Jazz and Modernism (Revised)

The exact date that Jazz originated is quite controversial. The range however has been concluded to be somewhere between 1895 and 1917. 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. Having an image of wealthy whites being served by an African American also made this club more acceptable in social terms because there was no longer the idea of socializing with blacks, but rather being served by them. 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.

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