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The Tunes that Made the 1920s Roar!

Check out a great book all about the tunes that put the "roar" in "The Roaring Twenties," and listen to a conversation between WRTI's Susan Lewis and Robert Rawlins, the author of Tunes of the Twenties and All That Jazz: The Stories Behind the Songs.

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Author Robert Rawlins talks to WRTI's Susan Lewis about the music of the roaring '20s.

They were exploring the creative possibilities before the rules were in place.

New Orleans–style music ushered in the decade. Jelly Roll Morton’s “Jelly Roll Blues” was published in 1915 and recorded in 1926, when the music business was shifting its focus from sales of sheet music to sales of records.

"Now the real market for a song is not for the parlor, but for the professional singer or musician; now the composers could really get into it and write more complicated melodies," says musician and Rowan University music professor Bob Rawlins.  He's the author of Tunes of the Twenties, a compilation of stories and information on 250 songs, from the '20s as well as years on either side of that decade.

It was, says Rawlins, an era of experimentation. "They were exploring the creative possibilities before the rules were in place."

In recording sessions in the mid to late '20s, Louis Armstrong explored improvisation with his groups, the Hot Five and Hot Seven. Take, for example, Potato Head Blues, recorded by Armstrong in 1927. 

"There’s no more important recordings," says Rawlins, "than those 90 or so sides he recorded between 1926 and 1929.

The exploration would continue beyond the decade, as tunes were interpreted by different  performers. And who made this cover of "Bugle Call Rag"?

Music: “Bugle Call Rag,” music and lyrics by Jack Pettis, Billy Meyers, and Elmer Schoebel, recorded by the Mills Brothers, 1932

Those aren’t bugles you hear! That’s the Mills Brothers in 1932, recording the music and lyrics by Jack Pettis, Billy Meyers, and Elmer Schoebel. Before the Mills Brothers made it big singing pop hits, they performed as an a cappella jazz band!

Robert Rawlins’s book is Tunes of the Twenties and All That Jazz: The Stories Behind the Songs

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.