Joseph "King" Oliver
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King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Chicago, 1920's
Joseph Oliver was born on a plantation in Abends, LA in 1885, but moved to New
Orleans as a young child.  Just as so many other musicians of the time had done, he
started playing in the bars and brothels of Storyville at a young age.  At one time, he and
Kid Ory had a band.  Oliver's reputation grew and people started referring to him as the
"king."  When the Storyville District was closed in 1917, many New Orleans musicians
moved straight up the Mississippi River to Chicago.  King Oliver's band was one of the
first to score big in the Windy City.  Interestingly, all that remains of the original music
of New Orleans is the jazz that was played in Chicago in the 1920's.  This is because
there had been no recording of the music in New Orleans, but there was in Chicago,
when the still authentic "New Orleans jazz" was in its golden age in the 1920's, before
the music started gradually changing.
By 1923, Oliver had sent for Louis Armstrong to come to Chicago to play in his Creole
Jazz Band.  All of the men pictured above were born, raised and first played their music
in New Orleans.  Above, Oliver is 4th from left, Buster Bailey, 3rd from left, Zue
Robertson, 3rd from right, Louis Armstrong, 2nd from right, Rudy Jackson, right and Lil
Harden, seated (by this time, Armstrong and Harden were married).  Louis Armstrong
called Oliver "Papa Joe" and said that he was more influenced by King Oliver than by
any other musician.
A young Louis Armstrong, left, and King Oliver
King Oliver moved to New York in the 1920's, but a change in the way jazz was being
played, some bad decisions and, eventually, bad health followed him.  He ended up in
Savannah, GA, no longer able to play to support himself.  Louis Armstrong ran into
Oliver there not long before he died.  Armstrong said, "A little time after we left
Savannah, the owner of a bar, an old fan, gave Joe a job cleaning up, emptying those
cuspidors like the ones he used to tap his foot on...pretty soon, he died.  People said it
was a heart attack, but it was a broken heart. That's what killed Joe Oliver."  Oliver
was buried in an unmarked grave in Woodlawn Cemetery, New York.  
(From Tom
Morgan at