Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Jazz Kings and Other Spin-Off Groups

Academic journal article Black Music Research Journal

The Jazz Kings and Other Spin-Off Groups

Article excerpt

The band known to history as The Jazz Kings is the best known of the many groups formed by former members of the Southern Syncopated Orchestra in London after their departure from the orchestra. This is largely because New Orleans clarinetist Sidney Bechet was a member (see Figure 1).

The Jazz Kings had an intimate but still not fully elucidated relationship with the twelve-piece group which George Lattimore had previously supplied to the Portman Rooms under the leadership of Frank Withers. It is not absolutely certain when this engagement began. The Tatler reported in its issue of September 10, 1919 (no. 950, xiv, "Round and About Notes") that "a The Dansant will be held daily from 3.30 to 6.00 p.m. and the evening functions are timed from 8.30 to 12 midnight. A special feature of the Portman dances will be the continuous double band, ensuring an uninterrupted flow of music. The Portman Rooms contain one of the finest ball-rooms in London, which is capable of accommodating 800 dancers." The Tatler does not mention the Portman Syncopated Orchestra by name until the issue of October 15, 1919 (no. 955, xii, "Round and About Notes") by which time the The Dansant was not starting until 4:00 p.m. However Town Topics had already reported (October 11, 1919, 2, "Shows and Autre Choses") that "so great was the crowd that the large salon, accommodating 800 dancers, was found to be insufficient, and the overflow found its way into the smaller salon, where the services of a second band of the Portman Syncopated Orchestra had to be requisitioned." There is no real clue how this is to be interpreted. Evening dress or uniform was essential at night. During the afternoon sessions, dance instruction was given by M. Jean Castanet. The October 1919 issue of London Amusement Guide (hereafter LAG) (i/6, 34, "Dancing Notes") described the orchestra as "a combination of New York dance players, who are not only excellent musicians, but sweet singers as well."


The only known members of the orchestra or orchestras at the Portman Rooms are trombonist Frank Withers, reported as the leader by Norris Smith (Chicago Defender, January 30, 1920, 7), saxophonists Mazie Mullins Withers and Fred Coxito, violinist George Mitchell Smith, and banjoist Henry Saparo. The last three referred to their membership in the course of affidavits sworn in Lattimore's various legal cases (see Rye 2009).

It was reported by LAG for December 1919 (i/8, 44, "Dancing Notes") that beginning on December 1 the dances would require membership, and members and guests only would be admitted. The evening sessions would in future run from 9:00 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Soon afterwards the management decided to dispense with the services of the African Americans, and the musicians arrived for work on December 20 only to be informed by the manager, Mr. Rockover, that their services were no longer required (Chancery Division 1920 L No. 175, Affidavit 99). Lattimore himself said he was approached on that same day to provide a band for the Embassy Club (Chancery Division 1920 L No. 175, Affidavit 79), but Benny Peyton testified that Lattimore approached him on December 18 (Chancery Division 1920 L No. 175, Affidavit 96), which must be true if, as Peyton stated, Lattimore declined to entertain the personnel suggested by Peyton because some of them were working in the band at the Portman Rooms. The engagement was originally intended to start on December 22 and run for three weeks but in the event the opening was postponed until New Year's Eve.

31 Dec 19 Opened at Embassy Club, 6-8 Old Bond Street, London [Chancery Division 1920 L No. 175, Affidavit 96; confirmed by Dancing Times, January 2920], billed as "The Syncopated Orchestra."

Original personnel: Sidney Bechet, clarinet; Fred Coxito, alto saxophone; George Mitchell Smith, violin; Pierre DeCaillaux, piano; Henry Saparo, banjo; Benny Peyton, drums.

19 Jan 20 Band transferred from Lattimore's management to DeCourville's (i. …

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