Wooden Joe Nicholas was born in New Orleans near the intersection of Frenchman and Rampart Streets on September 22, 1883. His primary influence was cornetist Buddy Bolden, who he heard perform at Globe Hall and Lincoln Park. Initially a tin flutist and clarinetist, Nicholas studied cornet with Bunk Johnson and Manuel "Manole" Perez, and blew clarinet with King Oliver and Richard M. Jones at Abadie's Cafe in Storyville. During the intermissions Nicholas played Oliver's cornet, and one night when Oliver was unable to extricate himself from a pool table at the Big 25, the "intermission" cornetist jammed with the group for an hour. Joe Nicholas proceeded to establish himself as a cornetist, playing at the 101 Ranch and at Pete Lala's and George Fewclothes', and leading a series of ensembles (he preferred sextets), the most famous being the Camelia Band. Wooden Joe Nicholas is said to have earned his moniker by serving as the sole cornetist of small brass bands in all-day street parades without apparently ever needing to rest his chops. Joe also insisted that the nickname was originally applied in reference to his boyhood habit of skipping school to go fishing and hunting in the swampy woods "back of town." The recordings released in 1994 on the American Music CD Wooden Joe Nicholas were made in New Orleans' Artisan Hall (usually pronounced Artesian Hall) at 1460 North Derbigny Street on May 10, 1945, at the home of clarinetist George Lewis one week later, and in the living room of trombonist Louis Nelson's house on July 20 and 21, 1949. This very old-fashioned music played by mature and elderly musicians must be appreciated for what it is, rather than being ridiculed for what it isn't. There is a relaxed honesty to these performances that is largely missing from most music heard in the 21st century. Wooden Joe primarily played the trumpet, doubling on clarinet for tracks 13 and 14. Collectively the other players were clarinetist Albert Burbank, trombonists Jim Robinson and Louis Nelson, banjoist Laurence Marrero, guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, bassists Austin Young and Alcide "Slow Drag" Pavageau, and drummers Josiah "Cie" Frazier, Albert Jiles, and Baby Dodds. On track 17 (an earthy treatment of "St. Louis Blues" recorded at the home of clarinetist George Lewis), the handler of Robinson's trombone was ancient Joe Petit, a solid bass line player who held the ground for the others despite being toothless and deaf as a post. Albert Burbank was the vocalist on two versions of "Eh, La Bas," Johnny St. Cyr ground out the words to "Any Rags," Austin Young chortled "Seems Like Old Times," and the woman who sang "The Lord Will Make a Way" was New Orleans blues legend Ann Cook, now a church lady who (like Mahalia Jackson) stubbornly refused to sing anything other than sacred songs. Apparently aware of her youthful reputation as a hot-tempered individual who was "prone to violence (murder on down)," some of the accompanying musicians are said to have been afraid in the presence of Ann Cook. This adds a certain luster to the old-time gospel tune she left for posterity, presented here as a further footnote to the life and works of Wooden Joe Nicholas, who passed away in New Orleans, LA, on November 17, 1957.
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