Weird Stuff

Disneyland and Jazz

On first blush, jazz music and the Disney company may seem as far apart as Orlando and Anaheim. Jazz is improvisation and incongruent, a harmonious yet complicated soundscape that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Disney, on the other hand, has a broad appeal and thrives on organization. Not to mention, one is a giant corporation and one is a genre of music. Where they do align is that each of them are an essential part of Americana. In this post, I’m going to take a look back at how Disney and jazz have mirrored each other as well as how that genre of music has become an integral part of Disneyland.

As Walt Disney was preparing to move to California in the 1920’s, jazz was making its way into the mainstream and reaching its golden age. Walt’s love of the genre makes sense given that the music had become a huge part of the culture and its origins began in New Orleans, a place that obviously piqued his interest. As jazz became integral to American music through the 1920’s and 30’s, the Disney company also rose to fame. The Disney buzz started with Mickey Mouse and his whistling on a steamboat in 1928 and then hit a fever pitch in 1937 with the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

The 1940’s saw both the company and genre dip in popularity before making a comeback in the 50’s. For jazz, that comeback was faced by Miles Davis and the Birth of the Cool. For Disney, this came in the way of the 1955 opening of Disneyland. Along with many jazz musicians showcasing their talents in early Disney films, the music was a centerpiece of the park. Upon opening, Disneyland had the Dixieland Band Stand where the Strawhatters would perform jazz under a gazebo along the Rivers of America.

In the 1960’s, Disneyland began to do an annual Dixieland at Disneyland festival that featured big name jazz musicians. The most famous of these is Louis Armstrong who routinely played at these events. There’s footage of Louis Armstrong playing on the Mark Twain Riverboat which aired in the Disneyland after Dark film. It’s pretty crazy to think that the same riverboat that circles the Rivers of America today housed one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time annually.

With the opening of New Orleans Square in 1966, Walt cemented jazz’s place in Disneyland’s future. Jumping to present day, Jambalaya Jazz frequents the stage outside of French Market and can be seen throughout New Orleans Square during the day. They carry on the tradition of jazz on the Mark Twain from time to time, as well.

This is a different post (and much shorter) than what we usually do here on Wandering in Disney. Sitting in French Market, with a bowl of jambalaya, while listening to some live jazz music and staring out at the river is one of my favorite parts of Disneyland. I find it very interesting how two huge pieces of American culture that are so different are intertwined with each other and I hope jazz stays an integral part of the Disney company going forward.

Theme parks are best when they mix fantasy with realism. They are often supposed to give an idealized view of a place. Jazz is a complicated genre of music, one that stretches boundaries that other genres have. Only that style of music could both ground Disneyland in reality while also romanticizing it.

Do you have any memories about jazz in Disneyland? Let us know your thoughts, along with any questions you might have, in the comments below. Interested in a trip to Disneyland? Check out our Planning Guide to help you along the way! If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

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