[Dixielandjazz] Jimmy Durante as a Jazz Man - Redux

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Jan 8 14:26:38 PST 2005

Don't sell Jimmy Durante's career as a jazz pianist short. He was THERE with
a band at about the same time as the ODJB. He was aslo among the very first
musicians and band leaders to record jazz.

And he may well have been the FIRST to record jazz with an integrated band.
In 1920, Achille Baquet was in the band and he was black.

Durante lived for a while in a house in Flushing NY (Queens County, NYC)
where I grew up. We used to point to the house and inform all our buddies
and visitors of the fact that Jimmy Durante used to live there.

Biographical information below is from several sources on the web.

Steve Barbone

"Jimmy Durante's Jazz Band was organized by drummer Johnny Stein after
Stein's Dixie Jass Band broke up and became the Original Dixieland Jass
Band. It is interesting to note that Achille Baquet was an African American,
but passed for White and played for mainly White bands in New Orleans,
including, Papa Jack Laine's Relaince Orchestra. His brother George Baquet
was a member of the Original Creole Orchestra and Jelly Roll Morton's Red
Hot Peppers. The band also recorded under the names of the Original New
Orleans Jazz Band and New Orleans Jazz Band."

"Before Jimmy Durante became one of the most famous and lovable entertainers
of the Twentieth Century, he was a hot piano player and bandleader. Durante
was greatly influenced by Scott Joplin and had his first success in show
business as a Ragtime piano player starting around 1911. He was billed as
"Ragtime Jimmy" and played in New York City and Coney Island. Durante was
part of the same wild crowd of early White jazz musicians as the Original
Dixieland Jazz Band and Johnny Stein. When the New Orleans Jazz style swept
New York by storm in 1917 with the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz
Band Durante was part of the audience at Reisenweber's on Columbus Circle.
Durante was very impressed with the band and invited them to play at a club
called the Alamo in Harlem where Jimmy played piano. The band was soon the
hottest thing in show business and Durante had his friend Johnny Stein
assemble a group of like-minded New Orleans musicians to accompany his act
at the Alamo. They billed themselves as "Durante's Jazz and Novelty Band".
In late 1918 they recorded two sides for Okeh under the name of the New
Orleans Jazz Band, they re-did the same two numbers a couple of months later
for Gennett under the name of Original New Orleans Jazz Band, and in 1920
the same group recorded again for Gennett as Jimmy Durante's Jazz Band. In
1921, Durante collaborated with an African-American songwriter by the name
of Chris Smith on the song "Let's Agree To Disagree" which Mamie Smith
recorded. Durante went on to record with several White Jazz bands in the
early 1920s including The Original Memphis Five, Ladd's Black Aces, Bailey's
Lucky Seven and Lanin's Southern Serenaders. Jimmy was a solid Ragtime and
Jazz piano player, but soon gravitated towards vaudeville as the 1920s wore
on. He became part of a comedy music team called "Clayton, Jackson and
Durante". By the end of the decade the team was very popular on Broadway and
Durante got a role in a play called "Jumbo" which made him a star. In the
early 1930s he started to get roles in movies, and became popular on radio
and eventually became one of the most popular entertainers in America. On
his radio show he joked that he was working on a symphony, but he wouldn't
call it "Rhapsody In Blue" or anything like that. He would call it "Inka
Dinka Do". In 1934 he recorded a novelty song with this title and it became
his signature tune. Jimmy's popularity never really faded and he became one
of the first stars of television. In his later years he was often cast as a
lovable relic of the Roaring 20s, but few remembered him as one of the first
Jazz recording artists."

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