The Jazz Age was a feature of the 1920s (ending with The Great Depression) when jazz music and dance became popular. This occurred particularly in the United States, but also in Britain, France and elsewhere. Jazz played a significant part in wider cultural changes during the period, and its influence on pop culture continued long afterwards. Jazz music originated mainly in New Orleans, and is/was a fusion of African and European music. The Jazz Age is often referred to in conjunction with the phenomenon referred to as the Roaring Twenties.
The birth of jazz music is generally credited to African Americans, but expanded and over time was modified to become socially acceptable to middle-class white Americans. White performers were used as a vehicle for the popularization of jazz music in America. Even though the jazz movement was taken over by the middle class white population, it facilitated the mesh of African American traditions and ideals with the white middle class society. Cities like New York and Chicago were cultural centers for jazz, and especially for African American artists. Some famous black artists of the time were Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie. Urban radio stations play African American jazz more frequently than suburban stations, due to the concentration of African Americans in urban areas such as New York and Chicago. Younger demographics popularized the black-originated dances such as the Charleston as part of the immense cultural shift the popularity of jazz music generated. The migration of African Americans from the American south introduced the culture born out of a repressive, unfair society to the American north where navigating through a society with little ability to change played a vital role in the birth of jazz.
The spread of jazz was encouraged by the introduction of large-scale radio broadcasts in 1922. The radio was described as the "sound factory." Radio made it possible for Americans to experience different styles of music without physically visiting a jazz club. The radio provided Americans with a trendy new avenue for exploring the world through broadcasts and concerts from the comfort of their living room. These were broadcast from cities such as New York, Chicago, Kansas City, and Los Angeles. There were two categories of live music on the radio: concert music and big band dance music. The concert music was known as "potter palm" and was concert music by amateurs, usually volunteers. This type of radio was a way of making broadcasting cheaper. Unfortunately, this type of radio's popularity started to decrease as commercial radio increased. This type of music is known as big band dance music. This type is played by professionals and was featured from nightclubs, dance halls, and ballrooms. Jazz artists like Louis Armstrong originally received very little airtime because most stations preferred to play the music of white American jazz singers. Other jazz vocalists include Bessie Smith and Florence Mills. In urban areas, such as Chicago and New York, African American jazz was played on the radio more often than in the suburbs. Big-band jazz, like that of James Reese Europe and Fletcher Henderson in New York, attracted large radio audiences.
1920s youth used the influence of jazz to rebel against the traditional culture of previous generations. This youth rebellion of the 1920s went hand-in-hand with fads like bold fashion statements (flappers), women smoking cigarettes, free talk about sex, and new radio concerts. Dances like the Charleston, developed by African Americans, suddenly became popular among the youth. Traditionalists were aghast at what they considered the breakdown of morality.
With women’s suffrage at its peak with the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment on August 18, 1920, and the entrance of the flapper, women began to make a statement within society and the Jazz Age was not immune to these new ideals. With women now taking part in the work force after the end of the First World War there were many more possibilities for women in terms of social life and entertainment. Ideas like equality and free sexuality were very popular during the time and women seemed to capitalize during this period. The 1920s saw the emergence of many famous women musicians including Bessie Smith. Bessie Smith also gained attention because she was not only a great singer but also an African American woman. She has grown through the ages to be one of the most well respected singers of all time. Singers such as Billie Holiday and Janis Joplin were inspired by Bessie Smith. Another exception to the common stereotype of women at this time was piano player Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong's wife. She was originally a member of King Oliver's band with Louis, and went on to play piano in her husband's band the Hot Five and then his next group called the Hot Seven  It was not until the 1930s and 1940s that many women jazz singers, such as Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday were recognized as successful artists in the music world. These women were persistent in striving to make their names known in the music industry and lead the way for many more women artists to come.
As jazz flourished, American elites who preferred classical music sought to expand the listenership of their favored genre, hoping that jazz wouldn't become mainstream. Controversially, jazz became an influence on composers as diverse as George Gershwin and Herbert Howells.
Today, jazz has evolved as an influential principle in music. It has also added more instruments to the type of music. Popular musicians, such as Mariah Carey, Christina Aguilera, Michael Jackson, and Justin Timberlake, have made jazz popular in contemporary style. Today, there are still jazz fest with African elements.
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- Barlow, William. 1995. "Black music on radio during the jazz age." African American Review 29, no. 2: 325. America: History & Life, EBSCOhost (accessed October 4, 2010)
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- William Barlow, "Black music on radio during the jazz age," African American Review (1995) 29#2 pp 325-28 in JSTOR
- Paula S. Fass, The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s (1977) p 22
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- Borzillo, Carrie Women in Jazz: Music on Their Terms--As Gender Bias Fades, New Artists Emerge Billboard - The International Newsweekly of hit Music, Video and Home Entertainment 108:26 (29 June 1996) p. 1, 94-96.
- Borzillo, Carrie Women in Jazz: Music on Their Terms--As Gender Bias Fades, New Artists Emerge Billboard - The FTW International Newsweekly of hit Music, Video and H'ome Entertainment 108:26 (29 June 1996) p. 1, 94-96.
- Biocca, Frank, Media and Perceptual Shifts: Early Radio and the Clash of Musical Cultures, Journal of Popular Culture, 24:2 (1990). pg 9
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- Allen, Frederick Lewis (1931). Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the Nineteen-Twenties. online edition
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- Dumenil, Lynn. The Modern Temper: American Culture and Society in the 1920s. Hill and Wang, 1995.
- Fass; Paula. The Damned and the Beautiful: American Youth in the 1920s. Oxford University Press, 1977.
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- Leuchtenburg, William. The Perils of Prosperity, 1914–1932 University of Chicago Press, 1955.
- Lynd, Robert S., and Helen Merrell Lynd. Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture. Harcourt, Brace and World, 1929. Famous sociological study of Muncie, Indiana, in the 1920s.
- Mowry; George E. ed. The Twenties: Fords, Flappers, & Fanatics Prentice-Hall, 1963; readings
- Parrish, Michael E. Anxious Decades: America in Prosperity and Depression, 1920–1941 W. W. Norton, 1992