Thursday, February 12, 2015
Race Conflict in the 1930's
Since the birth of jazz in New Orleans, race had always been a significant issue. There was conflict between slaves and their masters and between lower class blacks and upperclass Creoles. When jazz migrated to Chicago, there was tension caused by the injustice of black musicians having only a predominantly white audience. Despite the obvious racial tensions that surrounded the burgeoning jazz movement, very few people questioned it. Segregation was the norm, and not until the 1930’s did anyone start to give race any serious consideration.
Due to the invention of the radio and popular magazines such as “Down Beat” and “Metronome,” jazz music was well known throughout the nation by the 1930s (Swing Changes, 2). The burgeoning popularity of jazz caused an upwelling of critics, who would listen to the newest artists and write articles about their findings. In this way, a small number of musical critics shaped the way the general public viewed the current style of jazz (Swing Changes). As the number of critics began to increase the analysis of the jazz style of music became much more political. Inevitably, the issue of race began to arise.
Previously, jazz was perceived as an “uncouth and primitive a variety of music associated with African-Americans, and the arena for a dangerous social miscegenation (2).” It’s connection with black culture was what made jazz music unsavory; in the 1930’s however, critics began to assert that black musicians were in fact superior to whites in the realm of jazz music. This was most clearly seen in the career of John Hammond, one of the most influential critics in the 1930’s. He emphasized the connection between race and jazz, and strongly endorsed the musicians he believed were true to their roots and the origins of the music. This included artists such as Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday, and Count Basie, who he generously supported and got them their first recordings. Not only did he support black musicians, he was also a firm political advocate for racial equality who dreamed of a world where “white and colored friend of his could play blues together in racial and musical harmony” (Swing Changes, 8). He even went so far as to insist that black musicians were superior to white players, saying “'The best of the white folk still cannot compare to the really good Negroes in relaxed, unpretentious dance music'” (6). Not only was he a personal advocate for racial equality, he was also extremely outspoken. This is witnessed by his castigation of Duke Ellington, who played at the “Cotton Club” a whites-only establishment. Hammond accused Ellington of forgetting the roots of jazz and forsaking his people for the sake of wealth and stardom.
With critics like Hammond so prevalent in the social scene of the 1930’s, it is easy to see how race suddenly became a popular topic of discussion in public forums. Due its ability to make people reconsider the injustices of race, jazz was likely one of many significant factors that led to the Civil Rights Movement.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Chicago: The Promised Land of the 1920's
The 1920’s were a time of rapid social and economic growth in America that caused the outgrowth of many important works of art. This included the jazz style of music, which received it’s most important influences in Chicago. Due to the Great Migration, Chicago was flooded with new arrivals, all with unique cultures and lifestyles. It offered black people a chance to enjoy a measure of economic freedom and to build a life for themselves removed from the South, the “scene of the crime” (Jones, 1). In fact, “between the years 1910 and 1920...60,000 Negroes migrated from the South to the city of Chicago” (Jones, 1). In an effort to expand their audience, black jazz musicians left New Orleans behind and brought jazz to the urban scene of Chicago.
There were several factors that allowed jazz to flourish in Chicago during this time. First and foremost, there was a larger demand for the music simply due to the increased population; this allowed for the creation of the first race records, which “revealed the commercial potential of African American performers” (Gioia, 44). This important step led to presence of black and interracial bands in the studio. The spread of jazz is also due the establishment of performance halls such as Lincoln Gardens, “the largest dance hall on the South side” (Gioia, 44), where the hottest jazz was played. Chicago was also uniquely dominated by gangster organizations that owned segregated nightclubs such as The Sunset. These clubs hired black musicians and catered to exclusively white audiences, which gave black artists a chance to expand their skills and earn a better living (Travis). As jazz became more popular amongst the white middle class, it evolved from the group-oriented and disjointed New Orleans style of jazz into a smoother, more composed species. Recordings and radio, combined with a melting pot of cultures and greater economic stability for black people made Chicago a crucial influence on jazz in the 1920’s.
As jazz music became more popular, a distinct Chicago style of jazz emerged. In New Orleans, there was a greater focus on the ensemble act and improvisation. Chicago jazz was different in that it emphasized improvised solos and arrangements, became more refined, and lost some of it’s bluesy influences. The forerunners of this style were extremely talented musicians such as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, The Austin High Gang, Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, Earl Hines, and Bix Beiderbecke. Despite the fact that all of these artists played significant roles in the evolution of jazz culture in the 1920’s, Louis Armstrong best represents the culture and community of Chicago during this time. With his inspirational work in the Hot Fives and Hot Sevens recordings and his tremendous work as a soloist and entertainer, Armstrong brought in a new age. According to Gioia, “the New Orleans pioneers exit stage left; Armstrong on trumpet enters stage right heralding the New Age of the Soloist” (53). The sheer number of recordings he made combined with his talents as an entertainer brought jazz into the limelight, which transformed it into a recognized art form in society.