KID THOMAS and His Algiers Stompers
featuring EMILE BARNES
Kid Thomas (tp, and vocal on side 2, #6) Emile Barnes (cl) Louis Nelson (tb) Joe James (p) Joseph Butler (b, and vocal on Side 1, #1) Samuel Penn (drs)
Recorded at Tulane University, New Orleans; August 18, 1960
Big Lunch Blues (5:55) (Joseph Butler)
Some of These Days (3:30) (Shelton Brooks)
When My Dreamboat Comes Home (4:57) (Friend – Franklin)
China Boy (2:56) (Winfree – Boutelje)
It’s A Long Way To Tipperrary (3:00) (Williams – Judge)
Hindustan (2:59) (Weeks – Wallace)
I Can’t Escape From You (3:03) (Whiting – Robin)
Bye and Bye (2:32) (trad./ arr. by Valentine)
Down By The Riverside (3:28) (trad./ arr. by Valentine)
I wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now (5:30) (Howard – Orlob – Hough – Adams)
Big Milk-Cow Blues (5:19) (Thomas Valentine)
The first Kid Thomas band was organized back in the days when jazz was virtually the folk music of the New Orleans Negro community and a whole generation of youngsters was learning to play and dance to it. When the band, which included young Edmond Hall on clarinet, played its initial engagement at the Moran Club in Reserve, La. They knew only three numbers but played them in so many different tempos that nobody seemed to mind.
By the time Thomas had moved to Algiers across the river from New Orleans and started a band there, Emile Barnes was already known as one of the best blues me in the city. Barnes, who is four years older than Thomas, was born in downtown New Orleans in 1892. He learned the clarinet woodsheding with Sidney Bechet and sitting in with the bands in Storyville cabarets. In the early days of jazz the term “funk” was still limited to its original meaning, so Emile was known as a “guts” clarinet player. He was regular clarinetist with the Chris Kelly band and also worked a lot of jobs with Thomas. Over the years Kid Thomas and Emile Barnes have probably played together more than any other trumpet-clarinet team in the city; they are a couple of rugged individualists who have never changed their playing styles to suit newer vogues in popular music.
In the ‘20s, when many jazzmen were moving north where the dance halls and bands were larger (but where there were less of them), there was a trend even in New Orleans toward orchestras of increasing size – with sax-heavy reed sections, stock arrangements, novelty tunes, and featured instrumental soloists. The bands in Storyville had been small and at Milneberg and West End, at the pavillions and camp sites along the lakefront, and in the little clubs ad bars, Buddy Petit, Chris Kelly, Kid Thomas and a few others continued to front six-piece outfits that relied on “head arrangements” and improvisation and specialized in the blues.
One day, not too long ago, Emile Barnes sat in the shade of his house “back of” Desire Street and reminisced about these bands: “Most of the work was spot jobs. You hired six pieces, no more, and if somebody didn’t show up, you made do with less. There was no such thing as solos like today; if the trumpet wanted to rest, he took down and the clarinet jumped on the lead.
When the trombone was up, we were right in there behind him. The piano or banjo made chords and held tempo with the bass and drums. The melody was protected at all times and we would put in different figurations, some pretty, some rough, behind it. The idea was to keep the music sounding full. We were not particular about what class of people we worked for and so we played for the best and the worst that they had in this town, colored and white. Sometimes we would be playing for a rough bunch that wanted nothing but the blues all night long. We didn’t use sheet music much and put our own feelings into what we played. Everybody had his won tricks, for instance, I had my own way of playing low register. No band sounded exactly like another and you could tell if it was Kelly or Thomas a block or more away.”
Sammy Penn joined Thomas in the ‘30s after having played drums with Buddy Petit. The piano player, Joe James, has been in the band even longer. During the war Thomas used varying personnel, but the addition of Louis Nelson about seven years ago turned what had been an interesting down-home group into a top flight jazz band. Emile Barnes rejoined Thomas for a while in the ‘50s after leading his own small groups at almost all the neighborhood dance halls that provided a last refuge for his kind of jazz. Even after he had otherwise retired from music, he continued to play on a Mardi Gras float with Thomas once a year.
In April of 1960, Emile patched up his clarinet with rubber bands and tape to play a concert with Thomas during the Tulane Fine Arts Festival and returned to the campus in August to make these recordings. Barnes had not been playing regularly in some time and his once pungent tone was lighter and his playing rusty. But Emile has a considerably more archaic style than the more familiar New Orleans clarinetists and the older musicians still love to play with him. With Barnes playing clarinet the Thomas band evokes the mood of the picnics at Lake Ponchartrain during the fist quarter of the century. These significant tracks are presented here just as they were recorded, with no internal editing.
Kid Thomas was in particularly good form during this session and his fabled tone with its wide, ringing vibrato is perhaps better reproduced here than anywhere else.
At the Algiers dance halls, where Thomas played for so many years, whenever anyone asked for a new number and would back up the request with something for the kitty, Thomas would say: ”Whistle it for Nelson.” Louis has a wonderful ear and shares with Emile Barnes an ability to take the most banal pop or rock-and-roll tune on the juke box, completely fit it to the New Orleans style and turn it into something beautiful and almost meaningful. Thus when this pair teams with Thomas on a tune with real melodic content such as When My Dreamboat Comes Home or one of the parade hymns, the results can be quite moving. On Some of These Days, Nelson uses a growl picked up from Papa Celestin. I Wonder Who’s Kissing Her Now is a waltz swung into a stomp in Algiers dance hall style.
It is never certain who will sing when the Thomas band plays a blues. The leader and each of the members of his rhythm section are liable to take a vocal when the mod strikes them, which does not tend to make things easy for recording engineers. Big Lunch Blues was a spontaneous contribution by Joe Butler which unfortunately had to be recorded in order to make the vocal audible. While Thomas is singing See My Milk Cow Blues, he dons alternately a man’s hat and a woman’s wig and kerchief. During this number, some of which is sung in a falsetto voice, he acts the song’s story which concerns an argument over a cow. Watching Thomas clarifies some of the ambiguities of the lyrics. Unlike so many performers, Thomas never uses clowning as an excuse for his music and both See My Milk Cow Blues and Big Lunch Blues are deep down slow drags in the best gut-bucket vein. Both these selections, and, in fact, the entire album, illustrate the fundamental difference between watered-down Dixieland and genuine New Orleans jazz – a quality best described as “soul.”
Produced and notes written by HERB FRIEDWALD
Album design by KEN DEARDOFF
Cover photo by RALPHSTON Crawford
Back-liner photo by FLORENCE MARS
Recording Engineer: BILL RUSSELL
Riverside wishes 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
RIVERISDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York