The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America & the Meaning of Jazz

By Kathy J. Ogren | Go to book overview

1/ “Comin’ Down the Same Drain”: Performance
Practice of Bluesmen, Minstrels, and Jazzmen

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Afro-American music played a dual role. It spoke to the unique experiences of black Americans and, at the same time, became the dominant influence on American popular music generally. Black music evolved from older folk music, including African and slave musical traditions, which it transformed into powerful expressions of the black experience in new settings, especially in the industrial cities of the North. Although it was a child of racial separation, black music, by its new-found commercial success after 1900, made it clear that black culture, like black people, could not be kept on the margins of American society.

By the 1920s, jazz—the most distinctive form of modern black music—was influential enough to pose an unmistakable challenge to white cultural domination. The threat was especially serious in the minds of traditional moralists because a significant number of whites themselves found jazz exciting. Indeed, the first contact many northern white audiences had with ragtime and jazz came from early white bands out of New Orleans, like Tom Brown’s Dixieland Jass Band, which performed in Chicago in 1915, or Nick LaRocca’s Original Dixieland Jazz Band, which played in Chicago and New York.

However successful such groups may have been, jazz was

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