JAZZ: KANSAS CITY AFTER-HOURS CLUBS IN THE 1930S & THEIR CONTRIBUTION TO JAZZ
The objective of this work is to examine the question of what would have happened to jazz if there had been a crackdown on illegal “after hour” clubs in Kansas City in the 1930s? Toward this end, this work will examine the literature in this area of study.
In the 1930s, while the rest of the United States and its cities were in the grips of The Depression, Kansas City was churning out jazz all night long. Kansas City was for all intents and purposes under the control of a local politician/mob boss/entrepreneur in the form of Jim Pendergrast who upon dying passed his power to his brother who was not as honest or ethical as Jim but who sustained an economic boom in Kansas City right in the middle of The Depression.
Where Did Jazz Get Its Versatility?
In order to understand how Kansas City and Jazz became so closely integrated it is necessary to understand that in the rural South and this is examined in the work of Nathan W. Pearson in the work entitled: “Goin to Kansas City” which relates that “Saturday night was often the time for six-day-a-week farmers to relax and attend a supper put on by a local family. For a small admission charge, people ate, drank, gambled, sang and danced to the music of the local songster — a musician who could satisfy nearly any song or dance request.” (Pearson, 1994) This versatility was that which “characterized most jazz bands of the twenties and thirties, their ability to play in a variety of styles enriched the music of that period and allowed the bands to find employment in a variety of settings.” (Pearson, 1994)
II. Social Elements Characterizing the Development of Jazz
The work of Lewis A. Erenberg entitled: “Swinging the Dream” states that the jazz musicians in the 1920s “between the poles of Harlem and Broadway, black and white” were referred to as “mongrels” which is an interracially forced musical vocabulary. (Erenberg, 1999) This music is stated to have been “forged by blacks and children of immigrants” and was a new music that was “unmediated by moralist and governmental desire to uplift the music” and served to form a new diverse and mixed culture and population “in the vernacular arts.” (Erenberg, 1999) Jazz is stated to have expressed for many individuals “a new model of pluralist democracy capable of challenging classical music for the mantle of cultural legitimacy and American national identity.” (Erenberg, 1999)
IV. The Jazz Revolution
The work of Ogren (1992) entitled “The Jazz Revolution” states that the audience for jazz in the 1930s was “inadvertently stimulated when Congress passed the “Volstead Act” which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1919. Illegal clubs operated underground and after hours and were “often tied to bootlegging ringsJazz was immediately associated with the carnal pleasures of the cabaret.” (Ogren, 1992)
III. Prohibition and Jazz Protestors
Supporters of prohibition based their campaign against alcohol sales and consumption on the preservation of “traditional American values.” (Ogren, 1992) The sights and sounds of the jazz band excited American youth who were “in revolt against what they saw as stuffy prewar society, and their critique joined that of young dissenters including writers and critics such as Malcom Cowley and Ernest Hemmingway. This generation was labeled “The Lost Generation” by some such as Gertrude Stein. (Ogren, 1992) Ogren states that jazz was “a powerful new music, characterized by syncopation, polyrhythms, improvisation, blue tonalities, and a strong beat.” (Ogren, 1992) Jazz took place during change and was derived from those changes on the social level.
V. Kansas City and The Rise of Jazz
During the era of prohibition Erenberg relates that dance halls and nightclubs folded one after the other all across the United States including the cities of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and “only Kansas City, protected by the Pendergrast machine, ran unchecked.
” The “decline of live entertainment adversely affected musicians” and the depression “also crippled the music business.” The sheet music business bottomed out in 1932 as did record sales. Erenberg relates that during the depression that Jazz was forced to a “collapse” in the surrounding territories however “Kansas City jazz flourished, attracting black musicians from the entire region to its nearly fifty mob-run night spots.” (1999)
VI. Kansas City Isolation Shaped Jazz
Somehow, and likely to the protection of the Pendergrast “the city (Kansas) and its music remained isolated from national jazz currents. The national media largely bypassed Kansas City, and as a result jazz performances continued as informal events dominated by the rituals and the interactions created by the musicians themselves.” (Erenberg, 1999) In addition this isolation experienced by Kansas City “shaped the music stylistically by deepening the influence of regional blues styles on the citys jazz bands and by favoring the jam session over performance, which served as the key element in the citys jazz culture.” (Erenberg, 1999)
VI. Fortune and Fame — Not a Consideration in Kansas City in the 1930s
Erenberg relates that the jazz musicians in Kansas City did not hold out hope for either fame nor did they hold out hope for fortune but instead “the cats just played” using the “continuous sessions as a way to test their manhood and their instrumental proficiency.” (1999) It was these jam sessions that “emphasized the sheer joy of playing with other musicians and kept alive the African-American tradition of spontaneous collective creation.” (Erenberg, 1999)
The work of Gunther Schuller entitled “The swing era: the development of jazz, 1930-1945” states that it has been “frequently pointed out by social and art historians that in period of great financial stress, such as a major economic depression, people tend to turn inward searching for deeper life values and means of spiritual fulfillment, rather than the pursuit of material acquisition.” (1991) Indeed during these such times people look for an escape and many times it is to music “and other cultural or entertainment diversions” and this is cited by Schuller to be just precisely what took place in Kansas City in the 1930s.
Even while the general public had a tendency to view musicians as “social outcasts, they and their music had a certain daring, irresistible exotic, erotic charm. Above all their music provided an alluring escape” from the real world characterized by depression and allowed them to enter a world that was one of “romanticdancing feet, twirling bodies and tapping toes.” (Schuller, 1991)
VII. The “Riff” is Born
Erenberg relates that in 1935 at the time hat Bennie Moten died that Basie “assembled elements of both bands into a nine-piece unit and brought the Kansas City style to full flower.” (1999) Kansas City is said to have “fostered and preserved more traditional elements of black preindustrial oral culture than did New York.” The riff style of Kansas City was of such that “set soloists and sections against each other.” (Erenberg, 1999) Erenberg explains that riffs, which are favored for use in playing jam sessions are “short, repeated, rhythmic phrases often created spontaneously powerful waves of sound that set a rhythmic groove and built to a climax.” (1999) In fact, the sound that Basie would originally use in Reno is that which was formulated and born in Kansas City and was a rhythm that “almost seems to derive from that of locomotive pistons” (Erenberg, 1999)
VIII. Jazz Emerged From Cultural Tradition
Ogren writes that jazz emerged from “a cultural tradition” that has been termed “an Afro-American vernacular” composed of the “material conditions of slavery in the United States that the rhythms of Afro-American blues which combined and emerged froman ancestral matrix that has produced a forceful and indigenous American creativity.” (1992) There were between thirty and fifty.