What is Dixieland?
Dixieland, an early style of Jazz that was developed in New Orleans, is the earliest style of Jazz music. The style combined earlier brass band marches, French Quadrilles, ragtime and blues with collective, polyphonic improvisation. While instrumentation and size of bands can be very flexible, the "standard" band consists of a "front line" of trumpet (or cornet), trombone, and clarinet, with a "rhythm section" of at least two of the following instruments: guitar or banjo, string bass or tuba, piano, and drums.
The term Dixieland became widely used after the advent of the first million-selling hit records of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917. The music has been played continuously since the early part of the 20th century. Louis Armstrong's All-Stars was the band most popularly identified with Dixieland, although Armstrong's own influence runs through all of jazz.
The definitive Dixieland sound is created when one instrument (usually the trumpet) plays the melody or a recognizable paraphrase or variation on it, and the other instruments of the "front line" improvise around that melody. This creates a more polyphonic sound than the extremely regimented big band sound or the unison melody of bebop.
The swing era of the 1930s led to the end of many Dixieland Jazz musicians' careers. Only a few musicians were able to maintain popularity. Most retired.
With the advent of bebop in the 1940s, the earlier group-improvisation style fell out of favor with the majority of younger black players, while some older players of both races continued on in the older style. Though younger musicians developed new forms, many beboppers revered Armstrong, and quoted fragments of his recorded music in their own improvisations.
There was a revival of Dixieland in the late 1940s and 1950s, which brought many semiretired musicians a measure of fame late in their lives as well as bringing retired musicians back onto the jazz circuit after years of not playing (e.g. Kid Ory). Many Dixieland groups of the revival era consciously imitated the recordings and bands of decades earlier. Other musicians continued to create innovative performances and new tunes. For example, in the 1950s a style called "Progressive Dixieland" sought to blend traditional Dixieland melody with bebop-style rhythm. Steve Lacy played with several such bands early in his career. This style is sometimes called "Dixie-bop".
While the term Dixieland is still in wide use, the term's appropriateness is a hotly debated topic in some circles. For some it is the preferred label (especially bands on the USA's West coast and those influenced by the 1940s revival bands), while others (especially New Orleans musicians, and those influenced by the African-American bands of the 1920s) would rather use terms like Classic Jazz or Traditional Jazz. Some of the latter consider Dixieland a derogatory term implying superficial hokum played without passion or deep understanding of the music. A traditionalist jazz band plays at a party in New Orleans in 2005. Shown here are Chris Clifton, on trumpet; Brian O'Connell, on clarinet; Les Muscutt, on banjo; Chuck Badie, on string bass; and Tom Ebert, on trombone.
Dixieland is often today applied to white bands playing in a traditional style. Some critics regard this labeling as incorrect. From the late 1930s on, black and mixed-race bands playing in a more traditional group-improvising style were referred to in the jazz press as playing "small-band Swing," while white and mixed-race bands such as those of Eddie Condon and Muggsy Spanier were tagged with the Dixieland label.
Today there are three main active streams of Dixieland jazz:
"Chicago style" is often applied to the sound of Chicagoans such as Jimmy McPartland, Eddie Condon, Muggsy Spanier, and Bud Freeman. The rhythm sections of these bands substitute the string bass for the tuba and the guitar for the banjo. Musically, the Chicagoans play in more of a swing-style 4-to-the-bar manner. The New Orleanian preference for an ensemble sound is deemphasized in favor of solos. Chicago-style dixieland also differs from its southern origin by being faster paced, resembling the hustle-bustle of city life. Chicago-style bands play a wide variety of tunes, including most of those of the more traditional bands plus many of the Great American Songbook selections from the 1930s by George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, and Irving Berlin. Non-Chicagoans such as Pee Wee Russell and Bobby Hackett are often thought of as playing in this style. This modernized style came to be called Nicksieland, after Nick's Greenwich Village night club, where it was popular, though the term was not limited to that club.
West Coast Revival
The "West Coast revival" is a movement begun in the late 1930s by the Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz Band of San Francisco and extended by trombonist Turk Murphy. It started out as a backlash to the Chicago style, which is closer in development towards swing. The repertoire of these bands is based on the music of Joe "King" Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and W.C. Handy. Bands playing in the West Coast style use banjo and tuba in the rhythm sections, which play in a 2-to-the-bar rhythmic style.
New Orleans Traditional
The "New Orleans Traditional" revival movement began with the rediscovery of Bunk Johnson in 1942 and was extended by the founding of Preservation Hall in the French Quarter during the 1960s. The most famous of which was the various line ups lead by George Lewis, clt. with Jim Robinson, tbn, and one of two tpt players Elmer Talbot or Avery ‘Kid’ Howard backed by Lawrence Marrero bjo, Alcide Pavageau sbs, and Joe Watkins or Edgar Moseley on drums. Bands playing in this style used string bass (or tuba) and banjo in the rhythm section playing 4-to-the-bar and feature popular tunes and Gospel hymns that were played in New Orleans since the early 20th century such as "Ice Cream," "You Tell Me Your Dream," "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and some tunes from the New Orleans brass band literature. The New Orleans "revival" of the 1960s added a greater number of solos, in a style influenced by mid-century New York Dixieland combos, as this was less of a strain on some musicians of advanced years than the older New Orleans style with much more ensemble playing. It should be pointed out that the New Orleans revival movement was not ‘Dixiland’ but ‘New Orleans Jazz’ and the many followers around the world such as Ken Colyer in England played their music in the spirit demonstrated by George Lewis and co.
Famous Traditional Dixieland Tunes
"When the Saints Go Marching In"
"Basin Street Blues,"
"Struttin' With Some Barbecue"
"Tin Roof Blues"
"At the Jazz Band Ball"
"I Found a New Baby"
"Royal Garden Blues"
All of these tunes were widely played by jazz bands of both races of the pre-WWII era, especially Louis Armstrong. They came to be grouped as Dixieland standards beginning in the 1950's.