On this Day:
In 1917, the 1st jazz records were recorded – “Dixie Jazz Band One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (later changed to the Jazz) for the Victor Talking Machine Company.
The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was a Dixieland jazz band that made the first jazz recordings in early 1917. Their “Livery Stable Blues” became the first jazz record ever issued. The group composed and recorded many jazz standards, the most famous being “Tiger Rag”. In late 1917, the spelling of the band’s name was changed to Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
The band consisted of five musicians who had played in the Papa Jack Laine bands.
ODJB billed itself as the Creators of Jazz. It was the first band to record jazz commercially and to have hit recordings in the genre. Band leader and cornetist Nick LaRocca argued that ODJB deserved recognition as the first band to record jazz commercially and the first band to establish jazz as a musical idiom or genre.
In early 1916, a promoter from Chicago approached clarinetist Alcide Nunez and drummer Johnny Stein about bringing a New Orleans-style band to Chicago, where the similar Brown’s Band From Dixieland, led by trombonist Tom Brown, was enjoying success. They then assembled trombonist Eddie Edwards, pianist Henry Ragas, and cornetist Frank Christian. Shortly before they were to leave, Christian backed out, and Nick LaRocca was hired as a last-minute replacement.
On March 3, 1916 the musicians began their job at Schiller’s Cafe in Chicago under the name Stein’s Dixie Jass Band. The band was a hit and received offers of higher pay elsewhere. Since Stein as leader was the only musician under contract by name, the rest of the band broke off, sent to New Orleans for drummer Tony Sbarbaro, and on June 5, started playing under the name, The Dixie Jass Band. LaRocca and Nunez had personality conflicts, and on October 30 Tom Brown’s Band and ODJB agreed to swap clarinetists, bringing Larry Shields into the Original Dixieland Jass Band. The band attracted the attention of theatrical agent Max Hart, who booked the band in New York City. At the start of 1917 the band began an engagement playing for dancing at Reisenweber’s Cafe, on Columbus Circle, in Manhattan.
While a couple of other New Orleans bands had passed through New York City slightly earlier, they were part of vaudeville acts. ODJB, on the other hand, played for dancing and hence, were the first “jass” band to get a following of fans in New York and then record at a time when the American recording industry was essentially centered in the northeastern United States, primarily in New York City and Camden, New Jersey.
Shortly after arriving in New York, a letter dated January 29, 1917, offered the band an audition for the Columbia Graphophone Company. The session took place on Wednesday, January 31, 1917. Nothing from this test session was issued.
The band then recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step”, on February 26, 1917 at Victor’s New York studios. These titles were released as Victor 18255 in May 1917, the first issued jazz record. The band’s recordings, first marketed as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. Musician Joe Jordan sued, since the “One Step” incorporated portions of his 1909 ragtime composition “That Teasin’ Rag”. The record labels subsequently were changed to “Introducing ‘That Teasin’ Rag’ by Joe Jordan”. A court case dispute over the authorship of “Livery Stable Blues” resulted in the judge declaring the tune in the “public domain”.
In the wake of the group’s success of the Victor record, the ODJB returned to Columbia in May, recording two selections of popular tunes of the day chosen for them by the label (possibly hoping to avoid the copyright problems which arose after Victor recorded two of the band’s supposedly original compositions) “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” and “(Back Home Again in) Indiana” as catalogue #A-2297.
Numerous jazz bands were formed in the wake of the success of ODJB that copied and replicated its style and sound. Also bands were brought from Chicago and California (such as the Frisco Jass Band) in an attempts to join the jazz craze. Established bands of different types and bandleaders such as Wilbur Sweatman began billing their groups as “jass” or “jazz” bands. Earl Fuller, bandleader at a competing New York venue, was ordered by management to form a “jass” band.
W. C. Handy recorded one of the earliest cover versions of an ODJB tune when he released a recording of “Livery Stable Blues” by Handy’s Orchestra of Memphis for Columbia in 1917.
In 1918, the song “When You Hear That Dixieland Jazz Band Play” by Shelton Brooks, “the King of Ragtime Writers”, was published by Will Rossiter in Chicago. It was a tribute to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who were featured on the cover.
ODJB was the first band to record jazz successfully, establishing and creating jazz as a new musical idiom and genre of music. Bix Beiderbecke was influenced by the ODJB to become a jazz musician and was heavily influenced by Nick LaRocca’s cornet and trumpet style. Louis Armstrong acknowledged the importance of ODJB:
Only four years before I learned to play the trumpet in the Waif’s Home, or in 1909, the first great jazz orchestra was formed in New Orleans by a cornet player named Dominick James LaRocca. They called him ‘Nick’ LaRocca. His orchestra had only five pieces but they were the hottest five pieces that had ever been known before. LaRocca named this band ‘The Old Dixieland Jass Band’. He had an instrumentation different from anything before, an instrumentation that made the old songs sound new. Besides himself at the cornet, LaRocca had Larry Shields, clarinet, Eddie Edwards, trombone, Ragas, piano, and Sbarbaro, drums. They all came to be famous players and the Dixieland Band has gone down now in musical history. — Louis Armstrong, Swing That Music, 1936 (per Wikipedia).
First, a Story:
A couple goes to see a marriage counsellor. They say their marriage is on the rocks because they never speak to each other. The counsellor tries to get them to talk, but they just sit there with their arms folded and their mouths closed. So he pulls out his upright bass and starts taking a jazz solo. Instantly, the couple turns to each other and starts conversing for the first time in months. Shocked by this, the couple asks the counsellor: “How did you know that would work?”
“Simple,” he says, “Everyone always talks during the bass jazz solo.”
Second, a Song:
Nick LaRocca, coronet, director: Eddie Edwards, trombone; Larry Shields, clarinet; Henry Ragas, piano; Tony Sbarbaro, drums, recorded the “Livery Stable Blues” in New York, on February 26, 1917 as the Original Dixieland Jass Band. The “Livery Stable Blues” and the “Dixie Jazz Band One Step” are acknowledged as the first jazz recordings and are credited with starting Jazz. Here are the Original Dixieland Jass Band performing the “Livery Stable Blues” courtesy of Atticus Jazz and YouTube.com. I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.” – George Gershwin
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky