This week is a big one for New Orleans and the authentic American art form it spawned: jazz. As we all know, next Tuesday is Fat Tuesday and the streets of the Crescent City are currently loaded with brass bands filling the air with the sweet music that only a city with such a diverse and turbulent history could create. But Mardi Gras isn’t the only reason this is a notable week in New Orleans music.
On this day, in 1917, the first jazz record was recorded for the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York. The group was The Original Dixieland Jass Band and the song was “Livery Stable Blues” with the B-side of the 78 rpm record being “Dixie Jass Band One Step.” The record is steeped in controversy as it was recorded by a group of white musicians who billed themselves as “The Creators of Jazz” and claimed authorship over jazz standards that had been played by African-American musicians for some time prior to the first recordings. In fact, musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Kid Ory had already popularized jazz as a musical form in New Orleans long before The Original Dixieland Jass Band took their versions up north.
Most of America, however, was unaware of the musical developments happening in New Orleans and for many, “Livery Stable Blues” was their first exposure to this wild new sound. The record was a surprise hit and its release ushered in what would become known as “The Jazz Age.” So, while the record is indicative of the racism of the times, it did bring the wild and wondrous sounds of New Orleans into the homes of more Americans than ever before and, in its way, helped white audiences to appreciate this African-American music as the sophisticated art form that it was. Without the success of this record we never would have heard the wonderful strains of Louis Armstrong’s cornet in King Oliver’s first recordings for Okeh and Gennett just a few years later, when the jazz boom was in full swing.
So, this week, in honor of New Orleans, Mardi Gras and the birth of recorded jazz music, we’re going to feature some upcoming jazz concerts that pay tribute to the Crescent City and the early years of jazz.
Friday, February 28 I WHEN THE SAINTS GO MARCHING IN: The W.E.S. Group feat. Corcoran Holt – Winchester, Virginia
Join Bright Box Theater as they march into Mardi Gras madness by celebrating the music of several jazz giants.
After leading a quartet under his own name (The Will Smith Quartet) for several years, Dr. William E. Smith (W.E.S.) decided to form a group with a different focus. He wanted the group to transcend the traditional classification of jazz from strictly art music, to music that has a world flavor and is not only enjoyed but inspires the best in people.
A highly accomplished and respected instrumentalist, he has performed with James Moody, Kenny Burrell, Donald Byrd, Wynton Marsalis, Jon Hendricks, and with his own band, The W.E.S. Group, which has toured extensively for 15 years.
Echoes of ancestral and native sounds can be heard in this collective of talented musicians, whose folk jazz and acoustic approach create a distinctive sound of peace and beauty. Exceptional musicians in their own right, the collaboration of these seasoned musicians exhibits the passion and spirit of a “great camp meeting in the promised land” of jazz.
Saturday, March 8 I Highline Classic Jazz Festival – Des Moines, Washington
More than a dozen groups representing Dixieland, traditional jazz, big band swing, blues, gypsy jazz, and even western swing in one big day at historic Landmark Event Center in Des Moines.
Continuous jazz on three stages at the Center, two dance floors, two wine and beer bars, an optional 5-course dinner, and more make this THE classic jazz party of the year. Proceeds benefit Burien Arts Association, a non-profit arts group dedicated to presenting engaging and affordable arts experiences to residents and visitors to the Highline area in south King County. The beautiful and gracious Landmark Event Center, built as the Masonic Retirement Home in 1926, provides the perfect setting, and the jazz, dancing, food and beverages keep the party going.
Bands include: Ambience, Double Bill (Bill Anschell & BillRamsey), Holotradband, Jacqueline Tabor Jazz Band, The Jangles, Jennifer Scott & Rene Worst, Jump Ensemble, Odell’s Medley (Alison Odell & Julian Smedley), Pearl Django, Ranger & the “Re-Arrangers”, Susan Pascal’s Soul Sauce (tribute to Cal Tjader), Steinwagon (Ryan Burns & Dawn Clement), Uptown Lowdown Jazz Band and featuring Casey MacGill’s 14 piece orchestra.
Saturday, March 8 I Libby Fireside Concert featuring Henri Smith – South Hamilton, Massachusetts
Henri Smith was born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the birthplace of jazz. His career started there, where he polished his sophisticated and dramatic vocal delivery. Then he took it on the road, successfully touring the United States and Europe and thrilling audiences with his New Orleans jazz, blues, Creole and Cajun flavored music.
After Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in New Orleans in 2005, Henri subsequently moved north to Cape Ann. But true to his roots, he still remains a true ambassador for the city of New Orleans. Henri Smith’s repertoire encompasses the cultural heritage of New Orleans flavoured with jazz, blues, Creole, Cajun, funk, rhythm & blues, calypso, Caribbean, Latin, and swing, performing songs popularized by Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Paul Barbarin, Earl King, and Big Chief Donald Harrison.
Photo Courtesy of Ed Newman.