Helen’s choice…New Orleans, birthplace of jazz

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The Old Jelly Rollers in New Orleans (photo used with permission)

Inspired by the success story of Trinity Laban’s student group Old Jelly Rollers heading off to New Orleans during CoLab, and vocalist Cherise Adams-Burnett, winning seats on the British Airways VIP party flight celebrating the airline’s new route, synchronising with our excellent volunteer Genia Browning completing yet another large chunk of indexing work on the Dan Pawson collection, it seemed a good moment to showcase some of the New Orleans music items held here in the Jerwood Library.

The items in the small display cabinet refer to the ‘birthplace of jazz’ and also show the range of materials in Dan Pawson’s collection some of which featured in a Jerwood Library exhibition of jazz materials mounted in 2013.

Was New Orleans the birthplace of jazz?  The New Orleans Official Guide Online (1) states:

“Some will say that Jazz was born in 1895, when Buddy Bolden started his first band. Others will say 1917, when Nick LaRocca and his Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first Jazz record, Livery Stable Blues. However, Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton also said, “It is evidently known, beyond contradiction, that New Orleans is the cradle of Jazz, and I myself happen to be the inventor in the year 1902”.

Collier (2) acknowledges that despite various claims that jazz arose in in other places in America, most give New Orleans as its birthplace. He doubts that Buddy Bolden was the originator, as contemporary reports describe his music as a blues-tinged mix of ragtime and popular songs. Collier suggests that a groups of ‘Creoles of color’ played a significant role, with their music having ‘a rhythmic snap akin to the “swing” of jazz.’

Whether it was Buddy Bolden, “Jelly Roll” Morton or the Creole band, New Orleans seems to be the place where it all happened.

The selected recordings in the cabinet feature, in particular, some recordings by cornet player Nick LaRocca, born 11th April 1889 in New Orleans and died 22nd Feb 1961 in New Orleans. Writing in the Grove Dictionary of Jazz,  Sudhalter (3) suggests

“It is beyond dispute that LaRocca’s energy and ambition were the driving force behind the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. His style impressed Bix Beiderbecke, who became a lifelong admirer, and the steady drive and rhythmic freedom of LaRocca’s playing on the band’s recordings of 1936 demonstrate this affinity. LaRocca also co-wrote such standards as At the Jazz Band Ball and Clarinet Marmalade”.

The author of the New Orleans website (1) also notes that “it’s both possible and probable that Nick LaRocca heard, and was influenced by Buddy Bolden, who had the most popular black band at the turn of the century.”

The library has some of LaRocca’s recordings, for example the Original Dixieland jazz band : jazz originators Vol.4 (re-issues by Jazz Collector, JEL21 of recordings made in ca.1918/1919), First jazz recording 1917: the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (issued by Philips, BBE 12488), and the CD re-issue entitled New Orleans: Where Jazz was born (issued by Jazz Roots, CD 56021) [this last has been loaded into the juke box in the North Library for quick listening].

Collier (2) notes that “the  Original Dixieland Jazz Band was an enormous success, and its February 1917 recordings for Victor were the first jazz recordings. These became hits, and by the end of 1917 jazz was becoming a nationwide phenomenon with a large, primarily white, audience”.

Finally on the display shelves in the library there are related vinyl LPs (library listening only), and loanable CDs and books on the New Orleans topic, other LaRocca-related LPs, and of course, thanks to  Genia’s hard work, a catalogue search will reveal still more of the library’s resources.

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(1) New Orleans Official Guide online: http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/music/musichistory/jazzbirthplace.html.

(2) James Lincoln Collier. “Jazz (i).” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd ed.. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed February 28, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J223800.

(3) Richard M. Sudhalter. “LaRocca, Nick.” The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, accessed February 27, 2017, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/J259200.

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