Tin Pan Alley Jazz

Tin Pan Alley became a melting pot for culture and musical tastes, despite racial lines, and although limitations still existed, the art of the music was still able to emerge!
Tin Pan Alley on West 28th Street.

Tin Pan Alley

A new breed of popular music publishers was established in New York in the 1890s. These publishers were, essentially, salesmen who didn’t sit in their offices waiting for performers to come to them but went out to the entertainment palaces and badgered not only the singers but also the orchestra leaders, dances, and comedians to use their numbers. This act developed into the profession of song-plugging. They hustled themselves, as well as their hired singers and whistlers into the finest theaters and lowest dives. After a few years on creation, Tin Pan Alley published its first song in 1892, “After The Ball” by Charles Harris, selling six million copies of sheet music!

This sale of millions of copies marked a significant development in the publishing industry and in the way music was being presented to the public. Music publishers were surprised to learn that popular tunes were being sold to individuals with the hopes of playing the songs at home. Up to that point, sheet music was almost exclusively sold to professional performers. Beginning around 1910, Tin Pan Alley found a great resource in sheet music, resulting in the sales of millions of copies. Not only was the Music Chart created (A tracking system of the country’s most popular songs), but the sale of sheet music put enormous resources (cash) into Tin Pan Alley. Music publishing companies skyrocketed and, as Johnny Mercer once recalled, “those composers all whistle a happy tune on the way to the bank because America was whistling their some tune!”

American Popular Music had arrived!

Within a year, Irving Berlin published “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” which mixed the popular beat of the day along with the legend of Ragtime. The song gave Tin Pan Alley its crowning achievement and Berlin his first million. The song also changed the way America listened to music, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” has often been credited, in part, for the increase in the sales of radios and phonographs, both rather new to the buying public.

Soon the attention of Tin Pan Alley shifted from Ragtime to other popular topics such as dances (The Charleston, the Fox Trot) and other music forms (Blues, jazz).

Towards the end of World War I, Tin Pan Alley’s publishing companies moved closer to the Broadway and vaudeville districts. Once the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) was formed, Tin Pan Alley became a mega force in popular music, producing over 90% of the commercial songs and inspiring the sales of millions of copies of both sheet music and 78 recordings.

Within just a few short years a shift occurred in the make-up of composers and performers of American Popular Music. In spite of the terrific interest in African American music, ASCAP’s membership remained predominantly white, there were only a half dozen African Americans in the organization by 1925. Dr. Billy Taylor once referred to this era as, “the first concert example of musical segregation in American Popular Music.” As the boon of jazz and blues crept into the consciousness of America, a number of African American composers gained their long-awaited recognition. Among these composers, some of the best known were Eubie Blake, W. C. Handy, Clarence Williams, James P. Johnson, Cecil Mack, Perry Bradford, and Henry Creamer.

These and other African American songwriters respected their musical heritage and referred to black oral traditions of themes, melodies, and song structures. In doing so, their white counterparts gained their techniques and generated a mix of pop-culture and the traditions of jazz and blues. A number of white members of ASCAP emerged as the first to combined these mixes, songwriters such as George Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, and Harold Arlen.

Tin Pan Alley became a melting pot for culture and musical tastes, despite racial lines, and although limitations still existed, the art of the music was still able to emerge!


Boogie-woogie is a jazz style that seems quite accessible to the listener. It is a piano style that was occasionally orchestrated successfully. This full-sounding style came into existence when it became necessary to hire a piano player to substitute for an orchestra. The resulting “barrel-house” piano which could be found in rural southern juke joints tried to imitate the sound of three guitars: one playing the chords, one melody, and one bass.

Most boogie-woogie is played on the blues chord progression with a repeated ostinato. The definite feeling of eight beats to the measure is the signature of this style.

During the 1930s, the strict blues form was being used more in jazz recordings as the tempos were speeding up. In the years just before 1940, the primitive blues form of boogie-woogie became a popular fad. Music historians have credited Meade Lux Lewis for the boogie-woogie craze. All during the 40s boogie influenced a number of arrangements within the big bands. The swing bands found great success when they added the element of boogie, such as the case of Will Bradley‘s “Beat Me Daddy, Eight To The Bar,” and Tommy Dorsey‘s “Boogie Woogie.”

Of the boogie-woogie players who came to prominence during the boogie fad; seven stand out as the major contributors and influences: Pine Top Smith, Albert Ammons, Jimmy Yancey, Joe Sullivan, Clarence Lofton, Pete Johnson, and Meade Lux Lewis. In later years Freddie Slack, Cleo Brown and Bob Zurke came to prominence as the younger generation of boogie-woogie players.

The blues-based boogie would later merge with the stride style to become the main line of development of jazz piano playing, a form that would lead to a major movement in jazz, led by the “Fatha,” Earl Hines.

Early Jazz Websites


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