Dixieland, which was developed in New Orleans, is one of the earliest styles of Jazz music. The style combined earlier brass band marches, French Quadrilles, ragtime and blues with collective, polyphonic improvisation. While instrumentation and size of bands can be very flexible, the “standard” band consists of a “front line” of trumpet (or cornet), trombone, and clarinet, with a “rhythm section” of at least two of the following instruments: guitar or banjo, string bass or tuba, piano, and drums.
The term Dixieland became widely used after the advent of the first million-selling hit records of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917. The music has been played continuously since the early part of the 20th century. Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars was the band most popularly identified with Dixieland, although Armstrong’s own influence runs through all of jazz.
The definitive Dixieland sound is created when one instrument (usually the trumpet) plays the melody or a recognizable paraphrase or variation on it, and the other instruments of the “front line” improvise around that melody. This creates a more polyphonic sound than the extremely regimented big band sound or the unison melody of bebop.
The swing era of the 1930s led to the end of many Dixieland Jazz musicians’ careers. Only a few musicians were able to maintain popularity. Most retired.
With the advent of bebop in the 1940s, the earlier group-improvisation style fell out of favor with the majority of younger black players, while some older players of both races continued on in the older style. Though younger musicians developed new forms, many beboppers revered Armstrong, and quoted fragments of his recorded music in their own improvisations.
There was a revival of Dixieland in the late 1940s and 1950s, which brought many semi-retired musicians a measure of fame late in their lives as well as bringing retired musicians back onto the jazz circuit after years of not playing (e.g. Kid Ory). Many Dixieland groups of the revival era consciously imitated the recordings and bands of decades earlier. Other musicians continued to create innovative performances and new tunes. For example, in the 1950s a style called “Progressive Dixieland” sought to blend traditional Dixieland melody with bebop-style rhythm. Steve Lacy played with several such bands early in his career. This style is sometimes called “Dixie-bop.”