Louis Armstrong joins Creole Jazz Band in Chicago
Through all his riverboat experience Armstrong’s musicianship began to mature and expand.
At twenty, he could now read music and he started to be featured in extended trumpet solos, one of the first jazzmen to do this, injecting his own personality and style into his solo turns. He had learned how to create a unique sound and also started using singing and patter in his performances. In 1922, Armstrong joined the exodus to Chicago, where he had been invited by his mentor, Joe "King" Oliver, to join his Creole Jazz Band and where he could make a sufficient income so that he no longer needed to supplement his music with day labor jobs. It was a boom time in Chicago and though race relations were poor, the “Windy City” was teeming with jobs for blacks, who were making good wages in factories and had plenty to spend on entertainment.
Oliver's band was the best and most influential hot jazz band in Chicago in the early 1920s, at a time when Chicago was the center of the jazz universe. Armstrong lived like a king in Chicago, in his own apartment with his own private bath (his first). Excited as he was to be in Chicago, he began his career-long pastime of writing nostalgic letters to friends in New Orleans. As Armstrong’s reputation grew, he was challenged to “cutting contests” by hornmen trying to displace the new phenom, who could blow two hundred high C’s in a row.
King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band was one of the best and most important bands in early Jazz. The Creole Jazz Band was made up of the cream of New Orleans Hot Jazz musicians, featuring Baby Dodds on drums, Honore Dutrey on trombone, Bill Johnson on bass, Louis Armstrong on second cornet, Johnny Dodds on clarinet, Lil Hardin-Armstrong on piano, and the band's leader, King Oliver on cornet. In 1922 Armstrong received a telegram from his mentor Joe Oliver, asking him to join the band in Chicago. He nervously accepted and went north to Chicago to play second cornet with the band at the Lincoln Gardens at 459 East 31st Street. The addition of Armstrong to this already powerful and popular band took the town by storm. Soon musicians and fans were flocking to hear Louis' amazing cornet playing with the Oliver band. Louis met his second wife Lil Hardin who was the pianist in the Creole Jazz Band. Eventually it was she who urged Louis to leave the band so that he might live up to his true potential and not get stuck playing second to Oliver.
Oliver decided to head up to Chicago in 1918 and formed his own group, “The Creole Jazz Band.” He eventually called upon his replacement in the Kid Ory Band, a youthful Louis Armstrong, to come to Chicago to join his Creole Jazz Band. Louis Armstrong later remarked, “Nobody could get me out of New Orleans but Oliver!”
Because of the commercial success of Gennett’s recordings of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, a veritable pipeline opened up that brought Chicago artists down to Richmond, Indiana to record, and soon the Oliver band was also on its way to Richmond’s Gennett studio to make some of the greatest jazz recordings of all time.