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. 

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Jazz in 1900 - 1910

Louis Armstrong
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. 

Photo of Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Redferns / Getty Images

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.  More »

Jazz
An unidentified band plays some jazz onstage at an unidentified venue in Chicago, ca.1920s. Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

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.  More »

Benny Goodman And Band
Clarinetist Benny Goodman stands in front of his big band at an unidentified venue in Chicago, ca.1930s. Goodman, who learned jazz music in Chicago's South Side clubs, went on to lead the Big Band Swing craze of the 1930s. Chicago History Museum / Getty Images

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. More »

Marquee For Dizzy Gillespie At The Strand
The marquee for the bill of the movie 'The Decision of Christopher Blake' starring Alexis Smith and Robert Douglas with Dizzy Gillespie and his Be-Bop Orchestra, Maxine Sullivan, Deep River Boys, Berry Brothers and Spider Bruce with Charles Ray and Vivian Harris at the Strand Theater on Broadway on December 10, 1948 in New York, New York. Donaldson Collection / Getty Images

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.  More »

Miles Davis
American jazz trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991) rehearses in the studios of radio station WMGM for a session with the Metronome Jazz All-Stars in 1951 in New York City. Metronome / Getty Images

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