He played piano with the Original Dixieland Jass Band on their earliest recording sessions. As such, he is the very first jazz pianist to be recorded (not counting piano rolls), although his contributions are barely audible due to the primitive recording equipment available. His role in the band was to fill out the chords and to provide a bass line. He did not play solos on the recordings.
Ragas gained experience as a solo pianist during the period from 1910 to 1913. He traveled with Johnny Stein's band to Chicago in 1916 and subsequently left the group in order to form the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB). The ODJB, the first jazz group to ever record, became a major hit in 1917. Ragas was on the band's first 21 recordings including "Bluin' The Blues", which he composed.
He played on many Original Dixieland Jass Band classics and standards such as "Livery Stable Blues", regarded as the first jazz recording, "Tiger Rag", one of the most recorded songs in jazz history, "Clarinet Marmalade", "Fidgety Feet", "At the Jazz Band Ball", "Sensation Rag", "Bluin' the Blues", and "Dixieland Jass Band One-Step". He died of Spanish Flu in 1919, his place in the group being taken by ragtime and jazz pianist and composer J. Russel Robinson.
Henry Ragas was a pioneering jazz pianist who was influential on later jazz bands that emerged in the 1930s and 1920s. "Tiger Rag" and "Clarinet Marmalade" were among the most important and most influential jazz recordings of all time.
Compositions by Henry Ragas
- Yanow, Scott. "Henry W. Ragas: Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2 April 2011.
- U.S. Library of Congress, National Jukebox, featuring original ODJB recordings on Victor.
- Wilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band's recording of Henry Ragas' composition "Bluin' the Blues" (December 5, 1918) at the Internet Archive.