Jazz Greats of the 1920s:


Louis Armstrong

Joe "King" Oliver :
      King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band was the most popular band of the early 1920s. This band was originally from New Orleans. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band best captured the feel of New Orleans jazz music. Oliver played the trombone as a child, but later switched to cornet . While playing in the band of Edward "Kid" Ory in 1917, the famous trombonist coined Joe Oliver "King" of the cornet. Oliver joined Bill Johnson in Chicago in 1919, and soon after assumed control of the band. This famous band consisted of some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 1920s. Oliver played cornet, Johnson played bass, Johnny Dodds played clarinet, and Baby Dodds played on the Drums. 
      In 1922, Oliver invited a young musician, Louis Armstrong, to join the band as a second cornetists. Armstrong was immediately popular and added to the growing prestige of King Oliver's band. They were recorded in 1923, and were famous as a New Orleans jazz band. The Band played in Chicago's Lincoln Gardens until 1924. From 1925-1927, Oliver led the Dixie Syncopators at the Plantation Cafe. During a disastrous tour in 1927, Joe Oliver made the biggest error of his career. He was offered a position as performer and band leader in a club in New York. Oliver was unsatisfied with the starting pay, and had refused to compromise. As a result, The Cotton Club hired a young man named Duke Ellington. By 1929, Oliver's failing health, bad investments, and changes in the direction of jazz, led to the dissipation of Oliver's career. Although Oliver died in relative obscurity, he was a true giant of the Jazz Age, and his contributions to jazz were unsurpassed in the early 1920s.
More On King Oliver

Edward "Kid" Ory:

     Kid Ory was the first great jazz trombonist, and was in high demand in the 1920s. His New Orleans band ( formed in 1912) fostered many young and rising jazz musicians, including: King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Dobbs, Sidney Bechet, and many others. Ory brought the New Orleans sound to Los Angeles in 1919. He became the leader of the first African American band to record New Orleans jazz music in 1922. This recording included "Ory's Creole Trombone and Society Blues." Ory joined King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators in Chicago in 1925 and played with him until 1927. Kid Ory played on many of the early recordings of King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Jelly Roll Morton, and was unparalleled in his mastery of the trombone. He went on to have an extremely successful career, not retiring until 1966.

Louis Armstrong:

      Louis Armstrong rose to fame in the 1920s. His mentor had been Joe "King" Oliver. Oliver had often sent Armstrong out on jobs that he could not fit into his schedule. In 1919 Oliver went to Chicago, leaving Louis to fill his place in the best jazz band in New Orleans, that of Kid Ory. In 1921, King Oliver wired Armstrong from Chicago and asked Louis to join him in Chicago's Lincoln Gardens. This was a pivotal point in Armstrong's life. Armstrong felt that New Orleans was his home, but he admired King Oliver too much to reject the offer. Later in life, Armstrong stated, "His (Oliver's) calling for me was the biggest feeling I had musically." In Chicago, Oliver utilized Louis' harmonic talent by improvising a line, and letting Louis complete the melody. This awed jazz enthusiasts, and word of Louis' talent spread throughout the city. While King Oliver was Armstrong's mentor, his talent as a soloist dimmed in comparison to Louis'. 
        Louis married for the second time in 1924, to jazz pianist Lil Hardin. She encouraged Louis to break off from Oliver's band in 1924. He accepted a position with Fletcher Henderson, the leader of one of the most prestigious dance halls in New York City. It was from Fletcher Henderson that Louis learned about composition and music terminology. Through this band, Louis was able to directly influence the sound of the dance hall jazz. At the Rosewood Ballroom on Broadway, Armstrong added the classic New Orleans sound to the sophisticated sound of the popular jazz. Amazed by Louis' talent and unique sound, Henderson incorporated Louis' rhythmic improvisation. It was readily apparent that Louis was the best jazz soloist on Broadway. Louis was back in Chicago by 1926. From 1925-1928, Louis Hot Five and Hot seven recordings were made. These works, along with several collaborative recordings with Earl Hines, were Louis most important works of the 1920s. After the 1920s, Louis fronted for the big bands of the 1930s and forties. Louis Armstrong and a very long and successful career. He influenced the direction of jazz music and improvisation. Louis Armstrong was the first "super star" of jazz music.            More on Armstrong

Bix Beiderbecke:

     Bix Beiderbecke was one of the most popular and sophisticated jazz trumpet players of the Roaring Twenties. His smooth sound was especially popular on college campuses. Beiderbecke was sent to school in Chicago, but ended up becoming immersed in the jazz culture of the city. He joined the Wolverines and made his first recording in 1924. Beiderbecke then played with Frankie Trumbauer's band in St. Louis. In 1926, Bix joined the Jean Goldkette Orchestra and the radio broadcasts brought Beiderbecke nation wide acclaim. In 1927, he joined the Paul Whiteman orchestra. Beiderbecke's polished sound and precise rhythms fit beautifully with the symphonic sound of Whiteman's orchestra. Bix Beiderbecke was a true Jazz age musician. Alcoholism and disillusionment were the causes of his death in 1931, at the age of twenty nine.

Jelly Roll Morton:

     Jelly Roll Morton was the first great composer of jazz music. He was also one of the first jazz musicians to travel the country and spread the "New Orleans Sound." Morton was also an outstanding performer. Having grown up in New Orleans, Morton excelled as a jazz pianist and vocalist, and was influenced by regional musical styles. By 1925, Morton had settled in Chicago, and recorded his compositions. While Louis Armstrong was changing the direction of jazz music, Jelly Roll Morton was recording with the Red Hot Peppers in the New Orleans style, which stressed collective improvisation over the soloist style of Armstrong. After a move to New York in 1928, Morton faded into relative obscurity. He failed to alter his style and was upstaged by artists favoring soloist improvisation.

Paul Whiteman:

     Whiteman was the King of symphonic jazz in the 1920s. Whiteman gained most of his fame for the musicians that he employed, such as: Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Tommy Dorsey, Johnny Mercer, and many more. One of the most important contributions of Whitman was his commission of Gershwin to write "Rhapsody in Blue." This landmark piece was performed for the first time in the "An Experiment in Modern Music" concert in Aeolian Hall (New York) in 1924. Whiteman's band also recorded his own composition, "Whispering," in the early 1920s, and it sold remarkably well. Although Whiteman's band was very popular in the 1920s, he cannot be considered a true jazz musician. The music his band performed consisted mostly of popular dance music and symphonic music. He added the flavor of the jazz sound without becoming a jazz band.

Duke Ellington:

     The 1920s served as Ellington's road to fame and fortune. Ellington was born in Washington, DC., and began his musical career there with his first band, Duke's Serenaders. In 1923, Duke moved to New York, where he would be embraced for his musical brilliance. Between 1923 and 1927, Ellington solidified his future in the entertainment industry of New York. The Washingtonians (Ellington's band) had regularly played Club Hollywood, which later became Club Kentucky. After his last season at the Club Kentucky in 1927, The Ellington Orchestra accepted a job at the Cotton Club. They became famous for their "Jungle Nights" show, and were hired for a permanent position at the renowned Cotton Club. Jazz fans, both African American and white, crowded in to hear Ellington's Orchestra. It was during this time when Ellington began to diligently compose music. Over the next forty years, Ellington became one of the most important composers of the twentieth century. More on Duke Ellington

Earl Hines:

       Earl "Fatha" Hines irrevocably influenced the evolution of modern piano styles. Having played in Pittsburgh for several years, Hines moved to Chicago in 1923. In Chicago, Hines found himself in high demand with the top jazz bands in the city. Hines and Louis Armstrong became aquatinted while Hines was with Carroll Dickerson's band in 1926. After playing gigs together occasionally, they recorded King Oliver's duet, "Weather Bird." Hines was unique in his piano style in the 1920s. His improvisation and counter rhythms impressed Armstrong and other famous jazz musicians. In 1928 Hines started his own band, which played at the Grand Terrace. Over the next 20 years, many famous musicians passed through the Grand Terrace Band, including: Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Eckstein, and Charlie "Bird" Parker.