[Dixielandjazz] Oliver, revivalism and classification

Chris Tyle tyleman at toast.net
Sat May 3 11:31:49 PDT 2003

Hello all,
Regarding Oliver vs. Watters, bear in mind one of the profound differences
in the two bands was the bass instrument, and the rhythmic feel. String bass
vs. tuba. Although Bill Johnson is not present on the Oliver CRJB
recordings, if you listen to his later work with Johnny Dodds, it is pretty
evident that although he plays a considerable amount of two beat, he does
also play four. Even the Oliver recordings w/out bass have a romping four
feeling the Watters band never had.

Also, regarding Oliver and Armstrong, the latter's playing is rarely a
strict harmonization to Oliver's lead. Sometimes he's playing an obligato,
like he does when accompanying a blues singer; sometimes he answers Oliver
(perfect example: the first strain of Canal Street Blues, where Oliver plays
three notes and Louis answers with two), but rarely is he playing a strict
harmonic part and never playing in unison. There are occasions when Louis is
also playing the lead and Oliver is not playing at all (example: the chorus
before Joe's Dippermouth Blues solo.)

I have trouble with the statement that the "two cornet lead, was not typical
of New Orleans jazz bands at that time." First of all, there is no such
thing as a "two cornet lead." One instrument plays lead, another instrument
plays is different part, whether it is strict harmony or what Armstrong
played (as mentioned above). Secondly, what about brass bands in NO? Very
common to have two or three trumpets in the band. And part of the reason for
that is to allow the players a chance to "take down" (not play), or to swap
lead and harmony parts.

I think Oliver's decision to hire Louis consisted of several reasons. First,
Joe was having problems with his teeth and his stamina. Second, Armstrong
had a very close relationship to Joe (he was Louis' mentor), and the two had
many opportunities to work together in brass bands in NO prior to Joe's
leaving. No doubt Oliver liked what the young Louis played. Third, I think
Oliver recognized the "diamond in the rough" quality of Louis and wanted to
give him a chance. Armstrong stated on more than one occasion that he
wouldn't have left NO for anyone but "Papa Joe." And Louis was offered the
gig with Fletcher Henderson at least a year or two before he went to
Chicago, and turned it down.

Let's also not forget that according to contemporary reports, Oliver's band
placed more emphasis on ensemble than solos. As a cornet player, having
someone else to carry the load on a four, five or six hour gig would be more
than welcome. I don't think that constitutes "laziness" on Joe's part---I
think it constitutes practicality!

Chris Tyle

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