While not the original creators of jazz (that credit goes to Buddy Bolden), the Original Dixieland Jazz Band could be credited with bringing jazz to the forefront in the music industry.
The band – known as the Original Dixieland Jass Band back in the day – began as a small musical ensemble in 1916, when a promoter in Chicago approached John Stein and Alcide Nunez to create a New Orleans-style band. After a lot of shuffling, the band came down to the following musicians:
- Drummer Tony Sbarbaro (Tony Spargo)
- Trombonist Edwin “Daddy” Edwards
- Cornetist Dominick James “Nick” LaRocca
- Clarinetist Larry Shields
- Pianist Henry Ragas
A Brief Look at History
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (hereafter mentioned as ODJB) was the first to declare their band as strictly jazz or jass as it was known back then.
In their quest to appeal to the American recording industry, the band came to New York City, where they were first approached by Columbia Graphophone Company. After nothing came out from their first recording session, ODJB was then approached by Victor Talking Machine Company, who recorded two sides with the band and released their record.
This was noted as the world’s first jazz record.
Since this style of music was still a novelty at the time, the music received positive attention from the masses, which then kick-started the band’s career. This also gave the opportunity to other bands who imitated ODJB’s style to create their own music.
Style of Music
Many experts say that LaRocca and Sbarbaro’s Sicilian background and musical preference contributed to their unique style of jazz. Combined with regional African-American music, the music gained a life of its own, and was unlike the common styles of music that people were used to, back in the day.
This was why the band’s style of jazz appealed to so many, because it was unique in its own way.
After their first recordings for the Victor Talking Machine Company, ODJB recorded for Aeolian-Vocalion as well as Columbia records before they came back to Victor in 1917. During this time, Trombonist Edwin Edwards was recruited for the First World War and was thus replaced. The 1918 flu pandemic resulted in the death of Pianist Henry Ragas, which resulted in J. Russel Robinson taking his place.
Robinson being a composer as well composed many jazz songs for the band, which lead to the group gaining more fame. Robinson is also credited with writing the classic “St. Louis Gal”, the song recorded by Bessie Smith. He continued composing songs for the band until the band broke up.
During this time, the band also went on a London Tour, where after performing for King George V at Buckingham Palace, the band was commanded by the King himself for their rendition of “The Tiger Rag”.
After touring for 4 years, the band returned to the United States and continued to play, welcoming pianist and composer Frank Signorelli for a brief time when he joined the band in 1921.
The band broke up in 1923, but even after, their songs continued to remain as some of the top hits, inspiring other artists to create cover songs and styles.
The band came back together in 1936 for a reunion performance as “The Original Dixieland Five”, performing for over two years and providing the Victor Company with 25 sides. It was after they had toured a bit that the band disbanded once more.
The Original Dixieland Jazz Band used their station in the industry to make jazz a recognized genre of music, influencing such artists as Louis Armstrong among others.
And as we move into the modern era, we find it a relief to note that people still love original tunes, which thanks to bands such as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band have been cemented as an integral component of music history!