If New Orleans is credited with being the birthplace of jazz, the “Windy City” with further spreading it throughout America, then we can safely say that New York is responsible for refining it and making it a worldwide recognized musical genre and phenomenon.
New York City is still considered the capital of the jazz, with new talent pouring in from not only the United States but also every other corner of the world. Anyone who is looking to make it on the scene knows that Manhattan is the place to be. But, contrary to popular belief, this wasn’t always the case.
Early Period And The Jazz Age
The early 1920’s marked the beginning of prohibition in the United States, but also the massive rise in popularity of jazz. The time frame was famously known as the “Jazz Age” and F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of America’s greatest writers, even published a book titled “Tales of the Jazz Age”. This was when Chicago was on top of the scene, but New York was ready to steal the show with more and more performers flocking to Manhattan to take advantage of its nightlife which was blooming in spite of the prohibition.
With alcohol being illegal at the time, the only places who were serving it were secret or underground nightclubs and bars – known as speakeasies. These establishments started hosting new and exciting jazz performances and introduced the genre to the masses. Probably one of the most famous clubs at the time was The Cotton Club, located in Harlem.
Regular performers included Fletcher Henderson and his bend, who also introduced Louis Armstrong to audiences in the Big Apple. Jazz evolved in New York with the first piano style, also known as “Harlem Stride”, being incorporated into it. Duke Ellington, a famous composer, and piano virtuoso moved from D.C. to New York in order to pursue fame and try his luck in the emerging jazz scene.
Later on in the 1930s, he greatly influenced the “Swing era” which saw jazz making the shift to big bands and large ensembles. This made room for Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald – both legendary jazz singers – to break into the scene.
The Modern Era Of New York City’s Jazz History
“Bebop” represents a very important part of New York City’s Jazz History. While swing was all about big bands, bebop shifted to smaller ensembles – usually a trio, quartet or quintet. With bebop focusing more on improvisation, faster tempo and technique, Jazz inevitably moved away from a dance-oriented style – consequently hurting its commercial value – to a more challenging style that showcased the musician’s prowess.
This innovative and fresh style was considered radical at the time with its exploration of original licks, chord progressions and improvisations. Notable practitioners of bebop include Charlie Parker, who took his talents from Kansas City to New York; Dizzy Gillespie and his signature trumpet with a 45-degree bent horn; Thelonious Monk – who was a genius of improvisations – and many more. Jazz was going through one of its most fruitful and revolutionary periods which further led to the creation of a number of different new styles.
Hard bop, free jazz or avant-garde, cool jazz, and fusion were the dominant styles that rose to prominence. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman all made a name for themselves during this period.
While the genre has become more and more popular worldwide, New York still claims the title of being the epicenter of large jazz events and smaller, but equally important, happenings. An entire new wave of clubs and restaurants have regular performances on their repertoire, including our very own George’s at Kaufman. It’s safe to say that the future of this ever-evolving music genre is as bright as ever.