Freddie Keppard

Freddie Keppard, sometimes called Freddy Keppard, was an early jazz singer. He lived from February 27, 1890 to July 15, 1933. Keppard was born in downtown New Orleans, Louisiana’s Creole community of Color. Louis Keppard, his older brother, was also a professional musician. Before switching to cornet, Freddie was a violinist, mandolinist, and accordion player. After his time with the Olympia Orchestra, Freddie joined Frankie Dusen and the Eagle Band to fill the spot vacated recently by Buddy Bolden. Bolden had left the music scene and Keppard was named “King Keppard”, the city’s best horn player. Around 1914, Joe Oliver (AKA King Oliver) won a musical “cutting competition” and claimed Keppard’s crown. Soon after Keppard accepted a offer to join Bill Johnson’s band in Los Angeles. Johnson and Keppard formed the Original Creole Orchestra, which was toured on the Vaudeville circuit. This gave other areas of the USA an introduction to the music that was not known as “jazz”. After a successful performance in New York City, the band was offered the chance to record for Victor Talking Machine Company. This would have probably been the first jazz recording, in retrospect. A common story is that Keppard refused to record as it would have allowed everyone to “steal his stuff”. He was offered $25 flat by the recording company to record a song (a standard rate for non-star performers at that time), which was far less than what he was making on the vaudeville circuit. Lawrence Gushee’s research revealed that his response to the offer was “Twenty-Five Dollars?” “I drink that much Gin in a day!” Other members of the Creole Orchestra recall that Victor had requested them to make a test recording without payment. The band refused, believing it was a ploy by Victor to get them to do records without paying them. Keppard moved to Chicago in 1917, where he would stay until 1920 when he went to the East Coast to join Tim Brymn’s group. Keppard was a Chicago soloist as well as with the bands of Johnny Dodds and Erskine Tate. All of Keppard’s recordings were made in Chicago between 1924 and 1927. He is not on any recordings. There are only three sides under his name (“Freddie Keppard Jazz Cardinals”), and a dozen with Doc Cooke’s Orchestra. Most of these are heavily arranged with Keppard playing second trumpet. His “Stockyard Strut”, which he calls “Stillyard Strut”, is actually a spectacular improvisation on the chords and themes of “Tiger Rag”. He may have made a few recordings, but there are many others that he could be heard on. Keppard was a popular performer in New Orleans as well as Chicago. Many of his contemporaries believed that Keppard was either past his prime or that the recordings did not do Keppard justice. However, Keppard is a technically proficient player and an inventive improviser. His recordings are undoubtedly excellent. Keppard’s style tends to be more rough than Oliver’s blues-tinged. Oliver was more popular, but preference was more a matter of taste. Jelly Roll Morton and Lil Hardin Armstrong all considered Keppard superior than Oliver. Many musicians who clearly remember Buddy Bolden’s recordings said that Freddie Keppard sounded most like Bolden. Keppard, who died in Chicago after a long battle with alcoholism and tuberculosis, was largely forgotten. Text contributed by users is available under Creative Commons By–SA License. It may also be available under GNU FDL.

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