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Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz

Jun 4th, 2010 | By

Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz
By Thomas L. Morgan
Turner Publishing, Nashville, TN, 2009;
206 pp., $39.95 hardcover

This attractive volume contains more than 200 images, many of which are quite rare, illustrating the history of jazz in New Orleans from the earliest times through the end of the 20th century. The vast majority (85-90 percent) of the photographs are from the Jazz Collection of the Louisiana State Museum. Tom Morgan was responsible for the selection of the photos as well as writing the accompanying text and captions.

Morgan is a well-respected jazz programmer on public radio station WWOZ in New Orleans for the last decade or so, having earlier hosted public radio broadcasts in Charlottesville, Virginia. A jazz historian and author, his first book — From Cakewalks to Concert Halls: An Illustrated History of African-American Popular Music from 1895-1930 — was awarded second prize in the 1992 Ralph Gleason Music Book Awards.

Here, Morgan has divided the images chronologically into five groups (or chapters): “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” (1890-1925), “Oh Didn’t He Ramble” (1926-1945), “Bourbon Street Parade” (1946-1960), “New Arrival” (1961-1975) and “Feets Don’t Fail Me Now” (1976-2000).

The third group includes the largest number of photos (>50), which is not so surprising since the New Orleans Jazz Club was responsible for most of the museum’s collection and those years represented the floruit of the NOJC. That period also represented the high water mark of jazz clubs on Bourbon Street. Hence this group of photos provides a wonderful pictorial record of those diverse musical venues and the bands that performed in them.

A comparable number of images is found in the following chapter, which includes the founding of Preservation Hall and the maturation of the early modernists in the city. Perhaps my favorite pic in the whole collection is one illustrating a young Ellis Marsalis along with George French, Teddy Riley, Bob French and clarinetist Otis Bazoon (totally unrecognizable by comparison with his appearance today). This came from Bob French’s personal collection.

The third largest number of photos belongs to the first chapter. It includes many familiar images of early New Orleans groups and individuals as well as some of the less well-known bands, such as The Original New Orleans Jazz Band (with Merritt Brunies and Emile Christian), Frank Christian’s Ragtime Band (with “Yellow” Nunez), the Original Moonlight Serenaders featuring the Dejan brothers, Alfred “Pantsy” Laine’s Band, the Halfway House Orchestra (with Abbie Brunies and Leon Roppolo), the New Orleans Owls, and Johnny Bayerdorffer’s Orchestra that included youngsters Ray Bauduc and Nappy Lamare.

The last chapter has the fewest images and the most from private collections. Morgan acknowledges this up front: “Though the archives [of the State Museum] are extensive, there are still many musicians from all eras of New Orleans jazz who are not included. Regrettably, there are not as many photographs documented here of musicians such as James Black, Alvin Batiste, and others that followed and played modern jazz in the city.” But the last image in the book is that of popular present-day trumpeter and vocalist Kermit Ruffins.

Morgan also notes, “Although every attempt was made to collect available data, in some cases complete data was unavailable due to the age and condition of some of the photographs and records.” Indeed. The quality of the photos ranges from excellent (for the most part) to quite poor, and too many lack complete identifications of persons illustrated. This is understandable for some of the earliest groups, but, in my opinion, is unfortunate for more recent groups. This was my primary frustration with the volume, followed closely by the dozen or more misspellings overlooked by the copy editorial staff.

“Nevertheless,” the author concludes, “the pictures in this volume portray a vibrant jazz scene covering almost one hundred years.” True enough. And the volume is handsomely produced as well. It should be of interest to all devoted to New Orleans jazz.

This review originally appeared in the International Association of Jazz Record Collectors’ IAJRC Journal, March 2010 (Vol. 43, No. 1), p. 90.

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About Thomas Jacobsen

Thomas Jacobsen is Professor Emeritus at Indiana University (Bloomington) and a freelance jazz journalist.

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One Comment to “Historic Photos of New Orleans Jazz”

  1. avatar Will Shapira says:

    FYI, KBEM/88.5, one of the few jazz stations remaining, will mark its 40th anniveresary this Fall. Details from general manager Michele Jansen at michele.jansen@mpls.k12.mn.us

    Full disclosure: I volunteer to take KBEM membership pledges over the phone each Spring and Fall.
    Best to all, Will

    PS My dear late wife, Leslie Carole Johnson, founder and publisher for 35 years of The Mississippi Rag:The Voice of Traditional Jazz and Ragtime ™ http://www.mississippirag.com whom you so kindly honored a few years ago, would have been 68 June 16. RIP.
    Michele Jansen also can give you a progress report on the memorial to Leslie being prepared at Minneapolis North high School library where KBEM is housed. Leslie surely would have loved the photo collection of her dear friend and contribtor, Tom Jacobsen.

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