Why Jazz Happened

Why Jazz Happened

Why Jazz Happened

Why Jazz Happened


Why Jazz Happened is the first comprehensive social history of jazz. It provides an intimate and compelling look at the many forces that shaped this most American of art forms and the many influences that gave rise to jazz's post-war styles. Rich with the voices of musicians, producers, promoters, and others on the scene during the decades following World War II, this book views jazz's evolution through the prism of technological advances, social transformations, changes in the law, economic trends, and much more.

In an absorbing narrative enlivened by the commentary of key personalities, Marc Myers describes the myriad of events and trends that affected the music's evolution, among them, the American Federation of Musicians strike in the early 1940s, changes in radio and concert-promotion, the introduction of the long-playing record, the suburbanization of Los Angeles, the Civil Rights movement, the "British invasion" and the rise of electronic instruments. This groundbreaking book deepens our appreciation of this music by identifying many of the developments outside of jazz itself that contributed most to its texture, complexity, and growth.


The history of recorded jazz can be traced back to February 26, 1917. On that Monday, members of the Original Dixieland “Jass” Band rode the freight elevator up to the twelfth floor of 46 West 38 th Street in New York, where weeks earlier the Victor Talking Machine Company had opened its new recording studio. After assembling their instruments, the all-white quintet from New Orleans played “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step” and “Livery Stable Blues” into the long metal horn that served as a microphone back then. When the songs were released weeks later on either side of a single 78-rpm record, the band’s highly syncopated and somewhat frantic “Dixieland” fox-trot became an overnight sensation. Appearing in music stores just days after the United States entered World War I, the record was promoted in newspapers as “a brass band gone crazy,” and sales soon rivaled releases by the opera sensation Enrico Caruso and the march king John Philip Sousa.

But the Original Dixieland Jass Band was less original than its name implied. Black musicians in New Orleans had already developed the up-tempo music style in 1906 as an instrumental offshoot of ragtime. Although the Original Dixieland Jass Band’s white musicians were from New Orleans, and some had begun their careers playing in the city’s integrated parade bands, the ensemble’s formation in early 1916 was the brainstorm of Harry James, an enterprising café owner in Chicago who heard the musicians while he was in the Crescent City to see a prize fight.

By 1916 Chicago was already a music center. Tom Brown’s Band from Dixieland was having some success at Chicago restaurants, and there seemed to be plenty of room in town for another Southern dance attraction. When James’s recruited musicians began their Chicago engagement at Schiller’s Café in March 1916, they called themselves Stein’s Dixie Jass . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.