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 
to alcohol.

 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 
the 1920's.

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 
well-trained bandleaders.

 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.


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