BRIAN RUST - Jazz Discographer
In conversation with Nick Dellow

Rust2a.jpg (62616 bytes)Most fields of collecting have their standard reference books from which information on specific areas of interest can be gleaned. Such works not only disseminate specialist information to seasoned collectors, but also help to define the genre for new generations. In the world of jazz record collecting, the definitive guide to 78 rpm records is ‘Jazz Records 1897-1942’, a veritable ‘bible’ of information on jazz recordings made during the first half of the 20th Century. Well-thumbed copies of this two-volume tome are to be found on record collectors’ shelves the world over, often personalised by the addition of hand-written amendments pencilled-in by their owners.

The author of 'Jazz Records' is of course Brian Rust, a man who has with missionary zeal and Herculean effort devoted his life to compiling information about 78s, and not just jazz recordings but popular music per se. In addition to Jazz Records, Rust has compiled detailed discographies on dance bands (both American and British), music hall artists and musicals. Through these works, collectors have access to a huge amount of information on recordings going back to the birth of recorded sound.

It is no doubt difficult in this enlightened on-line era for younger collectors to realise just how much harder it was to locate facts about specific records – recording dates, personnel, etc. – before Jazz Records made its first appearance in 1961. Although there were several well-known jazz discographies before this – for instance, Charles Delaunay’s ‘Hot Discographie’ (first edition: Paris, 1936) and Hugues Pannassié’s ‘Hot Jazz’ (first edition: USA, 1936) – these earlier works only gave a partial picture. Many matrix numbers were missing and very few recording dates were listed. In addition, both Delaunay and Pannassié tended to concentrate on what we might now term ‘classic’ recordings – the Mortons, Olivers, Armstrongs and Ellingtons of the jazz world. Rust’s remit as to what constitutes a jazz recording has always encompassed a far wider range of styles.

Right from the first edition, Jazz Records included recordings made by commercial dance bands and singers, with the proviso that they contained improvised solos – ‘hot’ dance music, in other words. Ragtime recordings were also listed.

In compiling Jazz Records and his various other discographies, Rust trawled through thousands of old recording company ledgers in order to piece together the jigsaw puzzle (one, you might say, that was without a lid!). However, with many of the smaller companies having closed down or been taken over years before, countless reams of ledgers were in effect "missing, presumed destroyed". The numerous gaps in the information were slowly filled by Rust through diligent investigation, in a manner that would surely have impressed Sherlock Holmes himself! In the process, large numbers of collectors were asked to comb their shelves for missing matrix numbers, and musicians were called out of retirement to recall sessions they had taken part in many years before.

Through his researches, Rust not only brought to light important details that would otherwise have been lost or remained in darkened vaults but also established contact with many leading luminaries of the early years of syncopated popular music. Important jazz and dance musicians, singers and bandleaders that Rust interviewed and/or corresponded with included Louis Armstrong, Nick LaRocca, Baby Dodds, Jack Teagarden, Sylvester Ahola, Annette Hanshaw, Eva Taylor, Ben Selvin and Sam Lanin. Some, like Sylvester Ahola, proved to be a discographer’s dream (having a phenomenal memory and diaries outlining almost every session he ever took part in!), but for others – like Eva Taylor – recalling the past proved to be, at least initially, an emotionally painful experience. But with Rust’s gentle and respectful guidance, his interviewees invariably became willing, enthusiastic subjects within a short space of time - even the reticent Annette Hanshaw eventually relaxed and enjoyed reminiscing. In fact, Rust established firm friendships with many of the above, friendships that lasted right up until the end of their lives.

As well as compiling discographies, Rust has been responsible for countless LP sleeve notes, and, in addition, he has reviewed records for magazines ranging from The Gramophone to Woman’s Own! In the 1980s, his expert knowledge and large record collection were brought together for an hour-long weekly radio show called "Mardi Gras", broadcast by London’s Capital Radio.

Rust’s genial, courteous disposition belies a strong, forthright stance and passion for the music he loves and, indeed, for types of music he hates. Modern jazz certainly falls into the latter camp, and modern jazz to Rust means anything from Coleman Hawkins’ Body and Soul onwards. At the other end of the chronological scale, but equally controversially, Rust ascribes to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (O.D.J.B.) a seminal importance that is usually denied the band by other jazz historians. To Rust, the O.D.J.B.’s assertion that they were "the originators of jazz" was not just advertising hyperbole but fact.

Whether or not they agree with his views, collectors worldwide certainly appreciate the important research work Rust has carried out into early jazz and popular music, and admire his phenomenal knowledge of the subject. For ‘Jazz Records’ alone, we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

At the age of 81, he continues to work with the fervour of someone 50 or 60 years younger. Indeed, he recently completed the 6th edition of ‘Jazz Records’, now more accurately titled ‘Jazz and Ragtime Records’. A fitting time, I thought, to find out more about the man behind the matrix numbers.

N.D. - Where and when were you born?

B.R. – Golders Green, London, on 19th March 1922.

N.D. - Did you come from a musical family?

B.R. – No, not professionally. My father was an assistant Head Master at Dame Alice Owen’s School in Islington.

N.D. – When was your first encounter with jazz or more probably, I suspect, hot dance music?

B.R. – In the mid 1920s. My cousin, who was the same age as myself, was given a gramophone and a bunch of records, which he eventually gave to me in return for my train set! Among the assorted records - mainly nursery rhymes - was Yes Sir, That’s my Baby on English Columbia labelled as by the Denza Dance Band, a pseudonym for Ace Brigode and his Fourteen Virginians. That was my first encounter with anything like a hot record. I was three or four at the time.

The first really good out-and-out hot record I owned was Grieving For You, by a contingent of Jack Hylton’s band. It was given to me by the daughter of the doctor who lived next door. She liked to buy the latest dance tunes and knew of my interest, so she gave it to me. I thought: "This is something else!"

N.D. – So even at this early age, were you starting to think about collecting records?

B.R. – Oh yes, but I didn’t know one from another. All I knew was that I wanted more and more of them.

N.D. – In the late 1920s, there were a number British dance bands vying for air-space on the radio. You had a particular affection for the BBC’s own dance band, led by Jack Payne, didn’t you?

B.R. – Yes, indeed. I used to listen regimentally to their broadcasts and wrote down all the numbers they played. I wish I’d still got the lists I made.

N.D. – What was it in particular that you liked about Payne’s BBC band?

B.R. – I think it was probably because it was quite a hot band. The trumpet player was Frank Wilson, an underrated musician whose solos were very Bixian in feeling and construction. Later on he was replaced by Jack Jackson, who could also produce great jazz solos.

N.D. - You did in fact see the Jack Payne band on stage didn’t you?

B.R. - Yes. My father took me to see the band at the Palladium on 6th August 1931.

N.D. - Can you describe your reaction to seeing your favourite band on stage?

B.R. –I thought it was one of the most wonderful things I had ever seen. One of the numbers they performed was Choo Choo, which involved an enormous fake locomotive charging out of the backdrop with the entire band on board. I reminded Jack of that years later when I was at the BBC and he said: "Oh Lord!, don’t talk about that! It was the most terrifying thing I’ve ever had to do. The damn thing was wobbling about like anything, and I had to conduct at the same time! The boys seemed to like it all right but I was absolutely out of my depth and hardly able to balance. I was terrified".

N.D. – When you were becoming really serious about collecting records, in the mid-1930s, where would you go to buy them and how did you gain the financial resources to pay for them?

B.R. – Well, that was it. I didn’t have the money! Most of the time I just looked longingly at the record lists and thought: "I’d like to have that one". Sometimes, my parents or an aunt would buy a record for me. But then I started collecting operatic records, and they were much more expensive than the dance bands! When I asked for an operatic record, the usual response was "8/6 each, oh no…forget it!"

N.D. – Jazz and opera, they’re rather disparate genres! I can’t think of any other collectors of jazz who are avid collectors of opera as well. Are you a bit unusual in that respect?

B.R. – I suppose so; I’ve never come across anybody else that collects both opera and jazz on 78. It has its benefits though - plenty of collectors are prepared to let me have operatic records that I want, in exchange for jazz … and vice-versa.

N.D. – When did you acquire your first Original Dixieland Jazz Band (O.D.J.B.) record?

B.R. – 31st March 1936.

N.D. – You can place the date that accurately!? (he has an uncanny memory for specific dates - n.d.)

B.R. – Oh yes. It got round the school that I was interested in old records, and one of my school-mates said: "I know a shop where there’s loads of them. They are only a penny or tuppence each". I thought: "I can afford that on 6 pence pocket money a week. I could get 2 or 3 of those a week!" I went to this shop with my mate and saw all these old records piled high without covers. That was my introduction to junking. I soon got used to piles of records without covers on! So I went through them and found 7 or 8. I’d only got 6 pence. The old man in the shop said: "All right, you take them, I don’t want them. We won’t argue about that". One of them was At the Jazz Band Ball and Ostrich Walk by the O.D.J.B. It was pretty well bashed, but I thought it was marvellous - I fell in love with the sound instantly. "This is it!", I thought, "If they made any more records, I’ve got to have them somehow…and I saw to it that I did!"

N.D. - You must have wondered who the musicians responsible for the music were.

B.R. – Yes. In fact, as soon as I started collecting the O.D.J.B.’s records, I wondered if any of the members of the band were still alive. Of course, they were, and playing too! That was in 1936. They were being revived as it were. I thought to myself: "It would be great if I could get to meet them one day". Eventually, I did meet several of the musicians who had played in the band.

N.D. – I also understand that some of your school friends would purloin records from their family’s collection for you. Is that true?

B.R. – Oh yes! Absolutely.

N.D. – In exchange for money?

B.R. – Well, mainly things like cigarette cards, or anything else they happened to want. I had a plentiful supply of cigarette cards thanks to the doctor who lived next door, who was an inveterate smoker.

N.D. - When was it that you first heard jazz played by black musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton or King Oliver?

B.R. – I used to listen to Christopher Stone on the BBC, playing the latest records every Friday at one o’clock. One day he played a record by a band I had never heard of … the record was West End Blues and the band was Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five of course. I thought that was wonderful.

N.D. – That would have been early 1930?

B.R. – No, actually it was 1st November 1929, the day it was issued. He used to get records before they were issued, so that he could play them on air the day they were issued. He also played the coming records, which he managed to get from the States, stuff that was originally issued on Okeh and labels like that. I’d never heard of Okeh until Stone mentioned the name on his programme. I used to wonder what an Okeh label looked like!

N.D. - What about other classic jazz recordings?

B.R. - The first King Oliver record I heard was Dippermouth Blues, which Spike Hughes played on his radio programme on the last day of 1937. "Oh! this is a wonderful record" I thought. By this stage, I had got to know many of these bands and musicians by name because I had seen them advertised in the record catalogues, but I had no idea what they sounded like until I heard them played on the radio. I remember seeing the name Jelly Roll Morton in an HMV catalogue - Black Bottom Stomp and The Chant were the titles - and thinking to myself "I wonder what that’s like. It looks as though it might be interesting". So every time I heard a new record it was something really exciting.

N.D. – In the 1930s, there were very few reference books on jazz. Charles Delaunay’s ‘Hot Discographie’ and Hugues Pannassié’s ‘Hot Jazz’ were available in England by the late 1930s, but of course they didn’t cover all jazz recordings by any means. Was this lack of information on sidemen and recording dates a constant source of frustration?

B.R. – In a way, although The Melody Maker and Rhythm listed recordings and personnel. For instance, there was ‘Collectors Corner’ in The Melody Maker, although the information given was by nature patchy. Of course, by that date many of the 1920s recordings were being reissued and the reviewers would discuss the personnel etc. Unfortunately, The Melody Maker’s record reviewer, Edgar Jackson, had no time for a lot of the re-issued stuff. You may have seen his reviews. He only gave them one star, begrudgingly two.

N.D. – Unlike Delaunay, you never lost your admiration for the white pioneers of jazz, especially the O.D.J.B. In fact, you became personal friends with its nominal leader, Nick LaRocca, and corresponded with him for years. In many articles you’ve unstintingly championed the O.D.J.B. and their music. Did you, and indeed do you still, feel that the O.D.J.B. were as crucial to the development of early jazz, as say, musicians of the calibre of Sidney Bechet, King Oliver or Jelly Roll Morton?

B.R. – Oh yes, they were unique, of that I am quite convinced. I have often argued this point with other researchers and collectors, though I don’t think I’ve ever convinced any of them!

Rust in NOa.jpg (104159 bytes)N.D. – What about the black bands in New Orleans or elsewhere at that time. Weren’t they playing jazz and simply didn’t make it to the recording studio?

B.R. - They were playing ragtime I think. Nick LaRocca said to me himself: "The black boys played ragtime. We were something new. We didn’t hang around listening to them - we didn’t have to, we had our own kind of music we were putting over". He also said: "I’ve nothing against black musicians. I think the world of Armstrong and all those guys – black guys – that have taken this music, taken it so far". Those were his very words.*

It’s not as if black bands were being denied the chance to record. On the contrary, they were encouraged to record if they were popular. There were black bands of the same and earlier periods on record – Jim Europe, Ford Dabney or George Morrison, for instance – but they don’t sound anything like the O.D.J.B., not in the slightest. Europe’s Society Orchestra records might just as well have been by Joseph C. Smith or one of those other standard white dance bands of the time. Even Europe’s Hell Fighters were more or less a military band that played for dancing, like the Victor Military Band or Sousa’s band. They may have played a bit more loosely, with a bit more syncopation - their records, I think, show that - but there’s no affinity between their records and the O.D.J.B.

The black pioneers from New Orleans that lived long enough to make records in the revivalist period, musicians like Bunk Johnson, Kid Rena… well, quite frankly, the records they made were appaling. I mean, if they didn’t play any better in 1912 than they did in 1942 or whenever it was, well, I’m not surprised they weren’t more successful. At least you can’t level the criticism at the O.D.J.B. that they didn’t play in tune - they always did, spot on the note every time, and that’s despite the fact that, with the exception of Eddie Edwards, none of them could read music.

(*Though correspondence certainly exists in which LaRocca makes very inflammatory and disparaging remarks about other musicians, both white and black! - n.d.)

N.D. - What about black musicians playing blues, or at least playing with a blues inflexion? Didn’t they pre-date the O.D.J.B.?

B.R. – Yes, I think they probably did. After all, blues or blues-influenced numbers written by black composers like Handy and Tom Delaney were already available in sheet music form when the O.D.J.B. first got together. Undoubtedly, the blues formed an essential element of the O.D.J.B.’s music, and I think Nick would be the first to admit it; that was the thing people wanted to hear and dance to.

N.D. – So, you think that the O.D.J.B. took these styles and added to them, creating something new in the process?

B.R. – Definitely.

N.D. – What, then, is your attitude to those researchers and jazz commentators, critics, etc. that dismiss the O.D.J.B. as a poor imitation of what was essentially, at its roots, a black music?*

B.R. – Well, putting it bluntly, they are shutting their eyes to the facts of history. There was nothing that sounded like the O.D.J.B. before they recorded, or at least we have no evidence that there was.

(*see Postscript at the end of this article - n.d.).

N.D. – Are you suggesting, therefore, that when King Oliver and Sidney Bechet were playing professionally in, say, 1915*, that the music that came out of their respective instruments was substantially different to the glorious jazz emanating from Oliver’s cornet and Bechet’s soprano on records made eight years later in 1923?

B.R. – I would think so. After all, there is a good deal of difference between the Oliver of 1923 and the Oliver of 1929.

(*In fact, they played together in a band in Chicago that year - n.d.)

N.D. - What is your view about the oft-repeated claim that the cornetist Freddy Keppard and The Original Creole Orchestra were to have made jazz records for Victor slightly before the O.D.J.B. but didn't because Keppard said that, if they had recorded, their music would have been stolen?

B.R. - Correspondence still exists at RCA regarding artists who were allocated a recording session or sessions at Victor, and this includes test sessions going back to the early days, but there is absolutely nothing in the files about the Original Creole Orchestra being offered a chance to record. Is it not possible that the alleged offer to record the Original Creole Orchestra referred to by Smith in "Jazzmen"* in fact pertains to the Creole Jass Band test session of 2nd December 1918 that made "Tack 'Em Down"? After all, this was only a slightly later date, and the band is directly descended from the Original Creole Orchestra that Smith referred to in "Jazzmen".

(*by Frederic Ramsey Jr and Charles Edward Smith, first published by Harcourt, Brace & Company in New York in 1939. "Jazzmen" is the earliest known source of Keppard's supposed remark, contained in the following passage: "Early in 1916 the Victor Phonograph Company approached the Original Creoles with an offer to record. Keppard thought it over, and said: 'Nothin' doin', boys. We won't put our stuff on records for everybody to steal.' He persuaded the other fellows to turn down the recording offer. A few months later, Victor signed Nick La Rocca's group, which under the name of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band went on to fame and fortune." The book provides no information about who Keppard made this alleged remark to in the first place! - n.d.)

N.D. – The development of the jazz musician as a soloist was predominately in the creative hands of black artists, at least in the formative years – I’m thinking of the likes of Armstrong, Bechet and slightly later, Hawkins. LaRocca wasn’t a very strong soloist was he?

B.R. – No, he wasn’t. None of the O.D.J.B. were particularly strong soloists. When they did have a solo, it was a matter of a bar or two break, as we know from the records. Their ensemble work fitted all the pieces together, like a jigsaw. (*Though Larry Shields indeed does take solos, most notably the introduction to The Sphinx, recorded in London in 1920, and a 24-bar solo on the band's 1921 St. Louis Blues, which was as much a model to younger musicians as was Leon Roppolo’s solo on the Friar’s Society Orchestra Gennett of 'Tiger Rag'! - MB)

N.D. – That collective ensemble sound, the polyphonic empathy displayed by the O.D.J.B., would you say that is the key to the great early Dixieland bands?

B.R. – Exactly, yes.

N.D. – Are there any other bands of that time or near that time, that equalled the O.D.J.B. in your opinion?

B.R. – There were numerous other bands that sounded as if they had got the right idea. The New Orleans Jazz Band with Jimmy Durante on piano, bands like that. However, although they are very good, they hadn’t quite got the message, and didn’t achieve the popularity of the O.D.J.B.

Slightly later on, there was the New Orleans Rhythm Kings of course, but even they didn’t reach the zenith achieved by the O.D.J.B. There are three sessions for Gennett by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The second one – the first to be known as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings – is by a five piece band with exactly the same instrumentation as the O.D.J.B. Although they had had five years of studying the Dixieland idiom, they still hadn’t quite got it. Of course, Roppolo is great but he didn’t have much support from the others; even George Brunies at that time wasn’t what he became afterwards. He sounds like he is feeling his way, in fact they all do. That’s the impression I get, whereas to my ears the O.D.J.B. arrived in the recording studio fully-formed as it were.

N.D. – What about the Louisiana Five?

B.R. – I never cared much for them, except for that one title, Slow and Easy, which benefits from the addition of a cornet. On their other recordings, the lead is taken by Nuñez on clarinet, and that’s not the function of the instrument in a Dixieland ensemble. I suppose it might have worked if he’d been Boyd Senter, blasting the life out of his instrument and wrecking reed after reed in the process… but what a horrible thought!

N.D. - The rise of the dance band, as typified by Paul Whiteman, had a detrimental effect on the small Dixieland combinations like the O.D.J.B., didn’t it?

B.R. - That’s true, yes. Paul Whiteman achieved his initial success while the O.D.J.B. were away playing in England. By the time they returned in 1920, the Dixieland style had been usurped by Whiteman’s smoother dance music. Seeing the popularity of Whiteman’s band with its three or four saxophones, three brass and the violins, Victor insisted that the O.D.J.B. add a saxophone in deference to the new style, to mellow their music. So they brought in the sax player Bennie Krueger. Nick said to me: "We just put up with him. He knew what he had to do and tried to fit in but he got in our way". That was the start of the end for the O.D.J.B. and they never regained the status and success they had achieved before their London sojourn.

N.D. – Going back to your own life and your early career, when you left school you worked as a bank clerk but I can’t imagine that you harboured a desire to work in a bank.

B.R. – I had no yearning to become a bank clerk but I certainly wanted to get away from school at any cost. I would have taken any job to earn some money and buy some records with the proceeds. That’s all I wanted.

N.D. - You didn’t want to go to university?

B.R. – No, no! Far from it. It wouldn’t have done me any good because the things I knew that they taught in university were simply an extension of school and that I did not want at any price. I loathed and detested school from the word go.

N.D. – During the War, you were a member of the Auxiliary Fire Service.

B.R. – Yes, I worked in the bank by day and was on fire watch by night. I couldn’t join the Services because my eyesight was too poor and I had an widowed mother to look after. Mind you, fire watch could get pretty hairy at times! I was in stationed in the City of London, which took a pasting.

N.D. - Did you manage to find time to collect records while the War was on?

B.R. - Oh yes, even bombs couldn’t stop me! I remember one occasion when I was looking through some records outside a shop when suddenly I heard a bomb whistling down. I ran into the shop and dived behind a pile of 78s, just before the bomb exploded right outside, smashing all the windows and destroying the front of the shop. Clouds of dust fell down on top of everything - including me! I think those records probably saved my life, so it’s no wonder that I like shellac!

N.D. – You also asked British service men who visited the States to get you records, didn’t you?

B.R. - An old friend of mine I’d known since childhood days was in the Navy. He was going on an exercise that involved visiting the USA and Canada. He said: "If there’s anything you want, give me a list and I’ll see if I can get it". He brought two or three back, including Bechet’s Georgia Cabin, which was never issued over here.

N.D. – Did you continue to work for the bank when the War finished?

B.R. – Yes, but not for long. I’d had enough of sitting behind a desk adding up columns of figures. Before the War, I had got to know Valentine Britten, who was at that time in the foreign records department at the HMV Shop in Oxford Street. In fact, she was the first person to show me a Victor record; I remember it was a Boyd Senter. Anyway, she became the librarian at the BBC so I wrote to her and asked for an interview. She said: "I remember your coming into the shop, when I worked there". "Well, I’d like to work here now!", I said boldly. "Oh, would you? As it happens, we’ve got a vacancy but I’ll have to have a word with the head of the department", and within six weeks I was working in the BBC’s library.

N.D. – That must have been like going from hell to heaven!

B.R. – Yes, it was and that was exactly how the head of the department put it to me. He was a nice, jovial sort of fellow. Unfortunately, not long after I started he had a fatal heart attack and his replacement did not like me at all. She thought that I was out to undermine her position, I think. She knew very little about popular music, so she saw me as a threat. Also, she didn’t like the fact that I fraternised quite openly and easily with everybody who came in and wanted to know about various records.

N.D. - What did your job actually entail?

B.R. – I suggested records that would fit certain programmes. Someone might come in and say: "Can you think of a good record that would fit in here?" I’d have a look and sort out an appropriate selection.

Rust with Ahola.jpg (143775 bytes)N.D. – While you were at the BBC, you had the opportunity to meet a number of British jazz musicians - like Jack Jackson for instance.

B.R. - Yes, and they were only too willing to help. In fact, it was Jack Jackson and Sid Phillips who first mentioned how important Sylvester ‘Hooley’ Ahola was - they identified him as the soloist on many British records made in the late 1920s. Hooley was a discographer’s dream, as he kept a detailed diary and was so helpful. He said: "I’ll send you a list of what I made. I’ve got my old diaries. At least you’ll know that you’ve got the right dates and the right bands and so on". He typed them all out for me on sheets and sheets of paper. They just kept on arriving! In 1963, I went over to America to meet him. He greeted me at Boston airport with a trumpet fanfare – I felt like royalty!


The marginalisation of the O.D.J.B. in jazz history can be traced back to the 1930s. Between 1936 and 1938, Marshall Stearns wrote a series of articles for ‘Down Beat’ entitled ‘The History of Swing’ in which he dismissed the O.D.J.B.’s relevance to the development of jazz during its nascent years. LaRocca objected vociferously to Stearns’ assertions, and in the autumn of 1936 fired off a string of letters, not only to Down Beat but also to Metronome and Tempo. In many of these letters, LaRocca claimed, quite categorically, that the O.D.J.B. were indeed the first true jazz band.

LaRocca had no doubt intended that his letters set the record straight concerning the O.D.J.B.’s importance to early jazz, but his hostile, pugnacious attitude - especially towards early black bands - only helped to harden Stearns’ condemnatory stance. In a personal reply to LaRocca, dated 11th January 1937, Stearns complained that "you failed to give coloured musicians a break and that is why I exaggerated the other extreme, since the public is inclined to believe you and musicians of your opinion".

Stearns’ remarks undoubtedly caused personal hurt to LaRocca, and his anger is especially evident when he addresses Stearns’ claim that the Original Creole Orchestra* had been the first jazz band. Interestingly, this claim was based on a comment Stearns attributes to Preston Jackson and not Keppard or any other musician actually from the Original Creole Orchestra: "…But Preston Jackson says that the first band to leave New Orleans was the Original Creole Jazz Band in 1911**. If this is so, and we have every reason to believe that it is true, the negro led the way at this point as we know he did later in 1923 when actual recordings demonstrate the fact." Note that Stearns credits the band as being the Original Creole JAZZ BAND, which is incorrect - the band was always known as the Original Creole ORCHESTRA.

(*The Original Creole Orchestra’s drummer was Dink Johnson. He later became a clarinet player and worked with Jelly Roll Morton and Kid Ory - he’s the clarinettist on Ory’s famous 1922 recording session. In 1950, he was interviewed by Floyd Levin and made an interesting remark about his early influences: "I was actually a drummer, you know. I had always wanted to play the clarinet since hearing Larry Shields with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band". Omer Simeon also said that he was influenced by Larry Shields. Louis Armstrong was another black musician who was full of praise for the band: "We thought they were great. Everybody was blowing a whole lot of jazz in New Orleans but the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s the one that put it over". Sidney Bechet’s view was less complimentary though: "All those Dixieland musicians could do was play what they learned from us, and after that there wasn’t anything more for them to do". - n.d.)

(**Preston Jackson would have only been nine years old in 1911. While it is possible that he knew of the Original Creole Orchestra at that date - being from New Orleans himself - it is far more likely that his comment is derived from conversations he had with older New Orleans musicians in the 1930s. In the 1930s, Jackson wrote a regular column for ‘Jazz Hot’ and also ‘Hot News’, and almost certainly Stearns picked up Jackson’s remark from one of these magazines - n.d.)


Further reading:

H.O. Brunn, ‘The Story of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’, Louisiana State University Press, 1960.

Tim Gracyk, ‘The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (O.D.J.B.)’. (An excellent account of the rise and fall of the O.D.J.B., with meticulous attention to detail, especially with respect to their compositions and recording contracts. Includes hitherto unpublished extracts from letters and telegrams owned by descendants of Eddie Edwards. Available on-line at