"I Dream of Her and Avalon": 1930s Sweet Jazz, Race, and Nostalgia at the Casino Ballroom

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jazz, place and space, popular music

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The Casino Ballroom of Avalon, Catalina Island, is located about twenty miles off the coast of the metropolitan Los Angeles area. Completed in 1929 under the direction of chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr., the ballroom became a significant venue for dance bands of the 1930s and early 1940s. The Casino did not, however, feature any of the most familiar names of the era. Instead, it was designed as a state-of-the-art dance hall for the presentation of exclusively white dance bands playing “sweet” jazz, a style that avoided the most obvious musical signifiers of “hot” popular music. Through a comparison of three commercial recordings of “Avalon,” I detail how the music of Jan Garber’s sweet jazz orchestra—a group immensely popular at the Casino—differed from the music of hotter jazz dance bands, such as the Jimmie Lunceford and Casa Loma Orchestras. Garber’s sweet “Avalon” established a sonic place characterized by specific musical relationships and values that were easily fused to the ideology of the island’s promoters. For the owners and managers of the Casino Ballroom, jazz was to be the sound of modernity suffused with nostalgia for a threatened, racialized social order.

Citation / Publisher Attribution

Journal of the Society for American Music, v. 2, issue 4, p. 531-567

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