[Kansas City jazz]
A style of jazz developed in the 1920s and 30s unique to Kansas City and the Southwest. It grew from the ragtime traditions of Missouri, the blues of the Southwest, and the fierce musical and economic competition that was a fact of life for the territory bands working in the region. Features of the mature Southwest style include a heavy emphasis on improvisation, a driving 4/4 beat, and the influence of blues forms and harmonies.
Kansas City was the focal point of jazz in the Midwest and Southwest, due to its vibrant African American communities, and a political climate that enabled the presence of alcohol and vice in venues where the music was performed. The city was home to dozens of musicians and several bands, the most important of which were the Bennie Moten and George E. Lee Orchestras. There were dance halls and many jazz clubs where local and visiting musicians were allowed to experiment, and to challenge each other through “cutting contests” that demonstrated their improvisation skills. (...
The term “sweet dance music” is used to define both a repertory and a performance practice. It appeared in print for the first time in the late 1920s and continued to be used regularly until the 1950s, often as a pejorative label for a style that was in many respects the antithesis of jazz. In addition to American popular songs, the repertory included genres of European origin: waltzes, polkas, and “light classics,” among others. The style was frequently characterized by music that was fully arranged with little if any improvisation played by bands having an instrumentation similar to that of jazz bands of the 1930s: reeds, brass, and a rhythm section supplemented in some instances by strings. The musicians use a straight tone, not individualized sonorities characteristic of hot jazz. Arrangements typically use symmetrical rhythms with little or no swing in slow to moderate tempos. Singers also employ a straight tone and equally symmetrical rhythms rather than jazz-based vocalisms....