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The Original Dixieland Jazz Band

Posted in Leisure, Music on Tuesday, 28 June 2011

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This edited article about jazz originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 979 published on 13 December 1980.

Improvisational invention has always been the standard by which jazz players are judged, particularly among themselves, and in the early days of the new music techniques were jealously guarded. Cornetist Joe Oliver would hide his fingers with a handkerchief when playing: Jelly Roll Morton, the pianist who claimed to have “invented” jazz, occasionally played with his fingers out of sight beneath the piano lid and frequently mis-labelled compositions to confuse the competition.

In this competitive atmosphere, it is a wonder jazz was ever recorded: laid down on disc for anyone to study and copy. In fact the band that achieved the distinction of making the first jazz record had perhaps less to hide than giants like King Oliver. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was one of a number of white New Orleans bands that copied rather than innovated. What set them apart was Livery Stable Blues, recorded in February, 1917, and released on the 7th March, 1917.

The members of the ODJB – drummer Tony Spargo, trombonist Eddie Edwards, cornetist Nick LaRocca, clarinettist Larry Shields and pianist Henry Ragas – had a genius for publicity, if for nothing else. They were not the first jazz band, they were not even the first white jazz band, nor the first band to move out of New Orleans and up north. But they saw the possibilities of the gramophone record, and they took their music to Chicago, New York and, in a triumphant tour, to London. To a number of people and for a considerable length of time, the ODJB represented all of jazz.

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