Considering how New Orleans was the birthplace of so much important music, it’s remarkable how little of that music was recorded in the city during the record industry’s early decades.
Of course New Orleans musicians such as Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton generated a lot of crucial shellac during the 1920s, but almost all of it in studios in New York and Chicago. For the closest thing to the way New Orleans sounded during the Jazz Age, we have to turn to the relative handful of recordings (129 sides cut between 1924 and 1929) for field units that the record companies sent south to put local talent on wax.
These are predominantly recordings of white bands such as the Halfway House Orchestra and the New Orleans Owls, but also include black groups including Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band and Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight. Among the best of these are records made for Columbia by Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra from 1926 to 1928. Named for the Tuxedo Dance Hall on North Franklin Street and led by Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin, the band was one of the most popular in New Orleans among both black and white audiences.
Both of this week’s tracks instantly evoke New Orleans in its jazz heyday, with a sultry nighttime flavour that makes it easy to imagine the Storyville neighbourhood where Papa Celestin led bands from 1910 until the Depression forced him temporarily out of the music business.
April 13, 1926
Oscar Celestin – c – dir. August Rousseau – tb / Paul Barns – cl – as / Earl Pierson – ts / Jeanette Salvant – p / John Marrero – bj / Abby Foster – d / Charles Gills – v.
It’s Jam Up
October 25, 1927
Oscar Celestin – c dir. Richard Alexis or George McCallum – c / August Rousseau or William Matthews – tb / Clarence Hall – cl -ss – as / Oliver Alcorn – cl – ts / Jeanette Salvant – p / John Marrero – bj / Simon Marrero – bb / Josiah Frazier – d.