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Original Memphis Five: Why Should I Weep About One Sweetie?

March 16, 2010

Original Memphis Five in 1923, from

Original Memphis Five
Why Should I Weep About One Sweetie?

Recorded in 1924

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band was five men: a cornet, a trombone, a clarinet, a piano, and a drummer. That was what set the standard for jazz bands in the great jazz boom that followed the ODJB’s success, and in fact you’ll still see the same instrumentation in “dixieland” bands playing at your local arts festival.

The Original Memphis Five used identical instrumentation, and the name was doubtless intentionally similar. (The word “Original” still attaches itself to dixieland bands today, and after the success of the Original Dixieland, the name of a southern place was always a good bet, even if the musicians had never been any farther south than Staten Island.) They had even released their first recording as the “Original Dixieland Jazz Band”; the original Original Dixieland Jazz Band had broken up, and its leader Nick LaRocca apparently thought this band was good enough to carry on the name.

Nevertheless, the music was very different. The ODJB at its best was raucous and explosive; the Original Memphis Five was relaxed and sophisticated. Phil Napoleon, the trumpet player, had classical training, and Frank Signorelli was a pianist who had a remarkably light touch in an era of ivory-pounders. In this recording, we can already hear jazz turning into something that might almost seem respectable.

Perhaps for that very reason, the Original Memphis Five doesn’t always get a lot of respect from jazz critics. But it’s best to let the music speak for itself. Every instrument knows its place, and every note is played with easy confidence. It’s not the all-out assault on musical sensibility that the ODJB liked to pretend to be making; instead, it’s headed in the direction of chamber music.

The Original Memphis Five also recorded under the name “Ladd’s Black Aces.” It’s an indication of just how much jazz was changing the rules that, for the first time in American history, it was to the advantage of five white guys to pretend not to be white.


From → Jazz

One Comment
  1. Javier Soria permalink

    The musicians of this group on this recording, are apart from Napoleon and Signorelli, clarinettist Jimmy Lytell, trombonist Charles Panelli and drummer Jack Roth

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