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1910s - A music called jazz

During this period, jazz (or ‘jass’ as it was originally called) became identified as a distinctive musical genre developed primarily by black musicians.

It drew from ragtime, blues and popular songs and was based principally on improvisation – initially usually collectively performed – rather than on reading from a score.

A thriving community of musicians, including cornetist Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden (born in 1877 and romantically credited as ‘the first jazzman’) and later players such as cornetists Joe ‘King’ Oliver and the young Louis Armstrong had established New Orleans as the home of jazz by 1920.

The music was played for a wide variety of social functions – dances, picnics, street events and funerals. Via recordings, news of it soon spread throughout the USA.

The first jazz record is often considered to be ‘Dixie Jass Band One Step/Livery Stable Blues,’ recorded by the (all-white) Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) in February 1917.

The arrival in London of the ODJB and the (all-black) Southern Syncopated Orchestra featuring soprano-saxophonist Sidney Bechet in 1919 were central inspirations for an aspirant community of musicians and fans in Britain and launched Britain’s own ‘jazz age’.

Image: Original Dixieland Jazz Band programme from The Palladium, Argyll Street, London, 1919. National Jazz Archive.

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