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Jazz History During the 1930s


The main theme of this research project is the analysis of the jazz history during the 1930s. The work includes discussion of a significant impact of 1930s on the jazz popularity in the US. The rationale for choosing the topic is its relevance and interest in the topic. The research study used only scholarly historical resources in order to provide accurate and reliable information. The aim of the research is to define the major changes in the jazz during the 1930s. Comparative analysis formed the basis to isolate the material into a few units and determine its major features. Consequently, it enabled to determine the general features of the jazz history during the 1930s.

Keywords: jazz, music, New Orleans


Jazz music exists as a form of art that emerged in the early XX century in the United States because of fusion of African and European cultures. This music genre is based on improvisation combined with a pre-thought-out composition. Moreover, the finished product of the artistic image depends on the interaction of the ensemble members among themselves and with an audience. Through the 1930s, jazz became a popular phenomenon in the United States. The new rhythmic and harmonic patterns became the reason of further development of jazz and the emergence of unique subgenres. Special rhythms, instruments, and different common features of African and European culture formed jazz as an essential music genre. The main centers of jazz were New Orleans, New York, and Kansas City, where people founded first orchestras, recordings, and concert venues.

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The Emergence and Essence of Jazz Music

African music traditions became the general component of the jazz emergence. In fact, most scholars consider individuals from the African continent as the main founders of this genre. Slaves from Africa were often not from the same genus, and they did not understand each other. The need for interaction and communication led to the union and the creation of a single culture. This phenomenon is characterized by complex rhythms and dances. These components along with blues motifs gave a new musical direction. However, the mixing process of the African and European musical culture, which has undergone serious changes, have occurred since the 18th century and led to the emergence of a new musical direction. Therefore, world history of jazz is inseparable from the history of American jazz. In addition to the special role of expressive rhythm, other traits of African music were also essential. Among them were the predominance of the speaking intonation in singing, rhythmic instruments, unique harmonies, and imitation of conversation with melodies on guitar, piano, and percussion instruments. Besides, this genre has many unique features. For example, polyrhythm exists as syncopated rhythms, a bit as a regular pulsation, and swing as a deviation from the bit, improvisation with colorful timbre and harmonic series. Consequently, jazz as a music genre has its roots in African culture.

The Role of the American Towns in the Jazz History

New Orleans went down in history as the cradle of jazz. The geographical location and history of New Orleans caused the kaleidoscopic diversity of cultural influences of European, Native American, Caribbean and African character. The last element was a consequence of the fact that New Orleans was the most important seaport and a platform for the slave trade. This mixing of cultures from different countries led to the emergence of the local culture. By the beginning of the XIX century, jazz started its development in a very peculiar musical environment with colorful folk sounds, theatrical performances, and carnival celebrations. Because of a more liberal spirit that reigned in New Orleans, the musical traditions of African-American folk were more common in this region. Folk festivals retained many special elements of the ancient West African voodoo cult and rhythmic African drum music. In the first half of the XIX century, ceremonial elements of Voodoo cult were closely intertwined with elements of the ancient celebrations of the European Middle Ages. The dances of African origin had the main role in these new forms. Their musical accompaniment preserved African traditions with characteristic tapping, rhythmic applause, and choral singing. Therefore, New Orleans became the center of the jazz emergence.

The first jazz bands were formed in New Orleans. Gradually, the bands expanded their influence to Memphis, St. Louis, Kansas City, New York, and Chicago. Moreover, New Orleans became the location for the first jazz records. In fact, New Orleans Jazz had a form of group improvisations of small orchestras. Musicians played on trumpet, clarinet, trombone, banjo, tuba, double bass, drums, and piano. Furthermore, New Orleans Jazz was characterized by collective improvisation of the same melody by trumpeter, clarinetist, and trombonist in the background accompaniment of marching brass bass and drums. At the beginning of the 20th century, five white musicians from New Orleans recorded the first phonograph. This record belonged to the legendary “Original Dixieland Jazz Band.” However, before the release of this album, jazz remained a marginal phenomenon. After a few weeks, people were stunned and shocked when they heard this music. Nevertheless, the history of jazz began in New Orleans, but this music has experienced a real rise in the early 1920s, after the start of migration to New York and Chicago. This situation marked a tendency of constant movement of jazz musicians from South to North. Moreover, Chicago became a major center of the sound recording, and New York turned into the main concert hall. In the era of the Great Depression and Prohibition, the music scene in Kansas City became the Mecca of American jazz. The local style was characterized by a soulful song with blues coloration and energetic solo. Big bands and small swing ensembles were most common in this period. Consequently, New York, Kansas City, and New Orleans became the places of the first serious jazz recordings and concerts.

The Stylistic Development during the 1930s

The style of orchestral jazz that emerged in the early 1930’s as a result of the synthesis of different styles and forms of jazz called swing. However, this term has also another meaning. People used a word swing to express a characteristic type of pulsation, based on a permanent deviation from rhythm. Swing became the major reason of the Big Band emergence. This style forced to abandon the collective improvisation and develop the arrangements recorded in notes. The arrangement was one of the first manifestations of the composer’s beginning. Musicians in the majority of big bands played certain melodies learned at rehearsals. Orchestration with large sections of brass and woodwind instruments created rich jazz harmonies and sensational loud sound, which became known as the big band sound. Big Band consisted of three groups of instruments sections. Among them were saxophone section, copper section, and rhythm section. In fact, big bands have reached a peak of fame in the mid-1930s. This music became a source of swing dance popularity. Moreover, musicians developed a solo improvisation based on the square. The square existed as a variation equal to the duration of the main theme with the improvisation of the new melodic turns. Many big bands demonstrated their improvisational soloists who brought the audience to a state close to hysteria. Besides, orchestras often toured and recorded many albums in the 1930s. However, their music was gradually transformed under the influence of the new trends. Consequently, the beginning of the 1930s marked the development of big bands and their stylistic features.

During the 1930s, the bands began to develop the song form of the 32 bars. Besides, they began to use riffs in their songs as the two to four bars rhythmically flexible replica. Orchestra played these riffs while the soloist improvised melody in a special harmony. Among the first big bands were orchestras under the direction of famous jazz musicians such as Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, and Duke Ellington. During the 1930s, American jazz was commercialized. Thus, amateurs and connoisseurs of the jazz history started a movement for the revival of the original styles. Small ensembles that concentrated on the external effect played the decisive role in this movement. After domination of the big band music, small jazz ensembles started their appearance on the scene. Many well-known soloists and even the leaders of big bands liked to play improvisational shows in small clubs. These musicians adhered to the traditional swing manner and demonstrated the inexhaustible imagination of the performance. During the 1930s, the style of such jazz club trend was called mainstream. Therefore, during the 1930s, big bands created the riffs system and small jazz ensembles tried to return the original patterns to the jazz music.

The Prominent Figures in the Jazz History during the 1930s

During the 1930s, American jazz had many great musicians. However, some of them have brought an incredible contribution to the development of this genre. Benny Goodman was the famous American jazz musician. During the 1930s, Benny Goodman was a leader of one of the most famous bands in America. This catalog was sold out more than a million copies and raised jazz to a higher level. The greatest jazz clarinetist of all time, Benny Goodman earned the title of “King of Swing.” However, he was not a pioneer of swing, but his phenomenal success in 1935 heralded the arrival of the swing era. Moreover, Benny Goodman was more than a great clarinetist and bandleader. Goodman created ensembles, known for their amazing unity and integration. He enjoyed great social influence and took black musicians in his jazz band during a violent bigotry and segregation. Goodman made compositions for the greatest composers of his era, including Bela Bartok, Paul Hindemith, and Aaron Copland. Besides, he performed and recorded works by Leonard Bernstein, Igor Stravinsky, Brahms, and Carl Maria von Weber. His virtuoso solo became the great example for many clarinetists. Consequently, Benny Goodman raised his particular style of jazz performance at the international level.

Louis Prima has also become one of the major figures in jazz during the 1930s. He was the Sicilian-American singer, actor, songwriter, and trumpeter. Besides, Prima was one of the founders of the musical fashion of his time. In 1936, Prima released his song “Sing Sing Sing”, which rapidly became one of the biggest hits of that time. Later the song was included in the list of the most famous works in the style of swing. Therefore, Louis Prima made a great contribution to the jazz development during the 1930s.

Furthermore, Gene Krupa was another prominent person in jazz during the 1930s. His bright performing style and detailed drum solos were the impetus for the birth of a new generation of solo performers. His artistic madness, which he considered an integral part of the entertainment, gave him the nickname of the “Chicago outbreak.” Besides, the talent of Gene Krupa transformed him from a regular musician to a star of a national scale. In 1935, Gene Krupa changed the appearance of the drum set. He began to use naked drum kit. It was a set of four drums developed by Slingerland. Custom special toms and streamlined drum kit transformed the music world. His unique playing style and star status as a drummer of Benny Goodman band made his drum kit a common standard. Moreover, Krupa became the first major soloist of the swing era. He was the first drummer who used the tom-toms and solo. Therefore, Gene Krupa transformed the standards of the musical performance and went down in history as a prominent musician.


Jazz originated as a form of musical art in the fusion of African and European cultures. New Orleans became a city with the most favorable environment for the development of this musical direction. Most of the black community has formed a local culture of the African and European motifs. Different groups have developed their styles of music, and African-Americans have created a new art that has no analogues. Besides, New York, New Orleans, and Kansas City became the place of the first jazz recordings and concert venues. During the 1930s, the stylistic development of jazz had different features. For example, musicians developed big bands with loud sound and improvisational solo. Among the most prominent figures in jazz history were Benny Goodman, Louis Prima, and Gene Krupa. Consequently, the transformation of jazz during the 1930s played an essential role in the cultural American development.

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