The Sin in Syncopation
What did Judas do with his silver thirty pieces? Bought himself a saxophone and played "The Beale Street Blues."
-- Vachel Lindsay
Drum on your drums, batter on your banjos, sob on the long cool winding saxophones. Go to it, O jazzmen.
-- Carl Sandburg
The origins and early history of jazz remain steeped in myth, improvised histories, and ingenious story telling -- fertile material for poets, exasperating details for historians. What we know for certain, however, is that popularity and actual innovation rarely coincided with each other, and with jazz the issue of race tended to divide commercial and artistic success. Most jazz scholars agree that the dominant innovators have been AfricanAmericans, whose musicianship nurtured the development of the blues and jazz. Yet in 1917 it was the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB), a group consisting entirely of white musicians, who established their place in jazz history by being the first band to make a commercial jazz recording.
"The controversy over the music of the ODJB in its heyday," explains Gunther Schuller, "was nurtured by many extra-musical factors. There was to begin with the very term jazz, only a few years earlier an obscene expression current in red-light districts" (176). Schuller adds:
Finally we must understand that American musical sophistication in 1917 was sufficiently low to allow the ODJB's trombonist Edward B. Edwards to make, unchallenged, statements to reporters such as: "None of us know music." (This was