The Legends of Jazz in the 1920s and Their Impact
Jazz Music From the 1920’s – When Jazz Was King
The 1920’s saw the emergence of jazz music on the world stage. This new music was popular thanks to King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and others.
They paved the way for future musicians, including Louis Armstrong. Armstrong helped to reshape the way that Jazz is played today.
He also worked on advancing the style of jazz in movies. This was accomplished by pre-recording the soundtrack to ensure that it would be synchronized with the film.
By the end of World War II Armstrong had become one of America’s biggest stars, appearing on radio and television and traveling to Europe on State Department-sponsored tours. He played with large bands but also led his own smaller ensembles, whose records showcased his technical proficiency and spirited interpretations.
In 1922, Armstrong followed his mentor Joe “King” Oliver to Chicago, where he joined Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. He soon earned a reputation as an impressive soloist, and he left Oliver’s band to join Fletcher Henderson’s in New York City.
The legendary recordings of the Hot Five and Hot Seven sides of 1925-28 showcased Armstrong’s evolution into a great jazz soloist. He possessed a supreme level of melodic invention, rhythmic drive and flash that set him apart from other soloists. He was the greatest influence on changing the focus of jazz from collective improvisation to solo performance. Despite his huge success, Armstrong retained his sense of social responsibility.
Thomas “Fats” Waller was a Harlem-based pianist who made his name with the trashy ragtime tunes that Victor Records had him record with his combo, Fats Waller and His Rhythm. Waller was a larger than life personality who was known for his joking around during his performances.
His musical talent was obvious and he became one of the most popular performers of his time. He also influenced many pre-bebop jazz pianists such as Count Basie and Erroll Garner.
The organ plays a vital role in this recording as the music swings along with great ease. Waller is a master at using the different stops of a theater organ to produce the various colors of tone. The pedal bass provides the dance-like rhythm and the two soloists add sharp off-beat accents. Both takes are highly entertaining and well worth hearing. Waller’s playing was augmented by his humorous personality and he had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton was one of the most influential pianists and bandleaders in jazz history. He is credited with creating the first jazz orchestrations. He also introduced the concept of improvisation within rehearsed group arrangements. His piano solos and songs influenced many jazz artists. Morton claimed to be the inventor of both jazz music and the name itself, a claim that some say was an exaggeration. His confidence or cockiness may have contributed to his inflated claims.
Born Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe, Morton was an innovative musician who drew on New Orleans traditions to develop a distinctive ensemble style that incorporated complex arrangements, rhythmic hits punctuated by silences, and individual improvisations. He also adapted Spanish-influenced dance rhythms into jazz, as well as African-American spirituals and folk melodies. Unfortunately, his music was often misinterpreted, and he found himself in the doldrums by the early 1930s. He moved to Washington, D.C., where folklorist Alan Lomax heard him playing at a dive bar.
Whiteman is the best-known name from the 1920’s era and his huge orchestra was one of the dominant American dance bands of that time. He expertly blended occasional jazz pieces with semi-classical works, popular and novelty songs, waltzes, sweet and hot vocals and some of the best trombone soloists from Texas.
He brought in new talent such as saxophonist Red Nichols and singer Mildred Bailey. He even gave a shot at classical music with his 1924 Aeolian Hall concert that was billed as “An Experiment in Modern Music.”
His most significant contribution may have been his exposure to mainstream audiences that had previously resisted what they saw as the music of uncultivated blacks. The concert, which featured the George Gershwin classic Rhapsody in Blue, was a great success and brought Whiteman even more fame. It also paved the way for future generations of jazz musicians such as Miles Davis, Gil Evans and Wynton Marsalis to meld classical and popular musical forms in their concerts.