Today’s #FabulousFridayGuestBlogger is Sarah Zama. So nice to have her here, and I know you’ll enjoy her post. Welcome, Sarah!
THE JAZZ AGE: WHY LIFE SOUNDED LIKE JAZZ IN THE 1920s
Jazz, a vision of the future with roots in the past
Since the very beginning, jazz had a strong borderline nature, one that would bring different elements together while still creating a division.
The very nature of jazz is a mishmash of different experiences. There is no doubt that jazz has strong roots in the African cultures and probably came out of the slave experience in a time when slavery no longer existed but was still very much remembered. In and around New Orleans, where jazz probably originated, fields songs that came from African traditional cultures mixed with a more European conception of music and especially with instruments coming from it. Jazz was in part both of them, while still being a completely new way not only of making music but also of understanding it.
If many of the instruments and a part of the metrics that characterized jazz came from the European music culture, African music culture loaned jazz its most characteristic treats: the call-and-response practice and improvisation. In complete contrast with the European music, where the musicians played on a stage, according to written music which was the work of a single creator, and where the audience would sit apart and listen, jazz – in the best African tradition – blurred the line between performers and audience. The way they reacted to each other (call-and-response) allowed them to create together a unique music that belonged to that particular moment, that particular people and would never happen again.
The jazz controversy
It was such a revolutionary way to make music that many didn’t even register it. If on one hand, musicians of all walks of life saluted this new music as the language of the new century, on the other hand more traditional musicians refused to even consider jazz music. Teachers in music academies refused to teach it, because it was not music but noise, and besides, jazz could not really be learned in schools, because it needed an audience to react to.
This was only a part of the controversy surrounding jazz, which joined the controversy about the new lifestyles. Jazz was born in the African American community and in the 1920s most musicians who played it were African American. But it broke the barriers of society to become the most popular music overall. When everybody started dancing it, social critiques saw it as a bad influence on life. It was a savage music that took out the most savage instincts of people, and especially of women. Jazz syncopated rhythms arouse sensual desires in whoever listened to it. It was a music of perdition and indecency. It was the devil’s music.
The devil’s music
That was probably exactly why young people loved it. Whether it was the lively, cutting age black jazz, or the more mellow, smoother white jazz, young people wanted to dance it. They mostly did so in speakeasies, outlaw places where they would also drink illegal booze. Jazz spread through the speakeasy culture like wildfire, which did nothing to take away from jazz the tag of being a music played in disreputable places.
But to young people, jazz, with its innovative, clattering sounds, with the syncopated rhythms and the fast interchange of performances, was the soundtrack of their new world. It didn’t sound like anything that came before, the same way they acted like nobody who came before them. Young people found their place in society for the first time in the 1920s. Young women in particular started to express themselves in a new, bolder way and jazz sounded exactly like that. It sounded like the new bustling cities in opposition to the languid, slow countryside. It challenged old rules and established a new way to do things. It was rebellious. It was exciting.
Jazz sounded exactly like that new 1920s time. Jazz was the voice of the Jazz Age.
I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.
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