it’s no surprise that the 1920s public was never aware of jazz’s origin or that it was a prominently African American form of art.

Some white performers perfected what became known as ‘nut jazz’. They consciously distorted blue notes and turned them into grossly exaggerated groans, growls, moans and laugh.
On the other side of the spectrum, other performers adopted the opposite strategy and ‘diluted’ or ‘refined’ blue notes by de-emphasising them. Because this kind of jazz was what was more often recorded (because it was played prominently by whites), it was also what became more popular, which marginalised most black and some white musicians who remained wedded to participatory and improvisational jazz performance.


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

PBD Official Site – The Devil’s Music: 1920s jazz


  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 03:45

    Sort of like saying something is “country” music when that means so many things! Bluegrass, classic country and that slick rap style stuff they promote now. I actually like both styles of jazz. Although I do lean more to the black style.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:32

      I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz this month, searching for the right clip to post. Even if I’m not an expert, I do hear a difference between the two styles.

  • Tasha
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 08:32

    Not remotely shocked about the white appropriation of the whole of Jazz and the muddying of its roots. At least history is beginning to take off the white wash these days.
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:34

      Trying to be as objective as possible is the best we can do. But I’d like to hear what people will think of our ‘objectivity’ in one hundred years 😉

  • Kathleen Valentine
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 14:17

    I think the whole “slumming” thing had two purposes. First, of course, was to enjoy the music but I also think it made a lot of people feel very sophisticated and avant guarde.

    Meet My Imaginary Friends

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:36

      Mostly it was a fad. It was thrilling, becuase it was ‘dangerous’ while actually being relatively safe.

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 13:42

    It’s a pity that performers had to be white to be popular.
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

    • Post Author
      Posted April 27, 2016 at 14:10

      Well, I understand that lots of black performers were very popular, but they were not as visible.

  • Megan Morgan
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 15:09

    I didn’t realize there was such a strong divide between black and white jazz, maybe because jazz today doesn’t really make the distinction.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:38

      Uhm… I’m not sure it was a distiction. I think it was more of a natural difference in feeling.
      That’s my impression, at least 🙂

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 16:06

    There was a disparity between black and white jazz music and musicians even then!!

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:39

      Especially then. Back then, segregation (and so inequality) was still legal in America.

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 18:12

    Intriguing! I read some about white and black jazz when I took a class on Cold War era cultural diplomacy, and how Americans promoted jazz abroad…

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:40

      So there were still differences as recently as the 1960s?

  • Jemima Pett
    Posted April 27, 2016 at 21:00

    I must catch up with your posts as I’d planned to follow you through the month – so much to do, so little time 🙂
    Jemima Pett

    • Post Author
      Posted April 28, 2016 at 06:41

      They will be all here, Jemima.
      I know, April is always such a busy month. Mine was just crazy… and not just because of the challenge. But we’ll have all the time we want to catch up 😉

  • Carrie-Anne
    Posted April 28, 2016 at 19:55

    I first heard about Paul Whiteman in a Rap Critic review awhile back, when the Rap Critic was discussing cultural appropriation of Black music going back a long way. It’s kind of funny how the name of a popular white jazz musician was Whiteman.

    A blessing in disguise is that some white people were inspired to seek out the original versions of these songs, and from there discovered other African–American musicians and singers.

    • Post Author
      Posted May 1, 2016 at 06:47

      It’s especially true for musicians. Many white jazzmen went to black establishments to listen to the African-American masters and learn from them. They even played together at times, which is one of the first forms of integration in music.
      But ‘outside’ the business, on the customers’ side – that was a completely different matter.

      I always found it funny too that the most popular white jazzmen was called Whiteman. Kind of ironic.

  • Sharon Himsl
    Posted April 30, 2016 at 06:20

    Yes I see what you mean. It does have a very white sound, a very clean sound too in comparison with black jazz. Interesting that a lot of whites thought Jazz had originated with them!

    • Post Author
      Posted May 1, 2016 at 06:49

      White and black jazz had a very different sounds, isn’t it? I’m no expert, and yet even I can hear it.
      But then, every culture interprete music its own way, so I suppose this is normal 🙂

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