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25 September 2017

Post 551: THE NEW ORLEANS OWLS 1922 - 1929

The best-known picture of The New Orleans Owls.

In addition to the bands of Sam Morgan and Armand Piron, and The Halfway House Orchestra, another band that made recordings in New Orleans during the 1920s was The New Orleans Owls.

Apparently a group called The Invincibles String Band had been formed in New Orleans in 1912 and it included seven musicians (Johnny Wiggs, Eblen Rau, Benjy White, Rene Gelpi, Monk Smith, Earl Crumb and Mose Ferrar) who went on to form The New Orleans Owls.

Their music was elaborately arranged and sweet rather than raw. But it was very dance-able and impeccable-sounding. Tampeekoe is a good example. You may sample it by clicking here.

The band made about twenty recordings between 1925 and 1927, 13 of them in New Orleans. Several of the tunes were original compositions by members of the band and – while usually having more than one theme – these tunes essentially use 16-bar and 32-bar harmonic structures that have become familiar in so many of the tunes from the 1920s that have always been loved by traditional jazz bands.

The New Orleans Owls flourished between 1922 and 1929, performing for dancers in the hotel ballrooms of New Orleans - notably the Hotel Roosevelt. Though they normally performed as a seven-piece, twenty-two different musicians were members of the band over those years. The most distinguished were perhaps Benjamin White (reeds and leader), Bill Padron (cornet), Frank Netto (trombone), Nappy Lamare (banjo), Dan LeBlanc (tuba), Pinky Vidacovitch (clarinet and sax) and Moses Farrar (piano).

You will find their style fairly sedate - even in such numbers as Blowing Off Steam and Dynamite. Everything is tidy and controlled, just right for elegant ballroom dancing.

Even in Meat on the Table (essentially a Bill Bailey variant), where there is a fair amount of room for improvisation, the emphasis is on charm and neatness rather than adventure. Click here to sample it.

Their music is energetic and lively within a tight, disciplined framework. The tunes are carefully structured, with introductions, modulations and breaks.

This is a band to divide opinions among traditional jazz fans. Some will say their music shows just how traditional jazz should sound; others will say it is not exactly gutsy: it lacks 'rawness' and risk-taking. But we have to remember The New Orleans Owls did not include the word 'Jazz' in their name. Their task was to accompany and please people who, in the 1920s, were elegantly dancing fox-trots. And they did that job supremely well.