Tuesday, January 6, 2009

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band with Louis Armstrong

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Mandy Lee Blues", "I'm Gonna Wear You Off My Mind", "Chimes Blues", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Just Gone", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Canal Street Blues", 1923

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, "Snake Rag", 1923

It was 1922 when the then obscure Kid Ory's Sunshine Orchestra became the first authentic african american jazz band from New Orleans to record. However, these few sides didn't have nearly the impact of the substantial series of recordings that King Oliver's band made for Gennett Records in 1923.

King Oliver was one of the three great Cornet Kings of New Orleans. He was famous for his effects on cornet, where he pioneered the use of mutes, especially the wah-wah style use of the plunger mute. His famous "crying baby" routine was unfortunately never recorded, but you can hear a little bit of his wonderful creamy crying tone especially at the very end of Mandy Leee Blues. (Unfortunately we don't have a You Tube posting of his famous solo on Dippermouth Blues, q.v.) By 1922 he was installed in the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago, where young white aspiring jazz musicians, including eventually a young Bix Beiderbecke, would sneak in and sit transfixed in front of the band stand, watching him in amazement, as well as Johnny Dodds with his incendiary clarinet tone, and his little brother Baby Dodds, who is famous for pioneering the modern trap set.

By 1923, however, King Oliver was suffering from gum disease, and found it difficult to play a complete set. He sent for Louis Armstrong, who around then had been playing on a riverboat on the mississippi. Louis played with a big, open tone, which contrasts with the smaller, plunger-muted tone that King Oliver was still playing at that time. Louis Armstrong's first recorded solo can be heard here on the third cut on the first 'video', "Chimes Blues". It shows his high level of musical training by that point, being a very organised and composed solo, almost like a classical composition exercise.

Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana was the project of the Starr Piano company. The big recording studios were in NYC, and didn't make it out to Chigaco, where the real jazz was happening at that time. Despite being a conservative family of instrument makers with origins in Germany, they knew that african americans were making good music, and they secured their place in american cultural history by being the first to record King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Bix Beiderbecke, and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

However, the studios were not up to the standard of Victor or Columbia. The famous story of the King Oliver recording sessions was how the engineers kept on pushing Louis farther and farther back, because his tone overwhelmed the other musicians on the test pressing, until he was standing in the hall. Even with the primitive recording standards, these sides have a wonderful cheerfulness that, along with the amazing hot solos, demonstrates what kept Bix and the others coming back to Lincoln Gardens night after night back in 1923...

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