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[Detail] Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald by Carl Van Vechten

Jazz and the Blues

While in the visual and literary arts modernism found its inspiration in Europe, the world looked to America for the modernist expression in music. The innovation and breaks from tradition that characterized modern visual and literary art were expressed musically in jazz. Created by African-American musicians in the South, jazz became more popular in the 1920s as African Americans migrated north to cities such as Chicago, and New York, which became the jazz capitals of the country in the 1920s and 1930s, respectively. The centrality of New York city to the jazz movement is reflected in Van Vechten's many photographs of jazz musicians. Students can find portraits of jazz greats, Dave Brubeck, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and others under Musicians and Singers in the Occupational Index. By researching a few of these and other artists, students may learn about the development of jazz in time and place.

Refer students to the American Memory collection, The William P. Gottlieb Collection for many more portraits of jazz artists by a different photographer. Here they will also find helpful articles and Special Presentations about this musical form and its artists. Students may also enjoy comparing Gottlieb's portraits of musicians with those of Van Vecthen.

Finally, by searching their names in this collection, students may find portraits of George Gershwin, George M. Cohan, and Leonard Bernstein, whose classical works were influenced by jazz. American Memory's The Leonard Bernstein Collection will be invaluable to those wanting to learn more about this individual.

Like jazz, the blues also originated with African Americans in the South and grew in popularity as its musicians migrated North in the 1920s. Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and W.C. Handy are well-known Blues artists that are featured in this collection.

Students can sample recordings of early Blues songs in the American Memory collection, Southern Mosaic by referring to the Subject Index. The American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920 can be used to learn more about vaudevilles in which both Smith and Waters began their careers.