PAPA MUTT CAREY
Date Posted: 2007-10-26
REMEMBERING PAPA MUTT CAREY
BY PAIGE VANVORST
(ED NOTE: Our American Music release this time out is the Kid Ory material originally released on Columbia in the late 1940s, including the last sides Ory made with the great Mutt Carey. We haven’t done anything on Mutt yet, so this article is long overdue.)
Thomas “Papa Mutt” Carey (1891-1949) was one of the true pioneers of New Orleans jazz. He participated in the first recording session by a black New Orleans jazz band and is horn was one of the sparkplugs of the New Orleans jazz revival of the1940s.
Carey was born in Hahnville LA in 1891, the youngest of seventeen children. As a youth he wanted to be a fireman, but was gradually detoured into music- he played the drums initially, but gave up as he got tired of carrying his drum kit around and setting it up.
His brother Jack, was a prominent early trombonist and leader of the Crescent band; the tune Play Jack Carey, a popular number on the streets of New Orleans, evolved into Tiger Rag. He played his first jobs with Jack Carey’s band after coaching from his brothers John, Milton and Pete, who were all trumpeters. Carey took up the trumpet at the relatively advanced age of 22.
His first big job with his brother was a disaster- they were out on a card on an advertising job and ran into another band. Unfortunately for Mutt, the other group featured Freddie Keppard, then the king of New Orleans trumpeters, and the Carey band were defeated. Some of Carey’s friends were on hand for the meeting, though, and chanted, “Go it, Papa Mutt. Go it!” so he wouldn’t feel so bad, and from then on he was known as Papa Mutt.
He started to move in pretty fast company in New Orleans. He played in Frankie Dusen’s Eagle Band, with the Tuxedo band and with the Superior Band. When Joe Oliver left for Chicago, he recommended Mutt to Ory as his replacement as they’d worked together on street parades, and Mutt joined what was then one of New Orleans’ most popular bands, and began an association with Kid Ory that would last the rest of his life.
Carey left New Orleans for he first time in 1917, when he went on tour with the Merrymakers of Mirth, a revue featuring Billy and Mary Mack, traveling the TOBA vaudeville circuit. The group was a good one, including Johnny Dodds, clarinet; Steve Lewis, piano and Max Hill, drums.
When the show hit Chicago, Carey decided to stay- Joe Oliver had been doubling between the Royal Garden and the Dreamland and the owner of the Royal Garden wanted Joe fulltime, so Mutt joined the band at the Dreamland, which was led by clarinetist Lawrence Duhe. He doubled in the band at the Pekin Cafe.
Mutt left Chicago in 1918 and returned to New Orleans, where he operated a dry cleaning shop in partnership with clarinetist Wade Whaley, and they worked in a band at Dubois’ Roadhouse in Bucktown.
Kid Ory was summoned to Chicago by Joe Oliver in 1919- he left New Orleans, but decided to test the waters in California before joining the King. He landed a job immediately at the Cadillac Cafe in Watts, and sent to New Orleans for a band- Papa Mutt, clarinetist Whaley. pianist Fess Manetta and drummer Alfred Williams. The Ory group had tremendous success in California, working about a year in Los Angeles followed by a period in the Bay Area. During the San Francisco period, then were invited to record in Los Angeles for the Nordskog label; the sides were also issued on the Sunshine label by the Spikes Brothers, who operated a music store and were active as music promoters.
The records, which are very rare, were the first ever made by a black New Orleans jazz band. They included Mutt on trumpet, Ory, trombone, Dink Johnson, clarinet; Fred Washington, piano; Ed Garland, bass and Ben Borders, drums. The band recorded two instrumentals, Ory’s Creole Trombone and Society Blues, and cut four sides backing blues singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley. The band also did one of the first radio broadcasts from the West Coast. They appeared regularly at Wayside Park at Leek’s Lake in Watts, where Jelly Roll Morton occasionally appeared. Wayside Park’s advertisements always said the band played from 8PM “till Mutt (sic) plays Farewell.”
Mutt stayed with Ory until 1925, when the Kid finally left for Chicago and a position with King Oliver- he turned the band over to Mutt and he kept it going for several years, ultimately billing it as Mutt Carey and his Jeffersonians. The band were popular in Los Angeles and were frequently hired to play atmospheric music on Hollywood movie sets- movies were still silent but they would occasionally hire a band to lend authenticity to a nightclub scene, for example. Mutt can be seen in the background on several features from the late twenties.
Mutt never left music- he always had a bit of music work going on, even though in the 1930s he worked as a letter carrier and later as a Pullman porter. He had real estate investments and was Secretary of Local 767 of the American Federation of Musicians.
Mutt was probably surprised to find an old friend riding on his Southern Pacific train in 1943- Bunk Johnson was in the midst of a 2000-mile trip from New Iberia to San Francisco to appear with Rudi Blesh in a series of jazz lectures. Mutt found Bunk a seat and heard about his plans, little knowing he would soon be involved in the New Orleans Revival himself.
In the spring of 1944 Orson Welles was riding high- his Mercury Wonder Show was doing well in California and he was spending time entertaining the troops- both in person and via appearances on various morale-building films being put out in Hollywood.
A long-time jazz fan, Welles decided to assemble a New Orleans band for a one-shot appearance on the show. Marili Morden and Dave Stuart of the JazzMan Record Shop made a few phone calls and the All Star New Orleans Band made its debut on March 15,1944. The band were a sensation and the listeners barraged the studio with requests for more, and the band became a regular feature on the show, doing usually one number a night, though that was occasionally limited if the show was running overtime. The band was truly an all-star aggregation- Mutt Carey, trumpet; Kid Ory, trombone; Jimmie Noone, clarinet; Buster Wilson, piano; Bud Scott, banjo; Ed Garland, bass; and Zutty Singleton, drums.
About a month into the series tragedy struck- Jimmie Noone died suddenly in his sleep. Welles delivered a tearful eulogy and the band went into a beautiful blues, now known as Blues for Jimmie; Wade Whaley took Noone’s place for a couple of shows, then Noone was permanently replaced by Barney Bigard. The airshots of the band from the Welles show have been issued several time and include some of the most exciting New Orleans jazz extant.
The band was gradually taken over by Kid Ory and made its first recordings (for Crescent Records, now on Good Time Jazz and GHB BCD-10, on August 3, 1944. The Ory band began appearing around Los Angeles and the ball began rolling in early 1945 when Time Magazine interviewed Ory about his comeback. By April the band was settled into a one-year engagement at the Jade Palace in Hollywood- oddly enough this engagement began with Ory on trumpet- Mutt was enjoying a holiday in New Orleans and joined the band a few days into their engagement.
The Jade was a garish semi-Oriental club and the band played six nights a week, and the crowd were three deep at the bar on the weekends. There were a few personnel changes during the engagement, particularly clarinetists- Ory used Barney Bigard, Joe Darensbourg, Albert Nicholas and Darnell Howard at various times.
The band were the toast of Hollywood ant it was only natural that members of the Ory band would be tapped for New Orleans, a Hollywood film about the birth of jazz. The plot was mostly nonsense and the production values in that era were still governed by the necessity to show the films throughout the US- in order to obtain bookings in the South there couldn’t be anything deemed racially objectionable- there were both black and white actors in the film but they never come into physical contact- not so much as a handshake.
The movie starred Louis Armstrong and much of it was set in Storyville about the time it closed. Armstrong’s band was drawn largely from the Ory band- Kid Ory, Barney Bigard, Mutt Carey, Bud Scott and Zutty Singleton were all in the film, though Carey is only featured briefly- it’s neat to see him playing two-trumpet things alongside Armstrong, and I’m sure the Ory bandmembers were glad for the chance to make a movie.
Shortly after the filming was finished, the Ory band took part in an experiment to prove the power of pure New Orleans jazz as dance music. Gene Williams, who had been instrumental in the rediscovery and promotion of Bunk Johnson,
was a man with a mission. As Harold Drob indicated in his liner notes for the Green Room material, “He was convinced that New Orleans music, played from the heart. was the happiest music in the word and, therefore, a force for good. If his music was properly presented to the general public, it would make people feel so good that they would act with love toward each other, and the world would be saved! This was his religion, and he had to exert every effort to help this millennium take place.”
Williams picked San Francisco as the site for his experiment and he was able to secure the Green Room, a facility within the headquarters of the International Longshoremens’ Organization. Its president, Harry Bridges, had met Bunk Johnson many years earlier and provided his facilities for one of Bunk’s earliest appearances in the Bay Area.
The band was sensational during the Green Room appearances. They played almost any number, ranging from current pop hits to ragtime standards. Harold Drob heard the band and thought at first that the band was slick, working from arrangements. He realized later that they sounded like they did because the band was perfectly integrated, that each player fit the band perfectly and understood the operation of the band so perfectly that the music sounded rehearsed, though each time the band did a number the playing was entirely different.
The Green Room engagement lasted eight weeks and as it was drawing to a close, as Gene Williams’ money was running out, he decided to record some of the music in the hope that his message could get to the world via records. Ory was then under contract to Columbia and couldn’t have agreed to a recording, so Williams went ahead and recorded the band’s final concert secretly.
Williams prepared a list of tunes he waned Ory to play as a farewell gesture and Ory agreed. However, as Minor Hall was searching for his drum cases he came upon the recording setup and told Ory, who was outraged. Williams assured Ory that the men were just checking the balance for the next group booked into the hall and Ory never spotted the microphone, but made sure the vocal mic was turned off and he kept his numbers short. The music was wonderful- I don’t think I’ve ever heard a jazz version of Sioux City Sue, but the Ory band did one that would be unmatchable, and the effortless swing of the band is beyond almost anything recorded, though the sound quality is variable.
The Green Room engagement was to be Mutt’s last with the Ory band. Ory’s next gig was with a trio including himself, Bud Scott and Joe Darensbourg. Mutt went to New York in May 1947 and the next time the Ory band had a job Andrew Blakeney was on trumpet.
Mutt organized recording sessions for the Century label in New York- he used basically the All-Star Stompers then being featured on Rudi Blesh’s This is Jazz program and the results were wonderful. Carey probably worked around New York during his stay there but there is little evidence of who he used and where he worked.
Mutt returned to California in the Spring of 1948 and organized a new band. They played their first engagement at the Pasadena Legion Hall on May 14, then dropped out for the summer as there was a downturn in the nightclub and dancehall business in Los Angeles. He was set to open a new season September 5, 1948 when he died of a heart attack on September 3. He was only 57 years old. His death brought an outpouring of accolades including an excellent appreciation by Bill Russell in Record Changer. In Jazz Journal Stanley Dance groused that he wasn’t a very good trumpeter anyway.
Mutt’s music has remained available to this day- Good Time Jazz kept the 1944/45 sessions in print throughout the years and they’re now available on CD from both GTJ and GHB. I know one band that admits to playing the LP on their sets- they’d do side one as the first set of the evening and side two as the next set while they were developing their style- there are few better examples of New Orleans ensemble jazz extant.
Mutt Carey’s reputation continued more along the lines of Stanley Dance’s views- he was considered a journeyman trumpeter, not a strong player, certainly no superstar despite having been on some of the most influential recordings of the New Orleans Revival.
All that changed in 1968 when Mutt’s reputation was rehabilitated by Gunther Schuller in Early Jazz, a critical study of jazz of the 1920’s. Schuller wrote:
“Another reliable reference to the early New Orleans style is the recordings made by Kid Ory in 1921 for the Sunshine label, among them Ory;s Creole Trombone and Society Blues. The former title is a clear, albeit naive example of the kind of ragtime-plus-march-plus-minstrel hokum that made up much of the early jazz repertoire. The piece is dated, repetitious and corny, and Ory never really makes any of the breaks that are the whole point of the piece. But the recording interests us because of the consummate artistry of Mutt Carey, a remarkable cornetists who has never received his due, probably because he recorded only once in his prime. His performance here lends credence to the opinion voiced by Armstrong, Bunk Johnson, Danny Barker, and others that there were many fine trumpet players in New Orleans besides the famous names that have survived on recordings and in the history books. Carey’s playing in 1921 was extraordinarily secure, elegant and imaginative. His tone was full, his rhythmic conception relaxed and modern for its time, and his technique flawless, or at any rate commensurate with his ideas, which were far from ordinary. On these recordings he almost sounds like Rex Stewart from Duke Ellington’s famous band of the 1930s. They certainly confirm New Orleans trombonist Preston Jackson’s opinion of Carey: “Mutt had a very mellow tone and a terrific swing...Mutt wasn’t a high note player; he wasn’t as strong as Louis Armstrong or Joe Oliver. “ All the recorded evidence substantiates this and indicates further that Carey was happiest when playing as part of a collectively improvising ensemble. He was not the driving virtuoso player that Armstrong was. There is no question, however, that Carey represents the pre-1920 New Orleans style at its purest and most eloquent.”
Mutt Carey was probably of the same generation as Freddie Keppard and to some extent Joe Oliver- he was so conversant with Oliver’s mutework that when the Oliver band played San Francisco in 1921 everyone told Oliver he was just a Mutt Carey imitator, which amused both Oliver and Carey no end.
Carey had a tremendous ability to lead a band, and sides like the Green Room session show that he was the actual leader of the Ory band when they were on stage- he shows a remarkable command of New Orleans ensemble playing and an uncanny ability to create the perfect dynamic environment for each number.
We’re glad we were able to lease the Kid Ory Columbia sessions from Sony Music so this important music gets the complete-and-comprehensive treatment it so richly deserves.