King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Snake Rag


Snake Rag


King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band


Off The Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings (Archeophone OTR-MM6-C2)

Buy Track


Joe 'King' Oliver (cornet), Louis Armstrong (cornet), Honoré Dutrey (trombone), Johnny Dodds (clarinet), Lil Hardin (piano), Baby Dodds (drums),

William M. Johnson (banjo)


Composed by Joseph Oliver


Recorded: Richmond, Indiana, April 6, 1923


Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

American jazz had forebears in minstrelsy and vaudeville, and the Creole Band's bassist/banjoist Bill Johnson had recently spent five years with the Original Creole Orchestra, touring the country in stage shows. You can hear the vaudeville flavor throughout "Snake Rag," most notably in the repeated two-cornet descending wobble/trombone slide. It follows the amusing vein found in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's "Livery Stable Blues," recorded six years prior. As Oliver's friend and 1930s sideman Paul Barnes recalled, "All great musicians are comedians and entertainers. King Oliver was that way too."

More than one source has observed that on all these sides, Oliver's creative playing lagged behind the mark he set in New Orleans a decade earlier. But the legendary Johnny St. Cyr, who came up with Oliver and often played with him, said the best record of Oliver's style—"the real Oliver of New Orleans"—is this Okeh version of "Snake Rag," where "Oliver makes trick breaks, animal noises," as St. Cyr. These breaks loom after 2:00, when the horns' steam pressure rises, then pop up at 2:13 and 2:49, where the Oliver/ Armstrong 2-bar duet breaks recall crows cawing and swans trumpeting, respectively. Note the continuous ensemble play. As the drummer, Baby Dodds, wrote, "We worked hard to make music, and we played music to make people like it."

Reviewer: Peter Gerler

If you liked this track, also check out

King Oliver: Dippermouth Blues
King Oliver: Canal Street Blues
King Oliver: Riverside Blues

Related Articles

A History of New Orleans Music in 100 Tracks edited by Ted Gioia
The Dozens: Twelve Essential King Oliver Tracks by Peter Gerler
Joe ‘King’ Oliver by Peter Gerler

Tags: · ·

  • 1 Roger Strong // May 31, 2009 at 08:28 AM
    I think the reviewer has hi the nail on the head at the very end. This is ensemble playing from end to end in a way that jazz seldom uses nowdays-in fact not for 80 years! The band is the thing-soloists are submerged in the ensemble-sure there are breaks and so on but they just serve to enhance the ensemble. Timeless music!