At a Glance: Jazz History

One Decade at a Time

Jazz has only been around for about 100 years, but in that time, it has shifted shapes numerous times. Read about the advancements made in jazz in the decades since 1900, and how the art has transmuted in response to cultural changes in America. 

Jazz in 1900 - 1910

Louis Armstrong
Keystone / Stringer/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Jazz was still in its pupal stage in the first decade of the 20th century. Some of the first jazz icons, trumpeters Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke, were born in 1901 and 1903, respectively. Inspired by ragtime music, they played music that valued self expression, and in the early part of the century, began to capture the nation's attention. 

Jazz in 1910 - 1920

Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Courtesy of RCA Records

between 1910 and 1920, the seeds of jazz began to take root. New Orleans, the vibrant and chromatic port city in which ragtime was based, was home to a number of budding musicians and a new style. In 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made what some consider the first jazz album ever recorded. 

Jazz in 1920 - 1930

Courtesy of ABC Music

The decade between 1920 and 1930 marked many crucial events in jazz. It all started with the prohibition of alcohol in 1920. Rather than quell drinking, the act simply forced it into speakeasies and private residences, and inspired a wave of jazz-accompanied and booze-fueled rent parties. 

Jazz in 1930 - 1940

Jazz Saxophonist Lester Young
Courtesy of Blue Note Records

By 1930, the Great Depression had befallen the nation. However, jazz music was resilient. While businesses, including the record industry, were failing, dance halls were packed with people dancing the jitterbug to the music of big bands, which would come to be called swing music.

Jazz in 1940 - 1950

Charlie Parker Jazz Saxophone
Courtesy of JSP Records

The 1940s saw the onset of American involvement in World War II, and partially as a result, the rise of bebop and the decline of swing. 

Jazz in 1950 - 1960

Miles Davis Jazz Trumpet
Courtesy of Blue Note Records

Jazz took off in the 1950s, and became a diverse, forward-looking, and sophisticated music.