Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Edward “Kid” Ory: 1886-1973

© -  Steven A. Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“There is no confusion these days about what New Orleans "tailgate" trombone playing is all about. Most modern practitioners of that venerable style tend toward an exaggerated down-home aesthetic: screaming yawps, wild-man growls, howling blasts, blaring gutbucket smears. That is, all the unsubtle tricks and tropes that make people think of the trombone as a carnival novelty act.

If the current state of trad jazz trombone is any indication, then the philosopher was right-history does repeat itself as farce. But the first time around, New Orleans slip-horn playing was not the self-parody it has become. All the proof you could ever need is to be found in a new box set from Mosaic records: The Complete Kid Ory Verve Sessions. Recorded in the late 1950s, when Ory was in his early 70s, the Verve sides compiled by Mosaic demonstrate that Kid Ory's Creole trombone playing may not have been particularly complex or harmonically challenging, but for all its rambunctiousness, his music is nonetheless subtle and lyrical.”
- Eric Felten, JazzTimes review of The Complete Kid Ory Verve Recordings [Mosaic Records]

“Kid Ory is neither celebrity nor myth. He was a flesh-and-blood jazzman who arrived on the scene in New Orleans at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together.”
- John McCusker

“Then Jack Teagarden introduced the daddy of the tailgate trombonists, Edward “Kid” Ory. This septuagenarian strolled on stage looking extremely dapper in his white jacket and performed as though he might have been a “kid” for real.

His featured number was the great old standard he himself wrote about 40 years ago – “Muskrat Ramble” – and just to show he was riding with the times, he even shouted out a vocal using the lyrics written just a few years ago by Hollywood writer, Ray Gilbert.

Then Higginbotham and Teagarden joined Ory for a three-‘boned blast at that other perennial favorite – “High Society.”
- Bill Simon, liner notes to the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival appearance by Red Allen, Kid Ory, & Jack Teagarden with J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey and Cozy Cole [Verve MGV-8233].

I had no idea who Kid Ory was when I first encountered him on the evening of July 4, 1957 at the Newport Jazz Festival.

But that wasn’t unusual in those days as I was still finding my way through Jazz. [Frankly I still am.]

The only familiar member of the group Kid Ory played with that night was fellow trombonist Jack Teagarden, whom my father idolized and was probably the reason why he picked that night for us to attend the NJF.

Perhaps another reason was that all of the groups appearing that evening were doing so in celebration of Louis Armstrong’s 57th birthday.

I found out much later that there was a strong connection between Kid and Pops as Ory had been a member of Armstrong Hot Five when it produced the monumental records that ignited the Jazz world in 1925-1927.

I gather, too, that all of the other musicians on the stand that night in Freebody Park had played in one of the many bands that Pops had over the years including New Orleans-born trumpeter Henry “Red” Allen who had always idolized Louis.

J.C. Higginbotham on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Claude Hopkins on piano and Cozy Cole on drums all had historical connections to Pops and bassist Arvell Shaw was a member of Pops’ current band in 1957.

Kid Ory’s performance that night was the first time I saw and heard the “tailgate” trombone style that had developed when the first Jazz bands were towed around New Orleans in a horse-drawn wagon and the trombonist was seated at the end of the wagon with its tailgate down to allow clearance for the trombone slide to reach the lower positions on the horn.

By comparison, it was fascinating to watch Teagarden whose trombone slide rarely extended beyond the bell of the horn as Jack had developed a technique that allowed him to lip the lower positions without extending the slide at arms length. This technique involved less slide movement in general and allowed Jack to play the trombone easier at faster tempos.

A year or so after the concert I was a fortunate to find a Verve LP of this concert which was simply entitled Red Allen, Kid Ory, & Jack Teagarden with J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey and Cozy Cole [MGV-8233].

Over the years, I picked-up a little information about Kid Ory from Gunther Schuller’s Early Jazz and Nat Shapiro and Nat Hentoff’s Here Me Talkin’ To You, but I didn’t really understand his significance in terms the development of Jazz from the death of Buddy Bolden until the advent of the first Jazz recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in 1917.

Before he left New Orleans for the West Coast in 1920, Kid Ory maintained one of the hottest bands in the Crescent City which was responsible for giving many young players their start in the music, including giving Louis Armstrong his first gig.

Kid Ory, then, was a trombonist, composer, recording artist, and early New Orleans jazz band leader. Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz tells his story from birth on a rural sugar cane plantation in a French-speaking, ethnically mixed family, to his emergence in New Orleans as the city’s hottest band leader.

In 1925 Edward “Kid” Ory moved to Chicago, where he made records with King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton that captured the spirit of the jazz age. His most famous composition from that period, “Muskrat Ramble,” is a jazz standard. Retired from music during the Depression, he returned in the 1940s and enjoyed a reignited career.

In Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi), author John McCusker tells the story of a jazz musician arriving on the scene in New Orleans at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together.

The tale covers the years between 1900 and 1933 and that period is the book’s main focus. Kid Ory’s remembrances carry the story only to this point, and it would have been difficult to fill the remaining years without his voice. While the tale of his career revival in the forties is interesting, it is far less so than the earlier period and less relevant to the historical question:

“Who was Kid Ory?”

By way of background on the writer of the book that attempts to answer this question, John McCusker spent nearly 30 years as a staff photographer for The Times-Picayune. He was part of the team that shared the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service Journalism for coverage of Hurricane Katrina and its immediate aftermath. He was recently hired as staff photographer of the New Orleans bureau of The Advocate. Throughout his career, John has documented the people and places that gave New Orleans one of its many nicknames – The Cradle of Jazz.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles found this insight review of John McCusker’s Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi) in the June 2013 edition of Downbeat.

© -  Jennifer O’Dell/Downbeat, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

 Life of an Overlooked Bandleader

“The way the story of early New Orleans jazz is often told, there's a gap between Buddy Bolden, whose brief career ended with his institutionalization in 1907, and the recordings made by Joe "King" Oli­ver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong in the early '20s. What gets glossed over are key facets of the music's development: With Bolden suddenly out of the picture, how did his danceable blues and gutbucket wails continue to inspire bands to play "hot," polyphonic music interspersed with so­los? What made that music catch on and spread beyond race lines and outside of the Crescent City? What legacies from this early period later contributed to the death of the Jazz Age?

As John McCusker writes in Creole Trom­bone: Kid Ory And The Early Years Of Jazz (University Press Of Mississippi), the life of one largely overlooked bandleader is a testa­ment to this turning point in jazz that helps an­swer these questions. McCusker states, this is the "story of a jazz musician arriving on the scene at the same time as the music itself. The man and the music came up together, reached maturity together and, ultimately, faded from the scene together."

A longtime photojournalist for the New Or­leans Times-Picayune who moonlighted as a jazz history tour guide, McCusker's pursuit of infor­mation about Ory began in the mid-'90s after someone in his group challenged his dismissive remarks about the trombonist's importance. Mc­Cusker consulted with Bruce Raeburn at Tulane University's Hogan Jazz Archive, who agreed with the tourist, positing that Edward "Kid" Ory's ca­reer was vital to the development of jazz. Raeburn's suggestion prompted a 15-year research odyssey for McCusker, who worked through— and in part, inspired by—the loss of his home and possessions in 2005, and of his wife just a few years later.

Using oral histories, recordings and what he describes as "loose pages" from an unfinished Ory autobiography, McCusker pieces together the story of a driven young musician who helped usher in the era of so-called "hot" playing, cher­ry-picked and nurtured the talents of Armstrong and Oliver, and eventually made the first record­ings by an all-black New Orleans jazz band. Ory's early recordings, both as a leader and in bands led by Armstrong and Morton, are covered here (along with an in-depth discography), as is his role in the 1940s revival of traditional New Or­leans jazz. But the picture McCusker paints of Louisiana's music scene from 1900-1919 is the book's highlight.

An early follower of Bolden and an astute student of both the music and the music busi­ness, Ory's path was self-determined. He formed a band in his rural hometown of LaPlace, La., with homemade instruments and wrangled gigs at fish fries and picnics until he could buy real in­struments for his young group, who frequently stole off into the night in search of visiting bands such as those led by Bolden or John Robichaux.

Ory showed leadership skills from the out­set, taking careful notice of variances in style, set-building techniques and, in McCusker's words, the "cutthroat and bargain basement" na­ture of New Orleans' music scene. He combined the most successful elements of everything he learned and plowed ahead with a business acu­men as sharp as his musicianship.

During "cutting contests," where wagons carrying bands to advertise shows would battle one another with music, Ory became notorious for pushing his group to win. He promoted his own shows, finding crafty ways with few resourc­es to cut out competition. His tenacity in playing for diverse audiences helped him create what Armstrong called "one of the hottest jazz bands that ever hit New Orleans." (Giving Satchmo his first steady gig didn't hurt.)

McCusker also offers an honest picture of the murky meanings of the term "Creole" from one parish or one New Orleans neighborhood to another during that time. Sight-reading Cre­ole musicians in places like the Seventh Ward, for example, played a different style than the Up­town players Ory identified with, despite his own mixed-race heritage.

Creole Trombone fills a needed hole in re­search about one of the period's most important bandleaders. But the story of Ory's success — and, after his move to California in 1919, his slow movement out of the picture until the 1940s — tells as much about the artist as it does about the development of the music and of New Orleans as a cultural center, making it a crucial text in the canon of Crescent City jazz history.”
You can order copies directly from the publisher ay

The following video tribute to Edward “Kid” Ory features two performances from the concert that took place at the Newport Jazz Festival on the evening of July 4, 1957 when Kid was joined by Red Allen, Jack Teagarden, J.C. Higginbotham, Buster Bailey, Claude Hopkins, Arvell Shaw and Cozy Cole.  The first tune is Kid’s very own Muskrat Ramble and it is linked to High Society which gives the video eight plus [8+] minutes of continuous music.

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