“Life is a lot like Jazz, it's best when you improvise”- George Gershwin
What is Jazz
“Jazz is a genre of music in which melodies are improvised on a particular instrument. It can pinpoint a variety of emotions from sorrow to happiness, achieved by changes in texture, tempo, and lyrics. “
An important feature of jazz is that we use is a call-and-response mechanism where one instrument, sound, or person answers another. This creates the enticement of emotions for the people listening to the music. Jazz music had many different variations like cool jazz, swing, and bebop music which later led to big band music that included jazz orchestras.
Jazz during the Roaring 1920s
The roaring 20s were a time of prohibition where drinking was illegal and incredibly frowned upon. The roaring 20s initiated a major shift in the economic, social, and political environments. The roaring 20s were a time of wealth and prosperity right before the major economic crash of the 1930s. Featured in movies like the “Great Gatsby”, it is shown that people would gather at large, extremely fancy parties to illegally drink alcohol and listen to music like jazz. One thing that the Great Gatsby portrayed very well as the women's outfits. The women wore flapper dresses with long strings flowing from a tight dress, allowing the dress to move with the music.
An example of one of these roaring 20s music and dances includes:
As we can see from the video, the women are wearing flapper dresses that flowed as they moved, and the men were fancy, dressed in a suit. Jazz music was a big hit in the roaring 20s that allowed for people to feel the uplifting, energetic beat that encouraged them to let loose. Jazz music during the 20s featured a lot of trumpet and the cornet, in which we can hear in the first dance- The Charleston. The call-and-response aspect of jazz was represented a lot in the roaring 20s jazz music. It is an easy observation that the call-and-response is easily perceived through the dancing as the men and women will stray away from each other on some beats and come together on others.
Ethel Waters was a very influential African American Jazz artist during the roaring 20s, she released a lot of music towards the end of the 20s. This is her song “My Handy Man” (1928)
Joe “King” Oliver
King Oliver and His Creole Band performing Dipper Mouth Blues:
Joe “King” Oliver was a very influential New Orleans style Jazz artist that would become a huge influence for the 1920s.
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton claims to be the creator of Jazz music and wants to take credit for it in 1923. Jelly Roll Morton’s “The Black Bottom Stomp”:
Jazz during the Great Depression (1929-1939)
The Great Depression was a time of economic despair that put everyone into extreme sadness. The Great Depression happened when there was a very large stock market crash that would put everyone in a financial crisis. This was very scary for everyone involved and it did not allow for trust in the government or in banks. There was little that someone could do for fun that was free or at no cost. One thing that someone could do for free at the time was gone and listen to a music concert. The music was uplifting and allowed someone to express some positive emotions in a time of depression and despair. The radio was an easy outlet that someone could listen to at any time and listen to jazz music then.
Jazz music during the great depression introduced the jazz styles of swing and bebop. These styles used upbeat chords which allowed people to let go of despair and hardship for the time being.
“When Swing music came along, it had an electrifying effect on people. Swing music swept the country and when it was not an easy situation people were undergoing. It unleashed the and excitement that no one was ready for. It was a music that was just for pleasure and meant to be particularly for people who were under tremendous of the Great Depression.”
An example of swing music during the great depression includes:
Duke Ellington’s “Sweet Dreams of Love” released in 1930:
Fletcher Henderson is one of the most influential Jazz artists. Henderson was a band leader, arranger, and pianist. Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra featured many influential artists including Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge. Fletcher Henderson’s music accentuated a lot of trumpets, just like jazz music does. Henderson became known as one of the most influential jazz artists because he had helped create the popular big band jazz.
This is Fletcher Henderson’s “My Pretty Girl” which featured big band jazz:
Tommy Dorsey and his band play the song “Alone” in 1936: