King Oliver / May 11, 1885 - April 10, 1938

Happy birthday to one of the early influential jazz greats, Joe "King" Oliver! Old enough to claim Buddy Bolden as an influence, he became one of New Orleans' star cornet & trumpet players (he also had professional experience playing trombone).

Despite having one working eye he learned to read and write music and was also a notable composer. He was mentor and a lifelong friend to Louie Armstrong, whom he taught and helped in New Orleans and later hired in Chicago. From about 1908 or so he was one of the best musicians in NOLA's Storyville district, destroying competitors in fierce trumpet battles left and right. He co-led a band with Kid Ory and his music was so in-demand he was hired across racial and class divides.

A racial incident led him to move to Chicago in 1918 and then he went to California in 1921. While on the West Coast he also performed in duets with Jelly Roll Morton. Upon return to the Windy City he founded the smoking hot septet King Oliver & his Creole Jazz Band (with Louie & Lil Armstrong, Johnny & Baby Dodds) and they cut some well-loved records for several labels. This band is considered one of the great and influential bands of improvisational, polyphonic jazz.

He went to NYC in '27 and continued until gum disease, bad business dealings (he famously flipped an extremely lucrative Cotton Club gig to an upstart Duke Ellington, a regretful mistake) and the Depression slowed things for him and he retired in '37 and died poor in Savannah GA the next year. His many recordings and steady touring all over the South, East Coast, Midwest and West Coast played a large part in spreading the popularity of jazz in the '10s and '20s.

He was an early practitioner of using a mute (including plunger, cups and other objects). Considering the fun sounds he could get out of his axe and his tune "Wa Wa Wa" one could clearly see what inspiration led to the 1960's invention of the wah-wah pedal. For all that we fortunately have from Oliver to listen to, the early timing of this crucial artist in the history of jazz robbed us of the ability to hear the development of the massively influential Creole Jazz Band. What does exist, though, should be REQUIRED listening in American schools.

From 1923, with Louis Armstrong in the band:

Tagged: Celebrate Icons, Chicago, jazz, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, NOLA, trumpet

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