4 May 2013


Armand John Piron made an immense contribution to the history of traditional jazz.
Armand Piron (far right) with his famous colleague Peter Bocage (far left)
Piron was born in in the Seventh Ward of New Orleans in 1888. His father was a music teacher and Armand became a fine child violinist. A childhood injury to his hip meant that Armand could not walk easily. Unable to participate in sports, he devoted himself to music. In his teenage years, he established himself as a major musician in several of the early orchestras in the New Orleans area. These included The Silver Leaf Band, The Peerless Orchestra and The Olympia Orchestra. So he played alongside most of the famous names of those early days.

At the age of only 26, he became a partner in a music publishing business with the pianist Clarence Williams. They also performed as a duo.

By the age of 30, Piron had a band (he called it an 'Orchestra') of his own and it flourished in New Orleans between 1918 and 1928. Coming from a Creole background, Piron established a style for his Orchestra that was softer, and more melodic, sophisticated, 'classical' and genteel than that of some other local bands. He used musicians who were good readers. All this was typical of the Creole musicians: they learned to play well and accurately from printed music before turning to jazz.

The Piron Orchestra also played in New York in 1923 and again in 1924, making some of their famous recordings in that city.

Piron died in 1943. But his close colleague and collaborator Peter Bocage (who may be considered his lieutenant in the Orchestra) lived on to play in the early days at Preservation Hall (which was set up as a music venue in 1961). In fact, after Piron gave up leading his orchestra, Bocage had kept it going in re-shaped form for a long time as The Creole Serenaders. Peter lived until 1967. Born in 1887, Peter Bocage, from a well-to-do Creole background (he came from the suburb of Algiers, on the south side of the Mississippi), had mastered the violin and trumpet before he joined Piron, and he had played in various early New Orleans jazz bands alongside such figures as Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Frankie Dusen, Bunk Johnson, Fate Marable and Freddie Keppard. What a pedigree!

You can hear examples of the fine, elegant playing of Piron's  orchestra on YouTube. Try, for example, New Orleans Wiggle, one of the tunes he composed, together with Peter Bocage: CLICK HERE.
But Armand Piron (usually in collaboration with one or two members of his band) also gave us several other interesting pieces of music that have become part of the traditional jazz heritage. Think of:
Bouncing Around
I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate
Mamma's Gone, Goodbye
Kiss Me Sweet
Bright Star Blues
Louisiana Swing
Red Man Blues
Sud Bustin' Blues

Among the musicians who are known to have played in the Piron orchestra over the years were:

Armand J. Piron (violin, leader)
Peter Bocage (cornet, trumpet, violin and other instruments)
Willie Edwards (cornet, trumpet)
John Lindsay (trombone, string bass, tuba)
Lorenzo Tio Jr. (clarinet, tenor saxophone. His family were emigrants from Mexico; and Lorenzo is thought to have been a tutor to many of the great later reed-players, such as Johnny Dodds, Jimmy Noone, Albert Nicholas and Omer Simeon)
Louis Warnecke (clarinet, alto saxophone)
Charles Bocage  (banjo, guitar. Brother of Peter Bocage)
John Marrero (banjo, guitar)
Johnny St. Cyr (banjo, guitar)
Steve Lewis (piano. Very versatile, he was considered one of the finest New Orleans pianists of the time)
Arthur  Campbell (piano)
Bob Ysaguirre (string bass, tuba)
Henry Bocage (string bass, tuba. Cousin of Peter Bocage)
Louis Cottrell Sr. (drums - a percussionist who was a skilful reader of music)
Paul Barbarin (drums)
Cie Frazier (drums)
Bill Matthews (drums)