Saturday, January 7, 2017

The Centennial of Jazz Recordings!

Some may not realize it, but 2017 marks the 100th anniversary of jazz recordings. As such, Yankee Jazz Beat will be featuring the first jazz band that recorded on various posts throughout the year. In case you haven't guessed... that jazz band was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band led by Nick LaRocca.

Of course, there is controversy when Nick LaRocca claimed that he and his band were the "creators of jazz" and because of this and other comments and claims many people have neglected the group and their music, which is a shame. "Jelly Roll" Morton made the same claim that he "invented" jazz, but he has been treated with much more respect and even reverence over the years despite some evidence that he may have plagiarized some of his compositions.

LaRocca especially has been labeled a "racist" by some even though those same people ignore the rumors that Morton held some racial prejudices himself.

So, I want to here and now bury all of that malarkey. Jazz musicians great and small were and are not gods, they are fellow mortals who have all the human frailties, prejudices and beliefs. Some were heroes and legends, some were deeply flawed; some were great guys and some were down right bas***ds!

Now back to what matters, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The original band that recorded consisted of Nick LaRocca on cornet, Eddie Edwards on trombone, Larry Shields on clarinet, Henry Ragas on piano, and Tony Sbarbaro on drums.

The band was formed in Chicago after LaRocca, Edwards, Ragas and clarinetist Alcide "Yellow" Nunez broke off from Johnny Stein's band on May 26, 1916. The four had traveled from New Orleans in early March with Stein for an engagement in Chicago. However, when they arrived they found the club they were to have played at closed. Fortunately, they soon found employment at Schiller's Café on 31st Street. The band was billed as Stein's Band from Dixie. Soon, though, the band's name was changed to Stein's Dixie Jass Band. This appears to have been the first use of "jass" in reference to a band.

The band proved quite popular with audiences, too popular in fact for the pay that they were receiving and by May LaRocca and Edwards felt it was time for them to move on from Schiller's and do other gigs for more pay. When Stein was approached with this notion he balked. An argument ensued and it is said that Edwards ended up punching Johnny Stein in the nose.

A short time later on June 2, 1916, in fact, The Original Dixie Land Jass Band opened at the Del' Abe Café at the Hotel Normandy on the corner of Clark and Randolph Streets. LaRocca was the clear leader of the band although Edwards was the business manager and the two worked closely together. Chicago local Earl Carter played drums replacing Stein, for about two weeks. Tony Sbarbaro was sent for from New Orleans and he permanently replaced Carter on drums.

On July 6th the band started a new engagement appearing at the Casino Gardens on Kinzie St. The bands popularity continued. So much so, that during this period in August and September they  performed in Vaudeville with dancer Jimmy Fogarty to rave reviews.

Problems arising from Nunez's habit of being late on stage and the fact that his playing style clashed with LaRocca's led to Nunez being replaced with Larry Shields at the end of October 1916. Bad blood would remain between Nunez and the band for years to come.

Chicago had been the groups studying period where LaRocca and the band experimented with original tunes and a hectic, driving style that was spurned on by the audiences approval. When Al Jolson heard the band he was impressed and it is said that it was upon his recommendation in New York that led to the bands offer of a try out at Reisenweber's Café on Columbus Circle in New York City.

And the beat goes on...