The New Jazz Age: the jazz art world
and the modern jazz renaissance
It is true that no one human being can keep up with the Niagara of jazz recordings, concerts, and festivals, as well as radio, nightclub, and television appearances of jazz musicians… It wasn't always so. To the oldtimer of the 20s, who remembers when a few grooves of a few 78-rpm recordings held all the recorded jazz extant, we are swinging through an era of plenty, a renaissance of jazz, which we will some day look back upon with wonder and envy. The sounds of jazz are hitting the public ear from all sides, and, although the conscientious critic necessarily finds that keeping up with it is difficult, in the midst of this great quantity of music, a new and qualitative change seems to be taking place.
Marshall Stearns, “What is Happening to Jazz, ”
Down Beat Music 1961, 1961: 28
As a founding member of the United Hot Clubs of America in 1935, Marshall Stearns was selected by Down Beat in its annual review to reflect on the state of jazz during the 1950s. An avid follower of jazz since the late 1920s, Stearns pointed to a musical renaissance in jazz performance. He also noted the success of the jazz art world that sustained this renaissance in jazz music. In the 1950s, this art world began a period of rapid expansion in production, audiences, and stylistic innovation. It garnered national attention in print and broadcast media. Even the State Department gave an approving nod to jazz as it sent jazz musicians abroad as American cultural ambassadors. The long quest of Stearns and others to make jazz a recognized, legitimate, and financially viable art form seemed to have finally been achieved.
The rosy picture painted by Stearns of the state of jazz at the end of the 1950s stood in stark contrast to the state of jazz as well as professional musicians at the beginning of that decade. Leading into the 1950s professional musicians were confronting a major decline in the big band market and far fewer opportunities for employment. The jazz art world remained economically unstable as jazz musicians, jazz clubs, and jazz labels struggled to survive. While the big band business never recovered, the jazz art world by the mid-1950s suddenly experienced