drummers work out the rhythmic patterns that became the foundation for
"swinging" the beat.
The best way to account for the early development of jazz in New Orleans is to familiarize yourself with the cultural and social history of this marvelously distinctive regional culture.
One might say that jazz is the Americanization of the New Orleans music developed by the Creoles, occuring at a time when ragtime, blues, spirituals, marches, and popular "tin pan alley" music were converging. Jazz was a style of playing which drew from all of the above and presented an idiommatic model based on a concept of collective, rather than solo, improvisation.
Ultimately, New Orleans players such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet developed a new approach which emphasized solos, but they both began their careers working in the collective format, evident in the early recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1917), Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra (1921), the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (1922, 1923) and King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band (1923).
Armstrong's impact became apparent with the popularity of his Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings (1925-28), redirecting everyone's imagination toward inspired solos. Meanwhile, in New Orleans, community connections such as "jazz funerals" in which brass bands performed at funerals held by benevolent
associations continued to underline the role of jazz as a part of everyday life.
Jazz may have been a luxury (entertainment) in New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, but in New Orleans it was a necessity--a part of the fabric of life in the neighborhoods. And it still is.
THE EARLY MUSICIANS - Buddy, Bunk, Freddie and The King
The players in these early bands were mostly artisans (carpenters,
bricklayers, tailors, etc.) or laborers who took time out on weekends and
holidays to make music along with a little extra cash.
The first famous New Orleans musician, and the archetypal jazzman, was
Buddy Bolden (1877-1931). A barber by trade, he played cornet and began
to lead a band in the late 1890's. Quite probably, he was the first to mix
the basic, rough blues with more conventional band music. It was a
significant step in the evolution of Jazz.
Bolden suffered a seizure during a 1907 Mardi Gras parade and spent the
rest of his life in an institution for the incurably insane. Rumor that he
made records have never been substantiated, and his music comes from
the recollection of other musicians who heard him when they were young.
Bunk Johnson (1989- 1949), who played second cornet in one of Bolden's
last bands, contributed greatly to the revival of interest in classic New
Orleans jazz that took place during the last decade of his life. A great
storyteller and colorful personality, Johnson is responsible for much of the
New Orleans legend. But much of what he had to say was more fantasy
Many people, including serious fans, believe that the early jazz musicians
were self-taught geniuses who didn't read music and never took a formal
lesson. A romantic notion, but entirely untrue. Almost every major figure
in early jazz had at least a solid grasp of legitimate musical fundamentals,
and often much more.
Still, they developed wholly original approaches to their instruments. A
prime example is Joseph (King) Oliver (1885-1938), a cornetist and
bandleader who used all sorts of found objects, including drinking glasses,
a sand pail, and a rubber bathroom plunger to coax a variety of sounds
from his horn. Freddie Keppard (1889-1933), Oliver's chief rival, didn't
use mutes, perhaps because he took pride in being the loudest cornet in
town. Keppard, the first New Orleans great to take the music to the rest of
the country, played in New York vaudeville with the Original Creole
Orchestra in 1915.
JAZZ COMES NORTH
By the early years of the second decade, the instrumentation of the typical
Jazz band had become cornet (or trumpet), trombone, clarinet, guitar,
string bass and drums. (Piano rarely made it since most jobs were on
location and pianos were hard to transport.) The banjo and tuba, so closely
identified now with early Jazz, actually came in a few years later because
early recording techniques couldn't pick up the softer guitar and string bass
The cornet played the lead, the trombone filled out the bass harmony part
in a sliding style, and the clarinet embellished between these two brass
poles. The first real jazz improvisers were the clarinetists, among them
Sidney Bechet (1897-1959). An accomplished musician before he was 10,
Bechet moved from clarinet to playing mainly soprano saxophone. He was
to become one of the most famous early jazzmen abroad, visiting England
and France in 1919 and Moscow in 1927.
Most veteran jazz musicians state that their music had no specific name at
first, other than ragtime or syncopated sounds. The first band to use the
term Jazz was that of trombonist Tom Brown, a white New Orleanian who
introduced it in Chicago in 1915. The origin of the word is cloudy and its
initial meaning has been the subject of much debate.
The band that made the word stick was also white and also from New
Orleans, the Original Dixieland Jass Band. This group had a huge
success in New York in 1917-18 and was the first more or less authentic
Jazz band to make records. Most of its members were graduates of the
bands of Papa Jack Laine (1873-1966), a drummer who organized his
first band in 1888 and is thought to have been the first white Jazz
musician. In any case, there was much musical integration in New Orleans,
and a number of light skinned Afro-Americans "passed" in white bands.
By 1917, many key Jazz players, white and black, had left New Orleans
and other southern cities to come north. The reason was not the notorious
1917 closing of the New Orleans red light district, but simple economics.
The great war in Europe had created an industrial boom, and the musicians
merely followed in the wake of millions of workers moving north to the
promise of better jobs.
LITTLE LOUIS & THE KING
King Oliver moved to Chicago in 1918. As his replacement in the best
band in his hometown, he recommended an 18-year-old, Louis Armstrong.
Little Louis, as his elders called him, had been born on August 4, 1901, in
poverty that was extreme even for New Orleans' black population. His
earliest musical activity was singing in the streets for pennies with a boy's
quartet he had organized. Later he sold coal and worked on the levee.
Louis received his first