By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘Willie Humphrey

Jazz Emerges Part 4

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Trumpeter Percy and Clarinetist Willie Humphrey
On Tour and At Home

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

Photographs by William Carter 1973-1985

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Birthday party with kin folk and friends after a gig in California in 1976; musicians included the Humphrey brothers (center), drummer Cie Frazier (behind Percy), and banjoist/singer Narvin Kimball (seated).

In a long caption in my book, Preservation Hall (W.W. Norton, 1991), I told the story, quoted below, of the Humphreys’ long lives and distinguished lineage. I never met their trombonist brother, Earl, who died relatively young. Their father, Willie Humphrey Sr., was a clarinetist who spent much of his life on road tours; in a surviving publicity shot he looks just like Willie Jr. The pioneering grandfather’s story says something about the rich artistic and cultural complexities underpinning the birth of what has been called “America’s classical music”:

“The work of the front-line Humphrey triumvirate stemmed from the teaching of their grandfather, James Brown Humphrey, who played a unique role in the earliest years of jazz. That “fair-skinned Negro with red hair,” as the authors Berry, Foose and Jones told it, in Up from the Cradle of Jazz (1986), “starting about 1887, boarded the train each week, wearing a swallow-tailed coat and carrying a cornet case and music sheets in a satchel. The professor had many New Orleans pupils who entered the ranks of early jazz; he is also said to have taught whites. Most students on his weekly tour of the plantation belt — 25 miles either way from the city — were illiterate workers who lived in shacks behind the sugar and cotton fields along the river…Humphrey by 1890 was a rare commodity, a black man who lived off his talents as an artist. He played all instruments, directed bands and orchestras, and became a catalyst sending rural blacks into urban jazz ensembles.”

The essence of classic New Orleans jazz is the ensemble. The essence of that essence is a tough, growling, cut-down, loose-limbed, abbreviated lead trumpet or cornet — allowing the other horns lots of space. Trumpeter Percy Humphrey gives us a fiery taste of his lead in the excerpts below.”Running Wild” and “Panama” were recorded in Oxford, Ohio by the great George Lewis Ragtime Band of 1952.

Click below to listen to segments of “Runnin’ Wild” and “Panama.”

In the following solo on “St. Louis Blues,” clarinetist Willie Humphrey demonstrates two cardinal components of the New Orleans style.

Rhythmically, the horns and piano never cease to play off of, and around, the beat as strictly laid down by the rhythm section. Attacking microseconds before or after what would be correct in a more European or “white” reading, this constant off-beatness serves to trip up the listener. “What’s your music for? Mine’s for dancing!” exulted a classic player. Making people move their bodies out on the streets and in the dance halls is the musicians’ fundamental assignment — which extends to foot tapping in concert halls. Syncopation is key.

Structurally, Willie gradually, logically builds his variations from lower to higher pitches and intensities. Employing St. Louis Blues-derived themes and a faux-stumbling manner that helps release micro-rhythms, he gradually weaves a baroque edifice soaring above the underlying foundation.

Click below to listen to “St. Louis Blues.”

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 3

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Spirit Matters

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product


CLICK THE ARROW ABOVE to listen to The old Eureka Band, led from the 1930s by Percy Humphrey., Tops in the city, as late as the 1950s its joyous processions were marked by a dignity and decorum since overtaken by the wild and garish. Photos by Tom Sharpsteen, compiled with sound by Clint Baker and Katie Cavera, used here with permission.

Years ago, the French Quarter streets were amazingly quiet.  Especially in the mornings, before the few tourists were out and about, this historic section – located near the river, yet built on high ground for good reason – retained its residential feel. New Orleans’ slow-going, personal style, out of the national mainstream, had much to do with how it cradled classic jazz for most of a century.

But other than a couple of sleazy joints on Bourbon Street, it was hard for a musician to feed his family, or for a visitor to hear the real deal. Still, the city’s close-knit neighborhoods proclaimed their musical birthright at pop-up parties, funky dance halls, street events, church memorials. “Let the good times roll,” translated from the French, was always there, highlighted by everyone’s anticipation of the Mardi Gras Carnival, which they prepare for all year long.

The past has always loomed large in this survival culture where one never knew what tragedies the future might hold. Generations of musicians have long been linked by family ties, spiritual traditions, personal musical tutelage, people caring for neighbors. By the 1970s I had met and played with musicians in several cities of the world, but only in New Orleans did you learn so quickly where they lived — on which block of which street, in which ward, near which landmark.  And no other city has ever spawned so many tunes named for beloved streets, from Basin to Canal to Bourbon to Burgundy to…

Within weeks of arriving, I knew I had arrived when I was invited to jam on the sidewalk to celebrate the birthday of an old lady named Miss Carrie. Then on ten minutes notice I donned a parade hat to go play a gig at Antoine’s fancy restaurant. Then I joined a procession of Japanese visitors marching to the graveside of clarinet great George Lewis. There were plenty of weeks of no action at all. But one thing was sure: in New Orleans nobody ever needs to be asked to “play with feeling.”

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry.
Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe's tough but caring marketing expertise, the down-home sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide. Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe’s marketing expertise the warm sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide.
Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; "You gotta have soul to do this work," he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; “You gotta have soul to do this work,” he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was
featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Drummer Paul Barbarin's manuscript of his song, "The Second Line" © circa 1960: the term "second line" refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance along with the brass bands during the New Orleans street parades. Collection of William Carter

Drummer Paul Barbarin’s manuscript of his song, “The Second Line” © circa 1960: the term “second line” refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance and exult beside the brass bands along the routes of the street parades. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul "Polo" Barnes' manuscript of his tune "My Josephine," New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul “Polo” Barnes’ manuscript of his tune “My Josephine,” New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, "I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now." Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, “I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now.” Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis' grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis’ grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

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