Jazz Puzzles 4 : Traveling New Orleans Musicians


Jazz Puzzles 4 : Traveling New Orleans Musicians
The musicians as you’ve never seen them before

Most of the photos presented in this work were originally in black and white, but some of the prints were colorized by the modification of the ageing chemical products. So why not colorize some other photos (with a new technique) and recover the (almost total) original colors of the people and locations? The result proved interesting as they revealed that P. G. Lowery wore a flashy red jacket with the Eureka Band, while the other members were in white and the leader was in black. To take only a few examples, the beauty and elegance of Laura Prampin and the Black Patti came out as an agreable surprises. To see the Elgar orchestra in color, or Tony Jackson with his friends in color was a vital new experience!

The Pre-Jazz Generation of Musicians

During the last decade of the 19th century and the first years of the following century, minstrels and vaudeville shows were very popular in the United States. Run by white or enterprising African American proprietors and managers such as Robert C. White and Pat Chappelle, these troupes traveled by train in special cars. During the period that saw the end of the Reconstruction and the establishment of segregation, they managed to visit thousands of towns in the United States and Canada.
Each company employed workers and entertainers of all kinds, and among them were musicians. Some of these musicians were from New Orleans and acted as conductors of the bands and orchestras of famous shows and circuses.
The bands and orchestras had an important dual function: they advertised the arrival of the show with a parade in town, and played at night under a big tent (or more rarely in theaters or stadiums).
The bandmasters tried to attract the finest soloists so as to organize the best possible bands. Many of the traveling musicians from Louisiana were born just after the end of the Civil War. Some, having attended university and good schools, could write and read music, even compose and arrange music. They all grew up in New Orleans during the 1870s and 1890s. They probably knew each other during their youth, played in the same brass bands and sometimes remained in touch for the rest of their lives.
Although some musicians were grandsons of slaves, many were free Creoles of color, whose families had fled Santo Dominguo in the early 1800s. They all had strong cultural links and shared a common pride for their achievements. They used the press, and especially the Indianapolis Freeman to advertise their travels and correspond with their colleagues in other companies in striking brotherly terms. The written interactions between Dan Desdunes, Harry Prampin, Frank Clermont, Albert Carroll, Tony Jackson, Charlie Elgar, Charles McCurdy, Alphonse Guiguesse, Frank Castry, Frank Jackson, George Baquet, Jimmy Palao, Kid Ross… through The Freeman are particularly interesting.
These musicians played and taught music to earn a living, but also had a clear goal of spreading their culture. Many of them were involved in civic life and political affairs, and fought segregation. Some of them took part in the organization of the first African American musicians’ union in New Orleans and Chicago.
Some, like the Clermont couple, even visited England and Paris as early as 1906. Others, like the Prampins and Desdunes, settled in northern U.S. towns where they opened music schools.
Also of note in this gallery of portraits is the presence of many previously overlooked female musicians of extraordinary talent and energy, such as Etta Clermont, Laura Prampin and Lottie Hightower, all of whom were ahead of their time.

The Freeman

The Freeman, first published on July 14, 1888 by Edward Elder Cooper in Indianapolis, Indiana, was the earliest illustrated African American newspaper in the United States. Cooper sold the paper to George L. Knox in 1892; Knox shifted the paper's political allegiance from Democratic to Republican. It was circulated nationally and considered by many the leading black newspaper. Hurt by the Depression and competition from the Indianapolis Recorder the newspaper ceased publication in 1926.
The paper covered all kinds of subjects of interest to the African American public. In its "The Stage” column, usually on page 5, the paper published news from bands, shows, circuses, and served as a means of contact between the entertainers on the road. It also allowed impresarios and bandleaders to place advertisements when in need of musicians or artists.
Studying The Freeman is particularly worthwhile as the letters of the traveling bandleaders gave the routes of the bands and their rosters, and sometimes the entire personnel of the troupes, including the cooks, costume makers, roustabouts, proprietors, managers and musicians. The Freeman’s correspondents’ reports often cast a vivid light on the daily lives of the members of these troupes.
The Freeman also included advertisements for these shows, plus occasional great drawings and even photographs of musicians.
Musicians moved in and out of the same bands and orchestras, sometimes touring from a few months up to almost a year. Bandleaders signed contracts with musicians for a whole season, but many deserted during the course of a tour. Good musicians and bandleaders used to switch from one band to another, according to the demand or opportunity and the newspaper helped them to keep in touch.

With these troupes the New Orleans musicians traveled and lived with musicians from other states, under such as famous bandmasters William Blue, S. E. Dodd, P. G. Lowery (most of them cornetists) and others.
The musicians often joined shows that were visiting New Orleans. Some stayed home, like Charlie McCurdy, Alcibiades Jean Jacques, Alphonse Guiguesse, Frank Castry, Frank Clermont, Harry Prampin, Frank Jackson, George Baquet, all New Orleans pre-jazz musicians whose names appeared regularly in the The Freeman during the period 1898-1910. These men and women not only shaped the music of New Orleans, but also spread the town’s musical reputation.
The Tio brothers, whose biographies have been studied in Jazz Puzzles Volume 2, appear frequently several of the biographies presented in this work.

The jazz generation

Musicians of the next generation, such as Bunk Johnson (with the Smart Set in 1916, with P. G. Lowery a little later), Willie Hightower (with Alex Tolliver’s Big Show from 1916 to 1918), Willie Elie and Earl Humphrey (with circuses), Arnold Métoyer (with Barnum and Bailey Ringling Brothers Circus in the 1920s), who also played a role in the creation of jazz music continued to travel with shows.
Other musicians used the shows in order to get North, sometimes never to return or to return only after a long period away such as Johnny Dodds (with Billy Mack in 1918), Sidney Bechet (with Bruce and Bruce in 1917), Zue Robertson (with Kit Carson in 1910 and the Smart Set, as well as with Drake and Walker in 1928) and Jelly Roll Morton (with Billy Kersand’s Minstrels, Fred Barrasso, William Benbow, the McCabe’s Troubadours). A musician like Amos White (from Charleston), after traveling with shows, settled in New Orleans in 1919, and continued to tour extensively with further shows.
Bunk Johnson’s and Jelly Roll Morton’s peregrinations have been extensively studied respectively by Bill Russell and Chris Hillman, and as we have already documented Arnold Métoyer and Sidney Bechet in Jazz Puzzles Vol. 1, so we’ll omit these musicians here (see the Contents in the Excerpts).

Origine de la notice

Ce contenu a été déposé le 13 janvier 2022 par Laurent Cugny en utilisant le formulaire "Livre" sur le site "BiblioJazz": https://bibliojazz-collegium-musicae.huma-num.fr/s/bibliojazz