Written by Isabella Boston.
Before there was Jimmy Harrison, Miff Mole, and Jack Teagarden, there was the greatest and most influential Black jazz trombonist and composer of all time, the late Edward “Kid” Ory. He was a pioneer of the New Orleans jazz style and is credited for being the leader of the first African American New Orleans’ jazz band to make a recording.
Edward Ory was born on December 25, 1886[i], on Woodland Plantation in LaPlace, Louisiana. He was the sixth of eight children and started playing home-made musical instruments at a young age. By the time he was in his teens, he was leading one of the best-regarded bands in southeast Louisiana.
When Ory was only ten-year’s old, his mother died. His father was disabled, leaving young Ory and his brother as the “bread winners” of the family. Ory had already decided to make a living in music and soon started a band with four other children, all of whom played home-made instruments. He would sneak away from home to play at the local saloons to earn tips. “We would go out on the bridge and practice, then go around crowds and hustle. We saved all the money we made except fifteen cents for car fare. We saved the money, and I decided to give picnics with beer and salad, fifteen cents to come in and dance,” recounted Ory.
To make ends meet, Ory also delivered water, sold hand-picked mushrooms and blackberries, and worked on the side as a brick layer. He would wake up at 4 a.m. to catch crayfish which he sold until 7 in the morning. With no time for a formal education, he paid a neighbor ten cents a lesson for a rudimentary education.
Once Ory and his band had saved enough money to purchase store-bought instruments, he, being the leader of the group, purchased a $7.50 valve trombone. He later purchased a slide trombone during one of his weekend visits with his older sister in New Orleans. As he taught himself to play his new instrument, an influential New Orleans’ band director, named Buddy Bolden, heard him and knocked on his sister’s door. He was so impressed with Ory that he asked him to be the trombonist in his band, but Ory’s sister refused. He was only 12 years old, and the brothels were no place for a kid.
When he turned 21, Ory and his band moved to New Orleans to work in the suburbs until they were good enough to compete with the city bands. Within four years, they were one of the best in town and were always looking for new talent.
Some of the members to join Ory’s band later became well-known legends who were influential in the development of the jazz era such as Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, Jimmy Noone, Mutt Carey, and Sidney Bechet. Being a handsome man, Ory was very popular with the women in New Orleans. Whenever he was away from Lincoln Park too long, the ladies would yell, “When is the Kid coming back?” That nickname would stay with him for life.
Social events were oftentimes advertised with musicians performing from horse-drawn wagons, so Ory used one to promote his group. He put signs on the wagon with the band’s name and phone number. The band quickly became known as “Kid Ory’s Creole Ragtime Band[ii]” or “Ory and His Ragtime Band.” There were only two other bands who were known earlier by the leader’s first name. Ory’s band performed at many fish fries, various venues, and at every colored and white hotel in New Orleans.
After a “bad business deal” with a Sicilian nightclub owner[iii], Kid Ory moved to California in 1919 and formed a musical group in Los Angeles. Five years later, he accompanied King Oliver in Chicago and became a prolific jazz recording artist by the 1920’s. At night he played with Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators and spent the rest of his time recording with Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five. He stayed extremely busy over the next four years.
It’s hard to even imagine the Chicago jazz scene of that era without Ory. His gruff and rhythmic sound made the perfect contrast to Louis Armstrong while making such pieces as “Jazz Lips,” “Come Back Sweet Papa,” and “Gut Bucket Blues.” Ory is remembered and known for his “tailgate” style playing, a style of playing that supports or fills in other band instruments and is reminiscent of the pre-jazz cakewalk and ragtime bands. His most distinguished piece of music was “Muskrat Ramble,” recorded on February 26, 1926.
Ory’s recordings with King Oliver included “Snag it,” “Sugar Foot Stomp,” Too Bad,” and “Jackass Blues”. He also did recordings with Roll Morton such as “The Chant,” “Black Bottom Stomp,” Doctor Jazz,” and “Sidewalk Blues”.
Ory returned to Los Angeles in 1929 and started another band; however, the Great Depression hit, and times were hard. People did not have the money to spend on entertainment. Big bands, such as Basie’s or Ellington’s, were preferred over traditional New Orleans jazz. Gigs were hard to come by and the ones Ory could get, sometimes did not pay.
In 1933, Ory disappeared from the music scene for a while and helped his brother run a chicken and turkey farm. His strong work ethic never left him. He sorted mail at the post office, did custodial work at the morgue, and worked at other odd jobs. The swing era and rise of the large jazz bands sadly passed Ory by, if only for a while anyway.
In 1942, interest in vintage jazz picked back up and Kid Ory returned to his love for music and worked with Barney Bigard, a clarinetist, and his group. Ory led his own quartet and sometimes doubled as a bass. In 1943 a radio broadcast located Ory playing with Bunk Johnson. It is the first-known recording of Ory since 1928 playing and it proved that the 57-year-old trombonist still had what it takes to be great!
In 1946, Ory appeared in Louis Armstrong’s film New Orleans and did a session as a sideman with him which included the original rendition of “Do you Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” His own group went on to evolve throughout the years with one of his best bands known as the Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band with trumpeter Alvin Alcorn and either Phil Gomez or George Probert on clarinet. Kid Ory ended his band in 1961 and retired.
After retirement, Ory still played here and there and even appeared on a Walt Disney television special in 1962 performing with Johnny St. Cyr from Hot Five and Louis Armstrong on the Mark Twain. In 1971, Ory returned to New Orleans where he performed in a parade at the Jazz and Heritage Festival. He was not in good health but sang and played enough to satisfy his fans. The headlines for the festival read: “Come to New Orleans and Die (Happy).” A couple of years later, Ory would die from Pneumonia in Honolulu on January 23, 1973, at the age of 86.
Edward “Kid” Ory accomplished what most of us today are afraid to even do: He worked hard to pursue his dreams, touched the lives of those around him, and left a musical legacy behind for the world to enjoy today, tomorrow, and forever.
Isabella Boston is a multi-talented writer and the Founder of Bella’s Attic Studio. She has several years of experience in content writing, copywriting, and social media strategies. She is the author of the romantic and rare memoir, Passion of Flames. Isabella is currently working to spread awareness on the dangers and inhumanity of human sex trafficking. She has special interests in fashion and beauty, health and wellness, and natural healing as it pertains to the body, mind and soul. When Isabella is not writing, she enjoys playing the violin, learning new languages (currently Italian), and reading books of substance.
[i] Guion, David. “Kid Ory, Trombonist, Businessman.” Musicology for Everyone, Musicology for Everyone, 22 May 2018, https://music.allpurposeguru.com/2015/08/kid-ory-trombonist-businessman/. [ii] “History of Ragtime.” The Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/ihas.200035811/. [iii] Raeburn, Bruce. “Kid Ory.” 64 Parishes, 10 Apr. 2022, https://64parishes.org/entry/kid-ory.