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New York and Chicago During the 1920’s

The 1920’s was a huge decade for the phenomena known as “Jazz”. Due to the closing of the seaport in New Orleans, musicians were forced to travel up the Mississippi to find work. Two of the cities most affected by this move were Chicago and New York.

Chicago was home primarily for New Orleans traditional music during the 1920’s. From this New Orleans style came four major types of jazz: Boogie-Woogie, Chicago Jazz, Urban Blues, and Society Dance Bands. Because of the ever-growing popularity of nightclubs during Prohibition, these styles of jazz thrived so musicians were guaranteed jobs. The popularity of the phonograph also provided a huge boost to the music industry during the 1920’s.

Boogie-Woogie was a style of improvised piano music played during the ’20’s in Chicago. It got its start in the mining areas of the Midwest. The rolling, repetitious style was the beginning of the Midwestern shuffle style.

The second type of jazz popular during this time was Chicago Jazz. It was played mostly by white musicians. Chicago Jazz tended to be very aggressive and usually ended abruptly. Since Chicago had more nightclubs than New York, it held a bigger attraction for musicians. It was only after the stock market crash in 1929 that New York replaced Chicago as a jazz capital. This style of jazz was tighter and more rehearsed than others.

The next kind of jazz to emerge during the 1920’s was Urban Blues. This was played primarily in an area known as the “bucket of blood.” This referred to an area along the South Side of Chicago. The clubs there were known to hire the “who’s who” of blues musicians. The last major style of jazz to emerge from Chicago during the ’20’s was Society Dance Bands. These bands were usually big with plush arrangements. They were located downtown and were slower paced and had no improvisation. They were designed mainly for dancing. They had a more sophisticated sound that was copied by other bands because it was so successful.

Following is a list of some of the major mover and shakers to come out of Chicago during the 1920’s.

Joe Oliver (1885-1938)

The “King” played the cornet and was one of the most important pure jazz musicians. He is mostly known for his time spent with his Creole Jazz Band. Recognition should be given to the fact that Louis Armstrong got much of his fame when he played with Oliver’s band as a “hot jazz” specialist.

Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)

Armstrong is known as the “father” of the jazz trumpet. He was responsible for making the trumpet popular in jazz. He is also considered to be the first serious soloist in jazz. It is thought that Armstrong’s time in a reformatory gave him the social “tools” necessary to survive and also gave him his rough ragtime trumpet sound.

Meade Lux Lewis (1905-1964)

Lewis was one of the leading boogie-woogie pianists. He was the third member of one of the biggest jazz boogie-woogie trios in history. He worked as a cab driver during the day and played gigs at night.

Pete Johnson (1904-1967)

Also a boogie-woogie piano master, Johnson unfortunately had trouble handling the business side of music. He therefore had to often take day jobs to sustain himself.

Benny Goodman (1909-1986)

Known as the “King of Swing”, Goodman played the clarinet. His band was originally thought of as a dance band. But with the help of Fletcher Henderson, along with others, Goodman’s band took on the characteristics of a true jazz orchestra.

Paul Whiteman (1890-1967)

Whiteman is credited for introducing more people to jazz during the 1920’s than any other person. He originally played violin, but ended up being a bandleader full time. His huge success allowed him to be one of the very few bandleaders to continue working after the stock market crash.

Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (1903-1931)

Leon is considered to be the only white trumpet player to have ever come close to capturing Louis Armstrong’s amazing popularity. His style of playing was more European than most trumpeters of that time. Unfortunately, he was often unable to play due to his addiction to alcohol.

New York was the other city greatly affected by the close of “Storyville”. During the 1920’s New York was known for two main reasons: the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Big Bands. Spasm bands also became popular in this area.

The Harlem Renaissance was a shift in the jazz industry from Chicago to New York. This occurred during the mid 1920’s. The Harlem Piano School was surrounded by small clubs featuring solo piano acts. One major difference between Harlem and Boogie-Woogie piano players was that the Harlem players were usually better trained. This is also the time period when African-American art and culture entered the mainstream.

Secondly, the Harlem Big Bands were a new phenomena in New York during the 1920’s. The major idea behind these big bands was to make the arrangements sound as close to an improv performance as possible.

Here is a list of prominent names to come out of New York during the 1920’s.

Art Tatum (1909-1956)

Tatum was among the most successful pianists to come out of the Harlem Piano School. Interestingly, he was almost totally blind and taught himself to read. He was said to have an understanding far beyond his contemporaries. This is due, in part, to the fact that he was born into a musical family.

James P. Johnson (1891-1955)

Johnson was another big piano player to come from the Harlem Piano School. He spent a lot of time working in clubs in Hell’s Kitchen district of New York City. He wrote Broadway musicals and in the mid ’20’s he began composing large-scale orchestral works. Also, he was known for his great improvisation.

Eubie Blake (1883-1983)

Blake began playing at age six when his parents, both former slaves, bought a piano for their home. He began composing songs as a teenager. He is remembered for his ragtime style of jazz.

Willie “The Lion” Smith (1887-1973)

Smith, who played piano, was also a product of the Harlem Piano School. He earned his nickname while serving in the army. He led his own band in Harlem during the early 1920’s.

Duke Ellington (1899-1974)

The “Duke” is considered by many to be the most important American composer in the history of jazz. What makes him unique is that he composed music individually for the members of his orchestra instead of lumping them all together. Ellington’s opening of the Cotton Club is considered to be one of the most important jazz events of the 1920’s. It was there that he and his band gained their international reputation as one of the best jazz orchestras in the world.

Fletcher Henderson (1898-1952)

Henderson was a man of many talents. Not only did he succeed as a pianist, composer, and arranger, but he also had a double degree in chemistry and math. One of his main contributions was his introduction of the “swing formula”. As an authentic blues artist, he wasn’t very good but, he was representative of many of the well-trained bandleaders.

In conclusion, Chicago and New York were the two most important cities for jazz during the 1920’s. The music was a sophisticated kind of New Orleans jazz. Sometime it had a blues feeling and sometimes it didn’t. The 1920’s are when jazz seriously made a name for itself. Society knew good music when it heard it- and, with out a doubt, the 1920’s proved that.

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