99 Years Ago, What Monumental Event Happened in Jazz?

[First published 22 Feb 2016 in WRTI’s Arts Desk and reprinted by permission.]

This week it’s the 99th anniversary of an important first for the WRTI family. It happened in South Jersey, and the significance of it extends to this day.

OriginalDixielandJassBandStyles of music change slowly over time, but sometimes there are clear landmarks. In Camden, New Jersey on February 26th, 1917, for the very first time, a clarinet, cornet, trombone, piano, and drum set played a song into something called a recording machine. It helped if the sound was loud, and this group, The Original Dixieland Jass Band, was loud.

The sound traveled down a metal horn to a piece of glass, which vibrated a stylus, cutting a groove into a wax disc. That would serve as the master to stamp out records. Spinning at 78 revolutions per minute on the right machinery, it would play the song for you over and over again.

The process had been used for some years at this Victor Talking Machine Company in Camden, most famously with the opera singer Enrico Caruso, But the name of this song was “Livery Stable Blues,” and this was the first jazz recording, ever.

Jazz comes from spirituals, salon music, blues, and ragtime, and was changing even then. Every cornet player would soon switch to trumpet because of a young dynamo named Louis Armstrong. This Dixieland song, called “fox-trot” on the record, would soon fade away.

But recorded February 26th and released on March 7th, “Livery Stable Blues” is a landmark in jazz.

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