If you were sauntering through the packed-dirt streets of back-of-town New Orleans in the 1910s, anywhere between Storyville and Gert Town, chances are you would have encountered several brass bands blowing a new flavor of music from wagons that promoted upcoming performances. But none of them blew like Kid Ory’s band. Ory wowed onlookers by stretching his trombone slide over the tailgate and blasting competing groups with his signature goodbye tune, “Do What Ory Say,” as the crowd cheered. “Kid Ory’s band would cut all of the bands during his tailgate advertising,” Louis Armstrong marveled in a 1970 interview.
The origins of jazz have always been murky. While the early 1900s bandleader and cornetist Buddy Bolden is often credited with pioneering the “hot” improvisational brass music that became jazz, Ory is largely remembered as a sideman for stars like Louis Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton. His status as one of the most pivotal bandleaders in jazz, who helped popularize the trombone glissando—a central element of New Orleans jazz—has receded from the popular memory.
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Published by Smithsonian, January/February 2021