Tiger Rag

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"Tiger Rag"
Sheet music for "Tiger Rag" as recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (1918)
Instrumental by The Original Dixieland Jazz Band
Released1917 (1917)
Genre Dixieland
Label Aeolian-Vocalion
Composer(s) Eddie Edwards, Nick LaRocca, Henry Ragas, Tony Sbarbaro, Larry Shields
Lyricist(s) Harry DeCosta
Performed by the Dixie Players of the United States Air Force Heritage of America Band

"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. [1] [2]



The song was first recorded on August 17, 1917 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band for Aeolian-Vocalion Records. The band did not use the "Jazz" spelling in its name until 1917. [3] The Aeolian-Vocalion sides did not sell well because they were recorded in a vertical-cut format which could not be played successfully on most contemporary phonographs.

The first release of "Tiger Rag" on Aeolian Vocalion in 1917 Odjbtigerrag.jpg
The first release of "Tiger Rag" on Aeolian Vocalion in 1917

But the second recording on March 25, 1918 for Victor, made by the more common lateral-cut recording method, was a hit and established the song as a jazz standard. [4] The song was copyrighted, published, and credited to band members Eddie Edwards, Nick LaRocca, Henry Ragas, Tony Sbarbaro, and Larry Shields in 1917. [5]


"Tiger Rag" was first copyrighted in 1917 with music composed by Nick LaRocca. In subsequent releases, the ODJB members received authorship credit. This authorship has never been challenged legally. According to author Frank Tirro,

But even before the first recording, several musicians had achieved prominence as leading jazz performers, and several numbers of what was to become the standard repertoire had already been developed. "Tiger Rag" and "Oh, Didn't He Ramble" were played long before the first jazz recording, and the names of Buddy Bolden, Jelly Roll Morton, Bunk Johnson, Papa Celestin, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, Kid Ory, and Papa Laine were already well known to the jazz community. [6]

Other New Orleans musicians claimed that the song, or at least portions of it, had been a standard in the city before it was recorded. Others copyrighted the melody or close variations of it, including Ray Lopez under the title "Weary Weasel" and Johnny De Droit under the title "Number Two Blues". Members of Papa Jack Laine's band said song was known in New Orleans as "Number Two" before the Dixieland Jass Band copyrighted it. In one interview, Laine said that the composer was Achille Baquet.

In his book Jazz: A History, Frank Tirro states, "Morton claims credit for transforming a French quadrille that was performed in different meters into ‘Tiger Rag’". [7]

The Italian musicologist Vincenzo Caporaletti has shown how the authorial self-attributions of Jelly Roll Morton are not reliable, by means of an analysis conducted on the first complete transcription in musical notation of Morton's Library of Congress performances (1938) with conclusions defined by Bruce Boyd Raeburn "justifiably compelling" on a scientific level. [8] Furthermore, Caporaletti has accurately identified the "floating folk strains" that Nick La Rocca assembled to create "Tiger Rag". [9]

According to writer Samuel Charters, "Tiger Rag" was worked out by the Jack Carey Band, the group which developed many of the standard tunes that were recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. [10] [11]

According to Tirro, the song was known as "Jack Carey" by the black musicians of the city. "It was compiled when Jack's brother Thomas, 'Papa Mutt', pulled the first strain from a book of quadrilles. The band evolved the second and third strains in order to show off the clarinetist, George Boyd, and the final strain ('Hold that tiger' section) was worked out by Jack, a trombonist, and the cornet player, Punch Miller." [6] :170

Other recordings

Nick LaRocca's house in Uptown New Orleans has the opening notes of "Tiger Rag" in the door screen. UptownLaRoccaHouseFrontDoorTigarRag.jpg
Nick LaRocca's house in Uptown New Orleans has the opening notes of "Tiger Rag" in the door screen.

After the success of the Original Dixieland Jass Band recordings, the song gained national popularity. Dance band and march orchestrations were published. Hundreds of recordings appeared in the late 1910s and through the 1920s. These include the New Orleans Rhythm Kings version with a clarinet solo by Leon Roppolo. Archaeologist Sylvanus Morley played it repeatedly on his wind up phonograph while exploring the ruins of Chichen Itza in the 1920s. With the arrival of sound films, it appeared on soundtracks to movies and cartoons when energetic music was needed.

"Tiger Rag" had over 136 versions by 1942. [12] Musicians who played it included Art Tatum, Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra (in a version with lyrics), Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, and Louis Armstrong, who released the song at least three times as a 78 single, twice for Okeh in 1930 [13] and 1932, [13] and for the French arm of Brunswick in 1934. [14] A Japanese version was recorded in 1935 by Nakano Tadaharu and the Columbia Rhythm Boys.

The Mills Brothers became a national sensation with their million-selling version in 1931. [15] In the same year the Washboard Rhythm Kings released a version that was cited as an influence on rock and roll. During the early 1930s "Tiger Rag" became a standard show-off piece for big band arrangers and soloists in the UK, where Bert Ambrose, Jack Hylton, Lew Stone, Billy Cotton, Jack Payne, and Ray Noble recorded it. But the song declined in popularity during the swing era, as it had become something of a cliché. Les Paul and Mary Ford had a hit version in 1952. Charlie Parker recorded a bebop version in 1954, the same year it appeared in the MGM cartoon Dixieland Droopy . In 2002, it was entered into the National Recording Registry at the U.S. Library of Congress.

It is the 32nd most recorded song from 1890 to 1954 based on Joel Whitburn's research for Billboard. [16]

A variant of the song is used by the Royal Thai Armed Forces as a "running march" during its military parades. [17]

A fight song in sports

"Tiger Rag" is often used as a fight song by American high school and college teams which have a tiger for a mascot. "Tiger Rag" is LSU's pregame song, which was first introduced in 1926. The Louisiana State University Tiger Marching Band performs it on the field before every home game and after the Tigers score a touchdown.

The Auburn University Marching Band also plays "Tiger Rag" as part of its pre-game performance before all home football games. The smaller pep band that plays for basketball games plays it just before the start of each half, timed so that the final note of the song is played as the horn sounds when the "game clock" counts down to triple-zeroes before each half.

The University of Texas at Dallas adopted "Tiger Rag" as its first official fight song in 2008. [18]

The Massillon Tiger Swing Band of Massillon, Ohio began playing "Tiger Rag" at Massillon Washington High School Tigers football games in 1938 when the team was coached by Paul Brown. It has been a Tiger tradition in Massillon ever since. [19]

The Cuyahoga Falls Tiger Marching Band plays Tiger Rag after the team scores the extra-point, as well as during their famous "Double Tiger Lines" drill, started in 1968.

"Tiger Rag – The Song That Shakes the Southland" is Clemson University's familiar fight song since 1942 and is performed at Tiger sporting events, pep rallies, and parades. A version has been arranged for the carillon on Clemson's campus.

It also has been played by Dixieland bands at Detroit Tigers home games and was popular during the 1934 and 1935 World Series.

Cover versions

A version of "Tiger Rag" can be heard in the Betty Boop cartoon Betty Boop and Grampy (1935). This particular version was later used in a brief scene in the Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon" episode "Fire Dogs 2" (2003). [23] That version of the song was also used in a commercial for Xbox 360 during its launch in 2005. [24] The song is often heard in the "Ma and Pa Kettle" movie series.

The song is mentioned in David Bowie's song "Watch That Man" (1973). [25]

Related Research Articles

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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.

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