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.
7. New Orleans Rhythm Kings: “She’s Crying for Me” (Complete Recordings 1922-1925; Rivermont, 2018 [originally recorded March 26, 1925])
The stiffer rhythms of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band might suggest that white guys, even from New Orleans, couldn’t play jazz. Let the New Orleans Rhythm Kings put that idea to rest. From the tipoff of “She’s Crying for Me,” the band has mastered the rhythmic nuances of the city. Cornetist Paul Mares borrows from Louis Armstrong’s phrasing—before Armstrong had even started recording with his Hot Five—and clarinetist Charlie Cordilla lifts some of Bechet’s flair, if not the intricacies of his sound. Both musicians, however, develop original styles, as do trombonist Santo Pecora, pianist Red Long, banjoist Bill Eastwood, and tubist Chink Martin. “She’s Crying for Me” isn’t on the cutting edge of jazz in 1925, but it is aware of and incorporating what the vanguard is working on.