The most notable social effect of Jazz was on racial integration. Jazz developed from Afro-American music originating in particular in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
New Orleans featured prominently in early development of Jazz as it was a port city, in particular a leading slave port. Despite segregation of blacks and whites persisting long after slavery was abolished 1, people of different races mixed much more freely in New Orleans than other American cities and this was partly due to the birth and evolution of Jazz. Storyville, the red-light district of in New Orleans, gave musicians (as many of the Jazz musicians were black and not allowed to play in “proper” establishments like their white counterparts) the opportunity to perform in the saloons, brothels and dance clubs. At the creation of Storyville, black and white musicians were segregated but as time went on this slowly started to diminish as sharing their common interest in Jazz brought the races together in some informal musical ventures 2. Storyville, was ordered closed by the federal government in 1917 (as the US Navy feared for the health and safety of sailors who frequented the jazz clubs), shutting the venues for early jazz musicians.
The musicians moved elsewhere and by 1920 many had moved to the next major urban centre of Jazz, Chicago. Jazz began to gain wider notice as recordings made in Chicago sold throughout America. Famous musicians who received acclaim for their work in Chicago were Earl Hines, Johnny Dodds, Louis Armstrong and King Oliver 3.Jazz however broke the rules both musical and social. It featured improvisation over traditional structure, performer over composer, and black American experience over conventional white sensibilities 4. Because of the strong undercurrent of racism Jazz was called ‘The Devil’s Music’ as it was viewed as barbaric and immoral. White youth from all social classes were drawn to Jazz and the seductive new dances that had developed alongside it. Youth behaviour especially in nightclubs associated with Jazz simply added to the campaigns against Jazz.
The advent of Prohibition in 1920 (USA constitutional ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages) brought Jazz into gangster-run nightclubs – the only venues that served alcohol and hired black musicians. Whites and blacks began mixing socially for the first time in the clubs of Chicago. Over time Jazz music not only integrated people in America but also brought them together internationally.By 1925 Jazz music was being heard in every major city in America as it made people feel good and had a whiff of rebellion. Its impact on social culture was evident, not only in terms of racial integration, but in other ways such as its effect on the development of fashion. Jazz music is dance music and the Victorian clothing of the pre-war era was unsuitable.
In the roaring 20s, or the ‘Jazz Age’ as it is also known, the first notable change in fashion occurred when the “drop-waist” dresses were introduced, and long strings of glass beads and pearls became very fashionable (due to Coco Chanel). The first mass marketed Jazz recordings were made in 1923, and the popularity of Jazz soared. Consequently, women’s dresses became loosely fitted, and waistlines dropped to the hips to allow upper and lower body freedom when dancing the Charleston. In 1925 dresses began to resemble “shifts,” which had been undergarments for hundreds of years.
These dresses had no waistline and were loose, which allowed complete freedom of movement. 5. The stock market crash of 1929 halted the roaring 20s and hemlines lowered as people became more serious. Prohibition, which had fuelled much of the underground nightlife of the Jazz Age, officially came to an end during the Great Depression in 1933; as President Roosevelt famously noted, “I think this would be a good time for a beer” 6. Jazz music triggered the biggest change in fashion as styles continued over time to develop without the use of corsets or other clothing restraints. With a change in women’s fashion came a change in their role in society. Roles particularly changed in the 1st and 2nd World Wars especially when women began to work outside of the home with many starting work at wartime industrial plants.
Women began to break out of traditional sexual roles, shunning not only conservative clothing and behaviour for a newfound freedom and independence from men and expected roles within families. Jazz made room for women to work as performers and provided many other jobs for women in the music industry. One other element of Jazz that affected social attitudes and ideas was the power of lyrics. Jazz lyrics speak of the troubles, social protest and triumphs of life such as sex, money, drinking, infidelity and love. For example Bessie Smith (a Blues singer) sang a song called ‘Young Woman’s Blues’ which included the line “I ain’t gonna marry, ain’t gonna settle down”. Lines such as this would have influenced women’s thoughts and views on subjects previously not questioned and opened up subjects and taboos that had no place before the rise of Jazz.
Jazz music also had an influence on the social status (mobility) of, in particular, black Jazz musicians. Jazz music was initially rooted in the black working class ghettos, drawing its inspirations from everyday black life. Despite their social background, opportunities were given to black musicians by the radio or recording industry and soon they found themselves working and socialising across classes. Louis Armstrong (who was born on 4 August 1901) was raised in poverty in the New Orleans ghetto but by the time of his death in 1971 was wealthy, famous and one of the most respected men in America. ADD MORE Jazz Funerals – ADD INFOIn the 1930s – 1940s Jazz was resilient despite the Great Depression.
While businesses, including the record industry, were failing, dance halls were packed with people dancing the jitterbug to the music of big bands, which would come to be called swing music. The 1940s saw the onset of American involvement in World War II, and partially as a result, the rise of bebop and the decline of swing 7. All these sub-genres of Jazz developed and thrived because of the effect of Jazz on morale especially in time of social conflict. Jazz music is well known for benefitting people emotionally and physically 8, by helping to reduce stress, stimulate the mind and by being, as quoted by American author-poet Aberjhani “one of those dazzling diamonds of creative industry that help human beings make sense out of the comedies and tragedies that contextualize our lives.”. In New Orleans, people decide to celebrate funerals by carrying the coffin through the streets with a marching jazz band following it.