The founder and leader of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Nick LaRocca did much to help popularize jazz during the band's existence, although he hurt his own cause decades later by claiming to have been one of jazz's main originators. LaRocca, who had a good tone but was not a major improviser, was self-taught. He co-led a kids band with violinist Henry Young in 1905, freelanced (with Dominic Barocca, Bill Gallity and the Brunies Brothers, among others), and occasionally headed his own group. During 1912-1916, LaRocca frequently played with Papa Jack Laine's Reliance Band. He worked with drummer Johnny Stein in 1915 and left New Orleans to join Stein in Chicago on March 1, 1916. Less than three months later, he broke away and formed the ODJB, which soon included trombonist Eddie Edwards, clarinetist Larry Shields, pianist Henry Ragas (replaced by J. Russell Robinson after his death in 1919), and drummer Tony Sparbaro (later often known as Tony Spargo). The band became quite popular in Chicago and then caused a sensation in New York in 1917 when they opened at Reisenweber's. They became the first jazz band to ever record and, although their style seems very primitive today (playing all ensembles with no solos, and lots of repetition from chorus to chorus with LaRocca largely sticking to the melody), they were light years ahead of all of the other bands that had previously recorded. Their "Livery Stable Blues" (which found the horn players emulating barnyard animals) was a major hit, many of the band's songs (including "Original Dixieland One Step," "At the Jazz Band Ball," "Clarinet Marmalade," "Jazz Me Blues," "Fidgety Feet," and "Tiger Rag") became standards, and their visit to London during 1919-1920 helped introduce jazz to Europe, causing another sensation overseas.
Personality conflicts and the rapid evolution of jazz made the Original Dixieland Jazz Band fairly irrelevant by 1923, and in January 1925, when LaRocca suffered a nervous breakdown, the group broke up. LaRocca returned to New Orleans and had a day job outside of music (running a contracting business). Renewed interest in the group in 1936 found him re-forming the ODJB. LaRoca recorded six remakes with the band that year and also made nine titles with a 14-piece big band that includes Shields, Robinson ,and Sbarbaro. However the "comeback" soon ended and in February 1938, LaRocca retired from music permanently. While other bandmembers occasionally returned to playing (and Tony Spargo did not retire), Nick LaRocca never had any desire to play music again. His voice was recorded in 1959 introducing the musicians on a Southland LP featuring Sharkey Bonano and other New Orleans players; it was released by "Nick LaRocca & His Dixieland Jazz Band," but he did not play a note.