Jazz Music in the 1920s: A History

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Jazz music in the 1920s was a truly American art form, blending together elements of European and African musical traditions. Jazz musicians of the time were some of the most innovative and creative musicians of their generation, pushing the boundaries of what was possible with music. If you’re interested in learning more about this important period in music history, read on for a brief overview of jazz in the 1920s.


The roots of jazz music can be traced back to the early 20th century in New Orleans. Jazz emerged from a combination of African and European musical traditions, and it quickly became popular all over the United States. By the 1920s, jazz was being performed in large cities all across America.

The 1920s were a golden age for jazz music. This was a time when many great jazz musicians emerged, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. Jazz music became increasingly popular during this decade, and it began to influence other genres of music as well.

In the 1920s, jazz music was often associated with Prohibition and speakeasies. This was because many people saw jazz as a rebellious form of music that was defiant of the law. However, not all jazz musicians were associated with Prohibition; some simply wanted to play their music for people to enjoy.

Jazz music underwent a number of changes in the 1920s. The most significant change was the introduction of swing music. Swing music was a new style of jazz that incorporated more African-American elements into the sound. This style of music quickly became popular all over America and would go on to shape the sound of jazz for years to come.

The Birth of Jazz

Jazz music originated in the early 20th century in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was a mix of African and European musical styles. The first Jazz recordings were made in 1917. Jazz quickly spread from New Orleans to other parts of the United States, and by the 1920s, it was one of the most popular forms of music in the country.

New Orleans

In the early 1900s, many African Americans left the rural South in search of better opportunities in the North. They brought their music with them, and the sounds of blues and ragtime began to be heard in cities like Chicago, Detroit, and New York. But it was in New Orleans—a city with a long history of immigration from Africa—that these different styles of music came together to form a new genre: jazz.

In the 1920s, jazz was still a relatively new style of music. But it was already becoming hugely popular, thanks in part to some of the most famous jazz musicians of all time: people like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Jelly Roll Morton. These musicians were innovators who created new sounds by combining elements of blues and ragtime with European instruments and styles.

Jazz quickly spread from New Orleans to other U.S. cities—and then to Europe and beyond. By the end of the 1920s, it was being performed and enjoyed by people all over the world.

The Spread of Jazz

In the early years of the twentieth century, New Orleans was a hotbed of musical activity. The city was filled with Bourbon Street clubs and bars that featured a variety of music, from ragtime to blues. It was in this fertile ground that jazz was born.

The first recorded use of the word “jazz” was in 1912, in an article in the Chicago Tribune. The author, who was probably bandleader John Philip Sousa, used it to describe a new kind of music being played by black musicians in New Orleans. The sound of jazz was a unique blend of African and European musical traditions, and it quickly caught on with both black and white audiences.

By the 1920s, jazz had spread to Northern cities like Chicago and New York, where it became hugely popular. Jazz clubs began popping up all over the country, and famous musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington rose to fame. Jazz music was celebrated for its energy and vitality, and it came to be seen as the music of a new generation.

In the years following World War II, jazz underwent a major evolution. Musicians began experimenting with different sounds and styles, giving birth to subgenres like bebop and cool jazz. Today, jazz is still evolving, with new artists constantly adding their own unique spin to the music.

The Roaring Twenties

Jazz music in the 1920s was a symbol of the Roaring Twenties, a decade of prosperity and excess. New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, and the city was a hotbed of activity in the early years of the genre. Jazz quickly spread to other cities, including Chicago and New York. The 1920s were a golden age for jazz, with many great musicians and bands emerging.

Jazz in the Clubs

The first jazz clubs began to appear in the early 1920s, and by the mid-1920s, there were dozens of them in cities across the country. These clubs were often segregated, with black musicians performing for black audiences and white musicians performing for white audiences. Sometimes, though, black and white musicians would perform together in so-called “mixed” clubs. These mixed clubs were relatively rare, however, and most jazz clubs remained segregated throughout the 1920s.

One of the most famous jazz clubs of the 1920s was the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York City. The Cotton Club was open to both black and white audiences, but it was owned and operated by a white man named Irving Mills. Mills hired only black musicians to perform at the club, and many of the biggest names in jazz played there, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Coleman Hawkins.

While the vast majority of jazz clubs were still segregated in the late 1920s, a few daring entrepreneurs began to experiment with mixed-race performances. One of these was Joe Glaser, who owned several nightclubs in Chicago. In 1927, Glaser hired Louis Armstrong to play at his club The Sunset Café. The Sunset Café was open to both black and white patrons, and Armstrong’s engagement there marked one of the first times that a black musician had performed for a mixed-race audience in a major American city.

Jazz on Record

The Roaring Twenties was a time when the country was enjoying unprecedented prosperity, and the music reflects that. The Jazz Age saw an explosion in the popularity of jazz, which was widely seen as the epitome of the new, modern age.

The first commercial recordings of jazz were made in 1917, but it was in the 1920s that the music really took off. The rise of radio meant that people could listen to jazz in their homes, and the records were becoming increasingly popular. By 1927, there were over a thousand different jazz recordings available.

There were many different styles of jazz being played in the 1920s, but some of the most popular were New Orleans Jazz, Chicago Jazz, and Dixieland. Louis Armstrong was one of the most famous musicians of this era, and his influence can still be felt today.

The 1920s was also a time when many white musicians began to take an interest in jazz. Although it had originally been seen as a black man’s music, it was now becoming increasingly popular with white audiences. This led to a merging of styles, and to what is known as “mainstream” or “commercial” jazz.


In conclusion, jazz music in the 1920s was a time of great innovation and creativity. Musicians were pushing the boundaries of what was possible on their instruments, and they were also experimenting with new ways of arranging and performing music. The result was a unique and exciting style of music that still has a strong influence on music today.

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