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JazzTimes 10: Classic New Orleans Recordings

Essential tracks by Jelly Roll, Kid, Bunk, Satchmo, and more

As anyone who has spent even an afternoon in New Orleans knows, that city’s traditional jazz has never gone away. But those of us who spend our time in other places tend not to give that music much attention. It’s associated with decrepit and too-fast silent movie footage, and cartoons. Swing, bebop, and subsequent styles are so much more sophisticated.

Of course, the secret to New Orleans jazz is that it’s incredibly sophisticated. It’s also the bedrock of all jazz that followed, meaning that even if we don’t instantly detect it, it’s never gone away for us, either. The music is still exciting, profound, and ahead of its time today, and it’s worthy of our attention. We don’t have the sounds of jazz’s very beginning: Trumpeter Buddy Bolden is usually regarded as Jazzman Zero, but aside from anecdotes and a scratchy circa-1905 photograph, there’s no documentation of him. (The notion persists that he made an old wax cylinder record, but we have yet to find it.) For all intents and purposes, though, these 10 records give us the foundation. All except the first entry are in chronological order.

2. Original Dixieland Jazz Band: “Livery Stable Blues” (The Essential Collection; Avis, 2006 [originally recorded Feb. 26, 1917])

2. Original Dixieland Jazz Band: “Livery Stable Blues” (<i>The Essential Collection</i>; Avis, 2006 [originally recorded Feb. 26, 1917])

“Livery Stable Blues” was the first jazz record ever made, and more importantly the first hit jazz record ever made. It sounded completely new and frenetic in its time, and the animal sounds that the clarinet (Larry Shields), cornet (bandleader Nick LaRocca), and trombone (Eddie Edwards) made felt like the height of irreverence in 1917. With the debut of this all-white band from New Orleans, jazz became a craze that only got bigger from there. Yet when we listen back today, “Livery Stable Blues” sounds remarkably stiff: It has the famous New Orleans “Big Four” syncopation and the polyphonic fun, but the rhythmic spice just isn’t there. (Go back to “Black Bottom Stomp” and make the comparison.) Nevertheless, this is the one that lit the fuse.

Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring all of the songs in this JazzTimes 10:

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.