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Jazz Music of the Art Deco Era

When you hear the term Jazz Age it refers to a period of time in the 20s and 30s when music was hot, skirts were higher, moral compasses were skewed, and liquor was plentiful (if you know where to get it). Author F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term in his short story book The Tales of the Jazz Age. Most importantly, the music that was created during this point in history created the perfect backdrop for the Art Deco era: forward-thinking, experimental, and quintessentially modern.

The 1920s and 1930s were a transformative period for jazz music, which saw the genre evolve and gain widespread popularity across America and beyond. Jazz music in the 1920s was characterized by its upbeat and lively tempo, as well as its improvisational style that allowed musicians to express themselves in new and exciting ways. Although it’s tough to pin down any specific origin of an art, jazz has its roots in Black America, specifically in New Orleans, Louisiana, during the Harlem Renaissance. It evolved from blues, ragtime, spirituals, and more – and truly incorporates the call-and-response that was prevalent in African music and rhythms. 

Jazz was not entirely popular in the mainstream in the 1920s because of cultural stigma and racism. In turn, jazz was mainly played in speakeasies and underground jazz clubs. But it didn’t take long for jazz to spread like wildfire across the country. 

Rhapsody in Blue was a significant and experimental piece that transformed American music forever. George Gershwin combined classical, jazz, and ragtime to create a modern arrangement for piano and big band. Learn more about the history of Rhapsody in Blue HERE.

As jazz progressed, we saw one of the most significant developments in jazz music during this period: the emergence of the “swing” style, which became the dominant form of jazz in the 1930s. Swing jazz featured a more structured and orchestrated sound, with larger ensembles and a focus on rhythmic syncopation.

Here, you can hear a difference in the same song by Duke Ellington’s band 10 years apart. Listen closely to how a more sophisticated sound was created in the 30s


Duke Ellington - East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (1927)
Duke Ellington - East St. Louis Toodle-oo (1937)

Many of the most famous and influential jazz musicians of all time emerged during this era, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. These musicians helped shape the sound of jazz music and popularize the genre. 

Despite its popularity, jazz music faced significant challenges during the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in terms of racial discrimination and censorship. Many jazz clubs were segregated, and some radio stations refused to play jazz music on the airwaves. White band leaders gained more popularity than their black counterparts, even though black artists were the ones at the core of the jazz genre. Despite the broad societal issues of racism and segregation, jazz music continued to evolve and thrive, thanks to the efforts of many talented and dedicated musicians and supporters who refused to let racism and discrimination stand in the way of their passion for the genre. 

Today, jazz music remains an essential part of American culture and continues to inspire and influence musicians and audiences all over the world. It’s impact can still be felt in modern music today. From its roots in New Orleans to its emergence as a truly global phenomenon, jazz music in the 1920s and 1930s remains a testament to the power of music to bring people together and break down barriers. Today, we are able to appreciate jazz and swing in all of its forms and recognize the importance of this music culturally, politically, and artistically. 

Jazz changed the way we listen and appreciate music forever. Take a listen to our playlist of 1920s and 1930s jazz and swing classics. 

Jazz Age Playlist - 1924-1937

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The Phoenix Art Deco Society is a not-for-profit organization that is exempt from Federal Income Tax as an organization described in Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Contributions to Phoenix Art Deco Society are tax-deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.

Upcoming Events

Jun, 2024

Cocktails of the Deco Era: A Taste of Prohibition

Chandler June 23, 2024 15:00
Indulge in Art Deco’s liquid legacy with this cocktail-tasting experience. Enter a different time when skirts were shorter, jazz was hotter, the cocktails were stronger…and there were ostriches.  That’s right.…
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