The Jazz Age: The Rebellion and Spontaneity of Young America By Matthew Carvalho

The 1920's was the birth of many social and cultural revolutions, the Jazz Age being one of the most prominent. Bursting at the time, jazz was derived from an African American slang term, and consisted of the spirited melodies of ragtime interwined with the passion and dramatics of blues, highlited by exuberant improvisations and sensual spontaneity. It was universally sought out by all ages, genders, and ethincities for its "pleasure and immediacy," allowing its participants to let go of the struggles of everyday life and let loose on the dance floor with newly invented moves such as the Charleston and the Black Bottom. While this cultural immersion seemed to be beneficial at the time, it also created a schism between traditionalists and those who supported jazz due to the "sexually provocative movements" that became routine when listening to jazz performers. This newly formed division between those who believed in the old ways versus those excited for the new opportunities jazz created for the future exemplifies the "gases and breaks" of the 1920's.

Jazz musicians varied widely in the way they performed; some would perform with full orchestras, others in small groups, and the most talented musicians could appear as soloists. The playing of various instruments, such as the clarinet or the trombone, diversified jazz musicians in their performing, adding to the reoccurring amazement of jazz shows throughout the 1920's.
The Jazz Age was well supported by other forms of art, being depicted in many pieces of artwork, the apex of cubist works, and even the center of photography and newspapers. This unification of the different arts working together to express their opinion was one of the main "gases" of the 1920's.

While many were part of the Jazz Age, there were prominent leaders of the movement. The following glideshow highlights some of them and their relationship to the cause:

Louis Armstrong, one of the leaders of the Jazz Age, was known for his impromptu jazz improvisations, as well as his composing and widely-viewed performances.

Duke Ellington, another prominent figure throughout the Jazz Age, was an astounding composer and had played piano since the age of seven. His performances were sought out throughout the nation, and his shows were viewed by hundreds to thousands every night.

Jelly Roll Morton, a multi-talented instrumentalist and composer, was known for his discipline and innovation in his work, having an influential role in shaping the Jazz Age.

Bessie Smith was a blues singer that sold some of the most popular albums of the 1920's. Being both black and a woman, she was a strong proponent of the Jazz Age highlighting how music should be for everyone, rather than constricted to specific races and social classes.

The video below contains excerpts from some of the most famous jazz musicians in the 1920's. Notice the variation of social classes, race, and gender in the audiences, for the Jazz Age was supported by the idea that some universal wonders, such as music, should be for everybody, no matter the amount of money you have or the color of your skin.

The Jazz Age initiated a series of "gases and breaks," dividing America into those sticking to tradition and those immersed in this new and exuberant culture. For much of American society, the experience of going to dance halls and listening to jazz performers was craved, with new venues having to be built to accomodate for the high demand of the music genre. However, many did not agree with some aspects of jazz music. The newspaper below from the early 1900's calls jazz a "barbaric throb" and asserts that jazz came from a "string of savagery." The idea of music originally sung and danced to by Africans and slaves becoming a cultural piece of American society was terrifying to some. Even woman's rights activists dismissed jazz, saying that the provacative dances that were performed to the music "encouraged rape." These different hesitations about the Jazz Age caused some "breaks," where Americans put their feet on the brakes and tried to stop these cultural immersions from occurring. Nevertheless, the "gases" outweighed the "breaks," as jazz became a fascination throughout America and later Europe, speeding right into the 1930's as an integral part of culture within the U.S.

This newspaper article discusses the savage nature of jazz music and its affiliation with the 1920s. Music coming from Africa was controversial during the 1900s, so jazz music was accepted by some, but greatly opposed by others.

Overall, the Jazz Age was an incredibly successful and integral piece of the Roaring Twenties. Not only did it bring a sense of spirit and spontaneity to the U.S., it also revolutionized the way Americans thought about social hierarchy. Jazz performers made sure to advertise that jazz was for everyone: black and white, male and female, rich and poor. Jazz music was able to break through the social classes and provide a sense of unity throughout all citizens of America, bringing the nation even closer to equality among all its citizens. The popularity of jazz extended to a wide range of citizens, calling for them to accept their brothers and sisters, no matter who they are or what they looked like. This sense of amalgamation between U.S. citizens is the greatest takeaway of the Jazz Age, and aided in bringing about a feeling of civil justice and equal rights throughout the Roaring Twenties which would become a seriously controversial issue as America continued into the mid-1900's.

Created By
Matthew Carvalho
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Created with images by cdrummbks - "jelly roll morton- blues and stomps" • Elvert Barnes - "01.LambdaRising.Dupont.WDC.26feb06"

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