Out With the Old & In With the New

The Evolution of Jazz Through the 1930s & 40s

By Kassandra Grullon

Introduction to Jazz

The story of Jazz begins far before its acceptance in the United States. The African American genre began in the 19th century in communities of color across New Orleans, Louisiana. As a result of slavery, Jazz was able to spread in areas of the United Sates, but its initial roots are in West Africa.  Jazz musicians derive their inspiration from the genres of Blues and Ragtime and it can be seen through its many forms and styles. 

Although Jazz began in the 1900s, it was not until the 1930s and 40s came rolling around that Jazz became a global phenomenon we know today. Bebop and Swing were new styles that came out of Jazz during these years. The incorporation of these new forms of Jazz called for a vibrant and exciting 20 years. 

Faces Behind the Music ​

Ella Fitzgerald

American jazz singer, sometimes referred to as the "First Lady of Song", "Queen of Jazz", and "Lady Ella". She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, timing, intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing

Louis Armstrong

Trumpeter and vocalist nicknamed "Satchmo", "Satch", and "Pops", was an American Jazz musician. He is among the most influential figures in jazz. His career spanned five decades and different eras in the history of jazz.

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington was the greatest jazz composer and bandleader of his time. One of the originators of big-band jazz, he led his band for more than 50 years and composed thousands of scores.

Bessie Smith

Known in her lifetime as the “Empress of the Blues,” Smith was a bold, supremely confident artist who often disdained the use of a microphone and whose art expressed the frustrations and hopes of a whole generation of black Americans. She was known for her rich contralto voice and her breathtaking emotional intensity.

Big Bands, The Cotton Club, & the 1930s

The 1930s were a time for partying and fun! With a new sound and fresh twist that made you want to get up and dance, modern Jazz was filling the streets of all cities and Clubs of the United States. 

In with the 1930s came Swing Jazz with a new feel! The new music incorporated an off beat style that made all those listening get up and dance with its fast pace and upbeat nature. 

Big Bands and New York City’s Cotton Club were what gave swing music its name and fame. The Cotton Club was the most illustrious nightclub during this time period. As a prominent landmark during the Harlem Renaissance those who performed at The Cotton Club were able to make a shift in their music from a low-class to a high-class audience and environment. Hundreds would come out to this nightclub in hopes of hearing Swing music and celebration. This helped take Swing Jazz to an international level. 

It should be noted that even amongst the Great Depression audiences and musicians continued to make music and party! 

1940s & The Era of Bebop

As audiences got tired of Swing, out came a new form of Jazz called Bebop. like Swing, Bebop was not a typical form of Jazz. This new form relied heavily on improvisation, so much so that those performing would improvise music as they went along. The use of improvisation got the crowds going and made the music easy to enjoy. 

Bebop was created during World War ll. Its fast, chaotic, and upbeat nature was a perfect for the time period, its listeners were able to feel lifted and moved during these trying times. The creation of Bebop during World War ll meant that bands were smaller due to increased need of soldiers. As bands got smaller creativity got bigger, allowing for the new genre to grow and take hold of the culture of the 40s. 

Unlike Swing, Bebop did not involve dancing. Bebop consisted of instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, and piano ,when used right these instruments can create a distinct and rich sound which is exactly what Bebop did. 

The musical movements of both decades set the tone for other musical genres to come!

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