CHICAGO JAZZ by William Howland Kenney


A Cultural History, 1904-1930
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 Cultural history of early Chicago jazz, less anecdotal than social, told in an impersonal voice that distances the reader from the music but strives to dig beneath an ``isolated world of instrumental mastery, chord progressions, and orchestral formations and disintegrations.'' A rousing history of Chicago jazz that buries its nose in the fumes and funk of the cafes and dance halls, in other words, is not what one gets here--or, rather, is what one gets only when Kenney (American Studies/Kent State) quotes leading figures in their own voices. Instead of that, though, the author gives us mainly a richly researched overview of the social forces that brought about and then supported Chicago jazz. A huge prewar and postwar emigration of blacks from the South to the greater freedoms of Chicago created a market for the music they brought with them. The story becomes a survey of South Side theaters, black newspapers, and cafes, cabarets, and dance halls with ever-changing names, the most famous being the Dreamland, the Royal Garden, and the Sunset Cafe. With the more commercialized and technically more arranged new bands, recording companies sprang up: Kenney scans the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and Bix Beiderbecke's Wolverines on Gennett Records, Coon Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra on Victor, Louis Armstrong's Hot Fives and Sevens on Okeh and Columbia, and so on through dozens of lesser bands. In 1927, Armstrong broke the color barrier in the Loop by leading a band at the Blackhawk Restaurant, though at that time black jazz-players were still fighting to get into the musicians' union. Kenney follows the evolution of black South Side jazz through the influx of the tough but joyous freedom of white jazz into the early 30's and the ``syncopated threnody'' he terms the end of Chicago's jazz age. A worthy bringing-back of Chicago's Roaring Twenties, with the jazz history layered like beds of coal beneath the phonograph recordings. (Twenty halftones)

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-19-506453-4
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993


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