Creole Trombone

Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz

John McCusker
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Creole Trombone
    Book Description:

    Edward "Kid" Ory (1886-1973) was a trombonist, composer, recording artist, and early New Orleans jazz band leader. Creole Trombone tells his story from birth on a rural sugar cane plantation in a French-speaking, ethnically mixed family, to his emergence in New Orleans as the city's hottest band leader. The Ory band featured such future jazz stars as Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, and was widely considered New Orleans's top "hot" band. Ory's career took him from New Orleans to California, where he and his band created the first African American New Orleans jazz recordings ever made. In 1925 he moved to Chicago where he made records with Oliver, Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton and captured the spirit of the jazz age. His most famous composition from that period, "Muskrat Ramble," is a jazz standard. Retired from music during the Depression, he returned in the 1940s and enjoyed a reignited career.

    Drawing on oral history and Ory's unpublished autobiography,Creole Tromboneis a story that is told in large measure by Ory himself. The author reveals Ory's personality to the reader and shares remarkable stories of incredible innovations of the jazz pioneer. The book also features unpublished Ory compositions, photographs, and a selected discography of his most significant recordings.

    eISBN: 978-1-62103-058-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-2)
    (pp. 3-5)

    In 1994 I led a history tour of jazz sites in New Orleans. Trombonist and educator Dave Ruffner, a member of the tour group from California, thought I gave Kid Ory the short shrift. He said Ory was more than just a sideman on the records of Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, and Jelly Roll Morton. He believed Ory to be bridge between the earliest jazz pioneers, like Buddy Bolden, whom Ory knew, and the ultimate jazzman Louis Armstrong, who got his start in Ory’s New Orleans band. Further, said Ruffner, recent scholarship on Ory suggested his reported December 25, 1886,...

    (pp. 6-23)

    The Woodland Plantation was a sprawling 1,882-acre sugar cane farm twenty-five miles upriver from New Orleans in a tiny St. John the Baptist Parish hamlet called LaPlace. Its main house—a raised, elongated cottage with a modest tin roof, cistern, and two stainedglass dormer windows—was built in 1839. About two dozen buildings, many of which had been slave quarters, ran along a dirt road behind the main house.¹ It was there on a cold Christmas morning in 1886 that Edward “Kid” Ory was born. Ory’s family lived about a half mile behind the main house across the cane fields,...

  6. CHAPTER 2 ca. 1897–1900: MUSIC
    (pp. 24-41)

    In recalling his early interest in music, Ory was inconsistent about his age. He was, however, consistent in his description of the phases of his progression. He first had a singing, or “humming” group, followed by a group that played homemade instruments; then he got a real banjo. Ory provides an invaluable clue to a plausible timetable when he links the acquisition of the banjo to the death of a relative in the summer of 1901, when he was 14.1.¹

    In those years before 1901, Dutt befriended several like-minded youngsters, some of whom would eventually accompany him when he brought...

  7. CHAPTER 3 1900–1904: ORPHAN
    (pp. 42-51)

    During the third week of a stay at the Haydels’ rice farm in Edgard, news reached Dutt that his mother had passed away. He recalled her in his autobiography:

    I kept remembering she had said she felt bad and several times she stayed in bed for a day or so, and that just wasn’t like my mother. To this day, I have never learned what caused her illness or her death. I don’t think it could have been from some old age ills because she wasn’t that old. My mother’s death really broke my heart. To me, it was the...

    (pp. 52-63)

    By 1905 Ory was spending much of his time with his brother Johnny across the river in Edgard. Johnny had become a partner in the Haydel and Ory store with his brother-in-law Clay Haydel. “It was a regular store on the [river] road,” remembered Haydel’s granddaughter Sybil Haydel Morial. She said they had pickles and pig feet in jars and just about anything else people might want. According to Harold Ory, Johnny’s son, there was usually a card game going on in a back room, complete with a signal bell in case the sheriff came around. Johnny had a dog...

  9. CHAPTER 5 1908–1910: KID
    (pp. 64-79)

    Shortly before they died, Dutt made a promise to his parents that he would remain in St. John Parish until he turned 21. He was supposed to look out for his younger sisters Annie and Lizzie. This, he said, was why in 1905 he did not take Bolden up on his offer to play with him. “I had to go back home,” he said. Ory should have been released from his bond on Christmas Day, 1907, when he turned 21. Somehow, however, Ory had come to believe that he was born in 1889. By 1957, when he realized that he...

  10. CHAPTER 6 1910–1916: NEW ORLEANS
    (pp. 80-111)

    The city of New Orleans was founded on a bend in the Mississippi River where it snakes along south of Lake Pontchartrain. It was settled by the French in 1718, ceded to Spain in 1762, returned to France in 1802, and sold to the United States as part of the Louisianan Purchase in 1803. In 1910 New Orleans was the fifteenth largest city in the country and the largest by far in the South. With a population of 339,075 it was a major port and railway hub. 89,262 of the residents were black.¹

    When Ory arrived in New Orleans, he...

  11. CHAPTER 7 1917–1919: CREOLE JAZZ
    (pp. 112-133)

    At the dawn of 1917, Ory’s was a successful and sought-after band. His clients included white bankers and black benevolent societies. They played lawn parties, Mardi Gras parades, Monday night dances at Economy Hall, and Sunday afternoons at Milneburg. Artistically, Ory’s band refined a style of playing that bridged all these audiences while retaining the qualities that made the music “hot.” He called it “soft ragtime.” Soon there would be another name for it: jazz. And the Ory band would cement its legacy with the help of Louis Armstrong and Joe “King” Oliver.

    The early biography of Joseph Oliver (1885–...

  12. CHAPTER 8 1919–1925: CALIFORNIA
    (pp. 134-155)

    Edward and Elizabeth Ory stepped off the train in August 1919 into a Los Angeles already brimming with transplants from Louisiana. Ads in California’s black newspapers like theCalifornia EagleandWestern Outlookcarried notices and ads for the Louisiana Commercial Association, the Creole Human Hair Company, and the Louisiana Creole Club. There were even groups that celebrated Mardi Gras with formal balls.

    Many African Americans from the South pulled up stakes and moved to California around the same time Ory did. Why Los Angeles? During a short visit somewhere between 1908 and 1910, Jelly Roll Morton had found that...

  13. CHAPTER 9 1925–1933: CHICAGO SIDEMAN
    (pp. 156-183)

    Through most of his career Ory was a dance bandleader, seldom playing in the bands of others. The exception was, ironically, a period that was perhaps his most fabled—the late 1920s in Chicago. There he backed up Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and King Oliver, making classic recordings that crystallized the sounds that defined the jazz age.

    Both Louis Armstrong and King Oliver contacted Ory in California in 1925, asking him to come to Chicago. Armstrong was looking for a steady trombonist for his inaugural recording group under his own name—Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five—and a...

  14. CHAPTER 10 1933–1973: EPILOGUE
    (pp. 184-188)

    As Kid Ory swept up the mailroom at the Santa Fe Railroad office in Los Angeles, the jazz age must have seemed an era long past. With money short, Dort also worked as a maid and seamstress.

    In 1937 Ory’s brother John and his wife Cecile and family moved from St. John Parish and joined him in Los Angeles, where they found a home a few blocks away. According to Johnny Ory’s son Harold, the family passed the time at home playing bridge into the wee hours, cooking, and visiting. Though times were tough, he said the family stuck together...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 189-190)
    (pp. 191-192)
    (pp. 193-199)
    (pp. 200-209)
  20. NOTES
    (pp. 210-239)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 240-250)