What is the Jazz Age? Although the sounds of jazz were popular during the 1920s, the phrase "Jazz Age" encompasses a major shift in society, politics and entertainment that took place after the end of World War I in 1918. During these high-flying times, pleasure was the goal, and, for many, money was no object.
The Age Of Excess
Author F. Scott Fitzgerald was the chief chronicler of this time period. Looking back in the 1931 essay "Echoes of the Jazz Age," he deemed the era an "age of excess." His legendary novel "The Great Gatsby," which was published in 1925, combines the sense of possibility and the potential tragedy as people redefined the rules that existed before World War I.
The Political And Economic Climate Of The Jazz Age
The Jazz Age was a time of rebellion. Although the 18th amendment banning alcohol went into effect in 1920 and lasted throughout the decade, parties did not end, and bootleggers became rich. The liberation wasn't limited to alcohol. Also in 1920, thanks to the 19th amendment, women were able to vote. The Jazz Age also marked a shift in fashion for women, and flapper dresses became the rage. African Americans, many of whom were returning after fighting during World War I, were also moving from the South and into cities for more opportunities.
Helping to fuel the social change was a sudden rise in wealth and free time. Stock market speculation ran rampant, and people could buy items they had never before dreamed of owning, like cars, radios and records. With technological innovation spreading and more people being able to afford labor-saving devices, they had more time to entertain themselves-especially with jazz music.
Jazz was the most popular form of music in the 1920s, and African American performers, such as King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, were in demand at venues, which represented a racial breakthrough, although even that breakthrough had its limits. The music captured a playful, experimental, innovative spirit that was to guide all entertainment and many lifestyle choices of the time.
Sadly, the Jazz Age landed with a thud along with the stock market in 1929, and the Great Depression replaced all the glamour for which the Jazz Age was so famous.
In keeping with the jazz spirit, jazz musicians often rely on a variety of jazz instruments. Jazz music showcases an exciting blend of Western and African musical styles.
To understand jazz in the 1920s, you not only have to be aware of the performers, like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton, but also of the social, political and technological history of the time.
Three female jazz singers-Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan-prove that jazz music isn't about male composers and artists.