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Audrey Van Dyke and Gary Edwards
Technical assistance by Tom Roberts

We are about to embark on an exciting journey of mystery, false clues, dead ends, and smoking guns in an effort to determine whether one composition of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band- and not only a composition, but the band’s first published composition - has languished unnoticed for decades.

   Very little that was done by the ODJB has escaped notice. The output of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band is well known to the jazz community. It was the first “Jazz” band calling itself by this term to make a significant public impact, both as a performing and recording ensemble. It recordings have been scrutinized. Its original compositions have been widely performed in concerts and covered by other recording musicians since 1917. Overall, the ODJB is not a band that has been overlooked.

The Body

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Exhibit 1
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A good mystery requires a body, and the body in this case is a piece of sheet music titled Brown Skin, Who’re You For? The Singing One Step.

   Outwardly it bears no distinguishing characteristics to alert the ODJB detective that it is of any interest and importance. The composers are listed as Roy Barton and Jerry Mills, with no differentiation for lyricist and composer.

The Mystery Unfolds

We now take the body and perform an autopsy by lifting the cover page and examining the copyright page. A mystery emerges! Mr. Mills’s name is discarded and two new names suddenly appear, stating that the song is by: SAM SELIGMAN, ROY BARTON, and the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND. (Capitalization is as it appears on the copyright page).

Exhibit 2
Prompt detective work is more confusing than enlightening, since the Library of Congress Exhibit 2: copyright files register Roy Barton as the composer and Jerry Mills as lyricist, and ignore the mention of Seligman and the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND. Why is this? Who is the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND? Is it really the ODJB and if so, why isn’t Brown Skin counted anywhere as one of its compositions? We are now ready to form a hypothesis to prove or disprove.

The Hypothesis:

The ODJB is one and the same with the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND, and significantly contributed to the composition of Brown Skin. Should this hypothesis prove true, let us take a brief reality check to figure out why we should care. One reason to care is that the world would get a new ODJB tune. We employed specialist music detective Tom Roberts for this conclusion. Mr. Roberts is a well known jazz pianist, a font of knowledge on early jazz, and has participated in recording projects involving the music of the ODJB. He agreeably played through Brown Skin to compare it to other ODJB songs, and concluded that it is not an early version of any other ODJB song, but is a new tune altogether.

   The second reason to care: Brown Skin, if composed by the ODJB, would be the first ODJB composition copyrighted. Historians love firsts, so it can be taken on faith that this is intrinsically exciting. The details here become slightly academic, but stick with us. The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, written by H. O. Brunn, states that some of the ODJB tunes, such as Sensation, Tiger Rag and Ostrich Walk were written as early as 1912 and 1914. What can be documented and proved at this late date, however, is when these tunes were actually copyrighted and/or recorded. The Library of Congress copyright files indicate that these three ODJB compositions were not registered for copyright until 1917. Let us pause in 1917 - the year the ODJB began recording, which in itself is a major landmark in jazz history. This was also the year when the publishing house of Leo Feist, Inc. began to publish the ODJB songs. All three of these ODJB tunes were copyrighted in May of 1917 by Max Hart (who was acting as an agent for the ODJB), and then registered again for copyright in September 1917 by Leo Feist, Inc. Up until now, it was thought that these 1917 recordings and copyrights were the first documented output of the ODJB. But our own mystery tune could change that. Brown Skin, if it is an ODJB publication, enters the picture in 1916, and would be a new first.

Bad News for the Hypothesis:

Why isn’t Brown Skin connected anywhere with the ODJB? Hot on the trail of proving or disproving the hypothesis, we will take on the negative clues first, that would tend to say the ODJB did not write Brown Skin. The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band by H.O. Brunn lists compositions of the band, but does not mention Brown Skin. Various other reference books with chapters on or discussion of the ODJB make no connection between Brown Skin and the ODJB. If Brown Skin is in fact an ODJB composition, why is it never mentioned in the many references to the ODJB?

The False Clue:

While the obvious reason for not connecting the ODJB to Brown Skin is the hidden name on the inside of the sheet music, another reason for not realizing that the ODJB composed Brown Skin is the planting of the proverbial false clue: the other Brown Skin! While researching this hypothesis, we found that there was some awareness in the jazz community that the ODJB had been advertised as performing a song called Brown Skin. However, there was another Brown Skin Who You For, written by Armand Piron and Clarence Williams, published in 1915 by Williams and Piron, which was recorded more than once by other jazz groups. It thus had been assumed that any references to the ODJB performing Brown Skin related to the 1915 song.

   Time out for a brief footnote to discuss and compare the other Brown Skin for those interested in such details. The lyrics are dissimilar. And while the other Brown Skin and the ODJB Brown Skin bear the same subtitle, “Who’re You For,” the ODJB tune uses the subtitle as the basis of its chorus. The chorus is a call and answer pattern along the lines of “Who’re you for Sweet Mama? I’m for you Sweet Papa.” The other Brown Skin, however, except for the subtitle itself, never uses the phrase “Who’re you for.” One possibility is that the phrase “Brown Skin, who you for” was at one time commonly in use among musicians in New Orleans, and these two combinations of New Orleans musicians just took it in two different directions. As far as any musical relationship, Tom Roberts took on with good grace the additional tasking of playing through both Brown Skins to give us his expert musical opinion. His considered opinion when comparing the two tunes is: “they’re completely different songs.”

Things Get Gloomier for the Hypothesis:

We cannot ignore the fact that the ODJB did not record Brown Skin. The ODJB had a tendency to record its own songs. In fact, comparing the songs written by the ODJB with the songs recorded by the ODJB, as listed in the Brunn book, they recorded all of their own songs published during their early years except the 1920 Ramblin’ Blues. (The publication of compositions by single members of the ODJB such as J. Russel Robinson are not considered early ODJB songs for purposes of this statement.)

But Then Who Is The Original Dixie Jazz Band?

When asking other sheet music collectors over the past few years if anybody knew anything about the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND as seen in exhibit 2, the consensus was that the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND quite possibly is the ODJB, since it was in Chicago in 1916, and Will Rossiter is a Chicago publisher, but nobody had any hard evidence to link the song to the ODJB. It was an intriguing possibility, but it remained only that.

The Smoking Gun Makes Its Appearance:

Gary Edwards, the grandson of ODJB trombonist Eddie Edwards has solved the first half of the mystery and documented that the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND of Brown Skin is the ODJB. Gary entered our detective story when one day he sent me an email identifying himself as Eddie Edward’s grandson and asking about the possibility of selling or trading to him a particular piece of sheet music with a photo of the ODJB on the cover. On the second or third round of emails, the question finally came up as to, by the way, did he have any info on whether the original DIXIE JAZZ BAND that was listed on the copyright page of Brown Skin was the ODJB.

   Pay dirt! Gary immediately emailed back that indeed it was, that he and his mother have always known this to be an ODJB song, and that he had documentation to prove it. He mailed off copies of the documents, some of which are reprinted here with his permission.

Smoking Gun Number One:
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Exhibit 3
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First and most conclusive is a postcard of the ODJB advertising their gig at Reisenwebers in New York, which began in 1917. The postcard states that it is a souvenir of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band at Reisenwebers, N.Y. City, popularizing Walkin the Dog, Darktown Strutter’s Ball, and “their own New Orleans Creation Brown Skin.”

Son of Smoking Gun:
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Exhibit 4
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A second indication of the ODJB tie to Brown Skin is a newspaper ad for Will Rossiter, Chicago-based publisher of the 1916 Brown Skin. The advertisement has the name Brown Skin in large caps, then in small print underneath states “Original Dixieland Jazz Band - Riot - At Reisenwebers.”

An earlier and slightly more tenuous link of the ODJB to Rossiter is an inquiry made in October 1916 by Max Hart, who shortly thereafter became an agent for the ODJB, asking whether Rossiter could provide information about a “Jas Band which you have.”

Exhibit 5
October 1916 is a few months after the copyright date of Brown Skin.

Daughter of Smoking Gun:

A third clue is a photo of the ODJB, titled the Dixie Jazz Band, just as the name in Exhibit 3 appears in the 1916 Brown Skin sheet music.

Exhibit 6

All who are interested in arcane discussions of names and dates in an attempt to date the photo, dare to enter here. This photo has a Chicago photographer’s stamp on it, and depicts the group when it had Tony Sbarbaro at drums. This places the photo after May 25, 1916, the day that Ragas, Edwards, LaRocca and Nunez resigned from their gig in Chicago which had included Johnny Stein at the drums, leaving Johnny Stein behind.
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Exhibit 7
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The four that resigned shortly thereafter replaced Johnny Stein with Tony Sbarbaro on drums, and continued together as a band. The photo also has Yellow Nunez playing the clarinet, which places it before October 31, 1916, the date on which Nunez parted company with the band, to be replaced by Larry Shields in November 1916. Thus the photo was taken sometime during May-October 1916. Falling into place nicely, is the exact date of the 1916 copyright of Brown Skin: July 12, 1916, during the five month period when this photo would have been taken. This means we have a photo and a piece of sheet music, both dating to approximately the same timeframe in 1916, both calling the group the “Dixie Jazz Band.”

   Don Farwell proved an able accessory in our game of Clue by giving us another tie-in to the use of Dixie (the band became famous as the Original “Dixieland” Jazz Band, not the “Dixie” Jazz Band). The original title of the Original Dixieland One Step (an ODJB tune), according to Brian Rust’s discography, is Dixie Jass Band One-Step. (Victor 18255; matrix 19332-3; Dixie Jass Band One-Step, intro. That Teasin’ Rag, Feb. 26, 1917)

A Bow to Tradition:
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Enlarged from Exhibit 1
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Finally, oral history ties the ODJB to Brown Skin. Gary Edwards reports that his family has always considered this to be an ODJB composition, and in fact, the copy his mother has kept framed and hanging on her wall is signed by Eddie Edwards. There is no direct quote to report - no “Yes my grandson, we ourselves came up with the tune,” but signing, framing, and presenting to his descendents is a tacit acknowledgment of some tie to the tune.

A Partial Solution:

Precisely half of the mystery is solved. There is sufficient proof that the Original DIXIE JAZZ BAND of Brown Skin is in fact the ODJB.

But Was It The First Publication?

Tim Gracyk, an active and respected jazz collector and writer points out that the claim of this being the first ODJB publication, dating to 1916, is subject to some challenges. He points out that the use of the word “jazz” in the band’s credit, instead of jas or jass, is more indicative of 1917 than 1916. This suggests to him that despite the copyright date, the music could have been first published in 1917, or reprinted in 1917 with the credit to the Dixie Jazz Band appearing for the first time. Possible responses to Tim’s point are that the back cover of some of the Brown Skin copies I’ve seen, always a useful indicator as to the actual date of publication, features a newspaper article from 1916, which suggests that it was published, as well as copyrighted in 1916. Another valid response is the existence of the photo from 1916 with the caption “Dixie Jazz Band” on the photo shown in exhibit 6. (Of course there is always the possibility that although the photo is beyond doubt the product of those important few months in 1916, the caption “Dixie Jazz Band” could have been added later.)

   The second possibility, however, of a 1917 reprinting adding the “Dixie Jazz Band” to the credits, requires an earlier publication from 1916 without that credit. All copies we have seen to date of Brown Skin include the credit to the Dixie Jazz Band.

   Another more roundabout indicator that Brown Skin was published in 1916 is the telegram from Max Hart, who later became the agent for the ODJB, to Rossiter in October of 1916 asking for information on a “Jas Band which you have.” The only association that has come to light so far of Rossiter with a Jazz or Jas or Jass band in general, and the ODJB in particular, by October of 1916 is the publication by Rossiter of Brown Skin with its credit to the Dixie Jazz Band. This suggests that Brown Skin would have been in print by October 1916 for Max Hart, in New York, to be aware of it.

And What Was the Role of the ODJB?

The jazz detective’s work is never done. There remains the unanswered question of what did the ODJB contribute to the composition of Brown Skin, considering that three other co-composers are listed on the sheet music. This is the point at which the detectives traditionally gather all the suspects together in one room ready for the final denouncement. Unfortunately, our suspects are no longer among the living, and far too many legitimate but different deductions can be made with the facts at hand.

   My own conjecture is that the ODJB did contribute to the composition of Brown Skin. The advertisement of the song as “their own New Orleans creation” argues that the contribution of the ODJB was considerable, as does Eddie Edwards’ acknowledgment of the song. And the existence of another Brown Skin Who You For, by two other New Orleans composers, indicates that the concept for the song does in fact originate in the musical melting pot that was New Orleans, which is another tie-in to the ODJB, a New Orleans group. The members of the ODJB were in a ferment of creative composition during their early years together, which makes the composition of one more tune from that time to be not a startling concept.

   Tim Gracyk raises the possibility that the ODJB had no part in the composition of the song, but was added to the inside page with a credit in exchange for agreeing to perform and publicize the song. This was certainly a common enough practice. To counter this, there is the advertisement of Brown Skin in connection with the ODJB as “their own New Orleans creation.” But all these points and counterpoints for the second half of our hypothesis are in the realm of suggestions and inferences. The published music itself has a date of 1916 and states that it is “by” four composers, one of which we have sufficiently identified as the ODJB. (Mr. Gracyk notes that he does agree that the reference “original DIXIE JAZZ BAND” refers to the ODJB.) There are questions regarding the level of involvement of the ODJB, and Mr. Gracyk has raised a few of them. Assuredly, there are more arguments on both sides.

The Dead End:

Some history on the other three co-composers, to determine the likely nature of their contributions, would be useful, but initial efforts to find out something about two of the three other composers have been largely unsuccessful. The third co-composer does have some songwriting credentials. Roy Barton was a composer published in Chicago, writing such tunes as Far From Home All Alone published by Victor Kremer Co. in 1909 (a sentimental ballad) and a more sprightly tune, The Charlie Chaplin Walk, New Fox Trot Song, published by Rossiter in 1915. It is likely therefore that he played some role in composing and/or arranging Brown Skin. Checks on the other co-composers in the card files in the Music Reading Room at Library of Congress, the copyright files in the Copyright office by composer names for 1898-1937, and a multitude of composer reference books on the shelves at Library of Congress, including several ASCAP editions, all came up blank. Any information would be welcomed.

Beyond the Hypothesis:

While tracking down the history of Brown Skin can be a completely pleasurable end in itself, the real end should be the availability of the music, now in the public domain. If interested, contact Audrey at (703) 684-3522.

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