Traditional Jazz & The Jazz Age

History of Jazz: Part 2

Traditional Jazz is a broad term used to define a jazz style employed by musicians working in New Orleans between 1900 and 1917, and musicians from New Orleans who played and recorded in Chicago from around 1917 throughout the 1920s, a period known as “The Jazz Age.”

It is also used to describe the music played by revivalists from various periods who have sought to perform music in the same style as that employed by these groups of musicians. Some reserve the term to describe a variant of traditional New Orleans and classic jazz styles.

Jazz in New Orleans, 1900-1917

The first music that is generally referred to as jazz is that of New Orleans trumpet player Buddy Bolden and pianist Jelly Roll Morton. While Bolden is a legendary figure of the distant past, with no recordings to define his musical style, but is still considered to have been the man who first blew jazz in New Orleans, and this fact is confirmed by Morton in his interviews by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress.

Jelly Roll Morton, “Dr. Jazz” 1927

Morton himself is generally considered to be the first jazz composer and arranger, well-known for his many compositions as well as for the meticulous care with which he orchestrated the performances of his Red Hot Peppers. Morton’s Red Hot Peppers sessions, recorded in Chicago in 1926 and 1927, are generally thought to be the best existing recorded representation of New Orleans jazz.

Joe “King” Oliver is another legendary figure in the development of traditional jazz and is also known as the mentor of Louis Armstrong. Oliver, Armstrong, Morton, and a host of other musicians from the Crescent City ended up in Chicago during the 1920s. This was partly due to the closing of the legendary Storyville District in New Orleans by the U.S. Navy during the U.S. involvement in World War I, though it was not the only factor that led to the migration.

Migration to Chicago and the Birth of Recorded Jazz

The first generally recognized jazz recording was made in 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, a white band from New Orleans who cut their record, “Livery Stable Blues” in New York. Of course, jazz was being simultaneously created by a large number of black musicians in New Orleans but these musicians were not recorded due to the lack of recording facilities in that city. Joe Oliver went to Chicago in part because of the opportunity to be recorded there. Cornetist Freddy Keppard was to have been the first recorded jazz musician, but he turned down the offer, reportedly because he was afraid other musicians would steal his ideas from the recordings.

Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five Performing “Knee Drops”

Louis Armstrong arrived in Chicago to play in Joe Oliver’s band, but he was invited to join the Fletcher Henderson band a short time later in New York. Returning to Chicago, Armstrong cut his legendary Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings and forever transformed jazz music. Armstrong’s conception placed the soloist at the center of jazz music, a concept that was foreign to those familiar with contrapuntal New Orleans groups. On numbers like “West End Blues” and “Potato Head Blues” Armstrong blew solos of such incredible force and originality that others quickly followed in his footsteps.

The Jazz Age

The 1920s are generally referred to as “The Jazz Age”, and the ’20s are usually thought of as the first truly modern decade, with traditional jazz as the soundtrack. Everything was seemingly done to excess. Women’s fashions became scandalous, loose and scanty, with hemlines nearing the knees, which had been unthinkable only a few years previous.

1920s: The Jazz Age

Josephine Baker became a society hit in Paris, while Mae West entertained audiences in the U.S. with her risque humor. Thanks to Prohibition, drinking became a sporting pastime for both the upper and lower classes. Many became wealthy in the stock market boom of the time, and business became bigger than ever. Evangelists such as Billy Sunday and Aimee Semple Macpherson held sway. Literature in this era is generally represented by F. Scott Fitzgerald, but there were an incredible number of great writers working during this decade, including Faulkner, Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Huxley, and Dorothy Parker.

It all came to an end with the stock market crash of late October 1929, made all the more remarkable by the fact that the New York Stock Exchange had set a record in March of that same year for the number of shares traded in a day.

By the dawn of the 1930s, traditional jazz was giving way to a new musical sound on the horizon, and the Swing Era was eventually ushered in.

History of Jazz Part 1: Blues Music, Ragtime & the Origins of Jazz

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