Joe KingOliver

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Joe "King" Oliver
Chart Positions
Explanation of the data
Dipper Mouth Blues
  R&B 9 1924 (1 week)
High Society Rag
  R&B 15 1924 (1 week)
Someday, sweetheart
  R&B 15 1927 (2 weeks)
Willie the Weeper
  R&B 20 1927 (1 week)
Four or Five Times
  R&B 17 1928 (2 weeks)

Joe "King" Oliver ( May 11, 1885 in New Orleans , Louisiana ; † April 10, 1938 in Savannah , Georgia ) was an American cornet player and one of the most important musicians of New Orleans jazz . Oliver is primarily remembered as Louis Armstrong 's teacher and mentor , but alongside the latter he influenced other major jazz trumpeters and cornetists, including Tommy Ladnier , Rex Stewart , Bubber Miley , Muggsy Spanier ,Ed Allen and George Mitchell .

King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band was formed in May 1922 and later included Louis Armstrong.


New Orleans

The place and date of birth are uncertain. After the death of his mother in 1900, Oliver lived with an older sister. He was also trained on the cornet around this time. In the first decade of the century he earned his living as a butler to a wealthy white family. Around 1908 his musical career began in various marching bands , including the Eagle Band , The Original Superior , Olympia Brass Band or the Onward Brass Band , in which he was the second cornetist alongside leader Manuel Perez . Gradually he gained some respect and became a member of various bands that performed in the cafés and cabarets in Storyville . Finally in 1918 he played in the band of Kid Ory . After leaving New Orleans, Louis Armstrong became his successor in this band.

How Oliver received the title "King" is only known in anecdotal terms. Kid Ory claimed he announced Oliver as "King" in his band. Another version tells how Oliver took the title from Freddie Keppard through his game. Between 1915 and 1918 Oliver was considered the best cornet player in New Orleans; during this period he received the honorary title.


In 1917, the US Navy Department gradually closed all entertainment districts in coastal cities in the United States, including Storyville. In 1918 Joe Oliver went to Chicago , where he was simultaneously engaged in Bill Johnson 's "Original Creole Orchestra" and in Lawrence Duhe's band. With his own band (from 1920) he first played in the Dreamland Cafe and undertook a moderately successful tour to the West Coast in California in 1921/1922 before founding his famous "Creole Jazz Band" in May 1922. The first recorded appearance at Lincoln Gardens is dated June 17, 1922.

In the same year, Oliver brought Louis Armstrong into his band, which included musicians such as Johnny Dodds and his brother Baby Dodds , Honoré Dutrey and Lil Hardin . The recordings by this band from 1923, which wrote jazz history not only thanks to the participation of Louis Armstrong (including Chimes Blues ), became very well known. The Dodds brothers and Honore Dutrey left the band as early as 1924, as Oliver sometimes called in other musicians for recordings instead of falling back on his regular line-up. In addition, there were disputes regarding payment. Lil Hardin-Armstrong urged her husband Louis to leave the band so he could step out of Oliver's shadow and start a career of his own. After initial hesitation, Armstrong moved to New York to join Fletcher Henderson . Oliver looked for musicians from New Orleans to replace the failed instrumentalists and continued to lead the band until the end of 1924.

After the Creole Jazz Band broke up, Oliver was a guest soloist with Dave Peyton at the Plantation Cafe in Chicago. In 1925 he assembled a new band with an expanded line-up that included Albert Nicholas , Barney Bigard , Kid Ory and Luis Russell . The "Dixie Syncopators" enjoyed great success at the Plantation Cafe until 1927 and had a smash hit with their recording of Someday Sweetheart .

new York

When the clashes between rival gangs in Chicago assumed ever more threatening proportions, after the Plantation Cafe burned down in 1927, Oliver went to New York at the invitation of promoter Jay Faggen , where, after initial success, he turned down various offers for his band, including the legendary im Cotton Club to perform. With no prospect of a permanent engagement, the Dixie Syncopators disbanded in 1927. Oliver fulfilled his contractual obligations to the Brunswick label with bands specially assembled for the recording sessions. As a result, Oliver didn't have his own band for a few years and ultimately couldn't stay in New York permanently. However, for reasons that are not clear, he did not return to Chicago, but remained in New York. In addition, Oliver had to temporarily stop making music because of health problems with his gums that had existed since 1925. After his ability to play was restored, but no longer at his usual level, Oliver made a number of recordings until 1931 in order to fulfill his contractual obligations.

During the Depression , Oliver lost almost all of his savings. He left New York in the spring of 1931 and for six years toured the East Coast and the Midwest with bands of all kinds, but always under his own name. Car breakdowns, greedy managers and frequent personnel changes stranded the band several times, most recently in 1937 in Savannah, Georgia. Health problems and changing audience tastes meant that he was no longer able to put together a new band. So the king had to eke out the last months of his life first as a seller of fruit and vegetables, and finally as a supervisor in the billiard room of a leisure center. He died a poor man of a cerebral hemorrhage.

His death received renewed media attention. The Negro Actors Guild reluctantly paid for the funeral expenses. At the funeral service in New York, Louis Armstrong was a particularly noteworthy soloist. Joe King Oliver is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery .


In his days in New Orleans, Oliver was a much admired, style-defining cornet player whose influence on other cornet players and trumpeters such as e.g. B. Bubber Miley, Muggsy Spanier or Tommy Ladnier was enormous. Some of these musicians copied Oliver's ideas, technique and sound so faithfully that trumpet parts on recordings of the 1920s have long been attributed to Oliver, even though he did not participate in those recording sessions. The phase of his work in New Orleans is not documented by sound recordings and so his style at this time can only be reconstructed through statements by contemporaries. Concrete, verifiable statements about Oliver's style can therefore only be made for the period between 1923 and 1931. However, from 1926/27 his health problems severely restricted the free development of his skills. Louis Armstrong never tired of citing Joe Oliver as his main source of inspiration. Oliver had a direct teacher-student relationship with Armstrong (his only one). Armstrong mentioned the sessions with Oliver in an interview.

In contrast to his heyday as a cornet player in New Orleans, his achievements as a bandleader are well documented, particularly through the recordings of the Creole Jazz Band. The recordings are often viewed as paragons of collective improvisation of classic New Orleans jazz. In fact, they offer excellent, dense ensemble playing, in which each musician has a function and moves within a more or less clearly defined tonal range. Oliver "...wanted to hear the whole band. He wanted everyone to blend together.” This concept produced an ensemble whose clarity remained unrivaled despite all the musical density. Oliver achieved this through control, balance and clear role assignments, which the musicians observed with great discipline, but which was also broken up for solos, duets and breaks, giving each band member room for solo development. In this respect, Oliver added a very personal touch to classic New Orleans jazz in his Creole Jazz Band, which set them apart from other New Orleans bands of the time.

Not only Oliver's cornet playing, but also the ensemble playing of the Creole Jazz Band found admirers and imitators. Among other things, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings were explicitly based on Oliver's band concept. Oliver also gained prominence as a composer of jazz titles such as Doctor Jazz, Dippermouth Blues (Sugar Foot Stomp), West End Blues and Snag It, which have become standards in the jazz repertoire.


Oliver's style has smoothed over the years, as portrayed by his contemporary Edmond Souchon, a New Orleans physician who heard Oliver in his early days in New Orleans as well as in his heyday and in Chicago. While Oliver's cornet playing was presented as rough, loud and with many false notes in its early days, around 1915 he played more technically mature and confident. In Chicago in the 1920s, Oliver's smooth, white dance band-style playing is said to have had nothing in common with his New Orleans days. Johnny Wiggs, a New Orleans musician, compares Oliver's style to that of Louis Armstrong on the 1915 recording of Cake Walking Babies (Clarence Williams Blue Five, 1924), though he dismisses Armstrong's fire and inventiveness. Wiggs, like others who saw Oliver live, hears no resemblance at all to his playing on stage in the recordings. Oliver was deeply rooted in the blues and was often called upon to accompany blues singers such as Katherine Henderson, Sippie Wallace and Sara Martin. His famous and much-copied Dippermouth Blues solo demonstrates his ability to bend notes and his ingenuity in varying the signature blues third. Equally revealing is his solo in the 1926 recorded Jackass Blues .

Oliver liked to use mutes to expand his range of expression. His claim to have been the one who made jazz's very first trumpet mute can hardly be maintained, but he has achieved an unsurpassed mastery in the handling of the 'plunger' in particular. He could imitate a preacher with his mute as well as a crying baby. Oliver "could make his horn sound like a holy roller meeting" (Mutt Carey). The breaks at the end of Wa Wa Wa (1926) hint at these abilities without detailing them.

As a soloist, Oliver, who was connected to the tradition of collectively played New Orleans jazz, presents himself as powerful, imaginative and always up to date. He was a creative artist who did not imitate anyone but was imitated by others. Two of his solos have therefore also gone down in jazz history: his solo in Dippermouth Blues (1923), which can be found in numerous other pieces, and that in Snag it (1926). In the mid-twenties he was technically still able to keep up with his competitors, especially Armstrong ( Too Bad , Deep Henderson , Wa Wa Wa , Jackass Blues ), but in the years that followed his gum disease caused him such problems that his solos became shorter and shorter, become easier and less secure. In general, Oliver's solos contain the two-bar units typical of New Orleans musicians; in later recordings they are sometimes shortened to one and a half bars or one bar (New Orleans Shout, 1929).

Overall, Oliver is less known for his solos than for his breaks. "He was full of breaks," Clarence Williams once said. The recordings of the Creole Jazz Band bear eloquent testimony to this, but imaginative breaks ( Doctor Jazz , Wa Wa Wa , Sweet Emmalina ) can also be found in recordings from later years .


Oliver's recording career spanned a period of almost eight years from 1923 to 1931. It started with the famous recordings of the Creole Jazz Band and ended with recordings for which Oliver hired bands from other bandleaders in order to be able to fulfill his contractual obligations. They document the tragic decline of a great musician and jazz pioneer, whose playing, despite all the uncertainties and health problems, never lacked in expressiveness and authority.

1923 - The Creole Jazz Band

The 37 recordings were made between April and December 1923 for the Gennett, Okeh, Columbia and Paramount labels. The acoustically recorded records leave a lot to be desired in terms of the balance of the individual instruments. The clarinet and trombone often come to the fore at the expense of the two cornets. Nevertheless, they document the unique collective playing of the CJB and the legendary two-part breaks by Oliver and Armstrong. The collectives are often presented as collective improvisations, but rather consist of routines worked out over countless evenings. Oliver rarely appears as a soloist on the recordings. Occasionally his lead voice rises above the collective ( Mabel's Dream ) as a solo in the best New Orleans tradition, at other times it is a solo in the familiar sense, as in the aforementioned Dippermouth Blues . Louis Armstrong and above all Johnny Dodds can also be heard on the recordings as soloists of the CJB.

The two-part breaks by Oliver and Armstrong are legendary, some of which are said to have arisen spontaneously on the bandstand: Oliver played his break quietly to Armstrong during a chorus, and Armstrong was able to improvise a second part.

1924 - The duets with Jelly Roll Morton

In 1924, Oliver only had two appointments in the recording studio, one with his old friend Jelly Roll Morton from New Orleans. They recorded two of Morton's compositions, Tom Cat Blues and King Porter Stomp , for the small Autograph label . These are Oliver's first electrical recordings. Although Oliver's playing already shows squeaks and uncertainties, one can study his style well here; his technique of variation in the respective last choruses of the compositions is particularly impressive.

1924 - Butterbeans and Susie

The vaudeville duo Butterbeans and Susie recorded two tracks in 1924 with Oliver as accompanist. On both recordings, Oliver can be heard performing extended solo choruses.

1926 - The Dixie Syncopators

The Dixie Syncopators went in front of the mic for Vocalion between March 1926 and September 1928. Although the discs were not recorded acoustically, the sound quality is not up to date (Brunswick used a special recording process that did not match the quality of the recordings by Victor or Columbia), so that the joy of experimenting with the tones was not comes into its own. Most recordings sound distorted and clipped. The recordings of the Dixie Syncopators have been rated very differently, but for the most part they are in no way inferior to those of the Creole Jazz Band. Here Oliver manages the balancing act between improvising ensembles and arranged passages, which had become necessary in a ten-piece band. The recordings of the Dixie Syncopators represent a synthesis between the jazz tradition of New Orleans and the larger ensembles that are slowly establishing themselves. The size of the band varied in the different recording sessions, so that there are pieces that are completely arranged for ten musicians ( Deep Henderson , 1926), and other smaller pieces that appear entirely improvised ( Black Snake Blues , 1927). In general, more emphasis is placed on solos than in the Creole Jazz Band. However, the Dixie Syncopators also show rhythmic insecurities, sometimes soulless playing and a certain lack of discipline. The 32 titles document the growing difficulties that Oliver had to contend with when playing: in 1926 Oliver is still fiery, powerful and secure in his breaks and solos, while on the last recordings in 1928 he left the solos to his second trumpeters Ed Anderson or Louis Metcalf got to.

1928-1929 - Recordings with Clarence Williams

Clarence Williams occasionally helped his old collaborator Oliver in 1928 and 1929, using him to record with his own bands and as a blues accompanist. Oliver had trouble keeping his band together during this time and took on engagements wherever and however they came his way. In contrast to the last recordings by the Dixie Syncopators and the first recordings with studio bands for Victor (from 1929), Oliver plays with Williams. The reasons for this are unclear, but he may have set higher quality standards for recordings under his name than for recordings made under another bandleader. Oliver can often be heard playing alongside Ed Allen, Clarence Williams' preferred cornetist, on tracks recorded primarily for QRS. Since Allen was heavily influenced by Oliver, it's not always easy to tell which of the two is playing. What is certain, however, is that the two solos in Bimbo and Bozo are played by Oliver.

1929 to 1931 - Recordings with studio bands

In 1929 Oliver made a contract with Victor. By 1930, there were a few recordings with studio bands featuring some of New York's best musicians. Many of the tracks were arranged by Dave Nelson, none of which feature an improvised or even improvised collective anymore. Oliver himself doesn't play at all on the first 7 titles, but only acts as a bandleader. On the later recordings, he shows himself in unstable condition and retains the now outdated, simpler style of playing of the New Orleans musicians. At the same time, many elements from salon orchestras could be heard in the music, which repeatedly brought accusations of stylistic inconsistency to the recordings. In the studio bands, too, Oliver in some cases leaves the solo work to other trumpeters, notably the young Henry Red Allen , but occasionally braves substantial solos. Pianist Don Frye reports that Oliver rehearsed his solo on Too Late over and over until he got it right, despite the pain bringing tears to his eyes.


  • Thomas Brothers: Louis Armstrong's New Orleans. W.W. Norton & Company , New York 2006, ISBN 0-393-06109-4 .
  • Edmund Souchon: King Oliver: A Very Personal Memoir. In: Jazz Panorama. edited by Martin Williams. Jazz Book Club Production, London 1965, pp. 21-30.
  • Louis Armstrong: Louis Armstrong - A Self-Portrait: The interview with Richard Meryman. Eakins Press, New York 1971, ISBN 0-87130-026-5 .
  • Laurie WrightKing Oliver. Storyville Publications, Chigwell 1987, ISBN 0-902391-10-0 .
  • Martin Williams: King Oliver. (Kings of jazz, Vol. 2). Verlag Gerd Hatje, Stuttgart around 1960, DNB 455685231 .
  • James L. Dickerson: Lil Hardin Armstrong. First Lady of Jazz. Cooper Square Press, New York 2002, ISBN 0-8154-1195-2 .
  • Warren Dodds, Baby: The Baby Dodds Story as told to Larry Gara. Rebeats Publications, Alma 2002, ISBN 1-888408-08-1 .
  • Klaus-Uwe Dürr: A Conversation with Bob Shoffner. In: Storyville 140 December 1989, Storyville Publications, Chigwell pp. 66-68.
  • Richard Hadlock: Booklet to King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators. Sugar Foot Stomp (The Original American Decca Recording). MCA Records 1192 & GRP Records, 1992, p.5.
  • Rick Kennedy: Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy. Gennett Studios and the Birth of Recorded Jazz. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1994, ISBN 0-253-21315-0 .
  • Bill Russell: New Orleans Style. Jazzology Press, New Orleans 1994, ISBN 0-9638890-1-X .
  • Studs Terkel : Giants of Jazz . Two thousand and one, Frankfurt 2005, ISBN 3-86150-723-4 .
  • Steven Brower: Satchmo. The Wonderful World and Art of Louis Armstrong. Abrams, New York 2009, ISBN 978-0-8109-9528-4 .

web links


  1. Gerhard Klussmeier: Jazz in the Charts. Another view on jazz history. Liner notes and companion book of the 100 CD edition. Membrane International, 2010, ISBN 978-3-86735-062-4 .
  2. Brothers, p. 120.
  3. Wright, p. 6.
  4. Dickerson, p. 104.
  5. Wright, p. 81.
  6. ^ Dürr, p. 66.
  7. Wright, p. 181.
  8. Brower, p. 154.
  9. Armstrong, p. 17.
  10. Brothers, p. 121.
  11. Souchon, p. 28f.
  12. Russell, p. 162.
  13. Wright, p. 267.
  14. Wright, p. 267.
  15. Kennedy, p. 62.
  16. Dodds, p. 38.
  17. Wright, p. 46.
  18. Hadlock, p. 5.
  19. Williams, p. 34.
  20. Wright, p. 90.
  21. Williams, p. 42.
  22. Wright, p. 120.