Jazz and Modernism

The exact date that Jazz originated is quite controversial. The range however has been concluded to be somewhere in between 1895 and 1917. The modernization of the 20th century came hand in hand with the emergence of Jazz. According to Kathy Orgen, Jazz was “often credited with expressing a break from the past and the introduction of a new time and speed…”(Orgen 143). The modernist views entailed an outlook that contradicted the notion of an orderly universe and the rigid social and moral codes of previous day. Everything mostly became relative rather than strict and inflexible. What made Jazz modern though, was its emphasis on improvisation and also its complex rhythms. This rhythm was based on polyrhythms, a rhythm that makes use of two or more different rhythms simultaneously, that were perfect for dancing.

How did Jazz come to be so popular? According to Kathy Orgen, “Whatever the origins of Jazz, writers and musicians often linked its popularity to changes produced by WWI”(Ogren 143). With immigration basically stopping by 1915, America was in need of labor. The great migration of 1915, was the first time african americans were hired to work industrial jobs in the north. This soon led to black neighborhoods in the north which were essentially cities on their own. During this time, prohibition was also instated. This prompted the move of northern upper-middle class whites from normal hangouts to jazz clubs. These whites ventured into these small african american districts to clubs such as the cotton club to hear Jazz music and also to escape prohibition. These whites that were coming into these clubs and neighborhoods, were quickly reminded of the existence and even the creativity of the african americans. Finding in jazz a new view of african americans contrary to what they had been made to believe, both whites and blacks were introduced to cultural tolerance. So in essence, jazz helped americans to become truly modern, modern in the sense of cultural tolerance anyway.


This picture above is an actual advertisement for the cotton club. As can be seen from the advertisement, three wealthy whites are coming to the cotton club which was run by blacks. Posters and advertisements such as these promoted the activity of visiting these neighborhoods and clubs. Attempting to make jazz and african american clubs more acceptable as well as more high class, the sign reads “The Famous Cotton Club The Aristocrats of Harlem”. Aristocrat is a term used to define something or someone as high class or the best of its kind. Promotion of these clubs eventually led to the admiration and acceptance of african american talent and even cultural tolerance which showed true modernization.

Works Cited

The Cotton Club. 1920: n. pag. Print.

Ogren, Kathy J. “Prudes and Primitives.” The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America & the Meaning of Jazz. New York: Oxford UP, 1989. N. pag. Print.

“The Rise of Consumer Culture.” The Rise of Consumer Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“Music History 455: Jazz History  .” Finding Scholarly Journal Articles. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

Women in Blues

Blues was, as other forms of music during this time were, associated with modernity and women.  Said to have originated in Memphis, Blues was becoming more popular in recruiting women as both music consumers and performers. At first, however, african americans were not allowed to record music because it was thought that white consumers wouldn’t want black musicians music and blacks were too poor to to consume their own music. This assumption however, was struck down when “Crazy blues” by Perry Bradford sold over a million copies in less than a year. There was no question afterwards of whether there was a demand for african american music. Another factor that helped african americans begin recording was that the price of creating records fell significantly after WWI.  This recording of black artists was called “race records”.

The first Lady Blues artist, Bessie Smith, was discovered in 1923. Bessie Smith’s first song sold about 2 million copies in a year. This was a significant amount back in this day.  Smith went on to record 159 more songs during the 1920s selling just over 7 million copies. A reoccurring theme of sexual relationships dominated women’s blues music. One example of an especially sexual song is “Organ Grinder Blues”  by Victoria Spivey.


With lyrics like “Grind it north and grind it east and west, but when you grind it slow I like it the best…” and “You’re the grinder I’ve been waiting for…” it  becomes apparent that women were branching out into this idea of modernity and emphasizing the change in social and moral standards. Songs like this were very prominent in the blues era, showing women in a different light with their newly expressed sexual appetites (Granda 35). The expressions of these women and others during this time eventually led into women becoming flappers, which were basically women of modernity, branching out and throwing the social and moral standards of the past away.

Works Cited

Granda, Victoria C. “The Politics of Black Sexuality in Classic Blues.” Nota Bene: Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

“The Rise of Consumer Culture.” The Rise of Consumer Culture. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Feb. 2015.

“Victoria Spivey- Organ Grinder Blues (Take C).” YouTube. YouTube, n.d. Web. 16 Feb. 2015.