A colorful and rambunctious clarinetist, Larry Shields infused the Original Dixieland Jazz Band with spirit and a bit of hilarity. Not really a major improviser (he tended to repeat his phrases a great deal), Shields' extroverted and carefree sound symbolized jazz to a lot of listeners of the late teens and early '20s. His brother Harry Shields (1899-1971) was actually a stronger jazz player, although less significant in jazz history, and another brother, Eddie Shields, was a pianist who briefly played with the ODJB in 1919 after Henry Ragas' death. Larry Shields started playing clarinet when he was 14; he met and began working on an occasional basis with cornetist Nick LaRocca the following year. Shields first left New Orleans in 1915 when he joined Bert Kelly's band in Chicago. He also played with Tom Brown in New York until the band broke up in February 1916. After returning to New Orleans, Shields traveled to Chicago in November 1916 to join forces with LaRocca in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Their recording of "Livery Stable Blues" the following year was a sensation and Shields remained with the ODJB until December 1921 when personality conflicts resulted in him quitting the group. After playing briefly with Paul Whiteman, Shields moved to Los Angeles where he led his own band. He retired, moved back to New Orleans, and was living in obscurity when the ODJB re-formed in 1936. Shields returned to active playing (still having a largely unchanged style that was unaffected by swing), made new recordings with the ODJB and, after that group broke up again in February 1938, he continued working with newer versions of the band until he moved to California in the early '40s and retired from music. He passed away in 1953.
Larry Shields Biography
by Scott Yanow