(top row left) Nick LaRocca on daddy’s knee. From the Nick LaRocca collection. (top row right) The Original Dixieland Jazz Band pose for a studio group shot in 1917 with (L-R) Henry Ragas, Larry Shields, Eddie Edwards, Nick La Rocca and Tony Spargo. (middle row left & center) Two publicity photos of young Nick Larocca, circa 1917. (middle row right) Dixieland Jazz Band in Chicago, 1916. (bottom row left) A later version of the band — Sbarbaro is the new guy. (bottom row center & right) 78 RPM records featuring “Tiger Rag” from two record labels.
Throughout history accomplishments take place that create real lasting change. Often the vision of innovators – those willing to take a chance and trying something new. In our business, it’s usually in response to one of our customers PIA (Pain In The @#$) Jobs! We get our group together, look at the problem (what we refer to as “opportunities”) and then try different approaches and techniques until we can get it right. Once we’ve got it going, and the customer is pleased with the results, we then look to make an investment into staff, machinery or technology, to not just deliver the new parts, but also see how we can scale the solution and offer it up to more and more of our beloved customers. One of our latest iterations is N2CLEAN, an atmosphere controlled approach to our K-Flat division that delivers a higher quality surface finish for our special ”PIA” jobs! Once we had it up and running, we couldn’t wait to “blow our horn” about it.
One hundred years ago this month, a guy named Nick LaRocca blew his horn in a whole new way, creating a signature art form that hit the jazz scene and became one of the nation’s most influential and beloved sounds. In February 1917, Victor Records recorded a 78-rpm disc (picture a flat Frisbee!) called “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland “Jass” Band. This exuberant number became a nationwide hit, selling more than one million copies. Today, almost universally, it’s hailed as the first jazz recording, and set in motion a new sound of jass. Here’s a bit more on the story. Thanks to Wikipedia and Smithsonian.com for the insights we can share with you.
- The band was called Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), originally formed in Chicago in 1916. The word “jass” was changed to jazz, the now standard spelling of the word, originally used to describe baseball players with a lot of pep.
- The musicians moved to NY City where a nod from Al Jolsen, a favorite at Reisenweber’s Café’ on Columbus Circle, helped them land a gig at the theater crowd’s favorite hangout.
- Most people had never heard anything like “Livery Stable Blues”, considered a transitional piece, looser and more spontaneous than the ragtime that had swept the county at the turn of the century.
- “Livery Stable Blues”, featured instruments doing barnyard imitations and the fully loaded trap set, wood blocks, cowbells, gongs, and Chinese gourds. This musical innovation represented one of the first experimental exercises in jazz. At the time, their music was liberating; the barnyard sounds were experiments in altering the tonal qualities of the instruments, and clattering wood blocks broke up the rhythm. The music was very lively when compared to the pop music of the time.
- The song was essentially a 12-bar blues, with improvised solo’s and elastic rhythm. The band’s leaders included: Nick LaRocca, cornet, Eddie Edwared, trombone, Alcide Nunez, clarinet, over the beat of Johnny Stein’s drums and Henry Ragas piano.
- Said Louis Armstrong, heavily influenced by LaRocca: “Only four years before I learned to play the trumpet in the Waif’s Home, or in 1909, the first great jazz orchestra was formed in New Orleans by a cornet player named Dominick James LaRocca. They called him ‘Nick’ LaRocca. His orchestra had only five pieces but they were the hottest five pieces that had ever been known before. LaRocca named this band ‘The Old Dixieland Jass Band’. He had an instrumentation different from anything before, an instrumentation that made the old songs sound new, and has gone down now in musical history.”
- While a couple of other New Orleans bands had passed through New York City slightly earlier, they were part of vaudeville acts. ODJB, on the other hand, played for dancing and hence, were 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 essentially centered in New York and New Jersey.
- Like the R&B of the 50’s, the garage rock of the 60’s and the punk sound of the 80’s it was simple music played with so much irreverence and veracity that it proved irresistible.
- For American youth, invigorated by the rush of a world picking up speed, and shaped by urban industry and teetering on the edge of WWI, says historian and Xavier professor Michael White, “jazz was the right thing – it broke rules and dared to say you could be an individual.”
- The ODJB became “the latest craze sweeping the nation like a musical thunderstorm”, recoding six albums by 1918 as new bands rushed in to cash in on the sound.
- The New Orleans Jazz style swept New York by storm with the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Piano player and humorist Jimmy Durante was part of the audience at Reisenweber’s Café. Durante was very impressed with the band and invited them to play at a club called the Alamo in Harlem where Jimmy played piano.
- The band toured in Europe, made movie soundtracks, and traveled across the country delighting audiences and shaking up dance halls like never before. Often considered the “founders of the jazz sound” – (many in New Orleans disagree to the actual origins), they started a movement that still resonates with us today.
- African-American musicians Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard, Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong combined the precise written music of ragtime, with the “ear music” of rural blues, adding improvised solos like the ODJB. As they began recoing in the 20’s and 30’s, they proved more skillful and imaginative than the “jass” band up north.
- With the start of WWI, band members split up and were replaced, making great music into the 40’s. As more and more other musicians took up the sound, made their own recordings, and went on to fame and fortune.