"Jazz was such an important part of the new mass culture that the 1920's are often referred to as the Jazz Age." (America, p. 705)
A cultural transformation took place in the United States in the 1920's. Magazines, tabloids, radio, movies and phonograph records all contributed to a whole new way of life for Americans. The first movie to be produced with sound was The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, in 1927. It is significant not only for being the first "talkie", but also because had to do with the newest form of music to come along, which was jazz. The 1920's are known as the Jazz Age. This new style of music has its origins in the music of the South, particularly New Orleans, and also has roots in African and European musical styles. Most of the early jazz musicians were black, and the popularity of jazz moved northward to cities like Chicago and New York. Some of the best known jazz musicians of this era were Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, and "Jelly Roll" Morton.
Jazz is an improvisational style of music, meaning that musicians don't follow notes written on a page, but rather, improvise as they play and sing. Related to jazz are styles such as the blues and ragtime. It was, and still is, a very free style of music. Some of the main themes of the songs from the Jazz Age were women's freedom to enjoy their sexuality, and black opposition to white mainstream values.
The invention of phonograph served to spread jazz to a wide audience, not only in the United States, but in Europe as well.
Much like any new form of music, for example the rock and roll of the 50's and 60's, jazz was controversial and labeled by some as "the devil's music". It was liberating and sensual and broke the rules musically and socially. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the phonograph, criticized it by saying that sounded better played backwards.