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|In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
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Before the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (part I)
This column, from its beginning, has been based on the anecdotal information attached to
melodies and words written and performed down through the years by artists associated
with various idioms of the jazz genre. However, there is one “glitch” in that description that
we, as yet, have not talked about. The glitch involves the fundamental assumption that our
readers can listen to recordings of that to which we refer.
But the fact is, jazz music didn’t start in 1917, with the recordings of the Original Dixieland
Jazz Band (ODJB). There were some groups playing this music in New Orleans, and possibly
other places, well before the ODJB made their first record. But this, of course, is music we’ll
never hear. In fact we’re not even sure what tunes they played, but we can make some fairly
good guesses based on fragmentary information.
Over the next two issues we’re going to take a look at some jazz bands that came before the
ODJB and try to justify our guesses as to what tunes they might have been playing in the last
century’s teen years.
A Creole multi-instrumentalist from New Orleans, Jimmy Palao, left the Buddy Bolden Band
in 1905, to play with The Imperial Jazz Band from 1905 to 1907. He went on, later, to write
some published tunes among which were “Echoes of India” (1909) and “O You Sweet Rag”
(1911), which he dedicated to clarinetist George Baquet. Bass-player Bill Johnson thought
highly of the Imperial Band and, in 1908, he formed a partnership with Jimmy Palao that
resulted in The Original Creole Orchestra.
This group of Creole musicians, which included George Baquet as well as cornetist Freddie
Keppard, was extremely important in jazz history. It toured parts of the U.S. on the
vaudeville circuit and was the band first responsible for the survival and promotion of New
Orleans Jazz outside of New Orleans. In 1915, the band was offered an opportunity to record
for the Victor Talking Machine Company. It would have been the first ever jazz recording,
but Freddie Keppard declined because he was afraid everyone would steal the band’s
“stuff.” Yet, there was a record of a tune called “Tack ‘em Down” recorded by this band for
Victor which was never issued and no test pressing has ever surfaced.
Some of the tunes played by The Original Creole Orchestra were probably much like the
following tunes which were long associated with its star, Freddie Keppard:
MESSIN’ AROUND by Johnny St. Cyr
HERE COMES THE HOT TAMALE MAN by Fred Rose
STOCKYARD STRUT by Jasper Taylor
HIGH FEVER by Freddie Keppard
SALTY DOG by Charlie Jackson
Another New Orleans band, a white band called Tom Brown’s Band from Dixieland,
followed closely upon the heels of the Original Creole Orchestra about whom we talked in
part I of this series in the last issue of The Earlyjas Rag.
Tom Brown learned to play trombone in “Papa” Jack Laine’s Reliance Band during the first
decade of the 1900’s. He established Tom Brown’s Band from Dixieland after he had formed
bands that played the shoreline resorts of Lake Pontchartrain as well as some of the excursion
boats out of New Orleans.
All these bands preceded the formation of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, but it was Tom
Brown’s band that had some direct connections to the ODJB. The fact that trombonist Tom
Brown’s band played at Lamb’s Café in Chicago in 1915, lends credence to Brown’s claim that
his was the first white jazz band to take this music “up north” as well as the first to use the
term “Jass” to describe his music. Despite problems with the Chicago Musicians Union the
band’s popularity in Chicago continued to grow and they were held over for four months at
Lamb’s before moving on to New York where they played for another four months before
returning to New Orleans in 1916.
During their Chicago engagement Brown’s clarinet player was one Gussie Mueller who was
hired away from Brown by bandleader Bert Kelly. Tom Brown found a young New Orleans
clarinetist name Larry Shields to replace Mueller. When the band finished its New York stint
and returned to New Orleans it was approached by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band to make
a swap of clarinetists. They would give their clarinetist, Alcide Nunez to Tom Brown if
Brown would give them Larry Shields. The trade was made and the rest, as they say, is
history. Larry Shields went on to star with the ODJB, make the first jazz recordings, and
compose a number of tunes in the ODJB repertoire.
It’s this nearly one-year connection with Larry Shields that offers possible evidence of some
of the tunes Tom Brown’s Band from Dixieland might have been playing, in one form or
another. Shields had a hand in the composition of all of the following tunes which also
showed up in the book of the ODJB:
OSTRICH WALK by Nick LaRocca and Larry Shields, 1917, also later recorded by Bix
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL-by Nick LaRocca and Larry Shields, 1917.
FIDGETY FEET-by Nick LaRocca and Larry Shields, 1918, recorded by the ODJB just before
they went to Europe. Original title “War Clouds.”
CLARINET MARMALADE-by Nick LaRocca and Larry Shields, 1918.
SATANIC BLUES-by Larry Shields, 1919.
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