Famous Jazz Musicians of the 1920s

By Jeremy Cato
Jazz music inspired a number of great musicians in the 1920s.

The 1920s saw the rise of jazz as a major musical genre. Jazz emerged from the musical traditions primarily of African Americans in the southern United States and largely depends on the virtuosity of instrumental solosits. The "Roaring 20s" brought in some of the biggest names in the history of jazz music.

Louis Armstrong

Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong is considered by many people to be one of the greatest and most influential jazz musicians of all time. He is known for his superior trumpet playing and his amazing, husky baritone voice. He was born in 1901 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was mentored by some of the other great musicians of the time, such as Joe "King" Oliver. In 1919 he moved to Chicago, where his career took off. By the end of the 1920s, Satchmo was known nationwide and playing to very large audiences. His career lasted well into the 1960s. He was internationally known by the time of his death in 1971.

Joe "King" Oliver

Joseph Nathan "King" Oliver, like Louis Armstrong, was also born in Louisiana and was an expert cornet player. "King" Oliver's band was called King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band. Oliver played with many other famous musicians of the time, including Armstrong and "Kid" Ory. He toured the country with his band, playing mostly in Chicago and the southern states, occasionally playing in California. Unfortunately, Oliver fell into poverty during the Great Depression and died penniless as a poolroom janitor in 1938.

Duke Ellington

Edward "Duke" Ellington was a famous jazz pianist, band leader and composer. He was born in Washington, D.C., but moved to play music in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Harlem, New York, where he performed at the famous Cotton Club. Duke Ellington was not only a paragon of the "Roaring 20s" and the "Jazz Age"; he was a pivotal figure in the Harlem Renaissance and one of the greatest composers in American history. He composed well over 1,000 pieces, including famous songs such as "Sophisticated Lady" and ambitious suites such as "A Tone Parallel to Harlem." "The Duke" had a career that spanned 60 years until his death in 1974.

Bix Biederbecke

One of the tragic jazz legends of the 1920s is that of Bix Biederbecke. He was the most respected white jazz musician of the era and was born in Davenport, Iowa, where he heard jazz players on the riverboats that came up the Mississippi from New Orleans. He was highly respected by fellow musicians for his superior and highly lyrical cornet playing. His band, the Wolverines, was formed in 1924; he also played with Frankie "Tram" Trumbauer and Paul Whiteman. A chronic Prohibition-era alcoholic, he died at the age of 28 in 1931.

"Kid" Ory

Edward "Kid" Ory was a famous jazz musician whose specialty was the trombone. He led King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band when Oliver was doing other things and also played with Louis Armstrong's seminal Hot Fives sessions. He also started his own band, Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra. Ory retired from music for long stretches, once from 1930 to 1943 and for the last time in 1966 until his death in 1973 at age 86.

"Jelly Roll" Morton

Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe, better known as "Jelly Roll" Morton, was a New Orleans-born jazz pianist and composer who was famous for spreading the then relatively unknown genre of jazz to the masses in America. He toured widely, playing music everywhere from Vancouver, Canada, to Washington, D.C. After the 1920s, "Jelly Roll" Morton's career declined although some of his compositions like "King Porter Stomp" became jazz standards. He died in 1941 at the age of 55.

About the Author

Jeremy Cato is a writer from Atlanta who graduated with Phi Beta Kappa honors and an English degree from Morehouse College. An avid artist and hobbyist, he began professionally writing in 2011, specializing in crafts-related articles for various websites.