Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Ory, Kid (Edward)

Kid Ory was the original "tailgate" trombonist: his enormous brassy sound, audacious glissandi and loud sense of humor came to define the New Orleans trombone sound. A key element in the groups of King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong, Ory led the first African-American ensemble to record jazz, and he composed many early jazz hits, including "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Muskrat Ramble." In the 1940s, he was a leader of the Dixieland revival movement.

 Kid Ory

Edward Ory was born in La Place, Louisiana on December 25, 1886. Ory began playing music with his friends there, about 30 miles West of New Orleans, when he was eleven years old. He started a string band out of makeshift instruments that became well-known around La Place. He would occasionally visit his sister in New Orleans, where he was exposed to the nascent sounds of early jazz. He saved up to buy a trombone from a New Orleans music shop at age 13, and was offered a job with cornetist Buddy Bolden. His family, however, insisted that he was too young to play with Bolden and so he remained in La Place until 1907.

After his 21st birthday, Ory left La Place to start his music career in New Orleans. Along with his fellow musicians in his string band, he performed mostly at Lincoln and National Park. They were soon joined by Johnny Dodds on clarinet, when Ory offered him enough money for him to quit his day job working for the local streetcar company. At the same time, his violinist switched to cornet, and the band's instrumentation changed to resemble the current traditional jazz template. The band quickly became one of the most successful in New Orleans and sustained Ory for another seven years.

In 1914, Ory and Dodds left for Chicago, where he recruited Joe Oliver to play cornet in his new band in New Orleans. Ory said he was the first to dub Oliver "King," which he later explained was a promotional strategy. He billed Oliver as the "King of the Cornet" and featured him in all the band's numbers. When Oliver left the band in 1916 to return to Chicago, Ory replaced him with local cornet prodigy Louis Armstrong.

Three years later, Oliver offered Ory a position with his band in Chicago. Ory accepted the offer, but planned a vacation to California in the intervening months. During his time in Los Angeles, he was offered a job at the Cadillac Cafe, and since the money was better than what Oliver was offering, he stayed. In California, he had his first music lessons and began to learn to read music. His new group also played regular engagements in San Francisco and Oakland.

In 1922, Ory made a historically significant set of recordings in Los Angeles. Ory recorded "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Society Blue" for Reb Spikes under the pseudonym "Spikes Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra." The two sides were the first ever recorded by an African-American jazz group.

Ory's music continued to find success in California until 1924, when he disbanded the group and moved to Chicago to join Louis Armstrong at the Dreamland. A few months later, he left Armstrong to finally joing King Oliver in the Erskine Tate band. While in Chicago, he began taking trombone lessons regularly with renowned classical trombonist Jerry Chimera.

Ory continued working with Oliver and his associates in Chicago, and in 1926 was recruited by Armstrong to record on the OKeh label with a group Armstrong called his Hot Fives.

Ory's recorded work with the Hot Fives, which includes "Heebie Jeebies," "Savoy Blues," "Hotter Than That" and "I'm Not Rough," has since become recognized as some of the finest in early jazz. "Struttin' With Some Barbecue" features a solo by Ory which typefies his style at the time.

Ory performed and recorded extensively with Oliver's Dixie Syncopators, Jelly Roll Morton's Red Hot Peppers, and other prominent ensembles. Examples of his work with Oliver include "Snag It" and "Wa Wa Wa," both recorded in 1926. "Original Jelly Roll Blues," "Doctor Jazz," "Black Bottom Stomp," and "Dead Man Blues" are examples of his work with Morton. "Steamboat Stomp" features a solo by Ory where he employs some of his signature tailgate effects.

The trombonist made his first trip to New York City in 1927 with Oliver's band, where they perfromed at the Savoy Ballroom. Ory soon returned to Chicago, where he performed with Dave Payton. A year later, he returned to the Savoy in New York, this time with Clarence Black.

Ory did not take well to New York, however, and yearned to return to California. Late in 1929, Ory returned to Los Angeles to perform with his longtime associate Mutt Carey. Afer a few months of various club dates around Los Angeles and San Diego, and San Francisco in 1930. As the depression deepened, however, making a living in music became more difficult. After a frustrating encounter with bandleader Freddie Washington regarding payment issues, Ory decided to leave the music business altogether in 1931.

Ory instead chose to invest some of his earnings from music into a chicken farm near Los Angeles, and he remained out of the public eye for most of the 1930s. He ran the farm with his brother until 1939.

Interest in Ory's brand of traditional jazz began to revive in the late thirties, and he decided to leave the farm to resume his music career. His musical comeback was in full swing by 1942. Based in Los Angeles, Ory convinced some of his fellow Dixieland-era musicians to join him. With the help of Crescent Records producers Marili Morden and Neshui Ertegun, Ory's group got their big break working for Orson Welles's radio broadcasts in 1944. In 1946, Kid Ory and his Creole Jazz Band began performing in San Francisco as well as Los Angeles.

Ory was a very astute marketer for his ensemble, and played into the developing notion of traditional jazz as "New Orleans Folk Music." For example, Ory booked the band to play at the Lifelong Learning Folk Music Festival at the University of California, Berkeley in 1948 to a packed hall.

His centrality in the Dixieland revival movement, however, made Ory a lightning rod for criticism from other areas in the jazz community. Dixieland's newfound success as folk music coincided with the emergence of bebop, a very different style with different musical aesthetics. The emerging debate between bebop fans and proponents of Dixieland caused a schism in the jazz community immortalized by Leonard Feather's derisive moniker for Ory and his fellow Dixieland musicians: "moldy figs."

Still, Ory was supportive of modern music and did not criticize his bebop contemporaries. "I don't condemn modern musicians," Ory said in a 1956 interview with Down Beat magazine. "I don't condemn any style of music. I love to see any style go over." Ory even shared the bill occasionally with modern jazz outfits, such as a concert in 1950 with Bill Russo in Chicago.

Despite the criticism, Ory managed a long and fruitful second career as one of the main exponents of traditional jazz and the tailgate trombone style. He led his own bands in California for nearly two decades, but health issues forced him to stop recording in 1961 and he retired completely in 1966 and moved to Hawaii. He did record one final time in New Orleans in 1971. He died from heart failure on January 23rd, 1973.

Select Discography

As a Leader:

King of the Tailgate Trombone (American Music AMCD-20)

A general overview of Ory's career. Unlike many musicians, his later work does not depart dramatically from his earlier style.

Kid Ory '44-'46 (American Music AMCD-19)

Features Ory at the beginning of his Dixieland comeback, reviving interest in some of his older classics.

Kid Ory 1922-1949 (Classics 1069)

An overview of Ory's career through 1949, featuring most of his standards including "Ory's Creole Trombone" and "Muskrat Ramble."

Live at the Newport Jazz Festival (Verve, 1957)

One of Ory's last recordings, he can still be heard as the exuberant exponent of the tailgate style that made him famous.

With Louis Armstrong:

Louis Armstrong and His Hot Fives, Vol. 1 (Columbia, 1988)

Louis Armstrong: The Complete Hot Fives and Hot Sevens (Columbia, 2000)

These are the recordings for which Ory is best known: as the original trombone sideman to Armstrong. Ory also wrote some of the songs, including the hit "Muskrat Ramble."

With Joe "King" Oliver:

King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators (Decca/GRP GRD616)

This recording also features Ory during his most prolific recording period, the late 1920s, this time with Oliver's band.

With Jelly Roll Morton:

Jelly Roll Morton 1924-1926 (Classics 599)

Jelly Roll Morton 1926-1928 (Classics 612)

Also recorded around the same time as his work with Oliver and Armstrong. Ory is much more of a sideman on these recordings, which feature Morton's virtuosity much more prominently.

Contributor: Alex W. Rodriguez