I often wonder why the popular jazz of the 1920s, which faded in the mid-1930s, isn’t still widely popular. It’s rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat — as opposed to the monotonous and often dreary, dissonant, and unmelodic droning of what later became known as jazz. (I’m not writing here about the New Orleans style of jazz, which is a genre of its own, and has never died out. If you’re unsure of the distinction, click on the links at the end of this post.)
The jazz of the ’20s (and early-to-mid-’30s) evolved into the swing of the ’30s and 40s. Swing evolved into the ponderous big-band sound of the ’40s and ’50s.
Rhythmically inventive, driving, and upbeat popular music returned in the mid-’50s, with the birth of rock and roll. The Beatles and their ilk put a twist on rock and roll, and the genre evolved into what is known as classic rock — the sound that dominated the mid-’60s to early ’70s. Its variants — some of them close to the classic sound — survive and thrive to this day.
But nothing — with the possible exception of early swing — has yet to rival the musical sophistication of ’20s jazz. Bands led by the likes of Red Allen, Bix Beiderbecke, Johnny Dodds, the early Duke Ellington, Jean Goldkette, Fletcher Henderson, Isham Jones, Vincent Lopez, Jelly Roll Morton, Red Nichols, King Oliver, and Paul Whiteman (to name only a small representation) recorded thousands of foot-stomping tunes (plus innumerable blues, ballads, novelty tunes, other non-jazzy material).
It is de rigeur in some musical circles to deride the offerings of the larger ensembles, such as those led by several of the band leaders mentioned above. But their tight orchestrations delivered as much toe-tapping vitality as anything offered up by smaller groups.
For a feast of ’20s jazz — and much more — go to The Red Hot Jazz Archive, tap your toes, and lighten your spirit. (RealPlayer required.)
One of my favorites, which number in the hundreds, is “Dinah“. Not a jazzy song, you say? Well, dig these variations on a theme:
Cliff Edwards (1925)
Jean Goldkette (1926)
Joe Venuti (1928)
Red Nichols (1929)
Louis Armstrong (1930)
Bing Crosby with the Mills Brothers (1932) (After a ballad-y start, Bing rips into it. Bing as you’ve probably never heard him.)
The Boswell Sisters (1934) (The Bozzies followed Bing’s lead.)
Quintette of the Hot Club of France (1934)
Fats Waller (1935)
And feast your ears on this long anthology of Bix Beiderbecke‘s recordings. Beiderbecke crammed a long lifetime of music into his brief 28 years.