BitchTapes: Tales of the Jazz Age

Jacob Dittmer
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For me, the 1920s stand out as one of the coolest times to be alive. The music, the parties, the changes in social mores, the fashion, the burgeoning of film and radio. (This is of course, with rose-tinted glasses neglecting the poverty, the subjugation of classes, ethnicities, and women—not to mention the violence brought on by prohibition.) Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby introduces high school English classes everywhere to the roaring twenties and its lavish galas filled with copious amounts of glamour and booze—set to a soundtrack of swinging tunes. On the other hand, the trailer for Baz Luhrmann's Great Gatsby, released this week, gives us a Leo Dicaprio trying his best Paul Newman imitation and an indulgent take on an already-indulgent literary masterpiece. This includes using contemporary music instead of music from the renowned Jazz Age (didn't we learn this was a bad idea from A Knight's Tale?). To right this terrible wrong, here's a playlist of some of the period's finest. (Sorry Yeezy and Hov, but Bessie Smith makes for a better Jazz Age soundtrack than Watch the Throne does.) You're encouraged to play these songs while watching the trailer or when re-watching episodes of Boardwalk Empire. More bathtub gin please…

Gatsby's Jazz Age from BitchTapes on 8tracks.

Track List

1. “Riverboat Shuffle” - Bix Beiderbecke Bix was born on the Mississippi among the riverboats carrying jazz up and down the Mid-U.S. 2. “Big Butter And Egg Man” - Louis Armstrong & His Hot Five Featuring the vocals of May Alix, this early Armstrong track gets its title from the '20s slang term for a big spender. Indulgent enough for you, Baz? 3. “I Ain't Goin' To Play Second Fiddle” - Bessie Smith No one should ever ask Bessie to play second fiddle. She will sing your ass under the table. 4. “Everybody Loves My Baby” - Clarence Williams' Blue Five Featuring Eva Taylor's vocals, this 1924 composition (recorded here by Louis Armstrong and co.) was a popular standard for much of the 20th century. 5. “Mama's Got the Blues” - Fats Waller Fats Waller penned some true classics (“Ain't Misbehavin',” “Honeysuckle Rose”), but got his start in the jazz halls. Lore tells of Waller getting kidnapped by Capone's men in order to perform at the gangster's birthday celebration. 6. “Ain't He Sweet” - Annette Hanshaw Hanshaw represents the pop vocalists of the period with coy stylings and winks to the flappers of the day. 7. “Wild Party” - Fletcher Henderson Henderson's composition preceded the big band era, but this song offers a window into what a wild party might've sounded like in 1925. 8. “The Pearls” - Jelly Roll Morton Jelly Roll is often credited as the creator of jazz (debatable, but he was an early figure in arranging and composing), and his band of Chicago musicians showed the cities how to swing. 9. “Goin' Crazy With The Blues” - Mamie Smith Early jazz drew much from the blues and Mamie Smith was one of the earliest black vocalists to cue listeners into what the blues were really about. 10. “I Found a New Baby” - Andy Preer & The Cotton Club Orchestra The Cotton Club is a national landmark of the Jazz Age and though it had some serious problems with racial segregation, it did employ some of the best musicians of the day. 11. “Cake Walkin' Babies (From Home) [With Henderson's Hot Six]” - Bessie Smith Penned by Clarence Williams, but sung here by Bessie Smith whose vocal stylings went on to influence just about every female jazz and blues vocalist ever. 12. “Ain't Misbehavin'” - Louis Armstrong A Waller classic performed here by Armstrong, who was at the peak of his game in 1929. He made a name for himself with his cornet, but Louis' vocals are just as iconic a part of jazz history. Previously: Haters Gonna Hate, Heat Wave

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6 Comments Have Been Posted

Like the movie, this is an

Like the movie, this is an interesting WHITE imagining of the 1920's soundscape.

Please explain what

Please explain what constitutes a white imagining of the soundtrack comprised by black artists, many of whom were serious presences in the Harlem Renaissance.

First, LOL @ how this white

First, LOL @ how this white imagining of the Harlem Renaissance soundscape by a white person is a white imagining. Really? History much? (TL;DR, Instead of diving into the rich racialized and gendered imagining of 1920's Harlem, this blog post instead goes along with the status quo white imagining of Harlem. That's my beef.)

On that topic, the artists in here were important to the Harlem Renaissance, no doubt - without talking about class and the geopolitics of racism in the US. But they didn't constitute the sound of Harlem, which was held up by a ton of jazz musicians who never made it into white jazz history because of their political alliances and ill-fit into the white mythology of jazz. I"m thinking particularly of two categories, that are particularly troubling since BITCH is a FEMINIST endeavor. First, African American women like Ethel Waters and Mary Lou Williams not only wrote and performed in the area, but later served as a mentor to many of the late-renaissance players (Hazel Scott being one). THe other category forgotten are the numerous jewish jazz composers/writers (a gender division) that provided so many of the standards for the Harlem scene - Harlem was a jewish neighborhood, remember - like Ginger Smock and Florence Mills.

Hold on, now. "A white

Hold on, now. "A white person wrote it, therefore it is a white imagining." ?????? Seriously? Essentialism, much?

It's ridiculous to take a list of TWELVE songs and criticize it for not being fully representative of 1920's Harlem. The list is (quite appropriately) overwhelmingly comprised of outstanding and mostly well-known black jazz artists. And the Harlem jazz scene of the swing era was notable in particular for its acceptance of mixed-race jazz bands and dance halls.

essentialism only works

essentialism only works as a cop out if the initial post - i.e. the white imagining of the harlem soundscape ~1920 - isn't itself essentialist. Claiming essentialism fails to actually engage with what I'm saying, that the soundscape written about here does nothing but reproduce a glorification of 'pull yourself up by the bootstraps' ideology of jazz.

And excuse me for expecting a feminist media outlet to dive into the complex gendered history of jazz. I apologize for holding them accountable for the f'ed up racialized gendering politics that went into writing the dominant jazz history myth.

I've never been able to get

I've never been able to get much out of the "Roaring Twenties" myth. Maybe its because the period was so utterly depressing here in Europe. Civil wars, rising dictatorships. Even the party life was just escapism from the impending doom. Also, this whole culture of Jazz and "changing of social mores" was in here just for a tiny elite rich enough for it -majority of my countrywomen woke up every morning to milk the cows, wore long dresses and head scarfs. Most of people started their working career in their early teens...

I've always found it funny how 20's of popular culture are the "liberated" age and, say, 50's the "oppressive" Especially when keeping in mind the political reality of that time.

I still have to recommend a 20's film that tells a lot about culture of the 20's in Europe: Fritz Lang's "Dr Mabuse, the Gambler". There you have everything that made the decade: the decadence of the rich, the criminality and abuse of the poor, rising totalitarianism. With superb Modernist visuals.

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