NEW ORLEANS LEGENDS
KID ORY – BUNK JOHNSON – KID RENA
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Bunk Johnson and His New Orleans Band (Side 1, #1-3): Willie (Bunk) Johnson (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) George Lewis (cl) Alton Purnell (p) Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide (Slow Drug) Pavageau (b) Baby Dodds (drs)
New Orleans; February 2, 1945
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band (Side 1, #4-6): Andrew Blakeney (tp) Edward (Kid) Ory (tb) Joe Darensbourg (cl) Buster Wilson (p) Bud Scott (g) Ed Arland (b) Minor Hall (drs) Vocals (on Snag It and Down Among the Sheltering Palms) by Bud Scott Hollywood; August 9, 1947
Kid Rena’s Delta Jazz Band (Side 2): Henry (Kid) Rena (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) Alphonse Picou (cl) “Big Eye: Louis Nelson (cl) Willie Santiago (g) Albert Gleny (b) Joe Rena (drs) New Orleans; Spring, 1940
Careless Love (3:47) (traditional)
Weary Blues (2:32) (Artie Matthews)
Tiger Rag (3:59) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
Snag It (4:01) (Joe Oliver)
Savoy Blues (3:43) (Edward Ory)
Down among the Sheltering Palms (3:21) (Brockman – Olman)
High society (3:15) (Piron Williams)
Get It Right(3:24) (traditional)
Weary Blues (3:09) (Artie Matthews)
Gettysburg March (3:05) (traditional)
Lowdown Blues (3:28) (traditional)
Clarinet marmalade (3:00) (Shields – Ragas)
In the world of classic jazz, these are among the most magical of all names: BUNK JOHNSON, who may or may not (depending on which stories you accept) have been Louis Armstrong’s teacher, but who unquestionably was among the foremost horn men of the early New Orleans days; KID ORY, very probably the greatest of tailgate trombonists; and KID RENA, not among the great performers, but assured an important position in the New Orleans story as leader of the first recorded expressions of the traditional-jazz “revival.”
These names and this music automatically conjures up images of the wide-open, turbulent red-light district called Storyville, where the fresh and exciting sounds to be known as “jazz” were nurtured in the first two decades of this century. For at Pete Lala’s club over on Iberville Street there was a band led by Ory (at one time it included King Oliver, and later young Louis Armstrong). At a honky-tonk at Gravier and Franklin Streets, you might have found Bunk, as Louis remembers having seen and heard him: “sitting up there drinking port wine and playing that pretty horn.” During most of that period Kid Rena was just a boy in the “second line” that listened and learned from the masters (he was exactly Armstrong’s age; there is fades old group photograph of the “Colored Waif’s Home” band that includes both Rena and Louis); but older members of the Delta Jazz Band had been important figures in the early days – “big Eye’ Louis Nelson, who taught and influenced Dodds, Bechte and Noone; and Alphonse Picou, originator of the famed High Society clarinet break, which became the acid test for all aspiring clarineists.
These names are also very real symbols of the lasting vitality of the earliest jazz. In the 1940s, these men were plucked out of obscurity to recreate with truly amazing vigor the sound and spirit of the music of their youth. In the intervening years, a great many sweeping changes had come about in jazz. Many o the early musicians were dead, more were forgotten or had left jazz. Thus it must have started a good many people when these very live ghosts from a legendary past appeared on the scene and proceeded to make that shadows into substance and to put flesh on the dim legends. They reaffirmed the original jazz traditions in the best and simplest way possibly – by demonstrating how much of the old excitement and drive they had retained and how thoroughly it could capture present-day audiences.
Bunk Johnson )1879-1949) had played second cornet n Buddy Bolden’s band, had gone on to be ranked with such New Orleans “Kings” as Joe Oliver and Freddie Keppard. But when jazz began to be set down on records in Chicago, Bunk was touring the smaller cities of the South and Midwest with a Wild West show. In about 1931, he stopped playing; jobs were scarce; his horn had been broken in a fight; his teeth had gone bad. When Frederick Ramsey, Jr., and Charles Edward Smith (during the course of research for their book, “Jazzmen”) located him, in 1938, he was working on a rice farm in New Iberia, Louisiana. The rest of his story is by now a familiar one. He was provided with a horn and new teeth. A band was organized for him – most notably including clarinetist George Lewis, who was to achieve considerable fame on his own in the 1950s. It was basically this group that went on to a sensational New York opening late in 1945, just a few months after these three selections were recorded (along with one another, which is included in Riverside’s History of Classic Jazz set) as a last-minute by-product of a War Department movie short in which the band made a 30-second appearance. It cannot be claimed that Bunk, on these numbers, had fully regained his playing form. But these are driving and authentic interpretations of traditional material in which the 65-year-old trumpeter offered ample indication of the imagination and the “lovely tone” that Louis has cited as an influence.
Kid Ory (born in 1886) had at least been more reality than legend to record collectors. For he had spent much of the ‘20s in Chicago, where he was a key member of two of the most important recording groups of that or any other day; Armstrong’s Hot Five and Jelly Roll Morton’s red Hot Peppers. Then he moved out to the West Coast and with very little of his sort of jazz activity going on, “retired” to a chicken farm in 1933. Eleven years later he was rediscovered for an Orson Welles radio broadcast, and after that he was back to stay, his deep-down trombone just as forceful as ever, and with perhaps even more of a lilt to it. The numbers heard here, from a Rudi Blesh “This Is Jazz” radio program, recall the Chicago “Golden Era” of traditional jazz: Oliver Snag It; Ory’s own Savoy Blues; and pop tune of that period.
The Delta Jazz Band numbers are the earliest of “revival” recordings, and are credited by many with sparking the whole traditional-jazz resurgence. Heywood Hale Broun was the man responsible for their existence; he organized the band led by Kid Rena (1900-1949), with the help of Dr. Leonard Bechet (Sidney’s brother and, incidentally, the dentist who supplied Bunk’s new teeth), and supervised the session, at which eight tunes were cut (Panama and Milenburg Joys were the others). George Hoefer, jazz critic and Down Beat columnist, has described the typical jazz-fan reaction to these historic, “rare and uniquely valuable” recordings:
“ I still have a very clear memory of the first time I heard these records (in 1940) … These were the first marching-style jazz records, the kind of music that made the horse of the mounted police dance as they marched home from a funeral. (Being a marching band, they didn’t sport a piano.) … All of us were enthralled; we had never before in our jazz listening heard anything quite like this. It sounded rustic, a little off-pitch, and at moments barbaric. But it had the true ring of the early days…”
The selections are a cross-section of traditional repertoire, including the legendary Picou High Society chorus, a street march in 6/8 time (Gettysburg) and a slow blues (Lowdown) on which first Nelson and then Picou take effectively contrasting clarinet solos.
The Johnson and Ory selections were included in a 10-inch Riverside LP – RLP 1047; the Rena, originally on the delta label, were on RLP 1060. All appear here for the first time on 12-inch LP.)
Other 12-inch Riverside albums in the New Orleans traditional include:
LOUIS ARMSTRONG: 1923 (King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band) (RLP 12-122)
JOHNNY DODDS: New Orleans Clarinet (RLP 12-104)
GEORGE LEWIS New Orleans Jazz Band and Quartet (RLP 12-207)
Jazz at Vespers: George Lewis AND HIS Ragtime Band (RLP 12-230)
HISTORY OF CLASSIC JAZZ (60 complete selections; five 12-inch LPs in deluxe album package. All the great
names of traditional jazz; plus 20,000-word essay by historian Charles Edward Smith.) (SDP-11)
Re-mastered, 1957 by Reeves Sound Studios.
LP produced by BILL GRAUER
Notes by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover photograph: Paul Weller
(Kid Rena selections reissued by arrangement with Heywood Hale Broun)
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRUER PRODUCITONS
553 West 51st Street New York 19, N.Y.