James A. Palao was born across the Mississippi River in Algiers, New Orleans, Louisiana. His parents were Felix Palao and Clotilde Rebecca Spriggs. At the age of six his father recognized that Jimmy had musical talent and Jimmy received extensive musical training and violin lessons from a German teacher. In New Orleans, music was often a family affair and he also received instructions from his Uncle Edgar Palao and his Father Felix Palao. Jimmy went to the country side and taught many youth how to read music and taught them how to play their instruments including Buddy Bolden.
He began writing compositions one of which was, "Upon the Fields of Battle" with words and music in 1905, "Echoes of India" published in 1909, and "O You Sweet Rag" was published in 1911 by H. Kirkland Dugdale and Jimmie dedicated O You Sweet Rag to George Baquet. There are only a few copyrighted compositions from New Orleans musicians of this era. Jimmy started his musical career playing in his Aunt's Church Hall, The Sacred Heart of Mary Church from 1895 to 1897 where he was leader of the Buddy Johnson band.
He played in the Pacific Brass band 1897-1898, Henry Allen brass band 1897-1900, Jimmy Palao band 1900, Buddy Bolden band 1903-1905, and the Imperial Jazz band 1905-1907. Bill Johnson remembered the soulful sounds from the Imperial Band that Jimmie Palao led and called the music "Jazz". He also remembered how excited the audience would get when the band would play.
In 1908 Bill Johnson and Jimmie Palao as leader of the Original Creole Orchestra formed a firm partnership. The driving syncopated style of this New Orleans Jazz was beginning to transform the Jazz scene. The Creole musicians alone had mastered the professional survival of Jazz. This style of Jazz was infectious, the audience would roar for more and some sessions would last almost an hour longer.
The band members as tired as they were continued to play, they loved the response they were getting. Jimmy Palao and members of this group all had grown up spiritually and musically, together in New Orleans. As though preparing for this moment for all of their lives, they had finally come together as a unit and Jimmy Palao formulated the Original Creole Orchestra. It took every one of them to make this happen, the formula was complete and the time was right, and everything was in place and nothing could stop it-Jazz was about to take hold.
The members of The Original Creole Orchestra were Freddy Keppard, Eddie Vincent, Norwood Williams, George Baquet, and Dink Johnson. The Original Creole Orchestra disbanded in 1918 and according to many jazz scholars this was the greatest musical organization of Jazz history. There was a record called, "Tack 'Em Down", by the Creole band published by Victor Talking Machine Company, which was never issued and no test pressing has surfaced.
This would have been the first jazz record by a black band. Jimmie Palao went on to play with Lawrence Duhe band, King Oliver band, Jones Dreamland band, The Jolly Jazzing Jeopards, John Wickliffe's -Ginger band Syncopated Gingersnaps and Dave and Tessie band. Jimmie Palao felt the need to express his jazz voice through his main instrument, the violin. He was an accomplished and expressive jazz violinist, earning a reputation as one of the finest violinists of his generation.
He executed a powerful sound that eschewed vibrato, phrasings and nobody heard anything quite like it before. Jimmy Palao was multi talented. He played the violin, saxophone, the cornet, the mellophone and the banjo and he mastered them all.
Jimmy Palao played in major bands and with top artists and jazzmen of the day. The joy of sharing and developing jazz took its toll on "Jimmy's" health. At the rise of his career, Jimmy Palao was on the road with The Syncopated band and Dave and Tressie when they realized Jimmy was very ill. Jimmy Palao died of Tuberculosis January 8, 1925 at the age of 45. He is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Chicago, Illinois.
Jimmy Palao maintained a loving relationship with his wife Armontine Carter Palao whom he met and married. They married in 1905 at St. Catherine's Church in New Orleans Louisiana and they later birthed four daughters Clotilde Palao Wilson, Mabel Palao Williams, Agatha Palao Singleton and Anita Palao McAdams. As per the request of his daughters, Jimmy Palao's pictures and instruments are held at the Chicago History Museum. The home of Clara Spriggs family, where Jimmy Palao was raised, may be visited online on the "Brooklyn Of The South" self-guided walking tour #2, of the Algiers Historical Society researched by President Kevin Herridge.