Jazz


What do Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, George Gershwin, and Louis Armstrong mean to us today? All these names to us don’t really mean anything except Jazz musicians. But, about eighty years ago in the 1920’s, these names meant a lot more. These names meant “father” of the trumpet, Empress of Blues, the Song Plunger, and the Greatest. Every musician wanted to be a Louis Armstrong or a Bessie Smith, and everyone looked up to them. The 1920’s was a huge decade for the phenomena known as “Jazz”. It was a time of great social change and a time of conservatism. From the world of politics to the world of fashion, forces collided to produce the most explosive decade of the century. Youth ruled everything from celebrities to all kinds of styles. If it was young, it was in. But how did jazz start, where did it all begin?


The Home of Jazz was primarily in Chicago, New Orleans, and New York. Due to the closing of the Seaport in New Orleans, musicians were force to travel up the Mississippi to fund work. There are four types of jazz styles: Boogie- Woogie, Chicago Jazz, Urban Blues, and Society Dance Bands. Chicago was home primarily for New Orleans traditional music in the 1920’sMusicians were guaranteed jobs because of the ever- growing popularity of nightclubs during Prohibition, so jazz thrived. The popularity of phonographs also provided a boost to the music industry. The style of Boogie- Woogie was improvised music played the \'20’s in Chicago. In the mining areas of the Midwest was were it got its start. The repetition, rolling style was the beginning of the Midwest shuffle style. The second type of jazz is Chicago Jazz, which was played mostly by white musicians. This type of jazz style was more rehearsed and tighter than others. Since Chicago had more nightclubs that New York, it held a bigger attraction for jazz musicians. Chicago was replaced by New York as the capitol of jazz after the stock market crash of 1929. New York was known for two main reasons: the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Big Bands. This was also the time period where African- American art and culture was recognized. The other type of jazz style is Urban Blues. This was played primarily in the South Side of Chicago known as the “bucket of blood”. Clubs in the South side were known to hire the “who’s who” of blues musicians. The last major jazz style is Society Dance Bands. These bands had no improvisation and were usually big with plush arrangements. They were located downtown and were slower paced. These bands were designed mainly for dancing purposes. They had sophisticated sound that was so successful that it was copied by other bands.


One of the most popular vocalists in the 1920’s was Bessie Smith. Although Bessie Smith was completely unknown to the white population, she was a symbol to blacks. She was the best selling vocalist in the 1920’s. What set her apart from the other singers was that she could control her voice. She was able to control inflection, moaning and lyricism clearly. As the audience demanded more than great singing, she wore lavish gowns on the stage while dinging in a seductive and powerful voice. Due to her lack of success with white audiences, Bessie Smith never reached the level of Louis Armstrong in Jazz. She is, however, remembered as the queen of jazz.


George Gershwin, known as the Song Plunger, wrote his first big hit,” Swanee,” in 1919. He handled himself like a genius. Gershwin made his mark in his symphony pieces, Rhapsody in Blue, being the most famous. He also preformed in Carnegie Hall with the New York Symphony Society. He also wrote songs for two more shows. By the age of thirty, he had written some of the most successful songs in the twenties, including “Strike Up the Band” In the 1930’s, Gershwin continued his Broadway run with Blue Monday and others. He also spent time in Hollywood writing songs. By creating another king of art rom the jazz and blues material of American Americans, he left us a legacy.


Duke Ellington is still called today, the greatest jazz musician ever. He started his career