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THE ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND

Tiger Rag

Retrospective RTR 4296

 

 

 

 

 

1. Tiger Rag

2. Livery Stable Blues

3. The Original Dixieland One-Step

4. The Darktown Strutters’ Ball

5. Indiana

6. At the Jazz Band Ball

7. Ostrich Walk

8. Skeleton Jangle

9. Bluin’ the Blues

10. Fidgety Feet

11. Sensation Rag

12. Mournin’ Blues

13. Clarinet Marmalade

14. Lazy Daddy

15. Alice Blue Gown

16. Oriental Jazz [better known as “Soudan”]

17. Margie

18. Palesteena

19. Sweet Mama, Papa’s Getting Mad

20. Home Again Blues

21. Jazz Me Blues

22. St. Louis Blues

23. Royal Garden Blues

24. Bow-Wow Blues

25. Some of These Days

Personnel:

Nick LaRocca – Cornet (all tracks)

Eddie Edwards – Trombone (tracks1-14, 25)

Emile Christian – Trombone (tracks 15-24)

Larry Shields – Clarinet (tracks 1-24)

Artie Seaberg – Clarinet (track 25)

Benny Krueger – Alto sax (tracks 17-24)

Don Parker – Soprano sax (track 25)

Henry Ragas – Piano (tracks 1-14)

Billy Jones – Piano (tracks 15 & 16)

J. Russel Robinson– Piano (tracks 17-20)

Frank Signorelli – Piano (tracks 21-24)

Henry Vanicelli – Piano (track 25)

Tony Sbarbaro – Drums (all tracks except 24)

Al Bernard – Vocal (tracks 22 & 23)

Recorded in New York between Feb. 26, 1917 and Jan. 3, 1923 (tracks 1-14, 17-25) and in London, May 24, 1921 (tracks 15 & 16)

Although the New Orleans band featured on this disc opted for the name “Original Dixieland Jazz Band,” that was a misnomer as they were not the “original” such band, white or black. The original band appears to have been Buddy Bolden’s, ca. 1900-1906, all the musicians being African-American. While no recordings of the Bolden band exist (although there have been tantalizing references to a cylinder recording, it has not been located to date), all contemporaries of Bolden were agreed that his was undoubtedly the first, even if primitive, jazz band.

At the time the word “jazz” was not in use, and the bands referred to themselves as “ragtime” bands. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band may have been the first to include the word “jazz” in their title although at the time of their formation the word’s form was “jass.” Others on the scene before the ODJB (a common appellation for the group) include “Tom Brown’s Ragtime Band,” ca. 1910, another white band, which went north from New Orleans to Chicago in 1915 as “Tom Brown’ Band from Dixieland.” In addition to Bolden’s band, another black band was the “Original Creole Ragtime Band,” ca. 1911, eventually led by Freddy Keppard under the name “The Original Creole Orchestra.”

So the ODJB, formed in 1916, were by no means the “original” jazz band. They did have a claim to being first, however, in terms of recording jazz, that having happened in 1917 when they took New York by storm at their gig at Reisenweber's Café in New York City, and two weeks later they were hustled into the recording studio. So they were the “original jazz recording” band. They continued playing dates and recording, finally breaking up in 1925 after LaRocca suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1936 they came together again and made a few sides, none of which appear on this disc, and that was the last recording under LaRocca’s leadership. A few records were made under the ODJB name in the early forties, but by then Sbarbaro was the only original member present.

For those not having encountered the ODJB before, this disc will prove a good introduction. What is immediately striking is that the tempos at which the band takes so many tunes are fast—one might say frenetic in many cases. This is immediately apparent in the first track, Tiger Rag, but it also holds true of the “blues” in the band’s repertoire— Bluin’ the Blues, Mournin’ Blues (both composed by band members, as were many other tunes that have become Dixieland “standards”) or Home Again Blues (Berlin and Akst) on this disc, for instance—none of them taken at a tempo the bands of today tend to espouse for blues. At the time the country was moving toward what was to be called “The Jazz Age,” and the tempo of life seemed to speed up, from cars to dancing, and one must not forget that jazz was, and still is for many, meant for dancing. The one-step cannot be danced to stately music, nor can the Charleston, the turkey trot, et al.

Noticeable, too, is that in typical New Orleans fashion the emphasis throughout is on ensemble playing, solos being few and far between, the sound being “busy” what with the frequent percussive punctuation by Sbarbaro of cymbals, wood blocks, and cow bell. On top of that there are, on occasion, the various sound effects of sundry animal noises on cornet and trombone, so that at times there is some cacophony, underscoring what LaRocca said of their playing. He termed them “musical anarchists” and defined jazz as "the assassination of the melody . . . the slaying of syncopation." But there is no denying the energy displayed, the excitement which undoubtedly gripped the dancers back there in Reisenweber's Café and which is still palpable today as one listens to these performances.

These tracks do not purport to be the entire recorded output of the band—there were other recordings, including several more from England. As to whether, as the CD liner notes claim, the ones here were the band’s “finest,” that is perhaps arguable. (E.g., “Bow-Wow Blues” is among their best? Really?) But they are representative and certainly worth hearing—or hearing again, as the case may be.

It is nothing short of incredible that almost exactly a century later these recordings are once again being reissued. One may well wonder how many recordings by any jazz bands of today, regardless of genre, will continue to be issued one hundred years hence. It is still a thrill to hear this seminal jazz that influenced countless musicians that followed, including Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. It moved and inspired them, too.

Bert Thompson


The Original Dixieland Jazz Band were a group of five New Orleans musicians who moved north to Chicago in 1916. They organized into a dance band, and with their fresh and lively New Orleans-style music, became an overnight sensation. The band moved to New York City the following year, and on February 26, 1917 went into the Victor studio and performed Livery Stable Blues, where it became the first jazz song ever recorded. The Original Dixieland One-Step (originally called Dixie Jass Band One-Step) was recorded during the same session. The two titles were released on March 7 as Victor 18255, the first jazz record ever issued. The band’s original members were cornetist and bandleader Nick LaRocca, clarinetist Larry Shields, trombonist Eddie Edwards, pianist Henry Ragas, and drummer Tony Sbarbaro. This disc contains 25 of their hits between 1917 and 1923. Tiger Rag is one of the oldest and best-known jazz standards, and the recording heard here is from March 1918. The arrangement is tight and fast, with 32-bar verses, several key changes, and a soaring clarinet over the top. Nick LaRocca claimed to have written the tune, although it’s origins are somewhat in doubt. Many of their songs were co-written by the entire band, and the musicians merely took turns filling in their names as the composers. Indiana (also known as Back Home In Indiana) was composed in 1917 by James F. Hanley, with lyrics by Ballard McDonald, and was recorded on the Columbia label in May 1917. Eddie Edwards stands out on this tune with a fine example of trombone tailgating, and drummer Tony Sbarbaro plays percussion on sets of wood blocks to add to the song’s unusual flavor. St. Louis Blues was written by W.C. Handy and published in 1914, and recorded on the Victor label in May 1921. One of the most popular jazz tunes ever written, it combines a 12-bar blues with a 16-bar bridge in a habanera rhythm. Vocalist Al Bernard joins the band and sings several short but memorable three-line verses with a unique hillbilly-swing style.

Ray Crick compiled the music for this disc. Martin Haskell provided the audio restoration and remastering. A 12–page booklet is included, with liner notes by jazz trumpeter and historian Digby Fairweather. This is a great collection of traditional jazz tunes played in their original styles. The songs have been restored and remastered, yet the sound quality retains the fun, energy and excitement of the original recordings, which greatly adds to their interest and enjoyment.

Bruce McCollum


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