Scott Fitzgerald has been inextricably linked to jazz.
Indeed, Fitzgerald is even widely believed to have coined the term “Jazz Age,” and although the phrase predated Fitzgerald’s book, his usage unquestionably boosted its popularity immensely.
One of the earliest such pieces, “The Appeal of Primitive Jazz” (1917), decried the “colored” groups as seeming to be “infected with a virus” that made them “shake and jump and writhe in ways to suggest a return of the medieval jumping mania.” If such casual dismissiveness was not enough, the writer then argued that jazz was performed by “savages” who showed their “aggressive” and “retarded” nature through music, an image that would likely have brought to some readers’ minds the image of Gus from the 1915 movie , in which Gus, an old colonial caricature of black men as dangerous and sexually rapacious, assaults white women.
Jazz, in this all-too-common line of reasoning, did not advance us; it brought us backwards, and possibly even endangered white listeners.
As a result, they frequently turned to popular music, theatre, and vaudeville, which would lead, in part, to the formation of jazz, as well as to many other African-American theatrical and entertainment productions.
Cook, for example, went on to produce the first African-American Broadway musical comedy, , in 1898.Many popular acts included unusual sounds on stage, using washboards, saws, and other household items as instruments, usually for comic effect.In the years immediately following World War I, such novel orchestration was conventionally termed “jazz” or “novelty music.” Other acts featured well-known songs, like Ethelbert Nevin’s “The Rosary,” played on unexpected instruments.Vaudeville was one of the most enduring forms of entertainment in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.A protean genre, it contained just about everything: skits, song-and-dance routines, comedy performances, minstrel shows, sketches, and more.It is difficult to overstate the pre-eminence of jazz in the early twentieth century in America, appearing as a theme in everything from clubs to cartoons to realist fiction.“For the makers, consumers, and arbiters of culture,” the theater and music scholar David Savran wrote in 2006, “jazz was everything.A weltanschauung, a personal identity, a metaphysics, an epistemology, an ethics, an eros, a mode of sociality—an entire way of being.” It was a musical style that, with its improvised orchestration, complexity, and danceable melodies, seemed to represent, through the fusion of seemingly contrary impulses, so much of the world at the time: the dissonance of Modernism, on the one hand, with jazz’s rejection of straightforward classical music, and, on the other hand, its class-transcending popularity, whereby both rich and poor could, in theory, dance to similar music. This is partly because, as the music scholar William Kenney notes, jazz did not come from one sole place.Instead, its ancestry can be traced back to musical theatre and black vaudeville performances in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century—though the vaudevillian connections are often neglected in conventional histories of jazz.Early white historians of jazz, like Otis Ferguson and Sidney Finkelstein, argued, inaccurately, that jazz was essentially “folk music” played for all-black audiences—a mixing-up of jazz with country blues.Many classically-trained black Americans, like Will Marion Cook (who had studied music at Oberlin College), found themselves unable to work in grand concert halls, due to anti-black discrimination.