African-American History Month - muted history
Johnny Dunn was a Memphis original, a hard working musician playing the Metropolitan on Beale Street (where the New Daisy now sits) and finding a fan in no less than WC Handy. In 1917, he signed on with Mr. Handy’s band and played with the master until leaving the city around 1920. His style caught the attention of Mamie Smith and he recorded with her, composing instrumental “Old Time Blues” for her group The Jazz Hounds. Playing cornet and trumpet, he was noted for his stage presence - on and off the stage - and was always dressed “to the nines.” His play was also notable and copied. Part of his stage act - along with his hats - was a collection of mutes. One was a plain old toilet plunger. He is credited with being the first to use such a “prop” (Samuel Charters and Len Kunstadt) for his trade. “Tricky” Sam Nanton, trombonist for Duke Ellington, saw this, copied it, and is known as the creator of the plunger “wah-wah” so I guess that makes Dunn the grandfather? Johnny Dunn played in ensembles, solo, and fronted multiple bands. As a trumpet player, he was eclipsed by a young man from New Orleans named Louis, but later recorded with Jelly Roll Morton and Fats Waller. Handy, Smith, and the “piano men” would all make for some “this is me with…” pictures and they made great music. After touring Europe in the mid-‘20’s, he decided to live in France. He gave up recording when he was eclipsed - I might guess that a man of his style had an ego to deal with when his music went out of style - but he did play in France and Holland. The Beale Street veteran, showman, and great trumpet/cornetist, composer and bandleader died of tuberculosis in Paris at only 40 years old.
On this day in 1923 Johnny Dunn and his Original Jazz Hounds recorded “Hallelujah Blues” and this exotic beauty in New York for Columbia.