Parker Burwell Toop credit Jak Kilby


On Hundred Years Ago...

Unless I have missed something, which is highly likely, as my reading is less than catholic (stretching to regular perusal of The Wire, The Guardian and Prospect), a very significant 100th anniversary passed last year. It may, of course, have featured in the jazz magazines, but I didn’t notice. I am talking about 26th February 2017, which was exactly 100 years to the day from the first ever recording of what we know of jazz music, by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) in New York City in 1917  As significant dates go, it would be pretty hard to find a musically more important one, but it does  seem to have been rather subsumed by.anniversaries from The Great War.

The ODJB were white New Orleans musicians (black trumpeter Freddie Keppard had been offered a studio gig earlier, which would have put him in the history books, but he famously worried that his sound would be stolen if preserved on wax, so he now only occupies footnotes in the great narrative). They were a five-piece for these immortal performances, led by cornet player Nick LaRocca, who did himself no favours in the history books by disavowing any black influences in the music, a patently absurd notion, as even Paul Whiteman acknowledged this overriding factor in the formation of the music. LaRocca was accompanied by clarinet, trombone, piano and drums, the line-up  which was to receive further immortalisation through Louis Armstrong’s Okeh recordings with the Hot Five a decade or so later.

I only came across this topic by chance today whilst persusing some King Oliver stuff in my collection and noticed my ODJB CD, which prompted the penny dropping about the date. In fact, there were only four tracks recorded in (early) 1917. Several more were recorded in 1918, 1920 and 1923, making 23 in all, forming the single CD on Timeless Records, which have been all mastered to an incredibly high standard, given their age, by John R.T.Davies, who is a master at this sort of thing. Listening again to these ancient tunes, the re-mastering has bought them back with a brilliant (in all senses of the word) sound, giving us some idea of how exciting this band must have sounded when they swung by our Hammersmith Palais in 1919.

The tracks are occasionally a bit hokey (as were some of Jelly Roll Morton’s, to be fair), with particular references to death and animals, with their vaudeville antecedents still  on display -but Livery Stable Blues with its barnyard imitations is no more crass to modern ears than Morton’s Sidewalk Blues - and its easy to hear how this music arose from stagecraft and contemporary popular live entertainment, however much this music later turned to higher art forms for its sustenance and growth. We are now in 2018, and I wonder whether there will be any celebration for the 100th anniversary of what was the next great white hope of antediluvian jazz - The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, also worthy of our remembrance, and also available on top notch digital remastering.

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Banner and book cover photo credit: Jak Kilby