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Jazz History by Decade: 1910 - 1920

During the decade between 1910 and 1920, the seeds of jazz began to take root. New Orleans, the vibrant and chromatic port city in which ragtime was based, was home to a number of budding musicians and a new style.

In 1913, Louis Armstrong was sent to live in a juvenile delinquency home, and there he learned to play the cornet. Just five years later, bandleader Kid Ory lost his star cornet player, Joe “King” Oliver, to more lucrative pursuits in Chicago.

Ory hired Armstrong and helped give rise to a talent that would change the course of music.

Thanks to the large population of former slaves in New Orleans at the time, the blues was on the minds of many of the city’s musicians. Composers such as W.C. Handy helped make the sound famous, but not before restructuring and refining it. It was around this time that the blues adopted its regular 12-bar form, and when brass bands played the blues to reveling dancers. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” became a popular hit, and Louis Armstrong later performed one of its best-known renditions.

Along with a standardized blues form, this decade saw the prominence of stride piano. Its rhythmic concept began with ragtime and soon spread around the country. Most famously, thanks to Scott Joplin and James P. Johnson, the stride style had taken a firm hold in New York City, where during the Harlem Renaissance of the following decade, it led to further developments in jazz.

The first jazz recording ever was made in 1917. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band, led by cornetist Nick LaRocca, recorded “Livery Stable Blues.” The music is not thought to be the most authentic or the best-executed jazz of the time, but it became a hit and helped light the fuse that led to the jazz craze.

Freddy Keppard, a trumpet player who was regarded as one of the best musicians of his day, was given the opportunity to record in 1915. He declined the offer because he was afraid that if a recording of his playing circulated, musicians might steal his style.