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Back o’ Town


Jazz Archives #100(12”) 

RLP-117 118 A
RLP-117 118 front
RLP-117 118 back.jpg
RLP-117 118 A.jpg
RLP-117 118 B.jpg

Joe “King” Oliver, cornet; Jelly Roll Morton, piano (on Side1, #1 and 2).  Chicago; 1924 or ’25

Clarence Williams’ Orchestra (other ten selections): Oliver (cnt) Charlie Irvis (tb) Ben Waters (cl, ts) Williams (p) Buddy Christian (bj) Cyrus St. Clair (tu) (Vocals on Side 1, #4 and 5; side 2, #2,3,5,6 by Sara Martin)

New York; 1928-29



  1. King Porter Stomp (2:31)

  2. Tom Cat Blues (2:49)


  1. Speakeasy Blues (2:54)

  2. Mistratin’ Man Blues (2:48)

  3. Mean Tight Mama (3:00)

  4. Squeeze Me (2:53)



  1. Long, Deep and Wide (2:54)

  2. Death Sting Blues (2:52)

  3. Hole in the Wall (2:53)

  4. New Down Home Rag (3:04)

  5. Kitchen Man (2:35)

  6. Don’t Turn Your Back on Me (2:46)

   KING OLIVER (1885-1938) was one of the true giants of jazz. He gained his first fame in New Orleans, back in the days and nights when jazz was first coming into being, in the era of street parades and of the red-light district known as Storyville. In New Orleans, a city that took its jazz and its traditions seriously, only three cornetists ever achieved the supreme honor of being called “King.” The legendary Buddy Bolden was the first, and after him the crown was shared by the powerful Freddie Keppard and the equally strong (and infinitely more subtle) Joe Oliver.

   Oliver went on to reach further heights in Chicago, in the e1920s, most notably with his magnificent Creole Jazz Band, whose recordings (many of which have been reissued on Riverside) very probably represent the peak performance of traditional jazz. He is perhaps best remembered today not for himself, but for the fact that his protégé, the second cornet in the Creole Band, was a young man named Louis Armstrong. But there was far more to be remembered about Joe Oliver than merely that. He left his mark, permanently and importantly, on the course of jazz, and he did so because he was a jazzman of vast fire and imagination, who could play his music rough or delicate, as the occasion demanded, and who was always a movingly melodic artist. In his prime, Joe Oliver was as much a “king” as any jazz musician before or after him could ever hope to be.

   He was very decidedly in his prime at the time of the first two selections reissued here, the products of one of the most remarkable sessions ever recorded. Three and a half decades later, it looks as if this might have been an early ancestor of the concept of the “All Star” record, but at the time it was presumably nothing more – or less – than the great Oliver, then at the height of his fame with the Creole band, cutting a couple of tunes along with a fellow New Orleans veteran (who also happened to be the writer of the tunes), JELLY ROLL MORTON. The results, although they were inevitably virtuoso performances, rather far from the strict letter of the traditional New Orleans ensemble concept, certainly indicate that whoever thought of this session had a pretty wonderful idea.

   The remainder of the numbers on this LP also present Oliver in the company of a man who had started his career in early New Orleans: pianist-bandleader-composer-publisher CLARENCE WILLIAMS, one-time piano player in Lulu White’s fancy Storyville establishment. But the circumstances of this collaboration were somewhat different.  Oliver, now in his forties, had by this time begun a downward path that was to end, in 1938, in poverty and death. The decline, however, had barely begun. Joe was still a musician capable of playing with great strength and beauty.

   There are other reasons to value these recordings, too. For one thing they, like the ones with Morton, are among the relatively few available recorded examples of Oliver’s work outside the “with-Louis” context of the Creole Band. For another, the Williams group – although generally ignored by jazz historians – is notable for having created some of the most outstanding recorded works of small-band jazz, in the truest sense of the word. Not just music played by a numerically small unit, but music specifically designed for interplay between single sets of horns, music that is self-sufficient that way. As the bet small bands have always done, this group manages to achieve as full a sounds as almost any orchestra twice its size. Thus Clarence Williams’ kind of music serves to demonstrate a jazz fact-of-life that should be obvious, but that actually seems to need proving over and over again in each new ‘school’ of jazz that arises: that power and impact need have no relation to size or to volume, that a band can generate real excitement and achieve a cohesive, complete-in-itself effect without having to resort to mere “bigness” for its own sake.

   This is the sort of lesson a New Orleans musician learned early. It came naturally enough to Clarence Williams and, although this New York group had a smoother and comparatively more sophisticated jazz sound and approach than Oliver was particularly used to, Joe would seem to have had no difficulty in feeling at home in this setting. He is also heard to good effect in accompaniment to the blues and blues-tinged songs of the rich-voiced Sara Martin – most remarkably in the intense emotional collaboration between the singer, Oliver, and the mournful tuba of Cy St. Clair on the unusual Death Sting Me Blues.

   Oliver had come to New York in the late ‘20s to find jobs less plentiful and well-playing, and bands harder to hold together, than had been the case in his Chicago hey-day. He did a good deal of ‘sittin’-in’ with other men’s groups, which was the case with these recordings, for which he temporarily replaced Williams’ “regular” horn, Ed Allen. Actually, there has always been double as to precisely which of the many Williams sides of this period do include Oliver: Allen often sounded much like Joe; no accurate personnel listings were kept in those days; and musicians’ memories are not to be relied on so many years after the fact. Allen and Oliver may even have been in the recording studios on the same days; not too long ago, Allen himself noted the fact that the two “did a lot of recording together” – but added that “off hand, I can’t remember what they were.” However, the consensus of expert ears and expert discographical opinions pinpoints the selections reissued here as being those that almost certainly involve the horn of Joe Oliver, who had come a long way from the honky-tonks of New Orleans, but who still could play with the authority and fervor and imagination he had first displayed “back o’ town,” in the place where jazz as we know it was born …

   A note on the original recordings:

King Porter (master number 685) and Tom Cat ( 687) were first issued by an obscure Chicago label, on Autograph 617. Long, Deep and Wide ( 151) / Speakeasy (152) were on QRS 7004; Squeeze Me (153) / New Down Home (154) on QRS 7005. Don’t Turn Your Back / Hole in the Wall were on QRS 7035; Mistreatin’ Man(278) / Death Sting Me (306) on QRS 7042; and Mean Tight Mama (305) / Kitchen Man (307) on QRS 7043.

   Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band can be heard on –

Young LOUIS ARMSTRONG (three Creole Band selections ) (RLP 12-101)

LOUIS ARMSTONG: 1923; with King Oliver (RLP 12-122)

   Oliver figures importantly in the unique spoke documentary –

Satchmo and Me: LIL ARMSTRONG’S Own Story (RLP 12-120)

   Morton is featured on several important Riverside reissues –

JELLY ROLL MORTON: Classic Solos (RLP 12-111)

The Incomparable JELLY ROLL MORTON (RLP 12-128)

JELLY ROLL MORTON: The Library of Congress Recordings: Volume 1 to 12 (RLPs 9001 to 9012 – available singly)


The slight surface noise on this record is due to the limitations of early recording 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



Cover painting: “the Baber Shop: by JACOB LAWRENCE, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. G. Richard

Davis, courtesy of The Alan Gallery.


235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.

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