Famous Louisiana Jazz Musician Biographies
Jazz was born in Louisiana! Learn about the famous musicians behind the music genre.
CHARLES “BUDDY” BOLDEN (1877 – 1931) was said to be regarded by his musical peers as “the father of jazz music” before the term “jazz” existed. The cornet player from New Orleans fused traditional marching band, ragtime, and traditional black music with loose, loud horn riffs and constant improvisation. King Oliver and Bunk Johnson cited him as direct influences on their playing.
KING OLIVER (1885 – 1938) was a key figure in the history of jazz music in the early 20th century. He began playing trombone, switched to cornet, learned to read music (despite being blind in one eye), and eventually served as mentor to Louis Armstrong. King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band was one of the first black New Orleans band to gain acclaim in the record industry.
LOUIS “SATCHMO” ARMSTRONG (1901 – 1971) was one of the most influential jazz musicians of the 20th century. Born in a poor area of New Orleans, Armstrong began playing music at age 12 at the Waif’s Home for Boys, and he later took cornet lessons from Joe “King” Oliver and played in his heralded Creole Jazz Band. As his own band leader, Armstrong became a world-acclaimed jazz ambassador known for both singing and playing horn, and his works spanned into popular genres while crossing racial divides in music.
EDWARD “KID” ORY (1886 – 1973) was one of the most influential trombonists in early jazz music. A banjo player as a youth, Ory used that experience to develop what’s called “tailgate,” a playing style where the trombone plays rhythmic lines underneath the band’s trumpets and cornets. Bandmates during his career included King Oliver, Louis Armstrong and Mutt Carey.
EARL PALMER (1924 – 2008) was a noted rock 'n' roll and R&B drummer and is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. His extensive list of credits includes Little Richard’s early albums and several of Fats Domino’s hits. He is credited for creating a signature backbeat that’s now commonplace in rock and roll, and he was reportedly the first musician to use the word “funky” when describing syncopated, danceable qualities to other musicians.
LOUIS PRIMA (1910 – 1978) was a noted singer and trumpeter who rode the music of the time during his career. The New Orleans native’s career includes a seven-piece jazz band in the 1920s, a swing band in the 1930s, a big band in the 1940s, a lounge act in the 1950s and a pop-rock band in the 1960s. He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and his music has been covered by artists ranging from Brian Setzer to David Lee Roth.
AL HIRT (1922 – 1999) was a trumpeter and bandleader best known for the GRAMMY®-winning single Javaand the theme song for the 1960s television hit "The Green Hornet." He also played a solo version of Ave Maria for Pope John Paul II when he visited New Orleans in 1987.
NELLIE LUTCHER (1912 – 2007) was a prominent jazz and R&B singer and pianist in the late 1940s and early 1950s, noted for her signature diction and exaggerated pronunciation. She had three songs reach Number Two on R&B charts, and her catalog of work includes duets with Nat King Cole.
PETE FOUNTAIN (1930 – 2016) was a staple within the New Orleans jazz scene for decades, owning and performing in numerous clubs. A former clarinetist with Lawrence Welk’s orchestra, Fountain also made more than 50 appearances on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson."
ELLIS MARSALIS (1934) is a noted New Orleans jazz pianist with numerous albums to his credit. He is better known as a leading educator at the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, where he has influenced the careers of sons Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo, and Jason, along with Harry Connick Jr. and Nicholas Payton.
HAROLD BATTISTE (1931 – 2015) was a noted New Orleans composer, arranger, performer and teacher. His first success was as arranger for Sam Cooke’s "You Send Me" in 1957. Four years later, Battiste initiated All For One, or AFO, Records, the first African American musician-owned label. He also spent 15 years with Sonny and Cher, serving as musical director of their TV series. That stint netted six gold records.
EDWARD “KIDD” JORDAN (1935) is a noted saxophone and clarinet player from Crowley. His discography includes numerous jazz recordings, plus works with Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.
WYNTON MARSALIS (1961) is a trumpet player, composer and band leader, music educator, and the Artistic Director of Jazz at the Lincoln Center. He has won nine GRAMMY® Awards in classical and jazz, and his five-year consecutive streak of GRAMMY® wins between 1983 and 1987 has never been duplicated. One of the New Orleans native’s jazz recordings was the first of its kind to win the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
KERMIT RUFFINS (1964) is a jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer. He was a founder of the Rebirth Brass Band in 1983 and the Barbecue Swingers in 1992. He still performs regularly at clubs, festivals and jazz funerals in New Orleans.
THE DUKES OF DIXIELAND were originally formed in 1948 by the Assunto Brothers and played successfully for 25 years. They reformed in 1974, performing regular shows at venues throughout New Orleans and currently play nightly aboard the Steamboat Natchez's Sunset Cruise. They were nominated for a GRAMMY® in 2000 and still perform upwards of 30 concerts per year when not on the boat.
DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND was formed in 1977 by local musician Benny Jones and members of the Tornado Brass Band. They revolutionized the genre by incorporating funk and bebop into traditional New Orleans brass, and they remain a significant influence on most New Orleans brass bands.
REBIRTH BRASS BAND was formed in 1983 by New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and other musicians from Joseph Clark High School in New Orleans’ Tremé neighborhood. The band was known for incorporating funk, jazz, soul and hip-hop into their music. The band still tours, and it earned a GRAMMY® for Best Regional Roots Music in 2012.