The New Orleans Rhythm Kings were one of the hottest jazz bands of the early 1920s, and a strong influence on many later musicians, including Bix Beiderbecke, Muggsy Spanier, Mezz Mezzrow, and Benny Goodman. Best known for their 1923 integrated recording session with Jelly Roll Morton, the NORK’s smooth, swinging style signaled a departure from the raucous novelty sound of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and its imitators. Another hallmark of the band was its emphasis on solo performances, while traditional New Orleans jazz was still heavily dependent on ensemble playing. The solos of Leon Roppolo on clarinet and George Brunies on trombone are still considered classic, and have often been copied on other bands’ recordings.
Following the success of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Tom Brown’s Band in New York and Chicago, savvy club owners were eager to get their own New Orleans bands. Mike Fritzel, owner of the Friars Inn at 343 N. Wabash in Chicago, was quick to capitalize on the new sound. In the fall of 1921, he contacted a New Orleans cornetist named Paul Mares, who was living at the home of a friend (Chicago police officer Tommy Harrison), and asked him to put together a band to play at his club. Mares phoned New Orleans and got childhood friend and trombonist George Brunies, who agreed to come to Chicago for the price of his train fare (paid by Mares’ father) and the loan of an overcoat from Mares’ brother.