BUNK JOHNSON and KID ORY: New Orleans Revival
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Bunk Johnson and His New Orleans Band (Side 1):
Bunk Johnson (tp) Jim Robinson (tb) George Lewis (cl) Alton Purnell (p) Lawrence Marrero (bj) Alcide (Slow Drag) Pavageau (b) Baby Dodds (drs) New Orleans; Feburuary 2, 1945
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band (Side 2):
Andrew Blakeney (tp) Kid Ory (tb) Joe Darensbourg (cl) Buster Wilson (p) Bud Scott (g) Ed Garland (b) Minor Hall (drs) vocals (#5 nd 7) by Bud Scott Hollywood, August 9, 1947
1. Careless Love (3:47) (traditional)
2. Weary Blues (2:32) (Artie Matthews)
3. Tiger Rag (3:59) (Original Dixieland Jazz Band)
4. Make Me A Pallet On The Floor (3:48) (traditional)
5. Snag It (4:01) (Joe Oliver)
6. Savoy Blues (3:43) (Edward Ory)
7. Down Among The Sheltering Palms (3:21) (Brockman – Olman)
8. Weary Blues (2:40) (Artie Matthews)
These two are among the most magical of all jazz 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; and KID ORY, who is very probably the greatest master of the traditional "tailgate" trombone style.
Their names automatically conjure up images of the wide-open, roaring red-light district called Storyville, where a fresh and exciting music that was to be known as "jazz" was first nurtured. The music that flourished in New Orleans in the first two decades of this century was very much like the numbers to be heard on this LP. 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 it had you Louis Armstrong on cornet). And 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."
But even more, theirs are names that stand as very real symbols of the lasting vitality of the earliest jazz. For these two, above all, were the major figures of the jazz "revival" of the 1940s - plucked out of long obscurity to recreate with amazing vigor and skill the sound of the music of their youth. In the intervening years, a great many sweeping changes in jazz had come and gone. Many of the early musicians were dead, more were forgotten, and still others had turned away from traditional jazz for a variety of reasons and in a variety of directions. Thus it must have startled a good many people when these two very live ghosts from a legendary past appeared on the scene and (at a time when much of the jazz world was preoccupied with the coming of bop) proceeded to make the shadows into substance and to put flesh on the dim legends. They re-affirmed the original jazz traditions in the best and simplest way possible - by demonstrating how much of the old excitement and drive they had retained and how thoroughly it could capture present-day audiences.
Willie "Bunk" Johnson was by far the vaguer figure of the two. He had played second horn in Buddy Bolden's band, had gone on to be raked with such New Orleans "Kings" as Joe Oliver and Freddie Keppard. But he had been one of the relatively few men to decide against making the trip to Chicago after a World War I edict closed Storyville. Instead, Bunk toured the smaller cities of the South and Midwest for some years with a Wild West Show, and was not on hand when jazz began to be set down on records. In about 1931, he stopped playing; jobs were scare; his trumpet had been broken in a fight; his teeth had gone bad. Until Freddie Ramsey, Jr., and Charles Edward Smith located him during the course of research for their book, "Jazzmen," he was only one of a long list of jazz pioneers who had vanished somewhere along the way, and whom no one really ever expected to hear again. Ramsey and Smith found him in New Iberia, Louisiana, in 1938. He had been working on a rice farm, and could hardly have expected to recapture the glory of the past.
Actually, the idea of fitting Johnson out with a new horn and new teeth was very probably thought of primarily as a sentimental gesture. But Bunk took it quite seriously, and before long so did many others. A band was organized, drawn largely from among those somewhat younger musicians who had quietly been maintaining the traditional style in New Orleans - most notably clarinettist George Lewis, who was to achieve considerable fame on his own in the decade to come. It was basically this group that went on to a sensational New York opening at Stuyvesant Casino late in 1945, and to a quantity of record dates for a variety of labels before Bunk's death, at the probable age of 27, in 1951.
The four selections included here were made before Bunk went to New York, but are now being issued for the first time. Barring discovery of additional overlooked masters, they are the final additions to the story of Bunk Johnson. Recorded in his home town (the date was actually a last-minute thought, an adjunct to a War Department movie short in which the band made a 30-second appearance), they are in many ways typical of Bunk's 'second career'. They are of course driving and thoroughly authentic interpretations of traditional material. Johnson's lip was not yet back at full strength, but there is ample indication of the imagination and the "lovely tone" that had influenced Armstrong and many other New Orleans youngsters.
If Edward "Kid" Ory was much less of a legend than Bunk, it was only because he was much more of a reality - at least to record collectors. He had spent most of the '20s in Chicago, and as proof of the high regard in which he was held by his most celebrated contemporaries, there is his presence in two of the most important recordings groups of that or any other day: Armstrong's Hot Five and Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers. But then Ory drifted out to the West Coast, and with very little of his sort of jazz activity going on, 'retired' to a chicken farm in 1933, until he was enticed back, eleven years later, for appearances on an Orson Welles radio broadcast. After that he was back to stay, with his deep-down trombone sounding just as forceful as ever, and with perhaps even more of a lilt to it. And of course he is still going strong now (in 1954).
These numbers are from a Rudi Blesh "This Is Jazz" radio program, and were issued on the Circle label in 78 rpm form, but have never before been available on LP. The solid core of Ory's band, here and for many years, is rhythm section of New Orleans veterans, all of whom had played with him in the past. The tunes they play recall the Chicago "golden era" of traditional jazz - Oliver's Snag It; Ory's own Savoy Blues; a pop tune of the period, and a version of the standard, Weary Blues, that permits interesting comparison with Bunk' handling of the same number.
While nothing can be done about the unfortunate fact that these two 'rediscovered' giants never recorded together, this LP can at least go as far as possible towards remedying the situation by placing them on opposite sides of the same disc. It is a combination that serves as quick and effective proof that their kind of jazz is a tough, long-lived and very possible deathless musical form.
This LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover art by Robert J. Lee; typographical design by Gene Gogerty
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
418 West 49th Street New York 19, N.Y.