The Effects of Jazz Throughout the Great Depression

May 8, 2018
Custom User Avatar
More by this author

As the Great Depression was one of the most influential time periods on music in itself, jazz music, the music originated in America that consists of improvisation, syncopated rhythms, and many distortions of pitch, underwent a great amount of changes. These changes were so impactful that they still exist today and changed the spectrum of music forever. Before the Great Depression, jazz music first originated in the 1920s by black people. Due to the fact that the Great Depression did in fact bring starvation, unemployment, and a giant divide between the rich and the poor, it allowed black people who made up most of the population of people who were most affected during this financial crisis to turn to music for reasons such as a distraction, arousal, and therapy instead of alcohol which provided similar effects but was not available. These effects not only provided a substitute but caused drastic changes of the music aspect of jazz music. According to credible sources, the growing development of jazz music was one of the biggest positive attributes made and established during the Great Depression. 


Music consists of languages that make up a distinct language, but the language used in jazz music (originated in the 1930s) is distinguished from the universal language of music by the words and the descriptions of words that apply. It is a mixture of the two. In other words, the foundation is the universal language, but the structure is the terms that were made after. "What is Hip?" And Other Inquires in Jazz Slang Lexicography" notes by Rick McRae explain that "As jazz itself evolved from the experience of African Americas, so did argot that jazz musicians spoke rise from what is called jive language" (McRae, 524). The notes specifically state that that one of the aspects that was solidified was the language of jazz made by African Americans which was during the Great Depression (1930s). Because jazz music solidified vocally during this time, it was made official by putting it to books where it could be shared. The same notes by Rick McRae state "Between 1934-1970, glossaries of jazz slang terms appeared in print, either as articles, appendixes to autobiographies of prominent jazz musicians, or entire volumes referred to as dictionaries (McRae 575). The slang of jazz was not only used vocally but it was able to affect important prints and the lives of jazz musicians. The slang of jazz created a musical aspect by itself. Although the language of jazz originated from African Americans, it was able to be reinforced by all races exposed it by it being exposed in physical form. 


Secondly, jazz brought multiple positive attributes such as being a step away from the harsh reality of corruption during the Great Depression. Jazz was the backbone of happiness for multiple people as it was a distraction. While playing an instrument, there is no need to worry about finances or starvation which is why it acted as a step away from reality.  From the volume "The Slang of Jazz" by Webb H. Brook it specifically states "Later becoming pronounced 'Jazz', it was used attributively to describe bands which by the intensity of their rhythm produced excitement (in the negroes this feeling verges upon the orgiastic; to produce the same effect in whites the further stimulation of alcohol is needed)" (Webb 180). The intensity of the tones and rhythms of jazz brought a similar type of mind stimulation that led to feeling good and relieved leading it to be a contributing factor of the positive aspects of the Great Depression. Influential jazz musicians that were famous during the Great Depression also had the same opinion. Luis Armstrong is an example used in the notes "What is Hip?" And Other Inquires in Jazz Slang Lexicography" by Rick McRae. McRae writes "Luis Armstrong recalls his days in the Storyville section of New Orleans, where pimps, gamblers, and prostitutes congregated among musicians playing in the hangouts where they piled their trades" (McRae 774). Not only was jazz a distraction and a step away from reality for normal people or African Americans, but it was a distraction for abnormal or controversial people such as gamblers, pimps, and prostitutes. The sense of release jazz brought to people of all sorts contributed to the everlasting effects that jazz had on culture. 


Lastly, as jazz was used as a step away from reality, it was able to spread globally. Although jazz originated in the United States the process of becoming a genre of music and making a new language was able to attract new countries and other major parts of the world. An example of how this came to be was through the Chocolate Kiddies. The Chocolate kiddies was an all African American jazz band that was able to travel all over the world starting with Germany. From “The Aural Shock of Modernity: Sam Wooding and Weimar Germany’s Experience of Jazz.” The Jazz Republic: Music, Race, and American Culture in Weimar Germany, Jonathan Wipplinger writes "Wooding and his band traveled to Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, London, Moscow, Paris, Prague, Vienna, and beyond. Having introduced so many across the world of jazz, Wooding came to view himself 'as the Christopher Columbus of jazz' " (Wipplinger 54). As jazz was able to spread because of the Chocolate Kiddies it was also able to make Sam Wooding a true icon of jazz.  As influential as jazz was, it was able to be a segue of understanding of what music really was and still is. Wipplinger also writes "This meant amongst the other things that for the first time, across a wide spectrum, across a wide spectrum of news outlets, an African American jazz band received broad discussion in Berlin press. So while other African American performers and jazz musicians had proceeded the Chocolate Kiddies and Sam Wooding, this chapter will argue that their Berlin performances became central to the German critical understanding of jazz throughout the 1920s and 1930s" (Wipplinger 50). Jazz became an important part of different cultures by only a handful of people leading millions later doing the same and globalizing it. Since jazz spread because of corruption of the 1930s, it was able to globally change cultures through individuals and bring out hidden aspects of music. 


Jazz was able to be a magnetic source of happiness and knowledge through the rough times of the Great Depression, therefore making it a positive staple of the 1930s. Jazz was able to create its own language through emotions where they could be freely expressed and not be discriminated against as African Americans were. The emotions that were brought out by jazz music were positive and allowed people to feel happiness. Because of the large amount of positivity made by jazz music that affected people greatly, it was able to spread though different cultures and become a true asset to music that already existed. Jazz was able to bring people and cultures together through corruption and unemployment leading it to be a powerful source of exposure as it was a peacemaker. Through the Great Depression, jazz was able to globalize music creating a new world for people to set foot in where it still exists today.






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback