Go Back

Joe "King" Oliver

click here


Joe "King" Oliver was a great New Orleans legend. Only part of his talent was on records. He was originally a trombonist, but he started to play cornet when he was taken into "Kid" Ory's band at Pete Lala's Cafe. When "The Kid" took Oliver into his band, he billed Oliver as "King." Oliver and Ory were in the same age bracket and understood each other only too well.

Many musicians were inspired by Oliver's great talent because he could get so many different sounds out of a trombone. When it came to playing the cornet, his fellow musicians learned about the use of mutes because Oliver was called the master of the various ways to use mutes. He left New Orleans when all the musicians were going up to Chicago to make recordings. For awhile, he joined the band of Bill Johnson at the Dreamland Ballroom.

He eventually formed his own band and played at the Lincoln Gardens, and then he bought former student Louis Armstrong (who called him "Papa Joe") up to join the band.Lil Hardin was playing piano and that was where Louis met and married her. "King" Oliver's Creole Jazz Band made some recordings at that time. Oliver said he liked keeping Louis with him playing second trumpet because that way, he was still "The King."

Musicians said the "vocalized" trumpet sound heard in Duke Ellington's Orchestra had been brought in by musicians who had played with Oliver. When Louis Armstrong left Oliver to play with Fletcher Henderson's orchestra, "The King" soon followed him to New York.

Taken from:
"JAZZ New Orleans Style
Author: Bobby Potts




Joe "King" Oliver (December 19, 1885 – April 10, 1938), was a jazz cornet player and bandleader. He was particularly noted for his playing style, pioneering the use of mutes. Also a notable composer, he wrote many tunes still played regularly, including "Dippermouth Blues", "Sweet Like This", "Canal Street Blues", and "Doctor Jazz".

He was the mentor and teacher of Louis Armstrong. Two of Armstrong's most famous recordings, "West End Blues" and "Weather Bird", were Oliver compositions. His influence was such that Armstrong claimed, "if it had not been for Joe Oliver, Jazz would not be what it is today".


Joseph Oliver was born in Aben, Louisiana, near Donaldsonville in Ascension Parish, and moved to New Orleans in his youth. Oliver played cornet in the New Orleans brass bands and dance bands and also in the city's red-light district, Storyville.

The band he co-led with trombonist Kid Ory was considered New Orleans' hottest and best in the 1910s. Oliver achieved great popularity in New Orleans across economic and racial lines, and was in demand for playing jobs from rough working class black dance halls to white society debutante parties.According to an interview at the Tulane's Hogan Jazz Archive with Oliver's widow Stella Oliver, in 1919 a fight broke out at a dance where Oliver was playing, and the police arrested Oliver and the band along with the fighters.

This made Oliver decide to leave the Jim Crow South.By 1922, after travels in California, Oliver was the jazz king in Chicago, with King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band performing at the Royal Gardens (later renamed the Lincoln Gardens). Virtually all the members of this band went on to notable solo careers.

Personnel were Oliver on cornet, his protegé Louis Armstrong, second cornet, Baby Dodds, drums, Johnny Dodds, clarinet, Lil Hardin (later Armstrong's wife), on piano, Honore Dutrey on trombone, and Bill Johnson, bass and banjo. Recordings made by this group in 1923 demonstrated the serious artistry of the New Orleans style of collective improvisation or Dixieland music to a wider audience.In the mid and late 1920s Oliver's band transformed into a hybrid of the old New Orleans style jazz band and the nationally popular larger dance band, and in 1926 was christened "King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators".[2]

Although he suffered from gum disease which started to diminish his playing abilities, Oliver remained a popular band leader through the decade.Unfortunately, Oliver's business acumen was less than his musical ability. A succession of managers stole money from him. He demanded more money for his band than the Savoy Ballroom was willing to pay, and lost the gig. In similar fashion, he lost the chance for an engagement at New York City's famous Cotton Club when he held out for more money; young Duke Ellington took the job and subsequently catapulted to fame.[3]

The Great Depression was harsh to Oliver; he lost his life savings when a Chicago bank collapsed, as he struggled to keep his band together on a series of hand-to-mouth gigs until the band broke up and Oliver was stranded in Savannah, Georgia, where he worked as a janitor at Wimberly's Recreation Hall (526-528 West Broad Street) and died in poverty at arooming house (508 Montgomery Street)




**All articles taken from selected reading materials are the sole property of the authors listed. In no way are these articles credited to this site. The material presented is only a brief presentation of writings from the publisher & producer of each article.
Copyright French Creoles of America®, All Rights Reserved