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New York in the 1920s
Chapter Outline

This chapter shifts focus to New York City, the center of the music business and the center for jazz once it grew beyond New Orleans and became a larger commercial enterprise. We discuss the overall structure of the music business in the 1920s; early white "big bands" (e.g., Paul Whiteman), and the attempts to appropriate jazz as art music (e.g., Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue); the beginnings of black dance bands (Fletcher Henderson); the songwriting business (Tin Pan Alley), musical theater (Broadway) and the Harlem Renaissance; the stride piano tradition (James P. Johnson); and the Cotton Club, with its most famous composer, Duke Ellington.

  1. Arabian Nights
    1. Although different urban areas are considered central to the development of jazz at different times (New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles), New York has remained central since the 1920s. There are three interlocking spheres of influence that can account for this: commercial, sociological, and musical.
    2. Commercial
      1. The entertainment infrastructure is based in New York. As jazz became more commercial, it needed access to this infrastructure.
    3. Sociological
      1. New York was a magnet for immigrants. Contributors to jazz, if not African American, came from immigrant families, especially Jews, whose music contains pentatonic scales and improvisation, making it particularly compatible with jazz.
    4. Musical
      1. There were styles specific to New York, such as stride piano, and New York was receptive to modern developments in jazz (bebop, avant-garde), but the growth of big bands and swing and the simultaneous interest in social dancing during the 1920s and 1930s were the most significant contribution. When Ellington arrived in New York in 1923, he described New York as just like "Arabian Nights."
  2. 1920s Transformations
    1. Recordings, Radio, and the Movies
      1. There are three periods of technological advances in the twentieth century: recordings, radio, and movies during the 1920s; television during the 1940s; and digitalization during the 1980s.
      2. In 1925 electrical recording provided sound with much higher fidelity than acoustic recording. This was particularly beneficial for jazz since now drums, cymbals, and polyphonic textures were much clearer. Phonographs and discs became much cheaper as well.
      3. With the invention of the carbon microphone, and then the condenser microphone, radio broadcasts became much clearer, starting around 1921. NBC and CBS became national networks in 1926 and 1927, respectively. One result was that people stayed at home to listen to the radio and started buying recordings to listen to at home.
      4. Movies started using sound in 1927 with the film The Jazz Singer. Radio and recordings spread jazz faster than any music in history. Speed changed everything. Musical styles wore out much more quickly now, so jazz developed very quickly.
    2. Prohibition
      1. In 1920, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment, making the manufacture and selling of alcohol illegal. (It was repealed in 1932.) The result was a vast web of illegal drinking establishments usually controlled by organized crime.
      2. Owners of these speakeasies competed by hiring the best entertainers they could afford, including jazz musicians. The demands for music were so high that only jazz musicians, who could improvise, could provide enough.
  3. Dance Bands
    1. Between 1917 (ODJB recordings) and 1923 (King Oliver recordings) there seemed to be a dry spell, but in New York, jazz came into contact with and borrowed from many kinds of music: pop music (Tin Pan Alley), New Orleans jazz imitators, marching bands, and vaudeville, including comic saxophone ensembles, blues singers, and jazz and ragtime dancers. It was also found in ballrooms and concert halls. Two figures, both from San Francisco, led this last process.
  4. Art Hickman (1886-1930)
    1. Pianist, drummer, and songwriter, Hickman heard jazz on the Barbary Coast in San Francisco and started his own band in 1913 using trumpet, trombone, violin, two or three banjos, and for the first time, two saxophones, which added a smoother sound compared to the brass-heavy New Orleans ensembles and establishing saxophones as an important part of the jazz ensemble.
    2. In 1919 Victor brought Hickman's band to New York, partly in response to the success of the ODJB. But Hickman disliked New York and left.
  5. Paul Whiteman (1890-1967): A Short-Lived Monarchy
    1. The first pop superstar, he was called the "King of Jazz" during the 1920s. Whiteman embodied the issue of the definition of jazz: was it an improvised, raucous music and an art in itself, or a quasi-symphonic music in which jazz was used only as a source for other music?
    2. Born in Denver, he studied viola, played with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and then moved to San Francisco, where he played with the symphony orchestra and started his own ragtime band. In 1919 he started a ballroom band, which was very successful in Los Angeles, Atlantic City, and New York, at the high-end Palais Royal.
    3. In 1920 he released his first record, "Whispering/Japanese Sandman" which was a tremendous hit. Whiteman's band was larger than Hickman's and used the talented composer-arranger Ferde Grofe as well as top-flight instrumentalists.
    4. Symphonic Jazz
      1. In 1924 Whiteman put on a concert at Aeolian Hall in New York in order to prove that classical music can uplift lowbrow jazz. The concert started with a jokey "Livery Stable Blues" and ended with George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue to illustrate his point.
      2. He called the fusion of European art-music sensibilities and African American folk art symphonic jazz. It tried to reflect the modernism of big city life and to democratize high art. A number of classical composers in Europe and American had already fused these two musics.
    5. Crosby, Challice, and the New Guard
      1. Whiteman knew that improvised jazz was becoming more popular, so in 1926 he decided to hire some jazz musicians, preferably black. His manager talked him out of hiring black musicians, but that did not stop him from using arrangement by African American arranger and bandleader Fletcher Henderson or hiring William Grant Still to his composition staff.
      2. Whiteman was one of the first bandleaders to hire a full-time singer. In this case it was Bing Crosby, a pop-music singer who heard Louis Armstrong in Chicago in 1926 and adopted some of Armstrong's rhythmic and improvisational vocal style. By doing so, and as one of the most popular singers of the first half of the twentieth century, Crosby paved the way for whites to accept Armstrong's style. In turn, Crosby inspired Armstrong to include ballads in his repertoire.
      3. Whiteman hired jazz instrumentalists such as Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Eddie Land, and arranger Bill Challis. As a result, Whiteman released some innovative jazz recordings from 1927 to 1929, when the Depression precluded forays into jazz for more commercially profitable music.
    6. "Changes"
      1. In 1927 Whiteman's band represented three conflicting streams: jazz, symphonic jazz, and pop. Challis incorporated all three into his arrangement of "Changes."
      2. The title is significant. Musical changes were occurring, including in the band personnel, in public acceptance of jazz, and in improvisation techniques, which now focused on harmonic progressions more than on polyphonic embellishments of the melody. Socially, America was in an optimistic mood.
      3. Challis's arrangement focuses on contrasts new and old, using the Charleston figure juxtaposed to the even rhythms of the violins. The performance uses many different sounds.
      4. Crosby formed a trio with Al Rinker and Harry Barris called the Rhythm Boys, which is used in vocal chorus in addition to Crosby as a soloist. They sing in an older style singing as well as scat.
  6. Fletcher Henderson (1897-1952)
    1. Like many aspiring musicians, Henderson wanted to emulate Whiteman, but he took big-band music into a much different, and influential, direction. Henderson grew up in a middle-class home in Georgia, studied classical piano, went to Atlanta University, where he received a degree in chemistry, and then went to New York to get a graduate degree. Instead, however, he started playing blues with Ethel Waters and Bessie Smith.
    2. He then went on to organize dance bands. He landed a job at the prestigious midtown, whites-only Roseland Ballroom, where the band played fox trots, tangos, and waltzes. He had access to the best black players in New York. But, like Whiteman, he needed to keep up with the changing dance scene.
    3. By 1926 the Henderson band was considered the best dance band anywhere, a reputation that continued until the Ellington band started gaining notice starting in 1927. Henderson's arranger, Don Redman, set the model for arranging, and Henderson was very influential on swing music of the 1930s through his arrangements and compositions.
  7. Don Redman (1900-1964)
    1. When he started with Henderson, Redman used stock arrangements, but he then started revising them more and more until he developed a unique sound for the Henderson band.
    2. Redman received a music degree from Storer College in West Virginia. He played all the reed instruments and was a composer as well as an arranger. He treated the band as a unit made up of four instrumental sections: reeds, trumpets, trombones, and rhythm.
    3. For 1924 to 1934, the band grew to fifteen players (three reeds, three trumpets, two or three trombones, and four rhythm instruments). This format remains unchanged today.
    4. Redman and Henderson adapted some of what they heard coming out of the jazz recordings being made in Chicago to a more orchestral approach: breaks allowed texture variation; polyphonic sections were written out. Redman's principal organizing technique was call and response, pitting reed and brass sections against each other.
    5. Enter Armstrong
      1. In 1924 Henderson decided to add a third trumpet, a jazz player, so he convinced Lil Hardin Armstrong to persuade her husband, Louis Armstrong, to join the band.
      2. Although the country boy from the South was an awkward fit among the big-city, slick musicians, his playing influenced Redman's arranging style to better fit the sense of swing and blues that Armstrong brought to the band.
      3. Armstrong also took Redman's ideas of fanciful breaks and pop melodies into the Hot Five and Seven recording sessions. Redman not only launched big-band jazz, he also linked Oliver's Creole Jazz Band to Armstrong's Hot Five.
    6. "Copenhagen"
      1. This piece brings together a number of historical and musical threads: composed by midwesterner Charlie Davis, it was recorded by The Wolverines, a small group that featured Bix Beiderbecke. The publisher issued a stock arrangement that was varied by Redman for the Henderson recording.
      2. It combined orchestrated polyphony, block-chord harmonies, breaks, hot solos, two-beat dance rhythms, call and response, and ragtime strains mixed with twelve-bar blues choruses.
      3. New Orleans musicians Armstrong and Buster Bailey add a lot of spirit to this performance. There are contrasting trios (three clarinets versus three trumpets) and contrasting polyphonic sections (one notated, one improvised). It ends with a surprising harmonic twist, not unusual for the time.
    7. Later Years
      1. Henderson showcased top black musicians for his entire career.
      2. Redman left Henderson in 1927 to become director of McKinney's Cotton Pickers, for which he composed and sang. He continued to freelance as an arranger for Armstrong, Whiteman, Jimmy Dorsey and Jimmie Lunceford.
      3. In 1951 he became music director for Pearl Bailey.
  8. The Alley and the Stage
    1. New York was a city of neighborhoods divided on ethnic lines. In the 1920s, south of 14th Street, there was the mainly Jewish Lower East Side (with a thriving Yiddish Theater scene), Little Italy, and Chinatown.
    2. The West Side included Wall Street and Greenwich Village, which was populated by artists and bohemians. Downtown Manhattan was filled with saloons and theaters that required all kinds of music. Midtown Manhattan had rich homes on the East Side and white ghettoes on the West. In between ran Broadway with theaters, dance halls, and cabarets, which likewise required lots of different kinds of music. There were a dozen newspapers covering the scene.
    3. Tin Pan Alley
      1. This refers to the popular music written between the 1890s and the 1950s when rock and roll came into its own. Originally it referred to a building on 28th Street, where music publishers had their offices and songwriters tried to sell their songs, which were often composed to order or to meet public demand for a certain kind of song.
      2. The songs written starting in the mid-1920s was vital for the development of jazz. The song writers were influenced by jazz rhythms and the blues while jazz musicians found inspiration in the songwriters' melodies and harmonies. Usually songs were written by teams, but there were important exceptions like Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.
    4. Blacks and the Great White Way
      1. Whites, especially Jews, dominated Broadway. Although there were important black song writers, like Duke Ellington, W. C. Handy, Fats Waller, and lyricist Andy Razaf, segregation was a fact of life for black artists.
      2. During Reconstruction, black stage entertainment meant minstrelsy. But in 1898, Will Marion Cook presented the first black Broadway production, Clorindy or the Origin of the Cakewalk, which incorporated ragtime and the Cakewalk, and broke from minstrel stereotypes. For the next ten years, black musicals were common on Broadway.
      3. In 1903, Cook had another hit with In Dahomey starring Bert Williams and George Walker. Williams went on to be the first black singer with an exclusive recording contract (1901, Victor), first to star in a Ziegfeld Follies (1910-19), and the first featured in a movie (1910).
      4. White producers and performers resented the new popularity of blacks, so by 1910, the bubble burst. Black musicals became popular again starting in 1921 with Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle's production of Shuffle Along, which spawned a new generation of African American songwriters, producers, publishers, and relatively liberated women singers.
    5. Black Songwriters
      1. In 1923, Clarence Williams (1893-1965) moved to New York and started a song-publishing company that encouraged many black songwriters to write for black musicals and white vaudeville stars.
  9. The Harlem Renaissance
    1. Blacks dominated Uptown Manhattan's Harlem. Until the close of the nineteenth century, the largest African American population lived in Greenwich Village, and then moved to Midtown West (Hell's Kitchen), then on to Harlem, which had been inhabited by the white upper class until around 1915, when Jews and Italians took over with a few pockets of African Americans. Starting in 1904, blacks started moving into Harlem and by 1920 Harlem was an African American "city within a city."
    2. In 1925 Alain Locke's The New Negro argued that African American artists represented a force in the arts. Attitudes toward jazz were ambivalent. Some people argued that jazz represents a revolt against repression but that the future lay with those musicians who sublimated its "lowly," "vulgar" aspects. Others, like Carl Van Vechten in his Nigger Heaven, romanticized the seamier aspects of Harlem, thereby attracting many downtown whites.
    3. On the one hand, Harlem became a carnival for "tourists"; on the other, it became a slum as rents increased and apartments got smaller. The mob opened up many of the major nightclubs, which refused entrance to black patrons even as they hired the top African American bands.
  10. Stride
    1. Stride piano was a more virtuosic, flashier, and louder style of ragtime; it was open to any kind of repertoire reflective of the musical vigor of New York. East Cost stride players began adding melodic and rhythmic flourishes to ragtime, which over time created a distinctive style.
    2. Just as ragtime had its composers (Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton), Stride had its composers as well (James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Thelonius Monk).
    3. Piano Power
      1. "Stride" refers to the action of the pianist's left hand, which plays a single low note, low tenth, or chord on beats one and three, and a higher three- or four-note chord on beats two and four. They embellished this basic pattern in both the left and right hand, often using Romantic pianistic techniques in the right hand.
      2. Stride pianists often made a living playing at Harlem "rent parties," which consisted of friends and neighbors congregating with food, music, and money to help pay the ever-increasing Harlem rents. Small apartments had room for only a piano, which had to be loud and steady for dancers. Stride pianists often competed for these jobs in terms of piano technique and individual style.
    4. The only East Coast pianist of the first generation to record was Eubie Blake (1883-1983). His first rag, "Sounds of Africa," was written in 1899 and suggests a stride style. Blake began recording in 1917. Other well-known pianists of those early years did not get a chance to record.
  11. James P. Johnson (1894-1955)
    1. Known as the "Father of Stride Piano," he perfected the East Coast style. Every major jazz pianist from the 1920s on (Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Earl Hines, Count Basie, Teddy Wilson) was influenced by him.
    2. Born in New Jersey, he was influenced by ring-shout dances (religious songs with dance) and brass bands. He studied classical piano, and when the family moved to New York in 1908, he encountered pianists such as Eubie Blake and Lucky Roberts.
    3. Johnson and others found jobs playing in Jungle's Casino (Hell's Kitchen), where black workers from the Carolinas danced to piano music. Johnson wrote "Carolina Shout," which became the test piece for many up-and-coming pianists.
    4. Beginning in 1918 he made a series of influential piano rolls. Ragtime was spread through sheet music, but stride was spread through piano rolls. Pianists would learn Johnson's pieces by slowing down the roll and placing their fingers on the displaced keys.
  12. The Player Piano
    1. Patented in 1897, it was very popular by the 1920s. It could be played like a regular piano and could also play piano rolls, paper perforated in such a way that it could trigger the keyboard.
    2. Celebrated musicians often made these rolls, and they could be bought like recordings. During the 1920s, recordings and radio made the player piano obsolete.
      1. 1921: Johnson made a series of important recordings.
      2. 1922: appointed music director of Plantation Days revue, which traveled to London
      3. 1923: With lyricist Cecil Mack, wrote Runnin' Wild for Broadway. The show toured the country. It produced two standards: "Old Fashioned Love," recorded by Bob Wills in the 1930s, and "Charleston."
      4. 1928: His "classical" piece, Yamekraw: Negro Rhapsody, was debuted by W. C. Handy at Carnegie Hall.
      5. 1930s: wrote two other concert pieces, Harlem Symphony and Symphony in Brown
      6. 1940: composed "De-Organizer" with Langston Hughes
      7. 1951: stroke incapacitated him. Erroll Garner and Thelonious Monk extended his style.
  13. "You've Got to Be Modernistic"
    1. Modernisms: the introduction and first two strains use advanced harmonies (diminished and whole-tone scales); the piece switches in the middle from formal ragtime to the theme and variations of jazz.
    2. There are three 16-bar strains, each of which is distinctive, and then seven choruses of variations. This structure reflects the transition from ragtime to stride and from composition to variations.
  14. Duke Ellington Begins (1899-1974)
    1. Pianist, arranger, songwriter, bandleader, and producer, Ellington was the most important composer in jazz. He played a vital role in jazz throughout his life, and is still widely performed. He wrote a vast variety of music for various media including film and television. Even when there is no improvisation, it is still jazz. He made thousands of recordings.
    2. From his earliest days as a professional musician, he made four contributions, three musical and one cultural:
      1. He demonstrated the potential of big-band jazz way beyond anything Whiteman was doing;
      2. He solidified the influence of stride piano as a pianist and arranger.
      3. He proved that innovative jazz writing could be applied to popular song.
      4. He violated the assumptions about jazz as a low and unlettered music by refusing to accept racial limitations.
    3. Born in Washington, D.C., to a middle-class family, he won a painting scholarship to the Pratt Institute.
    4. He decided to study the stride pianists instead and wrote his first composition when he was fourteen based on stride piano. He started his own five-piece band in Washington and then tried his luck in New York in 1923 ,where he got a gig (engagement) at the Hollywood/Kentucky club.
    5. There he enlarged the band and included Bubber Miley, a trumpet "growler" from South Carolina. The Washingtonians, as they were now called, recorded between 1924 and 1926.
    6. By the end of 1926, Ellington started to develop his own sound, in which he ignored Redman's reed-brass contrasts in favor of new instrumental voicings to create a new sound.
    7. The Cotton Club
      1. On December 4, 1927, the Ellington band opened at the Cotton Club. A high-end, segregated nightclub in Harlem, it relied on minstrel clichés for its ambience, exploiting stereotypes about the South and African American sexuality. Ellington learned a great deal here by working with show business pros.
      2. Because of his three-year residency at the Cotton Club, Ellington became well known in New York, and because of the national radio broadcasts from the club, he became nationally known. Ellington's music became known as "jungle" music.
      3. He did not borrow from jazz for his own pieces; rather, he was a jazz composer whose musical subjects were found in racial pride and a more realistic sexuality. As the band grew in size to fifteen, he hired musicians who stayed with him for many years.
    8. "Black and Tan Fantasy"
      1. Much of Ellington's music is programmatic, including this piece. "Black and tan" clubs invited both blacks and whites as patrons. Some saw these small clubs as a bastion of liberal racial politics, but Ellington was not convinced.
      2. In this piece, Miley's twelve-bar blues (black) is juxtaposed with Ellington's parody of a sixteen-bar ragtime (tan) section. They merge in an evocation of Chopin's "Funeral March," putting an end to the illusion of "black and tan" clubs as some kind of viable response to segregation.
    9. A New Start
      1. Comparing Morton's "Dead Man Blues" and Ellington's "Black and Tan Fantasy" illustrates the changes that had occurred during the 1920s. Morton's music looks to the past; Ellington is very much in the future and points the way to the future. There is little deference to the southern roots of jazz. Ellington's generation is ready for a new start.
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