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Playlist: Early Jazz in Southern California

Early Jazz in SoCal 8tracks cover

(Pictured here: first row, L to R – The Creole Palace nightclub in San Diego, Nordskog Recording Studios in Santa Monica, The Palomar Ballroom in Hollywood; second row, L to R – record label for Jazz Man Records, record label for the Spikes Brothers’ Sunshine label; third row, L to R – bassist Don Tosti, Johnny St. Cyr, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong playing on Disneyland’s Mark Twain Riverboat, Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.)

Early jazz history in Southern California was the topic of my undergraduate senior thesis, which I completed in June 2016. My thesis examined the history of early jazz in four distinct regions of Southern California: Downtown & South Los Angeles, Westside Los Angeles, Disneyland in Orange County, and San Diego. In the future I’d like to delve into even more regarding Southern California jazz, such as jazz in Hollywood films, and there is a lot more about women present in Southern California’s classic jazz scenes, jazz at the Disneyland Resort, and jazz in San Diego that I’d like to further research. As such, I plan on revisiting and building upon this research topic even more in my future studies.

Listen to the playlist HERE

Tracklist and information about the tracks:

The Crave | Jelly Roll Morton

Composed in 1917 and first introduced on the L.A. scene by Sid LeProtti’s So Different Orchestra, this tune became a wild sensation in Los Angeles due to it’s tango-like rhythms (the “Spanish Tinge,” as Morton liked to call it) and its danceable but complex rhythms and harmonies.

Moonlight Blues | Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders
California Swing | Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders

Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders was one of the leading jazz bands that grew out of L.A.’s Central Avenue in the 1920s and included a young Lionel Hampton on drums and vocals. The 1929-1930 recordings of Howard’s Quality Serenaders typify the kind of jazz arising out of Southern California during this period – still “hot” yet somehow more relaxed and polished.

Cho-King | Sonny Clay’s Dixie Serenaders
California Stomp | Sonny Clay’s Plantation Orchestra

Sonny Clay’s orchestras were some of the most successful of the early Los Angeles jazz bands. Because he lived in many areas of American Southwest, Clay’s musical style was very influenced by his experiences with Mexican and Latin American music, which can especially heard on “Cho-King,” with its Afro-Cuban rumba stylings.

Pachuco Boogie | Don Tosti Quartet
Los Blues | Don Tosti Trio

Though more closely aligned with boogie woogie and rhythm & blues music than hot/traditional jazz and swing, bassist Don Tosti’s recordings in the late 1940s with his quartets and trios are an example of Latino Californians’ involvement in jazz, swing, and boogie woogie music. These recordings showcase Tosti’s own style of boogie woogie – a style that was directly informed by the jazz-influenced pachuco subculture. He combines classic boogie woogie piano with lyrics in pachuco slang called caló.

Don’t Fence Me In | Minidoka Swing Band

The Minidoka Swing Band may be a modern band that formed in the 2000s, but the band’s focus is to pay tribute to the many swing bands formed by Japanese-Americans in internment camps during World War II. The band consists of young and older members, including two elderly members who were actually internees at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, three band members who are children of internees, and a bandleader who was interned at an Arkansas camp as a small child. [Read more about the band here]

Many of the swing bands that formed within the Japanese-American internment camps across America were started by members of Japanese swing bands from the West Coast, including by members of Los Angeles’ most popular Japanese swing band The Sho Tokyans. The most famous internment camp swing band, the Jive Bombers, was formed at the Manzanar War Relocation Center in California’s Owens Valley by former Sho Tokyans bass player Joe Sakai. Sakai recalled the Jive Bombers would often play the hit Cole Porter tune “Don’t Fence Me In” and would direct the speakers toward the nearby Army barracks, saying, “Don’t know if any of the guards caught on to what we were doing but we sure got a big kick out of it!” [Quoted in George Yoshida’s book Reminiscing in Swingtime: Japanese Americans in American Popular Music, 1925-1960]

Krooked Blues | Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra
Ory’s Creole Trombone | Kid Ory’s Creole Orchestra

These two recordings come from a groundbreaking recording session that occurred in the spring of 1922, when the first ever recordings of an all African-American jazz band from New Orleans were made in Santa Monica, California by trombonist Kid Ory and his “Creole Orchestra.” The records were produced by brothers and L.A. music store owners Reb and Johnny Spikes in (a conflicted) partnership with Hollywood Bowl manager and recording studio owner Arne Nordskog. The records were a huge local hit and are considered today to be of great historical importance.

Memories of You | Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra
I’m a Ding Dong Daddy | Louis Armstrong and His Sebastian New Cotton Club Orchestra

Frank Sebastian, owner of the New Cotton Club in Culver City, brought hot jazz from the East Coast directly into Southern California when he asked Louis Armstrong to front the club’s house band in 1930. Armstrong was pleasantly surprised by the California band (which also included a young Lionel Hampton on drums) and liked them so much that he got the band a few recording dates throughout 1930 and 1931. On “Memories of You,” Armstrong requested that Hampton try playing the vibraphone on the recording and it is here that Hampton first introduced the vibraphone into the jazz scene.

Three O’Clock in the Morning | Floyd Ray’s Orchestra

Floyd Ray’s jazz orchestra was a Los Angeles-based band that enjoyed great success throughout Southern California during the swing era. A noted feature of Ray’s band is an emphasis on vocals and vocal group harmonies. A mainstay of his band was a vocal trio consisting of vocalists Ivy Ann Glasco, Von Floyd and Verne Whittaker, who eventually became The Four V’s in 1944 when the trio added pianist Lady Carr. A number of prominent jazz musicians played in Ray’s band over the years including Jimmie Lunceford and Dizzy Gillespie.

You Took Advantage of Me | Jess Stacy

Pianist Jess Stacy is probably most known for his work with Benny Goodman’s swing orchestra in the 1930s. Stacy was instrumental in convincing Goodman to continue west on the band’s nationwide 1935 tour, which resulted in the band’s wildly successful run at the Palomar Ballroom in Hollywood. A Midwestern native, Jess Stacy moved to Los Angeles and lived in Laurel Canyon until his death in 1995. He continued recording following his move to Los Angeles; this recording was made in L.A. in March 1951, with George Van Eps on guitar, Morty Corb on bass, and Nick Fatool on drums.

Sunset Cafe Stomp | Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band

Though Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band was a traditional jazz band from Northern California, the band is equally important in the history of jazz in Southern California. When Dave Stuart, owner of the Jazz Man Record Shop in Hollywood, formed his own record label called Jazz Man Records, the first recordings produced on the label were of the Yerba Buena Jazz Band. The records were incredibly successful, ushering in a traditional jazz revival and encouraging the Southern California-based Jazz Man label to make recordings of early jazz greats like Kid Ory and Bunk Johnson.

Ja-Da | Firehouse Five Plus Two, at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon

Walt Disney’s Disneyland Park in Anaheim has had a long history of preserving traditional jazz for younger generations to discover, yet before Disneyland even opened in 1955 a few animators from the Disney Studios’ got together to form a traditional jazz revival band called The Firehouse Five. Over the years (and with the addition of two more members), the band frequently performed at Disneyland. This recording comes from a live album that the band recorded at Disneyland’s Golden Horseshoe Saloon in 1962.

Lazy River | Louis Armstrong with the Young Men From New Orleans, on the “Disneyland After Dark” television segment
Muskrat Ramble | Louis Armstrong with the Young Men From New Orleans, on the “Disneyland After Dark” television segment

In a 1962 episode of Disney’s Wonderful World of Color called “Disneyland After Dark,” jazz luminary Louis Armstrong joined old friends Johnny St. Cyr, Kid Ory, and the other “Young Men From New Orleans” aboard the Mark Twain riverboat that cruises down Disneyland’s Rivers of America to play a few classic jazz tunes and reminisce about old times playing together in New Orleans, Chicago, and on the riverboats.

That’s My Home | Teddy Buckner and His Band
St. Louis Blues | Teddy Buckner’s All Stars with Edmond Hall

Originally from Texas, Teddy Buckner became a main figure in Southern California’s jazz scene. Early in his career he played with Sonny Clay’s orchestra and Kid Ory’s band. His career was later revitalized when he led a traditional jazz band at Disneyland’s New Orleans Square. His band remained at Disneyland for an impressive 16 years.

Shadowland Blues, Pt. 1 & 2 | Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra

Texas bandleader Troy Floyd moved to San Diego in the late 1930s. In the early 1940s, he was hired to lead the house band at the Creole Palace, a mixed-race venue located in the Douglas Hotel that was the hub of San Diegan jazz culture. Though this recording is from his early career in San Antonio, it gives you a taste of the unique blending of collective improvisation and big band orchestrations that he became known for in San Diego.

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