[Dixielandjazz] More on King Oliver

Chris Tyle tyleman at toast.net
Sun May 4 10:17:01 PDT 2003

Hi, Anton et. al.,

Having spent 13 years playing music in New Orleans, working with New Orleans
musicians, I came to realize that they are and were totally pragmatic. We
too often think of the "standard" instrumentation as three front line and
three or four rhythm. Even in the so-called "heyday" of jazz in NO, bands
had a multitude of configurations, depending on what the gig called for.
Louis mentions working at Tom Anderson's with a trio; Bunk worked in a duo
with Tony Jackson. These were not isolated cases; this was the norm.

I bring up the brass bands because they figure into what became what we now
refer to as a "jazz" band. Early jazz bands were a marriage of the brass
band and the string trio. Peter Bocage mentions this in his interviews in
the Hogan Jazz Archive, and Bocage would know since he was certainly what
would now be called a "cross-over" artist. His beginnings were playing
either violin or mandolin in string groups. He then took up the cornet. Not
only did he play in brass bands, but was a member for many years of Armand
Piron's orchestra.

It should be pointed out that these early groups didn't consider themselves
"jazz" bands. It's highly likely they didn't even use that word until after
the ODJB records were issued. It was either orchestra or band.

So what I'm pointing out here is that to get a truly accurate picture of New
Orleans music and musicians, we need to suspend these rigid organizational
concepts and adopt more of a view of the overall picture. Just because there
is a sound or a pictorial record of a group's instrumentation doesn't mean
that it was carved in stone. If a leader was asked to provide a trio, then
that's what the customer got. The ODJB was a quintet because that's what
they played with when they started playing in NO. They could just as easily
have added a string bass or tuba or banjo or guitar if they wanted to and
*the money was there.* (And the ODJB used string bass in the 1930s during
their comeback.

So, returning to Oliver, adding a second cornet was not really a novelty,
since, as I pointed out in my previous post, there is evidence that a band
was using two cornets (the band on the steamer JS) as early as 1918. Don't
forget that Oliver eventually added a saxophone, and that had already been
done in NO, too. The trend in the mid-1920s in Chicago was heading to larger
bands, moving toward more arranged music rather than the free-wheeling
ensembles characteristic of the Oliver. When Oliver was playing at the
Lincoln Gardens with an eight-piece band, other bands in Chicago already had
two trumpets and two reeds.

Chris Tyle

More information about the Dixielandjazz mailing list