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1921 Census - All that Jazz!

The music sensation of the 1920s was Jazz. At least, that is what we might think. Well-established in America by 1921, jazz was enthusiastically received in France, but Britain proved unreceptive to the new music.



Jazz had arrived in England in 1919 with a visit to London by the Original Dixieland Jazz (or, at the time, Jass) Band. Their appearance in the revue Joy Bells at the London Hippodrome was the first jazz performance in the UK and led to a Royal Command performance before King George V at Buckingham Palace. The assembled royalty and aristocracy were, perhaps, unaware of the irony that jazz, a musical form which had its roots in America's black community, was here being played by a wholly white combo. It was not until the following year that a black jazz band, Will Marion Cook's Southern Syncopators, played in the UK. Like the OGJB they were invited to play at Buckingham Palace, which their clarinettist Sydney Bechet, is said to have described as "like Grand Central Station with lots of carpets and lots more doors". Again, what the royal guests heard saw was hardly typical of black jazz music in America; the Syncopators proving more a polished orchestra than representatives of the jazz mainstream.

Neither band, sadly, travelled beyond London and jazz was slow to take off. The press were often indifferent and frequently hostile to the music. One reviewer of the ODJB's performance at the London Palladium commented "The resident orchestra, fast asleep, could amuse me more". A few British jazz bands were formed but their popularity was limited. Jazz seems to have been viewed as a novelty rather than a serious musical form. Development was inhibited by a lack of local innovation; most bands were playing music copied from imported American gramophone records or sheet music. There was no instant 'Jazz Culture' to incubate music creators and performers, this had to be built from scratch.

If London was slow to appreciate jazz, Manchester's progress would appear glacial by comparison. Looking at the Manchester Evening News during 1921, it is apparent that Jazz had not made a great impression on the city. The only venue regularly featuring jazz bands appears to have been the Palais de Danse at Ashton-under-Lyne which advertised:

PALAIS DE DANSE, Ashtan-under-Lyne-2. TWO JAZZ BANDS, "Ohios" and "Alamos". An up-to-date dance programme and the comfort of an Eastern palace. Each evening from 6.45. Thursdays, Waltz, one-step and fox trot only. On with the dance at the Palais de Danse.

Of the Ohios and the Alamos there seems to be no record.

The twenties did not really begin to 'roar' musically in Britain until the latter half of the 1920s. However, 1921 did see the seeds of a future for British jazz being sown, with the births of Kenny Baker on 1 March and Humphrey Lyttelton on 23 May; both would take up the trumpet and play significant roles in the development of jazz in Britain in the 1940s and 1950s.



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