Jazz, Society, and Technology
History is often written as if there is a defining moment where everything changes. However, it is most often the case that a series of events and stressors are the culprits of such change, as is the case of the decline of jazz’s popularity. Some point to The Beatles landing in JFK airport and others say Elvis’s television appearance. In reality, there were many evolvements both, technological and cultural, that lead to what some may call the “great decline” in music history. The television had a huge impact on our both our culture and technology, and is still one of the largest influences of our society. One can’t talk about jazz without mentioning the civil rights movement. Likewise, jazz itself cannot be mentioned without talking about drugs and their impact on it’s musicians such as Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and John Coltrane (Geoffrey C. Ward, 2000). At it’s peak jazz music could be heard in nearly every hall of every major city in America. Big bands were everywhere, musicians were uncountable, and the nation’s appetite for music seemed to be insatiable. But, as musicians became more virtuosic and crafted in their respective instruments, the music changed, from dance tunes to an artistic expression.
Most bands that dominated popular music before 1941, such as Basie, Armstrong, and Miller stayed in business post-war, despite a declining market. New families simply did not have budgets for live entertainment because of the recession. As a result dancing became less popular, and jazz evolved into more of a listener’s market. Because of the new business-model bands had to adopt to this new market, income for jazz musicians declined. It most case, became difficult to compete against rock and roll bands that only had 5 members. In most cases, big bands with 16 members were not making enough money to continue. It was at this time that more trios and quintets came about, with relic artists from the recent Bebop era as their leaders (e.g., Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Dizzy Gillespie) (Gioia, 2012). Additionally, the rock and roll industry was notorious for the use of “payola” to capture the radio and television markets.
One of the most influential technological advances that permanently changed many industries forever was television. Before television, live performances, records, and radio solely contributed to the spread of music. That is to say, any time the general public heard music it was either on the radio, off a record, or live. Each of these mediums distanced the listener from the performance, either because they couldn’t see the performers or they were seated at a great distance from the performers (Myers, 2012). As television's acceptance accelerated after the television became affordable and popular in 1950. It was difficult for jazz to thrive in this new media culture. Popular culture was now much easier to absorb with the eyes and considerably more exciting than solely listening...