The end of World War II brought on significant repercussions in the world of jazz. The sudden halt to wartime industries led to the economy into a crisis. At the same time the government in the US decreed notable increases in the taxes applied to businesses with dance floors, leading to the closure of many of the dance spots that usually hosted the typical Big Bands. This string of events led to most of the large orchestras that defined the Swing Era or Big Band Era dissolving. From that moment at the end of the forties on, the jazz that would most often be heard would be made up of smaller ensembles: trios quartets, quintets, etc.

Simultaneously, a new trend arose in the jazz world that developed a speculative character in the music, focused on an “initiated” audience and shunning its association with leisure and dancing. This trend was most evidenced by the style known as Bebop that was at the origin of what would come to be known as “modern jazz”.  

With the disappearance of the grand orchestras and facing the eccentric style of Bebop that defied dancing, African American listeners took refuge in the small groups that practiced a direct, simple, warm, and eminently danceable style with vocals playing a significant part. These small groups delved into traditional sources, namely Blues and all its variations and derivations, such as Boogie Woogie with its driving rhythm that got people out dancing. Records with this genre of jazz were distributed under the term Race Records. Starting in 1949, this excessively racist denomination was switched to Rhythm & Blues, a description that has since been used to indicate the most popular African American music. 

When the time came that the record industry dedicated to popular music wanted to widen its base by integrating the black and white consumers into a single larger market, a massive and powerful marketing campaign was put in place. This soon saw the creation of new styles and fashions that were under the names Rock & Roll, Twist, Soul, etc., which included both the genuine African American performers, as well as the white imitators of the style, with the latter showing a far greater variability in quality. Young, white youth was beginning a process of liberation with regard to how they dressed, acted, danced, and much more. These young people found this music was in tune with their own aspirations. That is how this music so strongly rooted in African American culture became the music of consumption for youth in the late nineteen sixties.

Ricard Gili
Fundació Catalana de Jazz Classic