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Original Dixieland Jass Band

Original Dixieland Jass Band (after mid 1917 spelling changed to Jazz) was a New Orleans band, first ever to make a jazz recording in 1917 and the first jazz band to achieve widespread prominence. The Original Dixieland Jass Band are often known by their initials, the O.D.J.B.

Shown are (left to right) Tony Sbarbaro (aka Tony Spargo) on drums; Edwin "Daddy" Edwards on trombone; D. James "Nick" LaRocca on cornet; Larry Shields on clarinet, and Henry Ragas on piano. From a 1918 promotional postcard while the band was playing at Reisenweber's Cafe in New York City.
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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.

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Origins of the Original Dixieland Jass Band

In early 1916 a promoter from Chicago aproached clarinetist Alcide Nunez and drummer Johnny Stein[?] about bringing a New Orleans style band to Chicago, where a similar band lead by trombonist Tom Brown was already enjoying success. They then assembled trombonist Eddie Edwards, pianist Henry Rags[?] 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 Al Jolson, who recommended them to acquaintances in New York City. At the start of 1917 the band began an engagement playing for dancing at Reisenweber's Cafe in Manhattan.

The First Recordings 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 were offered a chance to record at a time when the USA's recording industry was almost entirely centered in New York and New Jersey. The band recorded 2 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.

Later History of the Band 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, 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 more recordings for the British branch of Columbia.

The band returned to the United States at the end of 1920 and toured for 2 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.

The Music of the O.D.J.B. 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 call that kind of music Dixieland.

See also: Nick LaRocca

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