Original Dixieland Jass Band (after mid-1917 spelling changed to Jazz) A Chicago that played the popular Dixieland Jazz style. A band which, in 1917, was the first ever to make a jazz recording. It was also the first jazz band to achieve widespread prominence. The Original Dixieland Jass Band are often known by their initials, the O.D.J.B.
The band consisted of 5 white musicians who had previously been playing in the Papa Jack Laine bands, a diverse and racially integrated collection of musicians who played for parades, dances, and advertising in New Orleans.
The O.D.J.B. were billed as the "Creators of Jazz". Trumpeter Nick LaRocca convinced himself, in his old age, that this was literally true, but there is no evidence from the interviews and writings of the other O.D.J.B. members that the rest of the band ever considered it anything more than a snappy advertising slogan.
In early 1916 a promoter from Chicago, Illinois approached clarinetist Alcide Nunez and drummer Johnny Stein about bringing a New Orleans style band to Chicago, where a similar band led by trombonist Tom Brown was already enjoying success. They then assembled trombonist Eddie Edwards, pianist Henry Ragas and cornetist Frank Christian. Shortly before they were to leave, Christian backed out, and Nick LaRocca was hired as a last minute replacement.
On March 3, 1916 the musicians began their job at Schiller's Cafe in Chicago under the name Stein's Dixie Jass Band. The band was a hit and received offers of higher pay elsewhere. Since Stein as leader was the only musician under contract by name, the rest of the band broke off, sent to New Orleans for drummer Tony Sbarbaro, and on June 5 started playing renamed as The Dixie Jass Band. LaRocca and Nunez had personality conflicts, and on October 30 Tom Brown's Band and the ODJB mutually agreed to switch clarinetists, bringing Larry Shields into the Original Dixieland Jass Band. The band attracted the attention of Max Hart, who booked the band in New York City. At the start of 1917 the band began an engagement playing for dancing at Reisenweber's Cafe in Manhattan.
While a couple of other New Orleans bands had passed through New York City slightly earlier, they were part of Vaudeville acts. The O.D.J.B., on the other hand, played for dancing and were hence the first "jass" band to get a following of fans in New York, and then record at a time when the USA's recording industry was almost entirely centered in New York and New Jersey.
Shortly after arriving in New York they were offered a chance per a letter dated January 29, 1917 to audition for the Columbia Graphaphone Company which took place on Wednesday, January 31, 1917. Nothing came of this audition.
They then recorded two sides ("Livery Stable Blues" and "Dixie Jass Band One Step") on February 26, 1917 for the Victor Talking Machine Company. The record with these titles came out the following month. The ODJB's records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz.
After their initial recording for Victor, they recorded for Columbia (after the first Victor session, not before as has sometimes been said) and Aeolian-Vocalion in 1917, and returned to make more sides for Victor the following year, while enjoying continued popularity in New York. Trombonist Edwards was drafted in 1918 and replaced with Emile Christian, and pianist Ragas died in the Spanish Flu Pandemic the following year, to be replaced by J. Russell Robinson.
Other New Orleans musicians, including Nunez, Tom Brown, and Frank Christian, followed the ODJB's example and came to New York to play jazz as well, giving the ODJB competition. LaRocca decided to take the band to London, where they would once again enjoy being the only authentic New Orleans jazz band in the metropolis, and again present themselves as the Originators of Jazz. In London, they made 20 more recordings for the British branch of Columbia. While in London, they recorded the second, more commercially successful, version of their hit song Soudan (also known as Oriental Jass).
The band returned to the United States in July 1920 and toured for 4 years before breaking up.
In 1936 the band reformed, made some more recordings, and toured before again disbanding. Clarinetist Larry Shields received particularly positive attention on this tour, and Benny Goodman commented that Shields was an important early influence.
Edwards and Sbarbaro formed some bands without other original members in the 1940s and 1950s under the ODJB name.
Back in New Orleans, LaRocca licensed bandleader Phil Zito to use the ODJB name for many years. Nick LaRocca's son, Jimmy LaRocca, continues to lead bands under the name The Original Dixieland Jazz Band today.
In 1960 the book The Story Of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was published. Writer H.O. Brunn based it on Nick LaRocca's testimony, which sometimes differs from that of other sources.
To those accustomed to later styles of jazz, the O.D.J.B. can sound decidedly corny, with instruments doing barnyard imitations and the fully loaded trap set, wood blocks, cowbells, gongs, and Chinese gourds, but at the time their music was liberating. Those barnyard sounds were also experiments in altering the tonal qualities of the instruments, and those clattering wood blocks were experiments in breaking up the rhythm. The music had attitude to spare compared to the vapid pop music of the time.
Many of the tunes first recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band — such as "Tiger Rag", "Figety Feet", "Clarinet Marmalade", "At The Jazz Band Ball" — remain much played "classics" in the repertory of Dixieland and Traditional Jazz bands today.
Compared to later jazz, the O.D.J.B. recordings have only modest improvisation in mostly ensemble tunes. Clarinetist Larry Shields is perhaps the most interesting player, showing a good fluid tone, and if his melodic variations and breaks now seem overly familiar, this is because they were widely imitated by musicians who followed in the O.D.J.B.'s footsteps.
In their use of ensemble with breaks, the O.D.J.B. resembled the pioneer black band led by Joe "King" Oliver, a more sophisticated tonal experimenter, and certainly a more creative bandleader. But the O.D.J.B.'s arrangements were wild and impolite and definitely had a jazz feel, and people still refer to that style of music as Dixieland.
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