I remember how surprised I was the first time I heard jazz being played in a band featuring a banjo. My jazz education began with my brother's Charlie Parker and Billie Holiday records, and I proceeded to explore what came after that, not their predecessors. It wasn't until I happened to pick up an album by one of the Preservation Hall Jazz Bands that I started to really explore the earlier days.
I had heard some ragtime; it was unavoidable during the seventies when the movie The Sting made Scott Joplin's song "The Entertainer" an instant hit more then fifty years after it had been written; but aside from that nothing. While a lot of the big band music still does nothing for me, although "Jukebox Saturday Night" and a couple of the other swing hits are pretty impressive and there's only so much ragtime piano I can listen to at one sitting, there was something about the banjo and tuba combination of the early jazz that I found appealing.
Historically there are all sorts of social/political strikes against the music with its associations with Minstrel shows and the accompanying denigration of African Americans, and the fact that it was predominately white musicians who were able to reap the rewards from playing what was black music. Even the name that was used to refer to the music, Dixieland, brought to mind images of plantations and slaves.
It's unfortunate that music that's so much fun to listen to, and has been enjoyed by people for over a hundred years, has been laden with this baggage. If you think about it, how different were the rock musicians of the fifties and the sixties who helped themselves to the music of black blues musicians without so much as a by your leave, or white "rappers" who've cashed in on hip hop's popularity?
You shouldn't forget about history, because that's how we end up making the same mistakes over and over again, but you can't hold it against people who had nothing to do with it. Mike Walbridge, Kim Cusack, Don Stiernberg, and Bob Cousins of Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers are four guys who have been playing this style of music for more than fifty years, pretty much for the love of it. The Footwarmers have existed as a part-time band since their founding, as the guys have held down jobs with other bands as well.