PERCY HUMPHREY’s Crescent City Joymakers
Percy Humphrey (tp) Louis Nelson (tb) Albert Burbank (cl) Emanuel Sayles (bj, g-on Side 1, #3; Side 2,#2) Louis James (b) Josia Fraiser (drs)
New Orleans; January 24, 1961
Milenburg Joys (7:09) (Morton – Mares – Rappolo)
Over in Gloryland (4:01) (traditional/ arr. by Percy Humphrey)
Lonesome Road (5:14) (trad. /arr. Humphrey)
We Shall Walk Through the Streets of the City (3:54) (trad./ arr. Humphrey)
Weary Blues (5:17) (Artie Matthews)
Bucket’s Got a Hole in It (6:04) (Clarence Williams)
All the Gals Like the Way I Ride (3:46) (trad./ arr. Humphrey)
Rip ‘Em Up Joe (4:08) (trad./ arr. Humphrey)
A New Orleans “joymaker band” is not a regular working group, but a band gotten together (usually on short notice) for some particular occasion. New Orleans jazz is utilitarian in nature, and has traditionally served a wide variety of social function. A band might be hired for a church building-fund party, or to play on a wagon to advertise a new store. In its early days, New Orleans jazz was used to accompany an incredibly varied number of activities; it was not uncommon for a musician to play a parade in the morning, an advertising job in the afternoon and a dance hall and cabaret at night. Anyone who could round up five or six pieces in a hurry and keep an audience happy was a leader and his group a “joymaker band.”
The occasion for the formation of this particular group of Crescent City Joymakers was a recording session at the hall of the Sciete des Jeunes Amis, designed to preserve on record some of the fun and exuberance of New Orleans jazz. It brings together six fine musicians who demonstrate that even the legion of great and near-great jazzmen that the city has sent north never exhausted the supply of first-class local talent. If there were a king among New Orleans trumpet players today, Percy Humphrey would be a likely candidate for the crown, making this LP, the first in his name, a long overdue event.
If you ask the oldtimers who started them off in music, one of the most frequent answers yo will get is “Percy Humphrey’s grand-daddy.” Jim Humphrey, “Poppa” Trio and a handful of others were the early “professors” who set their stamp on New Orleans jazz in its formative years Jim’s son, Willie, Sr., played clarinet and three grandsons were all musicians. Willie Jr. is a music teacher and still active as a clarinet player, most recently in Sweet Emma’s band. Earl was the fine trombone player on the 1927 Louis Dumaine Victor records. Percy, the youngest brother, was born in 1905. His first job was with Buddy Bolden’s original trombone player, Willie Cornish. In 1925, he started his own uptown dance group and began playing with the Eureka and other brass bands. In 1928 he was second trumpet in Kid Howard’s Orchestra that played the L&N Railroad’s excursion trains, and during the thirties he played the jitneys, the Alamo and the La Vida, where the hours were long and stamina essential. Percy took over an insurance business in 1939 and played less and less frequently during World War II. At its close he took over leadership of the Eureka, led small bands at Mannie’s and other neiborhood dance halls, and played local jobs with George Lewis until he joined Sweet Emma’s band a few years ago.
Like George Lewis (who gave away his saxophone) and Emile Barnes (who never bought one), Albert Burbank never “doubled” on sax, which cost him jobs with larger orchestras but enabled him to retain a more ‘pure” vintage clarinet style. Albert is a downtown Creole who was born in 1902 and has always played in small bands and trios. Unlike most of the city’s other clarinet players, Burbank does not bite the top of his mouthpiece, using instead a “double” embouchure, pressing lightly with both his top and bottom lip. Although this is the method taught by the Paris Conservetoire, it is doubtful if the French classicists would approve of his distinctive and extremely blue tone. On the two parade hymns in this album, Burbank employs the long, high arpeggios and cutting tone that are characteristic of his brass band style. Until he was laid off his railroad job about ten years ago, Albert was playing regularly there ever since. And ever since the earliest days of the New Orleans “revival”, he has been hoping to get together with Humphrey on a recording date – and ambition he finally realized (and proceeded to make the most of) here.
Louis Nelson, now in his late fifties and another ex-railroads and/or bands. The son of a famous physician, Louis has always been referred to by the older musicians as “Dr. Nelson’s boy,” to distinguish him from clarinetist “Big Eye” Louis Nelson. His mother, an accomplished pianist, wanted Louis to take up that instrument. Today, Nelson looks down at his battered trombone and laughs: “If I had listened to her I might have gotten somewhere in music. But when I was young I took a liking to the trombone and I’ve been lugging one around with me ever since.” Louis worked on excursion steamers in Sidney Desvignes’ Orchestra and when Desvignes and his second trumpet developed sore lips from continuous playing, would play the melodic lead on trombone. He is still as good a sweet trombonist as a ‘rough’ one. Nelson can play vamp or tailgate style, or assume a variety of other harmonic roles in a small-band ensemble – as these selections ably demonstrate.
Emanuel Sayles has been one of the finest banjoists and best-liked musicians in New Orleans since the ‘20s. He has played with Fate Marable, Piron, and Desvignes, and in 1929 participated with Lee Collins, Sidney Arodin and others in an important recording session that produced the “Astoria Hot Eight” sides for Victor. His skill on tenor banjo, both as a flashy soloist and a resourceful accompanist, has never diminished. (The guitar was used in New Orleans bands before the banjo and on two tacks of this album Sayles plays acoustical guitar.)
As well equipped as any drummer in the city since Baby Dodds, Josiah “Cie” Frasier was a pupil of “Old Man” Louis Cottrell. Cie began by playing in family bands with his first cousins Paul Barnes and Lawrence and Eddie Marrero before 1920. Since then he has worked under most of the well-known leaders in the city. He was in the pit band at he Lyric Theater, directed by John Robichaux, that accompanied such touring entertainers as Bessie Smith. In 1927, Cie recorded a few sides with Celestin and later he played with Nelson in the Descignes Orchestra.
Septuagenarian bassist Louis James started on violin in his home town of Thibodeaux and came to New Orleans early enough to play clarinet in Storyville with Frankie Dusen and others before the district was closed down. The leader James was most closely associated with was trumpeter Louis Dumaine. He played clarinet, sax and bass with Dumaine, recording on tenor with the band in 1927. Since Dumaine’s death in 1949, James has played frequently with Percy Humphrey and over the years he has worked with members of the Humphrey family many times, so that Percy was particularly anxious to include him on this date. (Right after the session Louis left for Thibodeaux to attend the funeral of his mother, who had lived well past 100years!)
Many musicians, in New Orleans and elsewhere, have turned to “tourist-style Dixieland” or away from music completely, because of financial pressure. But these six talented men have proven the genuineness of their love for the original style by remaining faithful to it, come what may. This music remains as fresh and exciting to them as when they first began to play it two senses – crating joy for themselves by their playing, and inevitably passing on that pleasure to their listeners.
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.” Percy Humphrey is among the musicians included in the first release in this series, an overall survey of the current scene –
NEW ORLEAN: The Living Legends (RLP 356/ 357; Stereo RLP 9356/9357 – a two-LP set)
and is also featured on –
“SWEET EMMA” BARRETT and Her Dixieland Boys (RLP 364; Stereo 9364)
Produced by CHRIS ALBERTSON
Cover design: KEN DEARDOFF
Cover photograph by RALSTON CRAWFORD
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Riverside gratefully acknowledges the valuable assistance of Herb Friedwald 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 released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York