Thursday, February 25, 2016

Louisiana Five on Edison

The Louisiana Five is a band which I love far more than they probably deserve. Compared to the New Orleans jazz bands which recorded a few years later, they were stiff - bouncy rather than swinging - and there was little real improvisation on their records. Their ensemble sound was sometimes kind of hollow, since they didn't use a bass (just the pianist's left hand) and only used a trumpet (or cornet) on one of their recording sessions. But the clarinet lead, by Alcide "Yellow" Nunez, was strong and piquant, and imparted a real New Orleans flavor to the music. And if he didn't really improvise freely in the manner of later jazz musicians, Nunez used plenty of embellishment, and understood the blues. The music of the Louisiana Five is somewhat dated, and was left in the dust of history by what came after it, but Nunez's clarinet is reason enough to listen to these sides today.

Over a one-year period beginning in December, 1918, the band recorded nearly 50 sides for Emerson, Columbia, Okeh, and Edison. (And Little Wonder? More about that in a later post.) I've heard most of them, and they're remarkably consistent. The Columbias are perhaps the weakest, since the company had the group insert current pop tunes into their jazzy originals to create medleys. But for the most part the music of the Louisiana Five shows demonstrates a sure vision, even if the scope of the band was narrow.

Nunez was, as far as I can determine, the only New Orleans musician in the group; he came north with an early version of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Drummer Anton Lada was the leader, and Joe Cawley on piano and banjoist Karl Berger completed the rhythm section. Nunez's front line partner was trombonist Charlie Panelli, perhaps best known as one of the two alternating trombonists in the Original Memphis Five a few years later.

The band visited Edison's New York studios twice in 1919, and each session resulted in two issued sides. Here they are in chronological order: "Foot Warmer" and "B-Hap-e" from April 14, and "Clarinet Squawk" and "Yelping Hound Blues" from September 12. All were issued in cylinder form as well as on Edison Diamond Discs; my transfers are from the latter. "Yelping Hound" was probably their best-known tune, and the Columbia version was a minor hit. It's not nearly as dire as the title suggests; in fact, the bluesy quality brings out the best in the band.

Foot Warmer


Clarinet Squawk

Yelping Hound Blues


  1. I am Robert Nunez great grandson of Alcide Nunez. Thank you so much for your interest and work with these recordings. I will share this page with my family members they will love this.

    1. Glad you enjoyed this, Robert. Down the road I'll be posting more rare recordings by the Louisiana Five, and perhaps others by your great-grandfather. Something about his playing gets under my skin, and I've tracked down quite of a few of his records.