If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.

Louis Armstrong

As we take a breather after sharing OUR origin story with everyone at our online benefit on October 25th (which you can still watch on our YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSY96ebZIMk&t=2s) we thought we would take a closer look at some of the originators of this great art form we all love, JAZZ.

Jazz Origins

In 1917, the first jazz recording was made by the Original Dixieland Jass Band* (*the current spelling of “jazz” was actually a misspelling by the NY Times). The ODJB was a Chicago band that capitalized on the creation of earlier Black jazz artists and rode the new music’s popularity to NYC where the first recording took place. Soon, many other jazz artists followed suit, trekking to NYC for greater opportunities, where the music took flight.

This ensemble, led by cornetist Nick LaRocca, had jazz’s first hit–“Livery Stable Blues.” It also claimed to have created the smash “Tiger Rag” (with writing credit given to LaRocca).

The ODJB similarly claimed to have invented jazz, a claim also made by Jelly Roll Morton and blues composer W.C. Handy, who separately claimed to have done this in 1903. Regardless, the ODJB really helped to popularize this fledgling art form.The ensemble was formed in Chicago in 1916 where the music had migrated via the river boats from New Orleans on its way to New York City. Shortly after beginning a stint at a club in NYC, the group signed a contract on January 29th, recorded on January 30th, and were the first entity in any music to sell over a million copies. Also in 1917, they were the first jazz group to appear in a motion picture. From 1917-1938, they recorded over 106 sides. The ensemble is still in existence today. Nick LaRocca led the ODJB on and off for the remainder of his life in 1961, and his son Jimmy LaRocca took over the group after that.

Check out an early recording of “Tiger Rag” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89fZGnAdago

King Oliver (1881 – 1938)

One of the key figures, who was crucial to the start of what we know today as jazz, was cornetist, bandleader, and composer Joseph “King” Oliver. While we don’t have a large bank of his performances, his contributions to the budding art form of jazz are without question. Oliver began as a trombonist, but switched to cornet and quickly found himself leading the top New Orleans group in the 1910’s. Jazz’s first famous trombonist Kid Ory nicknamed Oliver “King” and the moniker stuck.

During some of the parades where the group performed, a young Louis Armstrong followed Oliver and even carried his horn when Oliver wasn’t playing. The relationship between the two blossomed as Armstrong grew older, and Oliver sent for Armstrong to join his group in Chicago, where they were enjoying some success. So great were Armstrongs’ ears that he was able to harmonize Oliver’s lines, thus launching Armstrong’s career.

Oliver was a member of a number of famous Dixieland groups, including the Creole Jazz Band and the Dixie Syncopators. The 1923 recordings of the Creole Jazz Band were far beyond anything recorded up to that point in time.

Oliver wrote a number of important early jazz compositions, including “Dippermouth Blues,” “Sweet Like This,” “Canal Street Blues,” and “Doctor Jazz.” He is also given credit for the use of mutes in jazz – he popularized the use of the plunger mute, the derby and the “wah-wah” mute, which we now know as the Harmon mute.

Oliver suffered from gum disease that made playing later in life difficult. It can also be generously said that he was far better at music than he was at business, and he found himself rather destitute on a number of occasions. At the time of his death, he was managing a pool hall in South Carolina.

Check out the 1923 recording of Oliver’s most famous composition, “Dippermouth Blues,” with his beautiful cornet sound on one of the most memorized early jazz solos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEF9QeHxrYw

Henry “Red” Allen (1908 – 1967)

Born into a musical family near New Orleans, Louisiana, Henry “Red” Allen’s first big gig was with King Olivers’s Dixie Syncopators in 1927. Signed by Victor Records to compete with Louis Armstrong’s success on the OKeh Records label, Allen recorded and performed for a number of years as a leader and a sideman (with Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, and Armstrong). His next big success came as a member of the first great big band–the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra. Here, he and long time running mate Coleman Hawkins were the featured soloists and helped create the norms for soloing in the swing era. For the remainder of his career, Allen was a very busy sideman, performing with a who’s who in jazz figures (Billie Holiday, Art Tatum, Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Kid Ory, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and far too many others).

When Louis Armstrong exploded on the scene in the early 20’s and created jazz as a viable genre, it took a great while for others to approach Armstrong’s level of technical prowess and creativity. Trumpeter and vocalist Allen was perhaps the first to near Armstrong’s standards, and during a career cut short by cancer, he continued to evolve and play at a very high level (some say his recordings in the late 1950’s are his best work).

Here he is with the song “Wild Man Blues”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VKkbTozWDc8

In Case You Missed It…

Some of our band members have recently been featured on WKSU’s “The Shuffle”.

Keep sharing the music!

We also want to congratulate our friends at the Bop Stop for being selected to receive a grant from the Live Music Society. Read more here:

The Bop Stop is sharing the music! Check out their calendar for livestream concerts. You may even see a few familiar CJO faces: https://www.themusicsettlement.org/calendar/


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What would YOU like to learn more about? What music are YOU listening to? Let us know! We love new recommendations!