The Rise and Fall of Easy Listening
Jazz didn't remain behind closed doors, during an era when America was having huge issues with racism, a group of white southerners formed The Original Dixieland Jazz Band in and entertained the rest of the city. The jazz sound drifted north, played by bands on Mississippi riverboats, and when the New Orleans' red light district closed in , the Dixieland band traveled to New York. Soon, Dixieland jazz became known across the US. In , the Cotton Club jazz venue opened in New York, making the new sound fashionable.
Alongside the newly popular genre, musical comedy continued to develop.
Memorable songs caught the public imagination in light entertainment shows such as Lady Be Good , George Gershwin's first major musical. Gershwin's music fused classical music, popular music and jazz to create a new distinctively American sound. By , Broadway had 80 theatres, and between and , new productions opened, including Jerome Kern's Show Boat, with plotting and characterization that set new standards for the stage musical.
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A new style of solo improvisation earned trumpeter, cornet player and gravelly-voiced singer Armstrong worldwide acclaim. Musicals now moved onto the big screen in lavish Hollywood productions. Radio star Bing Crosby introduced his smooth looks and crooning voice in King of Jazz The end of Prohibition in forced many musicians out of the illegal drinking clubs and into the open.
Jazz adapted its style for wider appeal, tailoring itself to the dance hall in the form of big bands and swing.
Vocalist Billie Holiday dominated the decade with her jazz interpretations of popular songs, recording with saxophonist Lester Young, whose light tone influenced soloists such as Charlie Parker. In , Fats Waller below introduced his humorous vocal jazz style, and three years later, Glenn Miller began leading orchestras in his distinctive style of swing.
Meanwhile, Hollywood continued to create star vocalists—Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra among them.
In , Irving Berlin's genius for melody produced the song "White Christmas. The smoothness of swing provoked a jazz rebellion in the form of bebop, or "hot jazz"—an experimental form with complex rhythms and harmonies, led by saxophonist Charlie Parker, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and guitarist Charlie Christian, the first to use electrical amplification. At the same time, Woody Guthrie's songs, such as "This Land is Your Land," caused a quiet revolution in folk music, expressing popular sentiments about the Great Depression and the suffering of the poor.
His writing was to influence Bob Dylan and a host of folk singers 20 years later. The mixing of musical styles opened up new avenues. Under the influence of swing, country music which itself was an adaptation of folk and blues was transformed: Western swing emerged, with amplified guitars and strong dance rhythms, and honky tonk developed in the hands of singers like Hank Williams. Browse our extensive collection of Jazz in the Reader's Digest shop. The ukulele got its first taste of mainland popularity in the s when the Panama Pacific International Exposition lured over 17 million visitors with hula dance and song at the Hawaii Pavilion.
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In , a reporter for the Hartford Courant described how "the wonderfully sweet voices and weird melodies of these ukalele sic players strike a plaintive heart-note never to be forgotten once heard. Cutesy Hawaiian kitsch became big business. By the s, Sears Roebuck and other department store catalogs offered ukes for a couple of dollars—and sometimes even for free with the purchase of lessons. For four decades, the sounds of Hawaii drifted over the air to hundreds of radio stations.
The Great Depression provided another gateway for the ukulele. As sales of pianos, accordions, and other pricey instruments soared, saving and scrimping Americans helped boost the ukulele to peak popularity in the s. Indeed, bluegrass music took off during that period as well, and the ukulele is still strongly associated with the string-band phenomenon. Television offered a golden opportunity for the instrument.
In , the popular television host Arthur Godfrey, sporting a Hawaiian shirt, actually gave lessons to millions of viewers right in their living rooms. Then came the ukepocalypse. For kids doing the Twist and rocking around the clock, the ukulele looked and sounded like a toy, compared to the thunderous electrified guitar sounds they heard from Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry. Paul McCartney strummed one on his tour as a tribute to fellow Beatle George Harrison, a serious ukulele player and a devotee of the British music hall ukulele tradition.
In some cases, these artists have attempted to replace the ubiquitous guitar with a sweeter and gentler sound, in others, a less familiar sound that would surprise audiences. Those looking to validate their choice of instrument via celebrity association can point to a bevy of uke-playing luminaries—Cybill Shepherd, William Macy, and Pierce Brosnan—along with politicians Tony Blair and business executives mega-zillionaire Warren Buffett.
In ads for products like Yoplait and Canadian Tires, it's featured as the primary instrument of whimsy, along with glockenspiel, tinkly piano and tuneful whistling. Another unexpected driving force for the ukulele was the Hawaiian music revival of the s and s. Hawaiian youth had previously fallen for rock just as hard as mainlanders. But then Hawaiian artists rediscovered the ukulele on their own terms, exploring the instrument in a new way, blurring the boundaries between Hawaiian folk and mainstream pop that had helped to marginalize the instrument. One of the first YouTube videos to go viral , it helped dispense with the stereotypically kitschy images that Hollywood had imposed upon both Hawaiian music and the ukulele.
The ukulele, one could say, has returned from pop-culture purgatory.
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And few nations have more rabid fans than Japan, where Shimabukuro spends half of the year touring and where members of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain get stopped on the street to sign autographs. Despite its higher profile, the ukulele still plays its role as everyman instrument quite convincingly. Indeed, the scores of beginners at Ukefest New Jersey reaffirmed this statement. Because of its accessibility, the uke has managed to attract the huge grassroots following it struggled to draw before the Internet hooked up players and enabled Uke Meetups, jam sessions, and YouTube uke tutorials.