Dixieland jazz is a style that blends New Orleans jazz and classic jazz—also called "Chicago jazz"—of the 1920s. The music is generally thought of as a collective improvisation during the choruses, with individual solos that include riffing by the horns, and a two-to four-bar call and response tag game between the drummer and the full group at the closing of the song. While almost any song can be played in the dixieland style, the music is most often associated with about forty songs, including "That's a Plenty" and "Tin Roof Blues." Most dixieland bands are comprised of a trumpet or cornet, a harmonizing trombone, a clarinet, and a piano, string bass, or tuba. Occasionally a guitar or banjo is also included. The style has enjoyed many revivals throughout the years and "dixieland" has become a blanket term for the earliest blending of New Orleans and Chicago jazz between 1917 and 1923, as well as the many revivals of the style.
Despite the wide use of the term, some confine the definition of dixieland jazz to New Orleans music played by white New Orleans performers or in their style. Others limit the definition to the earliest white players in Chicago. Some of the most important albums of the dixieland style include Louis Armstrong's 1927 Hot Fives and Sevens, Vol. 3, Eddie Condon's 1939 Dixieland All-Stars, Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band's 1955 Legendary Kid, and Pete Fountain's 1965 Standing Room Only.
Despite the controversy surrounding how the term should be used, many musicians have been labeled and identified as playing dixieland music. The white Chicago musicians usually included as dixieland musicians are Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, and Frank Teschemacher. These musicians first heard the white New Orleans bands of the 1920s associated with Nick LaRocca in the Original Dixieland Jass (later Jazz) Band which began recording in 1917, and with Paul Mares in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (originally the Friar's Society Orchestra), which recorded between 1922 and 1923. This "white" style had a great influence on the development of jazz and was not too far removed from the style of the great black pioneers. White New Orleans bands and their dixieland followers drew less on ragtime and ethnic African sources than did the black pioneers. They also drew quite heavily on European sources. One of the most inspirational musicians of the dixieland sound of the 1920s was Louis Armstrong, who noted opera as a strong influence on his style.
The popularization of jazz beyond the New Orleans area and the development of dixieland can be traced to the U.S. Navy's 1917 closure of the Storyville base near New Orleans' red light district. The closure put many musicians out of work. Seeking work, musicians relocated to Chicago, Illinois. Joe "King" Oliver was the hottest cornetist in New Orleans in 1917 and by 1918 he had moved to Chicago. Jelly Roll Morton, jazz's first noted composer and innovative pianist, had moved to Chicago at the turn of the century. Many of New Orleans' best musicians followed and played for a time in Chicago. Others moved elsewhere: from 1919-1924 Kid Ory worked in Los Angeles and Sidney Bechet, the fine clarinetist and soprano saxophonist, played in London. As the musicians moved, the music they played changed and dixieland became a discernable style.
The carefree style of dixieland music soon lost favor to swing, especially after the stock market crash in 1929, but it did not disappear. From 1945 through 1960 dixieland actually became one of the more popular forms of jazz. The revival of dixieland in the 1940s can be traced to Lu Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band out of San Francisco. Much of the music was based on King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, but Watters' developed his own style, sometimes called San Francisco Jazz. Eddie Condon was also influential in the revival of dixieland; he featured a dixieland band on his weekly half-hour radio broadcast Town Hall Concerts from 1944 to 1945 and led a band at his Chicago nightclub for a few decades. And though there were many styles of jazz at the time, Louis Armstrong disbanded his big band in 1947 and led his All-Stars as a dixieland style sextet for the rest of his career. Despite the overwhelming popularity of rock 'n' roll after the 1950s, Armstrong proved dixieland's lasting appeal in 1964 with the success of his "Hello Dolly."
The success of the dixieland style in the mid-1940s ignited the release of a flurry of hasty and uninspired imitations of the music. By the 1950s dixieland was often associated with the embarrassingly garish groups who played amateurishly and donned straw hats and wore vintage clothing. Nevertheless, serious and competent musicians still played dixieland music. In 1974 the first Sacramento Dixieland Jubilee was held, the success of which inspired other such events. By the end of the twentieth century, jazz festivals that feature dixieland along with other styles could be found throughout the year and many record labels such as Stomp Off, GHB, and Jazzology continued to release dixieland music. Many of the greatest players and innovators of dixieland are dead, but younger musicians like Winston Marsalis and Jim Cullum continue to incorporate the dixieland style into their music.
—Frank A. Salamone
Condon, Eddie, and Thomas Sugrue. We Called It Music. New York, Da Capo Press, 1947.
Deffaa, Chip. Voices of the Jazz Age: Profiles of Eight Vintage Jazzmen. Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Gottleib, Bill. "Dixieland Nowhere, Says Dave Tough." Down Beat. September 23, 1946.
Griffiths, David. Hot Jazz: From Harlem to Storyville. Lanham, Maryland, Scarecrow Press, 1998.
Hadlock, Richard. Jazz Masters of the Twenties. 1965. Reprint, with new introduction by author, New York, Da Capo, 1988.
Hennessey, Thomas J. From Jazz to Swing: Afro-American Jazz Musicians and Their Music, 1890-1935. Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1994.
Schuller, Gunther. Early Jazz: Its Roots and Musical Development.1968. Reprint, New York, Oxford University Press, 1986.
Wilber, Bob, and Derek Webster. Music Was Not Enough. New York, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Dix·ie·land / ˈdiksēˌland/ • n. a kind of jazz with a strong two-beat rhythm and collective improvisation that originated in New Orleans in the early 20th century.