Among these groups living in the downtown Creole community were several European immigrants, including a large neighborhood of Sicilians. These Italian immigrants were among the first popular white musicians to play the new brass band “Dixieland” style. The founder of the first of these jazz bands was a Sicilian native named George Vitale who used the stage name “Papa” Jack Laine. Laine’s Reliance Brass Bands (1890-1913) were integrated before segregation pressures increased.[i] His bands were training grounds for many of the Creole and White musicians. According to Court Carney, “Laine’s bands represent the strongest link between the brass bands of the nineteenth century and the early jazz of the twentieth century.”[ii] He is considered by many as the “father of White jazz” in New Orleans. His “Reliance” brass bands performed a varied repertoire of material- from “religious songs, minstrel songs, and ragtime songs”- for events as diverse as “parades, civic ceremonies, dances, community concerts, and funerals.”[iii] One of his protégés was Nick LaRocca, whose Original Dixieland Jazz Band recorded the first jazz record in 1917 in NY, making “Dixieland” music an overnight sensation worldwide. The traditional New Orleans Brass bands are tied to the Cuban and Caribbean style which evolved from Turkish and European military bands in the 1700’s.[iv]
The Cuban Connection
Christopher Washburne documents the “existence and function of certain rhythmic cells in the jazz repertoire that are most typically associated with Cuban music styles.”[v] According to Washburne, many jazz scholars attribute the rhythmic foundation of jazz as African. Gunther Schuller points out that the West African drum patterns are similar to the Charleston, while Ernest Borneman states that the 3+3+2 rhythm over two bars of 4/4 is unmistakably African in origin.[vi] These rhythms, incidentally, are identical to the Cuban tresillo (3+3+2) or the son clave (any grouping of 2-3 or 3-2). Although many of these rhythms may have originated in Africa, their prevalence in Cuban and other Caribbean musics combined with the cultural climate in New Orleans during the nineteenth century’s formative period of jazz, suggest that jazz may be more of an Afro-Cuban rhythmic style than an African one. The Cuban habanera and rumba became extremely popular dance beats and were often performed by brass bands in the nineteenth century.[vii] According to Fiehrer, “in the last quarter of the (nineteenth) century a Mexican presence was joined to the jazz process.”[viii] The Mexicans became increasingly popular as instructors during the late eighteen hundreds, marked by a rich history of clarinet players instructed by a single family of conservatory trained instructors named the “Tio’s.” Cuban music was published in New Orleans and Chicago after 1950, indicating that “jazz interacted with Latin classical and pop genres for at least a half a century before its “birth.”[ix]
[ii] Court Carney, “New Orleans and the Creation of Early Jazz,” Popular Music and Society 29, no. 3 (2006): 302.
[iv] Christopher Washburne, “The Clave of Jazz: A Caribbean Contribution to the Rhythmic Foundation of an African-American Music,” Black Music Research Journal 17, no. 1 (1997).
[v] Ibid.: 3.
[vii] Fiehrer, “From Quadrille to Stomp: The Creole Origins of Jazz,” 26.
[viii] Ibid.: 30.
[ix] Ibid.: 31.