By Hal Smith
Edward 'Kid' Ory, trombone
b. LaPlace, LA December 25, 1886 d. Honolulu, HI January 23, 1973
In 1900, 13-year-old Edward Ory was visiting his sister in New Orleans. He had just bought a valve trombone from Werlein’s Music and was trying it out when a passerby heard the music and knocked on the door. Ory’s sister brought him into the parlor to talk with the man. The passerby was legendary musician Buddy Bolden and he offered the young trombonist a job with his band. Unfortunately, Ory’s sister thought he was too young and would not allow him to accept the offer.
Over the years, researchers have not attempted to dispute this anecdote. Ory enjoyed such a rich musical career, full of well-documented associations with some of the greatest jazzmen, that there was no need to pad his resume.
Early Years in Louisiana
Edward Ory was born on Christmas Day, 1886 on a sugar plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana, northwest of New Orleans. Starting on homemade instruments, he graduated to banjo, and finally valve trombone.
Kid Ory organized a band of his own in LaPlace, and brought it into New Orleans not long after his encounter with Buddy Bolden. Ory quickly began to receive calls for the band to play at picnics, funerals, and dances.
Ory's Woodland Band gained an enviable reputation for playing music that appealed to dancers, with careful dynamics that made the band a pleasure to hear. Ory looked youthful, dressed well, and was personable on the bandstand. He became known as Kid Ory, but musicians nicknamed him 'Dut,' Creole for dude. Around 1910, he switched permanently from valve trombone to the slide version.
In time, Ory began to hire musicians such as Joe Oliver, Thomas ‘Mutt’ Carey, Johnny Dodds, Freddie Keppard, Manuel Manetta, Johnny St. Cyr, Ed Garland, Pops Foster, and Jimmie Noone. He was responsible for crowning Joe Oliver ‘King.’
When Oliver left New Orleans to work in Chicago, Ory hired Oliver’s young protégé Louis Armstrong, buying him a cornet and giving the young musician his first professional job. Kid Ory’s band advertised dances on horse-drawn wagons, and eventually on trucks.
Aboard the wagons, to avoid hitting any of the other musicians with his slide, Ory stationed himself near the tailgate. His simple, staccato playing, coming from that position, may be the reason that style of trombone is often called ‘tailgate.’
The Move to California
In 1919, a dispute with a business partner resulted in a series of police raids on dances where Ory’s band played. Fearing that the situation might escalate to physical violence, Ory and his wife moved to California in the summer of 1919. Within a short time of his arrival, Ory was established as one of the premier bandleaders in the state. His band, including Mutt Carey and Ed Garland from New Orleans, played engagements from dances to off-screen mood music for silent movies. The band played at the Cadillac Café, then the Dreamland in Los Angeles. There, Ory became acquainted with the Spikes Brothers, who published music and ran music venues. They also claimed composer rights to the early hit song “Someday, Sweetheart,” although Jelly Roll Morton disputed that.
The Creole Cafe
Kid Ory made his first appearance in the Bay Area at the Creole Café in Oakland. The band was as successful in Northern California as it had been in the southern part of the state, and the musicians were playing constantly. Ory was even able to secure an engagement for King Oliver at the Pergola Dance Hall in San Francisco.
After King Oliver’s trombonist left the band, Ory was happy to substitute with his old friend’s band. Eventually, Oliver returned to Chicago, but some of his sidemen, including Ed Garland and Minor Hall, stayed on in California. Years later, they would become key players in Ory’s comeback.
When the band returned to Los Angeles, the Spikes Brothers convinced Ory to make records. Thus, the first jazz recording by an African-American band was committed to wax in the spring of 1922. In addition to Ory, the band included Mutt Carey on cornet, Dink Johnson on clarinet (filling in for Wade Whaley), Fred Washington on piano, Ed Garland on string bass, and Ben Borders on drums. Ory’s original composition “Ory’s Creole Trombone” was among the songs recorded, and included vocal accompaniments to Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley. The records were issued first on the Nordskog label, then on the Spikes’ own Sunshine label, resulting in two different band names: Spikes’ Seven Pods of Pepper and Ory’s Sunshine Orchestra. Also in 1922, Ory’s band broadcast on station KWH in Los Angeles. This may have been the first time an African-American band played jazz on a live broadcast.
Though Ory and his musicians continued to play at parties and other functions, their main source of income came from playing at taxi dance halls. At these establishments, male patrons would pay a hostess for the privilege of dancing with her for one very short tune. This was unfulfilling for a jazzman of Ory’s stature, and he was more than ready to relocate when King Oliver and Louis Armstrong encouraged him to come to Chicago.
1925 The Orys Arrive in Chicago
By November Kid Ory was part of Louis Armstrong’s iconic recording group, The Hot Five, which also included Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin Armstrong on piano, and Johnny St. Cyr on banjo. All of Ory’s ensemble part-playing, smears, staccato syncopations, and vocalization of the instrument can be heard prominently on the Hot Five’s “Heebie Jeebies,” “Jazz Lips,” and many other sides, including Ory’s own “Savoy Blues,” “Ory’s Creole Trombone,” and his best-known composition “Muskrat Ramble.”
He continued to record with the Hot Five through 1926, while he was playing full-time with King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators. Oliver’s band recorded as well, and Ory’s contributions to “Snag It,” “Jackass Blues,” “Wa Wa Wa,” “Sugar Foot Stomp,” and others are inestimable. As if the recordings with Armstrong and Oliver were not enough to ensure Ory was known as the greatest New Orleans trombonist, he also recorded with Lil’s Hot Shots (the Hot Five under an assumed name) and the New Orleans Wanderers/Bootblacks (the Hot Five again, with George Mitchell replacing Armstrong on cornet, and Joe Clark added on alto sax). Ory’s trombone playing with these bands is exhilarating on “Drop That Sack,” “Flat Foot,” “Perdido Street Blues” and “Papa Dip.” And if a listener needs even more evidence that Ory was truly the ‘King of the Tailgate Trombone,’ one only needs to listen to the 1926 recordings by Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. Led by Morton, a true genius as composer, arranger and pianist, this storied ensemble included George Mitchell on cornet, Omer Simeon on clarinet, Johnny St. Cyr on banjo and guitar, John Lindsay on string bass, Andrew Hilaire on drums, and of course Ory. The trombonist’s ensemble and solo work on “Black Bottom Stomp,” “Smoke House Blues,” “Grandpa’s Spells,” “Doctor Jazz,” “The Chant,” and others assure Ory’s place in the top rank of jazz trombonists.
Despite all the recording sessions, Ory’s main alliance continued to be the King Oliver orchestra. They played at the Plantation Club, owned by gangster Al Capone, who also happened to be a jazz fan. That engagement came to a sudden end, as a possible result of gang warfare, when the club burned down in 1927. Oliver booked jobs around the Midwest, and eventually accepted an offer to bring the orchestra to New York to play at the Savoy Ballroom. At this point, Oliver’s teeth were deteriorating, and most of the important ensemble and solo passages were handed over to young Henry ‘Red’ Allen. Following the Savoy appearance, Oliver was offered a steady engagement at the Cotton Club. For some unfathomable reason, he declined. Orchestras led by Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington attained some of their greatest fame when they appeared at the Cotton Club. Broke, in trouble with the Musicians Union, and suffering from accelerating dental problems, Oliver’s musical future looked bleak. Ory decided to leave the Dixie Syncopators, but there were no hard feelings from the man he had named King.
Ory returned to Chicago and was still able to work with some good groups. He also recorded with the Chicago Footwarmers: Johnny and Baby Dodds, Natty Dominique, Jimmy Blythe, and pioneer New Orleans bassist Bill Johnson. Although the Footwarmers’ records are not as memorable as the Hot Five, Wanderers, Bootblacks, or Red Hot Peppers, numbers like “Brush Stomp” show that Ory was still at the top of his game over 30 years after starting his professional career. In 1929, Mrs. Ory made it clear to the Kid that she wanted to return to California. The music scene in Chicago was not the same as when the couple first arrived, so Ory agreed to return to the Golden State.
1929 Back to the West Coast
The Los Angeles jazz scene in 1929 had diminished considerably. Ory managed to scrape by for a short while, but eventually put the horn down and went to work as a janitor for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway. In 1940, there was a glimmer of hope for some hot jazz engagements when Jelly Roll Morton arrived in Los Angeles.
Morton organized a rehearsal band that included Ory, but no engagements were forthcoming and Morton died a year later. Another New Orleanian, clarinetist Barney Bigard, had relocated to Los Angeles, and he hired Ory to play with his small group, which also included modern jazz pioneer Charles Mingus on bass. At the same time, Ory managed to find a club job for his own combo, where he doubled on string bass.
During this period, Bigard happened to ask Ory how much royalty money he received from “Muskrat Ramble.” Ory, unaware of how royalty payments worked, had not received a penny. Bigard was acquainted with the publishing house that had taken over the rights from Melrose Brothers, and introduced Ory to the new publisher. He immediately received a check for several thousand dollars and quarterly checks thereafter. This income allowed Ory to live well for many years.
In 1943, jazz impresario Rudi Blesh brought pioneer trumpeter Bunk Johnson to San Francisco for a concert. It was a success, and Blesh planned to present another Bunk Johnson concert. Bunk contacted Ory in Los Angeles and asked him to assemble a group for the occasion. Ory picked Mutt Carey on trumpet, Wade Whaley on clarinet, Buster Wilson on piano, Frank Pasley on guitar, Ed Garland on bass, and Everett Walsh on drums. San Francisco revivalists Pat Patton, Turk Murphy, Clancy Hayes and Al Zohn, among others, also performed before the main concert and during the intermission. Despite a little bit of tension regarding who would lead the band, the concert went well and was especially beneficial to Ory in re-introducing him to the hot jazz fraternity.
Ory’s re-entry into the music business attracted the attention of record collectors and hot jazz fans in the Los Angeles area. One of these was Marili Morden, who operated the Jazz Man Record Shop. When she heard that actor Orson Welles was interested in using a New Orleans band on his radio broadcasts, she recommended Ory’s group. Once again, Ory rounded up Carey, Wilson, and Garland and added Jimmie Noone on clarinet, Bud Scott on guitar, and Zutty Singleton, one of New Orleans’ greatest drummers. The band was a smash hit on their first broadcast and Welles brought them back again and again. Before one of the programs, Noone suddenly passed away. Wade Whaley filled in on clarinet and the band improvised a slow blues in tribute to Noone, “Blues For Jimmie,” which became a staple in Ory’s repertoire.
The exposure on Welles’ radio program led to recording sessions for labels like Crescent, Jazzman and Exner. A number of excellent clarinetists worked with the band (Omer Simeon, Albert Nicholas, Darnell Howard, Barney Bigard, Archie Rosati and Joe Darensbourg), but after drummer Minor Hall joined the band in 1945, the rest of the personnel was stable for almost two years. Ory’s Creole Dixieland Band became one of the most popular groups of the Great Revival.
They played numerous clubs in Los Angeles and Hollywood, including Billy Berg’s, The Jade Palace, Ace Cain’s, and The Royal Room, as well as the Rendezvous Ballroom and Crystal Pier in Santa Monica.
More than one listener and writer compared the 1940s Ory band to Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. This makes perfect sense, as all the band members worked with Morton at one time. Buster Wilson was an early Morton disciple and played in Morton’s rehearsal band.
The front line played parts—melody, harmony and counterpoint—and never strayed too far from the melody. All of Ory’s sidemen used extreme dynamics; the band could bring the volume down to a whisper before practically exploding on the last chorus.
Morton described the ideal jazz sound as “sweet…soft…plenty rhythm, plenty swing.” Ory’s musicians definitely fit that description.
However, the band often sounded as though it was inspired as much by Count Basie as Morton. The horns played riffs behind solos and, sometimes, full choruses of riffs as an ensemble. Frequently, pianist Wilson dropped out of the rhythm section, or just played short phrases while the guitar, bass and drums played time underneath. No other Revival band achieved this kind of sound. Ory’s own style was more complex than it appeared to be on the surface. He definitely played staccato ‘tailgate’ phrases, glissandos, smears and growls, open and muted.
As jazz scholar Clint Baker points out, Ory’s actual notes were unpredictable. In a single performance, Ory might double the melody being played by the trumpet, jump to the traditional trombone counterpoint line, then play a phrase from a long-forgotten stock arrangement, play more trombone parts, blow a long, sliding phrase that did not match the melody or chords, then wind up by once again doubling the lead. Almost all of Ory’s solo choruses were worked out in advance. Sometimes he just stated the melody. Other times he played the counterpoint part as a solo, or some combination of melody and counterpoint, dressed up with plenty of staccato phrasing and glissandos.
Revival trombonists Turk Murphy, Ward Kimball, and Bob Mielke were greatly influenced by Ory, each using the basic tailgate licks and glissandos as a starting point, then adding their own touches to produce distinct, individual styles.
In 1946, Ory, Carey, Scott, and Zutty Singleton performed with Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday in a disastrous movie called New Orleans. The original plot depicted the origin and development of jazz in the Storyville District.
Typically, when filming began, the musical content was downplayed in favor of an insipid love story. At least there is some footage of Armstrong, Carey, Ory, Scott and Singleton playing together.
The Green Room in San Francisco
Jazz enthusiasts Harold Drob and Gene Williams, who had promoted and recorded Bunk Johnson, became great fans of the Ory band. They brought the group to San Francisco late in 1946 and set up a series of concerts for them at the Green Room in C.I.O. Hall, the site of the Bunk Johnson concerts just a years before. Though the concerts were not a financial success, they cemented the band’s position as one of the top Revival groups. Musicians such as Turk Murphy, Bob Helm, and Bob Mielke attended several of the presentations. The well-blended front line and especially the swinging rhythm had a lasting effect upon musicians like Ellis Horne. He recalled, “When I heard the Ory band, that changed my views on rhythm forever!”
The band had a wide-ranging repertoire, from ragtime to current popular songs. Gene Williams desperately wanted to capture the ensemble playing something besides the songs recorded between 1944 - 46, and the endless fan requests for “High Society” and the Dixieland standards. When it became apparent that the money would not hold out to continue the concert series, Williams and Drob secretly arranged to record the Ory band’s last night at the Green Room on February 10, 1947. A camouflaged microphone was strategically placed, recording equipment hidden in a storage room, and Williams submitted requests to Ory, different from the usual fan requests. Everything was set for the historic, though clandestine, recording to take place until Minor Hall, searching for his drum cases, stumbled upon the recording setup. He notified Ory, who angrily confronted Williams. Williams fibbed, saying that the equipment was for checking the balance of the room sound for the next band.
At the time, Ory was under contract to Columbia, so he was bound to refuse any requests for an unauthorized live recording. He relented just enough to play short versions of the songs on Williams’ list, minus the usual vocals by band members. Williams was able to record “Stormy Weather,” “Jealous,” “Yes, Sir! That’s My Baby,” “Star Dust,” “Whispering,” “My Buddy”(as a waltz), “Sioux City Sue,” “Song Of The Islands,” “River of the Roses,” “Oh! Lady Be Good,” “Perdido,” and “C-Jam Blues” before the fans hounded Ory to play the Dixieland songbook. It would be another ten years before Ory recorded anything outside of the small selection of tunes requested endlessly by his fans.
Though the Green Room concert series came to an abrupt end, Ory’s third visit to the Bay Area paid dividends when the band received invitations to perform at other clubs. One of the venues was Club Venus. This engagement took place after Mutt Carey left the band and his replacement, Andrew Blakeney, was unable to travel due to his day job. Ex-Yerba Buena Jazz Band trumpeter Bob Scobey filled in for part of the engagement, as did Jack Minger, a young hornman who eventually became an integral part of several jazz and swing bands in the East Bay.
Ory’s group also played at two establishments owned by and catering to African-Americans: Harold Blackshear’s Café Society and the New Orleans Swing Club. Some writers have stated that the band also performed at the Dawn Club, but the club was off-limits to African-American musicians at that time. Ory was surely aware of Lu Watters’ contributions to the Revival, which helped the Creole Dixieland Band to share the limelight with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band. There is a photo from this era showing Kid Ory and Ed Garland embracing. It is signed by Ory: “To our GOOD THING – Lu Watters.”
The Kid Ory Sound
Back in Los Angeles, Ory’s group performed on the soundtrack of the film Crossfire. They are not seen onscreen, but their versions of “Shine” and “Winin’ Boy Blues” are highlights of the production. They played concerts at Carnegie Hall and also at Orchestra Hall in Chicago. Both concerts were poorly attended due to poor planning and publicity. In 1948, Ory landed a regular engagement at the Beverly Caverns. Not only did this venue attract large crowds, but the band also broadcast frequently, making even more people aware of the 'Ory Sound.'
During this period, the group underwent some major changes. Mutt Carey left the band in 1947, replaced by Andrew Blakeney, and Bud Scott and Buster Wilson both passed away in 1949. After Scott died, Ory simply eliminated guitar from the band, although he added the instrument on recording sessions. Replacing Buster Wilson was more problematic. Wilson had been in failing health for some time, as is apparent on some of the tracks heard on the Beverly Caverns broadcasts. When Wilson was unable to continue with the band, Ory tried to hire Johnny Wittwer, an excellent traditional jazz pianist who admired Morton, Joe Sullivan, and other early stylists. However, just before Ory contacted him, Wittwer received an offer from Lu Watters to play with the Yerba Buena Jazz Band at Hambone Kelly’s. Wittwer accepted Watters’ offer, but considering his short, unhappy stay there, probably wished he had taken Ory’s instead. For reasons known only to Ory, he wound up hiring Lloyd Glenn, a blues and boogie-woogie specialist from Texas. Glenn played with a solid beat, and sounded at home on blues numbers and features like “Ory’s Boogie.” On everything else his playing sounded strangely out of place, unfocused and with way too many notes. Still, he must have been doing something right as far as Ory was concerned, for Glenn stayed with the band for almost five years.
Beginning in 1948, Kid Ory’s Creole Dixieland Band was one of the featured groups at the Dixieland Jubilee. These events, presented by Gene Norman and Frank Bull, continued well into the 1950s. At the first jubilee, held at the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles, Ory’s group garnered more applause than any of the other bands, including Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars. In subsequent years, they appeared alongside the Firehouse Five Plus Two, Muggsy Spanier, Eddie Condon, Pete Daily’s Chicagoans, Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats, Wingy Manone, George Lewis’ New Orleans Stompers, Charles Lavere, Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, Bobby Hackett, and many other world-class performers.
In the early ‘50s Ory received an invitation for the band to perform for two weeks at Club Hangover in San Francisco. The band made such a hit that owner Doc Daugherty extended the engagement to six weeks. Ory’s band became one of the most popular groups in the Club Hangover rotation.
Shifting Band Members
Band personnel continued to shift during this period. The various combinations are documented on recordings on the Good Time Jazz label. Ory signed with them after his contract with Columbia ran out. Guitarist Julian Davidson and bassist Morty Corb, heard on the Good Time Jazz recordings, were not regular members of the band. Ory had not used a guitar on his engagements since Bud Scott died, but he admired the solid rhythm played by Davidson, a CBS staff musician. Corb, a superb bassist, had an impressive resume of jazz and studio credits. He worked for Ory for the first time in a 1950 Columbia session, after Ed Garland was injured in an auto accident. Corb came to the rescue again in 1953, when Garland was involved in a second accident. Both Davidson and Corb would join Ory in the studio over the next few years.
In the front line, Andrew Blakeney left the band in 1949, and was replaced by the brilliant Teddy Buckner. Buckner stayed until 1953, followed by Rico Vallese, then New Orleanian Alvin Alcorn. Clarinetist Joe Darensbourg also departed in 1953. Pud Brown, Bob McCracken, Albert Burbank, and George Probert, who had just left Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band, followed Darensbourg in fairly rapid succession. After Lloyd Glenn quit, his first replacement was pianist Harvey Brooks, who had worked with Ory in Los Angeles in the ‘20s. Brooks’ tenure was cut short due to alcoholism.
While playing at the Hangover, Ory may have been exposed to one of the rotating intermission pianists, a young Baltimorean named Don Ewell. Ewell made a dramatic entry into the world of Traditional Jazz in 1946, when he played with Bunk Johnson at the Stuyvesant Casino. He also made trio recordings with Johnson, and with Albert Nicholas and Baby Dodds. Ewell’s playing in 1946 was closer to Jelly Roll Morton’s than any other Traditional Jazz pianist. His piano work continued to show the Morton influence at Club Hangover, but by the early ‘50s, Ewell had also developed a distinct style of his own reflecting the influences of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller, Earl Hines, Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Willie “The Lion” Smith, and South Side Chicago blues pianists.
Club Hangover Radio Broadcasts
From the early to mid-‘50s, San Francisco radio station KCBS broadcast live performances by Muggsy Spanier, Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Teddy Buckner, Ralph Sutton, Red Nichols, and Ory from Club Hangover. These broadcasts were heard coast to coast, and fortunately many of them were transcribed.
Announcer Bob Goerner assiduously kept listeners informed of “Muskrat Ramble’s” position in the charts after it became a pop music hit. He also promoted Ory’s latest recordings for Good Time Jazz, and the broadcasts almost always included one or more tunes from a recent recording session. In 1954 alone, the band recorded enough material for two 12” LPs, plus some orphan tracks, and eight sides backing blues singer Claire Austin. Reportedly there are unreleased sides from 1954 still in the GTJ vault.
The band worked up a number of signature devices that pleased the audience. One trick was to play a number that barely moved such as “St. James Infirmary,” and then follow it with a tempo that was almost too fast to maneuver, as in “12th Street Rag.”
The musicians also frequently played ‘handoffs’ between solos, the horns playing the last two bars of a chorus into the first two bars of the next one. This was similar to the ‘explosion’ heard on records by Chicago bands of the ‘20s. The band emphasized extreme dynamics, dropping the volume low enough to hear the conversations at the bar, then launching fireworks on the last chorus, with Ory sliding over the top of it all.
Another of the band’s signature elements was absent from all the broadcasts—vocals. A nationwide ‘cabaret tax’ on nightclubs during the 1950s meant that venues were forced to add a hefty 20 percent to patrons’ checks if they had singers or allowed dancing. Clubs that featured instrumental music only, with no dancing, were exempt from the tax. Obviously, Doc Daugherty chose the most cost-effective option. Although Ory’s hoarse Creole patois was not heard on the Club Hangover broadcasts, he sang plenty on the sessions for Good Time Jazz.
Though the band performed frequently at Club Hangover, Los Angeles was still their base of operations. Good Time Jazz’s Lester Koenig hired Ory’s group for parties and they continued to play at the Beverly Caverns and other venues around Southern California. In 1954, Ory divorced his first wife and married Barbara GaNung, following a long-running affair. The couple’s daughter, Babette, was born the same year, making Ory a father for the first time at age 67. According to numerous musicians, fans and researchers, Barbara Ory soon took control of Ory’s management and advised him about with whom he should socialize, and which musicians were not to be trusted.
Although George Probert left the band at the end of 1954, it was because he was offered a high-paying job at Disney Studios and also with the Firehouse Five Plus Two. Phil Gomez, fresh from Muggsy Spanier’s band, replaced Probert. He was enthusiastic about Ory’s music, learned the repertoire quickly and played brilliantly. He was beyond criticism. Don Ewell left shortly after Gomez’s debut. New Orleans pianist Lionel Reason, who had also been playing intermissions at Club Hangover, was his replacement. Reason played a splashy, meandering style and occasionally experienced difficulties in holding the tempo. His approach was the mirror image of Ewell’s precise swing.
The most dramatic change to the rhythm section occurred after Ed Garland, Kid Ory’s longtime friend and bassist, became a target of Mrs. Ory’s wrath. Relations between Garland and the Kid deteriorated to the point where ill will exploded into a fistfight on the Club Hangover bandstand. Ory hit Garland with a brass mute, but Garland managed to get in a punch that knocked Ory off the narrow bandstand. Doc Daugherty broke Ory’s fall, but the trombonist suffered broken ribs and an injured back. Firehouse Five trombonist Ward Kimball, substituted for Ory while the leader recovered from his injuries. Garland quit the band immediately, but it is worth noting that Doc Daugherty may not have held him entirely responsible for the fight since Garland continued to work at the club in the first version of Earl Hines’ Dixieland All-Stars. Years later, a musical acquaintance asked Don Ewell, “What was it like, working with Kid Ory?” Ewell’s laconic response: “Ask Tudie,” Ed Garland’s nickname.
Movies and Albums
Kid Ory was back in action by the summer of 1955, when the band appeared in the movie The Benny Goodman Story. Ory, Gomez, Reason, Hall, trumpeter 'Red Mack' Morris and possibly Rudy Patay on bass are seen and heard onscreen. In addition, Ory speaks with actor Barry Truax, who was portraying the teenaged Benny Goodman. One of the movie’s highlights is when the real Benny Goodman joins in with Ory’s band on the soundtrack for “Original Dixieland One-Step.”
Alvin Alcorn was back in the lineup when the band performed at the eighth annual Dixieland Jubilee, which had moved to the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, on October 15, 1955. Shortly thereafter, another personnel change came when Ory hired the great New Orleans bassist Wellman Braud. He recorded with the band for Good Time Jazz at the end of November, with Julian Davidson once again added on guitar. Ory’s Good Time Jazz albums from the 1950s include his reminiscences about the early years of jazz in New Orleans, as well as “The Ory Creole Cookbook,” his Creole recipes for Crawfish Bisque, Shrimp Jambalaya, Creole Gumbo Filé and world-class red beans and rice.
In 1956, Ory made an important change to the rhythm section, replacing Lionel Reason with Cedric Haywood. Haywood was a veteran who had worked with blues bands in Texas with Lionel Hampton and Sidney Bechet, swing tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet, and modern jazz musician Cal Tjader. A skilled musician, he became indispensable to Ory. Musician Richard Hadlock described Haywood’s role with the band as “part concertmaster, part sideman, diplomat and final authority on harmony.” The band, with its new rhythm section, appeared on Bobby Troup’s Stars of Jazz television program in June. At the same time, Ory’s contract with Good Time Jazz was about to expire, so Lester Koenig scheduled a recording blitz for the band to amass as much material as possible for future release. Clarinetist Phil Gomez remembered, “Four or five nights a week, for three weeks in a row, the band would go over to the studio on Melrose Avenue after their nightly appearance at the Beverly Caverns. Koenig, the band and an engineer would record until 5:00 or 6:00 in the morning … We recorded so much, I would say … that there was probably enough material for about eight to ten albums.”
The results were issued on a two-LP set titled Kid Ory! Favorites! One additional track, “Creole Song,” was released on GTJ’s This Kid’s The Greatest, which also included leftover tracks from 1954 sessions. The band sounds inspired but relaxed as they play a well-worn repertoire of Dixieland standards. Alcorn, Ory, and Gomez play many outstanding solos as well as ensemble parts. The rhythm swings easily, but kicks the proceedings into high gear when necessary. Cedric Haywood’s solid rhythm and groovy beat sound wonderful. Guest guitarist Julian Davidson added even more punch to a rhythm section that was already formidable.
Bay Area Years
In addition to the recordings and television program, the band continued to play frequently in San Francisco. Finally, Ory decided to move to the Bay Area with his family and operate the band from there. The Orys settled first in the village of San Anselmo, in Marin County. Royalties from “Muskrat Ramble” and “Savoy Blues” definitely helped to finance this lifestyle. At the end of the year, Ory took the band to Europe for the first time. The tour lasted over two months and included concerts in France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, and Italy. In France, the band was featured in a short film called Tailgate Man From New Orleans. Ory, Alcorn, Gomez, Haywood, Braud, and Hall are seen and heard playing abbreviated versions of favorites such as “Creole Song,” “Muskrat Ramble,” and Blues for Jimmie.” Shortly after the concerts in France, drummer Minor Hall became ill and had to return to the U.S. Wallace Bishop filled in for some of the engagements and ‘Panama’ Francis finished the tour. Before leaving for Europe, Ory signed a contract to record for Verve. His first session for the label was recorded live at the Théater des Champs Elysees on the final night of the European tour.
Back in San Francisco, Ory’s great 1956 group disbanded. Whether it occurred suddenly or gradually is difficult to pinpoint since no live or commercial recordings have turned up from the time Ory returned to the U.S. until his next recording for Verve. Ory did not have a regular working group when he appeared at the Dixieland Ragtime Jamboree in San Francisco on March 3, 1957. The trombonist took along the indispensable Cedric Haywood on piano and filled out the band with musicians from the San Francisco Symphony.
On July 4, Ory was scheduled to appear as a special guest with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars at the Newport Jazz Festival, together with Jack Teagarden. However, earlier in the day Armstrong and producer George Wein had a volatile disagreement over the programming for Armstrong’s set. This resulted in Armstrong proclaiming, “No one hangs on my coat tails.” As a result, Ory and Teagarden were in limbo until Wein added them as guests with Henry ‘Red’ Allen’s band. There is a live recording of the set, but it is certainly not one of Ory’s more memorable performances. It is surprising that Armstrong would treat Ory so poorly, considering the trombonist basically had given Armstrong his start in music and never failed to praise him extravagantly when interviewed. Fortunately, they were reconciled and maintained a warm and friendly relationship until the end.
Recording for Verve with Producer Norman Granz
Producer Norman Granz hired Ory for two more Verve recording sessions in the summer of 1957. Before the recording session, Ory asked Cedric Haywood to assemble a band. For the rhythm section, Haywood put together an easy-swinging, Basie-style quartet with guitarist Frank Haggerty, bassist Charles Oden, and drummer Earl Watkins. Granz typically set up a recording session, ordered liquor for the band, and then unless something extraordinary happened, read a newspaper for the duration of the session. Haggerty remembered, “When Norman heard that Basie beat, he put his newspaper down!” Ory, trumpeter Marty Marsala and clarinetist Darnell Howard comprised the front line. Marsala’s brassy tone often recalls that of Teddy Buckner. Howard, a veteran of the 1945 Ory band, had a rich, thick clarinet tone that is the perfect counterbalance to the brass. Ory was in excellent form and the high fidelity recording allows the listener to hear every nuance of his trombone playing.
The band recorded four sessions in August and October of 1957, and the material was issued on four LPs. Only one of the tracks is under four minutes in length (barely, at 3:56). Most of the performances were over five minutes, and several pushed the ten minute mark. The repertoire included many popular songs Ory enjoyed performing, but seldom had an opportunity to play because of fans’ requests. “Sweet Lorraine,” “Ida,” “Baby Face,” “Dinah,” “Someday, Sweetheart,” “Am I Blue” and others are perfect for this musical combination. All the solos are outstanding, except for an occasional bit of high-note grandstanding by Marsala. Frank Haggerty’s George Van Eps-inspired guitar solos are particularly well-played, and Haggerty would appear on several more Ory sessions in the future. Some listeners will miss the distinctive New Orleans rhythm of the earlier groups, but the easy going Kansas City-style rhythm heard on the 1957 Verve dates suited Ory perfectly.
Tin Angel - On The Levee
Throughout 1957, Ory continued to play in San Francisco at the Tin Angel and also at Pioneer Village in Lafayette, on the east side of the Bay. In 1958, his band filled in for Turk Murphy at Easy Street, when the Murphy band went on tour. In June, Ory purchased the Tin Angel, renovated it, and opened the club as On The Levee on October 29. The band was comprised of Thomas Jefferson on trumpet, Bill Shea on clarinet, Cedric Haywood on piano, Charles Oden on bass, and Bob Osibin on drums.
Several factors adversely affected the club’s fortunes, including Mrs. Ory’s heavy hand in running the business, Ory’s directions to sidemen specifying how he he wanted them to play, and a ‘can’t-miss’ repertoire which was extremely limited. “Muskrat Ramble” was included in every single set. After the club closed for the Christmas holidays, it took a long time to regain clientele.
Next, the nights of operation were cut to two, and personnel changed regularly. A partial list of musicians who worked with Ory during this period includes Everett Farey, Byron Berry, Reynard Perry, and R.C.H. Smith on trumpet; Bill Napier, Ellis Horne, and Frank ‘Big Boy’ Goudie on clarinet; Bill Erickson on piano; and Walter Roberts and Peter Allen on bass.
Another problem for On The Levee was the location. The popular jazz club Pier 23 was just across the Embarcadero. Burt Bales was the resident pianist at the Pier, and jazzmen from all around the Bay Area came to sit in. The contrast between the two clubs was pronounced.
On The Levee was likely to have six demoralized musicians on the bandstand and a small audience. At Pier 23, there was a festive atmosphere, a big, free-spending crowd, and an overflow of enthusiastic players. Ory resented the situation and complained bitterly to the Musicians Union.
The musicians at the Pier were busted by the Union, but the jam sessions continued. Once, Burt Bales went into On The Levee to try to make peace. He recalled Ory jumping off the bandstand and advancing on him, fists balled up and ready to fight. Bales, taller and larger than Ory, quickly reached his hand out and planted it on Ory’s forehead. The smaller man kept windmilling his fists as Bales said, “Now, Ed. Now, Ed.”
Ory was obviously not satisfied with his regular musicians, with the exception of Cedric Haywood and Charles Oden. When he was contacted to record a program of W.C. Handy compositions for Verve, he flew to Los Angeles with Haywood, Haggerty, Oden, and the trumpeter (and possibly the clarinetist and drummer) from On The Levee.
The session started out badly, and producer Norman Granz quickly called a halt to the recording. However, the session rebooted later in the day with Teddy Buckner on trumpet, and two of his sidemen, clarinetist Caughey Roberts and drummer Jesse Sailes. The replacements came through with flying colors, but Ory must have been even more disdainful of his regular musicians.
He definitely did not want them to participate in the next recording session for Verve or to play on an upcoming European tour. This time, Ory took no chances. Guitarist Frank Haggerty returned and the incomparable Morty Corb was on bass. Alton Redd, who had recorded with Ory in 1944, came in on drums. Ory had reconnected with one of his favorite clarinetists, Bob McCracken, and brought in the great trumpeter Henry ‘Red’ Allen from New York.
The recording session of fourteen songs was completed in one day. Allen recalled, “I left [New York] at 9:45 in the morning, was recording with Kid Ory by 3:00 and on the air again by 11:30 that night.” The recordings, much like the 1957 sides, sound casual and relaxed and the repertoire included swing standards such as “In The Mood,” “Christopher Columbus,” and “Tuxedo Junction,” alongside traditional jazz numbers like “Come Back, Sweet Papa” and “San.” Somehow, Allen’s eccentric melodic ideas worked alongside the more traditional playing by Ory and McCracken. The only discordant sounds on the recording are the relentless, loud snare drum after-beats played by Redd. Later he claimed that Ory was going deaf and told him to accent the second and fourth beats as forcefully as possible. Whatever his reason for overplaying, it definitely detracts from the smooth rhythm of Haywood, Haggerty, and Corb, and makes the listener wish that Earl Watkins had been hired instead.
The European tour was scheduled for September 19 – November 13, 1959 and would include concerts in Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium and England. Frank Haggerty said that Ory asked him to join the band for the tour, but that he was unable to leave his day job. Similarly, Morty Corb was busy in the Los Angeles studios. Ory dispensed with the guitar problem by booking the band as a guitarless sextet. He hired a bassist who had recently played with Louis Armstrong’s All-Stars, Squire Girsback. Not only had Girsback worked with Armstrong, he also played and recorded with Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band, Bob Scobey’s Frisco Band, Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band, and with Bunk Johnson and Wally Rose. Before leaving, Ory shut down On The Levee for the duration of the tour.
Not all European jazz fans were pleased with the 1959 Ory touring band. At some point, all of the musicians, including Ory, received negative comments from jazz writers during the tour. Some of the criticism was justified, as Ory, almost unbelievably suffering from stage fright, called some tempos that were too fast for the band to comfortably play. And the overbearing rim-shots by Alton Redd drove more than one writer to distraction. However, the band filled many of the performance venues and inspired a number of fans to surreptitiously record the concerts in Berlin, Manchester, Basel, and Copenhagen.
Back Home in California
After returning from Europe, Ory reopened On The Levee and tried mightily to make the operation a success. On at least one occasion, Muggsy Spanier’s band performed at the club, with a lineup that included the great Joe Sullivan on piano. With On The Levee open on weekends only, Ory traveled to Los Angeles on two weekdays in December for two more Verve sessions. The band included Buckner, McCracken, Haggerty, Corb, and Sailes. Cedric Haywood had left the band, so Ory called upon Lionel Reason to handle the piano duties.
The album was titled Dixieland Marching Songs, and the repertoire was an odd mix of marches, spirituals, standards and two originals. The band sounds good, but there were problems that could have been fixed with second takes, such as establishing the right kind of rhythm for certain songs and correcting chord changes.
The following day, the same band recorded an album of French folk songs, children’s melodies and some of Ory’s Creole numbers with a French vocalist added. It is significant that neither of these sessions was ever released by Verve, although Dixieland Marching Songs was assigned a catalog number. Joe Sullivan brought his own group to On The Levee in 1961. It was a hard-driving band, including three ex-Ory sidemen. However, Ory was not able to keep his own band together, or keep the club going.
Kid Ory sold On The Levee in July, 1961. Bassist/tubist Bill Carroll, who also played first-rate trombone, was friendly with Ory during this period. He remembered Ory discussing the idea of Bill taking over the band as trombonist-leader. That did not happen, but many years later, Carroll said, “I always dug the idea of being called ‘Kid Carroll’.”
Ory moved his family back to Los Angeles, specifically to the upscale neighborhood of Brentwood. In the fall of 1961, he played with Young Men From New Orleans aboard the Mark Twain Steamboat at Disneyland. A short film Disneyland After Dark features Ory with Johnny St. Cyr, Harvey Brooks, and Alton Redd.
There was also a special guest added for the band’s sequence—Louis Armstrong. It is quite an experience to hear Armstrong and Ory playing “Muskrat Ramble,” almost 40 years after it was first recorded. In November, Ory appeared with Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Lil Armstrong, Johnny St. Cyr, Milt Hinton, and Zutty Singleton as The New Orleans Band on NBC’s television broadcast of Chicago And All That Jazz.
Ory sounds marvelous in his solo on “Original Jelly Roll Blues,” and another highlight is Ory trading breaks with Jack Teagarden on “Tiger Rag!”
In December, Ory made his last recordings. There were two sessions scheduled, for Verve. The repertoire for the first date included songs Ory had previously recorded with the Hot Five and Chicago Footwarmers, plus tried-and-true numbers like “Bill Bailey” and “All The Girls Go Crazy.” The second session was billed as a tribute to Jelly Roll Morton. Inexplicably, some of Ory’s longtime associates in Los Angeles—like Teddy Buckner, Morty Corb, and Julian Davidson—were not hired for the sessions. Andrew Blakeney rejoined his old employer in a front line which also included the ever-reliable Bob McCracken on clarinet. Together with Ory, this was a well-balanced front line.
However, the same cannot be said for the rhythm section. Pianist Bob Van Eps and bassist Bob Boyack had big band and studio experience, but the recordings show that they had no idea how to play Ory’s music. Similarly, drummer Doc Cenardo was a very good Dixieland player, but his tap-a-long style and rushed tags were not the right fit for this particular band. Johnny St. Cyr, Ory’s musical associate from the Hot Five and Red Hot Peppers, played guitar. On the first session he also played banjo—surprising, considering how Ory avoided using the instrument on all of his ‘40s and ‘50s recordings.
St. Cyr played well, but was not able to guide and anchor the other rhythm players. Compared to the broad, flowing beat of the 1954 - 56 band and the Kansas City swing of the group that Cedric Haywood put together, the 1961 rhythm sounds nervous and tentative. Even when St. Cyr switched back to guitar, there are still problems in the rhythm section.
Except for the front line work, the Jelly Roll Morton session is painful to hear. Van Eps’ piano is so out-of-place it boggles the mind to think that no one in the band or the control room said anything. If a pianist like Stan Wrightsman or Marvin Ash had been on the date, they would have played Morton’s music with respect, but without losing their own identity. If the rhythm section had included Ray Leatherwood or Phil Stephens on bass, George Van Eps or Allan Reuss on guitar, and Nick Fatool or Jack Sperling on drums, these recordings would been among Ory’s finest. The producer must have been disappointed as well, since the first session remained unissued until Mosaic included it, together with other previously unreleased recordings, on an eight-CD set in 1999.
After the final recording sessions, Kid Ory went into retirement mode. He took the trombone out of the case once a year until 1966 to play with The Young Men From New Orleans at Dixieland at Disneyland. Fittingly, the last time he performed at the event, the band played the opening parade in a horse-drawn wagon, with Ory positioned at the tailgate. During the years when he played at Disneyland, Ory’s daughter Babette remembers Louis Armstrong and Johnny St. Cyr visiting Ory at home. The old friends told endless jokes, reminisced about old times, and ate great quantities of Ory’s Creole cooking.
The New Orleans Jazz Festival
Following the last appearance at Disneyland, Ory moved with his family to Hawaii. He did not play the horn, but lived on royalties. He went to hear the band led by Louis Armstrong’s trombonist Trummy Young, and was visited at home by William Russell, and also a young Japanese couple, Yoshio and Keiko Toyama, who played trumpet and banjo. In 1971, George Wein invited Ory to play with an all-star group at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.
The invitation was accepted and Ory flew to New Orleans where he was welcomed by brass bands. The band he was to play with included Thomas Jefferson on trumpet, Raymond Burke on clarinet, Danny Barker on guitar, Emanuel Sayles on banjo, Freddie Kohlman on drums, and Peter Badie on bass. The pianist for the occasion was Don Ewell, who must have decided to set aside any differences from his past association with Ory.
Yoshio Toyama was present at the rehearsal and surreptitiously recorded it. The band sounds great, and Ory, while a little weak, plays all his characteristic smears and tailgate licks. Unfortunately, at the main concert, Ory experienced severe stage fright. This condition, combined with his frail health, exhaustion from travel, and lack of practice, rendered the trombonist nearly inaudible. Surprisingly, in the middle of the set, Ed Garland appeared onstage to play bass. Perhaps he decided to forgive his old friend and to render assistance when he obviously needed it.
The New Orleans Jazz Festival was the final bar for Ory as a musician. He never touched the horn again, and passed away from the effects of pneumonia on January 23, 1973. He was buried in Los Angeles with a brass band playing appropriate dirges and second line music.
Kid Ory's Legacy
Kid Ory’s musical legacy will live on forever through commercial recordings, broadcasts, film and television appearances.
On the internet, the Kid Ory Archive is an invaluable source for information regarding all aspects of Ory’s life. Babette Ory also has an internet presence, keeping her father’s memory alive by posting his music, philosophy, and quotations on social media. Babette carries on the family cooking traditions as a gourmet chef, using Creole recipes handed down from the Kid.
Though Kid Ory and his band were one of the most popular groups of the Revival, they did not influence as many younger musicians as the bands led by Bunk Johnson, George Lewis, Lu Watters, and Turk Murphy.
It may be that the subtle swing, dynamics, and controlled heat of the Ory band is more difficult to appreciate and perform than the less inhibited styles played by the other Revival bands. But no one can deny the contributions to jazz made by the man who Louis Armstrong called “The Greatest Slideman Ever Born.”
Bay Area Recordings by Kid Ory
Recordings made by Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band in San Francisco and while Ory was a Bay Area resident. Listed alphabetically by label:
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band: Live at the Club Hangover, San Francisco October 1954 Acrobat ADDCD 3070 (two CD set)
Note: Above CD includes four complete KCBS broadcasts from Club Hangover: Oct. 2, 16, 23, 30, 1954.
Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band at the Green Room Vol. 1 American Music AMCD 42
Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band at the Green Room Vol. 2 American Music AMCD 43
Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band, 1956: The Legendary Kid Good Time Jazz GTCD 12016-2
Kid Ory!Favorites! Good Time Jazz FCD 60 – 009
Note: Above CD omits “Mood Indigo” and “Toot, Toot, Tootsie” which were included on the original two-LP Good Time Jazz release.
Kid Ory Plays The Blues Storyville STCD 6035
Note: Above CD includes excerpts from Club Hangover KCBS broadcasts made between 1953 and 1955.
Kid Ory & Red Allen in Denmark Storyville STCD 6038
Sounds of New Orleans Vol. 3: Albert Burbank with Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band Storyville STCD 6010
Note: Above CD includes excerpts from Club Hangover KCBS broadcasts made between May 1 and July 17, 1954.
Kid Ory & Red Allen: A Jazz Concert in Berlin – 1st Set Jazz Crusade JCCD 3125
Kid Ory & Red Allen: A Jazz Concert in Berlin – 2nd Set Jazz Crusade JCCD 3126
Kid Ory: Storyville Nights/Dixieland Marching Songs/The Kid From New Orleans/Red Allen, Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden At Newport/Dance With Kid Ory or Just Listen Upbeat URCD 021 (four CD set)
Kid Ory: The Kid From New Orleans/Kid Ory In Europe/Red Allen, Kid Ory and Jack Teagarden At Newport Upbeat URCD 236
Kid Ory: Song Of The Wanderer/Dance With Kid Ory or Just Listen Upbeat URCD 241 (two CD set)
Kid Ory Meets Red Allen: The Complete 1959 Hollywood Session Upbeat URCD 243
Kid Ory: The Original Jazz/Dance With Kid Ory or Just Listen/Kid Ory In Europe Upbeat URCD 259 (two CD set)
Kid Ory: Storyville Nights/Kid Ory Plays W.C. Handy/Dixieland Marching Songs Upbeat URCD 262 (two CD set)
Note: The Upbeat CDs feature Ory’s recordings for the VERVE label. These are also included on the eight CD set of Ory’s Verve recordings released by Mosaic. (See below).
The Complete Kid Ory Verve Sessions – Mosaic 189 (eight CD set; out of print).
Bailey, Sid: Greatest Slideman Ever Born: A Discography of Edward “Kid” Ory. Self-published, West Sussex, United Kingdom, 1996
Bailey, Sid; Fellers, Christer; Iosub, Louis; McCusker, John; The Kid Ory Archive
Collinson, John and Kramer, Eugene: The Jazz Legacy of Don Ewell. Storyville Press, Essex, U.K., 1991
Darensbourg, Joe: Jazz Odyssey: The Autobiography of Joe Darensbourg as Told to Peter Vacher. Louisiana State University Press, 1987
Drob, Harold: Liner notes to Kid Ory at the Green Room, Vols. 1, 2 American Music AMCD 42/43
Ginell, Cary: Hot Jazz For Sale: Hollywood’s Jazz Man Record Shop. Self-published, Los Angeles, CA, 2010
Gleason, Ralph: Liner notes to Kid Ory! Favorites! Good Time Jazz 10041/42, 1961
Hazeldine, Mike and Martyn, Barry: Bunk Johnson: Song of the Wanderer. Jazzology Press, New Orleans, 1999
Leigh, James: Heaven on the Side: A Jazz Life. XLibris, Los Angeles, CA, 2000
McCusker, John: Creole Trombone: Kid Ory and the Early Years of Jazz. University Press of Mississippi, 2012
Williams, Martin: Jazz Masters of New Orleans. MacMillan Company, New York, 1967
AUTHOR'S CONVERSATIONS AND CORRESPONDENCE REGARDING KID ORY
Badie, Peter 'Chuck' (musician); Baker, Clint (musician); Bales, Burt (musician); Barrett, Dan (musician); Caparone, Marc (musician); Carroll, Bill (musician); Corb, Morty (musician); Demond, Frank (musician); Farey, Everett (musician); Gill, John (musician); Halloran, Charlie (musician); Helm, Bob (musician); Hocutt, George (record producer); Horne, Ellis (musician); Jamieson, Roger (musician); Levin, Floyd (musician); Mielke, Bob (musician); Napier, Bill (musician); Ory, Babette (daughter); Owen, Mike (musician); Probert, George (musician); Rogers, John (fan); Royen, John (musician); Russell, William (record producer); Sager, David (musician); Shooshan, Dick (musician); Watters, Lu (bandleader); Wendeborn, John (writer)
docFor More Information Visit: The Kid Ory Archive (Christer Fellers)