“The first sensational music novelty of 1917. The jazz band is the latest craze that’s sweeping the nation like a musical thunderstorm and is giving modern dance new life and new thrill.”
This is how the New York Time saluted the first jazz record.
Music had been recorded since the late 1800s, mostly on cylinders, but in the Twenties a great revolution happened: the acoustic recording process was replaced by the electric process, which allowed a much better recording of sound and a much larger production, since stamping up discs was easier than stamping up cylinders.
This happened at the same time jazz music became popular, so it should be no surprise the two came together and produced fantastic results.
And the band who recorded the first record in history labelled as jazz?
It was the Original Dixieland Jass Band, five white kids originally from New Orleans, where they play jazz in Papa Jack Laine’s integrated marching band – though they didn’t play together at that time. As so may others, they came north during the Great Migration and ended up in New York.
On February 26, 1917 they reached a building on West 38th St. between Firfth and Sixth Avenue, boarded the freight elevator and rode to the 12th floor, where the Victor Talking Machine Company had just leased a space for their new recording studio.
They recorder two tracks, Livery Stable Blues and Dixie Jass Bland One-Step on the flip side. They sold one million copies of that first recording.
So the first kind of jazz that became widely popular was the tamed kind played by white jazz musicians. For a long time, white jazz and black jazz remained two different and distinct things on records as well as in nightclubs. Many independent recording companies, that flourished in the Twenties, produced jazz record for the wide audience and what were called ‘race records’ just for the African American communities, where these records were crazily popular.
The ODJB’s recording is the first one ever labelled specifically ‘jazz’, but other songs were recorded around the same time that, although recognizably jazz, weren’t labelled as such. And apparently black New Orleans band leader Freddie Keppard turned down a recording offer from Victor in 1916 on the base that he wouldn’t “put off stuff on records for everybody to steal.”
The first important collection of jazz recordings was put on disc by King Oliver’s Original Creole Band in 1923.
Jazz Standards – Jazz History in Standard Time (1920s)
Music Record Industry – 1900s-1920sJazzWax – Jazz First Record Turned 95Riverwalk Jazz – A Tribute to the Original Dixieland Jass Band
Red Hot Jazz – The first jazz records
The Guardian – The first jazz recording
CW Hawes – The Wonderful Machine’s Age – His Master’s VoiceThe Old Shelter – Race Records (AtoZ Chalelnge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)
Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989
Kyvig, David E., Daily Life in the United States 1920-1940. How Americans Lived Through the ‘Roaring Twenties’ and the Great Depression. Ivan R. Dee Publisher, Chicago, 2002