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Jazz in the 1920's

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The 1920’s ushered in a new world culture. When jazz music was introduced in New Orleans, it was immediately revolutionary. The music told a story, the melodies weren’t as predictable, artists had freedom and individuality; it was the dawning of a new musical era. However, not all of these changes were welcomed by society. Most older generations considered the music and dancing immoral as it threatened old cultural values. Because of prohibition, people would go to speakeasies, which were secret bars and clubs, to go dance to this music. As described in the May 1920 edition of the Atlantic Monthly in an article entitled “Polite Society”, flappers "trot like foxes, limp like lame ducks, one-step like cripples, and all to the barbaric yawp of strange instruments which transform the whole scene into a moving-picture of a fancy ball in bedlam.” Younger generations welcomed it with new dances like the Charleston. They were so open to these dances because they embraced their new fast paced life styles. Many of the dances that were done to this new music were inspired by African slaves. Jazz is traced back to European and African elements and as such, many prominent jazz performers were African American or Caucasian, but they painted themselves in “blackface,” which is when an actor’s face would be painted black (except for the lips.) This wasn’t seen as a problem or racism as it is today. Some of the most notable artists in this time included Al Jolson (who did, in fact, paint himself in blackface), who was most recognized by the movie The Jazz Singer where he performed the song Mammy, becoming the first person to ever sing in a film. Another notable artist was Louis Armstrong, who was recognized for the song What A Wonderful World, which is still a classic jazz standard to this day, among many others including Stompin’ At The Savoy and When The Saints Go Marching In. There were many other influential artists, like the Gershwin Brothers, Miles Davis, Cole Porter and Duke Ellington. All of these artists are American. The reason why they still had such an impact on Canada was because the radio was playing American broadcasts, where these artists were prominent. If an artist was extremely popular, however, they may have gone on tours and visited Canada. A popular Canadian artist was Willie Eckstein. Also known as “Mr. Fingers,” Eckstein became a giant among Montréal’s popular pianists, having already played on Broadway as a teenager. He was also one of the first Canadians to perform on live radio, which also most likely broadcast to America. In conclusion, jazz music and dance is arguably one of the most important innovations from the new world order.

Works Cited

Grundy, Mr. "Polite Society." The Atlantic



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