Around 1920 a strong migration of African Americans from the South of the US towards more Northener regions and cities started. Various reasons are brought forward for this, better economical environment in the North leading to better salaries and racial discrimination in the South for example.
For our journey, the important thing is that this affected obviously also the musicians of that time.
Louis Armstrong left New Orleans towards Chicago in 1922, to play with his idol and mentor Joe King Oliver in his “Creole Jazz Band”. In 1923 they started recording songs.
Also Jelly Roll Morton had left New Orleans but to go to LA. However in 1924 also he arrived in Chicago.
Bix Beiderbecke, being from Chicago, had listened already during his studies to the “Creole Jazz Band” and formed then the “Wolverine Orchestra”.
Another important Jazz hub established itself in New York, where Duke Ellington in 1923 became the bandleader of the “Washingtonians”. And there was also the above mentioned Los Angeles.
Apparently, our heroes of that time were traveling frequently between NY, Chicago as well as Los Angeles and New Orleans.
At the end of 1924 an exceptional possibility for a Jazz fan in NY existed: Within four blocks one could see Duke Ellington & the “Washingtonians”, Bix Beiderbecke & the “Wolverine Orchestra” as well as Fletcher Henderson & his orchestra with Louis Armstrong…
By that time, Louis Armstrong had left King Oliver after having had overshadowed his former idol more and more. Upon his integration into Henderson’s orchestra, the combo immediately started to “swing” and Louis Armstrong was the hot topic in NY.
Not only the musicians moved a lot during the 1920ies, but also the Jazz developed further. New important musicians appeared, besides the already mentioned Bix Beiderbecke, Paul Whiteman and Benny Goodman as examples amongst many others.
And the way Jazz was played changed. Originally, Jazz had emerged out of Ragtime when elements of improvisation were added to the other ingredients like syncopation and “call and response” structures. In the beginning the improvisation was rather collective. But now the soloist became more important and demanded more room, a development which was very much driven by Louis Armstrong. When listening to the recordings he made with his “Hot 5” / “Hot 7” ensemble this can be observed, especially when comparing to the earlier recordings he made with the “Creole Jazz Band”.
And new ideas were tried out, some becoming very popular, at least during that time. An example was Paul Whiteman who combined Jazz with classical symphonic music, playing Jazz style music with a large orchestra. The music however was completely arranged and there was hardly any improvisation. At some point, Benny Goodman as well as Bix Beiderbecke played in Paul Whiteman’s orchestra and he was called the “King of Jazz”.
The increasing popularity and also availability of recorded music, more and more people could afford a player, strongly supported the popularity of Jazz across the country. In 1927 some 100m records were sold in the US!
Jelly Roll Morton engaged well paid musicians to record with the “Red Hot Peppers” and Duke Ellington worked together with the important producer Irving Mills for various labels under different names.
But having a lucrative contract with a good club was probably still most important. Duke Ellington for example played in the famous Cotton Club in NY between 1927 and 1931. This was not really a Jazz concert anymore, but rather an orchestrated show.