MUS 106: Chapter 5
Although different urban areas are considered central to the development of jazz
at different times (New Orleans, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles), New York
has remained central since the 1920s.
There are three interlocking spheres of influence that can account for this:
commercial, sociological, and musical.
• The entertainment infrastructure is based in New York. As jazz became more
commercial, it needed access to this infrastructure
• New York was a magnet for immigrants. Contributors to jazz, if not African American,
came from immigrant families, especially Jews, whose music contains pentatonic scales
and improvisation, making it particularly compatible with jazz.
• There were styles specific to New York, such as stride piano, and New York was
receptive to modern developments in jazz (bebop, avant-garde), but the growth of big
bands and swing and the simultaneous interest in social dancing during the 1920s and
1930s were the most significant contribution. When Ellington arrived in New York in
1923, he described New York as just like “Arabian Nights.
• In 1920, Congress passed the Eighteenth Amendment, making the manufacture and
selling of alcohol illegal. (It was repealed in 1932.) The result was a vast web of
illegal drinking establishments usually controlled by organized crime.
• Owners of these speakeasies competed by hiring the best entertainers they could
afford, including jazz musicians. The demands for music were so high that only jazz
musicians, who could improvise, could provide enough
In New York, jazz came into contact with and borrowed from many kinds of
pop music (Tin Pan Alley),
New Orleans jazz imitators, marching bands, and vaudeville
It was also found in ballrooms and concert halls. Two figures, Art Hickman and
Paul Whiteman, both from San Francisco, led this last process.