100 Years of Jazz on Record

Today marks a very significant centenary in the history of music, specifically Jazz. Much of the origins and early development of Jazz is lost in the mists of time, but there is one point on which most music historians agree. The first commercial recording session that produced a record that nowadays is recognisable as Jazz happened exactly one hundred years ago today, on 26th February 1917, in the New York studios of the Victor label.

The band was called the ‘Original Dixieland Jass Band‘. A few months later they changed the “Jass” to “Jazz” and the name stuck. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is usually referred by Jazz buffs as the ODJB.

Led by cornettist Nick LaRocca and clarinettist Larry Shields, the ODJB was a group of white musicians from in and around New Orleans who had picked up their musical ideas from listening to musicians there, including playing for the pioneering mixed-race band led by Papa Laine, before moving to Chicago which is where they were spotted by representatives of the Victor label. The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s worth emphasizing that 1917 was also a significant year for New Orleans itself, as that was the year that the red light district Storyville was shut down (as a threat to the health of the US Navy). Since Storyville had provided many of the opportunities for black musicians to work, its closure started  a mass exodus to Chicago. That, and a desire among black musicians to leave the deeply racist South, is why most of the classic “New Orleans” Jazz records were actually made in Chicago.

Although they don’t represent the true origins of jazz, the ODJB were fine musicians who played with a great deal of pizzazz and were highly original and innovative. Audiences also found them great to dance to. The first single to be issued as a result of the historic first session was Livery Stable Blues. It was an instant hit and was followed by dozens more. As well as leading to fame and fortune for the ODJB, it paved the way for a century of Jazz on record.

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8 Responses to “100 Years of Jazz on Record”

  1. “Although they don’t represent the true origins of jazz”… I know that’s a controversial statement but just for the record Louis Armstrong would disagree with you here. Before ODJB there was hot ragtime and hot blues, but Louis spoke of the ODJB as fundamentally new and a revolution he discovered on his exit from the Coloured Waifs home.

    • Further to the above, in the film New Orleans and in the company of many cameo appearances of players who would know, Louis recreates Nick Laroca’s story of how jazz was given it’s (Irish language) name

      • telescoper Says:

        The Irish origin of the word “Jass” is not generally accepted, but neither is any other. It does seem to have come into use in Chicago around 1915, which is contemporary with the ODJB’s presence there.

    • telescoper Says:

      That may well have been the case for Louis Armstrong, but I think the origin of ‘Jass’ lies further back than the ODJB. Buddy Bolden was active in New Orleans around 1900 and I think he is associated more closely with the birth of the music. Sadly we don’t know what his band sounded like as they left no recordings, and Bolden himself spent the latter part of his life in an asylum.

      But there’s no question that the ODJB were very innovative and influential.

      • Actually there are some youtubes of very senior players who had played with Bolden, and the recollections and later playing of Bunk Johnson to give is a very good idea, plus the interviews on the Lomax tapes, all of which, without exception, point to hot blues and hot ragtime very different from what LaRocca did with that same material.

        Now, to say it was jazz before it was called jazz, I could just s’s well say the “driving syncope Ted frenzy” of the Corybantical music outlawed by Rome as described 100AD by Iamblicus was ‘jazz’ but that don’t make it so. What the history shows is that, after the ODJB record hit the streets a great many blues and ragtime players say, in their own words, that they changed their style to match, sometimes reluctantly, because the market wanted jazz music. So there’s that evidence too. Plus LaRocca also says about his own approach that he didn’t call it anything new and he was only adapting the New Orleans style to the Chicago climate and dance tempos, and it was an audience member who gave it the name.

    • telescoper Says:

      I was quite surprised to discover that Nick LaRocca lived until 1961, though the ODJB folded in 1923.

    • Another name that springs to mind is ‘Papa Laine’, with whose band all five members of the ODJB played before striking out on their own. He was notable in leading a mixed-race band at a time when segregation was required by law, frequently insisting that black members of the band were actually latin-american.

      • That’s no accident. Tom tells of going with his father to buy instruments left by the Mexicans. At a large festival in New Orleans in the earlier 1800’s Mexico once spent $200k to build “residence for musicians” which in this days must have been a palace! Many early jazz players had our were taught by people with Spanish surnames and the Bolden Big Four is really no more than a measure of March tempo followed by a bar of habanero!

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