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8/11/09

More about King Oliver from Lil Armstrong...

Lil Armstrong in 1961, when she visited me in the West 
84th St. apartment I shared with Timme Rosenkrantz.


 And here is more about King Oliver from Lil:

Joe disliked my boyfriend, Johnny, and had him barred from the bandstand after a night when he came up and left with one of my shoes so that I couldn't go home until he returned to take me there himself.

Of course I was even more curious to know how Joe got started in the music business than I had been when I first met the other musicians and they told me their stories. Joe's story was too long, even at that time, for him to tell it all to me on the bandstand, so I went to his house one afternoon and got all the details. He told me that he was born in Algiers, across the river from New Orleans and that he started out playing in a boys band under a Mr. Ketchum, when he was 15. First they had put him on trombone, but he blew so hard that he drowned out the other instruments. Mr. Ketchum then switched him to cornet. He was working for a white woman named Mrs. Myers at that time, and she would pay for his lessons and also let him off to play with the band. When he married Stella Dominique, in 1912, he was playing with various bands and music had become his full-time job. He was paid seven dollars a week, one dollar nightly, that is when he worked for Pete Lala. He laughed when he told me that his wife used to cry because she wanted him to give her money weekly instead of nightly. He told me that Sidney Bechet and Walter Cottrell had played with him at Pete's and that peak had a whistle which he blew whenever he wanted the band to play. This happened about every 10 minutes, whether there was anyone in the place or not.

One Easter morning, four men had been killed in Pete's place and that had thrown Joe out of a job. Then he organized a larger band and started giving dances himself at Economy Hall and Masonic Hall. This hadn't worked out too well, so he took a job at the Palm Gardens where he was sure of a salary. One night, Palm Gardens was raided for some reason in both musicians and patrons were taken to jail. This was the payoff Joe, decided then and there to change towns. Therefore, when Mrs. Majors wrote him to come to Chicago and work at the Royal Gardens, he was prepared to make a deal.

I also heard from Joe about cribs, whores, the famous "second line" of kids marching alongside the grownups with their homemade instruments, and how rival bands hitched wagons together and attempted to outplay each other on street corners when advertising a dance. He also told me about the funerals and how the bands played slowly on the way to the cemetery and "hit it up" coming back.

Joe Oliver never gambled nor drank but he made up for everything by eating. He could consume as much food as three people. After work, the band used to go to a Chinese restaurant in the 34th block on State Street. Joe would order two full meals and one cup of tea. Then he'd use a bowl of sugar, making sweetened water by adding water to that first cup of tea. The proprietor soon got wise to this and, from then on, they moved the sugar bowls from the table every time they saw Joe come in the place. That tickled him so much and gave us all a good laugh. We were all so carefree and happy, little did we know that we were making jazz history. We were all just interested in making money and having fun. Of course, Joe had a family, his wife and stepdaughter, to support, but I had absolutely no expenses at home and I just spent my money on clothes and ice cream. Decie tried many times to make me save my money, but it was no use. I didn't smoke or drink, but I had to have something to show for my work and clothes was the answer. And have many times since wished that Decie had forced me to save money.


In 1921, Lil went to San Francisco with the Oliver band. Here's a link to her recollections of that trip.

2 comments:

  1. Good stuff from one of the most under recognized people in the development of American Jazz.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Gracias por compartirlo.

    ReplyDelete