King Oliver (1885–1938)

Born:

11th May 1885 in Aben, Louisiana, USA.

King Oliver’s grave in New York

Died:

10th April 1938 in Savannah, Georgia, USA.

Buried:

Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx, New York, New York, USA.

Some great pieces.
  • Canal Street Blues.
  • Dippermouth Blues.
  • Chimes Blues.
  • Mabel’s Dream. (See below for a video.)
  • Sweet Like This.
  • West End Blues.
  • Weather Bird.
  • Sobbin’ Blues. (See below for a video.)
Some great collections:
  • King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band: The Complete Set (1923–1924).
  • King Oliver—Vocalion & Brunswick Recordings, Vol. 1: “Sugar Foot Stomp” (1926–1927).
  • King Oliver—Vocalion & Brunswick Recordings, Vol. 2: “Farewell Blues” (1927–1931).
  • King Oliver and His Orchestra (1929–1930).
  • Plus many more!
Some interesting facts:
  • He was one of the first great jazz artists!
  • He played the cornet (a small trumpet) and led bands.
  • He developed the idea of using mutes in jazz playing (mutes are things that go over the end of brass instruments to give them a different sound—see below for a picture).
  • He grew up in New Orleans and played his first jazz there.
  • He moved to Chicago later on and became very popular there.
  • He wrote many of the pieces he played.
  • Louis Armstrong was a great fan of King Oliver’s. As a young man he wanted to play in King Oliver’s band. He got the chance in the 1920s–playing second trumpet to King Oliver! Louis Armstrong didn’t mind this and learnt a lot about playing jazz in this band. He always called King Oliver, ‘Papa Joe’.
  • King Oliver also made a couple of recordings with Jelly Roll Morton.
  • His real first name was Joe, or Joseph.
  • He often tried to charge a lot of money for his playing. In one instance when he charged too much, the job went to Duke Ellington instead—and this is where Duke Ellington became famous!
  • He lost all his money in the 1930s (lots of people lost money then—this time was known as the ‘Great Depression’).
  • After this he became very sad and his band eventually broke up.
  • In the end he worked as a cleaner and died completely poor :-(.
  • Sometime after King Oliver died, Louis Armstrong wrote this about him: “It was my ambition to play as he did. I still think that if it had not been for Joe Oliver, Jazz would not be what it is today. He was a creator in his own right.”

Here is a video of King Oliver and his band playing Sobbin’ Blues. King Oliver is the third man on the left.

King Oliver and his band plaing ‘Sobbin’ Blues’

And here is a video of King Oliver and his band playing Mabel’s Dream. King Oliver is standing in the back row on the left with a cornet.

King Oliver and his band playing ‘Mabel’s Dream’

By the way, the ‘wah wah’ sound of the brass instruments is made by using mutes. King Oliver developed the idea of using these in jazz. Here is a picture of a trumpet with a selection of mutes to give you an idea what they look like.

A trumpet with a selection of mutes

Picture credits:
  1. King Oliver. This photograph was taken around 1915. The image is in the public domain. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  2. King Oliver’s grave in New York. This photograph was taken on the 2nd December 2009 by the user Anthony22 on Wikipedia. This image is free to use providing one credits the photographer. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
  3. A trumpet with a selection of mutes. This image may be used freely. Click here for the source of this image, along with the relevant copyright information.
Video credits:
  1. Sobbin’ Blues – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. Sobbin’ Blues – King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. In the second recording session of the “Jazz King” of Chicago Joe Oliver and his Creole Jazz Band recorded in Chicago as well. This was done on June 22 1923. In this famous band we hear Joe Oliver and Louis Armstrong on cornets, Johnny Dodds on Clarinet, Lil Hardin on piano, Bud Scott on banjo and Baby Dodds on drums and slide whistle. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.
  2. Mabel’s Dream — King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band. This was recorded during the last session of this fabulous band. It was December 24, 1923… In this recording we hear some fine interplay between Joe [Oliver] together with Louis Armstrong on cornets. The other members were Johnny Dodds clarinet, Honore Dutray trombone, Charlie Jackson sousaphone, Lil Hardin piano and Baby Dodds drums. There is more information about this one on the video’s YouTube page.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Austin 30th December 2012

Oliver gave Louis Armstrong his forst cornet as a gift, and taught him to play. He later brought him to Chicago to join his Creole Jazz Band. Armstrong patterned his style on Oliver’s and in some recordings they can be mistaken for one another.

2 Brian Johnson 23rd January 2013

This is a nice Reliable Website.

3 kayla 19th January 2016

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