Marquette – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band was one of the best and most important bands in early Jazz. The Creole Jazz Band was made up of the cream of New Orleans Hot Jazz musicians, featuring Baby Dodds on drums, Honore Dutrey on trombone, Bill Johnson on bass, Louis Armstrong on second cornet, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin-Armstrong on piano, and the band’s leader, King Oliver on cornet. In 1922 Armstrong received a telegram from his mentor Joe Oliver, asking him to join the band in Chicago. He nervously accepted and went north to Chicago to play second cornet with the band at the Lincoln Gardens at 459 East 31st Street. The addition of Armstrong to this already powerful and popular band took the town by storm. Soon musicians and fans were flocking to hear Louis’ amazing cornet playing with the Oliver band. Louis met his second wife Lil Hardin who was the pianist in the Creole Jazz Band. Eventually it was she who urged Louis to leave the band so that he might live up to his true potential and not get stuck playing second to Oliver.
King Oliver was one of New Orleans’ best cornetists and a member of the highly regarded Kid Ory Band. Oliver decided to head up to Chicago in 1918 and formed his own group, “The Creole Jazz Band.” He eventually called upon his replacement in the Kid Ory Band, a youthful Louis Armstrong, to come to Chicago to join his Creole Jazz Band. Louis Armstrong later remarked, “Nobody could get me out of New Orleans but Oliver!”
Because of the commercial success of Gennett’s recordings of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, a veritable pipeline opened up that brought Chicago artists down to Richmond, Indiana to record, and soon the Oliver band was also on its way to Richmond’s Gennett studio to make some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time.
Oliver and Armstrong quickly developed a sort of dual approach to playing lead that had been typically reserved for one cornetist. This approach became a unique staple of the Oliver outfit and helped make the Creole Jazz Band one of Chicago’s hottest and most popular outfits. That approach defines the band’s Gennett recordings as both historical and exciting listening material. The band was made up of some of the best players of all time. The core Oliver band consisted of Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Baby Dodds on drums, Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano, and Honore Dutrey on trombone. Many musicians at the time were mesmerized by the genius of these recordings. Fellow musicians had been hearing about Armstrong for some time, but now they could listen to his famed playing.
These recordings were made acoustically and without electricity, which meant the band performed into a recording horn to create the recording master. The only way to balance the instruments on the recording was to place the musicians throughout the recording room based on volume. For example, a bassist and piano player would be placed close by the front of the horn, while the cornetist would be placed in the back of the room.
Legend has it that Armstrong’s playing was so pronounced and dominating that he had to be placed in the very back of the recording room. Granted, this legend has been exaggerated to the point of claims that Armstrong was down the hall or in another room, but these claims are very unlikely. In these recordings, however, his power and clear tone lend credence to the theory that Armstrong was most likely positioned somewhere near the rear of the studio, but Oliver might also have been in the back of the room. Armstrong’s tone dominated these recordings, but not because of volume, rather because of his virtuosity.
Link to music by King Oliver’s Creole Band