[Dixielandjazz] The Promotion King - the early days

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Jun 20 18:49:09 PDT 2006

Who was the one of the first "Promotion Kings" of Dixieland? The answer may
surprise some of us. . . . Band leader Tom Brown. And he might have learned
it from Ray Lopez. Brown's band worked in New Orleans and Lopez, was forever
handing out cards when the band played on a wagon that advertised boxing
matches in New Orleans. One day they met vaudeville performer Johnny Swor.

Lopez gave him a card and Swor asked them to come north with the troop, to
Chicago. Lopez and Brown laughed it off. But the manager of another
vaudeville act heard them too, and passed their card on to the manager of
Lamb's Cafe in Chicago. The owner of Lamb's, without hearing them, agreed to
book them and wired money for their fare in the spring of 1915.

Their opening was a disaster. When the played Memphis Blues as a sampler,
the owner called it "noise". Livery Stable Blues evoked even worse reactions
and they were called crazy and/or drunk. Worse yet, they had no sheet music.
But they opened and their contract was honored.

What to do? Lopez heard that Johnny Swor was in town and contacted him
telling him that there was nobody coming into Lamb's to hear them. In fact
the house band, which included Jean Goldkette on piano, had quit in protest
over their jazz music. The owner wasn't talking to them, etc.

Bless Johnny Swor, he rented Lamb's for one night and had a cast party for
the road troop that was performing in Chicago. (Schubert show; "Maid in
America) And they told Lamb's owner that Brown's band was indeed all the
rage in New Orleans. And they got the word out. Show folks talked up Tom
Brown's Band From Dixieland and Lamb's Cafe.

And people started coming. Lamb added a cover charge. Soon the line outside
was two blocks long. Celebrities dropped in to be seen. Even Vernon and
Irene Castle showed up and pronounced the music excellent for dancing.

By summer the band consisted of Lopez, Brown, Larry Shields, Deacon Loycano
and Bill Lambert.

What did the press do? Well after Johnny Stein's Band From Dixie came to
Chicago in 1916, to open at another club,(Nick LaRocca was in Johnny Stein's
Band) some aristocratic ladies, 50 or 60 of them journeyed to the cafes to
confront this "wickedness" face to face. They were refused entry as the
joints were full to capacity. Never the less, the Chicago Herald newspaper
shouted out the next day:

"Sixty Women Rip Mask From Vice"

"It was impossible for anyone to be heard. The shriek of women's drunken
laughter rivaled the blatant scream of the imported New Orleans Jass Band
which never seemed to stop playing. Men and women sat, arms about each
other, singing, shouting, making the night hideous, while their unfortunate
brethren and sisters fought in vain to join them."

You can imagine what happened next. Who could resist going to see that
scene? Jass became all the rage in Chicago too. And a multitude of Chicago
joints sent to New Orleans for anyone who claimed he could blow a horn to
come up north and gig.

All because Tom Brown and Deacon Loycano handed out a card in New Orleans
and that resulted in a friendship with some theater folks who helped them
out when they needed it by talking about the music and the ambience of the
joint in which it was played.

Jelly Roll Morton, Jimmy Noone, Freddie Keppard George Baquet, and others
had all played in Chicago before Tom Brown. But it was Brown who got to the
mass audience. It was; wine, women, song; sex and noise; plus a little help
from their friends.

No, the music is not enough, it never was. Not even in the beginning.

Part Two of the original promoter story includes the ODJB with LaRocca and
Shields in New York City a couple of years later. LaRocca was another of the
"Promotion Kings" of Dixieland who knew enough to answer the door when
opportunity knocked, and the Chicago experience at Stein's is what started
him on the magical road to the jazz age.

Steve Barbone

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