LOUIS ARMSTRONG with KING OLIVER’S CREOLE JAZZ BAND
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Joe (King) Oliver, Louis Armstrong (cnt) Honore Dutray (tb) Johnny Dodds (cl) Lil Hardin Armstrong (p) Bill Johnson (bj) Warren (Baby) Dodds (drs) Richmond, Indiana; April 5 & 6, 1923
1. Chimes Blues (2:53) (Joe Oliver)
2. Froggie Moore (3:04) (Spikes – Morton)
3. Just Gone (2:42) (Oliver - Johnson)
4. Canal Street Blues (2:29) (Oliver – Armstrong)
5. Dipper Mouth Blues (2:38) (Oliver – Armstrong)
6. Weatherbird Rag (2:42) (Louis Armstrong)
7. Mandy Lee Blues (2:10) (Bloom – Melrose)
8. Snake Rag (3:03) (Joe Oliver)
These records, which King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band made for the Gennett label in the Spring of 1923, are the definitive recordings of that remarkable music that is New Orleans jazz.
Here is one of these very rare cases in which you can single out the work of a specific group of artists and unhesitatingly say that, as far as their particular form of expression is concerned: this is it! These were actually the first recorded examples of Negro jazz ever issued, but that is only one small part of their greatness. There was simply no other band on records (and most probably none off records) with such command of the traditional style or with anything approaching the spirit and the sureness with which they could “drive down” the blues and the stomps that are the bed-rock of jazz. Their influence on a whole generation of both white and Negro jazzmen was vast and valuable, and is still a long way from dying out.
Joe Oliver had been in the forefront in the pre-1917 New Orleans days of street parades and of the wide-open dives of Storyville. He was 38 in 1923, and might possibly have lost some fraction of his earlier power, but he had certainly lost none of the fire and tone and imagination that had made him a jazz “King.”
Alongside this established master stood a 23-year-old youngster, on the first rung of what was to be the highest ladder any jazz musician has ever climbed. Louis Armstrong was just about getting under way. But the sound that bursts from his horn, from the first notes of his very first recorded solo, on Chime Blues, shows clearly that he already deserved to share a bandstand with Oliver, that he was a protégé who was soon to outshine his teacher. Undoubtedly not the least of the claims to immortality that these records can make is that they were Satchmo’s debut.
Louis himself has written the story of how he came into the band* (His reminiscence calls for only one explanatory note: when he mentions “trumpets,” it is in a general sense: both Armstrong and Oliver played cornet at the time):
“I joined Joe’s band in Chicago in 1922. He and Jimmy Noone had gone up there together in 1918; and he took Chicago by storm. Then he sent for me to play second trumpet. I don’t know of another band that had two trumpets at that time, but I guess Joe decided to have two because he figured I could blend with him. … He must have remembered the way I played, the things we’d talked about. I must have proved it to him in some way before he left in 1918. After all, he didn’t need to send for me; he was top man…
“I’ll never forget the night I joined the Oliver band. They were playing at the Lincoln Gardens, at 31st near it the Royal Gardens – that’s where those blues came from.) Well, I came up to Chicago and I didn’t come in on the grain that Joe was supposed to meet. So that makes me come in all by myself. I looked all around and I didn’t see anybody. I said: ‘Lord, what’s going to happen now’ and I wondered if I should go right back on the next train. I was just get a cab and go out to the Lincoln Gardens.”
“When I got there and got out of the cab, I heard this band. They were really jumping then, and I commenced to worry all over again. I wondered if I could ever fit into that band. Oh, those cats were blowing! Old Johnny Dodds was making those variations and Baby Dodds shimmying on the drums. Dutray was good on that trombone, too; he had a beautiful tone. When I walked in that night, I just sat down and listened.”
That was surely a moment to get misty-eyed about, a crucial moment in the history of jazz. It was the beginning of the fusing of the wonderful, still-expanding talents of the young Armstrong with this tight-knit unit that, with hi,, was to establish a high-point in jazz. And Louis certainly did not just sit and listen for very long. These records were made only a few months later, but by then the unequalled Armstrong-Oliver teamwork had been fully developed. Following the original New Orleans pattern of ensemble playing, solos were a fairly rare occurrence with the Creole Band; the dramatic flashes of such Oliver classics as Snake Rag and Dipper Mouth came, most often, from the brilliant breaks the two horns worked out together. In that same magazine article, Louis described their almost-intuitive technique:
“… We really made something of it. Musicians would be sitting right in front of the bandstand and they couldn’t tell when we had decided what break we were going to take. We weren’t reading any music. Joe had a way of making up his break whole he was playing the lead (and then sort of whispering it to me) and I was on to his playing so well that I just figured my second to it and I’d just go about my business – and when the break came, it was just there…”
In the inevitable emphasis on these two, there is danger of undervaluing the roles of the others. But all contribute importantly, for the essence of the music is that, as Louis put it, you can hear “this band” – this joining of individuals into a flawless creative unity. They play together, in the true meaning of the term “ensemble,” with unsurpassed understanding of and respect for each individual’s contribution to the collective musical product. This, above all, is the key to the greatness of traditional jazz and of King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band.
* Joe Oliver Is Still King” by Louis Armstrong, in the Record Changer magazine,” July, 1950.
A note on the original recordings. The first six selections here were first released as three couplings: in order, their respective label numbers and (in parentheses) master numbers were – Gennett 5135 (11387 and 11390); Ge 5133 (11383 and 11384); Ge 5132 (11389 and 11388), Mandy Lee Blues (11385) was originally coupled on Ge 5134 with I’m Going Away to Wear You Off My Mind (11386), also recorded at this time but omitted from this LP; Snake Rag (11391) was first issued on Ge 5184. This first five numbers (through 11387(were recorded on April 5, 1923; the others on the following day.
This slight surface noise audible on this LP 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 tone qualities.
Produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York