Jazz fans might not expect one of the grand old men of the Chicago scene to have such a French-sounding name, associating that background with New Orleans. The mention of the latter city is appropriate in the context of this multi-instrumentalist, who was already involved in syncopated music from the early '20s and was steadfast in his commitment to traditional approaches throughout his long career. He was known as either Voltaire DeFaut, bringing to mind a term for some kind of literary gaffe, or Volly DeFaut, in which case he sounds more like a tennis strategy. For him being raised in the Windy City meant being supplied with wind instruments as a young teenager and a violin even earlier in his youth.
At 18, DeFaut was performing on clarinet and sax with Sig Meyers, and the following year his reputation was boosted considerably through membership in the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. It was a busy period for him, also involving playing in an orchestra and flowing in Art Kassel's musical moat. The DeFaut recording debut took place in 1924 courtesy of trumpeter Muggsy Spanier and the discography continued growing in 1925 with Jelly Roll Morton sides. In the second half of the decade, DeFaut became associated with bandleader Meritt Brunies, a New Orleans musical dynasty kingpin who had brought his trademark brand of early jazz upstream. Detroit was also a DeFaut center of activity during these years.
He played with Jean Goldkette for several years beginning in 1928, but also became more involved in working as a studio musician and in Chicago theater bands. Strangely, this led to him beginning a dog breeding business, an enterprise that was interrupted by Uncle Sam holding a leash, yanking DeFaut back to involvement in music thanks to the grand old institution of the military band. The DeFaut career was then quiet until the mid-'40s when he began showing up on Chicago bandstands with more regularity. In 1945, he played with Bud Jacobson's Jungle Kings and was a happy face at many a local jam session. For some five years he was out of the city, mellowing out in Davenport, IA, but he returned to Chicago once again from 1965 until the end of his life. A professional association with pianist Art Hodes, begun in 1953, continued until DeFaut had performed his finale, resulting in some marvelous late period recordings on the Delmark label.