Rocking back in his office chair several weeks ago, Jack Azizo seemed stunned. "That was done here?" asked the 57-year-old co-owner of Jimmy Sales Corp., a men's-accessories company based in Manhattan. Mr. Azizo had just been told that the very first jazz phonograph record was made in his company's 12th-floor office space on Feb. 26, 1917. "I can't believe thisI love jazz," he said.
If New Orleans is the cradle of jazz, then New York's Garment District is where jazz spoke its first words. Ninety-five years ago, members of the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) boarded the freight elevator at 46 W. 38th St. and rode to the top floor. When the five musicians arrived at the new studio of Victor Talking Machine Co., the quintet set up their instruments and recorded two songs"Dixieland Jass Band One-Step" and "Livery Stable Blues."
Released weeks later, the 78-rpm record became an overnight sensationand a fitting start to jazz's future. On one side was a blues and on the other a dance numbertwo forms that jazz would rely on for decades to come.
"These songs by the ODJB were terrific, expressive tunes that changed popular music overnight," said Dan Morgenstern, a jazz historian and author of "Living With Jazz." "The impact of their syncopated approach can only be compared to records by Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s. Everything changed after their release."
Despite the band's boastful name, the Original Dixieland Jass Band wasn't quite as original as it claimed. "Black musicians in New Orleans had been playing the music that would come to be called jazz as early as 1906," said Bruce Raeburn, curator of Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive. "The idea to form a group and take the show on the road wasn't really theirs either."
That honor belongs to a Northern promoter, who in 1916 convinced several white musicians from New Orleans to form a pre-ODJB band and relocate to Chicago. Another New Orleans dance bandTom Brown's Band From Dixielandhad already had success playing there at local restaurants. Shortly after the musicians arrived, they were renamed the ODJB and met Max Hart, Al Jolson's agent. He booked them into a New York restaurant near Columbus Circle in January 1917.
Within weeks of the ODJB's engagement, Columbia Graphophone Co. executives caught wind of the uptown excitement and invited the band down to its Woolworth Building recording studio. "But when they performed there on Jan. 31, the wailing music was either too difficult to record or the executives didn't care much for what they heard," Mr. Raeburn said.
Paid for their time, the musicians left dejected but not discouraged. They quickly approached Victor, which had just moved to 46 W. 38th St. The record company jumped at the chance to best Columbia.
When the ODJB musicians set up their instruments on Feb. 26, Victor engineers placed the musicians at different distances from the large conical horn that served as a microphone in those days. The engineers made test pressings and even strung wires near the ceiling to absorb the sonic overtones.
At the end of the recording session, band cornetist and leader Nick LaRocca told Victor engineers that the name of his blues number was "Livery Stable Blues." But after the band left, Victor executives gave the song the more playful title "Barnyard Blues." And that's when trouble began.
Sensing an opportunity, agent Hart rushed out to copyright the new Victor title and songbut under his own name. Accidentally left out of the name-change loop, Victor's pressing plant attached "Livery Stable Blues" labels to the records instead.
Months later in Chicago, Alcide Nuņez, the ODJB's former clarinetist, who had left the band in 1916 after clashes with leader LaRocca, heard the record. But when Nuņez tried to purchase the song's arrangements for his own band, he discovered that "Livery Stable Blues" had never been copyrighted.
So Nuņez went to a Chicago publisher and secured credit for the song title. When sheet music began appearing, LaRocca halted its sale with an injunction, and a lawsuit followed. The judge hearing the case eventually ruled that neither LaRocca nor Nuņez would be granted a copyright. Doubts were raised about LaRocca's own originality as well as the practicality of trying to copyright a blues.
With a bang of the gavel, "Livery Stable Blues"the B-side of jazz's first recordpassed into the public domain, free for all to record. By 1920 the ODJB's popularity began to wane, and in 1925 the group disbanded.
Several weeks ago, Mr. Azizo was asked if his office had a CD player. It did, and he put on the disc that this writer provided. As the ODJB's frantic music played, Mr. Azizo shook his head. "Can you imagine if these walls could talk?" he said. "The last time this music was heard up here was probably when these guys were standing around playing it."
Mr. Myers writes about jazz, R&B and rock daily at JazzWax.com.
With respect to the paragraph,
"Within weeks of the ODJB's engagement, Columbia Graphophone Co. executives caught wind of the uptown excitement and invited the band down to its Woolworth Building recording studio. "But when they performed there on Jan. 31, the wailing music was either too difficult to record or the executives didn't care much for what they heard," Mr. Raeburn said."
I call attention to the following.
Many anecdotal sources over the years have cited January 24, 1917, as the date of a Columbia test session by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the results of which were supposedly resurrected for a belated September release on Columbia A2297. However, no documentation of any such session has been found in Nick LaRoccas files or in Columbias files, which logged the matrices used on A2297 on May 31, 1917.
New York. May 31, 1917. (See introductory note)
77086-3-4 Darktown Strutters Ball Columbia A2297, 2903 (English)
77087-2-3 Indiana Columbia A2297, 2903 (English)
From http://www.gracyk.com/odjb.shtml (reaed the complete article, very informative)
A major record company contacted the ODJB immediately after the 400 Club Room debut. Gary Edwards, grandson of Eddie Edwards, possesses a letter dated January 29, 1917, from a Columbia Graphophone Company executive addressed to "Jass Band, c/o Reisenweber's Restaurant, 58th Street & Columbus Circle, New York City." It invites the band to call on him "to discuss a matter which may prove of mutual benefit and interest." It is signed by A. E. Donovan, who had been appointed manager of the company's professional and personal record departments in early October 1916, according to page 45 of that month's issue of Talking Machine World. An ODJB member, probably Edwards, had scribbled a note on the letter: "Forbish [sic]-- Wednesday afternoon, 2:00 P.M." It is likely that the band met Donovan or Columbia recording engineer Walter A. Forbush on January 31, played an original composition (probably without recording it), and failed to impress Columbia executives with "jass" during this test. The band naturally would have pushed one of its original compositions as suitable for recording. Brunn had stated that the session was "ca. January 30." Donovan's letter establishes January 31--a Wednesday--as the date.
Finally, about the question of the first ever jazz recording, take a look at Scott Alexander's informative article in the redhotjazz website.
My favorite ODJB recording. (It is also Dan Levinson's favorite.)
I've Lost My Heart in Dixieland. The late Gilbert Erskine wrote about four years. Recorded in London on January 10, 1920 [Columbia 815], it has Nick LaRocca-cornet; Larry Shields-clarinet; Emile Christian-trombone; Billy Jones-piano; and Tony Sbarbaro-drums. Written by Irving Berlin, the tune is softer than the usual buoyant fare of the ODJB, and has a very attractive Shields solo.
About four years ago, I wrote, "This may well be my favorite ODJB recording. You can see why Bix, a musician of exquisite and demanding taste, was so impressed by the ODJB. I think it is worth listening to the recording again. This is the definition of bittersweet."
Two and a half years ago I wrote, "This is a popular song written by the great Irving Berlin, is played slowly and with profound lyricism, and it is jazz. Is it possible that the ODJB have the distinction of having waxed the first jazz record AND the first jazz ballad?"
Listen http://www.jazz-on-line.com/a/raml/LS488808.ram I love this recording! I could listen to it for hours. Get a load of the low register clarinet by Larry Shields and the Shields-LaRocca call and response duet, with Nick in front and Larry in the background.