Thursday, December 20, 2012

Marc Myers's "Why Jazz Happened"

Marc Myers is the author of Why Jazz Happened—the first jazz social history that looks at the unlikely social, economic and technological events that caused jazz styles to change between 1942 and 1972, the music’s golden three decades.

Myers is a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, where he writes on music and architecture, and he posts daily at, which recently was named “Blog of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Myers applied the “Page 99 Test” to Why Jazz Happened and came to the following conclusions:
This is a fascinating test. Upon opening to page 99, I landed on one of the most exciting chapters of my book—the reasons for the rise of West Coast jazz in the early 1950s. Most people view this form of music as laid back jazz played mostly by white jazz musicians. And both were true. But the contrapuntal, yawning style also was a result of Los Angeles’ rapid suburbanization after World War II and the relaxed lifestyle’s impact on musicians and what new homes with phonographs wanted to hear in the pre-rock era.

Page 99 begins to detail how Los Angeles decided to expand and why prefab housing and freeways were essential to this growth and style of music. Ultimately, the suburbs become segregated white enclaves as a result of real estate covenants that prevented white homeowners from selling to minorities and aggressive police pullovers of vehicles with African-American passengers in neighborhoods other than South Central L.A.

As one West Coast jazz musician remarked about the connection between the environment and the music: “We woke up happy, drove around optimistic and ended the day content. It only would make sense that the jazz many of us played would sound the way we felt. We were blessed. The musicians were all playing harmony because we were having a great time. You could say that all of that spirit and feeling came out in the music that writers called West Coast jazz.”
Read more about Why Jazz Happened at the book’s official site, and visit

Writers Read: Marc Myers.

--Marshal Zeringue