Jazz Legends of the 1920s

For many people, the defining era of jazz has to be the 1920s. We often hear the decade described as ‘the roaring twenties’ and it certainly did roar with incredible talent. Some of the most gifted jazz musicians that have ever walked the Earth rose to prominence during this golden era. The term ‘legend’ is possibly bandied about too often, but there are many jazz musicians who can rightfully claim the title of ‘jazz legend’. We can’t mention them all here, but these are some bona fide jazz legends from the 1920s.

Jazz Legends #1 – Duke Ellington

Born in 1899 in Washington DC, Ellington gained his musical education listening to the new sound of ragtime as he spent his time visiting burlesque shows and hanging around the pool halls of the city.

After moving to New York, Ellington struggled to make ends meet but he eventually began backing one of the most prominent singers of the decade, Ava Smith and led a band at the legendary Club Kentucky.

Duke Ellington defined a distinctive sound and was renowned for his ability to highlight the strengths of the musicians that played with him, whilst at the same time being capable of covering up where there were any musical weaknesses.

He went on to compose over 1000 songs in a long career, but it was in the 1920s as Duke Ellington & His Cotton Club Orchestra where he really made his name.

Essential listening: East St. Louis Toodle-Oo (1927)

Jazz Legends #2 – Jelly Roll Morton

A seminal name in the development of Jazz, Jelly Roll Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe. Famed for his arrogance, belief in his own ability and habit of bragging, Morton once even claimed that he had invented jazz.

That might be stretching the truth somewhat, but no one can deny the massive impact he had on 1920s jazz musicians. To his credit, Jelly Roll Morton is recognised as one of the great composers of the New Orleans jazz scene and a brilliant pianist. From 1923 to 1926 he was based in Chicago and this is where he led the Red Hot Peppers – a particularly productive period for him.

Essential listening: King Porter Stomp (1924)

Jazz Legends #3 – King Oliver

Absolutely one of the most important figures in jazz history. Something of an enigma himself, his band King Oliver’s New Orleans Jazz Band were a huge success. They are best known for one of its members – the first great jazz soloist and one of the most famous jazz legends ever, Louis Armstrong. As bandleader, King Oliver allowed Armstrong’s horn to shine, despite the fact that he personally craved a collective jazz sound.

Louis Armstrong often credited his later success to the influence of King Oliver and saw him as a great mentor and teacher.

Essential listening: Dippermouth Blues (1923)

There are other 1920s jazz legends, of course. Who are your favourites? What would be your classic tracks? We’d love to know!

And if you fancy bringing a bit of classic jazz to a party, wedding, product launch or corporate event, there’s no better act to provide the jazz entertainment than The Jazz Spivs.