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.
4. King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: “Dipper Mouth Blues” (The Chronological King Oliver 1923; Classics, 1992 [originally recorded April 6, 1923])
This time the title’s completely misleading. “Dipper Mouth” was one of Louis Armstrong’s early nicknames, and because he’s the second cornetist in King Oliver’s band you might expect Armstrong to have a featured part. He doesn’t. The two soloists on “Dipper Mouth Blues” are clarinetist Johnny Dodds, whose two playful stop-time choruses are shot through with melancholy, and Oliver himself, Armstrong’s mentor and perhaps the first master of the wah-wah mute. His long, growling moans on the horn would be imitated by every trumpeter for the next 20 years. (Behind him, you can hear the improvised harmonies and counterpoints of the one who would be imitated by every trumpeter for the next 100.) If the basic joy of the performance isn’t already clear, Oliver crystallizes it with the capper to his solo, a sung shout of “Oh, play that thing!”