NEW ORLEANS: THE LIVING LEGENDS
PART 1 (RLP-356)
1.“SWEET EMMA” BARRETT AND HER DIXIELAND BOYS:
St. Louis Blues (5:00) (W. C. Handy) Emma Barrett (p, vcl) Percy Humphrey (tp)
Jim Robinson (tb) Willie Humphrey (cl) Emmanuel Sayles (g)
McNeal Breaux (b) Josiah Fraiser (drs) January 25, 1961
2.JIM ROBINSON’S NEW ORLEAS BAND:
Take My Hand, Precious Lord (2:54) (traditional/ arr. Jim Robinson)
Jim Robinson (tb) Ernest Cagnolatti (tp) Louis Cottrell (cl)
“Creole George” Gussnon (bj) Alcide “Slow Drag” Pavageau (b) Alfred Williams (drs) Annie Pavageau (vcl) January 24, 1961
3.PERCY HUMPHREY’S CRESCENT CITY JOYMAKERS:
I Shall Walk Through the Street of the City (3:18) (traditional/ arr. Percy Humphrey) Percy Humphrey (tp) Louis Nelson (tb) Albert Burbank (cl)
Emmanuel Sayles (bj) Louis James (b) Hosiah Fraiser (drs) January 24.
4.BILLIE AND DEDE PIERCE:
Billie’s Gumbo Blues (3:24) (Billie Pierce) Dede Pierce (cnt) Billie Pierce (p) Albert Jiles (drs) January 27.
5.KID THOMAS AND HIS ALGIERS STOMPERS:
Mack the Knife (4:36) (Kurt Weill) Kid Thomas (tp) Louis Nelson (tb) Albert Burbank (cl) Joe James (p) Homer Eugene (bj) Joseph Butler (b)
Samuel Penn (drs) January 29.
1.JIM ROBINSON’S NEW ORLEANS BAND:
Yearning (3:52) (Davis – Burke) Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #2. No vocal. January 24.
2.BILLIE AND DEDE PIERCE:
Good Tonk Blues (5:25) (Billie Pierce) Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #4 – with vocal by Billie Pierce. January 27.
3.LOUIS COTTRELL TRIO:
Down by the Riverside (2:48) (trad./ arr. Louis Cottrell) Louis Cottrell (cl) Emmanuel Sayles (g) McNeal Breaux (b) January 27.
4.PERCY HUMPHREY’S CRESCENT CITY JOYMAKERS:
Rip ‘Em Up Joe (4:34) (trad./ arr. Percy Humphrey) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #3. January 24.
5.KID THOMAS AND HIS ALGIERS STOMPERS:
Jada (2:09) (Bob Carleton) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #5 – except Emil Barnes (cl) re-places Burbank; omit banjo. August 18, 1960.
PART 2 (RLP-357)
1.“SWEET EMMA” BARRETT AND HER DIXIELAND BOYS:
High Society (4:08) (trad./ arr. Emma Barrett) – Same personnel as for Part 1, #1. No vocal. January 25, 1961
2.KID THOMAS AND HIS ALGIERS STOMPERS:
Panama (3:02) (William Tyler) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #5. January 29.
3.JIM ROBINSON’ SNEW ORLEANS BAND:
Somebody Else Is Taking My Place (3:52) (Ellsworth – Howard – Morgan) Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #2. No vocal. January 24.
4.PETER BOCAGE AND HIS CREOLE SERENADERS:
Bouncing Around (4:25) (Bocage – Piron) – Peter Bocage (tp) Homer Eugene (tb) Louis Cottrell (cl) Benjamin Turner (p) Sidney Pflueger (el-g)
McNeal Breaux (b) Alfred Williams (drs) January 26.
5.PERCY HUMPHREY’S CRESCENT CITY JOYMAKERS:
Climax (3:34) (James Scott) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #3. January 24.
1.“SWEET EMMA” BARRETT AND HER DIXIELAND BOYS:
Sweet Emma’s Blues (4:08) (Emma Barrett) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #1. No vocal. January 25.
2.PETER BOCAGE AD HIS CREOLE SERENADERS:
Mama’s Gone Goodbye (3:14) (Bocage – Piron) – Same personnel as for Part 2, Side 1, #1. January 26.
3.LOUIS COTTRELL TRIO:
You Don’t Love Me (3:39) (Louis Cottrell) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 2, #3. January 27.
4.BILLIE AND DEDE PIERCE:
Freight Train Moanin’ Blues (4:41) (Billie Pierce ) – Same personnel as for Part 1, Side 1, #4. Vocal by Billie Pierce. January 27.
5.THE LOVE-JILES RAGTIME ORCHESTRA:
West Indies Blues (2:08) (C. and S. Williams) – Peter Bocage (vln, tp) Charlie Love (tp) Albert Warner (tb) Paul Barnes (cl) Emanuel Sayles (bj)
Auguste Lanoix (b) Albert Jiles (drs) June 12, 1060.
Recorded in New Orleans. Part 1, Side 2, #5, and Part 2, Side 2, #5 recorded at Tulane University.
All other selections recorded at the hall of the Societe Des Jeunes Amis.
This is the first release in a series of musically and historically significant recordings which will always bring to mind one of this writer’s most memorable assignments. When Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews, Riverside’s chiefs of staff, issued the order to go to New Orleans and record what is left of the authentic jazz in that colorful city, I frankly expected to return to New York with pates of archaic, time-worm and out-of-tune instrumental fumblings. Instead I found that the old-time musicians had not only retained the happy spirit, but that they also still show excellent musicianship and the abundant drive which has traditionally been a mark of Crescent City jazz. This two-album set, complete in itself as a cross-section of New Orleans jazz today, can also serve to introduce the full series of recordings.
After the 1917 closing of “Storyville,” the famed New Orleans red-light district which had given employment to many of the greatest jazz pioneers, most musicians moved north, by way of the Mississippi, to Chicago. Yes, there is truth to the old story that “jazz moved up the river” – but not all the musicians left. Some stayed behind, where they have remained in relative obscurity ever since. These men are not nearly as well-known as their nomadic colleagues, simply because the center of jazz activity shifted to Chicago and, later, New York and elsewhere. Their names are actually better known than their music, because they have often been referred to by Armstrong, Bechet and other successful “home-town” musicians. Thus many of these men are literally legendary but, as these recordings testify, they are living legends, and very much …
It was on a Friday night, late in January of 1961, that Riversid’es mobile recording unit made its way through a New York snowstorm. Destination: New Orleans. Arriving there the following Sunday afternoon, we were immediately brought to an enormous hall that once had housed a furniture store, on Royal Street in the colorful French Quarter. There a large gathering of people from assorted walks of life were gathered for an informal New Orleans jam-session. Huddled around the old upright in the corner were the Algiers Stompers, with KID THOMAS leading them through a swinging version of Panama that could be heard several blocks away. There was no fumbling here; the Stompers got right down to business and it was a swinging business indeed.
Later that evening an elderly lady walked in the door, her stately face beaming as she led her blind husband across the old wooden floor. “It’s Billie and Dede,” someone called out, and a look at the crowd quickly conveyed the message that something good was about to happen. It did, for the newly arrived were BILLIE and DEDE PIERCE, whose fond treatment of the blues brought back the mood of the old Paramount 78’s of the 1920s. The blues-singing pianist and her cornet-playing husband were immediately added to our recording schedule and this album contains three selections by them, one of which is an instrumental.
The first session took place on Tuesday, January 24. By this time we had heard enough fine jazz to realize that the whole trip was bound to be well worthwhile. To make the musicians feel as much at home as possible we avoided a studio and instead rented an old meeting hall on North Robertson street in the French Quarter. This hall, a well-known meeting place for many decades, belongs to the Society des Jeunes Amis (Society of Young Friends) and, of cables, microphones, mixers, etc., looked rather incongruous in this setting of gilded opulence, the acoustics were ideally suited for our purpose.
The first group to be recorded was JIM ROBINSON’s New Orleans Band. Jim a veteran of the bands of Bunk Johnson and, later, George Lewis, and made his first recordings in the early ‘20s when he participated in four sides by Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band. He couldn’t remember any of the tunes from that date, so we set up our speakers and played the original recording of Bogalusa Strut. The musicians listened silently and attentively for a few moments. Then “CREOLE” GEORGE GUENSON began to pick out the chords on his old, flower-decorated banjo. This set off a magic spark and soon the others were joining it, one by one, until suddenly the old tune came to life again, the thin, tinny sound of the old recording replaced by the vigorous, full sound of the eternally young musicians who sat before us. Robinson was playing the figures that had bellowed from his trombone almost four decades ago! It was an incredibly exciting experience and one of the many unforgettable moments that occurred during our stay in the birthplace of jazz.
Jim’s clarinetist, LOUIS COTTRELL, was revelation. He had previously recorded only a few sides back in the ‘30s, simply because he is president of the Negro musician’s union local and, since recent jazz recording projects in New Orleans have largely been conducted on a nonunion basis with fees either below scale or nonexistent, no one had dared approach him! (This was actually the first time that a large-scale project of this nature had been undertaken through proper channels Recognizing the historic importance and last-chance nature of these recordings of jazz veterans, the American Federation of Musicians had granted Riverside a virtually unprecedented dispensation to intermingle union and non-union musicians on these sessions, when necessary. As it turned out, only two non-union men were recorded – others used their recordings fee to get re-instated!) As for Cottrell’s playing, we enjoyed it so much that we decided to add an album by his trio to our already crowded schedule. That date is represented here by two selections. The occasional similarity of Cottrell’s clarinet to that of Barney Bigard is no accident, incidentally. Both men were students of the early great, Lorenzo Tio.
Jim Robinson’s band finished recording in only three hours that first afternoon. But the same evening, we were busy again as PERCY HUMPHREY’s Crescent City Joymakers arrived at the hall. Trumpeter Humphrey is the current leader of the celebrated Eureka Brass Band. A stout, distinguished-looking gentleman, he is also a successful insurance broker, a fact one tends to forget when one hears him play, but nevertheless an important fact, emphasizing that there is just not enough work available to make a living through music. As late as the early ‘50s, many of the Negro bands were to be heard regularly in clubs around the city. But today’s tourist (unless he looks extremely poor, commercialized Dixieland music, which seems to pour forth from every other club on Bourbon Street. It’s ironic to think that the old New Orleans jazzmen, who are idolized by thousands of staunch fans overseas, cannot find work in their own country.
The only occasions on which the general public can hear these musicians is during street parades. For that one tradition at least has been maintained. The number of marching bands and their size depends largely on the occasion, but it is always a thrilling experience to see such parade come down the street with the band blaring forth contagious rhythms while completely uninhibited followers dance down the street alongside them. Although the tradition remains, only one organized band – the Eureka – can be considered truly authentic. For Percy Humphrey is a strict leader. (Such other bands as the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, consist of younger musicians. Their repertoire is the same, but their style must be described as slightly more modern.) Percy’s trumpet has been heard on a few previous records but never before like this. With the melodic, swinging trombone of LOUIS NELSON and the soaring clarinet of ALBERT BURBANK completing the front line, the band truly lives up to its honored name. Its remarkable spirit is well demonstrated on the three selections here.
“SWEET EMMA” BARRETT made her record debut the following day, January 25th. Once again we used Percy Humphrey and Jim Robinson. Apart from the fact that both are extremely fine musicians, this and other repetition of personnel here is due to the startling (and shocking) circumstance that there remain only twenty-seven living musicians still able to play in the true New Orleans tradition! The session was about to get underway when photographer Ralston Crawford, speaking with an authority born of many previous trips here asked: “Where are Emma’s bells?” This question puzzled us until we found out that Emma’s nickname is “The Bell Gal” because she wears red silk garters and a red cap, all with small bells, which tinkle during her piano solos. This revelation was too intriguing for us not to do something about it – so Emma was promptly dispatched to fetch her bells. A half-hour later she returned in a red suit, complete with garters, cap and bells, the tape started rolling and a new sound was recorded for posterity: “The Bell Gal,” complete with piano, voice, and bells.
Possibly the most legendary figure of all those we encountered was PETER BOCAGE, whose Creole Serenaders entered the old hall the following morning. Bocage is in his mid-seventies and he can recall hearing the legendary Buddy Bolden (“just a loud, strong trumpet player who played the blues”) and Sidney Bechet (“a little kid who used to sneak under the porch with his brother’s clarinet”). An impressive-looking, white-haired gentleman, Bocage had played violin in one of King Oliver’s earliest bands. He later co-led a group with Armand Piron, with whom he wrote such tunes as “Mama’s Gone, Goodbye” and “Bouncing Around,” both played by his Serenaders on this album. Today, Bocage is a well-to-do retired insurance man who only occasionally brings out his violin or trumpet. We were fortunate that this was one such occasion. Cottrell is again on clarinet, with Homer Eugene (who later revealed equal skill on the banjo) on trombone. The rhythm section is parked by Alfred Williams, whose bass drums with its hand-painted Dutch motif was a joy to behold; and bassist McNeal Breaux, who is also a restaurateur and excellent cook (to which a memorable Sunday afternoon luncheon offered testimony).
After spending and entire evening in the home of Billie and Dede Pierce, going through repertoire for the following day’s session, we ended up recording and entirely different set of selections. For Billie has a wealth of blues lyrics stored in her memory – but she cannot remember the same ones from one day to the next! This was certainly the most unusual of our New Orleans sessions: we decided to keep the tape machines rolling throughout, since whenever Billie recalled another blues (which was quite often), she would immediately and with absolutely no warning proceed to play and sing, with Dede picking up the tune on his cornet. There was also no such thing as a second ‘take’ of number – for Billie would never sing the same blues twice without drastically changing the words.
After the session we were treated to creole gumbo, a dish for which Billie is well known and which contains (among other ingredients) crabs, shrimp, oysters, beef, rice, and a variety of spices. We were told that this was real gumbo, for it is never removed from the stove! The gas remains lit under the pot year after (this particular gumbo had reputedly been started three years earlier), and one just removes servings as needed, meanwhile adding more ingredients each week to keep the quantity up!
On Monday, January 30, we once again made our way to the hall, where Kid Thomas and his Algiers Stompers awaited us. We had intended to use EMIL BARNES on clarinet for this session, but although the veteran reed man had come out of retirement to record only a few months earlier, he was now too weak to perform, a striking reminder of how slender a thread the living New Orleans jazz tradition now hangs by. Fortunately, we were able to secure rights to those recent recordings, which had been made at Tulane University on the initiative of Herb Friedwald, and thus Barnes is to be heard on one selection in this set. (One other selection in this album was also recorded earlier at Tulane – the Love-Jiles Ragtime Orchestra number on Side 2 of Part 2. It too was subsequently acquired by Riverside and issued here for the first time.)
With Barnes unavailable, and emergency call was sent out for Albert Burbank, who lives just around the corner from the hall and arrived in short order to complete the Kid Thomas lineup. Thomas himself is in his late seventies, but remains active at his trade as house-painter. Nor is his age revealed by his extremely strong, almost fierce trumpet sound which, at one point, almost blew our head phone-wearing engineer right out of the hall! (His choice of Mack the knife, incidentally, is in line with the old and continuing tradition of the New Orleans musicians of adapting popular tunes of the day to their own style.)
Following this, we ended just as we had started: with a Jim Robinson session. After which the pate machines were stilled, the microphones taken down from their booms, cables rolled up, and all signs of our presence removed. Once again the old hall of Les Jeunes Amis was its normal, ancient self. It was with some little sadness that we left the old world on the Delta and … this seems the only way to put it … returned to the world of today. The New Orleans we had seen and heard can only last for a very little while longer. Before too long the ranks of those twenty seven men who, in January of 1961, were able to play in the authentic style, will become thinner and still thinner. But we at least have the satisfaction of having done something – through what will almost certainly prove to be the last large-scale recording project of this nature possible in New Orleans- to preserve the sound of early jazz, the sound of a living legend.
Produced ad notes written by Chris Albertson.
Album designed by Ken Deardoff
Cover photograph by Ralston Crawford
Other photos by Florence Mars and by Walter Eysselinck
Recording Engineer: Dave Jones (Tulane University recordings by William Russell)
Mastered by Jack Matthews (Components Corp.) on a Hydrofeed lathe
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Friedwald in the planning and recording of this material. We also wish to express thanks for the cooperation extended by Henry Zaccardi, assistant of the president, American Federation of Musicians; and by New Orleans Locals 174 and 496, A.F. of M.