By Tim Gracyk
from the book "Popular American Recording Pioneers 1895 -1925." If you would like to order a copy of this book, click here for details.
Led by pianist Ernest Borbee, this was among the earliest recording
ensembles characterized as a "jass" group, the third after an Original
Dixieland Jass Band disc was issued in March 1917 by Victor and a
Wilbur C. Sweatman and His Jass Band disc was issued in May 1917 by Pathé
(the fourth group identified on records as a "jass" ensemble was the Frisco
"Jass" Band, an Edison group led by Rudy Wiedoeft). Though Columbia's first
so-called "jass" group, Borbee's musicians in fact played dance music in a
genteel fashion typical of its time. This was not the boisterous music of
Dixieland Jass Band, Sweatman, Earl Fuller's Famous Jazz Band, or others who played "jass" in this period.
The orchestra made its recording debut on February 14, 1917 with Josephine
Vail's "It's A Long, Long Time" (a fox trot) and Harry Von Tilzer's "Just
The Kind Of A Girl You'd Love To Make Your Wife" (a one- step), issued on
Columbia A2233 in July 1917. Columbia's next "jass" record was issued weeks
later, on August 10. This was the Original Dixieland Jass Band's sole disc made for the American company (A2297), featuring "Indiana" and "Darktown Strutters' Ball," cut on May 31, 1917.
Brian Rust's American Dance Band Discography gives the name Borbee's Tango
Orchestra because Columbia files reveal that the band recorded as the Tango
Orchestra at its first session. However, the label for Columbia A2233 gives
the name as Borbee's "Jass" Orchestra. The band was evidently renamed a
"jass" orchestra at the time of the disc's release to take advantage of the
Dixieland Jass Band success--both as a live act at Reisenweber's and also as a Victor
recording ensemble--and the craze for the new dance music. It is unlikely
that Borbee's musicians knew, when recording in mid-February, that they
would be identified as "jass" musicians when their debut record was issued
in July. In July Columbia also issued Prince's Band performing the Von
Holstein and Sanders' hit "Hong Kong," identified on records as a "Jazz
One-Step," probably the first time "jazz"- -as opposed to "jass"--appears on
a label. Clearly Columbia executives wanted to exploit the craze but had
not successfully recorded any "jass" artists in early 1917. The Original
Dixieland Jass Band had
auditioned for Columbia in late January but did not record at that time.
On August 17, 1917, Borbee's "Jass" Orchestra recorded two additional
titles for Columbia, "Paddle-Addle" (identified as a fox trot) and "The
Ragtime Volunteers Are Off To War" (a one-step), issued as A2363 in
In 1923, Ernest Borbee recorded five titles for the small Olympic label as
pianist for the Original Georgia Five. Page 94 of the June 1923 issue of
Metronome announced that the band had formed a corporation, The Original
Georgia Five, Inc., "to protect their name from imposters." The five
musicians, led by trombonist William Drewes, had been together "for the past
four years." The article states, "The remarkable feature of the
organization is that no member is more than twenty-three years of age." If
this was true, then Borbee was a teenager when he made his first records in
1917. Metronome includes a photograph of band members, Borbee at the piano.
At the time the band was booked for a long engagement at Brooklyn's Rosemont
Borbee is otherwise obscure. In Jazz: The American Theme Song (Oxford
University Press, 1993), James Lincoln Collier states, "In view of some
sixty years of grousing over the fact that a white group has the honor of
making the first jazz record, it is worth noting that a black group,
Borbee's 'Jass' Orchestra, was the first to issue a record with the word
'jazz' on it; the Borbee group, however, was by no means a jazz band."
Actually, the word "jass" is on the label, not "jazz." Also, Borbee's
Columbia disc was issued months after the Original Dixieland Jass Band's
first Victor disc (18255) was released in mid- April 1917 (Victor quickly
placed this "jass" disc on the market, eager to take advantage of the Original
Dixieland Jass Band popularity at Reisenweber's). A photograph in Columbia's September 1919 catalog of Borbee's "Jass" Orchestra (shown are five musicians--violin, piano, two banjos and drums) establishes that the musicians were white.
If you would like to order a copy of "Popular American Recording Pioneers 1895 -1925" click here for details.
Thanks to Verne Buland for the audio restoration of the songs on this page.