The catastrophe of World War I shattered the sense of optimism that had grown in the West since the Enlightenment. Despair gripped survivors on both sides as they added up the staggering costs of the war. Europeans mourned a generation of young men who had been lost on the battlefields.
Duke Ellington was a composer, pianist, and bandleader. He referred to his music as “American Music” rather than “jazz.” His career spanned the 1920s to the 1970s.
Many people talked about a “return to normalcy,” to life as it had been before 1914. But rebellious young people rejected the moral values and rules of the Victorian Age and chased after excitement. Gertrude Stein, an American writer living in Paris, called them the “lost generation.” Others saw them as immoral pleasure-seekers.
During the 1920s, new technologies helped create a mass culture shared by millions in the world's developed countries. Affordable cars, improved telephones, and new forms of media such as motion pictures and radio brought people around the world closer together than ever before.
In the 1920s, many radios tuned into the new sounds of jazz. In fact, the decade in the West is often called the Jazz Age. African American musicians combined Western harmonies with African rhythms to create jazz. Jazz musicians, like trumpeter Louis Armstrong and pianist Duke Ellington, took simple melodies and improvised endless subtle variations in rhythm and beat.
Throughout the 1920s, the popularity of jazz moved from the United States to Europe. Europeans embraced American popular culture, with its greater freedom and willingness to experiment.