Centuries of Sound
Centuries of Sound

Centuries of Sound is a monthly mix of original recordings from a single year. If you want higher bitrate downloads, a bonus podcast with discussion of the recordings, extra bonus mixes and much more, please support me on Patreon for just $5 per month, and keep the project ad-free.

1923 Large

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The early history of jazz can seem like a puzzle whose pieces don’t fit together. We’ve been through the initial explosion, led by groups of copycat, mostly white groups, playing their raucous novelty version of the music. We’ve heard those groups begin to refine and be assimilated into dance orchestras who were pretty much going that way anyway. We’ve heard the sudden craze for female blues singers, and the launch of lables specialising in “race records.” But where are, you know, the actual jazz bands though all of this? Six years of jazz and they still don’t seem to be recording.

Well 1923 is the year where that finally changes. The people running those “race record” labels know very well that they can’t rely entirely on the barrel-house mama craze, and those backing bands contain a wealth of (by now) unignorable talent. Joseph “King” Oliver would be the most obvious example. Born and raised in Louisiana, he started playing in proto-jazz bands almost as soon as such a thing existed. From 1908 he played in Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans, and from 1910 the band he led with Kid Ory was one of the most popular in the city. Storyville, one of the few unsegregated places in the USA, was where jazz really took form, and when it was closed down in 1918, King Oliver led the exodus to Chicago. With the start of prohibition and the rise of the speakeasies, he found himself leading the most successful band in what equated to the Storyville of the Midwest. And who did he send for from New Orleans? Cornet prodigy Louis Armstrong.

Louis, a New Orleans native, had been raised in poverty by his grandmother. He did odd jobs for the Karnoffskys, a family of Lithuanian Jews, including selling coal in Storyville, where he first heard this new music being played. Sent to juvenile hall at the age of 12 for firing a blank round from a gun into the air, he practised his cornet skills in their band. A few years after release he was making a name for himself in dance bands and on the riverboats which travelled up and down the Mississippi, enough so that King Oliver heard of his talents and invited him to join his band on second cornet.

The recordings Oliver and Armstrong contribute to this mix are in Oliver’s name only, but Dipper Mouth Blues is named after Armstrong, its soloist – Dipper Mouth being the nickname that later morphed into Satchel Mouth, then Satchmo. Recorded in Richmond, Indiana (a town associated with the Ku Klux Klan), the group were paid little for the recording, and had to put up with crude equipment and a tiny studio. Bearing all of this in mind, the two songs here are near-revelatory – but much better is to come later in the decade.

Across in New York, former home of the last wave of recording artists, another jazz boom was taking place. We have no Duke Ellington so far, but another band leader of the 1930s was already putting out records. Fletcher Henderson was born and raised in the south, moved to New York to work as a lab chemist and study for a master’s degree, but found himself made musical director of Pace and Handy Music Co within a year. In this role he played accompaniment to blues singers, including Ethel Waters. In 1923 he was recording on his own – his is one of two versions of West Indian Blues, a song which attracted a certain amount of controversy for its lyrics being written in a faux patois, which its singer, Esther Bigeou, did not speak.

We are still deep in the blues explosion, of course. While Mamie Smith is still recording, Bessie Smith (no relation) has become the premier performer – The Empress of The Blues, as Mamie was already The Queen. Edith Wilson with her Jazz Hounds are putting out some pioneering jazz records, and even old-timers like Sophie Tucker are getting in on the craze. Sara Martin performs with a novel guitar blues backing (the kind of thing which will be mainstream blues in a decade or so). My favourite, though, might be Marion Harris, as much a gospel and opera performer as a blues one, and here performing the spiritual ‘Deep River’ with breathtaking soul.


0:00:18 No Artist Listed – Morse Code Record. Part 1 (Excerpt 1)
0:00:35 King Oliver – Snake Rag
0:03:46 No Artist Listed – Morse Code Record. Part 1 (Excerpt 2)
0:03:54 Cotton Pickers with Billy Jones – You Tell Her I Stutter
0:06:49 Edgar Guest – A Heap o’ Livin’
0:06:58 Bessie Smith – Aggravatin’ Papa
0:10:04 Sara Martin – I Got What It Takes To Bring You Back (Excerpt 1)
0:10:21 Sara Martin – Atlanta Blues
0:13:11 Sara Martin – I Got What It Takes To Bring You Back (Excerpt 2)
0:13:57 Edith Wilson and Johnny Dunn Original Jazz Hounds – Evil Blues
0:17:14 Art Landry – Rip Saw Blues
0:19:56 Fletcher Henderson – West Indian Blues (Seven Brown Babies)
0:21:52 Esther Bigeou – West Indies Blues
0:24:39 Monroe’s String Orchestra – Old Lady Old Lady
0:26:10 Rosita Quiroga – Sollozos
0:29:24 Isa Kremer – Dwie Guitarre
0:30:16 Bishop Leadbetter of Sydney Australia – To Those Who Mourn (Excerpt 1)
0:30:35 Yossele Rosenblatt – Tal
0:32:33 Bishop Leadbetter of Sydney Australia – To Those Who Mourn (Excerpt 2)
0:32:51 Pablo Casals – Hebrew Melodies Op. 47
0:34:24 Naftule Brandwein’s Orchestra – Doina
0:36:38 Bessie Weisman – Vu Iz Mayn Yukel (Where is My Yukel)
0:38:34 Ignacy Ulatowski – Niemowa Kapelmaister (Excerpt 1)
0:38:41 Jacob Hoffman With Kandel’s Orchestra – Doina And Hora
0:40:55 Ignacy Ulatowski – Niemowa Kapelmaister (Excerpt 2)
0:41:00 Naftule Brandwein – Heyser Bulgar
0:44:05 Fred & Adele Astaire – Opening Dialogue
0:44:46 Fred & Adele Astaire – Whichness Of The Whatness
0:47:34 Eva Taylor – Oh Daddy Blues
0:50:12 Clarence Williams – Achin’ Hearted Blues
0:53;05 Sophie Tucker – You’ve Got To See Mama Every Night
0:55:47 Vic Meyers – Shake It And Break It
0:58:42 Frank Guarente’s Georgians – Learn To Do The Strut
1:01:28 Woodrow Wilson – Armistice Day Radio Address (Excerpt 1)
1:01:50 Marian Anderson – Deep River
1:04:55 Woodrow Wilson – Armistice Day Radio Address (Excerpt 2)
1:05:09 Huston Ray – Concert Fantasie
1:06:28 Anon (central Javanese gamelan) – Tedhak Saking
1:07:39 Clay Custer – The Rocks
1:09:10 Clara Smith – Kind Lovin’ Blues
1:12:09 Jelly Roll Morton – New Orleans Joys
1:14:54 Mamie Smith – I’m Gonna Get You
1:17:49 Abe Lyman – Weary Weazel (Tiger Rag)
1:21:00 Will Rogers – Will Rogers’ First Political Speech
1:21:21 Irving Kaufman with Bailey’s Lucky Seven – Yes, We Have No Bananas
1:23:54 King Oliver – Dipper Mouth Blues
1:26:06 Thomas Morris – Original Charleston Strut
1:28:50 Virginians – He May Be Your Man
1:31:59 Willy Derby – Loe Loe Ja Moe (Maggie Yes Ma)
1:33:31 Sara Martin & Sylvester Weaver – I’ve Got to Go and Leave My Da
1:36:07 Sylvester Weaver – Guitar Blues
1:39:00 Eck Robertson – Ragtime Annie
1:42:23 Fiddlin’ John Carson – The Old Hen Cackled & The Roosters Gonna Crow
1:44:12 Henry C. Gilliland And A. C. (Eck) Robertson – Turkey In The Straw
1:47:09 King George V of England – Empire Day Message
1:47:14 Pipe Major Henri Forsyth – Bagpipe Selection
1:47:59 Queen Mary of England – Empire Day Message
1:48:18 Marika Papagika – Ah! Giatre Mou
1:50:02 Edgar Guest – Ten Little Mice
1:50:24 The Benson Orchestra of Chicago – Dreams of India
1:52:14 New Orleans Rhythm Kings – Millenberg Joys
1:53:42 Rosetta Crawford – Down on the Levee Blues
1:56:00 Benny Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – Elephants Wobble
1:59:06 Ida Cox – I’ve Got The Blues For Rampart Street
2:01:51 Sidney Bechet – Kansas City Man’s Blues
2:04:45 Fletcher Henderson – Do Doodle Oom
2:07:23 Clarence Williams’ Blue Five – Wild Cat Blues
2:10:20 Mamie Smith – Lady Luck Blues
2:13:28 Virginia Liston – Bed Time Blues
2:15:54 Bessie Smith – ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home
2:18:47 Norfolk Jazz Quartette – Sad Blues
2:19:54 Isham Jones – Farewell Blues

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