Born: December 2, 1890 | Died: 1947 Primary Instrument: Composer/conductor
Just after World War I, the musical style called jazz began a waterborne journey outward from that quintessential haven of romance and decadence, New Orleans. For the first time in any organized way, steam-driven boats left town during the summer months to tramp the Mississippi River, bringing an exotic new music to the rest of the nation. For entrepreneurs promoting jazz, this seemed a promising way to spread northward the exciting sounds of the Crescent City. And the musicians no longer had to wait for folks upriver to make their way down to New Orleans to hear the vibrant rhythms, astonishing improvisations, and new harmonic idioms being created.
Without a doubt the most famous riverboat bandleader was Fate Marable. Born in Paducah, Kentucky, Marable was hired as a musician by Captain John Streckfus in 1907 and remained with the company until 1940. His first assignment was as a pianist on the original J.S. in a duo with a white violinist, Emil Flindt, but his talents as a bandleader and talent scout soon became evident, and it was Fate that organized the first New Orleans band for the Streckfus steamers in 1918.This band, which featured such future jazz stars as cornetist Louis Armstrong, drummer Warren Baby Dodds, clarinetist Johnny Dodds, banjoist/guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, and bassist George Pops Foster, made its debut in 1919 and quickly set new standards for music on the river.
Moreover, the riverboat musicians, proud of their craft, possessed an unparalleled ability to carry their musical identities with them. The elements of their New Orleans musical lives swiftly became an open-ended loop of musical gestures that brought an exotic excitement to riverboat dance music. Jazz may have been invented in New Orleans, but its new context on the Mississippi and the Ohio and in the major river cities changed it.
Marable was known as a taskmaster and New Orleans musicians used to jokingly refer to a stint in his band as going to the Conservatory because of his insistence on reading skills and flawless performances. Daily rehearsals of two hours were normal. In ways that have not been understood heretofore, Louis Armstrong played a particularly influential and controversial role in the riverboat experience. In 1919, 1920, and 1921, the young musician was deepening his initial discovery of the wellspring of improvisation that he had gradually revealed to himself in the aural world of black New Orleans, a powerful groove that he could not but bring on board with him. However, his unusually rapid improvisational progress accelerated on the Streckfus Line excursion boats, just where the orchestra leader Fate Marable and his employers so vigorously pursued their policy of musical literacy. For three summers, Armstrong therefore became the focus of a highly symbolic cultural struggle between oral and literate approaches to musical performance. He liked and respected Fate Marable and made an on-going, two-and-one-half-year pass at learning to read his charts but stubbornly acted as if he knew that he would never live out his life and career as a section player.
Armstrong's river recordings (songs with river as theme) can be seen as his creative response to Joseph Streckfus and Fate Marable, the records that he would have liked to make with Marable's Metropolitan Jaz-E-Saz Orchestra ten or eleven years earlier, had he been allowed. On several of these sides we hear Armstrong leading orchestral arrangements, indicating how much he had learned from Marable's tuition despite their falling-out.
Just as Armstrong had an eternal connection to Fate Marable, there would be many others who loved or hated him, but respected him for his musical discipline and instruction.
Fate Marable only made two recordings for Okeh, in 1924, with his band The Society Syncopators.
Fate Marable, is certainly a figure to be reckoned with in the early development and nurturing of jazz. He died in 1947.
Parts on this bio from Jazz on the River, by William Howard Kenny
Source: James Nadal