Show Summary Details

Page of

Printed from Grove Music Online. Grove is a registered trademark. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

date: 12 April 2021

Southwest jazz [Kansas City jazz]free

  • Marc Rice

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. (See bennie Moten .)

In the early 1920s, Moten and Lee were playing a style of ensemble ragtime that used collective improvisation and a 2/4 beat. By the mid-1920s, in Oklahoma City, Walter Page’s Blue Devils were forging a new style, utilizing the lighter 4/4 beat set down by Page’s walking bass, the strong solos of count Basie , trumpeter Oran “Hot Lips” Page, and saxophonist Buster Smith, and arrangements by Basie and Eddie Durham that used repeated motives, or “riffs,” to accompany the soloists. (See walter Page .) During the late 1920s these musicians joined the Moten Orchestra, reinventing the band with their new style.

There were dozens of other bands working throughout the region that also represented different facets of Southwest jazz. Among the most important were the Troy Floyd Orchestra from San Antonio and Alphonso Trent from Dallas. These and other bands featured the ability to execute sophisticated arrangements as well as dynamic solos.


  • F. Driggs: “Kansas City and the Southwest,” Jazz: New Perspectives on the History of Jazz by Twelve of the World’s Foremost Jazz Critics and Scholars, ed. N. Hentoff and A.J. McCarthy (1959/R1974), 189
  • N.W. Pearson, Jr.: Goin’ to Kansas City (Urbana, IL, and London, 1987)
  • F. Driggs and C. Haddix: Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop—A History (New York, 2005)
  • H.D Daniels: One O’Clock Jump: The Unforgettable History of the Oklahoma City Blue Devils (Boston, 2006)