Louis A. Mitchell

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Despite what appears to be great general support for jazz and/or the avant-garde, French audiences have also at times expressed what can only be described as disgust with new forms of musical expression.…
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Despite what appears to be great general support for jazz and/or the avant-garde, French audiences have also at times expressed what can only be described as disgust with new forms of musical expression. Infamous incidents of this sort include the premiere of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, early gigs in France by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and the following reaction to a performance by percussionist Louis A. Mitchell, also known as "The King of Noise": "When Mitchell first came to Paris, his first appearance was at a matinee. The audience did not take kindly to this 'noise artist' from America. It hissed, jeered, and howled at him. His premiere appearance was the biggest frost ever chronicled in Paris theatres." Guessing the date of this performance debacle could be an interesting challenge for the noise nut. Mitchell was performing as a solo percussionist, a concept that has really not been greeted with that much enthusiasm from audiences since the days of Mitchell's premiere. Nonetheless, it should be noted that these were certainly the early days of jazz: the preceding clipping originated with an Ohio newspaper from early 1919.

Louis Mitchell's Jazz Kings, like James Reese Europe's Hellfighters, were among the first ensembles to present syncopated music to European audiences. Mitchell's performing career stretches back to the very early 20th century; he appeared in minstrel shows and vaudeville playing both the drums and the bandoline, the latter an odd combination of percussion and stringed-instrument technology. He started up the Southern Symphonists' Quintet upon moving north to New York City in 1912. Several years later he began a series of hops back and forth between Europe and the United States, the periods of stay abroad becoming longer and longer each time.

Mitchell at first focused on the United Kingdom, taking on a residency at the Piccadilly Restaurant, touring with a variety show called Jordan & Mitchell, forming his own Syncopating Septette, and putting on solo drumming demonstrations. In 1918 he began working as both vocalist and drummer in James Reese Europe's Clef Club Band back in New York City. Soon he assembled a new group of his own, the Jazz Kings, and returned across the ocean in search of gigs. He found plenty of action for this group, including a house-band stint at the Casino de Paris that lasted five years. He developed a form of classic jazz that routinely included French influences, creating syncopated versions of popular chansons such as "Un Femme Qui Passe" or cooking up local tributes such as "The Montmatre Rag."

Much of the repertoire of this group was recorded by the Pathe label in 1922 and 1923. Instrumentalists in the group included the great soprano saxophonist and clarinetist Sidney Bechet, but not on recordings. Eventually, however, Mitchell became more involved in action off the bandstand, including not just gambling but managing nightclubs and casinos. At one point in the '30s he owned the Grand Duc Club -- as the legend goes, Mitchell won rights to the busy gambling den in a crap game! He also managed his own American-style eating establishment, known as both Mitchell's and Chez Mitchell's. These experiences helped him assist the classic blues singer and expatriate known as Bricktop, (real name: Ada Smith-Ducongé) when she wanted to open her own Parisian club, the Music Box.

Mitchell returned to the United States following the end of the Second World War but was not that active in music in the last decade of his life. He should not be confused with the rock recording engineer of the same name. There is also a jazz trumpeter named Lou Mitchell who appears on several recordings from the '40s.