“Ory’s Creole Trombone”
Composer: Edward ‘Kid’ Ory
Recorded June, 1922, Santa Monica, CA
Performers: Thomas ‘Papa Mutt’ Carey, cornet; Oliver ‘Dink’ Johnson, clarinet; Fred Washington, piano; Ed ‘Montudie’ Garland, bass; Kid Ory, trombone
Four years after the all-white Original Dixieland Jazz Band released “Tiger Rag,” the first commercial jazz recording, the first black New Orleans jazz ensemble finally got waxed.
The story of how that happened is conflicting and convoluted. Two African-American brothers in Los Angeles, John and Benjamin Spikes, decided to get into the record business, specifically the new and popular jazz genre. Jazz talent on the West Coast was scarce, but they managed to find a musician in Oakland who would make the trip south to their studio. Fortunately, it was Kid Ory, who had just moved to the West Coast in 1919 after a stellar career start in New Orleans jazz.
Either Ory or the brothers paid a Norwegian operatic tenor named Arne Nordskog to use his crude Santa Monica sound studio, and then pasted the brothers’ Sunshine label onto the discs. In June 1922, Ory, vocalists Roberta Dudley and Ruth Lee, and four other musicians cut a number of sides, of which only six survive.
The result is a classic rendition of first-generation jazz — a regular square beat, carefully contained improvisations, and stand-alone four-count solos. The sound quality of these discs is not great, but Ory and his group really hop through the tune. It is full of the swooping trombone glissandos Ory was famous for. (The style is termed “tailgate,” dating from the time jazz bands would ride on wagons through town, and the trombonist would face backwards on the tailgate so that he could manipulate his slide without knocking a fellow musician senseless. Since then, any kind of showy, exaggerated slide work bears the name.)
Ory’s place in jazz history took some time to be re-estimated. He was discovered by the ultimate jazz progenitor, the legendary half-mad trumpeter Buddy Bolden when he was a child; Ory’s sister wouldn’t let him play due to his youth. However, soon enough he was the premiere bandleader in New Orleans during the 1910’s, and several key figures — King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dodds, Jimmie Noone, and others — all learned their craft under him. Thus, his influence is baked into the genre as we conceive of it today.
Ory moved to Chicago in 1925, and worked extensively in the music scene there. During the Depression he knocked off and ran a chicken farm. He enjoyed a renaissance in the late 1940s, reaching a whole new generation when Dixieland became popular again as a reaction to the out-there complexities of bebop. He finally retired in 1966 and spent his last days in Hawaii, an unusually happy ending but well-deserved for a seminal jazz musician.
The National Recording Registry Project tracks one writer’s expedition through all the recordings in the National Recording Registry in chronological order. Up next: Bessie Smith’s “Down-Hearted Blues.”)