[Dixielandjazz] A Fair and Balanced View of the ODJB

Jim Beebe jbeebe at centurytel.net
Mon Nov 17 14:43:48 PST 2003

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Don Mopsick" <mophandl at landing.com>
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] A Fair and Balanced View of the ODJB

> 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
> 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
> 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
> not depended not so much on race, but on whether they were from New
> 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,
> 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
> these old sides from the 20s Jim Cullum remarked that ALL the NO
> including King Oliver, seemed to share a distinctly NO style, with Oliver
> having the most chops and thereby deserving the title of King.

  'Advanced ragtime' is an appropriate term.  I have neglected to mention
ragtime and it's prime importance in this new musical stew.

> Particularly innovative to my ear was the drumming of Tony Sbarbo, which
> my ear is firmly rooted in the New Orleans street band tradition, and
> 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).

Listen to Tony Spargo on Phil Napoleon recordings fromt he late 40s-early
50s.  Two 10" LPs, one on Columbia and one on Decca show you the wonderful
ensemble that band could play and Spargo's superb drumming and swinging
kazoo solos.

> 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
> 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
> (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
> ODJB in their own way. Why? Because they are sure-fire swingers, solid
> senders forever. Golden Classics, etc...

 Before somebody jumps in and says, 'oh, these bands were all white' let me
point out that the George Lewis band played some of the ODJB repertoire and
they were among the finest of the older black NO tradition.

> 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
> "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.
> mopo

   A very nice exposition, Don, on the ODJB

  Jim Beebe

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list