Evolution of the New Orleans Style
Kid Howard and the jazz trumpet line
photo Courtesy of the New Orleans Jazz Club Collection of the Louisiana State Museum
The evolution of New Orleans Style – the classic jazz idiom that arose in the early 1900s – relied heavily on the trumpeter to advance the melody, laying out a song line to which the clarinet sang back in counter-melody, the drums and rhythm instruments driving ahead.
One hears it with Louis Armstrong at an apex in the Hot Five and Hot Seven sessions in the mid-1920s, taking the music to another level with Johnny Dodds, a Crescent City reedman who left for Chicago in the diaspora between Storyville’s closing in ’17 and the Great Depression in the ’30s.
Armstrong left New Orleans in 1922, by which time the sound that he would famously popularize had been well forged by men who started out on the cornet, the pioneering Buddy Bolden and those who made the switch to trumpet, Bunk Johnson, Buddy Petit, Henry Allen Sr. and his son Henry “Red” Allen, among others. King Oliver, Amstrong’s mentor in his hardscrabble teenage years, established himself in Chicago and invited Armstrong to join the Creole Jazz Band in Chicago.
The line of talent that left New Orleans exported a style of music that had a huge impact on American popular culture, even as many of those early exponents made the shift to big band swing.
The musicians who stayed behind, playing in church parades, funerals, society clubs and dance halls, gave New Orleans Style an odd lease on life; they kept the root idiom alive when the national economy crashed though few of them had recording opportunities and many of them must have felt envy for the jazzmen who made it by leaving. But playing the traditional music – New Orleans Style is the term coined later by historian Bill Russell – trumpeters like Kid Howard popularized the standards that became canon, and extended a tradition of dance music that crossed the color line and is still going strong today.
How many times have I gone to music clubs in “foreign countries” like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, where the people sit there, heads bobbing, shoulders swaying and they don’t get up and dance.
Born in 1908, Avery “Kid” Howard played the cornet well into the ’30s; he had a greater distinction after mastering the trumpet. He made a living at his music, taking no day job, playing through the hard years, past World War II, and enjoyed a recording career comparatively late in life.
The Hottest Trumpet: The Kid Howard Story by Brian Harvey is a Jazzology Press release, the label founded by the late George Buck whose GHB Music recorded many traditional jazzmen and distributes reissues from specialty labels. Howard died in 1966; the book followed him by 41 years, and to call it a love’s labor as opposed to high social literature is a gentle caveat to the relentless research by Harvey, an Englishman who went beneath the stones he overturned to inspect the nature of the soil.
Howard started out as a drummer, switched to the horn, found a stride in the brass bands and advanced by playing funerals. “The fact that the foundation of Howard’s income through the 1930s was from funerals may be related to his very strong and active respect for his faith,” writes Harvey. “The Kid was a churchgoer throughout his life and with George Lewis’s family attended the neighborhood Zion Hill Baptist Church regularly ... Sacred melodies formed the central platform of the New Orleans brass band music.”
Howard hit his zenith with Lewis, the esteemed clarinetist and a catalytic figure in the New Orleans Revival of the 1950s. Through his association with Lewis, Howard found “fame at last,” as Harvey notes, and did a good deal of traveling.
“Lewis played with a bunch of guys, but the one who was a key to that great sound of the Lewis band at its peak was Kid Howard,” says Tom Sancton, the clarinetist who studied with Lewis in high school, and recalled his experiences in his graceful memoir, Song for My Fathers.
“Kid Howard was forceful, assertive and hot, but not all over the place soaking up too much oxygen. That band had plenty of space for everyone to do their work collectively. Howard had that hot trumpet style, and a pronounced vibrato with an emotional warmth that showed in the blues. For my money he was the best trumpeter who played with Lewis.”
Howard recorded with Lewis on several Blue Note albums. The most accessible CD may be The Best of George Lewis, 1943-64, now on the GHB label (bcd 559/560.)
Harvey credits Kid Howard with exposing the Lewis band to “a wider variety of songs, rather than the much-requested but hackneyed New Orleans jazz repertoire ... ranging from Joplin rags out of the old Red Book to hymns and popular numbers.”
Howard died in 1966, a year before Sancton graduated from Ben Franklin. “When I heard him play with Lewis at Preservation Hall his best days were behind him, but he had a voice with nice harmonics, and a depth to his singing, a lot of passion and humor,” says Sancton. “He sang a blues –
‘The reason my grandmother loved my granddaddy so / He had the same jelly roll he had 72 years ago’ – and he did it with mischief in his eye.”