A "second line" in New Orleans (with video)




Probably no city in the country loves parades as much as New Orleans. As we all watch the progress of that horrendous oil spill and pray for Louisiana, it seems appropriate to highlight some of the musical aspects of the unique character of that part of the country. New Orleans was founded as a French city in 1718 and did not become American territory until the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Where English-speaking southern governments dating back to colonial times attempted to stamp out all vestiges of African culture among their slave populations, the French did not. A west-African heritage of … Continue reading

Portrait of J. J. Johnson




n 1948, band leader Stan Kenton contemplated replacing all the slide trombones in his band with valve trombones. Under the influence of the new bebop style, all of the instruments had to play much faster than they had just a decade earlier. Kenton thought the slide trombone had become a jazz has-been that could never keep up. He was probably unaware that a young trombonist named J. J. Johnson had already begun to demonstrate that the slide trombone could indeed keep up. James Louis Johnson learned trombone as a school student in Indianapolis and played with such big bands as … Continue reading

Concert bands and big bands




I used to play summers with the Wheaton Municipal Band in Wheaton, Illinois. The last concert of the season is always “big band” music, which means that most of the 90 members are finished and only 17 people play that concert. It has always struck me as funny that after a season of full band concerts, the one called the big band concert involves only about a fifth as many players. The difference in names turns out to be a matter of history and tradition. During the French Revolution, Bernard Sarrette took charge of training military musicians and assembled a … Continue reading

Creole Band




The first jazz band to tour the vaudeville circuit, and therefore gain recognition outside of New Orleans, was the Creole Band (James Palao, violin; Fred Keppard, cornet; George Baquet, clarinet; Eddie Vincent, trombone; Ollie”Dink” Johnson, drums; Norwood Williams, guitar; and Bill Johnson, bass). They declined an offer to make commercial recordings, therefore giving the prestige and fame of making the first recorded jazz to the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a white band. The Creole Band virtually disappeared from jazz history until Lawrence Gushee published  his Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band in 2005. … Continue reading