The Big Apple is almost synonymous with the American jazz music scene nowadays. New York City hosts some of the most prolific jazz musicians globally and Manhattan functions as a launchpad for many aspiring jazz artists. But things weren’t always this way.
Join us as we journey back to the golden age of jazz in New York City to find out how it all started and how you can experience the lasting impact of jazz music in New York City today!
History of Jazz in NYC
Jazz music was first developed in New Orleans in the early 20th century, created by African-American musicians seeking to bring their musical influences into the American scene. As it was developed & adapted from ragtime and blues music, early jazz included complex harmonies & melodies and often centered on improvisation. Different styles of jazz soon appeared including Dixieland and Straight Ahead.
Soon after its birth in the early 1900s, jazz quickly emigrated out of New Orleans. It first made its way to the windy city of Chicago, then to New York City that’s now one of the epicenters of jazz in the United States.
In the early 1920s, jazz musicians departed from New Orleans for diverse reasons. Some sought to escape the flu epidemic of the time, while some departed due to the shutdown of the city’s Red Light District. Most of all, a yearning for something bigger contributed to an influx of jazz musicians to the Big Apple.
New Orleans jazz bands first arrived in New York to perform as vaudeville acts, a type of variety entertainment show with roots in France. New Orleans jazz musicians shared the stage with jugglers, comedians, burlesque performers & other entertainers. At the time, no one could have predicted the musical history that was about to be made as the dawn of New York’s jazz age began.
Before the arrival of New Orleans acts, jazz music was virtually non-existent in New York City. But with prohibition and the advent of the speakeasy, everything changed.
As federal laws restricted liquor sales and saloons and bars were forced to close by the thousands, a new illicit underground nightclub scene emerged. Thousands of illegal bars, known colloquially by the term “speakeasy,” opened their doors for business.
New York gangsters manufactured the liquor and transported it to speakeasies. Some owned the bars themselves, and the scene soon became a battleground for notorious mobsters like the Chicago Capones and New York’s Owney Madden, who sought out the best performers in the city to satisfy their customers’ hunger for music and dance. Bar owners soon began hiring small jazz bands as the backdrop for the new party scene.
Although jazz music predated speakeasies, the introduction of jazz music into the illicit bars gave rise to a musical movement that defined the roaring ‘20s. It was then that New York’s “Jazz Age” — a term coined by The Great Gatsby author F. Scott Fitzgerald — truly began.
Artists like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Paul Whiteman, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong were at the helm of New York’s jazz movement, helping popularize the genre and making it one of the most significant musical eras in history. With prohibition coming to an end in the early 1930s, jazz clubs in NYC became the go-to for a night out, soon attracting celebrities and Hollywood movie stars.
To this day, New York City remains the beating heart of jazz in the United States, hosting artists from all over the world who come together to celebrate this everlasting genre.
See Live Jazz in NYC at Fine & Rare
The glitz and glamour of the roaring ‘20s is alive and well at Fine & Rare. Tucked away amidst the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan, Fine & Rare hosts a variety of New York City’s finest jazz acts every day of the week. Come down to our Manhattan oasis to take in our rotation of New York’s top jazz talent, including mainstays Cait and the Critters and the Moses Patou Trio.
While you’re here, sip on one of our specialty cocktails or choose from our selection of rare spirits as you take in Fine & Rare’s art deco atmosphere evocative of the jazz age that started it all. Indulge in some of our quintessentially American dishes as our musicians take you on a musical journey from the roots of jazz to today’s modern iterations.
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