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ELDER MUSIC: Early Jazz

Posted Sep 27 2009 10:21pm

PeterTibbles75x75You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles ( bio here ) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.

category_bug_eldermusic Edward “Kid” Ory may have been the most influential artist in early jazz inasmuch as he hired many of the great musicians of New Orleans, including King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Johnny Dodds, amongst others.

He lived a long life, unlike many of his contemporaries, retired from music in 1966 and spent his last years in Hawaii. He died in 1973 (he was born in 1886).  So, not all of them went the “live fast, die young” route.

This is Ory’s Creole Trombone (1927).  It’s played by a decent little band consisting of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Johnny Dodds, Lil Hardin and Johnny St. Cyr. These folks could rock.

KidOry

In contrast, Leon Bix Beiderbecke became a legend by playing the cornet brilliantly and drinking too much resulting in his death at 28 (hmm, not 27 like the rock 'n' rollers. I guess the jazz guys had just a bit more stamina). Besides the cornet, he was a skilled classical and jazz pianist.

Bix had suffered health problems from an early age and his health declined further in his adult years. He toured relentlessly, consumed alcohol excessively, much of it low quality, and often somewhat poisonous, prohibition era stuff. His performances began to suffer to such an extent that during his time in a band, another player famously wrote the reminder "Wake up Bix" on a sheet music transcript shortly before Beiderbecke's solo.

This is Singing the Blues (1927) (not the Guy Mitchell song of the same name). Louis Armstrong once remarked that he never played this tune because he thought Bix's recording could not be touched.

Bix Beiderbecke

Jelly Roll Morton was born with the wonderful name, Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe. I don’t know why he changed it. Okay, I do. He’d have got “Ferdie the Moth” no doubt.

He was one of the highly regarded pianists in the early days of jazz. At the age of fourteen, he began working as a piano player in a “sporting house.” While working there, he was living with his very religious great-grandmother and had her convinced that he worked in a barrel factory. His granny eventually found out that he was playing jazz in a local brothel and kicked him out of her house.

He claimed to have invented jazz in 1902, and a good case could be made for that. Of course, there are others who could make the same claim, Buddy Bolden for one.

Morton moved around a bit, recording in Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. It was in his Washington club where he was seriously injured in a knife fight. The nearby whites-only hospital refused to treat him. He was left hanging around at another hospital and didn’t ever fully recover.

Jelly Roll Morton playing and singing Dr Jazz (1926).

JellyRollMorton

Joe “King” Oliver is the link between the rather nebulous prehistory of jazz and its later flowering. He started as trombonist and from about 1907, he played in brass bands, dance bands and in various small groups in New Orleans bars and cabarets. He switched to the cornet (maybe it was easier to carry?) and in that time, took another cornet player, Louis Armstrong, under his wing. He left New Orleans for California and, later, Chicago and New York.

Unfortunately, a succession of managers stole money from him and he lost his life savings during the Depression when his bank collapsed.

He pioneered the use of the mute using various objects – hats, plumber’s friends, bottles, cups - anything that came to hand really.

Many jazz greats (even Miles Davis, not noted for praising many musicians) pay him great respect. Someday Sweetheart (1926). Bert Cobb doing some nice tuba work.

KingOliver

Of course, the one we all want to hear is Buddy Bolden. Unfortunately, not even I can conjure up something for you to listen to for, as far as we know, he left no recordings. Bolden often closed his shows with the tune Get Out of Here and Go Home. You’ve gotta love that.

He suffered an episode of acute psychosis in 1907, at the age of 30 and was admitted to a mental institution where he spent the rest of his life. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia (although it wasn’t called that then) and died in 1931.

BuddyBolden

I won’t bother saying anything about Louis Armstrong. There’s really no need. This is Muskrat Ramble from 1926. It’s the Hot Five, same personal as the Kid Ory tune.

LoiusArmstrong

Those with memories of Woodstock (the film, the record, or even being there) were probably singing along to that one:

One, two, three, what are we fighting for?
Don’t ask me I don’t give a damn
Next stop is Vietnam

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