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Jazz and its influence on America

Updated on December 6, 2015

Socio-Historical Analysis

A style of music that has had a huge impact on American culture is the early styles of Jazz. It was once considered to be the popular music of the day and was viewed by many at the time to be a destructive force that had a very negative influence on people’s behavior. The youth was being corrupted by the music in the eyes of many and caused them to dance in ways that were never before seen. It was considered obscene to be jitterbugging. It was looked upon by some to be a sexual act that was performed while wearing clothes. It is funny to see that Jazz now considered being America’s Classical Music and is studied collegiately, but in its infancy it was looked upon by many as filth.

Today most people see this type of music as mild when compared to what the youth is listening to today. We as a culture have strayed away from that primitive mindset and are more open to bodily expression. The human body is no longer seen as obscene an image as it used to be. I cannot speak for everyone though, but our culture as a whole is a lot more tolerant of sexual imagery than it used to be. It used to be considered blasphemous to wear the clothing that you see in some music videos today and I would argue that Jazz played a huge part in challenging the social norm and helping bring about a more open minded society.

Jazz had not only a huge influence on music and music theory, but it also stretched the boundaries of dance. It was the reaction to the early jazz music that gave birth to ‘bumping and grinding’. Without the controversy of early Jazz our popular music of today would probably not be what it is today and the way we dance to it would most likely be significantly different. Today’s popular music is way more open about sexuality and we owe a lot of the evolutionary process to early Jazz. It wasn’t common, until Jazz, for people to dance publicly in sexually suggestive ways. In today’s clubs that is almost all you see.

The 1920’s was also a huge step for women’s rights and it seems to me that Jazz had a lot to do with the newfound liberal mindset of the women during this decade. The whole flapper girl style of dress was heavily related to the Jazz scene. The style seemed to inspire people to challenge the social norms because Jazz itself challenges the social norms of music. The chord structures of Jazz were new at the time and used extensions to create a new sound that had never been heard before. Some people called it devil music. Some people didn’t even want to call it music at all, but it shook things up and set mankind on a new track.

Women were taking a stand and refused to be denied any privilege that men had. Jazz music had the effect of loosening people up. It was about feeling good and having fun. Jazz music was the soundtrack of the 1920’s and shaped the mentality of the decade. Torches of Freedom would have probably never existed if it wasn’t for the liberal mindset that was perpetuated by Jazz music. If it wasn’t for the women’s rights movement we probably would not have had a Civil Rights movement. To me it seems that Jazz music got the ball rolling on social equality. It had a part in decreasing sexism and racism. Now we just need a new music revolution that will challenge classism and help to tear it down.

Jazz pulled people out of their comfort zone for many years as in continued to evolve as a style of music. The style of Jazz continued to do so even through the 1960’s. Free Jazz came along an abandoned the whole idea of a key or tonal center in order to achieve an unbound form of musical expression. Some people called this complete noise because there is no real form or meter to the music. The style of Jazz was continuing to challenge the idea of what music is and made the fine line between music and noise even finer. Without the challenging of tradition we will never innovate. Because of the Jazz style musical innovation was set to warp speed.

Jazz Performer

Even after all of the negative remarks about early Jazz it continued to shape our society for the better. It had a firm influence on getting the ball moving on a lot of social issues. When Jazz first came along almost everyone had the same idea of what music is. Music was believed to be something that was mathematically porportioned in order to imitate beauty. Challenging this tradition of thought gave rise to many different beliefs of what music is and how it should sound. Now we have a multitude of views that give rise to new and interesting ways of going about making music.

Jazz has helped to extinguish tradition and that is what music should do. If we continue to uphold tradition simply for the sake of tradition we will see a lack of innovation and progress as a species at a slower rate. The mindset of early Jazz musicians was to innovate and they did that by abandoning the traditional way of going about playing music. Tradition is simply going about doing things the old way and there is little sense in doing that. Art has always reflected expression and it is because of its popularity that gives it such an influence.

Popular music continues to stretch the norm of what is accepted in society. This is a great thing. We need people like Marylyn Manson and Lady Gaga to continue on a progressive track. Their bodily movement to their music pulls people out of their comfort zone and challenges the social norm just like Jazz did in its early days. They are role models of the youth and perpetuate a consciousness that being weird is okay and that conforming to society is wearing away the individual’s identity. Challenging what is normal will make people think and that is the whole idea. Maybe one day we will look back at people like Manson and thank them for their contributions to music and society instead of condescendingly judging them for being who they are.

Popular music that caters to the idea of what is normal will only hold back the collective consciousness of our society. A lot of popular music videos contain a standard of beauty that is completely subjective and perpetuates a sense of inferiority toward those that don’t fit the stereotype, sending the message that you need big breasts or a certain brand of clothes is oppressive to our society. It promotes the idea that we are not worthy if we do not fit in. This is stifling our progress as a society.

Music should always be approached with an open mind and a closed mouth. Without the open minds of the 1920’s we would have never arrived at the society we are in now. Jazz has had an immeasurable amount of influence on our culture. It advanced music, music theory, dance, politics, sexuality, and most importantly people’s views. That is the type of music we need today in order to sustain progress.

Nudity is still looked upon by some as obscene. Some people see it as a beautiful product of nature that does not need censorship. It is this type of progressive thinking that gave rise to the acceptance of the flapper girl style and eventually thongs. Revealing clothing is not ridiculed nearly as much as it used to be and people are more accepting of it. Because of Jazz and its influence we saw women dress in a way that was controversial, but it allowed them to dance more freely to the music without being restricted by excessive clothing. Who knew that a music that provoked dancing would have such an impact on the way we dress and how we feel about it? Thank you Jazz.

The Flapper Age

Birthplace of Jazz

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    • Paul Westphal profile imageAUTHOR

      Paul Westphal 

      2 years ago from Starke,FL

      This isn't my opinion. The word "Jazz" was in fact used as a slang term for sex during the time period and people at the time thought that the Jazz dancing style was rather sexual. In my opinion the Jazz dancing style is hardly sexual at all.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      You have to remember this is his opinion. Jazz was not only sexual it was a movement for African Americans as well. It symbolized freedom through music and aspiring artists. Don't be small minded. I'm 17 and telling you a grown up this. I don't know why it was emphasized on sexuality and being naked but it's really about the music and music is a powerful thing. It goes back to freedom and hardships.

    • Linda Joy Johnson profile image

      Linda Joy Johnson 

      2 years ago from Detroit, MI

      great article


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