KID THOMAS and his Algiers Stompers
Kid Thomas (tp, alapstick) Louis Nelson (tb) Albert Burbank (cl) Joe James (p) Homer Eugene (bj) Joseph Butler (b) Samuel Penn (drs)
Recorded in New Orleans; January 29, 1961
That’s Plenty (3:19) (Lew Pollack)
Girl of My Drams (5:16) (Charles Clapp)
Dinah (3:17) (Akst – Young – Lewis)
Smile, Darn You, Smile (3:25) (Daugherty – Reynolds)
Kid Thomas’ Boogie Woogie (3:40) (Thomas Valentine)
Algiers Strut (5:09) (Thomas Valentine)
Gally House Blues (5:22) (Thomas Valentine)
Sing On (2:55) (traditional/ arr. by Valentine)
Panama (3:07) (Williams Tyers)
“KID THOMAS” is a house painter, a handyman, and the leader of the hardest-driving New Orleans jazz band since Bunk Johnson’s.
Thomas Balentine (his actual, though seldom-used, name) was born in 1896, in Reserve, Louisiana, which is in St. John Parish, just up the river from New Orleans. His introduction to music came early: his father was trumpet player and instrument-keeper for the Picquit Brass Band, and Thomas and his friends would slip into the room where the instruments were stored to try them out. He had developed into a pretty good valve-trombone player by this means before his father gave him promise to leave the band storehouse alone.
One of Thomas’ earliest musical memories underlines a pride and determination he has never lost; one night at a dance in Algiers (across the river from New Orleans), his band was matched against that of Henry “Red” Allen – who was known in those days as “Sonny” Allen. The judges awarded the prize, a leather briefcase, to Allen, which made Thomas so furious he stormed out to get a policeman. According to Thomas, the policeman let the crowd decide the winner by applause and then made Allen give the prize to Thomas. (Allen says he doesn’t recall anything about applause, but he does remember that it was quite a nice briefcase and that Kid Thomas ended up with it.)
Ever since he first came to New Orleans to play, shortly after the close of World War I, Thomas has preferred leading his won small groups to playing in other bands. Thus not too many of New Orleans musicians worked with Thomas, but they all knew his reputation for maintaining a tough little band and having most of the jobs playing for white people on the West Bank of the Mississippi sewed up. Since the early 1930s, the dance halls and night clubs that dot the highways in Algiers, Marrero, and Westwego were the stamping grounds of the Kid Thomas band. The Cajuns and other working-class folk who came every night of the week to hear him had grown up listening to this music. These listeners were not tourists suffering from the delusion that Dixieland must be synonymous with cornball antics, razzle-dazzle solos and racehorse tempos, and it was their natural acceptance of the music almost as much as the attitude of the musicians themselves that enabled the band to preserve for so many years something very close to a pure New Orleans sound.
The typical Algiers dance hall crowd may have been a bit on the rough side, and so was the music they preferred. Still, it was primarily a dancer’s music, rich in melody and regular in tempo. To keep the kitty full, the band played a little of everything: waltzes, marches, blues, even rhumbas, and pop tunes, both old and new. Until the Summer of 1960 it was still possible to hear the Thomas and in what amounted to its natural setting: Fireman’s Hall, the Tip Top, or the Moulin Rouge. In those spacious halls you could buy a bottle of beer for a quarter or a drink of hard liquor for not much more, and listen to Thomas’ powerful trumpet ringing out over the noise of the crowd and the enormous electric fans.
But a steady deterioration of business at these clubs eventually led some owners to install juke boxes or to hire hillbilly or rock-and-roll bands, in an effort to attract customers of another generation. Some West Bank dance halls, like most of those across the river, closed down altogether. To hold his band together, Thomas has been seeking other kinds of jobs. At the time of this recording, they were playing for tips every Sunday afternoon at a French Quarter art gallery. Two concerts at Tulane University have helped Thomas to get some dates along fraternity row, and they have played for a law school picnic and at the opening of a softball league. Such jobs however, are still to few and far between, and Thomas haunts the night spots that were once the source of his bread and butter, hoping to come up with a regular engagement. Everywhere he is told that times have changed, that the oldtimers are not coming out to dance any more, that business is bad. Day jobs as house painter and handyman provide only a very meager living, but more than just financial neccesity keeps Kid Thomas going. He is well aware of the tradition that his band represents and he knows that when it finally does break up there will not be another to take its place …
In terms of the history of jazz recording, Thomas’ trumpet style is almost prehistoric. One of the few good trumpet men left in traditional jazz who has not to some degree been influenced by Louis Armstrong, he is the closest we can hope to get to Freddie Keppard and the other pre-Louis players. His phrasing is simple and direct, sometimes abrupt and rhythmic rather than melodic. No man in town can drive a band with as much force.
The Thomas band lineup here is, with two exceptions, his on-the-job group. The Kid added the versatile Homer Eugene on banjo to his already powerful rhythm section. Joe James, a wonderful time-keeper who may occasionally be short on the right changes but is always long on soul, is Thomas’ perennial piano player. Sammy Penn is an exuberant and surprisingly modern drummer. The strictly down-home bass, Joe Butler, is a neighbor of the leader’s in Algiers. Louis Nelson, a superb musician who is largely responsible for the cohesion in the band, played trombone as usual and “The Clarinet Wizard,” Albert Burbank – the other non-regular – was the third horn. (Although Thomas himself favors the classic front line of trumpet, trombone and clarinet, he has in recent years used saxophones in his band, for the very practical reason that it has become increasingly difficult to find clarinet players with tone and drive enough to make themselves heard in the ferocious Thomas-Nelson ensembles. But for this occasion, clarinet was obviously a neccessity, and it was hoped that Emil Barnes, who had come out of retirement to play beautifully with Thomas during the Summer of 1960, would be able to make the date. But Emile had suffered a stroke in October and at the last moment the decision was that he was still too weak to play. Luckily, Burbank lives just around the corner from Les Jennes Amis Hall, where the recording took place. He was called for this session five minutes before it was to begin – with wonderful results.)
The tunes on this album provide a good cross-section of the material Thomas uses on a job: pop tunes, blues, a parade hymn, and two of the fast-paced jazz standards (That’s Plenty, Panama) that are hits with the college crowd. The title of one of the Kid’s favorites, included here, can serve to pretty well sum up his personal attitude about his music and its uses. A few years back, when the Moulin Rouge was still in its heyday, a group of jazz fans sat at t table in stony-faced silence, pondering such serious questions as whether or not Buddy Bolden’s band had sounded anything like the Thomas group, while all around them people danced or chatted happily. Fainally, Kid Thomas pointed his trumpet directly at them and stompted the band off on Smile, Darn You, Smile.
This album is part of an extensive group of recordings of traditional jazz as played today made by Riverside in New Orleans during January, 1961, and issued under the general series title, “New Orleans: The Living Legends.” Sweet Emma and the musicians featured with her can also be heard in the first release in this series, which is an overall survey of the current Crescent City sense –
NEW ORLEANS: The Living Legends (RLP 356/357; Stereo RLP 9356/9357 – a Two LPs set)
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Notes written by HERB FRIEDWALD
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Cover photos by RALSTON CRAWFORD, back-liner photos by FLORENCE MARS
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Mastered by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Friedwald in the in the planning and recording of this project. We also wish to express thanks for the cooperation extended by Henry Zaccardi, assistant to the president, American Federation of Musicians; and by New Orleans Locals 174 and 496, A. F. of M.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York