Booker's Dixie Jazz Band

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While the name "Booker" walks and talks proud in jazz and rhythm & blues, there is nobody named Booker to be booked in this band. Booker's Dixie Jazz Band was basically a name given to a 1924 studio session…
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While the name "Booker" walks and talks proud in jazz and rhythm & blues, there is nobody named Booker to be booked in this band. Booker's Dixie Jazz Band was basically a name given to a 1924 studio session under the nominal leadership of the mild-mannered banjoist Elmer Snowden. But to suggest that this combo wasn't really a band would be going too far, if the coherent workings of a band can be defined by the players' amount of experience creating music together. In that case, Booker's Dixie Jazz Band is something like the Beatles; that is if the latter group also cut records under other names such as "the Cockroaches" and "the Lacewings," and if their producer was free to make phone calls and invite, say, Mick Jagger or Ray Davies to be a member of the band at the next session. Recording producers of the '20s were quite fond of these sorts of arrangements, and in fact there are producers making records in this way in every era of music, concocting studio "bands" with players chosen through every method from careful planning to random selection.

Snowden has spoken in interviews of producers who "...used to throw in so many musicians that I couldn't keep track." While musicians themselves are quite good at intermingling, collaborating, and sometimes even introducing themselves if the other guy hasn't introduced himself first, the role of producers in governing the flow of who is playing with who can never be underestimated. The banjoist most likely was able to keep track of the members of Booker's Dixie Jazz Band, however, and had also been gigging with the other members outside the recording studio in various situations. Of two licorice-stick chompers in the band, clarinetist Bubber Miley had already worked with Snowden in the Kansas City Five. In fact, it must be pointed out that the Kansas City Five is Booker's Dixie Jazz Band, minus the alto saxophone. In reality, adding the alto would have been more a Kansas City move than a Dixie one, but these band names were not designed to help clarify musical history.

Snowden's relationship with Miley actually extended back further to the very early '20s and some of the initial Duke Ellington recordings, which at the time were released under the banjoist's name as Elmer Snowden's Novelty Orchestra. In 1924, one half of Booker's Dixie Jazz Band backed the vocal duet of Louella Jones and Jazz Caspar on several cuts. Jazz detectives have added the following details about this event: there was an unknown guy playing chimes, Jones was really Alberta Perkins, Caspar was really the singer Billy Higgins (no relation to the drummer of the same name). Different combinations of the same players also backed up other blues singers. Viola McCoy's backup band was identified as the Kansas City Five on the record labels, but there were some different members in this version of that band; if it really can be considered a band, which it probably should since there are more recordings under that name than the other combinations Snowden played in. The Texas Trio, the same trio that had backed the aforementioned vocal duo but with clarinetist Bob Fuller playing harmonica, backed Susie Smith, who was really Monette Moore. Snowden's comment about not being able to keep track of the musicians can really be appreciated in light of all this subterfuge. Maggie Jones, who actually was Maggie Jones, also used the same trio to back her, billing it as Maggie Jones & Her Band on one record and Maggie Jones & Her Jazzers on another. The Six Black Diamonds should also be considered a spin-off of Booker's Dixie Jazz Band, or vice versa: it features the same lineup, with the substitution of Louis Metcalfe on clarinet for Fuller.