King Oliver was born in Louisiana in 1885 and was raised in New Orleans. His first instrument was the trombone, then he switched to the cornet. His early work was in the Melrose Band and Walter Kinchin's Band. During adolescence, he permanently lost the sight in one eye due to an accident.
During the years 1908-17, Oliver worked parades, gigs, and occasional tours with vaious brass bands including: the Olympia, the Onward, the Magnolia, the Eagle, the Original Superior, and Allen's. He also worked as a sideman for Kid Ory at Pete Lala's and later led his own band there.
In March, 1919, Oliver left for Chicago to join clarinetist Lawrence Duhé's band and also worked at the same time in a band led by legendary bassist Bill Johnson. He later took over Duhé's band and played steady gigs at various night clubs including Deluxe Cafe, Pekin Cabaret, and Dreamland until 1921. After spending 1921 leading bands in the San Francisco Bay Area, he returned to Chicago and organized his own Creole Jazz Band at the Lincoln Gardens beginning in June 1922.
It was this band that was destined to achieve immortality, making its recording debut in 1923 on the Gennett label. Very highly regarded by the white Chicago musicians who nightly would make the pilgrimage down to the Lincoln Gardens, the band also provided the first exposure outside of New Orleans for the young Louis Armstrong. The gig at the Lincoln Gardens lasted until December, 1924, after which Oliver formed the Dixie Syncopators at the Plantation Cafe. This engagement lasted until 1927, when Oliver decided to try his luck in New York.
Unfortunately, by that time Oliver's sound had already been digested and copied by the New York jazz players and was considered to be passé. Oliver's career began a downward slide from which it never recovered. In 1930, he left New York and lived for a while in Nashville. He formed a new band in 1931 and continued to tour with it until 1937, despite numerous personnel changes and a series of misfortunes. After 1937, he ran a fruit stand and later was a pool hall attendant. Oliver died in Savannah, Georgia in 1938, but is buried in New York. In 1994, the New Jersey Jazz Society organized an effort to provide his grave with a headstone.
Today, Oliver is remembered not only for his classic Creole Jazz Band recordings, but also for his brilliant cornet playing and his many compositions, including Dippermouth Blues, Canal Street Blues, Doctor Jazz, Riverside Blues, Sweet Like This, Too Late, and Camp Meeting Blues.
This Biography from the page by Bernie Beigh
and edited and reformatted by Sean Glass