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.