Panic at the Jazz Club

George H. Smith describes the jazz scare of the '20s, which may remind you of the rock and rap scares of later days:

Anne Faulkner -- music chairperson of the National Federation of Women's Clubs, and author of What We Hear in Music and The Opera and Oratorio -- was alarmed by a new type of music that was sweeping across America. She called her article Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?

Faulkner wrote her article to explain the "evil influence" of jazz on American culture. Jazz inspired a style of dancing that originated with the "voodoo dancer, stimulating the half-crazed barbarian to the vilest deeds." The fact that the syncopated rhythm of jazz, which causes "brutality and sensuality," has "a demoralizing effect upon the human brain has been demonstrated by many scientists." Jazz "almost forces dancers to use jerky half-steps, and inspires immoral variations."

Faulkner was especially troubled by the detrimental influence of jazz on the morals of women. Women who liked to dance to the music of jazz orchestras frequently availed themselves of "corset check rooms," which enabled them to shed both physical and moral restraints; and over-stimulated young women sometimes wandered off with their dates during breaks.

Jazz, according to Faulkner, is an "expression of protest against law and order, that bolshevik element of license striving for expression in music."...The "demoralizing effect" of jazz on factory workers was also evident. "This was noticed in an unsteadiness and lack of evenness in the workmanship of the product after a period when the workmen had indulged in jazz music."

It is "universally recognized," Faulkner wrote, that "the human organism responds to musical vibrations." Marches and patriotic songs -- tunes with a simple melody, harmony, and rhythm -- cause us to feel "contentment or serenity" and inspire us to acts of "valor and martial courage." Jazz, in stark contrast, "disorganizes all regular laws and order; it stimulates to extreme deeds, to a breaking away of all rules and conventions; it is harmful and dangerous, and its influence is wholly bad."

To read Smith's whole article -- which is mostly about neoconservatism, but there's some more about the jazz panic too -- go here. To demoralize your coworkers with a Bolshevik beat, click below:

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  • ||

    That old school Jazz is cool. But so often when there's a Jazz group playing these days it's just a bunch of people each playing his/her own tune and it sounds like crap and is nothing anyone but Elaine Benes could dance to....

  • Reformed Republican||

    I heartily recommend Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet.

  • ||

    Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra. AMAZING.

  • NeonCat||

    I believe Ken Burns's Jazz covered this: Jazz musicians got tired of playing music people wanted to listen to, music they didn't consider challenging enough, so starting with the Be-Boppers they started doing their own thing, man, and then in a couple decades wondered where the hell the audience went.

  • tarran||

    Jazz, the gangster rap that terrified progressives.

    Keeping white women from having sex with black Jazz musicians was one of the major justifications for outlawing marijuana back in the day.

  • ||

    Well, you know, tarran, there was just no limit to the depravity a negro smoking marihuana and listening to jazz was capable of.

    The science was settled.

  • T||

    If you need bolshevik beats to demoralize your coworkers, you must be a rank amateur at the sport.

  • mr simple||

    Anne Faulkner looks like a man.

  • ||

    That's some good clarinet in that song.

  • ||

    Full disclosure: I played the clarinet as a kid. I regret nothing.

  • mad libertarian guy||

    From what I hear, you've stuck with the woodwind family in adulthood and switched to the skin flute.

  • ||

    I am unparalleled at the boner pipes.

  • Pro Libertate||

    French horn. It gave me incredible embouchure. Breaks the ice at parties.

  • SugarFree||

    I played "Wasn't in the band, so I had sex" in high school.

  • T||

    I played video games while smoking weed in high school. Now that I'm older, I play video games and drink bourbon.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I quit band young enough that that wasn't an issue, but there's a surprising amount of sexual activity in the band.

  • Scarcity||

    That sounds almost as if the band is comprised of teenagers treated to long coed bus rides, changing rooms, and summer camp.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Yes. One time at band camp. . . .

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    I played tuba in high school. Got high with the tuba line every morning before school. Got drunk during Friday night football games. Bus trips to competitions were raucous. Violence between rival bands was not uncommon. Band camp was basically an orgy. Band was fun.

  • NeonCat||

    I am reminded of Ishmael Reed's Mumbo Jumbo, which had the Jazz panic as its theme and which I believe is the source of the first alt-text. Good book, btw.

  • Killazontherun||

    I'm a cowboy on the boat of Ra,
    Sidewinder in a saloon of fools,
    Vampire outlaw of the milky way.

    Man, I love where reed's head is, need to put that on my must read list for this year.

  • Loki||

    "This was noticed in an unsteadiness and lack of evenness in the workmanship of the product after a period when the workmen had indulged in jazz music."

    That might have had something to do with what they were smoking while listening to jazz. NTTAWWT.

  • Emmerson Biggins||

    That whole excerpt read out loud "slow jam" style over some Kenny G would make a funny video.

  • Brandybuck||

    I recall hearing the EXACT same arguments against rock and roll when I was a kid. Complete with psuedo-scientific crap about syncopation.


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