This week marks the 100th anniversary of the first jazz record ever released, or rather "jass" record. In a New York City recording studio, five white musicians called the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded the "Livery Stable Blues" backed by the "Dixie Jass One-Step" on a 78 RPM disc. Of course, jazz music was actually "invented" primarily by black musicians in New Orleans as an evolution from ragtime in the 1910s. (But rather than recognize this long musical thread, Original Dixieland Jass Band leader/cornetist Nick LaRocca went on to make racist comments insisting he invented jazz.) At Smithsonian, John Edward Hasse looks at the history of this influential record:
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Some scholars would prefer the honor of the first jazz recording to go to the African-American instrumental quartet the Versatile Four, which on February 3, 1916, recorded Wilbur Sweatman’s "Down Home Rag" (listen below) with swinging rhythms, a strong backbeat and a drive that implies improvisation. Or to Sweatman himself, who in December 1916 recorded his "Down Home Rag," (listen below) playing a solo with an improvisatory feel but a non-jazz accompaniment. Some experts simply say that it’s futile to acknowledge any actual first jazz recording, but rather point to a transition from ragtime to jazz in the years leading up to 1917. As critic Kevin Whitehead put it: “We might do better to think not of one first jazz record but of a few records and piano rolls that track how jazz broke free of its ancestors."
In New Orleans and a few other urban places, jazz was already in the air by the 1910s, and in late 1915 the record companies were starting to discover it.