The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Nick La Rocca (cnt) Emil Christian (tb) Larry Shields (cl) Billy Jones (p) Tony Sparbaro (drs)
Historic Early Recordings: England – 1919, 1920
At the Jazz Band Ball (2:42) (La Rocca – Shields)
Ostrich Walk (3:11) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
‘Lassses Candy (4;24) (La Rocca)
Barnyard Blues 2:58) (La Rocca)
Tiger Rag (3:39) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
Satanic Blues (3:34) (Shields – Christian)
Look at ‘E Doing It (3:39) (Shields)
Sensation (2:55) (Edwards)
Sphinx (3:08) (Barbour)
Soudan (3:28) (Sebek)
Tell Me (3:58) (Kortlander)
Mammy o’ Mine (3:45) (Pinkard)
I’ve Lost My Heart in Dixieland (3:59)
Alice Blue Gown (3:55) (Tierney – McCarthy)
My Baby’s Arms (3:51) (Tierney – McCarthy)
I’ve Got My Captain Working for Me Now (3:48) (Berlin)
I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (4:15) (Kenbrovin – Kellette)
They had learned the music of the Negroes in New Orleans, and they brought their “jass” to Chicago, New York, London, and the world at large. Thus to a vast number of people, for quite a long time, the kind of music the Original Dixieland Jazz Band played represented all jazz.
Of course the impression that this particular band was, in itself, a starting point is somewhat of an exaggeration. They were far from being the first jazz band, were not even among the very first white bands, nor the first to bring the music out of New Orleans and up North. But they do have to their credit some very important pioneering achievements: they were the first to make an impact on New York; they made the initial jazz recordings (for Victor, in 1917); and they introduced the new music to England, where it has been avidly appreciated ever since, when they arrived there for a tour early in 1919.
Like many another group of their time, the “O.D.J.B.” diluted their music with dubious “novelty” effects. Nevertheless, they were thoroughly authentic jazzmen, directly in the line of descent from the bands that first established the white jazz tradition. “Papa” Jack Laine, who stands as the founder of that tradition, had organized his Reliance Brass Band in New Orleans as far back as 1829, and led a Ragtime Band before 1900. Although clearly influenced by what the now-legendary Negro pioneers like Buddy Bolden were doing, Laine’s music was distinctively that of the marching bands and of ragtime. And these are the two most notable features of the music of Original Dixieland Jazz Band as it is heard here. There is syncopation here (basically, in New Orleans, you “ragged” a tune by syncopating it), although it is a far cry from the much smoother sound that the word later came to denote. There is also a striding effect and a 4/4 beat that clearly points to a marching-band derivation.
As this would indicate, the nucleus of the O.D.J.B. was made up of firm followers of the Laine school. Papa Jack had formed a number of bands, and various alumni of his groups became bandleaders in turn. Thus young men like Nick LaRocca and Tony Sparbaro inevitably served their apprenticeships within the Lain framework, and were seasoned Dixieland stylists by 1916, when the Original Dixieland Jazz Band first went up to Chicago to follow up the initial success scored there a year earlier by Tom Brown’s “Band from Dixieland”. While there they made significant addition to their personnel by taking on Brown’s young and highly promising clarinetist, Larry Shields. Then they moved on to New York when Brown, who had just disbanded his group, recommended his fellow townsmen for a job he had been offered at Reisenweber’s, a celebrated showplace since the Gay Nineties. The O.D.J.B.’s impact on New York was immediate, sensational and history-making. It led, in short order, to the first appearance of jazz on records and within two years to the visit to England, during the course of which the selections reissued here were recorded.
There is much in this music that indicates its links with an at least partial dependence on the Negro jazz of New Orleans: the direct, relatively unembellished cornet lead that LaRocca punched out; Christina’s forceful “tailgate” trombone smears; Sparbaro’s effervescent but consistent drumming; and the full and fluid clarinet tones of Larry Shields. The latter was undoubtedly the outstanding musician of the group; and when he reached a peak of performance he ranked with the very best.
To anyone hearing them for the first time, the staccato rhythm and “raggy” tempos of these selections – plus a sound that, although remarkably good for its day, still was handicapped y the technical limitations of the infant recording industry – is bound to give an impression of stiffness and strangeness. But there are musical values well worth re-adjusting your ears for. And there are unquestionable historical values: for this band set a musical pattern that was to influence virtually all white jazz that followed it for many years to come, on down to the still-flourishing style that (although it may sound rather different) still utilizes many of the tunes they first played and still bears the name “Dixieland.” ORRIN KEEPNEWS
The seventeen selections included here – all originally issued, some four decades ago, as 12-inch 78 rpm discs – are among the earliest landmarks in the history of recorded jazz. Except for a group of records made in New York by the same band (with slightly different personnel) during the two preceding years, these were the very earliest. Furthermore, the present set marks the first American issuance of this material.
During the period when these records were made, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was engaged in exposing England to the unique form of music that was just becoming known as “jazz.” Having been the first to upset New York City with their music, and then the first to record jazz, it was only fitting that the “O.D.J.B.” should have been the ones to pioneer in carrying jazz to the far side of the Atlantic. And in the curse of doing so, they were also able to add this body of material to what was to become the legacy of this history-marking band – a band that was a most important influence on the entire course of traditional and ‘Dixieland’ jazz.
It also seems fitting to allow British writers to recall for us now the effect of the O.D.J.B. and its music upon them and their country:
“Ragas, their (original) pianist, (had) died … but by a freak of fortune they found in London an Englishmen, Billy Jones, who picked up the New Orleans manner as if he had been born to it; and with this replacement and the substitution of Emile Christian, a New Orleans man, for Edwards on trombone, the band took the town by storm at the Hammersmith Palais de Danse and Retcor’s night-club. It was at Reotor’s that I made my first acquaintance with jazz, and across the gulf of (time) I hold a lively memory of its breathtaking strangeness and peremptory attack – the ‘mad-sweet pangs’ of the cornet, the diabolical gaiety of the clarinet, and the powerful rhythmic impulse of the trombone rips and smears … ” Iain Lang, “Jazz in Perspective”
“Their impact on the British public, upon which only a drip of ragtime had previously fallen, was phenomenal, and adjectives, both laudatory and condemnatory, were lavished upon them … The music was a sensation … echoing the spirit of a remembered New Orleans, with Larry Shields’ imaginative clarinet weaving patterns against the rhythmic drive of the trombone, and La Rocca’s staccato cornet.” Rex Harris, “Jazz”
In this reissue, the selections have been placed in a sequence that allows Volume 1 to offer the O.D.J.B. playing tunes written by its own members, while Volume 2 is made up of their treatments of the music of a variety of others. For the benefit of the discographically-minded, here is a full listing of the recording dates, original master numbers and original English Columbia label numbers of this material:
April, 1919: Barnyard Blues (master no. 76418) and At the Jazz Band Ball (mx. no. 76419) – English Columbia 735;
May, 1919: Ostrich Walk (mx. no. 76458) and Sensation Rag (mx. no. 76459) – Eng. Col. 736; Look at ‘Em Doing It (76467) and Tiger Rag (76468) – Eng. Col. 748 Aug., 1919: Satanic Blues (76566) and ‘Lasses Candy (76567) – Eng. Col. 759 Dec., 1919: My Baby’s Arms (76751) and I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles (76754) –Eng. Col. 805; Tell Me (76752) and Mammy o’ Mine (76755) – Eng. Col. 804; I’ve Got My Captain … (76753) and Lost My Heart in Dixieland (76756) – Eng. Col. 815; July, 1920: Sphinx (74103) and Alice Blue Gown (74104) – Eng. Col. 824; Soudan (74105) – Eng. Col. 824
These three rare photographs of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, all dating from late in the second decade of this century, display the band’s several fancy mutes (as well as, in one instance, drummer Tony Sparbaro’s giant Kazoo). The photos also indicate the several personnel changes that took place during their peak years. The quintet wearing white suits is the original O.D.J.B., as it was when it first came North, with Alcide “Yellow” Nunez on clarinet. One change – the replacement of Nenez by Larry Shields – preceded the historic first jazz recordings, so that the 1917 lineup consisted of Nick LaRocca, cornet; Eddie Edwards, trombone; shields, clarinet; Henry Ragas, piano; and Sparbaro (who later changed his name to Spargo), drums. Before the group left on its sensational tour of England, Ragas died, and J. Russel Robinson is the pianist seen in the picture that labels the band, just a bit too sweepingly, as “Creators of Jazz.”
The cover photo on the front of this album, equally rare, was taken in London, in 1919. It shows the personnel who are heard on the recordings included here: La Rocca, Shields, and Sparbaro, plus British ragtime pianist Billy Jones and trombonist Emile Christian, from New Orleans, who was added when Edwards declined to make the trip overseas.
(All four photographs are from A PICTORIAL HISTORY OF JAZZ, by Orrin Keepnews and Bill Grauer, published by Crown Publishers, Inc.)