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Jazz Age 101: A New Beginning


One of the most important eras of American history, the Jazz Age started after World War I and ended with the outbreak of the Great Depression in 1929. Nevertheless, this era offered new images and terms both literary and culturally in a wide spectrum. In this period, the United States went through a huge transition and began to prosper in music, literature, economy, policy, and technology. In The Roaring Twenties, known also as Golden Age, divergent cultures gathered into one pot and shaped this period by their own essential qualifications. Effects of this age have been shaped the American culture dramatically and, still have been maintaining its importance. Hence, it is crucial to gain knowledge from the Jazz Age in order to understand American culture and literature. During each article, this series will cover the Jazz Age in terms of different backgrounds to enlarge readers' perspectives.

Jazz Age 101 is mainly divided into five chapters including:

  1. Jazz Age 101: A New Beginning

  2. Jazz Age 101: 1920s In America

  3. Jazz Age 101: Lost Generation

  4. Jazz Age 101: Harlem Renaissance

  5. Jazz Age 101: New Women

Jazz Age 101: A New Beginning

After World War I, Americans were left with a feeling of emptiness and distrust towards Europe and the American government, hence they started to question law and reckless policies. Especially among women, this conflict reached its climax. For Americans, the reasons for going to war were disillusioning and had nothing to do with democracy. Hence, they decided to surpass this feeling with the help of music, dance, alcohol, movies, parties, automobiles, and fashion. They reflected the impacts of this indifferent joy into the art, literature, and lyrics. As Mitchell Newton-Matza mentions in Jazz Age: People and Perspectives: ''The Jazz Age is the period of time in which society was emerging from a devastating period and allowing a new generation to define its own social code'' (Matza, 13). Rather than sticking to the past and its own moral codes, Americans challenged to bring new regulations into life. Men and women enjoyed to be sharing the same clubs and places, they were freely travelling, drinking, and smoking together. Also, social regulations in benefit of new ideas appeared and freedom of speech became common among women. With the acceptance of the 19th Amendment in 1920, women finally acquired the right to vote. One of the most interesting incidents was the prohibition of alcohol by the 18th Amendment in 1920 in the U.S. This amendment led to the creation of illegal bars and a new underground culture was shaped in America's large cities. Moreover, cocktails became so popular in American clubs and, Americans celebrated their events at the cocktail parties during the Prohibition Era. While developments and prohibitions were happening in America, writers also experimented with new elements of this age in their novels. These evolutions brought inspiration to writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Zora Neale Hurston, William Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, Gertrude Stein.

[Jazz Age Party from Fringe Club and Swing Dancers]

In the early 1900s, musicians from New Orleans gathered ingredients of European and African music to create something unique which is jazz. Within a short year, Jazz became the symbol of the era. It was primarily considered an African American style of music with roots in ragtime and the blues. It linked with the reformist manner of 1920, a decade that witnessed unprecedented economic growth and prosperity in the United States. Not only black but also white Americans contributed to its wide rise in popularity. Burton William Peretti underlines in The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America: ''Jazz players dealt with the powerful racist traditions in American musical entertainment'' (Peretti, 9). Middle-class whites started to get tuned to African-Americans' music too. In this way, jazz music prospered more with the emergence of commercial radio and its representative musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton. Thereby, Jazz music became wildly known in the Roaring Twenties. Jazz music became the most hit form of music during the 1920s, spreading with the radio and recording stores, indeed influencing the movies. African American trends in the Jazz Age were embraced first by white young people and ultimately by society. Thus, African American culture intertwined into the American culture with the help of music. Its characteristic rhythms made this music representative of the Jazz Age.

(Carter And King Jazzing Orchestra, from Wikipedia)

For the first time in U.S history, more Americans lived in cities than farms. The nation’s total wealth became more than doubled between 1920 and 1929, and this perpetual economic advance encouraged Americans to consume more goods. As James Ciment mentioned in Encyclopedia of the Jazz Age: ''The affordability of mass-produced automobiles and the advent of consumer credit made automobile ownership a reality for approximately 23 million Americans by the end of the 1920s'' (Ciment, 656). Especially ‘’Model T by Ford’’ identifies with this automobile purchase. Americans' had extra money to spend due to their abundance, and they spent it on consumer goods such as ready-to-wear clothes and home appliances like electric refrigerators. This reason was based on the advertising industry too.

There was a rise in marketing during the Jazz Age. Advertising comforted Jazz Age consumers in terms of finding relief for aches, pains, and other personal health problems. They wanted to leave behind their emotional burdens by consuming the merchandise. The companies also promoted the idea of annual model changes by imposing on the necessity of these purchases. Especially towards women, the idea of ''fashionable clothes'' was promoted to purchase new clothes before their old ones wore out. New credit plans were introduced, giving consumers the means to obtain goods beyond their immediate means. Even if their needs were not associated with these goods, they deliberately wanted to buy them. Cigarettes were marked in magazines and billboard advertising campaigns also, smoking was embodied in prominent events and novels. According to the new generation, smoking promoted the idea of sophistication and got rid of society's mindset. Also, women smokers doubled during this decade because of their desire of reshaped traditional gender roles among society, and the need to show them their equality of gender.

[Model T Ford]

Before World War I, artists of America were following the approaching techniques from Europe, yet the 1920s brought a new shape in architecture in terms of exceptional style which is known as Art Deco. Art Deco included a mixture of geometric elements, streamlined curves, innovative use of colours and textures. Its central clue was seen as a modern look and focused on the usage purely for aesthetic purposes. Its impact looked in especially New York. Artists of America brought new terms in dance too. The African American folk dance of tap dancing penetrated in the 1920s and constituted its new versions with new, crazy, spectacular dance moves. Remarkable progress in Jazz Age dance moves was partners “breaking” with each other. With the impacts of European immigrant dancers and choreographers, the artistic combinations were given to these new versions of dance too. New dance movements showed themselves such as Charleston, the Black Bottom, the Shimmy, Turkey trot, Cakewalk, the Baltimore, the Bunnyhop, the Lindy Hop, and the American Tango. This artistic prosperity in dance and powerful imagination in the dance moves laid the base for the 1930s Hollywood musical period. Movies also fell into the people's lives and, the advertisers of Madison Avenue promoted the Hollywood movies to consume. Movies offered a larger screen, and compared to the theatre, they were more approachable than the stage. Its impact was across the continent not restricted to one scene. In the 1920s, people took a chance to see the face of an actor or actress in a detailed way and established a psychological connection with the movie. Going to the movies doubled throughout the second half of the 1920s, from 40 million visits to 100 million. The most significant movie of the Jazz Age was the Jazz Singer (1927), which virtually converted the film industry. For many immigrants, movies converted into a way to understand American culture. On the other hand, many Americans, divided by religion, race, class, or region shared a common language, a factor of national culture with the movies. Europeans began to adore American culture in the 1920s because of the jazz dancing, music, and movies produced in Hollywood.

[The Chrysler Building 1920s, New York, reflected the style of Art Deco.]

In conclusion, the Jazz Age was an era that constituted a unique style of artistic development and affected American culture and history. This era accelerated the expansion of mass culture, public performances, and popular styles of choices. Urbanization and mass consumerism were increasing while lasting artistic and literary figures emerged. The Jazz Age was counted not only the birth of the modern era but as the age that welcomed and praised modernism. Jazz Age gave a new vibe to American history. It paved the way for an art reform in the U.S. The Jazz Age formed an art that was more acquainted to the Americans in the national history.


Ciment, James, Encyclopedia of the Jazz Age, M E Sharpe Reference; 1st edition. Feb. 1, 2008.

Newton-Matza, Mitchell, Jazz Age: People and Perspectives, ABC-CLIO; 1st edition July 14. 2009.

Peretti, Burton William, The Creation of Jazz: Music, Race, and Culture in Urban America, University of Illinois Press; 1st edition, Sep. 1, 1992.

''The Jazz Age'', American Historama, retrieved 28 Jan. 2022.

''The Roaring Twenties'', History, retrieved 28 Jan. 2022.

Image References

Carter And King Jazzing Orchestra. [Photography].

Jazz Age Party from Fringe Club. [Photography].

Model T Ford. [Photography].

The Chrysler Building 1920s. [Photography].

Author Photo

Aylin Usta

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