All That Jazz
Jazz, Blues, Ragtime, Josephine Baker and Kangaroos
The Jazz Age
Today great Jazz can still be heard in hole-in-the-wall settings in both the USA and Australia. There are also cafes and music festivals.
Nowadays some of the most inspirational Jazz can be heard in Toronto, Canada.
Between 1920 and 1930 Jazz grew in popularity in the USA and ended up being very popular in the UK and also in Australia.
Ken Burns' mini-series documentary Jazz deals with this period in terms of the music and the changing attitudes of Americans toward racial background.
Apparently it was a struggle for African Americans to record their music.
It was also a struggle to have African American musicians in Caucasian bands and visa versa, especially in the American south. Once these barriers started to come down, however, music that definitely had its beginnings in the USA really took off.
The decade from 1920 to 1930 was greatly about achieving acceptance and eventually bringing said barriers down.
Other barriers would be brought down in the 1950s and 1960s with the music known as rock n' roll. Here Elvis Presley would take the lead. Then would come the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.
The music of the 1920s and 1930s as is the hope for a future without war. Radical behavior in this time can be put down to a need for the young to do better than previous generations.
Since the immediate previous generation had gotten everyone into a devastating world war, it was hoped that new ways of thinking that were being developed through art and music might prevent this from happening in the future.
Was their really a way of preventing big world wars from happening? This question would again be raised in the 1960s and 1970s?
Today religious fanatics push for war at a time when the majority of people living in the USA and Australia would rather not.
Today religious fanatics are causing havoc in Europe.
There was the belief among young people who did fight in the trenches in the Great War and had survived that they had a lot of catching up to do. This made the 1920s a wild time in France, Germany, the USA, the UK and Australia.
The League of Nations had been formed to deal with international problems that might lead to war. Unfortunately, this league wasn't given much in the way of teeth. One wonders today just how much teeth our United Nations has left.
People wanted to forget about war and find joy in peace.
What made the 1920s a truly mad time period was this overwhelming desire Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand people had to live life to the full.
The horrors of World War One couldn't just be made to just go away but the general notion of reaching out for a much better existence was definitely in the wind.
Changes had to be made to make sure the world would never go mad again. Unfortunately, no one at the timer knew what these changes should be or how to go about making them stick.
The gramophone and the radio meant the world, culturally speaking, was becoming a smaller place. Radio had been around since the turn of the century in one form or another but it really took off in popularity in this period.
Ordinary people could afford to have radios and gramophones in their homes. There were even gramophones so compact you could take them on picnics. In fact there was nothing like romancing your girl with the right record on your gramophone in the right locale.
By the 1920s the gramophone record had replaced the gramophone cylinder. The record was easier to store and less fragile. It was easier to export and also to take with you on the kind of picnic mentioned earlier.
American forms of music such as Jazz and Blues were spreading out from the USA and, to some extent, mutating.
For example, the Jazz being played in Cabarets in Germany had a weird mixture of raw energy and sophistication that didn't quite mirror what was going on with Jazz anywhere in the USA. Not that Jazz throughout the USA was ever a uniform sound.
Perhaps it is the flexibility of Jazz that has made it such a joy for many generations of many countries over the decades.
In France in the 1920s African American performers with talent became stars. In the instance of Josephine Baker we can say super star since she not only performed in France bust also other parts of Europe.
In Australia Jazz in the American, British and Australian style could be heard and appreciated. In 1923 Kangaroo by D. H. Lawrence was first published.
Apparently it was written in Thirroul, on the south coast of NSW, Australia. It is a strange read that deals with the rise of fascism in Australia during this period. It is a fascism that never really took root.
Ragtime music, which had reached its peak in popularity in the USA during the first decade of the 20th Century, still had plenty to offer and would continue to have something to offer both in the USA and overseas well into the 1930s.
Airplanes were going from being all wood and canvas to having metal parts for added strength and durability. The engines were being improved upon to take further weight and to travel longer distances in safety.
In 1927 American aviator Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly the Atlantic Ocean solo non-stop. He also helped pioneer air mail in the USA.
The KKK, the Spread of American Music, and Prohibition!
The USA in the 1920s
The Ku Klux Klan won over some people by supporting prohibition in the 1920s. It made them look like a forward thinking movement out to help the American family against alcoholism. Of course they were never out to help all American families or, for that matter, all Americans.
A popular KKK saying went like this: If you're white you're alright, if your brown stick around, but if you're black get back.
As far as white folks were concerned, however, the KKK wasn't too fond of people of either the Jewish or Catholic faith. In the 1980s this changed and people who were Catholic could join the KKK. I don't know if this ruling has changed since then.
The Ku Klux Klan, increasing in number, stirred up trouble in the south. Lynchings, especially of African Americans, were common events.
African American singer Billie Holiday's 1939 Blues hit Strange Fruit dealt with the lynching of African Americans Thomas Shipp and Abram Smith in Marion, Indiana in 1930.
It was based on a poem by Abel Meeropol, a Bronx high school teacher. Meeropol set the poem to music with the aid of his wife and Laura Duncan performed it as a protest against the mistreatment of African Americans.
F. Scott Fitzgerald became a sensation with his novel This Side of Paradise (1920). His novel The Great Gatsby (1925) has much in it concerning what the 1920s was all about and is often used as a text in Australia as a way of understanding the American literature of this period.
Ernest Hemingway was also making a name for himself as a novelist with The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929).
Curiously enough, Fitzgerald and Hemingway were, for a time, drinking buddies in Paris, France.
Aldous Huxley's novel Chrome Yellow saw publication in 1921.
It was to be the forerunner, a testing ground for ideas that would reach fruition in his great science fiction masterpiece, Brave New World (1932).
Paris was a wild city in the 1920s which drew adventurous Americans like a magnet. The reason for its wildness was simple. After so much death and destruction during the Great War people, especially the French, want to live large.
Past prejudices were abandoned. New discoveries were made and new ways of enjoying life embraced.
Josephine Baker, an African American, came to Paris in 1925 as a dancer and ended up becoming a popular singer. The whole of Paris fell in love with American style Jazz, rhythm and blues.
There was also American artist and photographer Man Ray who came to Paris in 1921 and made Paris his home. Some of the most beautiful women in Europe at the time, including Vamps, were photographed by Man Ray in stunning poses. Those poses remain stunning to this day.
English comedian Charlie Chaplin was a Hollywood sensation in such silent films as The Kid (1921) and The Gold Rush (1925).
Meanwhile American actress Lilian Gish was wonderful in Orphans of the Storm (1921).
Canadian actress Mary Pickford was a success in Pollyanna (1920) and was great in the heart ringer Sparrows (1926).
In 1923 Lon Chaney, the man of a thousand faces, played the hunchback in The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
Chaney is also well remembered for his role as the phantom in Phantom of the Opera (1925).
The silent era came to an end with the first talkie, The Jazz Singer (1927) starring American actor, singer and comedian Al Jolson.
Throughout the 1920s countries financially affected by the Great War borrowed heavily from the USA. The borrowers included France, England, Germany, and Australia.This heavy borrowing did not seem to be much of a problem at the time. After the Wall Street crash of 1929, however, it would be a catastrophe.
This was not the first time American financial institutions had found themselves in trouble but it was the first time this trouble extended so far and so wide.
Throughout the world, the Great Depression would ruin the lives of many people.
Prohibition of drinking alcohol began in 1920 and was finally repealed in 1933.
Prohibition was anything but popular and created great divisions in the American community. Gangsters produced alcohol and also speakeasies where it could be purchased.
Good alcohol was smuggled in from Canada. The really bad batches of unregulated alcohol were responsible for sending people blind, even dead in some instances.
DISTURBING ART AND FILM CAME OUT OF GERMANY
Germany in the 1920s
Efforts were made to forget the war but French demands for reparation payments made this impossible. Inflation flared up. At one time it took a whole barrel full of German marks to buy one loaf of bread. Borrowing heavily from the USA helped but not enough.
A coldness, a bleakness crept into German art and into German life in general. It was countered by some Germans deciding to live all out for today and to hell with tomorrow.
Vamps, young women who made the night their own at least two days a week, lived for the present.
Dada art may have begun in Switzerland in 1916 but the German version of it became quite confronting to viewers after the First World War.
The artists involved included George Grosz. The madness of war and the fear of mutual destruction were strong themes in this sort of art. It can be said that art here was not only criticizing the past war but also the so-called peace that had come out of it. Germany in the 1920s was not a very peaceful place.
Adolf Hitler tried to come to power in Germany in 1923. He was jailed instead. During his incarceration he wrote Mein Kampf, a book outlining his plans for the future.
In the 1920s the Communists also took their best shot at coming to power and failed. Even after the economy improved the writing was still on the wall. The days of Weimar Republic were numbered. The Nazis weren't quite ready to take over but they were getting ready. The days of freedom of the press and freedom of religion were also numbered.
Movies that made German cinema wondrous included: The Golem (1920), The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Phantom (1922) and Metropolis (1927). What made these movies special was the brilliant use of shadow and the unusually crafted sets.
Metropolis was an incredibly expensive movie to make at the time and never quite got the showing it deserved. It was heavily censored in the USA.
Franz Kafka's magnificent though very disturbing novel, The Trial, was first published in Germany in 1925. Throughout the novel the accused, Josef K, never actually discovers what he is accused of so it is impossible for him to know if he is innocent or guilty.
Great Britain had lost much of its power and influence
Great Britain in the 1920s
Britain was recovering financially from the Great War. Cricket still linked the British with her empire as did trade.
There was fighting in Ireland.
Throughout Britain in the 1920s unemployment was a big issue. Poverty was rife.
Britain may have won the war but it was struggling to win the peace. Women working the land while the men were fighting helped bring about victory. Now many of them felt let down by their peacetime roles.
R. J. Mitchell was designing racing aircraft. He was the man who would best be remembered for designing the Spitfire in the 1930s. Though there were more Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain it was the Spitfire that became the symbol of defiance against the German Third Reich. It was a magnificent plane.
Australian pilots such as Flight Lieutenant Flood (killed) and New Zealand pilots such as Flight Lieutenant Deere fought in the air, protecting Britain from invasion during the Battle of Britain.
Virginia Woolf, one of the strangest writers to come out of the 20th century, came to prominence during the First World War but her best writing was actually done in the 1920s.
Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf was first published in 1928 and dealt with identity and gender in ways it had never been dealt with before. To this day it remains a rather confronting work.
British films of the period worthy of note include: Guy Fawkes (1923) starring Matheson Lang and Nina Vanna (about the 1605 plot to blow up parliament), The Rat (1925) starring Mae Marsh, London (1926) starring Dorothy Gish, and The Constant Nymph ( 1928) starring Mabel Poulton.
Australia in the 1920s
The men who had fought so bravely during the Great War (1914 - 1918) slowly returned as ships became available for them to do so.
In this decade an Aborigine could be shot and killed by a white man and the white man have no fear of being brought to justice before a white man's court. Justice was not quite for everyone.
The Aborigines had limited rights and were yet to become Australian citizens. The Aborigines who fought for Australia during the Great War must have felt let down.
Planes had shown they had some worth in battle during the Great War. Just what value could they have in peacetime? Australia is a large, mostly desert continent with vast distances between major cities.
The government wanted planes to close the distance between major cities using planes to do so. The men who closed the distances between the major cities and between Australia and other parts of the world became national heroes.
Charles Kingsford Smith is probably the best remembered of the daring men who took on vast distances with their planes. On May 31, 1928 Smithy ands his crew took off in the Southern cross from Oakland, California and in Brisbane, Queensland approximately 8 days later. In 1929 Smithy completed a round the worlds flight.
Australian films worthy of note include: The Sentimental Bloke (1919) starring Arthur Tauchert as the rough diamond or sentimental bloke, On Our Selection (1920) starring Fred Coleman, and For the term of His Natural Life (1927) starring George Fisher (about the convict days and based on a popular novel by the same name).
Novels written in Australia or by Australians or about Australia include: Kangaroo (1923) by D. H. Lawrence, On Emu Creek (1923) by Steele Rudd, The Desert of Love (1925) by Francois Mauriac, The Miserable Clerk (1926) by Steele Rudd, and Passing by Nella Larsen (1929).
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