History of Jazz (1900s – 1940s)

Dec 4, 2017 at History Essays

March 6, 1913 the new word "jazz" was mentioned for the first time in the world press. It appeared in a newspaper in San Francisco. In 1917, jazz music got "capacious" definition - American Literary Digest magazine explained that "jazz - music that forces people to shake, jump and squirm." Apparently, "jazz" (originally “jass”) came from New Orleans, and was applied to mean sexual intercourse, but gradually came to be used for something interesting. Syncopation, complex rhythms, improvisation, call-and-response, and the swung note of ragtime usually characterize jazz music. The undisputed “King of Jazz”, Paul Whitman stated: “Jazz came to America 300 years ago in chains”. Since that time jazz has been developing by both Americans and Africans, and at the beginning of the XXth century finally conquered the world.

First Stage of the Development of Jazz

The period of the late XIX – early XX (up to 1920s) is the first stage of the development of jazz. Early jazz musicians used to call New Orleans their cradle. It was the place where the “New Orleans Sound” (jazz) was born. “In the early 1920s, the first real stars of jazz surfaced.  Artists such as King Oliver, Louis Armstrong,  and Kid Ory established well known reputations for their original jazz music.” At the end of the 1920s, African American population suffered from racism that is why all famous musicians were forced to leave New Orleans looking for a shelter.

Chicago became a new stage in the history of jazz. Most of the famous musicians moved to this city and started working on development of jazz music here. Since this time Jazz has been spread all over the nation and became extremely popular among the whites. In 1922, an indie company Gannett Records started recording jazz bands performing in Chicago. The New Orleans Rhythm Kings with a young musician Louis Armstrong was the first group to be performed here. As time passed, jazz lost its original sound and became more adapted for dancing (“Dance Hall Jazz”). It was obvious that Chicago was about to enter the Swing Era. Swing as a style of jazz appeared in the mid-1930s during the Great Depression, and was applied to mean music in motion. Swing became a national dance; all the big bands played in this style of music. Louis Armstrong once said: ”Swing - this is what in my mind a real rhythm is”. 

New York is the Center of Jazz Music

New York is another important center for the development of jazz. At the time of the 1920s, New York experienced the Golden Age of the jazz music. February 26, 1917 at the New York studio "Victor" the first jazz phonograph was recorded. The significance of this event in the history of jazz cannot be overestimated. Speaking about a new jazz style Stride, we have to go back to the 20s, when in New York there were no party without the lone figure of the pianist. Musician could perform any song or fashionable melody and was, in fact, "one man band". Based in the development of ragtime, stride began its formation during the First World War. The energy of this style was in tune with the emergence of more and more innovative devices (cars, airplanes, telephones) and reflected the new rhythm of the city, as well as other kinds of modern art (painting, sculpture, choreography). Stride had absorbed much from its "predecessors" - ragtime and New Orleans-style. Conditionally stride is divided in to "early", which was a prominent representative of George P. Johnson’s music, and "late" that is famous for its dominant figure, F. Waller. 

Bebop as a New Direction in Jazz

In the early 1940s, a new direction in jazz named bebop was originated. It can be characterized by a faster pace, complex melodies and harmonies. Bebop jazz was considered to be the style for intellectuals. Great big bands no longer existed. This music was designed only for listening. The easiest way to describe the spirit of bebop is to cite a notable pianist and composer, Thelonious Monk: "If you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom."

The period of the first four decades of the 20th century is considered to be the heyday in the history of jazz music. Musicians of this time managed to create a specific sort of music that in the next decades conquered the world’s attention.


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