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Jazz and The 1920's

     Gatsby features entertainment at his parties which includes live music from a jazz band.  Jazz bands were very popular at the time because they provided a release from daily constraints and hardships.  One of the most popular band leaders at the time was Duke Ellington.  His music was able to transcend racial barriers as his was nationally famous among both white and African American audiences.  Gatsby's parties featured the most popular songs of the early 1920's, such as "Three O'clock in the Morning" by Julian Robledo and Dorothy Terriss, rooted with a rag-time sound.  Both ragtime and "swing" jazz appealed to early twentieth century audiences, and was popularized by catchy waltzes such as "Three O'clock in the Morning" and Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

    Ellington was one of the most popular bandleaders of the early 1900's.  He worked feverishly to master the piano and was able to compile a group by 1920.  This group was unusual because it remained together for many years, mainly due to Ellington's dedication.  The band was a success because Ellington "treated them well, paid them well" and was constantly booking gigs (Straub 1).  In 1922 Duke and his band traveled to Harlem during the creative period of the Harlem Renaissance.  Here the band, "Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians," as they called themselves, played to black audiences in Harlem's many nightclubs.  As the band's popularity increased they began to play increasingly more for exclusively white audiences.  1927 marked Ellington's big break when his band played at the hottest nightclub in Harlem, "The Cotton Club."  "Live radio broadcasts of their performances" helped to launch their notoriety across the nation (Straub 2).  Ellington appealed to a broad stream of audiences because his "sophistication and elegant attire epitomized Harlem's glamorous nightlife.  In the 1930's "Duke Ellington and his Orchestra," as they were now called, topped charts with Ellington's hits with such songs as: "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing," "Sophisticated Lady," and "Solitude."  The early 1940's "marked the creative peak of both Ellington and his band" as they began to experiment with "swing-style jazz" which audiences responded well to (Straub 2).  However as jazz's popularity declined in the 1950's so did the popularity of Ellington's band.  In addition to the "swing-style" employed by Ellington's band a more old-fashioned rag time style of music was also popular, as was exemplified in the 1922 hit "Three O'clock in the Morning."

        "Three O'clock in the Morning" is an unusual song from the 1920's because its lyrics were written by a woman, Dorothy Terriss.  The piece originated as a "piano only" piece written by Julian Robledo published in New Orleans in 1918 (Maine 2).  Terriss wrote under pseudonyms so her works could be published in the male dominated music field.  Upon completing the lyrics for "Three O'clock in the Morning" they appeared in the finale of the Greenwich Village Follies in 1918 and became a hit.  Terriss and her husband Theodore Morse were known as one of the "earliest Tin Pan Alley husband-wife songwriting teams" enabling Terriss to be an influential contributor to the time period's music (Maine 2).  The song is featured at Gatsby's party and is playing in the background while Daisy is leaving, making the song stand out in Nick's mind. 

Maine, Robert L. and Richard A. Reublin.  "Three O'clock in the Morning."  Women in Popular American Song.  (November 2002): 2 pp.  On-line.  Internet.  27 January 2004.  Available: 

"Duke Ellington."  Contemporary Heroes and Heroines, Book II.  Deborah Gillan Straub et. al.  Bergen County Cooperative Library System.     25 January 2004.  <>.