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The Original Creole Orchestra

The pioneering tours of the Creole Band, introduced Jazz to America Nationwide

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The Original Creole Orchestra


The Original Creole Orchestra

(aka The Creole Band, Freddie Keppard's Original Creole Orchestra)

was the first New Orleans Jazz band to tour outside of the South.

In 1911 bass player Bill Jhnson was living in Los Angeles and contacted his friend Fredie back in his home town of New Orleans.

Keppard was leading the Olympia Band at the time and Johnson asked him to bring them out to California with the promise of work. Upon arriving they stayed in California a few months before hooking up with a vaudeville tour. From 1914 to 1918, they toured the country and became a very popular act. But by 1918 the band was tired of touring and was breaking up, but Johnson who handled the business side of things as well as bass playing in the band was still booking shows. He found himself with a gig at the Royal Gardens (469 East 31st Street) in Chicago and no band.

At this point he contacted first Buddy Petit, and then King Oliver to replace Keppard. Oliver accepted the offer and came north from New Orleans with fellow musicians Jimmie Noone and Paul Barbarin in 1918. Oliver eventually assumed control of the band and it evolved into King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band in 1921, although Johnson continued to play bass in the band until they broke up in 1923. Unfortunately the Original Creole Orchestra never recorded.




Pioneers of Jazz

The Story of the Creole Band



By Lawrence Gushee

Gushee persuasively argues that the little-known Creole Band of New Orleans was the first outfit to export jazz to the rest of America during its tours between 1914 and 1918



Thanks to the pioneering tours of the Creole Band, jazz began to be heard nationwide on the vaudeville stages of America from 1914 to 1918. This seven-piece band toured the country, exporting for the first time the authentic jazz strains that had developed in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century. The band's vaudeville routines were deeply rooted in the minstrel shows and plantation cliches of American show business in the late 19th century, but its instrumental music was central to its performance and distinctive and entrancing to audiences and reviewers.

Pioneers of Jazz reveals at long last the link between New Orleans music and the jazz phenomenon that swept America in the 1920s. While they were the first important band from New Orleans to attain national exposure, The Creole Band has not heretofore been recognized for its unique importance. But in his monumental, careful research, jazz scholar Lawrence Gushee firmly establishes the group's central role in jazz history.

Gushee traces the troupe's activities and quotes the reaction of critics and audiences to their first encounters with this new musical phenomenon. While audiences, who often expected (and got) a kind of minstrel show, the group transcended expectations, taking pride in their music and facing down the theatrical establishment with courage. Although they played the West Coast and Canada, most of their touring centered in the heartland. Most towns of any size in Iowa, Illinois, and Indiana heard them, often repeatedly, and virtually all of their appearances were received with wild enthusiasm.

After four years of nearly incessant traveling, members of the band founded or joined groups in Chicago South Side cabaret scene, igniting the craze for hot New Orleans music for which the Windy City was renowned in the early 1920s. The best-known musicians in the group--cornetist Freddie Keppard, clarinetist Jimmy Noone and string bassist Bill Johnson--would play a significant role in jazz, becoming famous for recordings in the 1920s.

Gushee effectively brings to life each member of the band and discusses their individual contributions, while analyzing the music with precision, skillful and exacting documentation. Including many never before published photos and interviews, the book also provides an invaluable and colorful look at show business, especially vaudeville, in the 1910s.

While some of the first jazz historians were aware of the band's importance, attempts to locate and interview surviving members (three died before 1935) were sporadic and did little or nothing to correct the mostly erroneous accounts of the band's career. The jazz world has long known about Gushee's original work on this previously neglected subject, and the book represents an important event in jazz scholarship. Pioneers of Jazz brilliantly places this group's unique importance into a broad cultural and historical context, and provides the crucial link between jazz's origins in New Orleans and the beginning of its dissemination across the country.




there are no known live recordings from the Original Band but here is a selection from King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band that ultimately evolved from the Creole Orchestra




"Pioneers of Jazz 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."--Floyd Levin, Jazz Journal International "This is a volume I've been waiting for for a long time. The book is extremely evocative of the spirit of the vaudeville era. Vaudeville was done twenty years before I was born and I've never really read much about it. After reading this book I finally understand what it was and how it worked.

The author has done a tremendous job documenting the band's entire history, including very interesting chapters on the musicians' careers before and after their time with the Creole Band. This is a first-class piece of research and one that should be in every collection of jazz historians."--Jazzbeat "In this unusual and excellent book, Lawrence Gushee traces the activities of an important band during the 1910s, as it makes its way across North America on vaudeville circuits.

The range of documentary evidence Gushee brings to bear on the topic is truly astonishing. Virtually no kind of documentary evidence escapes his notice. In a series of earlier articles that are well known among jazz scholars, Gushee demonstrated how to work with this range of diverse evidence. In Pioneers of Jazz he goes much further.

The book reflects the work of a lifetime. Embedded in these pages is some of the smartest thinking I have seen about not just this topic but vernacular music generally. Gushee has opened up so many wonderful issues in this book that it will take some time to come to grips with it."--Journal of the American Musicological Society "Gushee includes numerous illustrations, detailed notes, and explanations of the origins of jazz and other matters...Highly recommended."--Choice

"Gushee persuasively argues that the little-known Creole Band of New Orleans was the first outfit to export jazz to the rest of America during its tours between 1914 and 1918...Such meticulous scholarship is enriched by the author's obvious personal passion for the music (he performs ragtime and early jazz on clarinet). Written in a congenial scholarly tone, this book makes an important contribution to jazz history."--Library Journal









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