The exodus of musicians that took place in New Orleans after the Storyville district closed (1917) coincided with a large movement of black immigrants from the south to the cities of the north (Chicago, Detroit, New York, etc.) in response to the high demand for labor that arose from the industrialization caused by the United States joining World War I. In this way, the black population went from being almost exclusively rural to making up an important part of the American industrial working class.
This migratory movement led to the appearance and growth of neighborhoods of black residents in large cities, such as Harlem in New York and the South Side of Chicago, and it promoted the expansion and rooting of jazz music across America.
First Chicago and then, a little later, New York became the most important jazz centers in the United States in the twenties. Prosperous entertainment and leisure business boomed in these cities, albeit mixed with corruption and organized crime in the crazy twenties.
In these cities, jazz music is no longer performed in the open air in brothels or squalid venues, as in New Orleans; it is performed at a whole range of entertainment venues, some of them truly luxurious, and it is an essential support for spectacles, shows, dances and musical revues. Jazz is fully part of the entertainment business. That’s why at that time you could reasonably say: jazz is entertainment.
Regardless of their category or creative genius, jazz musicians knew very clearly that their work sought to give the audience a good time enjoying the music and make them dance, laugh and feel the emotions of the music. They sometimes introduced musical or visual gags and, in any case, established direct, warm and close contact with them. It is true that the most important musicians of the golden age of jazz (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Lionel Hampton, etc.) were all wonderful entertainers in their own way.
It was not until the end of the thirties that jazz started to become concert music and, from then on, it was increasingly perceived as a serious, difficult music that was only to be listened to. All this has meant that jazz is slowly losing the popularity that it enjoyed for more than three decades.
Recovering its fun and entertaining side, without forgetting musical quality, of course, is one of the things that would help jazz to regain a large part of its lost audience. Quality and entertainment need not be neglected at all!
Ricard Gili, Fundació Catalana Jazz Clàssic