Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: Blues Settings?

From: Mark Sullivan (
Date: 26 Sep 2000

Vicky wrote:

"then how do you account for the '20s being known as the "Jazz Age"? I know that's, to some degree, a label that's been stuck on that decade after the fact, but there are quite a few contemporary references to jazz in mainstream art and lit. Or are you distinguishing between types of jazz here, or. . . ?"

I think this perfectly accounts for the '20s being called the "Jazz Age." As I said, it was popular enough that it had crossed over and was listened to by many, especially sophisticates in the cities, but was still very tied in the minds of many to illegal drinking and the mob-owned speakeasies in which it was often played. Which made it the perfect tag for the decadence of a decade also called the Roaring Twenties.

Many still heard Jazz as an attack on mainstream American values -- Ladies Home Journal ran a series of 5 long articles in 1921 and 1922, beginning with "Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?" In 1925, Etude, a journal for professional musicians, held a two-issue forum on "Where Is Jazz Leading America?" Few of those polled defended it, most ruing its influence. Throughout the decade, the New York Times regularly printed articles and editorials agains the music.

In the early '40s there was uproar about, first Benny Goodman, then Harry James, but by then the early jazz had become respectable enough to be held up as the "good music" being violated by Swing Jazz. In the
'50s, numerous jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie were taking State-sponsored tours of the world to spread the American Way of Life. However, as late as 1956, the Senate Appropriations Committee was trying to stop funding for these tours, to replace them with "choral groups and miscellaneous sports projects," because they still believed jazz reflected poorly on the US.

Which is probably why jazz is featured in so much hardboiled. It became the perfect indicator of a hint of corruption, not sticking to the narrow path, just a hint of danger, but not too much.

At the time, Mob-owned clubs were actually a very safe place to be, as there were rules even for gangsters, who considered their play areas free zones. For all of mob violence of the '20s, that was one thing that was rarely blamed on jazz -- however, it was blamed for leading people, especially young people, especialy young women, down the road to degradation through alcohol and uninhibited dance, which combined led to sex. And there were fears of mixing with lower classes and other races.


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