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[Detail] Louis Armstrong, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947

Introduction | Jazz in the 1930s | Jazz in the 1940s

Jazz in the 1940s

U.S. entry into World War II had a major impact on jazz. Many musicians were drafted or enlisted; to fill the musical void, a number of bands made up completely of women sprang up around the country. Some musicians took their bands overseas to entertain the troops, while still others sold war bonds and performed concerts to raise funds for the war. At the same time, curfews and high entertainment taxes closed many of the venues in which jazz musicians played; rubber and gas rations made it virtually impossible for musicians to tour by bus. A disagreement between the musicians' union and the record companies led to a two-year recording ban during the war.

While the war raged, prejudice flared at home. The integrated Savoy ballroom was closed to keep black servicemen off the dance floor. Fights provoked by prejudice were common. Segregation and discrimination continued after the war.

In the May 27, 1947, issue of Down Beat, William Gottlieb asked several musicians, "Has Southern Hospitality improved since the end of the war?" He received the following response from Cab Calloway: "Let me put it this way. This is one Cab that still won't drive south of the Mason Dixon line unless there's a sweet beat to the meter and no other fares handy."

Read the other responses to Gottlieb's question and consider these questions:

  • Summarize the responses from the five musicians interviewed by Gottlieb.
  • Which musicians avoided playing in the South? What were their reasons?
  • How did Duke Ellington avoid potential problems in the South? What do you think Norman Granz might have said to Ellington about his willingness to play the South?
  • What do these comments suggest about the state of race relations in the southern United States in the late 1940s?

These views on the South contrast sharply with the views expressed when Gottlieb asked several musicians the following question: "How have you liked working outside the USA?" Tyree Glenn responded:

Working overseas [in Europe] was a ball. People are very appreciative. They treat our music respectfully. Living is so pleasant, too. Except in the American zone of occupied Germany, Europeans showed no race prejudice. I'd have stayed there if it hadn't been so difficult getting money out to my family.

From "Down Beat magazine (July 16, 1947)"

  • What did jazz musicians of the 1940s enjoy about working in other countries?
  • What challenges did these musicians find in working overseas? Why might European nations have made sending money out of their countries difficult?

The 1940s also marked changes in jazz. Perhaps in reaction to the simpler and more composed swing, musicians developed bebop, a form of jazz not intended as accompaniment for dancing. Instead, the audience was expected to listen carefully to the complex melodies and harmonies accompanied by a new style of drumming. Groups playing bebop were smaller than the large swing orchestras. Such musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Charlie Parker were leaders in the evolution of bebop.

What exactly was bebop? William Gottlieb twice devoted his "Posin'" column in Down Beat to the question—in April 1947 and again in September of that year. Read the responses in both columns:

  • Based on these responses, what characteristics distinguish be-bop from swing-style jazz?
  • What reasons did critics of be-bop give for disliking the new approach? How typical do you think their attitude is to a change in an art form? Can you think of similar responses to the development of other new musical forms?

The geography of jazz also changed after the war. The continued growth of the movie industry and the emerging technology of television provided work for musicians, many of whom moved from Eastern and Midwestern cities to the West Coast. In the August 13, 1947, Down Beat, Gottlieb asked musicians in New York and Hollywood, "Will Hollywood replace New York as the nation's music center?" Perhaps not surprisingly, the respondents did not agree:

Andy Russell: All top musicians are migrating to the coast, including guys who have been in New York for years. When name bands break up, where do the men go? California. . . I suppose it's the easy, pleasant life and the lower cost of living that makes the coast attractive.

Skitch Henderson: New York is still IT. . . . As for popular music, except for Capitol records, there is no major institution in Hollywood. When someone like Sinatra really wants to be seen, he comes to the Waldorf. Me, too. It's the eastern spots that count.

From "Down Beat magazine (Aug. 13, 1947)"

  • What evidence did the musicians give to justify their answers to this question? Which pieces of evidence are most convincing to you in terms of whether Hollywood was replacing New York as the nation's music center?
  • What criteria would you use to decide if a city is a "music center" or an important center of jazz music? Which cities would meet your criteria?

Although "girl bands" formed when male musicians were serving in the military during World War II, women's role in jazz over the course of the period covered in the collection was somewhat limited. Women generally were vocalists or played instruments considered more feminine, such as the piano or harp. William Gottlieb revealed something of the attitudes of the time when he reviewed a performance by the musician Dardanelle:

Watching Dardanelle brings [Lionel] Hampton to mind in more ways than vibraphone playing. Mostly it's the mutual versatility of the pair . . . leading a unit, singing, playing piano and vibes. . . . Unfortunately, this rushing about from one instrument to another, directing musicians, singing to the crowd and so forth is not as becoming to a delicate young girl as it is to a muscular, sweating male. The frenzy is incongruous to Dardanelle while it's a spectacular selling point for Hamp.

From "Down Beat magazine (June 17, 1946)"

When asked if she would want her children to become musicians, Dardanelle responded:

It's a vicious racket. I don't mean the part of being a girl in a man's business. Boy or girl, you've got to play piano with one hand and either throw or ward off baseball bats with the other. I'd like my future children to know music. It's a great thing. But when you make it your business, the joy of music flies off.

From "Down Beat magazine (Feb. 26, 1947)"

What do you conclude about attitudes toward women in jazz from these two quotations? Find more evidence in the collection to support your conclusion.