Dixieland: Music, Songs & History

Instructor: Chris Chouiniere

Chris has taught music and has a master's degree in music education.

This lesson will examine the history and music of an exciting form of early jazz called Dixieland. Stay tuned to find out what makes it so unique, energetic, and downright fun.

Dixieland - What Is It?

Dixieland is an early form of jazz that originated in New Orleans sometime around the early 1900s. It is differentiated from Mississippi jazz by its instrumentation and size; where Mississippi and rural southern jazz generally had just a solo performer with a guitar, Dixieland typically featured a larger group with a soloist. Its roots are different too; rural jazz generally came from plantation songs, whereas Dixieland was more an amalgam of brass bands, military bands, and ragtime, amongst others.

Original Dixieland Jass Band

The name comes from the first commercially successful record of the genre, the Original Dixieland Jass Band (yes, jazz was once spelled 'jass'). Its popularity peaked in the 1920s, and it essentially fizzled out in the 1930s when swing jazz began to take over. Like other forms of jazz, Dixieland migrated from the south to Chicago and eventually New York (Harlem specifically).

Dixieland Music

The Dixieland sound is similar to that of a military marching band, with driving rhythms and powerful brass sections. The melody is typically played by a solo high brass sound, the rhythm section keeps the harmony going, and the other front line instruments improvise melodic material around the soloist. The rhythm section generally consists of some of the following: a strummed string instrument (guitar or banjo), a low instrument (string bass or tuba), piano, and a drum. Front line instruments are trumpets, trombones, and clarinets.

Dixieland Songs

Now that we know what Dixieland is, let's talk about some of its most famous songs. When you imagine the image and sound that is commonly associated with the Dixieland, you may picture something like 'Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas.' This is more accurately a revival version of what is called old-style jazz. Rather, perhaps the most important Dixieland song is 'When the Saints Go Marching In.' This is the quintessential Dixieland sound.

The next most important songs are 'Basin Street Blues,' made popular by the great Louis Armstrong, 'Tiger Rag,' and 'Muskrat Ramble.' 'Tiger Rag' marked the transition from traditional Dixieland to music incorporating swing and ragtime, which became known as the Chicago sound.

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