The intersection of Exchange Alley and Canal Street reflects jazz's early roots in youth culture and community, as well as Canal Street prominence as a commercial corridor.
On December 13, 1915, Chicago café owner Harry James discovered a young ragtime band playing on Canal Street in which the meeting eventually led to the recruitment and formation of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) in Chicago. The ODJB went on to make the first jazz record "Livery Stable Blues" in New York on February 26, 1917.
The original members Nick Larocca, Alcide Nunez, Johnny Stein , Manuel Mello, Tony Sbarbaro, and Larry Shields came from historically marginalized white immigrant communities, which were attracted to the vernacular dance music eventually known as jazz.
The adjacent 100 block of Exchange Alley was where young white musicians, such as the original members of the ODJB, tried to pick up music work and gigs with "Papa" Jack Laine’s Reliance (brass) Band. Such musicians likely offered non-union costs, in competition with the American Federation of Musicians Local #174 white union nearby on Iberville Street.
In the early 20th century, Canal Street served as the city's main commercial center. Lined with department stores, the wide thoroughfare brought street cars from all over the city, and hosted jazz bands playing music (known as a "ballyhoo" for promoting businesses.
"...around Exchange Alley, by Martin's [Bar] --you could go there and fill up, you understand, and get free lunch. And you could go in there and buy a beer. And if you were hungry you could get a big sandwich. And if you could eat another sandwich, get another beer and get another sandwich." Trumpeter Batiste Steckler, Hogan Jazz Archive