THE JAZZ AGE: American Style in the 1920’s. Cleveland Museum of Art Show, concluded January 14, 2018
The decade of the 1920’s was a glorious age for design. After the smoke, devastation, and ruin of the Great War of 1914-1918, World War 1, following the post war recession of 1919-1920, the feeling and then the general mood of the time internationally, but especially in America, was one of rebirth, a re-invention fueled by increasing economic prosperity. This was a youth movement of innovation and audacity discarding the old prewar order, initially tempered by the newly imposed, but later flaunted, “Prohibition”. With the map of the world redrawn, with the re-organization and redrawing of European borders, with social mores redefined to a new 1920’s reality, cross pollinating design influences in all spheres of art, music, clothing, jewelry, and even auto design in Paris, London, Berlin, Vienna, and across the sea in the United States emerged. There was a cultural hunger for the new and different, the not traditional, likely more driven than the current era.
Jazz music originated and evolved in New Orleans from Dixieland music as a hybrid of African and European influence. The African influence gave the music its rhythm, its soulful “blues” elements, and the spontaneity/improvisation of playing or singing in one’s own expressive way. From European influence, jazz received harmony and instruments like the saxophone, trumpet, piano, trombone, etc. In New Orleans, a port city with intertwining cultures and different musical forms, jazz became infused with creole, ragtime, and blues music., especially by African Americans who developed the music into forms socially acceptable to middle-class white America. Then white performers following the lead of blacks broadened the appeal of the jazz musical traditions within the larger general white population who wouldn’t recognize it initially by the way African-Americans wrote the music, at first, but fitting with the general loosening of cultural rules fueled by “illegal booze” and general disdain for Prohibition.
The music infused the developing culture led by early pioneers like Kid Ory, by the early recordings of Bessie Smith in 1922 who became one of the most famous of the 1920’s Blues singers. In New Orleans Louis Armstrong was a trailblazer on arrangements and soloists, extemporizing on chords. Jelly Roll Morton, a jazz pioneer, a self styled Father of Jazz, recorded with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) an early pioneering mixed race collaboration.
New fortunes, primarily in the post World War I enriched, technologically dominant United States, fueled self-indulgence and increasing conspicuous consumption. The first commercial radio station, KDKA began its first commercial broadcasts in Pittsburgh in 1920. New technologies like the radio, the development of radio networks, the increasing popularity of motion pictures, fueled a more increasingly aware, a more rapidly aware national audience, prompting an explosion of design featuring vibrant colors and rich sumptuous materials. Popular music, especially Jazz, met the need for ever increasing demands for radio content, locally and then nationally. Along with increasing material richness there developed a unique 1920’s sense of freedom, especially for women compared to what was typical in prewar America. The automobile and its mobility contribute to this developing sense of freedom and loosening sexual mores.
The United States became the leading marketplace for innovative architecture, think of New York and Chicago Skyscrapers, interior design, decorative arts, fashion, music, industrial design from from the best of foreign and domestic designers, reinterpreted for domestic taste, and then being spread and redistributed worldwide by the distribution of motion pictures and musical records. Talent, craftsmanship, urbanity, experimentation flowed back and forth across the Atlantic, creating a unique age of design, glamour, and music still reverberating today and unlike any other. The befuddlement and incomprehensibility of Prohibition was the only thing American of this era, rejected by the thinking peoples of the world.
While many refer to this period by the 1960’s popular nickname–“Art Deco”–it was F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of “The Great Gatsby”, who termed it the “Jazz Age.” First originating the term in the title of his 1922 collection of short stories, “Tales of the Jazz Age”.
Jazz was an apt metaphor for artistic expression during this time, reflecting both the push for modern ideas within the confines of the traditional social order and the pulse, the rhythm of city nightlife, frequently fueled by prohibition era illegal, bootleg liquor. Through a rich array of extraordinary works in jewelry, fashion, and decorative arts featuring the people and events that punctuated the era, THE JAZZ AGE as presented in the recently completed Cleveland Museum of Art show presented the dazzling world of flappers and dandies in all of its dizzying glory.
This show fleshed out the world, into which the 1925 Springfield Rolls Royce played its part as a functional, mobile decoration. The Jazz Age ended with the development of the Great Depression sweeping away the glittery 1920’s. The birth of the late 1929 Art Deco Chrysler Building came as the Depression ended the Jazz Age. Coming late for the now ended Jazz Age Party, the New York City Art Deco Empire State Building was born in the early 1930’s Depression when the Jazz Age fizz was gone. The Empire State Building remained virtually empty of tenants until the 1950’s, and for a long time was nick-named “The Empty State Building”. The beautiful Cord 810/812 was the last gasp, a final brilliant blazing ember of automotive style, of the already ended Jazz Age and the dying the Art Deco Era, dying with the late Depression’s new pre-war economic recession of 1937-1938. As World War One changed a way of life, the late 1930’s, then 1940’s World War Two was to also sweep away what preceded it.
So come into a short automotive tour of the Age, highlighted by the stunning Cleveland Museum of Art Show, entitled The Jazz Age.
As you come into the Museums’ grand hall several sights greet your eyes.
1925 Rolls-Royce, Piccadilly Roadster-manufactured in the Rolls-Royce American factory, with American parts, in Springfield, Massachusetts.
After World War 1, due to a 40% luxury car tariff, in December 1919 Rolls-Royce established a manufacturing subsidiary facility in the USA (when R-R purchased the Springfield, Mass. plant of the American Wire Wheel Company) in response to the high demand for its cars in the USA, and to reduce the R-R tariff expenses. The Phantom 1 Piccadilly Roadster was introduced in 1925 to replace the Silver Ghost, the New Phantom, retrospectively called the Phantom 1, used an entirely new overhead-valve six cylinder engine 0f 7,668cc, disc-type clutch, adjustable radiator shutters, and used essentially the prior existing later series Silver Ghost four wheel braked chassis. The factory only produced the chassis priced at approximately $10,000, a breath-taking amount in 1919. Bodies were typically produced elsewhere, and added to the final cost to the customer.
The Springfield factory offered a line of “factory bodies” designed by Ray Dietrich, then of LeBaron Coachworks, in New York City with noteworthy British Geographic names. For example the Piccadilly Roadster was named after the traffic circle in London circling the Statue of Eros. Most bodies were subcontracted to other builders who delivered their bodies primed and unpainted, “in the white”, un-upholstered without top canvas. The Waltham Avenue Springfield plant would finish the bodies to the customer’s final orders.
In 1925 R-R acquired Brewster, the Brewster Body in New York city, allowing the “American” product to be ordered with “factory” bodywork, unlike its British counterpart where bespoke bodies still had to be ordered separately.
Brewster Body, as referred to in Cole Porter’s song, “You’re the Top” in his 1934 musical, ” Anything Goes” , where the 5th stanza begins, “You’re the top! You’re a Ritz hot toddy. You’re the top! You’re a Brewster Body!
By 1929 Springfield R-R production had risen to a high point of 12 cars per week, often having a total final customer cost of $20,000 or more. The October 1929 Wall Street crash signaled the decline with Springfield R-R production ending in 1931.
The Rolls-Royce emblematic of Jay Gatsby’s 1920’s Prohibition fed Jazz Age. ( “The Great Gatsby”, 1925 novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald.)
Now let’s enter the “Jazz Age”. Have a few smiles wandering through the displayed items understanding that the automobiles of the era were just one of the many artistic elements intertwined through the music, through the Art Deco influences upon architecture, pottery, sculpture, furniture, fashion, art, radio, motion pictures, even elicit alcohol consumption driven by American alcohol prohibition, etc evolving throughout the twenties into the depression era. It was an era of emerging consumerism and the new mass marketing of art and entertainment, especially accelerated by the introduction of “Talkie Cinema”, with the 1927 first full length “Talkie Film”–The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, which rapidly spread through export throughout the world, simultaneously killing silent films.
“Toot, Toot, Tootsie”, one of six songs sung by Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer, 1927.
Diana and Actaeon, 1925, Gilt Bronze, Paul Manship
Rose Ironworks, wrought iron and brass, c. 1926, Cleveland, Ohio
“Joy of Life”, mural panels for the Flo Ziegfeld Theatre , from 1927, saved prior to NYC theatre demolition 1960’s, now in Driehaus Collection, Chicago. Dresses, 1910-1932, from the Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland; Designer Mariano Fortuny, Spanish, 1871-1949
Dress, 1933, Silk, embroidery, attributed to the Callot Soeurs (Paris 1895-1937) Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, OH
Sautoir, c. 1926, Platinum, pearls, Diamonds; Tiffany & Co, American, New York
Muse with Violin Screen
Decorative room screen, Feher-Rose, 1930, approx. 62″ x 62″, in Art Deco Motif, central figure of woman holding a violin surrounded by classic leaf and concentric circular elements, Wrought Iron and Brass, Rose Iron Works, Cleveland, Ohio, 1904-present.
Vanity Mirror and Hair Brush, designed 1928 Elsa Tennhardt, E. & J Bass Co, NYC
1924, a pivotal year for brothers, George and Ira Gershwin, on February 1924, George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” debuts in the Aeolian Hall, NYC, with the Paul Whiteman orchestra. Then the first George and Ira Gershwin Broadway Musical “Lady be Good” premieres on Dec. 1st, 1924 at the Liberty Theatre with rave reviews. It was specifically written to be performed for the brother and sister starring performers, Fred and Adele Astaire. It played for 330 performances, closing Sept.12 1925. Afterwards the musical opened in London’s West End, again starring Fred and Adele, playing strongly for 326 performances.
Memorable songs from “Lady be Good: are “Fascinating Rhythm” and “I’d Rather Charleston”.
The Charleston was a dance named for the port city of Charleston, South Carolina, popularized as a mainstream dance tune in 1923 called the”Charleston”, composed by James P. Johnston, originated in the Broadway show, “Running Wild”, one of the most popular hits of the 1920’s. The peak year for the Charleston Dance craze was 1926-1927.
“Flappers” were a generation of young Western women, especial women in the USA, who in the 1920’s who wore short skirts, bobbed their hair, listened to jazz, and flaunted their disdain for what was then considered acceptable behavior. Flappers were known for their unconventional style and behaviors. Flappers were seen as brash for wearing excessive make-up, drinking, treating sex in a casual manner, smoking, driving automobiles, and otherwise flouting social and sexual norms. They were icons of the “Roaring Twenties”, the Jazz Age, associated with and enigmatic of the social and political turbulence and increased cultural exchange that followed World War 1 with the the export of the American Jazz culture in music and film to Europe. ( Many Displayed dresses courtesy of the Western Reserve Historical Society and The Kent State University School of Design Museum)
Flapper style, Wide Band Bracelet, 1928, Diamonds, platinum; Van Cleef & Arpels, (French. Paris. est. 1896)
Egyptian art and Egyptian jewelry became a 1920’s Rage following Howard Carter’s and Lord Carnarvon’s November 4, 1922 opening of King Tut’s (Tutankhamun’s) tomb. Wealthy Flappers desired King Tut inspired Egyptian art and jewelry.
CHANEL No5: When couturier Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel launched her debut perfume No5, in 1921, it changed the whole world of fragrance. Perfumer Ernst Beaux produced a portofolio of samples for Mademoiselle to try–and she chose the fifth proposal….and the rest, literally is fragrance history. “The Perfume” of the Jazz , especially for the well-to-do Flapper.
Cocktails and Cigarettes, two main vices of the Jazz age, also became inspirations for art.
The Savoy Hotel Bar, cocktail book
Owl Cocktail Shaker.
Zeppelin Airship Cocktail Shaker and Traveling Bar Set, 1928, German.
With the “freer” attitudes towards life, alcohol, and evening dress, bathing suits followed eliminating the full covered costumes of the pre World War One era. A woman’s legs and arms could now be, and were exposed.
Stylized Art Deco themes taken from the earlier civilizations became popular, with creative coloring.
Coffeepot, 1930, molded and glazed stoneware. Margarete H.L. Marks, designer, Hael-Werkstatten, German, Marwitz 1923-33
Trophy, 1923, Silver rock crystal, Chrysler Museum of Art, Gift of Walter P Chrysler.
General Motors 25 Anniversary Medal, 1908-1933. silver plated brass, 1933
Centerpiece, c. 1930, ceramic; triple candelabra; Waylande Gregory, designer; Cowan Pottery Studios; (Rocky River, OH, 1912-31)
Waylande Gregory used a palette of steel gray and silver for the glaze on his cubist-inspired decorative centerpiece for Cowan pottery, reflecting the new taste for a modern machine look in decorative art.
Pair of Gates from the Chanin Building, 1928, New York City, Rene’ Paul Chambellan, American; Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian.
Wrought Iron, bronze.
Rene’ Chambellan designed these gates for the entrance to the executive office suite of the Chanin Building in New York. The cubist inspired design features machine cogs used as a decoration,bringing industrial motifs into interiors a year after New York’s Machine Age Exposition of 1927.
THE BOOKEND of the ERA, the 1937 CORD 812 PHAETON ( Phaeton, in Greek Mythology, the son of Helios (Helios, the personification of the Sun); Phaeton, the guardian of the Temple of Aphrodite; Phaeton (carriage) a horse drawn sporty open carriage)
The Cord 810, a masterpiece of design, production only in 1936-37, was sensationally debuted at the New York Auto Show in 1935 with dense crowds so eager to see the Cord that people stood on the bumpers of nearby car just to get a glimpse. Designed by Gordon Buehrig’s team including Vince Gardner and Alex Tremulis, originally conceived as a smaller, front drive Duesenberg with a distinctive “coffin-like” nose with louvered wraparound grille enhanced by pontoon fenders, hidden headlights, and minimal chrome decoration, using independent front suspension, an advanced high camshaft L-head (to enhance breathing) 125 bph 4.7 liter Lycoming V8 (289 c.i.d.). a four speed transaxle extending forward of the engine, like a Citroen Traction Avant, eliminating the driveshaft, and allowing a low sporty profile with no transmission tunnel.
The aircraft inspired engine turned center dashboard featured full instrumentation and a standard radio, something that wouldn’t become an industry norm until the late 1950’s. The transmission featured an electrically controlled pre-selector to the right of the steering column.
Because the Cord 810 was rushed into production, only 1,174 cars were sold in the first year with deliveries only beginning in April 1936. In 1937 supercharging was made available on the 1937 812, a mechanically driven Schwitzer-Cummins supercharger. Reliability woes, including slipping out of gear, vapor lock, cooling issues reduced demand for the Cord 810. Unsold left-over 1936 810’s were re-numbered and sold as 1937 812 models. After about 3,000 810/812 Cords were produced, Auburn-Cord-Duesenberg cease production of the car, likely related to the developing 1937-1938 economic recession which was the final death knell for auto makers, like ACD who had seemingly miraculously hung on through the Great Depression.
The music had evolved during the 1930’s with big band sounds becoming popular. Here is Benny Goodman’s Orchestra’s “sing Sing”, with Gene Krupa on drums, Harry James on trumpet.
As we leave the “Jazz Age” show, with panels on the wall, we were reminded of the elegance of Department Store shopping in the 1920’s and 1930’s
Bullocks Wilshire department store, Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles. Art Deco building, a palace of commerce, opened in 1929, closed 1993, the building is now a law school in LA. Photo courtesy of the California History Room, California State Library, Sacramento, California.
Models show the latest fashions to customers seated in Bergdorf Goodman’s Manhattan display room. From Vogue 1928. Photo: Edward Steichen/Conde Nast via Getty Images.
So ends our time travel to the Jazz Age and into the 1930’s.