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  • Scott Alexander
    ********** A Book Review by Floyd Levin ********** PIONEERS OF JAZZ - THE STORY OF THE CREOLE BAND BY LAWRENCE GUSHEE Oxford University Press 359 Pages,
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 12, 2005
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      ********** A Book Review by Floyd Levin **********

      Oxford University Press 359 Pages, Illustrated, Indexed
      SBN: 0-190516131-9 Hardcover $35.00

      It has always been established that the Original Dixieland
      Jass (sic) Band was the first to firmly introduce New Orleans
      music to the nation. Their successful pioneer recordings in 1917
      are presumed to have set the pace for the jazz era that followed.
      Thanks to author Lawrence Gushee, we now have a full account
      of an important Crescent City band that preceded the ODJB and
      contributed greatly to jazz history.
      Gushee's new book, "Pioneers of Jazz, the Story of the Creole
      Band," brims with elaborate details based on his extensive
      research that uncovers a vast amount of previously unexplored
      material. He also modifies many earlier published inaccuracies.
      Every detail is authenticated with fifty pages of interesting
      Foot Notes and an expansive Index that helps to explore the
      copious research.
      The Creole Band, a group of black New Orleans musicians that
      migrated to California, began a four-year vaudeville tour in
      August 1914, and became "the first jazz band to make its mark
      outside New Orleans."
      Their combined personnel was: Jimmy Palao, violin and
      probably, leader; Freddie Keppard, cornet; Eddie Vincent,
      trombone; George Baquet, clarinet. ("Big Eye" Louis Nelson Delisle
      replaced Baquet in 1916, followed by Jimmie Noone during their
      "last season.") Bill Johnson was bassist and manager; guitarist
      Norwood Williams, who claimed that he played with Buddy Bolden in
      New Orleans, and dancer-comedian Henry Morgan Prince completed the
      The most prominent musicians in the band were cornetist Freddie
      Keppard, who had replaced the legendary Buddy Bolden as cornet
      "king" in New Orleans and clarinetist Jimmie Noone, who later
      played with Joe Oliver in Chicago and led his own famed Apex Club
      The author has traced the Creole Band's origin in New Orleans
      back to 1907 or 1908. Jimmy Palao played in the Imperial Orchestra
      in 1905 and was active in the Storyville sector in 1912. Bill
      Johnson, George Baquet, Eddie Vincent, and Freddie Keppard were
      members of the Olympia Orchestra. They decided to form the small
      Creole Band and toured the south for several years before moving
      to Los Angeles.
      Inventing the descriptive word, "historiography," Gushee leads
      us on a day-to-day journey as the seven-piece troupe travels along
      the vaudeville circuit, then the principal form of popular
      entertainment. Although about eighty of their tour stops are
      mentioned in the text, Gushee apologizes for the absence of data
      on some engagements obscured by the passage of nine decades.
      The author has assiduously explored small town newspapers
      locating ads and reviews, favorable and caustic, written by local
      critics who had never before heard this kind of music. ("...it
      had a weird minor strain and the rhythm so enticing that the
      temptation to dance was overwhelming...."; or..."the 'band'
      consists of violin, bass, guitar, cornet, trombone, and flute,
      each vying with the others in an attempt to produce discord....")
      Dancer-comedian Henry Morgan Prince was the only member of the
      band that was not from New Orleans. Some reviews referred to his
      comic routine with a trained live chicken that traveled with the
      show. Prince also did an energetic buck and wing dance to the
      band's "wild rendition" of "Ballin' the Jack" while Bill Johnson
      twirled his bass, and trombonist Eddie Vincent manipulated his
      slide -with his foot!
      The reviews also revealed some numbers the band played during
      their forty-minute stage show. Besides "Ballin' the Jack," they
      included Henry Lodge's "Pepper Rag," "Steamboat Bill," "Panama,"
      "In Mandalay," a few Stephen Foster melodies, and Irving Berlin's
      "This Is the Life," a song Al Jolson was then currently singing on
      Early in 1916, the Creole Band presumably received an offer to
      record for the Victor Phonograph Company. Keppard, fearing that
      someone would steal their style if "...we put our stuff on
      records" refused the offer. (This story might be apocryphal since
      the author also quotes several other versions of the same
      anecdote.) About a year later, Victor signed the Original
      Dixieland Jass Band which brought them tremendous acclaim and
      The Creole Band, successfully touring for four years,
      introduced mid-America to the music being played in New Orleans
      since the turn of the last century. Having attained national fame,
      they played their last vaudeville date on March 16, 1918 at
      Virginia Theater in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Over a million Americans
      and Canadians are estimated to have seen and heard them during
      their brief existence.
      After breaking-up the Creole Band, Johnson, Vincent, Keppard,
      Baquet, and Noone became prominent members of the emerging jazz
      scene. In the early '20s, they each made important recordings in
      Chicago that created aural images of seminal New Orleans jazz,
      and, perhaps, also provided a suggestion of how the Creole Band
      Lawrence Gushee, Professor Emeritus of Music at the University
      of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is an acknowledged authority on
      New Orleans Jazz and is also a professional clarinetist.
      "Pioneers of Jazz, the Story of the Creole Band" is an
      extraordinary definitive work that illuminates the careers of many
      previously overlooked members of that historically important band.
      It also brightens our image of those that later achieved
      recognition and fame.

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