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The Jazz Age

Millard’s chapter on the Jazz Age gives a thorough account of just how influential this musical style was in shaping American culture. Unfortunately, not only were African Americans not given their deserved profit and credit for their musical contributions, but their original creations were diluted to be more suitable for popular culture. I find it particularly interesting that while jazz had such a huge impact in America and abroad, it seems to have done little to improve race relations. There were still stereotypical and distorted perceptions of African Americans in songs and opposition to the suggestive dancing styles.

While reading the chapter, I noticed many connections between jazz and rap. Like jazz, rap was originally a lot of improvisation, with kids often engaging in freestyle battles. Also, rap was also feared as a threat to the establishment, not only for suggestive or explicit language, but also because it was a form of social protest that brought awareness to several overlooked issues in African American communities. Millard notes that jazz was more than music; it was part of a “cultural package” (106). Similarly, rap influenced things like new clothing styles and slang. Finally, like jazz, rap music has definitely had an international impact.

Ted Vincent’s article “The Community that Gave Jazz to Chicago” adds another component to the history of jazz, by informing readers that it wasn’t only rhythm and dance moves that African Americans contributed, it was the also entrepreneurial endeavors in Chicago that started it all. African American-run businesses structured their businesses with their communities in mind; they made it convenient and affordable for everyone to attend. They also welcomed all races into their clubs, which was met with great opposition by racists who were uncomfortable with mixed races dancing together. Unfortunately, commercial interests took over these community businesses and revamped them in order to appeal to upper-class white tastes. This meant costly clubs that local members of the community could no longer afford to get into. This article shows that is wasn’t just music that was taken and altered to suit white tastes, the very clubs and cafes in African American communities suffered the same fate.

In the electrical area, we see yet more experimentation and development of technology. Like the newspaper and the car, the phonograph was originally an expensive product that only the rich could afford, but shortly after was produced for the masses. Thanks to people like Thomas Edison, experimentation was continued in order to enhance the quality of sound. I wonder: what would the world be like today if these people were content with what they had already accomplished and didn’t constantly aspire to push the envelope? In this sense, competition is good because it requires companies to be innovative and fresh in order to stay in business. Although Edison clearly wasn’t thinking about the business when he continued to work on the phonograph while the consumers preferred the convenience of discs.

The emergence of radio is another example of the benefits of competition. The companies that had already invested so much in the development of the phonograph scrambled to find an efficient way to synchronize film and sound in order to eliminate the growing threat that was radio.

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September 17th, 2010 at 10:57 pm

10 Responses to “The Jazz Age”

  1.   medst330wpl Says:

    I found your comment about the correlation with jazz and rap to be thought-worthy. I never considered jazz and rap to be similar. You’ve given me new insight with these two genres of music. Personally, coming into this class I didn’t know that much about jazz’s roots in history and I felt that reading the Millard text on the impact it made in the music industry made me more competent.

  2.   jstrick Says:

    I find your idea about the desire to “push the envelope” being the catalyst that causes technological change very interesting. I also wonder what the world would be like if people didn’t have that spark of ambition inside of them that caused them to want to be better than those with whom they competed. We would never have come as far as we have if these inventors had decided they were perfectly happy with the way things are. Thankfully, the technological community is constantly trying to figure out what the next big thing will be in order for their company to emerge on top, so I don’t think we are in danger of technological advances slowing down any time soon.

    Did you know that over 100 years ago, someone tried to close down the patent office because they thought that everything worthwhile had already been invented and no one could possibly think of something really meaningful anymore? If only they could see the world now!

  3.   Amy Herzog Says:

    Fantastic observations, Marya. Your pointed observation that mainstream interest in jazz failed to improve race relations is especially spot on, I think. Following on your comparison between jazz and rap in the contemporary era, it would be interesting to think about how/whether/if that dynamic has changed…

  4.   Piotr Says:

    Great observations. Changes in music happen all the time.

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