Chicago Jazz Scene from then to now!

Starting just a couple of years before the end of World War I until the end of the roaring 20s, there was a great influx of southern African-Americans into Chicago known as ‘The Great They were trying to escape the discrimination and poverty of the South and once the war ended, there was a huge demand for workers in the factories around the city. ‘The Great Migration’ brought jazz to the Windy City.

The Color of Controversy:

Chicago already had a flourishing African-American population on the South Side. The entertainment district of Chicago’s South Side was known popularly as ‘The Stroll’ and the area became famous for the jazz clubs. At first, the style of jazz played in Chicago was very controversial. Often called ‘Negro music’ in a time where segregation was considered the norm, many whites looked down their noses at jazz.

Then a funny thing happened – white musicians saw past the color barriers and let the music speak to their souls. They were drawn to the sound that was so different from the popular music of the time. There came a time where you could walk down ‘The Stroll’ on any given night and see many white musicians in the clubs, learning how to play jazz from the masters.

Prohibition Helps Jazz Grow:

When prohibition hit in 1920, little did anyone know that it would help spread ‘Negro music’ and be the start of jazz spreading into mainstream America. Chicago was practically ruled by mobsters during the 1920’s and a major part of the mob’s revenues were from gambling and alcohol. Speakeasies were widespread and entertainment was part of the allure, so the jazzmen who’d flooded the city since WW I had no lack of work.

While white musicians were drawn to the ‘hot’ jazz played by the African-American jazzmen, it was looked down on by the general population. More surprisingly, even many in the African-American community wanted to distance themselves from jazz. As the black population became more affluent than they had in the past, many began to strive to fit into the same mold as the white population. They felt that they had to distance themselves from the ‘Negro music’ roots of jazz.

Jazz Gets Sweeter:

This triggered the first major evolution in jazz music as both white and black musicians started toning down the harsher notes and rhythms it had in the past. As a result, a new form of jazz was developed called ‘sweet’ jazz. This form of the music still had the main jazz elements but with overtones of the popular music of the day. ‘Sweet’ jazz appealed to a broader section of the community and it began to spread across the country like wildfire.

Still a Strong Jazz Presence in Chicago

After the Depression, jazz was not as popular in Chicago, although it never totally died out. The center of jazz innovation moved to New York City but Chicago continued to have some very fine jazz clubs along ‘The Stroll’ as well as other parts of the city. In part as a tribute to those jazz roots, the Chicago Jazz Festival has been held every summer for over 30 years. Some of the most famous jazz musicians of all time have played at the festival including Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald.