The Best of 1920s Jazz Music

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A look at some of the best Jazz musicians and bands from the 1920s.


1920s Jazz music was a distinctive style that emerged from the ragtime and blues music of the late 1800s. Characterized by its syncopated rhythms, brass instruments, and improvised solos, Jazz quickly gained popularity in the United States and Europe. Jazz musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton became household names, and the genre continues to be enjoyed by fans around the world today.

The Birth of Jazz

Jazz first emerged in the early 20th century in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a blend of African and European musical traditions. The earliest jazz musicians were largely African American. Jazz quickly spread from New Orleans to other parts of the United States.

The New Orleans Sound

In the early 1920s, Jelly Roll Morton, a New Orleans native and self-proclaimed inventor of jazz, was living in Chicago and making records for the phonograph company Gennett. His band’s recordings from this period, which feature such now-classic Jazz Age tunes as “Black Bottom Stomp” and “Wolverine Blues,” are considered some of the first authentic jazz recordings.

In 1924, Louis Armstrong made his first recordings with his own band in New York City. These compositions, including “West End Blues” and “Struttin’ with Some Barbecue,” showcased Armstrong’s amazing technical virtuosity on the trumpet as well as his singularly charismatic vocal style.

The New Orleans sound began to change in the late 1920s with the rise of larger ensembles playing a more structured type of jazz that came to be known as big band swing. The biggest star of the new style was clarinetist Benny Goodman, whose band scored a huge hit with their recording of “Sing, Sing, Sing” in 1936.

The Chicago Scene

In the early 1920s, the jazz world was centered in New Orleans, but by the mid-1920s, it had shifted to Chicago. The shift was due in large part to the great migration of African Americans from the rural south to northern cities like Chicago. These new arrivals brought with them a love of jazz and helped to create a vibrant jazz scene in Chicago.

Some of the most popular jazz musicians of the 1920s came from the Chicago scene, including Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver. These artists helped to make Chicago the new center of Jazz.

The Roaring Twenties

1920s Jazz music was some of the best ever created. It was a time when the world was shaking off the last vestiges of the Victorian era and embracing a new age of freedom and creativity. Jazz was the perfect soundtrack for this new age, and the best jazz musicians of the 1920s are still revered today.

The Jazz Age

The 1920s was a decade of transition for Jazz music. The popularity of the genre was on the rise, and it was beginning to be recognized as a serious art form. But at the same time, the traditional forms of Jazz were starting to break down, giving way to more experimental and avant-garde styles.

This was the era of the Jazz Age, and it produced some of the most iconic and influential musicians in the history of the genre. If you’re a fan of Jazz music, then these are some of the artists you need to check out from the 1920s.

The Swing Era

Swing music, or simply swing, is a form of popular music developed in the United States that dominated in the 1930s and 1940s. The name swing came from the ‘swing feel’ where the emphasis is on the off–beat or weaker pulse in the music. Swing bands usually featured soloists who would improvise on the melody over the arrangement.

The defining characteristic of swing is a tension and release between improvisation and arrangement, as exemplified by Louis Armstrong’s famous quotation that “swing is spontaneous composition.” The word “swing” could mean a state of mind, a propulsive quality, or both. Swing has been described as “the sound of surprise”. Mark Tucker suggests that perceptions of swing have “entered into the fabric of American identity.”

While jazz was characterized by improvised solos, some tunes were written out as full arrangements. These compositions have been referred to as “head arrangements.” Solos were still improvised within these arrangements, however; see improvisation for more discussion on this topic.


The conclusion of our guide to the best of 1920s jazz music is that this was a decade of great innovation and change. Jazz went from being a largely unknown and misunderstood genre to becoming one of the most popular forms of music in the world. This was thanks to the hard work of many great artists who pushed the boundaries of what was possible with this new art form. We hope you have enjoyed learning about some of the best jazz music from the 1920s.

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