PIONEERS OF JAZZ - THE STORY OF THE CREOLE BAND
- ********** A Book Review by Floyd Levin **********
"PIONEERS OF JAZZ - THE STORY OF THE CREOLE BAND"
BY LAWRENCE GUSHEE
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
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.