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Jazz in America

Sam Lapp 2/26/2011 AP U.S. History, Pd. 5

Plan of Investigation

Question: Why did jazz become popular in America in the early 20' Century?

To answer my question, I have used books by several different authors as sources of information. Each of these books has given me valuable information, insight and perspective on the issue. This paper is organized into the steps of the process I took to reach my answer to the question. First, in the Summary of Evidence, I explain three different answers to the question. I also summarize the evidence and information provided by my sources that supports those answers. Next, in the Evaluation of Sources, I examine the background of two of the authors of my sources, James Lincoln Collier and Gerald Early. I then evaluate the value and limitations of their writing so that I can use the information they provide, but not be blinded by the authors personal bias. In the Analysis section, I weigh and analyze the answers to my question, and support one of the answers with evidence from various sources. Finally, in the conclusion I answer my question based on the evidence and analysis provided throughout the paper.

Summary of Evidence In the late 18005 in America, jazz had been an unpopular and even despised southern, black folk music. Then in the early twentieth century, jazz music exploded and spread throughout the country. Historians do not attribute this phenomenon to one specific event or cause of the time period, but many authors have expressed their opinions as to why jazz became widely popular in the decades after 1900.

In The Reception of Jazz in America and in Jazz: the American Theme Song, James Lincoln Collier presents the idea that jazz became popular in the early 1900s because at the time, American culture was ready for it, and even needed' it. Collier says spread through the culture with amazing speed because the American people were prepared for it- in fact, were actively searching for it. . . (Jazz: the American Theme Song 3). A raging new spirit swept through American culture, fed by social aspects such as urbanization, industrialization, feminism and a large immigrant population. This cultural energy was determined to break from the traditional and often restricting values of Victorian lifestyle and create a new, modern culture (Collier, Jazz: the American Theme Song 3-10). Gerald Early, the author of Pulp and Circumstance and The Jazz Cadence of American Culture, believes that jazz became popular in America because, in the development of Symphonic jazz, it appealed to middle class white culture (which made up a large portion of the population). He writes Symphonic jazz was an attempt to make jazz less the cultural assault against white, middleclass, Christian small-town taste than it appeared to be (Early 406). Early describes how Symphonic jazz (which emphasized scoring and order while maintaining an improvisational aspect) could be primitive and exciting in a way, while maintaining enough order for the conservative middleclass. His idea is that by appealing to this large and central sector of Americas population, jazz was able to become a part of the cultural mainstream (Early 393-430). In his book Jazz: a History, Franco Tirro expresses his belief that jazzs explosion in the early 1900s was due mostly to the new technology and industry of the age. He

argues that the invention of the radio and phonograph, among other things, jumpstarted jazzs expansion to a national level. With the help of this new technological marketing, jazz quickly found a nationwide audience (Tirro 136-139). He says Thus, it can be seen that both the technology and the commercial interests of the recording industry had an impact upon the music itself, and were important dynamic forces in shaping its destiny (Tirro 173).

Evaluation of Sources James Lincoln Collier, the author of The Reception of Jazz in America and Jazz: the American Theme Song, is a historian with over 30 years of experience in journalism. He started writing in 1950 after graduating from Hamilton College. He has written historical fiction as well as nonfiction, including several books on the history of jazz. Collier is known for his extremely thorough research before undertaking the writing process. The Reception of Jazz in America came out of several public lectures that he had delivered in the past. Colliers purpose in writing these books is to give a new view on the origins of jazz. In his claims he also seeks to destroy what he believes to be myths or misconceptions about the subject matter. He starts the first chapter of The Reception of Jazz in America by saying The history of jazz has been plagued by two myths which have badly distorted... the process by which jazz evolved... into a national phenomenon (Collier 1). Co1liers insightful ideas and perspectives on jazzs growth in America give a strong answer to my question that is supported by sound evidence and facts. In the first

sentence of Jazz: the American Theme Song, Collier says Jazz happened in America, and it could have happened only there (3). This leads to a clear answer to my question, which is supported by facts and evidence throughout the chapter. In his effort to convince the reader to side with his views, however, Collier often talks of groups, people, or ideas negatively, even when he is forced to commend some of their activities. For example he says Writers for Melody Maker. . .were beginning to write with some, if incomplete, comprehension of white jazz musicians with obvious bias against the journalists (Collier, The Reception of Jazz in America 29). Gerald Early wrote an essay on the origins of jazz called Pulp and Circumstance, which appears in the book The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Early is an American essayist who writes on a wide variety of issues and topics. He is educated in English and African, and Afro-American studies, and is a professor of both. Early wrote this essay to explain the jazz age, including its causes, artists, and circumstances. He wants to shed light on the mysteries and questions still existing about the time period. His sentence There had always been popular music in America. . .but jazz was particularly unnerving (406) exemplifies his explanatory yet conversational style. The essay contains many intuitive views and connections only possible from an experienced writer with extensive knowledge on the subject matter. The logical reasoning and ideas are clearly explained and well supported. Early states Inasmuch as jazz was a primitive musicit could be seen as an artistic and cultural ritual meant to replicate a past, more primeval, archetypical consciousness in the modern world (Early 418). In, these statements this book gives a strong argument to answer my question.

Of course, the value of Earlys writing is somewhat limited by his personal bias and views. In his writing, Early makes questionable leaps in logic, resulting in a generalization. For example, he says Symphonic jazz was not simply a bow to highbrow culturebut to the frightened small-towner (Early 406). Early attributes jazzs popularity to Symphonic jazzs appeal to middle class whites, while this type of jazz was only one in many branches of the music that became immensely popular.

Analysis Understanding why jazz was able to become so immensely popular in the early part of the 20th century is critical to understanding America during this time period. By understanding the reason that many Americans loved jazz, we can identify cultural values, beliefs and trends in the time period. We can see what was loved, what was hated, and how these ideas were changing at this time period. Symphonic Jazzs appeal to white culture was, as Gerald Early suggests, a force among forces in the coming of the Jazz Age. In order to make it into the mainstream of American culture, jazz did indeed have to have some appeal to the white middle class (Early 406-407). However, the middle class was only a portion of America, and Symphonic jazz was only a portion of jazz. Early argues that middle class conservatives would reject the radical idea of jazz if not for this oxymoron of Symphonic jazz (Early 404), the systematic chaos. However, even within the middle class, conservative Victorianism was no longer universal. As James Lincoln Collier points out in Jazz: the American Theme Song, a lot of young people, especially, had lost sight of

Victorianism (5). Although Symphonic jazz brought a certain sect of the population into the music, it cannot be the most important reason for jazzs overall popularity. A new recording industry with new technology definitely had a positive impact on jazz music, as Frank Tirro explains in Jazz: a History. Tirro says the significance of the role played by sound recording in the development of jazz cannot be emphasized too strongly (137). He believes that without new technologies such as the record, jazz could never have spread to a national audience and moved into the mainstream of American culture. Tirro then says records provided improvising jazz musicians a means by which they could sell their product to a widespread audience (173). In this way, technology spread jazz through the recording industry; however, at this time the recording industry was not the path to the center stage in American culture. Records of black jazz music, known as race records, were sold primarily to a black population. Whites could buy these records, but, with the south dominated by a segregationist Jim Crow society, rarely did. Mostly, whites disregarded this music and these records as part of an inferior society (Tirro 136-139). New technology in the recording industry may have given jazz musicians a small boost in the commercial market, but these advancements were not the primary cause of jazzs vast popularity. A fresh spirit in American culture during the years between 1900 and 1930 was a major factor in jazz becoming popular. As James Lincoln Collier says One major element in establishing jazz as part of the American cultural mainstream was a new spirit that was ranging though American lifeJazz was seen quite specifically as reflecting this spirit (The Reception of Jazz in America 14). This new way of thinking included free self expression, a spontaneous, in the moment lifestyle, and above all a need for

enjoyment and entertainment, and rejected the restraining principles of order, decency, respect and honor central to Victorian society (Collier, The Reception of Jazz in America 3-10). In this age of industrialism, however, sources of enjoyment were scarce, as all energy and attention were focused on production and capitalism. Many people worked relentlessly in factories, their lives consumed by monotonous work in the Taylor system of scientific management (Whiteman 154-155). To fill the void of happiness and leisure, and to the escape the endless stress of industrial work, a boom in large-scale entertainment ensued. Suddenly, industries such as the movies, Tin Pan Alley, and Broadway appeared, as well as dance halls and speakeasy night clubs that mirrored the new values of free, expressive entertainment. Jazz, being of the same free and expressive nature, filled these dance halls and speakeasies (Collier, The Reception of Jazz in America 14). This influx of new culture also helped jazz to grow simply because jazz, as an art form, was culturally significant. Around this time period, Americans were searching for an identity, a culture that could distinguish the country on an international level. As youths were the heart of this cultural expansionism, they would decide what it encompassed (Levine 440-444). The youths who were helping to define culture, however, had other ideas as well as cultural expansion. Many were straining to break from the restrictions of Victorianism and live a rebellious, modem, free lifestyle. Thus, classical music, poetry, visual arts, and other older art forms didnt fit the bill for the countrys expanding culture. Instead jazz, a very radical and very American art form, appealed to these energetic youths in its chaotic, loud, attention grabbing sound (Collier, Jazz: the American Theme Song 3-10). As Court Carney puts it, creating a noisy generational

divide, the music... shocked, frightened, confused, and finally captivated the listener (47). Young, energetic, and defiant Americans adopted jazz for this reason, and jazz quickly became a defining aspect of Americas newborn culture. As Lawrence Levine quotes Newsweek, The U.S. wouldnt have an art form to call its own without jazz (442). Jazz, an art form and an icon of a cultural rebellion, quickly became central to American mass culture.

Conclusion The explosive popularity of jazz music in the early 1900s cannot be attributed to one cause or explained by one answer. Rising technology, the appeal to middle class whites and a fresh new culture with new ideas all helped jazz to make it into the mainstream. Of these three factors, the aspect of a new culture was the most crucial in making jazz into the national phenomenon that it became. Jazzs aspects of free, spontaneous nonconformity paralleled the new, energetic cultures ideals. It was quickly sucked into the cultures gaping entertainment void, which meant dance halls and speakeasy night clubs. This entrance of jazz into popular culture, caused primarily by the cultural evolution taking place, was the way in which jazz became a widely popular music in America during the 1920s.

List of Sources Carney, Court. Cuttin Up.' How Early Jazz Got Amercas Ear. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2009. Collier, James Lincoln. Jazz: the American Theme Song. New/I York: Oxford UP, 1993. Collier, James Lincoln. The Reception of Jazz in America: a New View. Brooklyn, NY: Institute for Studies in American Music, Conservatory of Music, Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, 1988. Early, Gerald. "Pulp and Circumstance." The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Ed. Robert G. O'Meally. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. 393-430. Levine, Lawrence W. "Jazz and American Culture." The Jazz Cadence of American Culture. Ed. Robert G. OMeally. New York: Columbia UP, 1998. 430-47. Tirro, Frank. Jazz: a History. New York: Norton, 1977. Whiteman, Paul, and Mary Margaret McBride. Jazz. New York: Arno, 1974.