Nick LaRocca

Last updated

Nick LaRocca
Nick larocca.jpg
Background information
Birth nameDominic James La Rocca
Born(1889-04-11)April 11, 1889
New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
DiedFebruary 22, 1961(1961-02-22) (aged 71)
Genres Dixieland, jazz
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader
Instruments Cornet, trumpet
Years active1912–59
Labels Victor, Okeh, Vocalion, Columbia, Southland
Associated acts Original Dixieland Jass Band

Dominic James "Nick" LaRocca [1] (April 11, 1889 – February 22, 1961), was an American early jazz cornetist and trumpeter and the leader of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. He is the composer of one of the most recorded jazz classics of all-time, "Tiger Rag". He was part of what is generally regarded as the first recorded jazz band, a band which recorded and released the first jazz recording, "Livery Stable Blues" in 1917.



Nick LaRocca was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of poor Sicilian immigrants. His father was Girolamo LaRocca of Salaparuta, Sicily and his mother was Vita De Nina of Poggioreale, Sicily. Young Nick was attracted to the music of the brass bands in New Orleans and covertly taught himself to play cornet against the wishes of his father who hoped his son would go into a more prestigious profession. LaRocca at first worked as an electrician, playing music on the side.

From around 1910 through 1916 he was a regular member of Papa Jack Laine's bands. While not considered as one of the most virtuosic or creative of the Laine players, he was well regarded for playing a solid lead with a strong lip which allowed him to play long parades without let up or to play several gigs in a row on the same day.

In 1916 he was chosen as a last-minute replacement for Frank Christian in Johnny Stein's band to play a job up in Chicago, Illinois. This band became the famous Original Dixieland Jazz Band, making the first commercially issued jazz recordings in New York City in 1917. These recordings were hits and made the band into celebrities.

Soon other New Orleans musicians began following the O.D.J.B.'s path, arriving in New York to play jazz. LaRocca was uneasy about competition. Frank Christian recalled that LaRocca offered him $200 and a return railway ticket to go back home. After a band featuring New Orleans musicians Alcide Nunez, Tom Brown, and Ragbaby Stevens won a battle of the bands against the O.D.J.B., drummer Ragbaby found his drum heads mysteriously slashed.

The band gave LaRocca the nickname "Joe Blade", and published a song called "Joe Blade, Sharp as a Tack".

LaRocca led this band on tours of England and the United States into the early 1920s, when he suffered a nervous breakdown. He returned to New Orleans and retired from music, going into the construction and contracting business. His chair in the band was taken by Henry Levine, a teenage trumpeter devoted to traditional jazz stylings. Levine later led one of the house bands on NBC's radio series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street .

In 1936 Nick LaRocca reunited the ODJB for a successful tour and more recordings. LaRocca proclaimed that he and his band were the inventors of the now nationally popular swing music. He and the reunited Original Dixieland Jazz Band performed "Tiger Rag" in The March of Time newsreel segment titled "Birth of Swing," released to U.S. theaters February 19, 1937. [2] Personality conflicts broke up the band again in 1937, and LaRocca again retired from music. He died in New Orleans in 1961.

1923 release of "Tiger Rag" by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band as an Okeh 78 single, 4841B. Tiger Rag Okeh 4841B ODJB.jpg
1923 release of "Tiger Rag" by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band as an Okeh 78 single, 4841B.

Later life and controversy

In the 1950s, he wrote numerous vehement letters to newspapers, radio, and television shows, stating that he was the true and sole inventor of jazz music, damaging his credibility and provoking a backlash against him and his reputation and career. He made obviously exaggerated claims that he was "The Creator of Jazz", "The Christopher Columbus of Music", and "The most lied about person in history since Jesus Christ" [ citation needed ].

When Tulane University established their Archive of New Orleans Jazz, now the Hogan Jazz Archive, in 1958, LaRocca donated his large collection of items related to the O.D.J.B. to Tulane, including several scrapbooks made by LaRocca. [3] [4]

At the same time, he worked with writer H.O. Brunn on the book The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. In the book, LaRocca claimed that he founded the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1908. The book was dismissive of the other members of the O.D.J.B. It was perhaps kindest to clarinetist Larry Shields. [5]

Musicologists and historians who seek to assess LaRocca's contributions to jazz are hindered by LaRocca's self-aggrandizement.[ citation needed ] A balanced assessment would have to acknowledge that Nick LaRocca was an important figure in taking jazz from a regional style to international popularity, the leader of the most influential jazz band of the period from 1917 to 1921, and a good player in a very early jazz style on records such as "Clarinet Marmalade". [6] LaRocca's playing and recordings were an important early influence on such later jazz trumpeters as Red Nichols, Bix Beiderbecke and Phil Napoleon. Nick LaRocca's 1917 composition "Tiger Rag" was covered by Louis Armstrong in several different versions throughout his career, while Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, and The Mills Brothers also recorded important and influential cover versions of the jazz standard. Additional information about Nick LaRocca and his biographer can be found in Salvatore Mugno's Il biografo di Nick LaRocca. Come entrare nelle storie del jazz, Besa Editrice, Nardò (Lecce), Italia, 2005.


Nick LaRocca's 1917 composition "Tiger Rag" is one of the most important and influential jazz standards of the twentieth century. There were 136 cover versions of LaRocca's copyrighted composition "Tiger Rag" by 1942 alone.

Among the artists who have recorded "Tiger Rag" are Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Duke Ellington, Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Orchestra, Bix Beiderbecke, Les Paul, Art Tatum, The Mills Brothers in a No. 1 pop version, and Bob Crosby.

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band is now regarded as one of the seminal groups in the formation and development of jazz. The ODJB compositions have been covered by everyone from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington to Joe Jackson. The influence of the ODJB on the history and development of jazz is undeniable.


In 2006, his 1917 recording of "Darktown Strutters' Ball" with the Original Dixieland Jass Band was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

See also

Related Research Articles

Original Dixieland Jass Band American jazz band

The Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) was a Dixieland jazz band that made the first jazz recordings in early 1917. Their "Livery Stable Blues" became the first jazz record ever issued. The group composed and recorded many jazz standards, the most famous being "Tiger Rag". In late 1917 the spelling of the band's name was changed to Original Dixieland Jazz Band.

Emile Christian

Emile Joseph Christian was an early jazz trombonist; he also played cornet and string bass. He also wrote a number of tunes, including "Meet Me At the Green Goose", "Satanic Blues", and "Mardi Gras Parade".

Larry Shields

Lawrence James "Larry" Shields was an early American dixieland jazz clarinetist. He was a member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the first jazz band to record commercially.

Alcide Nunez

Alcide Patrick Nunez, also known as Yellow Nunez and Al Nunez, was an American jazz clarinetist. He was one of the first musicians of New Orleans to make audio recordings.

Eddie Edwards (musician) American jazz trombonist

Edwin Branford "Eddie" Edwards was an early jazz trombonist who was a member of the Original Dixieland Jass Band.

Frank Christian (trumpeter)

Frank Joseph Christian was an early jazz trumpeter.

Tom Brown (trombonist)

Tom Brown, sometimes known by the nickname Red Brown, was an early New Orleans dixieland jazz trombonist. He also played string bass professionally.

Jazz standards are musical compositions that are an important part of the musical repertoire of jazz musicians, in that they are widely known, performed, and recorded by jazz musicians, and widely known by listeners. There is no definitive list of jazz standards, and the list of songs deemed to be standards changes over time. Songs included in major fake book publications and jazz reference works offer a rough guide to which songs are considered standards.

Tiger Rag Musical composition

"Tiger Rag" is a jazz standard that was recorded and copyrighted by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1917. It is one of the most recorded jazz compositions. In 2003, the 1918 recording of "Tiger Rag" was entered into the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry.

Henry Ragas

Henry W. Ragas was a jazz pianist who was a member of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the first jazz band to record commercially.


"Palesteena", or, "Lena from Palesteena", was a 1920 song, with lyrics by Con Conrad, and music by J. Russell Robinson.

Livery Stable Blues

"Livery Stable Blues" is a jazz composition copyrighted by Ray Lopez (né Raymond Edward Lopez; 1889–1979) and Alcide Nunez in 1917. It was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band on February 26, 1917, and, with the A side "Dixieland Jass Band One-Step" or "Dixie Jass Band One-Step", became widely acknowledged as the first jazz recording commercially released. It was recorded by the Victor Talking Machine Company in New York City at its studio at 46 West 38th Street on the 12th floor – the top floor.

Dixieland, sometimes referred to as hot jazz or traditional jazz, is a style of jazz based on the music that developed in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century.

Sensation Rag

"Sensation Rag" or "Sensation" is a 1918 jazz instrumental by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. It is one of the earliest jazz recordings. It is not related to Joseph Lamb's 1908 "Sensation Rag", which is a ragtime piano piece.

At the Jazz Band Ball

"At the Jazz Band Ball" is a 1917 jazz instrumental recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. The instrumental is one of the earliest and most recorded jazz compositions. It is a jazz classic and a standard of the genre.

Clarinet Marmalade

Clarinet Marmalade, later Clarinet Marmalade Blues, is a 1918 dixieland jazz standard composed by Larry Shields and Henry Ragas of the Original Dixieland Jass Band. It is played in the key of F major. It was recorded by Fletcher Henderson in 1926 and Frankie Trumbauer in 1927.

Singin the Blues (1920 song)

"Singin' the Blues" is a 1920 jazz composition by J. Russel Robinson, Con Conrad, Sam M. Lewis, and Joe Young. It was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in 1920 as an instrumental and released as a Victor 78 as part of a medley with "Margie". The song was released with lyrics by vocalist Aileen Stanley in 1920 on Victor. In 1927, Frank Trumbauer, Bix Beiderbecke, and Eddie Lang recorded and released the song as an Okeh 78. The Trumbauer recording is considered a jazz and pop standard, greatly contributing to Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke's reputation and influence. It is not related to the 1956 pop song "Singing the Blues" first recorded and released by Marty Robbins in 1956.

Dixieland Jass Band One-Step

"Dixieland Jazz Band One-Step" also known as "Dixie Jass Band One-Step" and "Original Dixieland One-Step" is a 1917 jazz composition by the Original Dixieland Jass Band released as an instrumental as a Victor 78. The song is a jazz milestone as the first commercially released "jass" or jazz song.

Ostrich Walk

Ostrich Walk" is a 1917 jazz composition by the Original Dixieland Jass Band released as an instrumental as an Aeolian Vocalion and a Victor 78. Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke recorded the song in 1927. The song is a jazz milestone as one of the first commercially released "jass" or jazz recordings.


  1. "ArchivesSpace Public Interface | Archives and Special Collections at Tulane University". Retrieved February 2, 2020.
  2. Synopsis Archived February 6, 2015, at the Wayback Machine (PDF), The March of Time Newsreels, HBO Archives
  3. "Collection: Dominic James "Nick" LaRocca papers | Archives and Special Collections at Tulane University". Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  4. "Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Nick LaRocca's Jazz Pioneers". OffBeat Magazine. Retrieved November 19, 2019.
  5. Brunn, H.O. The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960. Reprinted by Da Capo Press, 1977. ISBN   0-306-70892-2
  6. Stewart, Jack. "The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's Place in the Development of Jazz." New Orleans International Music Colloquium, 2005.