One of the early pioneers of jazz, Big Eye Louis Nelson (no relation to trombonist Louis Nelson, although they sometimes played together) was an early inspiration for Johnny Dodds and Jimmie Noone and was for a period the teacher of Sidney Bechet. Born Louis Nelson DeLisle -- he eventually dropped his last name -- he played accordion, guitar, banjo, violin, and bass early on; he was mostly self-taught on clarinet other than some lessons from Lorenzo Tio, Sr. and Luis Tio in 1904.
One of the very first jazz clarinetists (as opposed to ones who merely played preplanned counter-melodies or stuck to reading music), Nelson performed with the who's-who of early jazz, including Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, and Oscar Celestin. Nelson spent his early life in New Orleans, leaving for Chicago in 1916 to join Freddie Keppard and the Original Creole Orchestra but returning two years later. He was with many bands including the Imperial Orchestra, the Golden Rule Orchestra, the Imperial Band, the Superior Orchestra, and the Eagle Band. Nelson worked with John Robichaux's Orchestra (1918-1924) and Sidney Desvigne; from 1939-1949 he led his own group at Luthjen's.
Nelson did not record much. His career reached back to the beginnings of jazz but fortunately he was documented a bit in 1949, just a short time before his death. He is on the erratic 1940 Kid Rena sessions and was captured in 1949: twice in the studios for American Music (once under the leadership of Wooden Joe Nicholas) and on a live date at Luthjen's that year (which was not released until 1992). All of the 1949 sessions (except a few alternate takes) are included on the American Music CD Big Eye Louis Nelson DeLisle. Fortunately he is in pretty good form on these historic performances that are his recorded legacy.