The Jazz Revolution: Twenties America & the Meaning of Jazz

By Kathy J. Ogren | Go to book overview

3/ Dance-Tested Records and Syncopep for
the Millions

Although the roots of jazz were in live performance, technological developments after 1900 made it possible to preserve and transmit black music to audiences far removed from the performer. Player pianos, phonograph recordings, radio, and film brought the sound and sight of jazz musicians to their audiences of millions of Americans. As with the new physical settings for jazz performances—clubs, cabarets, and ballrooms—these media enlarged the audience for jazz, reshaped audience-performer interactions, and provided more fuel for the controversy surrounding black music.

Each new medium relied on standardized formats which determined which performers received recording opportunities and which improvisations were preserved. Aspiring musicians increasingly learned jazz from this pre-selected sample of recordings rather than primarily from live performances as their predecessors had done. Jazz historians and critics agree that as jazz reached a larger audience, the tempos slowed down and larger jazz orchestras replaced the smaller bands and combos, making the music more standardized and palatable to middle-class white tastes. Like certain black dances and “bawdy” blues, vernacular jazz music was “cleaned up” as it was marketed to a mass audience.1

The more lively and improvisational jazz performances re-

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