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Jazz Legends

Jazz Legends - their life & music


Joe Oliver is renowned for his leadership of the Creole Jazz Band and for his mentoring of a young Louis Armstrong.

Oliver was born in Louisiana in 1885 and was raised in New Orleans. In his teens he played cornet in a childrens brass band, graduating to various marching bands and eventually joining Kid Ory's Brownskin Babies jazz band.

Oliver moved to Chicago and, hailed as the "King", was soon leading the Creole Jazz Band at the Dreamland. In 1922, the band was booked into Chicago's Lincoln Gardens and later that year, Oliver sent for Louis Armstrong to play second cornet. The band, with its two horns, was a big draw; musicians appreciated the band and would drop in after hours to listen.

In April 1923 the Creole Jazz Band made jazz history when they recorded nine tunes in a single day for the Gennet Record Company in Richmond, Indiana. These recordings were a breakthrough, representing the first by any of Chicago's African American jazz bands. Oliver's band quickly followed its early triumph with more recording sessions, waxing thity-seven titles in the space of eight months. Representative titles are: Dippermouth Blues, Canal St. Blues, Mand Lee Blues, Weather Bird Rag, Froggie Moore Rag, Chimes Blues, Snake Rag, Mabels Dream and Workingman Blues. The band that made these fabulaous landmark recordings consisted of Oliver and Armstrong, cornets: Dutrey, trombone; Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Lil Hardin, piano; Baby Dodds drums; and Bill Johnson, banjo.

After Louis Armstrong struck out on his own, Oliver went on to lead and record with the Dixie Syncopators. Then in 1927, King Oliver turned down an engagement at Harlem's Cotton Club - he was not happy with the financial side of the deal. [The gig was accepted by Ellington.] This was one of Oliver's bad decisions that led to breaking up the band and eventually to Oliver working in a pool hall in Savannah, Georgia where he died in 1938.

Still, Joe Oliver left an incredible legacy of recorded classic jazz that years later would spark the jazz revival in Europe, in Australia and in San Francisco.

-------- ©   Mike Slack, 1998

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