Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Jazz genre. Dixie was a nickname for New Orleans, from a ten-dollar bill issued there before 1860 with 'dix' (French for ten) on it: it came to refer to the Southern states, then was used by the white Original Dixieland Jazz Band, who made the first jazz records '17 (also King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators, etc). The original dixieland jazz was the New Orleans style itself, with collective improvisation and improvised counterpoint; it was the avant-garde music of jazz shortly after WWI just as bop was after WWII. Louis Armstrong became the first great soloist and the rest of jazz could be said to have come from him, while the bandleading genius of Jelly Roll Morton (with his Red Hot Peppers) was probably the highest development of the style. The rediscovery of Bunk Johnson in the late '30s disappointed some purists, who wanted him to play their preconceived notion of what jazz was, but New Orleans jazz had not stood still in the meantime; nowadays the GFB Foundation continues documenting the New Orleans scene (see Jazzology).

By the '50s the term 'dixieland' described a nostalgic imitation, played mostly by middle-aged white men, almost always with a front line of trumpet (or cornet), trombone and clarinet, ranging from sincere attempts to re-create the New Orleans style (Lu Watters, Turk Murphy; see JAZZ for the revival movement) to noisy pseudo-jazz suitable for tourists (Firehouse 5+2). West Coast studio musicians and Swing Era veterans played dixieland as required, like trumpeters Dick Cathcart (b 6 Nov. '24, Michigan City IN; d 8 Nov. '93, LA), who played for Jack Webb in the film Pete Kelly's Blues '55 and subsequent TV series; trumpeter Clyde Hurley (b 3 Sep. '16, Fort Worth TX; d Sep. '63), drummer Nick Fatool (b 2 Jan. '15, Milbury MA; d 26 Sept. 2000), and clarinettist Matty Matlock (b 27 April '07, Paducah KY; d 14 June '78) were first-rate Hollywood studio musicians who made Columbia LPs as the Rampart Street Paraders '53-7.

The Paraders as well as New Yorkers Eddie Condon, Muggsy Spanier, Max Kaminsky, Wild Bill Davison etc were actually playing Chicago style, the music they'd loved all their lives, rather than pure New Orleans (again, see JAZZ), but it was heard by the public as dixieland. As the Swing Era began to decay there were audiences for what was called 'pure' jazz at places like Nick's in Greenwich Village; others like Bob Scobey and Pete Daily on the West Coast played enjoyable (if inaccurate) turn-of-the-century cabaret, reeking with instant nostalgia but offering good playing, good old songs (or oldish-sounding new songs). Cornettist Daily (b 5 May '11, Portland IN; d 23 Aug. '86) went to the West Coast '42, formed combo Pete Daily's Chicagoans '46, recorded for Capitol well into '50s including e.g. a jolly version of 'Minnie The Mermaid' (written by Buddy DeSylva '30). Pianist and trumpeter Dick Cary (b 10 July '16, Hartford CN; d 6 April '94, Glendale CA) was not only a leading light in the LA dixieland scene but led a rehearsal band for a decade, writing over 1,500 originals for it; Dick Cary And His Tuesday Night Friends '93 on Arbors is as though bebop had never happened and jazz had just kept developing from a swing base, an interesting exercise in 'what if'. Dixieland gave pleasure, and was an introduction to jazz for many; musicians like Hackett and Pee Wee Russell transcended category; first-rate modernists like Steve Lacy began in dixieland and others like Herbie Nichols made a living at it while the public ignored their best work. Pete Fountain and Al Hirt were very good musicians who played for tourists in New Orleans; the Assunto family sold records as the Dukes of Dixieland; older men such as Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and Kid Ory continued playing the style they'd made famous in the first place. The UK equivalent was called 'trad'; see Acker Bilk, Kenny Ball, Chris Barber etc. There are still dozens of pro and semi-pro dixieland bands in Britain alone.