Jazz at 100 Hour 1: Jazz Comes to Records – First Jazz Recordings and Precedents

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band

In early 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made the first jazz recording. Over the next 100 years we have heard transcendent leaps of creativity and staggering virtuosity; we have experienced the music of crushing pain, breathless romance, anger, exhilaration and humor. This is that story – one hundred years of jazz recordings from WTJU Charlottesville, your host, Russell Perry.

This is the first in a series of programs that will play representative music from 100 years of jazz history. We will explore the broad sweep of that narrative; its representative and its idiosyncratic players; its durable movements and dead ends; its popular recordings and rarities. We hope you will join us over the next 100 hours to celebrate Jazz at 100.

On February 26, 1917, five musicians from New Orleans recorded for Victor Records in New York as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, bringing a new syncopated music to the broader world – jazz. The new music form had developed and evolved in New Orleans and Chicago, primarily, from a rich mix of sources. In this hour, we’ll be exploring these first recordings and their antecedents – African rhythms, sanctified singing, vaudeville, minstrelsy, blues and ragtime.

First Recordings.
It is, of course, ironic that the recordings that we recognize as the first of jazz were made by a quintet of Sicilian-Americans from New Orleans. There is no question that this represents their interpretation of music that had been germinating in the seams between conservatory-trained creoles and blues-steeped uptown blacks in New Orleans. Louis Armstrong, a teen-ager when he first heard these records, remembers them as a musical influence. The impact of these first recordings was wide-spread.

Livery Stable Blues. Original Dixieland Jazz Band
(Nick LaRocca-cor, Eddie Edwards-tb, Larry Shields-cl, Henry Ragas-p, Tony Sbarbaro-d). 2/26/1917.
Appropriately, the ODJB plays a blues for the first recording later described as jazz.
Dixie Jass Band One-Step. Original Dixieland Jazz Band
(Nick LaRocca-cor, Eddie Edwards-tb, Larry Shields-cl, Henry Ragas-p, Tony Sbarbaro-d). 2/26/1917. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)

Following a ragtime multi-strain format, the group’s collective improvisation, coupled with the sense of building energy formed a roadmap for a new musical expression – jazz.

Let’s explore the antecedents of jazz. African musical traditions that were successfully carried through the long period of enslavement formed one of the primary roots of jazz. This Ghanaian example illustrates African polyrhymic drumming overlaid with call and response between a lead vocalist and chorus. Both forms informed early jazz and continue to play a role in the tradition one hundred years later.

Akuapim drumming. Tribal Group.
1983. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
The Buzzard Lope. Georgia Sea Island Singers
Bessie Jones, Joe Armstrong, Jerome Davis, John Davis, Peter Davis, Henry Morrison, Willis Proctor, Ben Ramsay. 1960. (The Norton Jazz Recordings)
African-influenced American folk traditions emphasized call and response forms over a backbeat with polyrhythmic backgrounds.

Ragtime is another primary influence on the music that became jazz. A complex through-composed music initially the product of mid-western piano players, ragtime captured driving syncopation that added to the mix that became jazz.

Registered in 1899, “Maple Leaf Rag” is the composition most associated with Scott Joplin, the most recognized composer in the genre. Having no actual recordings of Joplin playing, this recording of a piano roll that he recorded for player piano playback will have to suffice.

We’ll follow Scott Joplin’s version with Jelly Roll Morton’s. Mostly forgotten by 1938 when this was recorded, Jelly Roll Morton, of whom much more later, found in Alan Lomax, at the Library of Congress, an audience interested in his reminiscences of early jazz. Here he contrasts ragtime piano playing with jazz piano. Note how he captures the style of a whole band, playing distinct parts with each hand (trumpet-clarinet with the right and trombone-rhythm with the left.)

Maple Leaf Rag. Scott Joplin
(Scott Joplin-piano roll). 4/1916 (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
Maple Leaf Rag. Jelly Roll Morton solo
(Jelly Roll Morton-p/voc). 5 – 12/1938.
Down Home Rag. Wilbur Sweatman accompanied by Emerson String Trio
(Wilbur Sweatman-cl, Nathan Glantz-c-mel, Malvin Franklin-p, ?-vln). 12/1918.
Although not considered a jazz player, clarinetist Sweatman composed and recorded ragtime music for small ensembles in the 1910s, forming a bridge to early jazz. He became the executor of the estate of Scott Joplin’s widow.

Every early jazz player included songs in blues forms in their repertoire and blue notes in their collection of musical effects. Arguably, the earliest blues recorded were in a form that is closer to what we now consider jazz. Later, for example Blind Lemon Jefferson recording from 1926, blues began to be more associated with rural guitarist/singers.

Although not in a traditional blues form, Crazy Blues carries the reputation as the first “Blues” vocal record ever released and was certainly the first recording by an African-American woman. With huge sales, it created a market for black vocalists supported by brass-reed-rhythm ensembles including numerous “Classic Blues” singers.

Crazy Blues. Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds
(Addington Major-cor, Johnny Dunn-cor, Dope Andrews-tb, Ernest Elliot-cl, ?-bss, Willie “The Lion” Smith-p, Leroy Parker-vln, Mamie Smith-voc). 8/10/1920.
St. Louis Blues. Bessie Smith
(Louis Armstrong-cor, Fred Longshaw-p/harmonium, Bessie Smith-voc). 1/14/1925. (Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz)
“St. Louis Blues” was first published by WC Handy in 1914 as a blues within a ragtime structure (and recorded by ODJB in 1921), this version with Bessie Smith with Louis Armstrong cemented the place for this composition in the jazz canon.
Joe Turner Blues. Wilbur Sweatman & His Jass Band
(Clarence “Piccolo” Jones-ts, Henry Minton-ts, Williams-as, Wilbur Sweatman-cl, ?-bs, ?-bsx). 4/1917.

The active black theater circuit featuring minstrelsy and vaudeville performances provided an armature of performers and song forms that adapted elements of jazz, acting as a popularizing force.

Eva Taylor, didn’t consider herself a jazz singer, but in selecting material like West End Blues by her husband, Clarence Williams, and King Oliver, she was another bridge into jazz. We’ll follow Eva Taylor with Noble Sissle. A prolific and successful songwriter for the stage, Sissle incorporates jazzy stop-time breaks, blue notes and slurs into this early jazz-themed song, “Jazzola”.

West End Blues. Eva Taylor
(Clarence Williams-p, Eva Taylor-voc). 7/31/1929. (The Jazz Singers)
Jazzola. Noble Sissle
(Frank de Broit, Russell Smith, Pops Foster, Jake Porter-tp, Amos Gilliard, Ward Andrews, Herb Flemming, Calvin Jones or Raphael Hernandez-tb, Antonio Gonzales, Vess Williams, Percy Green, Arturo Ayala, Clarence “Piccolo” Jones, Joshua Carter, Severino Hernandez, Pinkhead Parker-sax/fl/ob, Steve Wright, Herbert Wright or Karl Kenny-d, Noble Sissle-voc). 3/14/1919. (The Jazz Singers)
Jazz Me Blues. Lucille Hegamin
(Wesley Johnson-tp, Jim Reevy-tb, Clarence Harris-cl, Lucille Hegamin-p/voc, Ralph Escudero-b, Kaiser Marshall-d). 11/1920. (The Jazz Singers)
In the notes for The Jazz Singers, Robert O’Meally writes, “This is not a true blues song but a kind of ur-jazz composition … on the middle ground between genres. Vaudeville tricks and Broadway peppiness lurk here, yes, but note the stop-time breaks and the made-up-on-the-spot improvised feeling of Hegamin’s performance, its impulse to swing.”

Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
By being first to record, virtually everything that was recorded by ODJB became standards of the new jazz genre. “Tiger Rag,” for example was recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Aces, Bix Beiderbecke, Jelly Roll Morton, Tommy Dorsey, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Fletcher Henderson by 1930.
Darktown Strutter’s Ball. Original Dixieland Jazz Band
(Nick LaRocca-cor, Eddie Edwards-tb, Larry Shields-cl, Henry Ragas-p, Tony Sbarbaro-d).5/31/1917.
Tiger Rag. Original Dixieland Jazz Band
(Nick LaRocca-cor, Eddie Edwards-tb, Larry Shields-cl, Henry Ragas-p, Tony Sbarbaro-d). 8/17/1917.
In the next hour, we’ll follow the diaspora of New Orleans musicians as they flee the repression and economic malaise of Louisiana, leaving the new jazz music in their wake. Join us for the music of Kid Ory, King Oliver and the young Louis Armstrong.

The Norton Jazz Recordings – 4 Compact Discs for use with JAZZ by Scott DeVeaux and Gary Giddens. W.W. Norton 933796
The Smithsonian Collection of Classic Jazz. Columbia P6 11891
The Jazz Singers – A Smithsonian Collection. Sony Music RD 113
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1917-1921. Timeless CBC 1-009
Jelly Roll Morton – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings. Rounder ROUCD 1888 8CD
Wilbur Sweatman 1916-1935. Jazz Oracle BDW 8046

Albertson, Chris. 2003. Bessie. New Haven. Yale University Press.
Brothers, Thomas. 2006. Louis Armstrong’s New Orleans. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Giddens, Gary & DeVeaux, Scott. 2009. JAZZ. New York, NY. WW Norton & Company.
Chapter 3. Roots of Jazz
Chapter 4. New Orleans
Morton, Brian & Cook, Richard. 2011. Penguin Jazz Guide, the History of the Music in the 1001 Best Albums. New York, NY. Penguin Books.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1917-1921
Jelly Roll Morton – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings
Ratliff, Ben. 2002. The New York Times Essential Library of Jazz. New York. Times Books.
Chapter 1. Original Dixieland Jazz Band, The Creators of Jazz (1917-1936)
Chapter 3. Bessie Smith, the Essential Bessie Smith (1923-1933)

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