[Dixielandjazz] A Fair and Balanced View of the ODJB

Don Mopsick mophandl at landing.com
Mon Nov 17 01:11:14 PST 2003

I have read a lot of discussion about the ODJB in jazz bulletin boards and
discussion groups since I got my first computer in 1994. Typically, and
especially in groups oriented toward "modern" and free jazz, my even
mentioning the ODJB seemed to be extremely politically incorrect, in fact
some kind of monstrous gaffe. My motives in doing so were questioned, as if
I were some goofy skinhead Holocaust denier arguing for the fascist "point
of view."

This antipathy toward the ODJB is of course unjustified, irrational and is
in itself a subject worthy of study. The ODJB itself deserves a cool,
detached evaluation from a strictly musical-historical point of view,
without the passionate political/racial/ethnic baggage that has grown up
around them since 1917.

Yes, they were young white men. Yes, white people in general were unfairly
advantaged then. But they were also New Orleanians, especially in their
musical outlook. Sudhalter and others (James Lincoln Collier comes to mind)
have persuasively argued that in 1917, before the jazz sound was widely
heard and known, it seemed that whether a band or individual player swung or
not depended not so much on race, but on whether they were from New Orleans
or not. And, the ODJB was squarely within the New Orleans tradition and
sound of the time.

Collier and others have described the ODJB sound as "a kind of advanced
ragtime." I totally agree with this after familiarizing myself with actual
ragtime that was played in that period and slightly earlier. Further, after
listening to other bands from New Olreans of the period such as Celestin,
Sam Morgan, and Armand J. Piron, one can hear the similarities of style,
especially between LaRocca and other New Orleans cornetists. We are
currently putting together a show about these bands, and while listening to
these old sides from the 20s Jim Cullum remarked that ALL the NO cornetists,
including King Oliver, seemed to share a distinctly NO style, with Oliver
having the most chops and thereby deserving the title of King.

Particularly innovative to my ear was the drumming of Tony Sbarbo, which to
my ear is firmly rooted in the New Orleans street band tradition, and swung
in its own way. The same could be said of the styles of all of the band
members--especially when you compare their work to what we have on records
of other non-New Orleans bands of BOTH races, such as W.C. Handy, Johnny
Dunn, etc.(who IMO did not swing AT ALL).

When modern ears first hear the ODJB, it's hard to get them around the
significance of they're listening to. No one had ever heard this noisy,
boisterous, uninhibited, rhythmically advanced music before. It's only when
you dig deeper and consider what else the country was listening to at the
time that you realize that a. the music does indeed deserve a new label,
namely jazz (it's no longer really ragtime), and b. the ODJB were the
genuine article and therefore deserved the fame they got.

Another element that most of you missed on the first pass is the repertoire
(and I'm surprised that Beebe didn't jump right on this): Dixie Jass Band
One-Step, Mournin' Blues, Fidgety Feet, Tiger Rag, etc. There's a direct
lineage there from ODJB to the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, to Bix and the
Wolverines, to the Bob Crosby Bobcats, and yes, right on to the Jim Cullum
Jazz Band. Each and every one of these bands re-interpreted the songs of the
ODJB in their own way. Why? Because they are sure-fire swingers, solid
senders forever. Golden Classics, etc...

Each successor band built on what had come before, but to do it right you
must (in my humble opinion) have the ODJB in your ears, if only as a
reference and a reverence.  So, as Barbone correctly points out, the jazz
bands (like ours) that play the ODJB tunes today on a regular basis don't
sound like the ODJB, but only because they are one or two steps removed from
"advanced ragtime." Not 4 or 5 steps removed like today's misinformed, or
merely cynical, but certainly rootless "dixie-boppers."

You know who you are.


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