Four New Orleans Jazz Babies at Halfway House, ca. 1920. L-R: Emmett “ Buck” Rogers, Abbie Brunies, Mickey Marcour and Emile (Stalebread) Lacoume.
Joseph K. Gorham in the early 1900’s was a theatrical impresario. Early in 1915 he had went to New Orleans to direct the Grunewald winter amusement features and while walking along Canal St. discovered a band of four musicians being ridden in the back of a wagon playing a style of music that was unknown to his ear, the musicians were rapid-fire yet strangely harmonious for the purpose of advertising a prize fight. The band had 4 pieces, identified by their appearance more than their melody, The leader of the players were Raymond Lopez cornet, Tom Brown trombone, Gus Mueller clarinet, and William Lambert drum’s, known as Brown’s Orchestra. Mr.Gorham observed the grinning faces, the snapping fingers, and the patting of feet of the crowd gathered around the wagon and was soon him self swaying to the barbaric tune. It was then he scented that ever-eagerly sought “something new”. He arraigned for them to go to Chicago and play at the Lamb’s Café there appearing as “Brown’s Band from Dixieland. Soon afterward “Jazz came into it’s own and remained there since. Lopez and his band played at “Lambs” for 33 weeks and under the direction of “Harry Fitzgerald went to New York playing on Vaudeville. It was not long before all over the North and East imitators were springing up. Interestingly, Lopez was the cornetist who first muted his instrument with a derby hat and Tom Brown used the same idea on his trombone. Mr. Gorham introduced Jazz to Chicago and then the world.
The origins of Jazz, where and how it started has of late really intrigued me. After some research thanks to “Googe Books” I ran across an article reprinted many times over the years, from the April, 26th. 1919 issue of “The Literary Digest”, the June 25th. 1923 issue of “Time” magazine, and the June, 1919 issue of “The Recruit” a pictorial navel magazine. The Story tells of a Lieut. James Reese Europe, late of the Machine Gun Battalion of the 15th. Regiment, tells that the word ”Jazz” comes from Mr. Razz, who led a band in New Orleans some 15 years ago (1904?) of four pieces, truly an extraordinary composition of instruments. It included a baritone horn, trombone, a cornet and an instrument made out of the “chinaberry tree” This instrument is something like the clarinet, and can only be used while the sap is in the wood, and after a few week’s of use has to be thrown away. It produces a beautiful sound and is worthy of inclusion in any band or orchestra. The four musicians of Razz’s Band had no idea at all of what they were playing; they improvised as they went along, but such was their innate sense of rhythm that they produced something which was very taking. From the small cafes of New Orleans they graduated to the St. Charles Hotel, and after a time to the “Winter Garden” in New York, where they appeared, however, only a few days, the individual musicians being grabbed up by various orchestra’s in the city. Somehow in the passage of time “Razz’s” Band” got changed into “Jazz Band”, and from this corruption arose the term Jazz.
In the April 26th, 1919 edition of Literary Digest, page 47 in the “Personal Glimpses” section, there’s a story of a blind newsboy in New Orleans known to his gang as “Stale Bread”. He had picked up a violin from a passing minstral show and learned to play. He was always saddened and melancholy and one day hit upon a new kind of music. A Music so wild and swinging and ear catching he played while he sold newspapers on the street corner. Soon his fellow gang members picked up any instrument they could find and joined in his playing this new music until there were 5 playing and were called “Stale Bread’s Spasms Band”. Many years passed as their music of the street and the underworld penetrated into the homes, clubs and restaurants of New Orleans. This is how the music began, before it was known as “jazz”. This history originated 20 years before this column was written as fact by Mr. Joseph K. Gorman the man who is known as introducing jazz to Chicago.
Cutting contests were a form of musical battles between various stride piano players between the 1920s and 1940s, and to a lesser extent in improvisatory competition on other jazz instruments during the swing era.
It was in the Central Avenue clubs that Wardell held his tenor battles with Dexter Gordon. These two were ideally matched: Wardell’s light sound and swift delivery were more than a match for Dexter’s big, blustering sound, and their tenor jousts became a kind of symbol for the Central Avenue scene. Gordon later recalled: “There’d be a lot of cats on the stand but by the end of the session it would wind up with Wardell and myself… His playing was very fluid, very clean… He had a lot of drive and a profusion of ideas”. Their fame began to spread, and Ross Russell managed to get them to simulate one of their battles on The Chase, which became Wardell’s first nationally-known recording and has been assessed as “one of the most exciting musical contests in the history of jazz”.
The success of The Chase was the break that Wardell needed, and he became increasingly prominent in public sessions in and around LA, including the “Just Jazz” series of jam sessions organised by the disc jockey Gene Norman. There were concerts at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and the Shrine Auditorium and other venues. The session which included “Just You, Just Me” and “Sweet Georgia Brown” has some of Wardell’s best playing, but the only CD version of this is crudely abbreviated and cannot be recommended. (There have since been issued several unedited versions of these performances).
An interview with Sam Stephenson author of the book: The Jazz Loft Project.
The Jazz Loft Project oral history with bassist Bill Crow.
Dan Partridge, The Jazz Loft Research Associate.