King Oliver: High Society


High Society


King Oliver's Jazz Band


Off The Record: The Complete 1923 Jazz Band Recordings (Archeophone 6)

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

Composed by Porter Steele, A.J. Piron & Clarence Williams (original label composer credit: King Oliver’s Jazz Band)


Recorded: Chicago, June 22, 1923


Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

"High Society" is one of many traditional jazz standards with confusing parentage. It was originally a march, written in 1901 by Porter Steele. The piccolo obbligato first turns up in a Robert Recker score later in 1901, and sometime after that, A.J. Piron transposed it for clarinet. Clarence Williams got involved somewhere along the line, possibly writing lyrics for the song. Apparently, there is another set of lyrics by Walter Melrose (and just who sings these lyrics anyway?) And if things weren't confused enough, when King Oliver recorded it, he claimed it was composed by his current band! So, the Oliver version always carries "King Oliver's Jazz Band" as the credit, but the same piece as recorded by other players can have any combination of the above composers listed. It's a good thing that the song is in public domain!

Oliver's acoustic recording features the full ensemble in the opening and closing choruses. Johnny Dodds is very prominent, with the clueless and out-of-tune trombonist Honore Dutrey standing a few feet back from the recording horn.Oliver's in the back of the room with Louis (and as Louis said years later, the problem with the Oliver recordings is that the lead didn't predominate). Lil Hardin's piano and Bud Scott's banjo are lost in the mix and Baby Dodds can only be heard sporadically with the occasional cymbal crash. When the trio comes along, Armstrong and Johnny Dodds take over and the other horns lay out, offering a fine respite from the dense band sound. Armstrong gets in a little improvisation over the trio theme and in the final chorus, Dodds plays a creditable rendition of the Picou obbligato.

While these old recordings can be hard to listen to, the Archeophone double-CD above offers the best transfers to date. By necessity, the MP3 linked above is not from the Archeophone, but the French Classics reissue. Go to to hear samples of these superior transfers.

Reviewer: Thomas Cunniffe

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