Among the myriad of cultural phenomena which proliferated and become immortalized to define the electric social atmosphere of the “roaring 20’s”, there is perhaps no better example of a form of artistic expression which at once defined and immortalized the social attitudes and realities faced by individuals living during the period than the genre of Jazz music. Jazz has undoubtedly had a fundamental impact on not only the evolution of artistic expression as seen through the birth of an innovative and vibrant form of musical composition, but also on the transformation of the social status quo of the period, as the genre itself was often portrayed as a form of rebellion from antiquated conservative perceptions of morality. Jazz was so influential as a socio-cultural medium of artistic expression during the 1920’s that the period is often referred to as the “Jazz age”, which is perceived as being synonymous with the phrase “roaring 20’s”. The Jazz age spawned a number of talented musicians, many of which have long since transcended into legend as fundamental pillars of archetypal Jazz composition and performance. These legends include musical icons such as Louis Armstrong, Bessie Smith, Sidney Bichet, Jelly Roll Morton and numerous others who, through their formative influence, helped cultivate and sculpt the young genre of Jazz into a world-renowned form of musical composition and artistic expression.
When discussing influential figures in the Jazz age who have helped to develop and define the genre through the impact of their contributions and role as cultural icons, one would be remiss not to mention the great Louis Armstrong. Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong, a New Orleans native, is credited as one of the founding figures of jazz as a genre in itself. Armstrong was the first influential jazz soloist to achieve worldwide fame and recognition for his performance as a trumpeter, soloist and entertainer. During the mid-1920’s, Armstrong began recording sessions with the “Hot Five” and “Hot Seven” groups, the recording of which would become immortalized as defining influences for Jazz composition during the period and beyond. (Swingmusic.net) Armstrong’s recording sessions and compositions such as those with the Hot Five and Hot Seven groups are credited as defining influences to the birth of the swing era of Jazz, which gained popularity in the U.S and beyond during the roaring 20’s.(Swingmusic.net)
Another fundamentally influential jazz musician who helped develop and define the genre of Jazz in the 1920’s was Bessie Smith, the proclaimed “empress of the Blues.” Smith’s talent and influence as an icon of Blues and Jazz has earned her recognition as the greatest classic Blues singer during the 1920’s and one of the greatest blues singers of all time. Smith’s soulful contralto and hypnotic showmanship propelled her from poverty as a street-side singer in her hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to become an international icon of classic Blues music. Smith first gained global renown as a blues singer through her debut album “Downhearted Blues” which was released by Columbia Records in 1923 and quickly propelled Smith into the limelight of pop culture by selling over 750,000 copies in 1923 alone.(Bessiesmithcc.org) Smith would continue to compose numerous other songs and works which have defined her legacy as a cultural icon, such as her rendition of “St. Louis Blues” a musical collaboration with Louis Armstrong which is widely considered to be one of the finest recordings of the 1920’s.
The period of the 1920’s was a defining decade for the genre of Jazz music, as the genre emerged as a global archetype of musical composition. The legitimacy of Jazz as a musical genre was solidified through the fundamentally influential contributions of such musical icons as Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith. The evidence of the cultural impact of Jazz on the social fabric of the 20’s, if not already evident, is made more clear through the interchangeability and synonymous nature of popular cultural references like like the “roaring 20’s” and the “Jazz age”.
"About Bessie Smith." Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Bessie Smith Cultural Center. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. http://www.bessiesmithcc.org/about/about-bessie-smith-2/
"Louis Armstrong Biography." Louis Armstrong Biography. SwingMusic.net. Web. 26 Apr. 2016. <http://www.swingmusic.net/ArmstrongLouis.html>.