Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag (1917 version)

This band has received plenty of attention from jazz writers, but only occasionally for its music. White musicians making the first jazz record? . . . the very fact seems to invite pointed commentary. Even the name of the band comes across nowadays as an affront, and the feisty attitude of the Nick LaRocca, who made no apologies for his position of precedence, has not helped to endear him to later generations of jazz fans. Even he must have known that, under slightly different circumstances, Freddie Keppard might have beaten the ODJB to the studio. Or maybe the rumored recordings by the LA-based Black and Tan Jazz Orchestra will someday come to light, and give those mostly forgotten musicians the nod. But wouldn't that just be another scandal - a West Coast band established as the first to make a jazz record?

For better or worse, we are left with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. And, yes, you should listen to the music before passing judgment on this ensemble. LaRocca was a fine cornet player, and the band plays with enthusiasm and energy here. The tempo is quite fast by the standards of New Orleans jazz (which was played with more restraint than you might think), and the sense that this band is on the brink of veering out-of-control no doubt was a major reason why the ODJB sold a million records. The novelty effects aren't as entertaining to modern ears as they were to the first listeners, and I would rather hear more cornet and fewer squeals from the tiger. Yet, say what you will, this band was hot.

Note: Click here for David Sager's review of a follow-up version of the same song made six months later by the ODJB.

August 10, 2009 · 0 comments


Stéphane Grappelli and David Grisman: Tiger Rag

Stéphane Grappelli played concerts as well as recorded with David Grisman's captivating acoustic string group, which enjoyed several years of great popularity before its members parted ways in the early 1980s. The group, in a way, was an eclectic re-imagining of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, with bluegrass and folk elements added to the mix. This track features Grappelli with fellow violinist Mark O'Connor, who was mentored by Stéphane starting at age 17 and went on to a successful career encompassing the jazz, country and classical fields, including his Hot Swing Trio. Grappelli introduces this "Tiger Rag" as "a transcription for two violins," but after their mostly unison intricate exposition, the rest of the group enters the fray and Grappelli and O'Connor perform dazzling solos and exchanges, Mark's slight country twang helping to distinguish him from Stéphane. Grisman's energetic mandolin picking prods them along. Said O'Connor of Grappelli years later: "The last time we played together was about a year before his death. He gripped my hand strongly afterwards and would not let go of it for 30 minutes. I understood that he wanted me to carry on his memory."

March 26, 2008 · 0 comments


The Mills Brothers: Tiger Rag

Besides singing conventionally, the teenage Mills brothers imitated musical instruments with kazoos. But, legend has it, forgetting to bring their kazoos to one gig, the youngsters cupped hands over mouths and conjured convincing instrumental sounds with voices alone. This so gassed the customers that the kazoos were trashed. With Herbert mimicking sax or trombone, Harry simulating trumpet, and deep-voiced John doing bass—all in support of Donald's lead vocals—the brothers caused a sensation. Today's listeners may equate "Tiger Rag" with Looney Tunes, but novelties were an important gateway for early jazz into pop culture, and this one's still fun.

November 23, 2007 · 0 comments


Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag

The second version of this Dixieland standard as recorded by the first orchestra of recorded jazz has much to listen for and to learn from. When heard in context of what ODJB imitators were putting on wax at the time, the Originals sound relaxed and lithe. LaRocca played a very well-defined lead and in tune. Shields's countermelodies were sensibly crafted in alignment with the chord changes and played with fluidity and even beauty. The trombone work by Edwards is rugged and although at times virtuosic, is never in the way. The recorded copycats such as Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band gave an imitation of the ODJB’s overall effect of energy, noise and novelty without offering the harmonic cohesion or gentle humor of the men from New Orleans.

November 16, 2007 · 0 comments


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