The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB)
- by Tim Gracyk
Excerpt from POPULAR AMERICAN RECORDING PIONEERS: 1895-1925, by Tim Gracyk. The book was published in late 2000.
Special thanks to Gary Edwards, grandson of ODJB trombonist Eddie Edwards. He sent to me copies of many rare telegrams and letters written by ODJB members during the World War I era and 1920s. Much of the information in this article has never been published before. Someday the material in Gary Edwards' scrapbooks and files will be published in a definitive book telling the fascinating and complex history of the ODJB. Eddie Edwards was the band's business manager during an important period. He kept every piece of paper that came his way as manager. Surviving materials provide excellent information about the band as a whole, showing that all members contributed more or less equally to the band's success during the peak years.
The Original Dixieland Jass Band, commonly called the ODJB, was the first to make a jazz recording. Its debut record sparked a jazz craze in 1917 and made the word "jazz" ("jass" in 1917) known to the general public. At that time the group consisted of cornetist Dominic ("Nick") James LaRocca, clarinetist Larry Shields, trombonist Edwin ("Eddie") Branford Edwards, pianist Harry W. Ragas, and drummer Anthony ("Tony") Sbarbaro. All were white musicians from New Orleans. After 1917, the spelling was changed from "jass" to "jazz," so the band was identified as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band for most of its career.
The ODJB evolved from an earlier band organized by a New Orleans drummer. Johnny Stein, whose real name was John Hountha, was playing at the Pup Cafe in New Orleans in 1915 or early 1916 when an actor named Gus Chandler urged him to take a band to Chicago. Stein signed a contract with a Chicago entrepreneur Harry James (not the big band trumpeter) and then recruited from his home city four musicians to travel north with him--LaRocca, Edwards, Ragas, and clarinetist Alcide "Yellow" Nunez. Eddie Edwards later recalled that Stein had asked him for assistance in recruiting musicians. Edwards first invited Emile Christian to play cornet but Christian could not leave New Orleans because of a prior commitment (he later played trombone for the ODJB when Edwards himself was drafted into the army). Edwards then invited LaRocca to join. In an unpublished manuscript now owned by grandson Gary Edwards, the trombonist recalled that "the forerunner of the ODJB was the Reliance Band," which included clarinetist Achille Baquet, drummer Jack Lane, and cornetist Lawrence Veca.
The musicians made their Chicago debut on March 3 at the Schiller Cafe at 318 East 31st Street on the city's South Side. The cafe was managed by James and owned by Sam Hare. Advertisements printed in 1916 for Stein's Dixie Land Jass Band stated that the musicians had come "direct from the famous Pup Cafe of New Orleans" though only Stein had played at the Pup Club. Band members wore long coats called "dusters" as a kind of uniform.
This was not the first New Orleans band to play in Chicago. A predecessor was Tom Brown's Band from Dixieland which accompanied vaudeville comic Joe Frisco. One member of Tom Brown's Band, Gus Mueller, would play clarinet in 1920 on Paul Whiteman's first records, and another Brown member was Larry Shields. This may have been the first band to be called a jass band. The words "jaz" and "jazz" had appeared in print as early as 1913--the words meant vigorous, energetic--but the term "jass band" would not be used until New Orleans bands in Chicago identified themselves as such.
Stein's band was called a "jass" band at least by May 1916. Soon afterwards the term "jass band" caught on in Chicago. William Howland Kenney reports on page 11 in Chicago Jazz, A Cultural History 1904-1930 (Oxford University Press, 1993) that the first use of "Jass Band" in the Chicago black press was in the September 30, 1916, issue of the Defender. Kenney writes that the word is used "to describe music produced by black pianist-songwriter W. Benton Overstreet in support of vaudevillian Estella Harris at the Grand Theater. Harris...was now accompanied by a 'Jass Band.'" Kenney adds, "Very soon thereafter, a variant spelling of the term--'Jaz'--was used in the Indianapolis Freeman to describe an instrumental group, John W. Wickliffe's Ginger Orchestra."
The obscure Eddie Parker, pianist Eddie Snell, Betty Holmes, and pianist Ernie Erdman were others who entertained at the Schiller Cafe during the time Stein and his musicians were engaged there. Reportedly fed up because the Schiller Cafe owner refused to increase pay, the four musicians working under Stein deserted him and formed a new band. Their letter of resignation (now owned by Gary Edwards, grandson of Eddie Edwards) is dated May 25, 1916, and states, "Messrs. Berghoff Schiller...Gentlemen: We beg to hand you herewith our resignation, to take effect two (2) weeks from this date (5/25/16). [Signed] H. Ragas, E.B. Edwards, D. Jas LaRocca, A. Nunez."
Needing a drummer, they sent for Tony Sbarbaro in New Orleans, presumably on the recommendation of Edwards, who had played with Sbarbaro, nicknamed "Kid Spargo," in a ragtime outfit a couple of years earlier. In June the Original Dixie Land Jass Band opened at Del'Abe's Cafe in the Hotel Normandy at Clark and Randolph streets (Stein recalled in later years that the ODJB opened at the Belvedere Hotel, then went to "Bert Kelly's Stable" on Clark Street). From July onwards the band worked steadily at the Casino Gardens at Kinzie and North Clark streets. For personal and musical reasons, clarinetist Alcide "Yellow" Nunez was fired and replaced by New Orleanian Larry Shields, who was in Chicago playing in the band that Stein had organized to finish his contract engagement at the Schiller (others were pianist Ernie Erdman, cornetist Doc Berenson, and trombonist Jules Cassard). After the Schiller engagement, Stein left for New York City's Alamo Cafe on 125th Street with a new band, the Original New Orleans Jazz Band, which included Jimmy Durante on piano.
Harry O. Brunn's The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Louisiana State University Press, 1960) reports that upon hearing the ODJB in Chicago, Al Jolson enthusiastically recommended the band to New York City agent Max Hart, who eventually signed the band for Reisenweber's. Brunn cites no source for Jolson's involvement (Jolson traveled in late 1916 and early 1917 in Robinson Crusoe, Jr., which was not given in Chicago). Edwards late in life recalled in an unpublished manuscript that Hart, in Chicago, visited the Casino Gardens with Jolson, T. Roy Barnes, W. C. Fields, Don Barclay, Fanny Brice, and Will Rogers.
Whether at Jolson's prodding or not, Hart had made inquires about a "Jas Band" as early as the autumn of 1916 and by the end of the year had traveled to Chicago to hear the band. In the possession of Gary Edwards, grandson of Eddie Edwards, is a telegram dated October 25, 1916, from the "office of Max Hart, 902 Palace Theatre Building, 1564 Broadway" to Chicago publisher Will Rossiter. The cable states, "Dear Sir: Will you kindly give me some information regarding a 'Jas Band' which you have. Yours very truly, Max Hart." Danish-born Max Hart, whose real name was Max Meyer Hertz, was father of Lorenz Hart, of the songwriting team Rodgers and Hart.
Negotiating a deal, Hart and Edwards exchanged several telegrams and letters. Hart wrote in a note dated January 6, 1917, "Your letter to hand and I am arranging some work for you now in the east and it will be more than $225 per week, so you can expect to receive a wire from me to come east." Hart competed with other New York city agents for the honor of bringing this novelty band east. A representative of the Fifth Avenue Entertainment Company, whose signature appears to be "J. B. Granblen," sent to Edwards a letter dated January 9. He states, "Mr Joe Termini, violinist with the Bessie Clayton Sextette, gave me your name and address. I can use a Jass Band here in New York on a steady engagement, so will you please let me know just what instrumentation is included in your combination--whether the boys sing or not, and how much money you will expect on a cafe job, say four to five hours a night. I might add that there is no Jass Band here in New York, and it look as if there will be quite a big demand for it. Kindly hurry the information asked for in this letter, as I must give my party an immediate reply."
Brunn wrongly reports that the band made its New York City debut on January 15, 1917, having a brief engagement at the Paradise Ballroom, playing two numbers nightly while house orchestra members rested. His source was page 6 of the January 15, 1917, edition of the New York Herald, which includes an advertisement announcing that "The Jasz Band direct from its amazing success in Chicago" would perform at Margaret Hawkesworth's Paradise Supper Club ("The Smartest, Most Beautiful and Most Modern Ballroom in America, in the New Reisenweber Building").
However, evidence is strong that the ODJB was not in New York City at this time. Some other band must have played at the Paradise, or perhaps no band played despite the placement of the newspaper advertisement announcing that such a band would play there. Surviving telegrams addressed to Edwards at 1508 Larabee Street in Chicago establish that the ODJB was in Chicago as late as January 23. Factual errors are common in Brunn's book, which is also unreliable because it reflects in a hero-worship tone the viewpoint of the one ODJB member who had fed Brunn the most information--namely, LaRocca.
A telegram sent at 7:15 PM on January 21, 1917, from Max Hart to Edwards at the trombonist's Chicago residence states, "SEE JOHN SIMON MAJESTIC THEATRE BLDG WILL GIVE YOU [train?] TICKETS YOU MUST LEAVE MONDAY TEN WEEKS SURE WIRE, MAX HART 705PM." Telegrams related to business were sent to Edwards, as opposed to other band members, because Edwards functioned as the ODJB's business manager at this time. The original telegrams are now owned by the trombonist's grandson, Gary.
A telegram sent to Edwards in Chicago on January 17 by New York City agent Marvin Welt, another of Hart's competitors, states, "CAN PLACE THE BAND AT REISENWEBERS OR HEALYS, WAS OFFERED TWO SEVENTY FIVE HOLDING OUT FOR THREE HUNDRED CAN YOU OPEN HERE TUESDAY JANUARY TWENTY SECOND ANSWER BY WIRE QUICKLY DO NOT BUY CLOTHS [sic]." That same day, Hart sent a cable (or "Night Lettergram") stating, "You open here at Reisenwebers monday Jan 29 you leave Chgo saturday if you can wire me when you will leave five weeks sure at Good salary more than Chic. answer collect." A telegram sent to Edwards in Chicago on January 20 by Welt establishes that he represented booking agent Max Lowe, who also tried to place the band at Reisenweber's: "IF LOWE WILL PAY TRANSPORTATION AND TWO FIFTY TAKE IT IT IS A GREAT PROPOSITION FOR YOU...PAY NO ATTENTION TO HART OPEN AT REISENWEBERS...LOWES OFFER IS VERY GOOD."
Max Hart finally succeeded in engaging the ODJB for the 400 Club Room of the new Reisenweber's Building at Columbus Circle, 8th Avenue and 58th Street. According to Brunn, the engagement began on January 27, which was a Saturday. Hart's cable dated January 17 suggests that opening night was to have been on January 29. An advertisement in the January 25 edition of The New York Times ("Including THE 'JASZ' BAND, the Latest Western Rage") suggests a slightly earlier date but it is likely that some other band calling itself a "jasz" ensemble played at Reisenweber's before the ODJB's arrival. The January 27, 1917, edition of The New York Times advertises "the first Eastern appearance of the only Original Dixieland 'Jass Band,'" which confirms Brunn's date.
The new Reisenweber's was huge. Its main restaurant, in which elaborate revues entertained diners, formally opened on January 17. Reisenweber's 400 Club Room was a small restaurant that opened later that month. While waiting for it to open, the band played briefly at the Coconut Grove, at least according to Brunn. Since the band would not have left Chicago until January 22 at the earliest, any engagement at the Coconut Grove was brief indeed.
A major record company contacted the ODJB immediately after the 400 Club Room debut. Gary Edwards, grandson of Eddie Edwards, possesses a letter dated January 29, 1917, from a Columbia Graphophone Company executive addressed to "Jass Band, c/o Reisenweber's Restaurant, 58th Street & Columbus Circle, New York City." It invites the band to call on him "to discuss a matter which may prove of mutual benefit and interest." It is signed by A. E. Donovan, who had been appointed manager of the company's professional and personal record departments in early October 1916, according to page 45 of that month's issue of Talking Machine World. An ODJB member, probably Edwards, had scribbled a note on the letter: "Forbish [sic]-- Wednesday afternoon, 2:00 P.M." It is likely that the band met Donovan or Columbia recording engineer Walter A. Forbush on January 31, played an original composition (probably without recording it), and failed to impress Columbia executives with "jass" during this test. The band naturally would have pushed one of its original compositions as suitable for recording. Brunn had stated that the session was "ca. January 30." Donovan's letter establishes January 31--a Wednesday--as the date.
ODJB trombonist Eddie Edwards recalled early studio days for the May, 1947, issue of Jazz Record, which is reprinted in Selections from the Gutter (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1977), edited by Art Hodes and Chadwick Hansen. From his account and Brunn's book, the myth arose that the ODJB's Columbia disc features the first jazz recordings. Rust's Jazz Records: 1897-1942 does cite a January date for Columbia A2297 but Rust has since called this an error, identifying May 31 as the real date for the performances. In "The First Jazz Record of All?" in Victrola and 78 Journal (Issue 6, Summer 1995), he states, "Discographies should be amended to read the Victor date first, and then the Columbia date (which produced probably the worst of all mementoes of the band)." In later years, band members evidently confused a January audition with a May session, their memories of visiting a Columbia studio in late January being stronger than memories of returning.
Edwards' colorful account of recording for Columbia and Victor is problematic. He recalls Columbia studio carpenters building shelves and "hammering away while we tried to play," which is inconceivable if the band had been recording though it is plausible if the band was merely auditioning for Columbia executives. Edwards' account says nothing about the third company that recorded the band in 1917, the Aeolian Company.
A month after auditioning for Columbia, the band recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Takes from this February 26 session were issued relatively quickly. The first jazz record was Victor 18255, which featured "Dixieland Jass Band One-Step" (on the "A" side-- "Composed and played by Original Dixieland 'Jass' Band") backed by "Livery Stable Blues." It is worth noting that "one-step" is in one title, and the other is characterized on the label as a fox trot. The phrase "For Dancing" is added to the right of the spindle hole on both sides of the disc (Columbia adds the phrase "Dance music" to the right of its spindle hole).
Victor supplements stressed that ODJB records provided dance music, a fact that seems to be little appreciated today. Announcing the release of "Broadway Rose" and "Sweet Mamma" on 18722, Victor's March 1921 supplement states, "Here are two numbers, which, if danced properly, are guaranteed to keep the participant at least two jumps ahead of gloom and disaster." Announcing "Dangerous Blues" and "Royal Garden Blues" on 18798, Victor's November 1921 supplement states, "For those who demand humor in their dance records, these are assuredly 'good tunes.'"
Victor's May 1917 supplement, printed in late April, describes the ODJB's debut record and includes a photograph of the band. The May 1917 issue of Talking Machine World announced that Victor was distributing to dealers "an attention compelling poster listing two special Jass band...selections." In a letter dated March 29, 1917, Victor editorial manager Ernest Johns wrote to Eddie Edwards, "[O]ur advertising of the Jass Band will consist of a special poster and a special supplement, which will be sent to all Victor dealers...These, I should say, will be on display inside of a couple of weeks." Edwards had evidently asked about how Victor literature would spell the word jazz, and Johns replied, "As to the spelling, we were a little uncertain ourselves, but we noticed that on your cards...the word was spelled JASS, so that on the poster we followed that spelling..."
The two performances on the first jazz disc are outstanding and must have seemed refreshing to listeners during World War I since nothing similar to "jass" had been recorded before. If the performances have one weakness, it is that the band repeats without variation all sections of both numbers, which makes for a somewhat monotonous delivery. Members play at full volume throughout the performances, which therefore never reach a climax. (When "Dixieland Jass Band One-Step" was recorded again in 1936, pianissimo playing midway through the performance and then a solo by Shields create opportunity for effective crescendo and climax.)
The two compositions have complex histories. Legal difficulties forced the Victor company to make changes to both sides of the disc's label. The inclusion on the disc's A side ("Dixieland Jass Band One-Step") of a strain from Joe Jordan's 1909 "That Teasin' Rag" led to claims of copyright infringement. The earliest copies of the first ODJB disc do not cite Jordan's rag but later copies state, "Introducing 'That Teasin' Rag." For no clear reason, the title on side A of the disc was changed to "Dixie Jass Band One-Step," the suffix "-land" omitted. Curiously, posters promoting the band's live engagements around 1921 state that Victor 18255 featured the song "Ramblin' Blues"--"Dixie Jass Band One-Step" had been renamed! It is worth noting that the ODJB recorded many songs with "blues" in the title. "Livery Stable Blues" was among the first records with "blues" in the title and it was the first such record to sell incredibly well.
As ODJB manager, Max Hart made arrangements in early 1917 with J. W. Stern for publication rights to "Dixieland Jass Band One- Step." Hart's involvement led to problems in later years. LaRocca wrote to Edwards on November 8, 1929, "Ed, I want you to look up Max Hart and see if he will sign the Dixieland one step to one of us so we can get behind the publisher to settle up with us, on royalty due [to the] band. Suppose you go and see J. W. Stern or his successor and get the dope on same. Do not let him know what your motives are. I have in my possession the contract but that is made between Max Hart and J. W. Stern. Also, ask Mr. Hart for statements, if any, from Victor Co. This number promises to be a big hit but no one seems able to get orchestrations on same."
Edwards replied in a letter dated November 11 that Stern's successor, E. B. Marks, recognized only Max Hart as entitled to royalties. Hart, who moved to California in 1929 after a stroke, was not cooperative when Edwards asked that royalties be handed over to ODJB members.
In a letter dated November 15, 1929, LaRocca wrote to Edwards, "I have all the necessary papers needed to show we...retained him [Hart] as manager for 3 years only, contract dated Apr. 27, 1917, signed by the five members, also correspondence from J. W. Stern asking permission to use O.D.J.B. on Q.R.S. rolls....Do you think it advisable for me to write Marks about this number or probably I could interest some lawyer down here to get after Marks for royalty due us on a percentage basis."
LaRocca must have persisted in getting Hart to sign rights over. From the 1930s onwards, all recorded versions of "Dixieland Jazz Band One- Step," which was widely recorded by traditional jazz bands, were credited to LaRocca himself despite LaRocca never claiming sole authorship in his 1929 letters. Band members resented LaRocca for this.
Later in 1917 the ODJB signed with Leo Feist, Inc., for exclusive publication rights to new compositions, so royalties for later numbers were easily collected.
The reverse side of the disc created different problems. "Livery Stable Blues" was supposed to have been called "Barnyard Blues" on the label. The latter title is certainly more appropriate since the instruments imitate a rooster, horse, and cow. In other words, all of the animals imitated are associated with barnyards whereas only horses are associated with livery stables. A mixup with sheet music and song titles led to litigation. The ODJB had been assigned rights only to "Barnyard Blues," so when the performance was erroneously issued as "Livery Stable Blues," other musicians seized this opportunity to claim credit. New Orleans trombonist Tom Brown claimed to be the writer of "Livery Stable Blues," and Nunez claimed the same.
Brunn states in The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band that Victor's success with its first ODJB record inspired Columbia executives to release test recordings made months earlier: "It was not until 'Livery Stable Blues' had become a smash hit that Columbia recovered the master from its dead files and made pressings of 'Darktown Strutters' Ball' and 'Indiana' on A2297." However, Rust reports that the original recording card in the CBS files for both titles bears the date May 31, 1917. It reveals that four takes of Shelton Brooks' "Darktown Strutters' Ball" and three of James Hanley's "Indiana" were completed, two takes of each song used for pressings of Columbia A2297. In the Spring 1991 issue of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal, researcher Tim Brooks points out that the Columbia sides have May 1917 matrix numbers and that "notations on the original cards strongly indicate that [the Columbia sides] were recorded then as well, not renumbered from some earlier trial."
The disc was announced in Columbia's September 1917 supplement though the July 1917 issue of Talking Machine World featured an advertisement listing the record as ready for issue on August 10. Columbia was beginning the experiment of issuing some records near the middle of a month. The advertisement states, "Here is the solution of one of your big problems-- how to get more business from the 10th to the 20th--the ten dullest record days of the month!" It identifies "Indiana" as a one-step and "Darktown Strutters' Ball" as a fox-trot, as does the disc's label.
Brunn reports that the band learned "Indiana" in the publisher's office immediately before the session, humming "the tune en route so that it would not be forgotten." He reports that "Darktown Strutters' Ball" was recorded in a haphazard manner: "They had rehearsed the piece in the key of 'C,' but LaRocca, at the mercy of his peculiar musical memory, started off in 'D.' His colleagues had no choice other than to follow suit..." Recording logs establish that four takes were made of "Darktown Strutters' Ball," with the first two takes not issued. The two performances issued by Columbia are less interesting than the two already issued by Victor, primarily because the material had been written by non-band members, but they more polished than Brunn's accounts would lead readers to believe.
Shelton Brooks was grateful that the ODJB cut his "Darktown Strutters' Ball." In 1918, he wrote the song "When You Hear That Dixieland Jazz Band Play," which was published by Will Rossiter. In this song, Shelton's lyrics celebrate the jazz pioneers: "At Reisenwebers' [sic] place they started, and cleaned up the whole darn town...They sway and play the 'Liv'ry Stable Blues.'"
It may seem odd that the band cut two numbers composed by others when it returned to Columbia on May 31. Given the success by late May of Victor 18255, which featured original compositions, Columbia executives were arguably shortsighted if they believed that "Indiana" and "Darktown Strutters' Ball" would appeal to record buyers more than original ODJB material. On the other hand, Columbia executives probably knew about legal disputes that followed the release of Victor 18255 and must have concluded that material composed by others was safer than original ODJB compositions.
Around the time Columbia issued what the ODJB had recorded for the company on May 31, the band had signed a contract with the Aeolian Company of New York. Passed down from Eddie Edwards to family members is a sheet of paper with Reisenweber's letterhead that list dates--a kind of diary for the band written in Edwards' handwriting--and it suggests the band had sessions for that company on July 29 ("two test records"); August 7 ("4 records"); September 3 ("At the Jazz Band Ball"); September 5; November 9; and November 24 ("in place of 'Baby [Baby of Mine]'-- Reisenweber Rag").
The jazz artists were among the first musicians to record for the company. The Aeolian contract was for six months and was not renewed. The ODJB Aeolian-Vocalion discs, which are vertical-cut, are incredibly rare. When exactly they were issued and how they were distributed is unknown. The Aeolian Company waited until mid-1918 to announce to the trade that it was making records. The May 1918 issue of Talking Machine World states, "The Aeolian Co., New York, is now ready to announce to the talking machine trade the new Aeolian-Vocalion record. The first list of records is now ready for general distribution...The Vocalion record will be merchandised through Vocalion representatives exclusively." The recording studio was not at the famous Aeolian Hall at 33 West 42nd Street but in a building at 35 West 43rd Street.
The band formed a vaudeville act with dancers Frank Hale and Signe Patterson, opening at B.F. Keith's Colonial Theater in late November 1917. They played in New York City vaudeville house for over a year. One of many acts in the popular revue The Passing Show of 1918 at the Winter Garden was "Hale & Patterson and the original [sic] Dixieland Jazz Band."
With legal problems evidently resolved, the band returned to Victor in the spring of 1918. The band members would have naturally been eager to record again for the nation's most prestigious record company, and Victor executives undoubtedly looked forward to issuing more hit records. The five ODJB records issued by Victor in 1918 and early 1919 sold well. Sales would have been greater had not wartime shortages limited the production of records at this time.
All ten titles issued from the 1918 sessions were original compositions. Most became jazz standards. Whereas composer credits on the Victor disc in 1917 were given to the ensemble as a collaborative unit (though LaRocca alone was given credit for "Barnyard Blues" on Aeolian Vocalion 1205), individuals were assigned credit in 1918, LaRocca and Shields taking the lion's share. The two share credit for "At the Jazz Band Ball," "Ostrich Walk," and "Fidgety Feet." Shields and Ragas share credit for "Clarinet Marmalade." LaRocca is credited for "Skeleton Jangle" and "Tiger Rag." LaRocca, Shields, and Ragas are credited for "Lazy Daddy." Other members are credited for remaining numbers: Edwards for "Sensation," Ragas for "Bluin' the Blues," and Sbarbaro for "Mourin' Blues."
Turns may have been taken when some composer credits had been assigned. In a letter dated October 11, 1952, Edwards reminded Shields, who lived at 6075 Franklin Avenue in Hollywood, of the unusual manner in which composer credit had been assigned in 1918: "If memory serves, you will recall that the names of the numbers were decided at a rehearsal in the 400 Club Room, Reisenweber's, by drawing out of a hat but neither Spargo's [Sbarbaro] nor my name had been drawn. Nick said (as he was in charge of the drawing) that my name should go on Sensation and the one other number that had been forgotten, Mournin [sic] Blues, I suggested that Spargo's name appear on it." Edwards must have earned far more in royalities for "Sensation Rag," covered often by jazz bands (usually as "Sensation"), than Sbarbaro. Of the 1918 recordings, "Mourin' Blues" was probably least popular.
When Edwards was drafted in late July 1918, New Orleans musician Emile Christian was hired as a temporary replacement. After a hiatus from Reisenweber's, on September 7 the band was again featured for a couple of weeks at the 400 Club Room (9:00 PM nightly), this time with Bert Kelly's Jazz Band as a second band. The next change in personnel was a result of the influenza of late 1918: pianist Harry Ragas was a flu victim, dying on February 18, 1919 (he was survived by a wife, Bertha). A telegram sent at 9:29 AM on February 20 from LaRocca to Edwards, who was stationed at Campupton, New York, states, "RAGAS PASSED AWAY FEB 18/19 WE ARE MAKING UP A COLLECTION FOR A FLORAL DESIGN TO BE MADE IN NEW ORLEANS AND SENT TO HIS HOME 1018 ST CLAUDE WITH OUR BAND NAME ON IT..." Composer-pianist J. Russel Robinson joined. Raised in Indianapolis, he was the first ODJB member not from New Orleans (Sidney Lancefield was the group's pianist too briefly in 1919 to count as a member).
The band traveled to London in March 1919, staying for a year and a half. Brian Rust writes in My Kind of Jazz (Elm Tree Books, 1990), "Just as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band was the first band to introduce jazz, at least under that name, to the United States, so it was also the first to bring real jazz to Europe when it arrived in Liverpool on April 1, 1919, to appear in London as an added attraction to the revue Joy Bells at the Hippodrome." Quickly removed from Joy Bells, allegedly because star attraction George Robey was jealous of applause given the ODJB during its London debut on April 7, the band opened at the Palladium on April 12; weeks later opened at the Martan Club; two months later opened at Rector's; and then opened at the Palais de Danse.
J. Russel Robinson reported in an interview for the August 1947 issue of The Record Changer, "[W]e played for contract at the Martan Club which was located at 6 and 8 Old Bond Street...but our contract wasn't renewed. The rest of the fellows decided to go and play at the Palais de Dance at Hammersmith, but I thought this was the wrong sort of move and left." For several months, beginning in October, English pianist Billy Jones was a band member. When he returned to the United States, Robinson became a Palace Trio member, working with Rudy Wiedoeft and Mario Perry. He rejoined the ODJB when the others returned from abroad (this turned out to be a mixed blessing--he wrote two hits for the band, the catchy "Margie" and the exotic "Palesteena," but the band was no longer breaking new ground when performing such material). Robinson was finally replaced by Frank Signorelli in 1921.
England's Columbia company engaged the band in 1919 and 1920 for 17 numbers issued on twelve-inch discs. The band recorded eight original compositions (all with Robinson on piano) as well as nine non-original works, mostly popular tunes of the day (all with Jones on piano). The most important performances recorded in London were "Satanic Blues" and "'Lasses Candy." They were original compositions but ODJB performances of them were unavailable in the United States during the band's heyday. The band had recorded the two numbers for Victor before leaving for England and would record them again also upon returning, but no takes were judged satisfactory by Victor executives. The band did record "Satanic Blues" in 1936 for RCA Victor.
The band visited Victor's New York City studio soon after returning from England, making test records on September 13, 1920, including a take of "Singin' the Blues," written by pianist Robinson. The band never again recorded the entire song (months later it included a chorus when recording "Margie," called a medley fox trot). After making tests in September, the band did not return to the studio until late November, by which time Robinson had composed "Margie." The band would make fine records in its remaining 16 months with Victor but these ODJB records are more commercial, less wild, than discs of 1917 and 1918. It is significant that all selections issued by Victor before the England trip were ODJB compositions--one member or another took composer credit, sometimes two members working together, sometimes the entire band--and these compositions have since become jazz standards. But no recordings issued by Victor after the England trip were composed by original ODJB members. About half of these selections were composed by African Americans, the others by white songwriters. Robinson was co-composer of "Margie" and "Palesteena" (sharing credit with Con Conrad). These two songs proved popular, but the New Orleans roots of the ODJB are obscured in these numbers.
Beginning with the September session during which only test records were made, Victor executives evidently wanted the ODJB to conform more to their own ideas of how a popular dance ensemble should sound. Saxophonist Bennie Krueger (c. 1889 - 29 April 1967) was added, the first time a non-ODJB member performed on ODJB records. Few jazz bands making records in the earliest years used saxophones, and the instrument was virtually never used in early New Orleans jazz bands. Saxophone was added undoubtedly at the insistence of a Victor recording manager, either John S. Macdonald, Eddie King, or Clifford Cairns. In late November and early December, the ODJB with Krueger on C Melody saxophone recorded various takes of the two titles issued on what became their best-selling disc, Victor 18717, featuring "Margie" and "Palesteena." Various versions of the two songs performed by others were also issued in February 1921 when the ODJB disc was released--Eddie Cantor sang "Margie" on Emerson 10301, Cantor sang "Palesteena" on Emerson 10292, Billy Jones sang "Palesteena" on Okeh 4222 and both songs on Aeolian-Vocalion 14132. The Vernon Trio performed "Margie" on Gennett 4658, Fred Whitehouse performed "Palesteena" on Cardinal 2001, the Frisco Syncopators performed "Margie" on Paramount 20037, the Crescent Trio sang "Margie" on Cardinal 2005, and the Rega Dance Orchestra performed "Margie" on Okeh 4211.
Announcing the new ODJB release, Victor's February 1921 supplement hinted that the sound was different, the adjective "beautiful" used for the first time to describe an ODJB selection: "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is back on the stage this month with two superb fox trots. They are widely different from anything this organization has ever done. 'Margie' is melting, soft, tender, romantic in spirit, but for all that has the dash and go, perhaps, which supply the only real romance in jazz music...'Palesteena'...is in similar style, with some lovely effects produced by the use of sustained tones against highly rhythmic 'figures' in other instruments. These are beautiful and original recordings."
On August 10, 1920, black singer Mamie Smith supported by her Jazz Hounds recorded Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues" for Okeh 4169. Half a year later, on January 28, 1921, the ODJB cut "Crazy Blues" as an instrumental (18729), its kazoo solo being novel for the time (logs do not indicate which musician provided the kazoo solo but it was probably Sbarbaro since he was known as a kazoo player). Smith became closely associated with "Crazy Blues" but the ODJB's version of Bradford's tune probably sold more copies than Smith's since Victor had a more sophisticated network for distributing a hit disc than the relatively new General Phonograph Corporation, maker of Okeh discs. Certainly the Victor disc is easier to find today than the Okeh.
Also cut during the January 1921 session were "Home Again Blues," "Broadway Rose," and "Sweet Mamma (Papa's Getting Mad)." The first two were conventional popular songs. Victor had already recorded a vocal recording of "Broadway Rose"--Henry Burr enjoyed success with this song-- and that Victor executives viewed such material as suitable for the ODJB indicates they wanted the band to deliver a more commercial sound, or what supplements called a "beautiful" sound. Victor's March 1920 supplement, announcing its release, admits the song "was a beautiful sentimental song, but that does not prevent its becoming an equally beautiful fox trot." The band performs it at a quick pace, and it is a fine performance. The last song of the three, "Sweet Mamma (Papa's Getting Mad)," is noteworthy for being the first ODJB record to feature voices. Band members, along with executives Eddie King and Clifford Cairns, sing out "Sweet mama, papa's getting mad!" The performance ends with Nick LaRocca announcing in New Orleans dialect, "Yes, sir! Sweet mama, papa's getting mad!"
A few months passed before the next session. On May 3 the band recorded takes of Tom Delaney's "Jazz Me Blues" and W.C. Handy's "St. Louis Blues." An instrumental version of "Jazz Me Blues" was issued on 18772; the takes of "St. Louis Blues" from this session were rejected, as were takes of "Jazz Me Blues" featuring Lavinia Turner as vocalist--the only time a female recorded with the ODJB in the Victor studio, also the only time an African American recorded with the band. The Delaney song, destined to become a jazz standard, was published in 1921 and was recorded around this time by Lillyn Brown for Emerson 10384. It had been introduced on record by Lucille Hegamin, whose version on Arto 9045 was issued in March. It was Hegamin's record debut.
During sessions on May 25 and June 7, 1921, Al Bernard added vocal refrains for "St. Louis Blues" (18772), "Royal Garden Blues" (18798), and "Dangerous Blues" (18798). The decision to add vocal refrains must have come from Victor executives, but Krueger may have been instrumental in the choice of Bernard for the sessions. Bernard had added vocal refrains to Bennie Krueger and His Orchestra sessions beginning in early 1921, including for "Royal Garden Blues" (Brunswick 2077). Around the time of the ODJB session, Bernard added refrains during Krueger sessions for Gennett, including for "St. Louis Blues" (Gennett 4751). Like the ODJB members, Bernard was from New Orleans. Perhaps he was considered suited for the band since in 1919 he had recorded for different companies "Bluin' the Blues," an ODJB number. Closely associated with "St. Louis Blues" and other W.C. Handy tunes, Bernard was as close to a jazz singer in mid-1921 as any white singer making records at the time. (He worked closely with J. Russel Robinson around this time--this is another possible connection with the ODJB though Robinson had left the ODJB by this point, pianist Frank Signorelli taking his place.)
Bernard's vocal contributions to these three numbers are lackluster, but band members, including saxophonist Krueger, are in fine form, with Shields delivering a memorable 24 bar solo on "St. Louis Blues," which is the first time on record that a band member delivers an improvised solo of significant length. It is arguably the first solo of distinction to be issued on any jazz record, and since this version of "St. Louis Blues" sold well, it must have influenced in the early 1920s many aspiring jazz musicians. Over a year passed before clarinet soloing on records--namely, Leon Rappolo's work with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings--would match Shields' performance.
The final Victor session was on December 1, 1921, which produced only "Bow Wow Blues (My Mamma Treats Me Like a Dog)" (18850), composed by Cliff Friend and Nat Osborne. For the first time, an ODJB performance was issued with another artist on a disc's reverse side, in this case the Benson Orchestra of Chicago performing "Railroad Blues." The ODJB's final Victor performance shared something with one of its first, "Livery Stable Blues"--the comic imitation of animals. "Livery Stable Blues" is far more significant since nothing like it or its companion piece, "Dixie Jass Band One-Step," had ever been recorded before. "Bow Wow Blues," though a fine performance, is indicative of the ODJB's inability after only a few years--at least partly because of studio interference--to remain innovative jazz artists. The song itself was composed by Tin Pan Alley writers, and dog imitations on jazz records were already passe. The Louisiana Five enjoyed success with "Yelping Hound Blues" in 1919, and others who had recorded songs with "dog" themes around this time include Gorman's Novelty Syncopators ("Barkin' Dog" was issued in late 1919 on Columbia A2844) and Saxi Holtsworth Harmony Hounds ("Bow-Wow" was issued on Gennett 9039 and Emerson 10247). The ODJB was following rather than setting a trend. Sales of the band's last Victor disc were weak. "Bow Wow Blues" was revivied by the Hoosier Hot Shots in 1936 (Meltone 6-05-57), with Hot Lance singing the vocal chorus and providing no barking.
Ominously, Shields quit in December 1921 to settle in California. Original members LaRocca, Edwards, and Sbarbaro were joined by clarinetist Artie Seaberg, pianist Henry Vanicelli, and saxophonist Don Parker for three Okeh sessions beginning in late 1922. Two Okeh discs were issued, both rare today. Among the four titles, "Toddlin' Blues" was the most significant since it was an original ODJB composition not recorded for any other company by that time. "Some of These Days" was a Shelton Brooks standard, and the two remaining titles, "Tiger Rag" and "Barnyard Blues" (also known as "Livery Stable Blues"), had already been recorded for other companies. Since no versions by the band of the original compositions "'Lasses Candy" and "Satanic Blues" had been issued in America, it is surprising that the ODJB did not record these for Okeh.
Changing musical tastes led to less lucrative engagements. Page 82 of the September 1923 issue of Metronome identifies the ODJB as Okeh artists booked at Danceland, Coney Island. The departure of Shields, arguably the group's most gifted instrumentalist, had been a blow to the band as a creative unit though by this time it had fallen out of favor with the public anyway. That the band went from Victor to Okeh would have been for industry insiders a sign of decline.
Brunn suggests that by this time tension was keen between LaRocca and Edwards. Summarizing what LaRocca recalled in the 1950s of earlier times, Brunn states on page 188 of The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, "Edwards was clowning...and every direction or suggestion [LaRocca] made was met with a juicy 'razzberry' from the mischievous trombonist." Brunn's reference to Edwards' tendency to give a "razzberry" may be misleading. The trombonist's descendants state that Edwards would give the "razzberry" to friends and family all his life--always when in a playful mood, never to be disruptive.
That tension existed in the 1930s and afterwards is beyond dispute, but animosity probably did not exist as early as Brunn suggests. Letters exchanged between LaRocca and Edwards throughout the 1920s indicate cordial relations, such as a letter dated November 11, 1924, and sent by LaRocca from his New Orleans home (2022 Magazine Street) to Edwards (547 West 147th Street in New York City). LaRocca writes, "We arrived home OK. Made the trip in little less than five days...Went over to see Mater [Edwards' mother] and she really looks better than she did when she was in New York the first time...Well, old Eagle, I will close with all luck to you and Blannie [Edwards' son--LaRocca was his godfather]...Your friend, Joe Blade." The "Blade" name was used by LaRocca among friends.
The band had dissolved in November 1924 with an ill LaRocca returning to New Orleans (Brunn states erroneously that LaRocca returned in early 1925). Sbarbaro formed a new band using the old name, and Edwards formed a band, also using the old name. This did create a problem, but it was evidently resolved quickly (Sbarbaro and Edwards would work together for decades). On March 30, 1925, LaRocca (at 7615 Hampson Street in New Orleans) wrote to Edwards, "My attention has been called to the use of the name Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Unless I am paid a commission of $30.00 per week for the use of same, I will cause you a lot of unnecessary expense and inconvenience. Do not think I am trying anything on you, only what is due me, being the owner of this name."
Letter exchanged between Edwards and LaRocca remained friendly for several years. In a letter dated November 15, 1929, LaRocca expresses interest in Edwards' career and family. He opens the letter by stating, "Glad to hear of your success in the music game. At present things are at a standstill with me. All my money is tied up in the homestead and they are not paying out any money, at present, or loaning any." After covering several matters, he closes by stating, "Hoping for your continued success, I am your friend, Joe Blade." At this time LaRoccoa lived at 930 Jackson Ave in New Orleans.
For at least part of 1930 Edwards was unable to support himself as a musician. He instead operated a newsstand. Walter Winchell noted in the New York Daily News, "Here is drama right in the middle of New York city. His newsstand is near 5th st. on 7th ave--in front of Joe's place. His name is Eddie Edwards--once the leader of the Dixieland Jazz Band...Eddie is, perhaps, the world's top trombone player, too--out of a job--and reduced to peddling newspapers--so he can exist...How about getting him in a band?" A clipping of Winchell's column is owned by Edwards' grandson. Handbills from 1930 through 1933 establish that Eddie Edwards and his Silver Slipper Orchestra was booked regularly.
Relationships deteriorated significantly in the 1930s when the band was reorganized. Four members resented LaRocca for claiming two shares in revenue for one share claimed by the others; LaRocca felt entitled to the extra because he had risked some of his own money in reviving the band. LaRocca's claims around this time to be sole composer of most ODJB numbers also infuriated the others, who maintained that the early numbers had been collaborative efforts.
No band members recorded again until the mid-1930s. In 1935 a group called the Original Dixieland Jazz Band made two records for Vocalion, but the only original band member was Sbarbaro. In 1936 "Nick LaRocca and the Original Dixieland Band"--the name given on record labels-- cut titles for RCA Victor. Sbarbaro played drums and Shields played clarinet, but this was not a true reunion of original members, Edwards being conspicuously absent. A dozen musicians were added, new arrangements supplied for the old numbers. The resulting performances share little with the band's trademark sound and sold poorly.
Finally, on September 25 and again on November 10, 1936, four original members (LaRocca, Shields, Edwards, and Sbarbaro) along with J. Russel Robinson re-recorded numbers that the ODJB had introduced nearly two decades earlier, using old arrangements for the most part. The band, identified as The Original Dixieland Five, does not repeat early sections on "Original Dixieland One Step," which creates time on the record for Shields to take a solo. His solo had been worked out in advance--he had delivered the same solo eight months earlier when the augmented band had recorde "Original Dixieland One Step."
Band members were considerably older and the music must have seemed dated to audiences at that time (Benny Goodman was the dominant musical personality in late 1936), but the two sessions produced remarkable records, the microphone capturing nuances that no acoustic era recording horn could. Drums and piano were finally prominent on ODJB records.
The four surviving original members never worked together again but the name Original Dixieland Jazz Band was used for records made later. In 1938, Shields, Edwards, and Sbarbaro made Bluebird records credited to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Edwards and Sbarbaro continued to work together, from 1943 to 1946 making various records credited to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, with other musicians including Max Kaminsky, Eddie Condon, and Wild Bill Davidson. Commodore records of 1946 gave credit to "Eddie Edwards and His Original Dixieland Jazz Band."