Early American Popular Music


Tin Pan Alley or Jazz?

In full disclosure, Antique Melody Show probably wouldn’t qualify as a pure jazz band. And that’s alright. It’s not what we set out to accomplish. Not that we’re knocking jazz, on the contrary, we celebrate the notion that many of the songs we play are born from Pre-WWII jazz connections and fundamental melodic progressions that are typically found in some jazz formulas. And of course we play a fair amount of jazz standards. Or, are they early American popular standards, or both? Regardless, to be fair to our music, AMS is more about early 20th century popular music that would better be categorized as music generated from the “Tin Pan Alley” era. This considered, how jazz and Tin Pan Alley intersect is likely a wonderful subject that you could debate over several cups of coffee at your local café, or better yet, at an AMS show.

So what’s this whole Tin Pan Alley thing all about anyway? Some would consider it a bit more complex than I’ll describe here. But the short version of it is, Tin Pan Alley is a stretch of Manhattan on West 28th St., between fifth Avenue and Broadway, where scores of music publishers once set up shop to write and sell music between 1885 and the 1930s - with some arguing that it went well into the 1950s. The origin of the label, “Tin Pan Alley” is also debatable, although a lot of historians agree that the euphemism came from the echoing sound of numerous pianos that could be heard plunking away within the alleyways that separated the neighboring brownstone apartments that were converted into publishing businesses. 

In its heyday, Tin Pan Alley was a flourishing business for songwriters and publishers as many Americans sought to own a piano at the turn of the century. And since gathering around the family upright was a blossoming American pastime, folks needed songs to sing and music to play. Tin Pan Alley became a cash cow and memorialized some of its greatest composers such as Gus Kahn, Hoagy Carmichael, Harold Arlen, Irving Berlin and George and Ira Gershwin. 

Eventually, with the advent of phonographs, radio and motion pictures, America’s romance with parlor music slowly shifted. And there you have it – one more chapter in the ever-reoccurring theme of technology replacing tradition as we know it.

Here are some links on the subject of American popular music, Tin Pan Alley and Jazz:

The Parlor Songs Academy

From Ragtime to Modernism

Women of Tin Pan Alley

Constructing Tin Pan Alley: From Minstrelsy to Mass Culture

How Tin Pan Alley Transformed The Popular Music Industry

American Popular Music

Spotlight on Harold Arlen

The Man Behind The Curtain


Here is a glance at one of our favorite Tin Pan Alley writers, Harold Arlen. He composed over 400 songs including every song for the motion picture, The Wizard of Oz. He also composed a wealth of other memorable tunes including, It's Only A Paper Moon, Stormy Weather, I've Got the World on A String, and Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive. 

His most famous song,"Over The Rainbow" was named song of the Twentieth Century.