“N.O.R.K.” New Orleans Rhythm Kings, with Jelly Roll Morton
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
On #1-5: Paul Mares (tp) George Brunis (tb) Leon Rappolo (cl) Mel Stizel (p) Frank Snyder (drs) Richmond, Indiana; March 12 and 13, 1923
On #6-9 and 10: Mares , Brunis, Rappolo; Glen Scoville (sax) (possibly Don Murray sax, on #10 only) Charlie Pierce (p) Lew Black (bj) Steve Brown (b) Ben Pollack (drs) Richmond, Indiana; July 17, 1923
On #7, 8, 11 and 12: “Jelly Roll” Morton (p) replaces Pierce.
Other personnel and place as on #6, 9 and 10; July 17 and 18, 1923.
1. Shimmeshawabble (3:00) (Spencer Williams)
2. Weary Blues (2:47) (Artoe Matthews)
3. That Da Da Strain (2:32) (Medina – Sowell)
4. Wolverine Blues (3:07) (Spikes – Morton)
5. Sweet Lovin’ Man (2:39) (Hardin – Melrose)
6. Sobbin Blues (2:52) (Kassel – Berton)
7. Clarinet Marmalade (2:41) (Ragas – Shields)
8. Mr. Jelly Lord (3:12) (Jelly Roll Morton)
9. Marguerite (3:11) (Pierce – Novak)
10. Angry (2:54) (Brunies – Yules)
11. London Blues (2:50) (Jelly Roll Morton)
12. Milenberg Joys (2:57) (Rappolo – Mares – Morton)
It is, of course, a very well-established American badge of merit and fame to be fully and clearly identifiable by no more than a set of initials. In traditional jazz, two early bands – and only two – would appear to qualify for the initials-only treatment. No need to say “Original Dixieland Jazz Band”: ODJB will do the trick. Nor is there any real need to spell out the name of the pioneering group represented on this reissue LP: NORK (which, to make things even easier, can be pronounced as a single word –“Nork”) is sufficient.
In their day, which was the early 1920s, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings were forced to take something of a back seat to the ODJB, which had gained immortality by becoming the first jazz band ever to make recordings. By means of this ‘first’ and by the huge splash they made in New York and then in England, the ODJB became, to many people and for many years, the living symbol of virtually all jazz. But now that the passing of a few decades has put things into clearer perspective, it seems no exaggeration to claim that the NORK has very probably made a much more important and lasting contribution to jazz, both musically and historically . . .
First of all, consider the dozen reissues on this LP solely on their merits as music to listen to and enjoy (which ism after all, a rather important angle – even though those of us who write about jazz often display a somewhat alarming tendency to discuss everything else about the music except that). On this basis, of course, on major attraction here is the inclusion of the four rare examples of the unique one-shot collaboration between JELLY ROLL MORTON and the NORK.
For the flamboyant New Orleans pianist to take part in these Rhythm Kings recordings presumably involved a strong element of chance. Very possibly the fact that Morton and the band made the trip from Chicago to the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana on the same day can be explained in terms of the close connection of both the NORK and the pianist with the Chicago music-pub-lishing firm operated by the Melrose brothers. Melrose published a good many of the runes written and recorded by the jazzmen active in Chicago (including most of the numbers in this LP and most Morton compositions of this period), and may well have helped set up interlocking sessions for Jelly Roll and the NORK simply as a matter of convenience. Morton was not yet the awesome jazz name he was to become after a few more years had passed. To some, at this time, he was just another good, though rather eccentric and egotistical, New Orleans piano man, recently arrived in Chicago after travels that had taken him as far afield as California. But to many – presumably including his fellow townsmen in the NORK – he was a truly great jazzman just reaching his peak: a brilliant performer and the creator of rich and challenging jazz melodies.
In any event, there everyone was; some of Jelly Roll’s tunes were on the band’s agenda; and someone had the happy idea of having him do a few numbers with them. Jelly, as it turned out, was in rare form on that two-day stand. (Some of his greatest solo recordings were also made on those two July days in 1923; they are among those reissued on two ten-inch Riverside albums: RLPs 1938 and 1941). The results of his stting-in, therefore, are a notable blending of two main currents of New Orleans jazz.
Even apart from the brilliant flashes of Morton’s ragtime-tinged piano, the NORK’s jazz seems to have a good deal of appeal for today’s listeners. At the very least, its comparatively smooth syncopation is more readily palatable than the rather jerky, staccato rhythms of the Original Dixielanders. Both groups had their common roots in ragtime and marching-band music. (For example, George Brunis had –like most of the ODJB members – played in at least one of the many early bands organized in New Orleans by “Papa” Jack Laine, who was the father of white jazz.) But the NORK’s work suggests that there are other factors to be considered as well. For one, although the front line – Brunis, Mares, Rappolo – were from Louisiana, most of the others were Northerners, and it can be assumed that they contributed somewhat to the band’s smoother sound.
But undoubtedly of the greatest importance are two points that can be made jointly about Mares, Rappolo and Brunis. One is that they had listened deeply, often and from a very early age to the jazz of the New Orleans Negroes. This is probably more true of them than of their white contemporaries. George Brunis, most famous of several musical Brunies brothers (he reportedly changed the spelling of his last name on the advice of a numerologist), has always exhibited a rough and “dirty” trombone style that is thoroughly in the original tail-gate vein. Paul Mares frankly admitted to patterning his trumpet style on that of King Oliver, which was scarcely a bad choice. Leon Rappolo’s darkly lyrical tones were basically his individual property, but they seem to stem from the same sort of “legitimate” musical background as that on which the Creole clarinetists drew. The second point is simply that these three were jazzmen of well above average ability. The recorded evidence suggests that Rappolo, whose career was cut short in the mid-1920s (he died, years later, in a sanitarium) was potentially the real star, a musician of rare taste and imagination; but all three were most able and convincing performers.
The NORK’s importance in the overall history of jazz is at least partly a matter of who they convinced. One of the most celebrated of jazz legends is the probably true story of how a group of young Chicagoans, sitting in a local soda fountain, first heard an early NORK disc and were thereafter completely enmeshed in this strange and wonderful new music. That was the Austin High School gang, including Jimmy McPartland, Frank Teschemahcer, Bud Freeman, the nucleus of that Chicago jazz movement that is still very much a part of the current scene. Although some Chicagoans travelled to the South Side to absorb the music of Oliver, Johnny Dodds and the like, most of them have noted that they did their early listening primarily at places like the Friars Inn, which is where the Mares-Brunis-Rappolo team first made their mark up North.
Thus the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, influenced by one set of jazz traditions and in turn influencing the founders of another, stand as a sort of pivot point: the link between Negro jazz and white, between New Orleans and Chicago.
A discographical note on original label and master numbers:
These selections were all first issued on Gennett. Four of the first five were recorded on March 12, 1923, Wolverine Blues on the following day. Shimmeshawabble (master number GE 11354) and That Da Da Strain (GE 11356) were a coupling on Gennett 5106; Weary Blues / Wolverine Blues (GE 11355B and Ge 11357A) were GE 5102; Sweet Lovin’ Man (GE 11352A) was on Ge 5104. Of the July, 1923 recordings, Sobbin’ Blues / Angry (GE 11535 / GE 11539) were Ge 5219; Clarinet Marmalade / Mr. Jelly Lord (GE 11540A / Ge 11541A) were Ge 5220; Marguerite / Milenberg Joys (GE 11536A / GE 11551C) were Ge 5217, and London Blues (GE 11550) was on Ge 5221. London and Milenberg were made on July 18; the other on the preceding day.
Other notable LPs of great early jazz include –
Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (RLP 12-101)
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1923 (RLP 12-122)
BIX BEIDERBECKE (RLP 12-123)
JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Piano Solos (RLP12-111)
The Incomparable JELLY ROLL MORTON (RLP 12-128)
MUGGSY SPANIER (RLP 12-107)
NEW ORLEANS LEGENDS; Bunk Johnson, Kid Ory, Kid Rena (RLP 12-119)
This slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recordings processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.
LP produced by Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnew; notes by Orrin Keepnews.
Cover by Gene Gogerty.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCIOTNS< Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.