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King Oliver

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Joe “King” Oliver, (December 19, 1885 – April 8, 1938) was a bandleader and jazz musician.

Joe “King” Oliver was born in Abend, Louisiana near Donaldsonville, and moved to New Orleans in his youth. Oliver played cornet in the New Orleans brass bands and dance bands and also in the city’s red-light district, Storyville. The band he co-led with trombonist Kid Ory was considered New Orleans’ hottest and best in the 1910s. Oliver achieved great popularity in New Orleans across economic and racial lines, and was in demand for playing jobs from rough working class black dance halls to white society debutante parties.

According to an interview at the Tulane’s Hogan Jazz Archive with Oliver’s widow Stella Oliver, in 1919 a fight broke out at a dance where Oliver was playing, and the police arrested Oliver and the band along with the fighters. This made Oliver decide to leave the Jim Crow South.

After travels in California, by 1922 Oliver was the jazz “King” in Chicago (see: Jazz royalty), with King Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band performing at the Royal Gardens (later renamed the Lincoln Gardens). Virtually all the members of this band had notable solo careers. Personnel was Oliver on cornet, his protegé Louis Armstrong, second cornet, Baby Dodds, drums, Johnny Dodds, clarinet, Lil Hardin (later Armstrong’s wife), on piano, Honore Dutray on trombone, and Bill Johnson, bass and banjo. Recordings made by this group in 1923 demonstrated the serious artistry of the New Orleans style of collective improvisation or Dixieland music to a wider audience.

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