I begin this post by confessing that I am not a Historian. There are a plethora of scholars who have written books and dissertations on the topic of Jazz History in Chicago who are much more qualified to discuss the topic then me. However, I have a voice and a passion for Jazz, and would like to discuss the history of Jazz in Chicago and how we got here. As I said in an earlier post, whenever one discusses history it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date on the beginning of an art form. Although we may argue when the first time Jazz music was played in Chicago, I believe we can all agree it began to grow during 1910s due to the Industrial Revolution and The Great Migration.
The history of Chicago and the history of Jazz go hand in hand. As Chicago grew during the Industrial Revolution so did Jazz music. Chicago was becoming an Industrial city, factories were being built, and railroad systems allowed for transport and processing of materials to other parts of the country. So when The Great Migration occurred, (which was the migration of thousands of African Americans from the South to the North) people moved to Chicago in hopes of a decent wage and a fresh start. Many moved to the South Side of Chicago which already had a large African American community and a growing number of factory jobs. As the roaring twenties began Jazz music’s popularity was at an all-time high. With key recordings from King Oliver’s Creole Jazz band, and the emergence of Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven bands. Unfortunately, the era ended when artists like Louis Armstrong packed up and left for New York.
Jazz music continued to grow in Chicago. Throughout the decades Jazz music continued to evolve and change from Swing, to Be-bop, to avante-garde, to fusion. Though most of the clubs that helped build Chicago’s Jazz scene are gone, some of them, like the Green Mill, still remain. The Jazz scene in Chicago is alive and well with many new Jazz clubs and restaurants with daily performances and weekly jam sessions. Universities and private institutions also are contributing with Jazz Studies programs, ensembles and private instruction. Chicago also hosts a few prominent Jazz Festivals during the summer. The Hyde Park Jazz Festival occurs late in September and The Chicago Jazz Festival occurs during Labor Day Weekend at several venues downtown including the Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park.
Without The Great Migration and the growth of Chicago during the Industrial Revolution who knows how or when Jazz music would have arrived to Chicago. Jazz music captivated the entire nation during the 1920s so it would have undoubtedly reached Chicago at some point. Thankfully King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines, and thousands of other musicians helped solidify Jazz music in Chicago. Without them perhaps Jazz music would have faded with the times and Chicago would not have the Jazz scene it has today.