Chicago and New York Jazz
The 1920's was a huge decade for the phenomena known as "Jazz".
Due to the closing of the seaport in New Orleans, musicians were
forced to travel up the Mississippi to find work. Two of the cities
most affected by this move were Chicago and New York.
Chicago was home primarily for New Orleans traditional music
during the 1920's. From this New Orleans style came four major types
of jazz: Boogie-Woogie, Chicago Jazz, Urban Blues, and Society Dance
Bands. Because of the ever-growing popularity of nightclubs during
Prohibition, these styles of jazz thrived so musicians were guaranteed
jobs. The popularity of the phonograph also provided a huge boost to
the music industry during the 1920's.
Boogie-Woogie was a style of improvised piano music played during
the '20's in Chicago. It got its start in the mining areas of the
Midwest. The rolling, repetitious style was the beginning of the
Midwestern shuffle style.
The second type of jazz popular during this time was Chicago
Jazz. It was played mostly by white musicians. Chicago Jazz tended
to be very aggressive and usually ended abruptly. Since Chicago had
more nightclubs than New York, it held a bigger attraction for
musicians. It was only after the stock market crash in 1929 that New
York replaced Chicago as a jazz capital. This style of jazz was
tighter and more rehearsed than others.
The next kind of jazz to emerge during the 1920's was Urban
Blues. This was played primarily in an area known as the "bucket of
blood." This referred to an area along the South Side of Chicago.
The clubs there were known to hire the "who's who" of blues musicians.
The last major style of jazz to emerge from Chicago during the '20's
was Society Dance Bands. These bands were usually big with plush
arrangements. They were located downtown and were slower paced and
had no improvisation. They were designed mainly for dancing. They
had a more sophisticated sound that was copied by other bands because
it was so successful.
Following is a list of some of the major mover and shakers to
come out of Chicago during the 1920's.
Joe Oliver (1885-1938)
The "King" played the cornet and was one of the most important
pure jazz musicians. He is mostly known for his time spent with his
Creole Jazz Band. Recognition should be given to the fact that Louis
Armstrong got much of his fame when he played with Oliver's band as a
"hot jazz" specialist.
Louis Armstrong (1901-1971)
Armstrong is known as the "father" of the jazz trumpet. He was
responsible for making the trumpet popular in jazz. He is also
considered to be the first serious soloist in jazz. It is thought
that Armstrong's time in a reformatory gave him the social "tools"
necessary to survive and also gave him his rough ragtime trumpet
Meade Lux Lewis (1905-1964)
Lewis was one of the leading boogie-woogie pianists. He was the
third member of one of the biggest jazz boogie-woogie trios in
history. He worked as a cab driver during the day and played gigs at
Pete Johnson (1904-1967)
Also a boogie-woogie piano master, Johnson unfortunately had
trouble handling the business side of music. He therefore had to
often take day jobs to sustain himself.
Benny Goodman (1909-1986)
Known as the "King of Swing", Goodman played the clarinet. His
band was originally thought of as a dance band. But with the help of
Fletcher Henderson, along with others, Goodman's band took on the
characteristics of a true jazz orchestra.
Paul Whiteman (1890-1967)
Whiteman is credited for introducing more people to jazz during
the 1920's than any other person. He originally played violin, but
ended up being a bandleader full time. His huge success allowed him
to be one of the very few bandleaders to continue working after the
stock market crash.
Leon "Bix" Beiderbecke (1903-1931)
Leon is considered to be the only white trumpet player to have
ever come close to capturing Louis Armstrong's amazing popularity.
His style of playing was more European than most trumpeters of that
time. Unfortunately, he was often unable to play due to his addiction
New York was the other city greatly affected by the close of
"Storyville". During the 1920's New York was known for two main
reasons: the Harlem Renaissance and the Harlem Big Bands. Spasm bands
also became popular in this area.
The Harlem Renaissance was a shift in the jazz industry from
Chicago to New York. This occurred during the mid 1920's. The Harlem
Piano School was surrounded by small clubs featuring solo piano acts.
One major difference between Harlem and Boogie-Woogie piano players
was that the Harlem players were usually better trained. This is also
the time period when African-American art and culture entered the
mainstream. Secondly, the Harlem Big Bands were a new phenomena in New
York during the 1920's. The major idea behind these big bands was to
make the arrangements sound as close to an improv performance as
Here is a list of prominent names to come out of New York during
Art Tatum (1909-1956)
Tatum was among the most successful pianists to come out of the
Harlem Piano School. Interestingly, he was almost totally blind and
taught himself to read. He was said to have an understanding far
beyond his contemporaries. This is due, in part, to the fact that he
was born into a musical family.
James P. Johnson (1891-1955)
Johnson was another big piano player to come from the Harlem
Piano School. He spent a lot of time working in clubs in Hell's
Kitchen district of New York City. He wrote Broadway musicals and in
the mid '20's he began composing large-scale orchestral works. Also,
he was known for his great improvisation.
Eubie Blake (1883-1983)
Blake began playing at age six when his parents, both former
slaves, bought a piano for their home. He began composing songs as a
teenager. He is remembered for his ragtime style of jazz.
Willie "The Lion" Smith (1887-1973)
Smith, who played piano, was also a product of the Harlem Piano
School. He earned his nickname while serving in the army. He led his
own band in Harlem during the early 1920's.
Duke Ellington (1899-1974)
The "Duke" is considered by many to be the most important
American composer in the history of jazz. What makes him unique is
that he composed music individually for the members of his orchestra
instead of lumping them all together. Ellington's opening of the
Cotton Club is considered to be one of the most important jazz events
of the 1920's. It was there that he and his band gained their
international reputation as one of the best jazz orchestras in the
Fletcher Henderson (1898-1952)
Henderson was a man of many talents. Not only did he succeed as
a pianist, composer, and arranger, but he also had a double degree in
chemistry and math. One of his main contributions was his
introduction of the "swing formula". As an authentic blues artist, he
wasn't very good but, he was representative of many of the
In conclusion, Chicago and New York were the two most important
cities for jazz during the 1920's. The music was a sophisticated kind
of New Orleans jazz. Sometime it had a blues feeling and sometimes it
didn't. The 1920's are when jazz seriously made a name for itself.
Society knew good music when it heard it- and, with out a doubt, the
1920's proved that.Studyworld