Early Jass and Vaudeville
New Orleans music created quite a stir in Chicago in 1915 and Joe Frisco was very much behind it. Comic Frisco and his dancing partner/girlfriend Loretta McDermott came to New Orleans in 1914 to perform their dancing and comedy act at a Bourbon Street honky-tonk called the Pink Poodle. After the act bombed, they were left in the city with little money. They decided to explore and found a place called The Creole with a big sign outside announcing "The Dixieland Five." They went in and loved the music so much that they stayed and spent most of their remaining money dancing and drinking. As luck would have it, they found a booking at an Algiers club called The Nemo Theatre for the following weekend, but they were continually drawn back to see "The Dixieland Five" and worked up such great new dances to this exciting new music that the band took notice and the leader, trombonist Tom Brown, bought them a drink. The band and Frisco and Loretta became such buddies that on their last night in town, Joe and Loretta took to the dance floor by themselves and got more applause then they ever had before. Joe, the comic with a stutter, held up his hand and said, "D-D-Don't applaud, folks, just throw mm-money" and they picked up more money off the floor than they had made in their weekend gig across the river.
When they got back to Chicago they immediately got a gig at Lamb's Cafe and called the New Orleans band to come up to Chicago. It didn't take long before the cafe was packed night after night, which created quite a bit of jealousy among Chicago musicians, who began trying to discredit the New Orleans band by calling their music "jass." At the time, this might have been considered much more of a slur than a compliment, but it didn't stop audience attendance and the cafe finally capitalized on it by putting a sign out in front of the club announcing "Brown's New Orleans Jass Band."
Pictured below is the band as they posed during a vaudeville routine at Lamb's Cafe, Chicago. The band, initially billed as "The Four or Five Rubes of Vaudeville," featured left to right: Unidentified drummer, Tom Brown (trombone), Joe Frisco (dancer), Raymond Lopez (cornet), Larry Shields (clarinet) and Arnold Loyocano (piano). Costumes and vaudeville sketches changed with the 1915 show. In other pictures of the group, they wear long coats and sport beards.
They were so successful that even Chicago mobster Al Capone wanted his picture taken with the band. Below is a picture from that era with Capone holding Tom Brown's trombone case while Frisco dances.
About a year and a half later, in 1917 , the first jazz recording was made by the Original Dixieland Jass Band and jazz would soon be heard around the world. Joe Frisco went to perform at the Ziegfeld Follies and, later, at the epitome of vaudeville stages: The Palace. Below is a piece of sheet music from 1918 called "Frisco's Kitchen Stove Rag," featuring cigar-smoking Frisco billed as the Creator of the Jazz Dance.
Frisco became well known for his jazz dance and had a long career appearing on stages as a comic and dancer across America before eventually moved to Los Angeles where he performed his act in a number of movies. He always loved the horse races where he hung out with Hollywood friends including Bing Crosby. His wit was so admired and loved that stories of his one liners continued long after his passing. A book was written about Frisco's life in 1999.