Chapter 32. Between the World Wars: Jazz and Popular Music

Chapter Outline



The period between World Wars I and II saw a remarkable series of changes in musical life and continued diversification in musical styles. The spread of phonographs, improved recording techniques, and the new technologies of radio and sound films fostered a mass market for music in sound as well as in notation. Classical concert music and opera remained the most prestigious musical traditions, but the varieties of popular music were better known and usually more lucrative. Especially prominent were trends from the United States, notably jazz. Music, always an accompaniment to “silent” movies, became an integral part of sound films, and composers of opera, classical concert music, musicals, and popular songs all found a place in the movie industry. Styles of classical music grew ever more varied, as composers responded in individual ways to musical trends from modernism to the avant-garde, and to political and economic conditions in their respective nations. After examining the historical background to the period, we will focus in this chapter on developments in popular music between the wars, especially in the United States. In the next chapter, we will address the classical tradition. 

Chapter Outline: 

  1. Musical Changes
    1. Phonographs, radios, and movies fostered a mass market for popular music.
      1. The varieties of popular music, especially jazz, were lucrative.
      2. Music, both classical and popular, became an integral part of sound films.
      3. Movie musicals were popular.
    2. Classical concert music and opera remained the most prestigious types of music.
      1. Styles of classical music grew more varied.
      2. Composers continued to respond to both modernism and the avant-garde.
  2. Between the Wars
    1. World War I left Western society profoundly disillusioned.
      1. New technology had produced staggering losses; over nine million soldiers were killed.
      2. The economies of many countries were ruined.
      3. A worldwide influenza epidemic killed twenty million people in 1918.
      4. Music, especially popular music, provided an escape.
      5. Interest also grew in music composed before 1750.
    2. Changes in European nations
      1. Several of the traditional empires were brought to an end, and a number of European countries gained independence.
      2. Radical Marxist revolutionaries created the Soviet Union in 1917.
      3. Other dictatorships were established in Italy, Spain, and Germany.
      4. Anti-Semitic laws in Germany forced many Jewish writers, composers, and scholars to emigrate.
    3. Written documentation from Mesopotamia
      1. While European countries faced economic hardships, the United States and Canada enjoyed a financial boom.
      2. The stock market of 1929 sparked a worldwide depression.
      3. Germany invaded Poland in 1939, beginning World War II.
      4. Women gained the right to vote in several nations, including the United States, and they had greater access to careers.
    4. The arts
      1. The 1920s saw extensive experimentation in the arts.
        1. Writers explored new literary techniques.
        2. New movements developed in art, such as dadism and surrealism.
        3. Architects explored less decorated forms.
      2. In the 1930s, many artists created more accessible works due to the depression (see HWM Figure 32.1).
        1. Composers hoped to catch the imagination of ordinary working people.
        2. Artists often addressed social issues.
  3. Technology’s Impact on Music
    1. Recordings allowed performances to be preserved and replayed many times.
      1. A new mass market was created that enabled some performers to become international stars.
      2. Songwriters and bandleaders began creating three- to four-minute works that would fit on the side of a record.
      3. The introduction of electronic recording in 1925 (replacing acoustic recording) allowed for more sensitive recordings and encouraged a more intimate style of singing, as heard with Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra.
    2. Radio broadcasts provided new opportunities for musicians.
      1. By 1924, there were over 1,400 radio stations around North America.
      2. Recordings were too poor in quality to be broadcast, so radio stations employed musicians.
        1. Radio stations sponsored orchestras, such as the BBC Symphony Orchestra (founded 1930) in London and the NBC Symphony Orchestra (1937) in New York.
        2. Dance bands, such as Benny Goodman and his band, were given wide exposure on the radio.
      3. Recordings and radio provided widespread dissemination of classical and popular music.
  4. American Musical Theater
    1. Popular music entered a productive era in the 1920s.
      1. A variety of stage shows enjoyed great popularity.
        1. Revues and vaudeville
        2. Operetta and musicals
      2. The Golden Age of Tin Pan Alley extended from 1920 to 1955, when rock and roll brought an end to the sheet music industry.
      3. In the 1920s, developments of popular song and theater were interlinked.
        1. Publishers increasingly relied on recordings to popularize their works.
        2. Hollywood musicals became another venue for songwriters.
    2. Revues
      1. Vaudeville shows, with a loose collection of variety acts, remained popular.
      2. In larger cities like New York, high-quality productions called revues featured musical numbers and included many performers.
      3. The premier series of revues was the Ziegfeld Follies, created by Florenz Ziegfeld.
      4. Important song composers, including Irving Berlin, wrote for revues.
    3. Musicals
      1. Several new operettas were successful in the 1920s, including Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince.
      2. The popularity of musicals soon overshadowed operetta.
      3. Some musicals were vehicles for star performers and had loose plots.
      4. Increasingly, more musicals featured strong dramatic stories.
      5. Show Boat (1927), with music by Jerome Kern and text and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, was an enormous success (see HWM Figure 32.2).
        1. It brought together a number of traditions and musical styles.
        2. The score is operatic in scope with referential themes.
        3. The plot deals with serious social issues, such as racism and miscegenation.
  5. Popular Song
    1. The Golden Age of Tin Pan Alley
      1. By 1910, several types of Tin Pan Alley songs had solidified, including waltz, ragtime, and novelty songs.
      2. Most songs had a standard form:
        1. One or more verses
        2. A chorus of thirty-two measures in an AABA, ABAB, or ABAC pattern
      3. The focus was on the chorus, which had the most memorable melodic ideas.
    2. Irving Berlin (1888-1989)
      1. The Russian-born son of a Jewish cantor, Irving Berlin wrote both music and lyrics for his songs.
      2. His lengthy career made him one of the most prolific and best-loved popular songwriters.
      3. He composed songs for revues, movies, and musicals.
      4. Among his best-known songs are:
        1. God Bless America
        2. White Christmas
        3. Alexander’s Ragtime Band, which established his reputation as America’s chief ragtime composer
    3. Cole Porter (1891-1964)
      1. Porter also wrote both music and lyrics for his songs.
      2. He studied music at Yale, Harvard, and the Schola Cantorum in Paris.
      3. Porter wrote exclusively for theater and Hollywood musicals.
      4. His lyrics are urbane and sophisticated and revel in innuendo.
      5. Among his best-known songs are:
        1. Let’s Do It
        2. It’s De-lovely
        3. You’re the Top
  6. Blues
    1. General
      1. Revues, musicals, and Tin Pan Alley continued traditions that had begun in Europe.
      2. African-American music and musicians played an increasingly larger role in American musical life.
      3. The 1920s, known as “The Jazz Age,” produced two related traditions of African-American origin: blues and jazz.
      4. The origin of the blues is obscure.
      5. Lyrics
        1. The words describe disappointments, mistreatment, or other troubles.
        2. A sense of defiance and a will to survive are also conveyed.
        3. Touches of humor are common.
      6. Music
        1. Melodic contours and syncopation express the feelings of the words.
        2. Distinctive vocal or instrumental effects evoke the sound of a person expressing pain, sorrow, or frustration.
        3. Blues often featured flattened or bent notes on the third, fifth, and seventh scale degrees called blue notes.
      7. Two types of blues developed: classic blues and Delta blues.
    2. Classic blues
      1. Classic blues were sung primarily by African-American women.
      2. The accompaniment was typically a piano or a small combo.
      3. Mamie Smith’s recording of Crazy Blues (1920), the first blues recording by an African-American singer, sold 75,000 copies within months.
      4. Her success prompted record companies to market their products to black audiences.
      5. W. C. Handy (1873-1958), known as the “father of the blues,” introduced sheet music forms of blues songs as early as 1912.
      6. With his publications, Handy solidified the standard twelve-bar blues form.
    3. Back Water Blues (1927) by Bessie Smith illustrates this form (see NAWM 149 and HWM Example 32.1).
      1. Bessie Smith (1894-1937; see HWM Figure 32.3)
        1. Smith wrote the lyrics and the music after a Nashville flood in 1926.
        2. The recording, marketed after another flood in Mississippi in 1927, became one of her best-known records.
      2. Each poetic stanza has three lines.
        1. The second stanza typically restates the first.
        2. The third completes the thought with the same or similar rhyme.
      3. Each line of text has four measures of music with a set harmonic pattern.
        1. The first phrase remains in the tonic.
        2. The second phrase begins in the subdominant and ends in the tonic.
        3. The third phrase touches on the dominant, subdominant, and tonic.
      4. Following a brief piano introduction, each of the seven stanzas follows the same form and general melodic outline.
      5. Blue notes and syncopated melodic inflections can be heard in the performance.
      6. The vocal melody cadences in the third measure of each phrase, allowing for a call and response interchange with the pianist, James P. Johnson.
      7. Possible links to African music include:
        1. Improvisations on a simple formula
        2. Syncopation
        3. Repetition of short patterns
        4. Bent pitches
        5. Call and response
    4. Delta blues
      1. Delta blues came form the Mississippi Delta region.
      2. It is primarily associated with male African-American singers and guitarists.
      3. Delta blues was more directly rooted in oral tradition and hence exhibited more variety than the classic blues.
      4. Archivists, such as Alan Lomax, traveled to remote rural areas and recorded blues artists.
        1. These recordings gave blues singers national recognition.
        2. The singing style is rough, rich in timbre and nuance, and rhythmically flexible.
        3. Each section alternates voice and guitar in the style of call and response.
      5. Many Mississippi Delta blues singers moved to Chicago, where they would influence future generations of performers.
      6. The legacy of Robert Johnson (1911-1938) extended into the 1960s, when British rock musicians rediscovered his recordings.
  7. Jazz
    1. Jazz in the 1920s
      1. Jazz was established in the 1910s, and its popularity grew rapidly.
      2. Distinctive features of 1920s jazz
        1. Syncopated rhythms
        2. Novel vocal and instrumental sounds
        3. Unbridled spirit that seemingly mocks social and musical properties
        4. Improvisation
      3. Jazz was a performer’s art; the recording industry and radio fostered growth and dissemination.
    2. New Orleans jazz
      1. Named after the city where it originated, New Orleans jazz was the dominant jazz type just after World War I.
      2. New Orleans jazz style
        1. It improvises on a twelve-bar blues, a sixteen-measure strain from ragtime, or a thirty-two bar popular song form (usually AABA).
        2. The tune is presented initially over a given harmonic progression.
        3. The harmonic progression is repeated with various soloists and combinations of soloists playing over it.
        4. Each repetition is called a chorus.
        5. Each chorus features different instruments and new ideas, creating a theme-and-variations form.
        6. The style recalls the call and response and ecstatic outpourings of the African-American gospel tradition
      3. Leading musicians include:
        1. Joe “King” Oliver (1885-1938), cornet
        2. Louis Armstrong (1901-1971), trumpet
        3. Jelly Roll Morton (1890-1941), piano
    3. King Oliver and Louis Armstrong
      1. King Oliver moved to Chicago in 1918 and formed his own band in 1920.
      2. In 1922, Armstrong joined King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
      3. They made some of the most important recordings in jazz history (see HWM Figure 32.4).
      4. Armstrong later formed his own band called the Hot Five or Hot Seven.
    4. West End Blues (see NAWM 150 and HWM Example 32.2)
      1. West End Blues, composed by King Oliver with lyrics by Clarence Williams, is a twelve-bar blues.
      2. The published sheet music (NAWM 150a) adapts the blues to Tin Pan Alley verse-refrain form.
        1. The brief piano introduction includes a vamp.
        2. The verse presents one statement of a twelve-bar blues progression.
        3. The refrain has two successive statements of the twelve-bar blues.
        4. For each blues statement, Oliver composes a new melody and varies the harmony slightly.
      3. Armstrong recorded this song in 1928 with his Hot Five in Chicago.
        1. Melody instruments: trumpet, clarinet, and trombone
        2. Rhythm section: drums, piano, and banjo
      4. The recording maintains the blues form (NAWM 150b).
        1. Armstrong plays an introduction, which is followed by five choruses.
        2. In the first, Armstrong plays the tune with increasing acrobatics.
        3. The second features the trombone.
        4. In the third, the clarinet alternates in call and response with Armstrong.
        5. Armstrong sings syllables instead of playing, a technique that is known as scat singing.
        6. The piano solos on the fourth chorus.
        7. The entire ensemble plays during the fifth chorus.
    5. Big bands
      1. A fashion for larger bands began in the 1920s, partially due to larger performance spaces.
      2. Many African-American and white musicians formed “big bands.”
      3. The typical big band of the 1930s was divided into brass, reeds, and rhythm sections.
        1. Brasses might include three trumpets and two trombones.
        2. Reeds consisted of clarinets and saxophones.
        3. The rhythm section had piano, drums, guitar, and double bass.
      4. The sections interacted as units and alternated as soloists.
      5. Although there was still improvisation, much of the material was written by an arranger.
      6. Arrangements led to more sophisticated ensemble playing and more complex harmonies.
      7. Some arrangers adapted sounds of modern classical music, including seventh chords, added sixth chords, and chromatic harmonies.
      8. The typical big band also featured a vocalist.
      9. The combination of stylish arrangements with jazz rhythms produced a music that became known as swing.
      10. The number of swing bands exploded in the 1930s, a time when white bands established themselves more easily than African-American bands.
    6. George Gershwin (see HWM Figure 32.5)
      1. Gershwin used jazz and blues to add new dimensions to art music.
      2. Rhapsody in Blue (1924) was billed as a “jazz concerto.”
        1. It premiered at an extravagant concert organized by Paul Whiteman.
        2. It is scored for piano and jazz ensemble.
        3. It incorporates popular song forms, blue notes, and other jazz elements.
        4. The work became very popular.
      3. Gershwin continued in this direction with his Concerto in F (1925), whose second movement is constructed over a twelve-bar blues pattern stretched into a sixteen-measure theme.
      4. Porgy and Bess (1935)
        1. Written for an African-American cast, Gershwin called this work a folk opera.
        2. Elements are drawn from both operatic and Broadway traditions.
        3. The music is continuous and features recurring motives, as found in opera.
        4. African-American idioms include spirituals, blues, and jazz.
      5. Gershwin also wrote popular songs for both revues and musicals.
      6. He wrote songs for Of Thee I Sing (1931), which was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
      7. His music helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Ethel Merman.
    7. I Got Rhythm by George Gershwin (NAWM 151)
      1. The song was composed for the Broadway musical Girl Crazy (1930).
        1. The show introduced Ginger Rogers and Ethel Merman, who later recorded this song.
        2. The song became an instant hit and a vehicle for later jazz improvisations.
      2. The song is in the standard Tin Pan Alley form: a verse and a thirty-two-bar chorus
        1. The chorus has phrases in an AABA’ pattern.
        2. Typical of the time, there is only one verse, and the chorus is repeated.
        3. The verse begins in G minor and goes to B-flat major.
        4. The chorus begins in B-flat major, goes to D major in the “bridge” section, and then returns to B-flat through the circle of fifths.
      3. The lyrics by Gershwin’s brother Ira are fresh, catchy, and full of slang.
    8. Jazz in Europe
      1. In the 1920s, jazz spread quickly throughout North America, Latin America, and Europe.
      2. Europeans were exposed to jazz through imported recordings, sheet music, and traveling jazz ensembles.
      3. African-American musician soldiers in Europe during World War I helped to introduce the style.
      4. By the 1930s, a European jazz tradition was well established, and jazz was a frequent subject in European literature and arts (see HWM Figure 32.6).
      5. Django Reinhardt (1910-1953)
        1. The gypsy guitarist formed the Quintette du Hot Club de France, one of the most successful and innovative jazz bands in Europe.
        2. Reinhardt blended jazz with the traditions of gypsy music.
      6. Gershwin also wrote popular songs for both revues and musicals.
      7. He wrote songs for Of Thee I Sing (1931), which was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama.
      8. His music helped launch the careers of numerous stars, including Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, and Ethel Merman.
    9. Duke Ellington (1899-1974) (see HWM biography, page 860, and Figure 32.7)
      1. Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) Ellington is the most important composer of jazz to date.
      2. Biography
        1. Ellington was born in Washington, D. C., the son of a White House butler.
        2. He studied piano, including ragtime, from the age of seven.
        3. In 1923 he went to New York with his band, the Washingtonians, where he played on Broadway and in Harlem at the famous Cotton Club, and made recordings.
        4. Seen as a national treasure, he made several international tours sponsored by the U. S. State Department.
      3. Cotton Club period (1927-31)
        1. In Harlem, the Cotton Club offered alcohol and entertainment by black performers; it catered to white audiences.
        2. Here Ellington developed his individual style and began to gain national recognition.
        3. The stability of this environment allowed Ellington to experiment.
        4. He created longer jazz works, such as Creole Rhapsody and Reminiscing in Tempo.
        5. Ellington moved the group towards greater reliance on arrangements.
        6. He often crafted his numbers around specific performers.
      4. Ellington and his band began touring in 1931.
      5. The band grew in size to reach eighteen performers by 1946.
      6. Many of Ellington’s works were sold as popular songs, such as Sophisticated Lady and Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.
      7. Ellington reached a creative peak in the early 1940s, when he added three important new members to his band:
        1. Jimmie Blanton on bass
        2. Ben Webster on tenor saxophone
        3. Billy Strayhorn as second pianist, composer, and arranger; he produced a number of standards such as Take the A Train (1941)
      8. Cotton Tail (1940; see NAWM 152 and HWM Example 32.3)
        1. Ellington composed the work to showcase Blanton and Webster.
        2. It follows the standard jazz form: a tune, given at the beginning, is followed by a series of choruses.
        3. The tune is composed over the harmonic progression of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm (NAWM 151), a technique that is called contrafact.
        4. Ellington’s tune is quite distinct from Gershwin’s melody.
        5. The first two choruses feature Ben Webster on tenor saxophone accompanied by the rhythm section.
        6. Webster does not vary the tune, but creates new ideas over the given progressions.
        7. The remaining three choruses present various combinations of instruments in a call-and-response fashion.
        8. Ellington’s tune returns at the end of the work
      9. Ellington considered his music as “beyond category”; jazz was both entertainment and art music.
      10. He pushed the time limits of recordings, composed suites, and created jazz versions of classical favorites, such as Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker.
  8. Film Music
    1. Sound film changed the role of music in film.
      1. The Jazz Singer (1927), the first “talking picture,” included several scenes of Al Jolson singing.
      2. Two categories of music can be heard in film.
        1. Diegetic music, or source music, is music that is heard or performed by the characters themselves.
        2. Nondiegetic music, or underscoring, is background music that conveys a mood or other aspects of a scene or character.
      3. The advent of sound put theater musicians out of work, but by the mid-1930s Hollywood studios employed composers and other musicians.
    2. Both dramas and comedies included musical numbers.
      1. Der blaue Engel (The Blue Angel, 1930) featured Marlene Dietrich’s signature song, Falling in Love Again.
      2. Hollywood began producing numerous musicals.
      3. Romberg, Gershwin, Berlin, Kern, and Porter all wrote musicals during the Golden Age of the Hollywood musical.
      4. Some musicals were enlivened by the spectacular choreography of Busby Berkeley.
      5. Many performers became stars through musicals, such The Wizard of Oz (1939), which launched the career of Judy Garland.
    3. Film scores
      1. In Hollywood, film scores were integrated into the dramatic action.
      2. Max Steiner (1888-1971), an immigrant from Vienna, became one of the foremost composers in Hollywood.
        1. He established the model for Hollywood film scoring with his music for King Kong (1933; see HWM Figure 32.8).
        2. In this film, Steiner uses leitmotives for characters and ideas and coordinates the music with actions onscreen.
        3. Steiner composed into the 1960s, and his scores include Gone with the Wind (1939) and Casablanca (1943).
      3. Other major film composers in Hollywood
        1. Erich Wolfgang Korngold (1897-1957), from Vienna: The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938)
        2. Alfred Newman (1900-1970), the first major American-born film composer: Wuthering Heights, The Song of Bernadette, How the West Was Won, Airport
      4. Animations also featured strong musical accompaniments.
        1. Carl Stalling created music for Disney-Steamboat Willie (1928) was the first sound cartoon-and later for Warner Brothers (Looney Tunes).
        2. Disney created the first feature-length animation, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937), with a score by Frank Churchill.
  9. New Canons of Classics
    1. American popular music, jazz, and film music reached audiences around the world.
    2. Since the music could now be preserved, new classics were created.
      1. By 1970, classic canons had developed for popular song, blues, jazz, and film music.
      2. These canons parallel those of classical music that developed in the nineteenth century.
      3. Like much of the traditional classical repertory, the new classics were largely created by performers.

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