Detractors and supporters of jazz argued on many aspects of the music and its value as a form of art, but they all agreed on one thing: its popularity tightly linked to the changes in society that had started after WWI. Whether these changes were perceived as positive or negative depended on the critic’s stance as modernist or traditionalist.
In any case, jazz was often credited as expressing a break with the past and introducing a new time and speed that took place after the Great War.
This new rhythm was the expression of life in the city as opposed to life in rural areas. It was the rhythm of machines, the sound of more modern times. The new rhythms were not simply faster. The irregularity and syncopation also gave a sense of hurry- It sounded unpredictable like this new life.
Many artists of the 1920s caught this sense of constant shifting and changing, of insecurity. Time and how it now moved differently were central to the 1920s sensibility, particularly in the arts. This ‘lost’ generation of artists despaired about their fate. They felt confused in the transition from valued already fixed to values that had to be created, uncertain in that diffuse insecurity.
Jazz was already firmly placed in this feeling. It expressed the transition from rural to urban life, from slow to faster times, from before to after, and so it provided a potent symbol for that transition to new values. Jazz became not just a language of music but also a language of visual arts and storytelling. In the Jazz Age, it was a pervasive presence.
Jazz was the language of this generation. It was an experience that conveyed change – not merely an aspect of a culture affected by change. In its syncopated, entirely new rhythms, the lost generation began to found itself.
Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989