jeffcrom

The King Oliver Thread

65 posts in this topic

As far as I have been able to tell, there hasn't been a thread devoted to King Oliver. There have been one or two talking about the merits of various reissues, but someone as important to the history of jazz as Joe Oliver deserves a thread, so here's a start:

King Oliver’s reputation rests mostly on the 1923 Creole Jazz Band recordings, which are perhaps the zenith of the early New Orleans style. The personnel varied somewhat, and exact lineup of some of the sessions is still in dispute, but the basic band was: King Oliver and Louis Armstrong on cornets, Honore Dutrey on trombone, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin (Louis’ second wife) on piano, Bud Scott or Johnny St. Cyr on banjo, and Baby Dodds on drums. Bill Johnson was the bassist, but did not play bass on any of the recordings, probably for technical reasons. He may have played banjo on the first couple of sessions. The primitive recording techniques of the time also limited Baby Dodds mostly to woodblock. As others have said, the 2006 Off the Record/Archeophone reissue is the one to get – you’ll never hear these sides sound better unless you have mint copies of the 78s.

Once you get past the archaic sound, the Creole Jazz Band is worlds away from good-time dixieland. The blues content of the playing ensures that the music is deep and satisfying. The music worked so well largely because each player knew his place in the ensemble and didn’t step on anyone else’s lines. The ensemble excellence of the band carried it, even through its flaws: Dutrey was not as strong as the other players and sometimes played out of tune; Hardin and the banjo players didn’t always agree on the chords; the band’s tempo was sometimes less than perfectly steady.

If you’re coming to this music for the first time, or it hasn’t grabbed you before, here are some suggestions/guideposts:

Sample this band, don’t dive in. Listen for a few tracks at a time. If you try to listen to all of this music at one sitting, it will probably start to sound like a low-fidelity blur.

Listen to the cornets. If you follow them, everything else might fall into place. This has been hard to do with some previous issues, which pretty much EQ’d out the cornets along with the surface noise.

Listen to the deep blues content of “Canal Street Blues.” This one always gets to me.

Listen to the drive of the band on “I Ain’t Gonna Tell Nobody.” It’s all ensemble – no solos – and they just get hotter and hotter for three minutes. This must have been overwhelming to hear live.

The Creole Jazz Band version of “High Society” has got to be the best ever. Johnny Dodds plays a great version of the traditional clarinet solo while Armstrong dances under him.

Listen for the passages where Oliver drops out and Louis takes over the lead: just before the famous muted cornet solo in “Dippermouth Blues” and the last chorus of “Riverside Blues,” for example – the whole texture of the music changes. And Armstrong has an amazing series of breaks in the otherwise forgettable “Tears” that provide the first recorded glimpse of what a genius he was.

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Many thanks for this. I checked out Off the Record/Archephone transfers online and could hardly believe what I was hearing. And that was online! When my order arrives, I'll be hearing anew music that I thought I knew very well.

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I've sung the praises of this set before. Through the years I've had this material on Riverside (10 and 12 inchers), Epic, Parlophone, Smithsonian (all lps) and cd sets on Music Memoria and the set under discussion. The Off the Record set is really special. The booklet alone is worth the price of admission. Let me also recommend a Frog disc called "Blues Singers and Hot Bands on Okeh" for a collection of fine sideman recordings by Mr Oliver.

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Thanks for the comments on listening to this one. I'll be headed home later tonight and will give it a fresh listen with your suggestions in mind. And thanks Chuck for the Frog recommendation.

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Listening to disc 1 this morning. I haven't had this set long and have listened probably just a half dozen times to one disc or the other. I don't know what I expected before hearing this music for the first time -- something undeveloped and simple, I think -- but the thing that struck me immediately, and continues to, are the wonderful melodies that emerge. I don't know if "sophisticated" is the right word to describe the way the instruments intertwine and play against one another harmonically, but it's a long way from "undeveloped" or "simple."

It's interesting that there is no bass instrument (such as tuba) on the tracks on disc 1. The bass saxophone (Charlie Jackson ?) is introduced on disc 2. I had assumed tuba would be a standard instrument in such band, rather than stand-up bass, which, as you point out, was played by Bill Johnson in the band but not on these recordings.

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don't tell anybody that I'm posting, but check out King Oliver's Victor recording of West End Blues from, I think, 1929, by which time he was supposed to be way past his prime. Oliver sounds amazing on this, powerful and assertive - musta been the bennies -

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Love King Oliver, have the Music Memoria 2 CD set which includes the two duets with Morton. What always strikes me is how funky, in a specifically JB sense, the CJB is. The Banjo - Jimmy 'chank' Nolan connection is especially strong to my ears.

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Let me also recommend a Frog disc called "Blues Singers and Hot Bands on Okeh" for a collection of fine sideman recordings by Mr Oliver.

That's a good collection. It allows you to hear Oliver clearly, without any other horns on many of the tracks. It does bring home the "fleas come with the dog" nature of much early jazz - a couple of the singers are just awful. But Sippie Wallace's "Morning Dove Blues" is a masterpiece - she's accompanied by Oliver and her brilliant, ill-fated nephew Hersal Thomas at the piano. And I've always liked Texas Alexander - a link to the earliest blues styles. It's pretty entertaining to hear Oliver and Eddie Lang try to figure out when Texas is going to come in with his next line.

And for what it's worth, some authorities don't think that Oliver plays on the Blind Willie Dunn sides from that album; Laurie Wright tentatively identifies the trumpeter as Tommy Dorsey. Who am I to argue with Laurie Wright, but I think it's Oliver - I've heard him play some of the same phrases elsewhere.

don't tell anybody that I'm posting, but check out King Oliver's Victor recording of West End Blues from, I think, 1929, by which time he was supposed to be way past his prime. Oliver sounds amazing on this, powerful and assertive - musta been the bennies -

Isn't that supposed to be Louis Metcalf?

Yes, that's Metcalf on the Victor "West End Blues." Because of dental problems, Oliver didn't play on the first two Victor sessions, but he did some pretty impressive playing elsewhere in the series. I'll do a post on his late-twenties big band recordings soon unless somebody tells me to shut the hell up first.

Edited by jeffcrom

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I'll do a post on his late-twenties big band recordings soon unless somebody tells me to shut the hell up first.

Keep 'em coming! :)

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I'll do a post on his late-twenties big band recordings soon unless somebody tells me to shut the hell up first.

Keep 'em coming! :)

Same goes for me. Curious about your take on the Brunswick/Vocalion material.

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I placed my order! Thanks for bumping this up.

Rob Bamberger featured this on Hot Jazz Saturday Night (WAMU in our nation's capitol) some time ago and I plum forgot to "act now!"

Edited by It Should be You

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I wholeheartedly second Jeff and Chuck's recommendation of the Archeophone set. Excellent mastering of this wonderful music.

Edited by J.A.W.

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Thanks for starting this thread.

Listened to the some of the Archeophone set this evening. Besides hearing some short & wonderful (perhaps made more wonderful by the very fact that they're short) Dodds and Oliver solos that hadn't stuck in my head before, I was struck for the first time that this was a dance band. Hearing this reissue let me hear the drive and the rhythm of the Oliver Band - probably because I didn't feel that I was working to hear what was going on. This was the first time that I had at least some sense of what people who bought these records in 1923 experienced. Hearing and feeling the 1923 Oliver Band as a dance band was a new experience for me.

Edited by paul secor

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Never forget my discussions with Bud Freeman about hearing the band. One afternoon's talk is on tape somewhere in my basement.

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Mention of the Oliver Brunswick/Vocalion sessions got me thinking about other bands and directions at the time - Henderson, McKinney's, Ellington and Luis Russell for example. I love transition periods like this and all kinds of stuff was happening - just before the "swing craze" started. More "territorial" bands widen the horizon but might muddle the discussion.

New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Kansas City (and the entire SW) mixed it up then and this diversity seemed to go away until the '60s when Ornette appeared.

YMMV.

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Never forget my discussions with Bud Freeman about hearing the band. One afternoon's talk is on tape somewhere in my basement.

Man ! - I would love to hear that!

I've bought this stuff over and over, on vinyl and on cd, the most recent (and best) issue being the Archeophones.

I've got all the later material also, again on vinyl and cd. I need to delve into it more.

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Curious about your take on the Brunswick/Vocalion material.

Here ya go:

Oliver’s later recordings are not really essential in the way the Creole Jazz Band sides are, but there is some good music among them. In 1926 he started recording for Vocalion/Brunswick with a big band of the time – three brass, three reeds, and a four-piece rhythm section. A simple (or simplistic) way to sum up the Vocalions is that they’re similar to Fletcher Henderson’s recordings of the time, but not as hip – they’re rougher and bluesier. Generally speaking, they’re fairly good and consistent, but not great overall. There are a few real dogs among them, and a few items that stand out and deserve to be remembered.

At first, anyway, most of the guys in the band were from New Orleans, and this gave a nice, Southern funk to one of the standouts, “Snag It.” Also worth hearing are “Wa Wa Wa,” a stomping little tune that builds up a nice head of steam, and “Showboat Shuffle,” another blues with good solos by Oliver, Kid Ory, and Omer Simeon. “Jackass Blues” is pretty corny, but has a blues solo by the King that, even with a fluff, gives a hint of how powerful a blues player he must have been in his prime. Maybe my favorite is hardly even jazz at all: “Someday Sweetheart” doesn’t really have any improvisation to speak of. Oliver plays the melody on the verse and the first chorus is split between Bert Cobb’s tuba (!) and Barney Bigard’s very straight tenor. But the second verse is given to guest star Johnny Dodds, and it’s delicious; even though Dodds doesn’t stray far from the melody, his sound, phrasing, and vibrato put his own stamp on it

Oliver’s later Vocalions, from November, 1927 on, are by pickup bands – his band had broken up, and the scuffling that would define the last eleven years of his life had begun. Some of these recordings are better than others, but they are all more anonymous sounding that his regular band. He recorded for Victor in 1929-1930 (more on that later), and had a few more sessions for Brunswick in 1931. On some of the later sessions, Oliver plays very little trumpet – at one session, only 16 bars. Louis Armstrong’s popularity had made Oliver’s playing sound pretty old-fashioned by this point, anyway. I find it (at its best) beautiful in the way an antique car is beautiful.

Without thinking about it very hard, I can think of half a dozen similar bands of the time that were better than Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators. But if you’re into Oliver, you’ll want to hear at least some of these sides. It looks like the most available issue now is two volumes on Frog: Sugar Foot Stomp and Farewell Blues. The bottom line for me: I seldom listen to this entire series, although I did before writing this. But fairly frequently, I sit down with my Affinity set and spend 30 minutes or so with my favorites.

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Mention of the Oliver Brunswick/Vocalion sessions got me thinking about other bands and directions at the time - Henderson, McKinney's, Ellington and Luis Russell for example. I love transition periods like this and all kinds of stuff was happening - just before the "swing craze" started. More "territorial" bands widen the horizon but might muddle the discussion.

New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit, New York and Kansas City (and the entire SW) mixed it up then and this diversity seemed to go away until the '60s when Ornette appeared.

YMMV.

Over time (a lot of time, in my case -- spring 1954 to the present) I've come to feel that understanding and enjoying what is going on in such transition periods is the beginning of historical/aesthetic wisdom in jazz. While "progressivism" among musicians and among listeners is not the same thing, it has pitfalls for both groups, especially for the latter, and there are overlaps. One thinks of all the talented modern and/or mainstream clarinetists who not only can't abide but also can't even begin to understand Pee Wee Russell or Johnny Dodds (not that Russell and Dodds are the same thing). A postscript about musicians: up to a certain point in his life (maybe until the end) Coleman Hawkins essentially was a progressive: I recall a Blindfold Test where he was played either "One Hour Tonight" or "Hello, Lola," and his response was that the music (including his own work) was essentially primitive and unlistenable. Primitive, yes, in one limited but important sense -- the drive toward certain sorts of technical refinement and sophistication (or "sophistication") will never cease, nor should it; but otherwise (on a case by case basis and being careful not to confuse certain kinds of roughness or lack of "sheen" with lack of skill), hell, no!

I'm reminded of a passage from the liner notes of the 1978 album "Everybody Stomp" by the fine French revivalist band Charquet and Co., lead by cornetist-arranger Jean-Pierre Morel (who after a a gap of a decade or more has returned as the leader of Le Petit Jazz Band and Les Rois de Fox Trot -- search the board under my name for links to terrific YouTube clips of Charquet and Co.). I should add that in their case (and the case of the great Australians like Dave Dallwitz), "revivalist" isn't really the right term; it's new music born from the "old." In any case, the liner notes say: "Morel felt French traditional jazz in the 1960s was often a 'fake and a cheat,'' and he preferred to work with the arranged music that preceded the Swing Era, from hot and sweet groups which produced highly imaginative scores and projected (in Morel's phrase) 'richness, contrasts in sonorities, picturesqueness and vital rhythmic discoveries that totally disappear in Swing.'" The proof is in the listening, but without doubt IMO some vital things got (and always do get) plowed under as "progressivisms" do their business, and there is much to be learned (and much pleasure to be had) by accurately perceiving how specific nodes of the past worked and felt before they became "The Past." Among other things, it almost certainly will enlighten you about the relationship between the present and the possible future(s).

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The proof is in the listening, but without doubt IMO some vital things got (and always do get) plowed under as "progressivisms" do their business, and there is much to be learned (and much pleasure to be had) by accurately perceiving how specific nodes of the past worked and felt before they became "The Past." Among other things, it almost certainly will enlighten you about the relationship between the present and the possible future(s).

I tried to say something like that in my post above, but couldn't get it worded right. One reason I like to visit New Orleans regularly is that so-called "traditional jazz" is not relegated to the past there - it's a living, breathing music. At the very least, it's one of the options the musicians there can chose from, just as they can pick and chose what they like from later jazz styles. Many of the trumpet players I hear there seem equally aware of King Oliver and Clifford Brown, and I love that. I sometimes wish that New Orleans musicians showed a little more awareness of Ornette and later developments, but that's a different story.

Yeah, there is plenty of tourist Dixieland to be heard there. But guys like Evan Christopher, Tom McDermott, Michael White, Gregg Stafford, and Matt Perrine can play tunes composed in 1910 and make them sound as vital and alive as any music you've ever heard.

Edited by jeffcrom

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There are thin, but essential lines between growing a living music, playing within a style and grave robbing.

These are all very different things.

Edited by Chuck Nessa

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There are thin, but essential lines between growing a living music, playing within a style and grave robbing.

These are all very different things.

And there's a fourth different thing (or maybe it would be a special case under Chuck's "growing a living music") -- a la Dallwitz and some others of that generation of Australians, falling in love with an older style or styles and inventing some music that's kind of in the style of but is essentially new, expressive of your own reality, and as rich in purely musical terms as, say, the best of Morton. Sounds damn unlikely, but it happened. May never happen again, not until and if we colonize other planets or galaxies (or vice versa).

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... May never happen again, not until and if we colonize other planets or galaxies (or vice versa).

I think Braxton's cooking something up for that eventuality. ... :alien:

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... May never happen again, not until and if we colonize other planets or galaxies (or vice versa).

I think Braxton's cooking something up for that eventuality. ... :alien:

But then Sun Ra came here from there.

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There are thin, but essential lines between growing a living music, playing within a style and grave robbing.

These are all very different things.

And there's a fourth different thing (or maybe it would be a special case under Chuck's "growing a living music") -- a la Dallwitz and some others of that generation of Australians, falling in love with an older style or styles and inventing some music that's kind of in the style of but is essentially new, expressive of your own reality, and as rich in purely musical terms as, say, the best of Morton. Sounds damn unlikely, but it happened. May never happen again, not until and if we colonize other planets or galaxies (or vice versa).

Now you are talking about developments within "playing within a style". This is not too far removed from the "HIP" classical movement.

If you want to be kind, you can call it "neo-something" but it is still a sort of nostalgia thing.

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