Alcide "Yellow" Nunez

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Louisiana Five are of interest today mostly for the presence of their clarinetist Alcide "Yellow" Nunez. Nunez was born in New Orleans circa 1892 and in 1916 was a charter member of Stein's Dixie Jass…
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Louisiana Five are of interest today mostly for the presence of their clarinetist Alcide "Yellow" Nunez. Nunez was born in New Orleans circa 1892 and in 1916 was a charter member of Stein's Dixie Jass Band, among the earliest of the white Dixieland bands to venture north to Chicago. The band would later morph into Original Dixieland Jazz Band under the leadership of cornetist Nick LaRocca. According to writer H.O. Brunn it was Nunez's unreliability compounded by heavy drinking that caused LaRocca to fire him on October 31, 1916, a scant few weeks before ODJB's landmark successes in New York City.

Nunez returned to New Orleans, replaced by Larry Shields, who would do something Nunez was never able to do or possibly unwilling to do, that was to find a place for the clarinet in the cornet led Dixieland ensemble. Nunez formed another band and returned to Chicago's Vernon Café but with little success.

About a year after the initial success of Original Dixieland Jazz Band, Nunez joined with New Orleans drummer and manager Anton Lada to form Louisiana Five. Joining the group were Brooklyn trombonist Charlie Panelli, who would be a fixture on the New York Dixieland scene through the early '20s where he would perform for extended periods with the Original Memphis Five and Original Indiana Five; pianist Joe Cawley; and banjoist Karl Berger. Starting in December 1918 for one year they would record over 50 sides, many original compositions, for Emerson, Columbia, Edison, Okeh, and even an unissued test for Victor. Nunez was modestly billed as "The World's Greatest Jazz Clarinetist" in the various Gotham venues they played.

Some of the Columbia Louisiana Five recordings enjoyed modest success but they never rivaled the sales of ODJB Victors. Shortly after the demise of Louisiana Five in early 1920, Nunez made recordings in association with Harry Yerkes, a New York recording pioneer who played a variety of percussion instruments. Some of the recordings also featured New Orleans trombonist Tom Brown. That association seems to have ceased in the same year. Anton Lada went on to lead dance orchestras and record for Emerson. His last recordings appear to have been made in Los Angeles in 1925 for the Sunset label.

In the mid-'20s, Nunez played through Texas and Oklahoma with his own quartet. One could speculate that Nunez's lack of success stemmed from his unwillingness to change his style by abandoning lead playing to the cornet. But Nunez unknowingly may have had some vindication when he was heard, according Charles Edward Smith, by a teenage Pee Wee Russell at the Elks Club in Muskogee, OK. The argument can be made that Russell's "un-clarinet"-like style may have derived originally from the stubborn old New Orleans veteran with his C Albert system clarinet refusing to surrender the lead. Although Smith's assertions were based on personal interviews with Russell, Robert Hilbert seems to have dismissed much of this in his biography of Russell written in 1993. Nunez returned to New Orleans in 1927 where he continued to work with local groups and was a member of the Police Band. He passed way on September 2, 1934, a forgotten man at the beginning of the swing era.

Some of the recordings of Louisiana Five have been reissued as part of potpourri sets like Timeless Historical's excellent From Ragtime to Jazz three-CD series.