[Dixielandjazz] Tony Sbarbaro & the ODJB

Charles Suhor csuhor at zebra.net
Wed Mar 30 11:01:03 PST 2005

To Peter Sbarbaro & Steve Barbone, Bob Ringwald, et al.--

Peter, I think that your grandfather Tony was a true pioneer of early 
jazz, and he continued to grow and to play fine jazz into the fifties. 
(I heard him on the radio with Phil Napoleon in the 50s and dug his 
drumming and kazoo.) I believe that the ODJB has taken knocks as a 
musical group for wholly understandable but distracting, non-musical 
reasons that are probably familiar to you. They had access to the 
opportunity to record and popularly define jazz and become 
world-famous, whereas black New Orleans bands that were in all 
likelihood superior weren't recorded for several years. And Nick 
LaRocca persisted in making exaggerated claims about how the group 
invented jazz and denying the obvious role of blacks.

Some thoughts on that... Listening to the early ODJB sides today, I 
think that they do have a nervous, even manic quality to their energy, 
a lot of pre-jazz style of articulation, corny licks, etc. And they 
clearly hadn't assimilated the blues influences that were by verbal 
accounts part of the earliest black jazz. But we don't know from 
recorded evidence how or how much the other groups had gone beyond that 
in 1917.

I think that many critics and historians got stuck in the idea that the 
ODJB was a shallow band with slight talent, without going back and 
letting the recording speak to them freshly. Tony is playing with great 
drive, syncopating beautifully, working as a colorist on woodblock and 
cowbell. Eddie Edwards' work is so thoroughly integrated into the 
ensembles that he should be right up there with Ory as a seminal jazz 
trombonist. Nick's lead has ricky-tick phrasing but is strong and solid 
and well laced with accents. The band swings in a way that's beyond 
ragtime and occasionally, genuinely relaxed. The much-maligned "Livery 
Stable Blues" has those animal sounds, but clowning of all sorts was 
part of early jazz, from spasm bands to Baby Dodds' shimmering act--and 
the song is basically a 12-bar blues that lopes along beautifully after 
the squawks.

Stuff like that. I don't know how much has been written about Tony, or 
if the ODJB has been re-assessed by even-handed writers (anyone on  the 
list know about this?), but I hope that your work gets Tony a better 
shake, on musical grounds, without resurrecting the well-worn racial 

Charlie Suhor

P.S.--Maybe you can write a book on Tony yourself or find a co-writer. 
I'm a writer but not a candidate for collaboration. It sounds like a 
good prospect that a publisher might pick up on.

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