Why Jazz Happened is the first comprehensive social history of jazz. It provides an intimate and compelling look at the many forces that shaped this most American of art forms and the many influences that gave rise to jazz’s post-war styles. Rich with the voices of musicians, producers, promoters, and others on the scene during the decades following World War II, this book views jazz’s evolution through the prism of technological advances, social transformations, changes in the law, economic trends, and much more.
In an absorbing narrative enlivened by the commentary of key personalities, Marc Myers describes the myriad of events and trends that affected the music's evolution, among them, the American Federation of Musicians strike in the early 1940s, changes in radio and concert-promotion, the introduction of the long-playing record, the suburbanization of Los Angeles, the Civil Rights movement, the "British invasion" and the rise of electronic instruments. This groundbreaking book deepens our appreciation of this music by identifying many of the developments outside of jazz itself that contributed most to its texture, complexity, and growth.
On February 26, 1917, a group of musicians calling themselves the Original Dixieland Jass Band assembled in the studio of the Victor Talking Machine Company, played two songs into a long metal horn that served as a microphone, and a few weeks later made history by releasing the first 78-rpm recording of jazz. In this energetic and captivating tale, Wall Street Journal music contributor Myers enthusiastically chronicles the many social, political, legal, and monetary forces outside of music that shaped the evolution of jazz. With impeccable timing, Myers provides a steady backbeat of stories of the development of music from bebop, jazz-classical, and West Coast jazz, to spiritual jazz, jazz-pop, and jazz-rock fusion. While jazz could never have developed without the brilliant musicians whose stories he narrates from Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie to Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock the rise of electronic instruments, the civil rights movement, the advent of musicians' unions, and new recording technologies catapulted the musical form and its players squarely into the evolving history of American music. In the 1950s, as they discovered that more music was needed to fill the longer format of albums, hard bop musicians began licensing their compositions through BMI, making available a greater percentage of original work on these albums. Myers's first-rate social history, like a great jazz recording, pulls us into its complex rhythms and harmonies, casting its mesmerizing spell.