100 Years of Jazz: The Prohibition

The Prohibition

Blog by Louise Balkwill

As what we have come to know as “Traditional Jazz” grew in popularity and spread from New Orleans across the whole of America, new inventions and political changes also began to shape the music.

The Prohibition in the United States of America (a constitutional ban on all alcohol in America between 1920 and 1933) kick-started the “Jazz Age” and made way for a new secret night life culture, where people would find any way they could to smuggle, brew or distil their own alcoholic drinks.

Hoagy Carmichael, one of the great 20th century composers, said that the prohibition “came with a bang of bad booze, flappers with bare legs, jangled morals and wild weekends.” According to novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, during Prohibition, “The parties were bigger…the pace was faster…and the morals were looser.”

Jazz music became the popular music of the day among the young and ‘hip’ crowds, many of whom were at the forefront of the rebellion. They would meet in secret clubs, “speakeasies”, to eat, drink and dance all night long to the ever-growing variety of live jazz music that had become an important part of the youth culture of the day.

Because jazz music became associated with seedy illicit bars, alcohol culture and crime, and because racism was still so rife, the white middle class saw jazz as a dark, rebellious and uncouth genre.

This didn’t stop the musicians of the 1920’s – they continued to compose and play music that has since become timeless, shaping all popular music to follow it.

Check out this 1927 recording of “Potato Head Blues” by the great Louis Armstrong’s “Hot Fives and Sevens”

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