The Blanchard Orchestra in Texas. Claude Blanchard, the leader, is holding a trumpet (fourth from right).
I’ve been researching the Blanchard Orchestra, which Snoozer joined as a kid when he was just 12 or 13 years old! In Bogalusa the band played constantly from January 1920 through fall of 1922, when Claude Blanchard moved to Houston for work with the rail road.
In Houston, Claude built his orchestra back up, and earned a great reputation playing on KPRC and for hotels and clubs. In 1925, Snoozer left Louisiana and headed to Houston to join his old Bogalusa friends — Blanchard and Frank Tilton, a blind, wunderkind piano player — who were earning money and having a ball playing music, to great reception by Texas audiences.
This past weekend I had the absolute pleasure of meeting Claude Blanchard’s descendants. I met Claude’s son, Claude Blanchard Jr., who is 87 years old, and his daughter Claudia Blanchard and her husband Ingram. (My husband and I drove to Houston to meet them, toddler Louis in tow.)
Not only were they delightful people, but the visit was one of those dreams come true for a researcher. It turns out that Claude Blanchard Sr. documented his career. The family has his scrapbook, which is filled with newspaper clippings of their Texas-era gigs. I gently looked through it, marvelling at the names I recognized. Connections were snapping together in my head, relationships cemented. Mart Britt, Jack Teagarden, Peck Kelley, Jack Willrich, Red Stuart, Johnny James, Roy Riley, Benny Guzzardo…these names, which are important to me, popped out from the text. (Eddie Quinn’s, too!)
The family is scanning the book and sharing images with me… plus, there are boxes of photographs to go through. And letters! Claude Blanchard, Sr. was a letter writer, and his wonderful descendants had the foresight to save many of the letters.
Of course, I am hoping to find some photos and references to Snoozer in the mix.
Claude Jr. also has wonderful memories of the band… He was born in 1925 and remembers singing novelty songs — he and his little brother Don — with his Dad’s orchestra. I’m interviewing him to record some of these delightful memories for posterity.
A second post will follow this, to discuss a recording mystery.
When Eddie Quinn was just thirteen years old he joined his first jazz orchestra, Blanchard’s Kings of Syncopation. Between January 1920 and October 1922, Blanchard’s Kings of Syncopation Orchestra is documented playing for dozens of dances, mostly in the homes of friends, at the Elk’s Home, and at the American Legion in Bogalusa. They were also the house band for the local combination house the Magic City Theater, where they provided music and sound effects for silent films. Led by Claude Blanchard on trumpet, the very first incarnation of the orchestra included Eddie Quinn on banjo (and violin), Inez Blanchard on piano (and violin) and Newell Tilton (possibly on guitar and string bass).
One wonders about the repertory of Blanchard’s orchestra. What kind of music were they playing? What were they listening to? One article from the July 15, 1920 issue of The Bogalusa Enterprise & American mentions two numbers played by a “Bogalusa Jazz Band” at a local dance:
Miss Lulu Harding entertained a number of the younger set at a dance in her home on Michigan avenue Tuesday night in honor of her guest, Miss Cleo Clayton of New Orleans. Music was furnished by the Bogalusa Jazz Band, and to the strains of “Jelly Bean” and “Naughty Waltz” the young folks whiled away an enjoyable evening.
“Jelly Bean” is a foxtrot composed by Sam Rosen, Joe Verges, and Jimmie Dupre, published in New Orleans in 1920. “That Naughty Waltz” was composed by Edwin Stanley and P. Levy, also published in 1920. Other standard ballroom dancing tunes – schottisches, polkas, mazurkas and waltzes — surely served as staples for the young band.
It’s more than likely that the Blanchard orchestra copied the repertory brought to town by bands such as Bud Scott’s Jazzers of Natchez, the Claiborne Williams Jazz Band of Donaldsonville,the Durand-Humphrey Band of New Orleans, the Five Aces (noted as “a white jazz band”), and especially Buddy Petit’s Jazz Band of New Orleans. In 1920 and 1921 these famous bands were hired for regular dances and for the larger events in Bogalusa, such as for Mardi Gras balls, Christmas benefits and New Year’s Eve dances. Buddy Petite’s band came repeatedly; in January 1921 his popularity was so great that he landed a contract for weekly dances by the American Legion:
The first of the regular Saturday night dance of the American Legion, which are to be given every week henceforth by that organization in the Elks’ Hall, will be held Saturday night. Buddy Petite’s Jazz Band, which is admittedly the favorite over any other band that has furnished music for dances here, is under contract for all of the dances.
Young Eddie and his peers were undoubtedly soaking it in. (An interesting condition of being part of a small town was that very rarely did organizations schedule conflicting public events — one big dance was enough to service not just the entire (white) population of Bogalusa, but the surrounding towns, too.) Because of the frequent presence of Buddy Petit’s Jazz Band during what was certainly a crucial time in Quinn’s musical development – and in the Blanchard orchestra’s development –a closer look at their repertory and their lineup of musicians is in order.
A wonderful photograph of Buddy Petit’s Jazz Band of 1920 exists, taken in nearby Mandeville. The lineup of musicians: vocalist Leon René, drummer Eddie Woods, trombonist George Washington, cornetist Buddy Petit, banjoist Buddy Manaday, clarinetist Edmond Hall, and bassist Chester Zardist.
Buddy Petite's Orchestra, 1920, from Wikipedia
Around this time Petit’s band was playing songs like “San,” “Milneberg Joys,” “Sister Kate,” “Fidgety Feet,” and “Wang Wang Blues.” An excerpt from George Lewis: A Jazz Man from New Orleans sheds more light ontheir performances:
Even in the late twenties the black audiences were still dancing to waltzes, schottisches, and slow drags. The music had a formal sound to it, but “you’d know it was a jazz band playing it,” George Lewis remarked. “You couldn’t jazz up the slow tunes like, say, Creole Blackberries, a very favorite of Buddy Petit’s.”
1922 was the year of Blanchard’s orchestra. By then, the band changed its name to Blanchard’s Jazz Hounds, and in January 1922 it added a drummer. This can be seen as a professional turning point for the band… in the months following, they became wildly popular throughout the region, in places such as Abita Springs, Ponchatoula, Hammond, Mandeville, Slidell, and even as far away as Biloxi. The newspaper accounts of dances become ever more laudatory over the months of 1922. A key indicator of their local popularity is recognized in the fact that throughout most of 1922, Blanchard’s Jazz Hounds seems to be the only jazz band documented by the newspaper performing in Bogalusa. The group had effectively squeezed out the out-of-town competition — including Buddy Petit.
From the Bogalusa Enterprise & American, July 20, 1922 issue:
Local Band Makes Big Hit in Hammond: The citizens of Hammond, La., were given a real treat Tuesday night when Blanchard’s Jazz Orchestra, a local organization, filled a dance engagement in that city. The Hammond devotees of Terpsichore say it was the best music ever heard on that city. The Blanchard musical organization is now being offered engagement at Slidely [sic], Covington and on the Gulf Coast. They have been engaged to play every Sunday during the summer at Mandeville.
It’s worth repeating that during his time with the Blanchard orchestra, from January 1920 through October 1922, young Eddie was only thirteen through fifteen years old. One of his older brothers was required to travel with him to the out-of-town dances to act as chaperone.
I have this fantastic doodle of Snoozer Quinn, “Boy Wonder,” playing the banjo that is so fascinating. For one thing, I love the little details that, if this is an accurate caricature of his personage (and I bet it is), bring him to life:
is that a cigarette tucked in the strings making that smoke?
a bottle of beer and a shot of whiskey on the table
A bowtie, and dandy polka dotted socks paired with natty black shoes with little bows on the tops!
and a hole in the sole of his shoe
that relaxed playing style, tilting back in his chair
a big smile
From a musical standpoint, this cartoon is pretty important because it looks to me like he is playing a four string tenor banjo. I’d love to know what you think…. please shoot me an email if you have some insight. I know, I know… it’s just a cartoon and we can’t be sure that the cartoonist knew to be faithful to the instrument.
But, this is still significant because no photographs or in depth descriptions of Quinn playing banjo have been found — this is all I’ve found so far. It’s known that Quinn played banjo in his early career, in his high school band, in dance bands and in minstrel shows. As late as 1926 he was hailed by Houston radio station KPRC as “Dixie’s Banjo King”. and “Dixie’s Premier Banjoist.” It would be useful to know what kind of banjo Quinn played and how he tuned it.
And here is another mystery… who was the cartoonist? The piece of paper is torn just where the signature is, but the little icon with it is so unique that there must be a way to trace it. Look close — it’s a cute lil’ masked heart man playing the clarinet.
I contacted Rex Rose, son of Al Rose, who was a known cartoonist and who was a BIG FAN of Snoozer’s. (In fact, Al wrote the liner notes to the Fat Cat LP of the Wiggs/Quinn hospital recordings.)
He took a look and said he doesn’t think it’s his father’s work. Mystery still unsolved. Any ideas, universe?
(It occurs to me to look through 1920s-era Houston newspapers for cartoonists’ names… scurries off.)
Hi there — Don Peterson sent me the original film footage of Snoozer playing in 1932. (What the La. State Museum had in their archives was a copy.) I’ve since had this footage digitized, and it has a crisper resolution.
I was recently contacted by Aaron Levinson, who had a wonderful suggestion… why not ask guitarists everywhere to help me solve the mystery of what Snoozer was playing? Through crowdsourcing, we can figure out what is happening in 1:20 of film. I am still trying to figure out the best way to accommodate collaboration — I would love for people to share their audio, tabs, still images, etc. til we can work this out. For now, please leave a comment!
Some things to note that might help:
Snoozer tended to use standard tunings, but dropped down a few half steps. (I am not saying he is playing in standard tuning here, but he usually did.)
Guitarist John Stropes pointed out to me that the exact same passages are on this film twice — speeded up and then slowed down.
That means the approximately 1:20 seconds of this footage is only about 25 seconds of a performance. It stands to reason that Charles Peterson would have been filming a specific Snoozer trick, right?
Enjoy this amazing silent film of Snoozer Quinn from 1932, when he was in his prime at the age of 25 years old. He joined Paul Whiteman in fall 1928 and was active for several more years. Things to look for while watching this film:
Yes, there is a soundtrack but it’s not matching. The soundtrack you hear was reportedly added by Don Perry, a co-founder of the New Orleans Jazz Club, sometime in the 1970s. Perry was a news cameraman for New Orleans station WDSU who donated hundreds of films to the Jazz Club. Read more about him on this page. The sound you hear is in fact Snoozer playing an original composition, “Snoozer’s Telephone Blues,” recorded in 1948 in the tuberculosis ward of a New Orleans hospital. (Available on the rare Wiggs 78 or Fat Cat LP.)
Snoozer does not use a finger pick (unlike Eddie Lang and most jazz guitarists of this era)
Watch Snoozer’s right hand to see how he frequently uses a claw hammer/frailing technique
Snoozer was capable of single-note solos, but his signature sound was chordal.He uses the right hand thumb to set a bass rhythm, and his index and middle finger to ‘frail’ the strings for the melody or harmony
Snoozer’s left hand makes chord shapes along the entire length of the neck — perhaps a carryover from the banjoist’s use of inverted chord shapes?
Snoozer liked to use hammer ons and pulloffs with his strong left hand to augment the melodic line. You can see a nice speedy little run of this trick around 2:35.
The film was recorded by Charles Peterson, a guitarist/banjoist with Rudy Vallee’s Connecticut Yankees who turned into a jazz photographer. Charles’s son Don Peterson helped me definitively date the film to 1932 and says the location was Laurelton, NJ at their country home. Here is a photo from that same day. This is a picture of little toddler Don looking at Snoozer’s guitar.
Snoozer Quinn and Don Peterson in 1932. Photo by Charles Peterson.