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“The parties were bigger. The pace was faster, the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals were looser, the liquor was cheaper.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you could chose any era to live in, the decades between 1910 and 1950 would probably not be the most immediately appealing. Aside from two world wars, a great depression, and the worst pandemic in history, the era was marked by civil unrest, often for good cause, but whose benefits would not be felt until the dust settled many years later. However, in the middle of this maelstrom, we have a period of peace and prosperity, a boomtime for the creative arts, in short “the twenties” – a decade which is shorthand for a cornucopia of culture in the way “the thirties” and “the forties” absolutely aren’t. “Golden times” like these are usually best treated with a pinch of salt – most people tend to be to some degree nostalgic about their youth, particularly writers – but perhaps this time we can take it a little more seriously. The shift which seems to have happened in this time seems if anything like the half-century was saving up its changes and released them all at once while the sun was shining and it wasn’t otherwise occupied.

The dawning of universal suffrage surely had a role here. Even more so, the population of the world shaking itself loose from the incredible suffering of the 1910s. But perhaps the greatest part was played by a series of innovations – some of them technological (as we will get to in a few years) and some the unintended consequences of an ill-thought-out law – prohibition.

From January 17th, 1920, when the Volstead Act went into effect, the USA saw a nationwide ban on the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. The sheer logistics of such a thing in a country with such a tradition of alcohol consumption when anyone with minimal expertise could make their own, well, it didn’t make any sense and it still doesn’t. Organised crime immediately began to take over the alcohol business, and consumption shifted from the old bars and hotels to speakeasies. The managers of these places had no stock in the entertainment establishment, and no interest in going through the process of booking well-known vaudeville acts, who probably wouldn’t want to be seen there anyway.

Instead, they hired jazz bands. Touring / recording groups from around the country had residencies in clubs in Chicago and New York where they could practice and innovate every night in front of an audience. The nascent genre, which had been coasting for a few years after its initial explosion, suddenly got a new lease of life. The likes of Armstrong, Ellington and Fats Waller developed their sound in front of sometimes multi-racial audiences. The often regressive instinct of proprietors to be “respectable” had dissipated – what role could censorship ever play in a place whose entire existence was already illegal, and paid for with bribes?

This isn’t to say that all of this has yet seeped through the cracks into recorded media. While (inspired by the success of “Crazy Blues”) Okeh were releasing their series of “race records,” they were still exclusively operating out of New York, and their competitor Paramount Records would not start releasing this sort of recording until the following year. The rest of the music industry was still firmly stuck in the 1900s, releasing the sort of sentimental ballads and d-grade operetta they had been since they’d formed, likely the same singers and the same management too. Occasionally they would put something out by a dance band, and occasionally they would strike gold, but such things do not seem to be generally part of the business plan.

So as far as the mix is concerned, we are still operating on the margins, but the margins are expanding, cracks are forming, soon this wonderful infection is going to be irresistible in its spread.


0:00:17 Harry E. Humphrey – Santa Claus hides in your phonograph (Excerpt 1)
0:00:32 American Symphony Orchestra – Ride of the Valkyries
0:01:30 Harry E. Humphrey – Santa Claus hides in your phonograph (Excerpt 2)
0:01:41 Zez Confrey – Kitten On The Keys
0:04:42 Shelton Brooks & Co. – Darktown Court Room
0:04:50 The Jazz Hounds – Royal Garden Blues
0:07:47 Mamie Smith & Her Jazz Hounds – ‘U’ Need Some Lovin’ Blues
0:10:40 Justine Roberts – The Shop Girl (Excerpt 1)
0:10:50 Ladd’s Black Aces – Aunt Hagar’s Children’s Blues
0:14:01 Justine Roberts – The Shop Girl (Excerpt 2)
0:14:11 Lucille Hegamin – Wabash Blues
0:17:24 John Riley – Casey Departing to Congress
0:17:29 Fletcher Henderson – There Ain’t No Nothin’
0:20:39 Isham Jones – Wabash Blues
0:23:37 Yerkes’ Happy Six – Yokohama Lullaby
0:25:32 Carl Fenton with Rudy Wiedoeft – Biminy Bay
0:28:45 Sergei Esenin – Confessions Of A Hooligan (Excerpt 1)
0:29:16 Luigi Russolo – Serenata
0:31:14 Sergei Esenin – Confessions Of A Hooligan (Excerpt 2)
0:31:30 Jacob Gegna – A Tfileh fun Mendel Beilis
0:34:58 Claudia Muzio – Sei Forse L’angelo Fedele
0:37:42 Bucca-Perez Co. – Nofriu al Telefono
0:37:52 Agustín Barrios – Tarantella
0:40:10 Achilleas Poulos – Kamomatou
0:42:06 Bucca-Perez Co. – Nofriu Buscevicu
0:42:18 Doumoua Ellaini – Aicha
0:43:13 Grupo Pixinguinha – Domingo Eu Vou Lá
0:45:14 Grupo Do Moringa – No Rancho
0:47:41 Warren G. Harding – Opening of Limitation of Armaments Conference
0:47:55 Michael Coleman – Bag of Spuds
0:48:44 Ford Hanford – My Old Kentucky Home
0:49:20 Kandel’s Orchestra – Kandel’s Bulgar
0:51:21 Marcus Garvey – Objects of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Excerpt 1)
0:51:36 Eubie Blake – Sounds Of Africa
0:53:07 Marcus Garvey – Objects of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (Excerpt 2)
0:53:32 Rudy Wiedoeft’s Californians – Jabberwocky
0:56:45 Gene Rodimichs Orchestra – Home Again Blues
0:58:45 Edgar A. Guest – Wait Till Your Pa Comes Home
0:59:26 Al Weston & Irene Young – At The Circus
1:01:34 Maurice Chevalier – Je N’ Ose Pas
1:04:10 Bert Williams – Unexpectedly
1:05:41 William Cahill – Dinnie Donohue on Prohibition
1:05:55 Sam Moore and Horace Davis – Laughing Rag
1:08:26 Empire Vaudeville Co. – Down At Finnegan’s
1:08:36 Ethel Waters’ Jazz Masters – Bugle Blues (introducing Old Miss Blues)
1:11:11 Original Dixieland Jazz Band – St Louis Blues
1:14:23 Lanin’s Southern Serenaders – Shake It & Break It
1:17:19 Fletcher Henderson – Unknown Blues
1:18:46 Paul Whiteman – Humming
1:21:11 Green Brothers – Moonbeams
1:23:51 Newport Society Orchestra – Yoo Hoo
1:25:43 Benson Orchestra Of Chicago – Ain’t We Got Fun
1:28:49 Brown and Terry Jazzola Boys – Saxophone Blues
1:30:45 James P Johnson – Keep Off The Grass
1:33:02 Sissle’s Sizzling Syncopators – Low Down Blues
1:35:34 Justine Roberts – The Shop Girl (Excerpt 3)
1:35:44 Mamie Smith – Lovin’ Sam From Alabam’
1:38:19 Harry E. Humphrey – Santa Claus hides in your phonograph (Excerpt 3)

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