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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.

8. Freddie Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals: “Stock Yards Strut” (1923-1926: The Complete Set; Retrieval, 2006 [originally recorded July 26, 1926])

8. Freddie Keppard’s Jazz Cardinals: “Stock Yards Strut” (<i>1923-1926: The Complete Set</i>; Retrieval, 2006 [originally recorded July 26, 1926])
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Freddie Keppard was relatively late to the recording party (having passed up a chance to record in 1915), but came into the jazz story relatively early. Keppard was King Oliver’s predecessor at the top of the jazz trumpet heap, a profoundly innovative player who was so paranoid about his techniques being copied that he played with handkerchiefs over his hands. In “Stock Yards Strut,” we can also hear his influence on, of all people, Sidney Bechet. The nimbleness and speed of his rhythms can make it hard to detect, but Keppard plays the kind of shuddering vibrato at the ends of his phrases that was Bechet’s trademark. Meanwhile, he’s got a clarinetist of his own (Johnny Dodds, who appeared previously with Oliver) adding a charge that sends the music shooting into the stratosphere.

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.