We don’t think twice about a quick drink after work or a lazy Sunday at the pub but there was a time this would have been truly illegal. In the early 1900s, in the USA, a surge in illegal drinking taverns, known today as speakeasies arrived. They were also called “Blind Pigs” or “Gin Joints” and were often set up by mafioso bosses to offer drinking spots as alcohol was illegal. There were thought to be over 100,000 Speakeasies in New York alone. These illegal venues served alcohol and at this point in time it was against the law to drink during what was called the ‘prohibition’ period. They played riotous jazz music and were considered dens of iniquity. But these squalid halls helped in many ways to bring about revolution. Today it may seem rather tame to drink alcohol and listen to jazz but there was a time when it was unlawful and raids were commonplace. Find out more here in Jazz Resistance.
The United States of America had just entered the Prohibition era where alcoholic beverages were illegal between the years of 1920 and 1933. This meant people had to find ‘secret spaces’ to be able to drink alcoholic beverages. Along came the infamous speakeasy, often hidden behind legal shop fronts. Many police raids saw illegal alcohol literally poured down the drains.
The phrase, ‘Speakeasy’ originates from a term that bartenders used when people needed to, “speakeasy” (quietly) when ordering at the bar in order to not draw attention to the prohibited act of buying alcohol. In order to gain access to these illicit bars, a password, specific handshake or secret knock was required.
Up until the 19th century, the Temperance Movement advocated for moderation in alcohol consumption. But, starting in 1920, it evolved to a full-fledged prohibition. This meant the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol were made illegal.
Unknowingly this government decision would spark a new movement, bringing with it in many ways social change. These under-the-counter joints ended up helping with the liberation of many and their legacy still lives on.
Speakeasies bought new music called jazz to a broader audience. The genre found its roots in blues and ragtime. It can be easily recognized by its swing, blues notes, complex chords and response vocals. It is most commonly expressed with the saxophone, trumpet and piano.
The jazz age began after the great migration occurred around 1915 to 1920. African Americans escaped oppression from the rural South and moved to cities in the North.
Jazz originated in key cities like New Orleans from the culture of the African Diaspora. Here they mixed with other minority communities all with their own musical styles, the Irish jigs the Jewish klezmer and Italians added new facets to this style of music the Afro-Americans bought with them.
This was what came to be known as jazz. This newfound freedom led to the birth of jazz and party culture thanks to musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and more…
Even though speakeasies were highly illegal and often raided for it, they bought about social change from colour restrictions to freedom for women. All the while preserving this culture that was flourishing in this underground setting.
The jazz age led to American youth culture transformation with the rise of alcohol consumption, parties, dancing, and music. It also gave way forward for women’s empowerment through the rise of the dancing and fashionable Flapper Girls and having women be able to go into bars because up until then, only singers or dancers could enter bars.
Also majority of the bars, didn’t have colour segregation which was still very much in place in many parts of the country.
Of course, not everyone was keen on this music genre. In fact, campaigns to censor the “devil’s music” started to appear, prohibiting when and where jazz clubs could be built.
Yet prohibition of both alcohol and jazz fostered the emergence of the underground, gangster-run jazz clubs, the speakeasies. These venues served alcohol, hired black musicians, and allowed whites, blacks and audiences of all social classes to mingle socially for the first time. This bought about a massive social change thanks to this Jazz Resistance.
Speakeasies facilitated the Harlem Renaissance in New York City. The period, ranging from the 1910s to the 1930s is considered a golden age in African American Culture. As a result of the Great Migration the development of the Harlem neighbourhood saw a social and artistic boom. African American culture was being fully expressed through literature, music and art.
Speakeasies also helped with the social change for women who would have had no place in bars unless they were a showgirl; yet now exposed to this easy access, social and liberal change were in full swing in the “Jazz Age.”
With their short skirts, bobbed hair and the sudden ability to drink copious amounts of cocktails, the concept of the ‘Flapper’ was born. ‘The Flappers’ became a symbol of women fighting for their freedom during the roaring twenties.
Over time jazz has branched out into a series of different styles stemming from traditional jazz. Swing first emerged in the 20s emphasizing the off-beat with artists like Benny Carter. Then in the 40s bebop and its fast tempo came along with Charlie Parker. In the 50s Paul Tanner and others experimented with a relaxed tempo and lighter tone and uncovered ‘Cool jazz’. In the 60s jazz rock also known as jazz fusion was concretised by artists with the likes of Herbie Hancock.
It is clear to see that jazz has had a substantial impact on music. It has inspired so many new styles. Jazz is one of the United States’ greatest exports. So much so that in our day it has spread to many parts of the world.
Today, Jazz is still well alive. The Great Scotland Yard Hotel is a testimony of this. Every last Thursday and Friday of the month from six pm an impressive live jazz band will be performing smooth and elegant jazz all evening at the bar. This event called ‘Sibin Swing’ will take place at the Síbín bar.
Sibin Bar is not just a bar with a range of self-designed cocktails. They have a considerable collection of whiskies for connoisseurs of this liquor. Other beverages are of course served and there is a menu for bar snacks. It is a modern take on bar classics created with the flair you would expect of a new-age British hotel.
They kick it off this month with a live 4-piece jazz band including Jazz FM’s Vocalist of the Year, Cherise Adams-Burnett, who has performed at the BBC Proms and Love Supreme Festival. Dylan Jones will feature on the trumpet, and Joe Chiari will accompany on the guitar.
A way to finish your day without the worry of being raided, guilt-free delicious to taste and to hear.
Find out more about Sibin Swing here and who is playing which evenings
.Cent Magazine, London Be Inspired; Get Involved