Salonika … and all that jazz!

Yesterday (26th February) was the centenary of the what is reckoned to be the first ever commercial jazz recording: Livery Stable Blues by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (they had to change ‘Jass’ to ‘Jazz’ because naughty children kept scratching the ‘J’ out on their posters!).

So what’s this got to do with the Salonika Campaign? Probably nothing, is the short answer. It’s a novelty record of little musical merit and, because it’s a white band playing black music, it has fuelled a centenary of controversy about the origins of jazz. That’s certainly something I don’t want to get embroiled in here, but it set me thinking about when jazz arrived in Salonika.

Salonika was a cosmopolitan and entrepreneurial port city and, although there were no US troops, there were people from the Balkans who had spent time in the USA. Is it too fanciful to think that sheet music and gramophone records of jazz made their way to Salonika in the latter stages of the war? American songs and minstrel shows were popular in Britain in the early years of the century – and featured in army concert parties – so why not this later style of music? Unfortunately the writers of diaries and memoirs rarely name the tunes they listened to or sang, so we are left guessing.

If you have any thoughts on this or have even found a reference to jazz in Macedonia during 1917-18, please let me know.

Author: Andy Hutt

Andy's interest in the campaign comes from his grandfather, Arthur, who served in Salonika as a sapper with the Royal Engineers from 1916-1918. Opinions expressed in these posts are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Society.

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