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Jazz History by Decade - 1920 to 1930

Previous Decade: 1910 – 1920

The decade between 1920 and 1930 marked many crucial events in jazz. It all started with the prohibition of alcohol in 1920. Rather than prevent drinking, the law gave rise to speakeasies and private residences and inspired a wave of jazz-accompanied and booze-fueled rent parties.

The audience for jazz was broadening, thanks to an increase in recordings and to the popularity of jazz-inflected pop music such as that of the Paul Whiteman Orchestra.

Also, New Orleans began to lose its centrality in musical output, as musicians moved to Chicago and New York City. Chicago briefly enjoyed being the capitol of jazz, partly because it was home to Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong.

New York’s scene grew, as well. James P. Johnson’s 1921 recording of “Carolina Shout” bridged the gap between ragtime and more advanced jazz styles. In addition, big bands began to pop up throughout the city. Duke Ellington moved to New York in 1923, and four years later became the leader of the house band at the Cotton Club.

In 1922, Coleman Hawkins moved to New York, where he joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra. Inspired by Louis Armstrong who briefly toured with the group, Hawkins resolved to create an individualistic improvisation style.

The primacy of the soloist was budding thanks to Armstrong’s Hot Five recordings on Okeh Records. Famous songs included “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue,” and “Big Butter and Egg Man.” Saxophonist Sidney Bechet’s virtuosity was documented as well, with his 1923 recording of “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Blues.”

In 1927, cornetist Bix Beiderbecke recorded “In a Mist” with C-melody saxophone player Frankie Trumbauer. Their refined and introspective approach contrasted with the gregarious New Orleans style. Tenor saxophonist Lester Young brought the style to prominence, and offered an alternative to the gruff playing of Coleman Hawkins.

It wasn’t just in tone that the two differed. Young’s specialty was embellishing and creating melodies, while Hawkins

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