Hear the First Jazz Record, Which Launched the Jazz Age: “Livery Stable Blues” (1917)

Through turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca mean­dered blues, blue­grass, and “old time” music. Gospel hymns, waltzes, and march­es. Per­haps the first tru­ly nation­al musi­cal style, Rag­time took a lit­tle bit from all of these and fused them togeth­er, influ­enc­ing every­thing from the crud­est vaude­ville to the work of some of Europe’s most inno­v­a­tive com­posers, includ­ing Antonin Dvořák, Claude Debussy, and Erik Satie. But rag­time was still very much tied to the past, to its late 19th roots in min­strel­sy and march­es.

Then in 1917, a sound arrived that was so per­fect­ly in tune with the age that it became sin­gu­lar­ly evoca­tive of next decade to come. This was jazz, of course, or “jass,” as it was spelled on “Liv­ery Sta­ble Blues,” the first record of such music ever released, com­posed and played by the Orig­i­nal Dix­ieland ‘Jass’ Band. The music arrived with the force of the “garage rock of the 1960s…. It was sim­ple music played with so much irrev­er­ence that it proved irre­sistible” to Amer­i­cans caught up in the coun­try’s rapid urban­iza­tion and mod­ern­iz­ing.

The first jazz record was tran­si­tion­al music—not nec­es­sar­i­ly a jazz big bang moment; “loos­er and more spon­ta­neous than the rag­time that had swept the coun­try at the turn of the cen­tu­ry,” writes Geof­frey Himes at Smith­son­ian, “but lack­ing the impro­vised solos and elas­tic rhythm of jazz to come.” Just as in the emer­gence of rock and roll in the 1950s, most jazz fans first came to know white groups like the Orig­i­nal Dix­ieland ‘Jass’ Band before they met the black New Orlea­ni­ans who invent­ed the music.

But imme­di­ate­ly after “Liv­ery Sta­ble Blues” the mar­ket was awash with both “jass” and “jazz” releas­es, includ­ing the first by a black Amer­i­can jazz act, Wilbur Sweat­man and his Jass Band, and a jazz record from the leg­endary blues pio­neer W.C. Handy from Mem­phis. Between 1916 and 1917, jazz went nation­wide: New York, Chica­go, St. Louis, San Fran­cis­co, and just about every­where else in-between. As it spread its ori­gins became mud­dled. “Just how the Jazz Band orig­i­nat­ed and where it came from is very hard to say,” wrote the sleeve of one lat­er 1917 release.

Music his­to­ri­ans agree that jazz was born in the night­clubs and on the streets of New Orleans, the home town of the Orig­i­nal Dix­ieland ‘Jass’ Band. But “the ques­tion of who did what first,” writes Scott Alexan­der, “and what was rag­time and what was jazz is often a divi­sive ques­tion among those who are inter­est­ed in ear­ly jazz.” Yet when it comes to mak­ing pop his­to­ry, “Liv­ery Sta­ble Blues” had greater impact than some­what sim­i­lar-sound­ing records released around the same time. “The band was a sen­sa­tion” writes Himes. And almost overnight the sound of jazz became the sound of 20th-cen­tu­ry Amer­i­ca.

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via Smith­son­ian

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Langston Hugh­es Presents the His­to­ry of Jazz in an Illus­trat­ed Children’s Book (1955)

1959: The Year That Changed Jazz

The His­to­ry of Spir­i­tu­al Jazz: Hear a Tran­scen­dent 12-Hour Mix Fea­tur­ing John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Her­bie Han­cock & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (5)
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  • masodo says:

    Ha — Great post!
    Been awhile since I have vis­it­ed openculture.com — what a fine wel­come back :)
    Cheers! (and all that jass)

  • It was real­ly great to hear this ear­ly jazz.

  • David Arnold says:

    Blue­grass does­n’t belong in the first sen­tence above. The form was cre­at­ed by Bill Mon­roe (b.1911) in the 1930’s/40’s, syn­the­siz­ing old time music he’d heard most influ­en­tial­ly from his uncle, Pendle­ton Van­div­er, coun­try “broth­er” style music pop­u­lar from the 1930’s on (which he’d pre­vi­ous­ly per­formed with his own broth­ers Char­lie and Birch), and oth­er styles includ­ing blues and ear­ly jazz. Mon­roe formed his first “Blue Grass Boys” band in 1939, but the band and genre jelled with the mid-1940’s line­up that fea­tured Lester Flatt and Earl Scrug­gs.

  • Jazz Cook says:

    This group was far from “orig­i­nal.” They were cho­sen because many, includ­ing Bud­dy Bold­en, thought atten­dance would suf­fer if peo­ple could hear records.

  • How the Irish Invent­ed Slang 9781904859604
    Sub­ti­tle: The Secret Lan­guage of the Cross­roads
    2007 Amer­i­can Book Award

    Jazz: What is the ori­gin of the word Jazz? The Irish word Teas is pro­nounced jazz, jass, chas, or t’as.

    Amer­i­can Book Award Win­ner Dan Cas­sidy explains gig, juke, boo­gie woo­gie, Irish Slang and Irish Amer­i­can Ver­nac­u­lar Eng­lish.
    No one can dis­pute that the Irish word ‘teas’ (pro­nounced jazz) means “heat, warmth”, and the notion of bor­row­ing from Irish into Eng­lish hap­pened every day since the Irish came to Amer­i­ca.

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