If we were to take all the major trumpet players in jazz, line them up in chronological order, ask them who they listened to and were influenced by, then send them down the long dark chute of jazz history, they would run right smack dab into King Oliver.
Joseph Oliver was rumored to have been born on a plantation in Abend, Louisiana in 1885. His first instrument was the trombone, which by 1904 he was playing in the Onward Brass Band. He would continue with several bands, and started also playing the cornet. Being that New Orleans was a trumpet playing town, he had to work hard and long on his chops, and spent a lot of time learning to read music, which he became very good at, even in spite of having lost one eye. By 1910 he was leading his own band at Pete Lala’s the club where he started to garner a reputation, and where the name “King” was picked up, this due to his constant playing and able to obtain a sweet tone on his horn. He would go on to improve on his use of mutes and other means of getting unusual sounds out of his horn. There were also stories about trumpet battles in which he came out on top, having bested his local rivals.
By the year 1916, he teamed up with Edward “Kid” Ory on trombone, and started the Kid Ory and King Oliver Band, this was the best band in the city at the time, and they kept at it for another three years. In 1919 he wanted to leave New Orleans, and headed to Chicago where he was in two different bands one with clarinetist Lawrence Duhe, and another with bass player Bill Johnson. He stuck around Chicago until 1921 when he headed for California, with his new band the Creole Serenaders. They played in San Francisco for over a year, then he went to Los Angeles to play with Jelly Roll Morton, where they did some joint gigs around the city and caused quite a sensation. Returning to Chicago after his successful California tour, King Oliver was booked for an extended engagement at the Lincoln Gardens. The brothers Johnny and Baby Dodds, were part of the band at this time, and he sent to New Orleans for his protégé Louis Armstrong, whom had taken his place in the Kid Ory Band when Oliver left. Louis Armstrong was to be a lifelong friend to King Oliver, and kindly would refer to him as “Papa Joe”.