i5

   Alcide Nunez
Home
Band history
CD Hurricane BB
Repertoire
Brass band history
Brass band history CD
Brass band musicians
Brass band book dvd
Instruments
Music of the brass bands
Encyclopedia
Did you know
Links
Guestbook
Mail us

* Mar 17, 1884 St. Bernard Parish, La
† Sep 2, 1934 New Orleans, La

As a brass band musician he played with: Reliance Brass Band

Nickname: Yellow
 

"Oh Boy! Wonderful!" -- bandleader "Papa" Jack Laine

"King Yellow, Wizard of the Ebony Stick" -- trombonist Eddie Edwards

Alcide Patrick Nunez was born 17 March 1884 in or near the city of New Orleans. His family was of Spanish and French decent, established in Louisiana's St.Bernard Parish since before the Louisiana Purchase. He lived in the Marigny and Bywater district of downtown New Orleans. Jack Laine, an older musician who lived in the neighborhood remembered him playing tin-whistle as a child. Nunez's son Eugene remembers his father enjoyed being able to make musical instruments out of almost any object; eg a guitar out of string and an old cigar box.

Nunez started playing in bands on guitar, but was playing clarinet by 1902.

Alcide Nunez was playing with Jack Laine's Reliance brass bands and dance bands by about 1905 if not earlier. He could not read music, but had a good ear and could pick up tunes quickly and improvise variations on them. He could play several instruments, but mostly played C clarinet. Early on he was not a full time musician. For a while his day job was driving a mule-drawn hauling wagon with fellow musician "Chink" Martin Abraham.

By 1910 or before, he was regarded as one of the top clarinetists in New Orleans and was well known. He contributed new tunes, strains, and variations to the Reliance Band repertory.

In early 1916 he was part of a New Orleans band which was heard by a Chicago promoter, who offered them a job up north. In March 1916 Nunez went up to Chicago with a band led by drummer Johnny Stein (Stein Dixieland Band), along with cornetist Nick LaRocca, trombonist Eddie Edwards, and pianist Henry Ragas. Soon after arriving the band bolted from the leadership of Stein, and renamed themselves "The Original Dixieland Jass Band". They sent to New Orleans for drummer Tony Sbarbaro who Nunez had played with earlier at a New Orleans club.

The Original Dixieland Jass Band was popular in Chicago. On the last day of October 1916 Nunez had a dispute with trumpeter LaRocca, and left the band. The O.D.J.B. soon moved to New York City. Nunez stayed in Chicago, working with Tom Brown's band and later with bandleader/club-owner Bert Kelly. Nunez was billed as "The World's Greatest Jazz Clarinetist".

In early 1917 the Original Dixieland Jass Band made the first commercially issued jazz recordings in New York. One of the tunes recorded was "Livery Stable Blues" which Nunez considered himself to be co-composer of. With trumpeter Ray Lopez, a fellow Reliance Band veteran, Nunez copywrited the number (which the O.D.J.B. had not done) and had sheet music published. This lead to a lawsuit between Lopez & Nunez verses LaRocca & the O.D.J.B. over ownership of the tune, which became an unexpected national hit. The trial was covered extensively by the Chicago press, which played it for humor value. At a time when "jazz" was still considered a rather improper word, that various "jazz musicians" who couldn't even read music were fighting over a tune with animal imitation effects was considered amusing. Other New Orleans musicians were asked to testify; their testimony was contradictory and some claimed that they too should have a share of the "Livery Stable Blues" aka "Barnyard Blues". The Judge ended up throwing the case out, saying that the authorship of the tune was impossible to establish.

This trial can be seen as the first clash of the New Orleans musical tradition, where melodies were often treated like folk tunes, with the commercial USA Tin-Pan-Alley music business which was very concerned with copy writes and composer credits. According to interviews with many musicians, members of the Laine Reliance bands would collectively compose or add to numbers. Anyone who had something to add could add it. (Nunez was remembered as someone with lots of ideas to add.) New tunes were considered to be a boost to the band, but were not seen as having commercial potential to write down and copy write. This attitude had to change when New Orleans bands first started going up north.

In August of 1918 Nunez went to New York City with the Bert Kelly Band. In January of 1919 he co-founded "The Louisiana Five", managed by drummer Anton Lada. Throughout 1919 this band recorded extensively for many of the record companies in the New York City area. These recordings offer a rare glimpse of the improvisational stylings of Nunez, one of the earliest well regarded New Orleans musicians to make numerous recordings. Many of the numbers recorded were composed or co-composed by Nunez. Some numbers would be recorded for different competing companies, and some record companies issued records from multiple masters (for reasons of ease and speed of mass production). This resulted in many "alternative takes" existing, so Nunez's improvisations can be listened to and examined in detail.

The band was very popular in New York, playing for both dancing and vaudeville. An Oklahoma oil millionaire hired the whole band to come play for his friends in Oklahoma-- which is where young Pee Wee Russell heard Nunez.

At the start of 1920 Nunez signed up to make recordings with New York dance band of Harry Yerkes. The Yerkes records also feature a fellow New Orleans jazz great who Nunez had often worked with in the past, trombonist Tom Brown. Nunez played jobs in cities of the USA's North East from New York to Baltimore.

Nunez rejoined the Louisiana Five in 1920 for a 10 week tour of the West. He had a long residency in Baltimore in 1921.

In January of 1922 Nunez returned to Chicago where he continued to work regularly. For years he led the house band at Bert Kelly's "Stables" club. He recorded with the band of Willard Robison.

In the mid 1920s Nunez was having dental problems and started loosing teeth. He feared he would no longer be able to play clarinet, and with his wife and small children moved back down to New Orleans.

Back in New Orleans Nunez got false teeth and found that he could still play clarinet professionally. Nunez got a job with the Police Department, mainly to play with the Police Band (which featured him on both clarinet and banjo) and drive a patrol wagon. In addition to his regular work in the Police Band, Nunez played with a band called "The Moonlight Serenaders" over local radio station WCBE, and with various New Orleans dance bands.

Nunez died suddenly of a heart-attack on 2 September 1934, at the age of 50.i1

=====

ALCIDE "YELLOW" NUNEZ,
WORLD'S GREATEST JAZZ CLARINETIST

Based on a presentation by Daniel C. Meyer at the April 2000 New Orleans International Music Colloquium

Alcide Nunez in New Orleans, 1910 or before.

I entitle this as being about "Alcide Nunez, World's Greatest Jazz Clarinetist" because that was how he was billed in Chicago and New York in the late 1910s and early 1920s. I'm being a bit provocative. I won't argue with anyone who wants the title of World's Greatest Jazz Clarinetist to go musicians like Sidney Bechet, Johnny Dodds, or Benny Goodman. But they and just about anyone else you might name to the title would probably be a good bit younger than Alcide Nunez, a good bit later in jazz history. That's the first point I'd like to make. Alcide Nunez was born in 1884. This makes him just about the earliest jazz clarinetist we have extensive recordings of.
To put things into context:
The great Johnny Dodds is sometimes thought of as a pioneer early jazz player; Dodds was 8 years younger than Nunez. Nunez was 9 & 1/2 years older than clarinetist Larry Sheilds who replaced him in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Nunez was 13 years older than Sidney Bechet, and a full 25 years older than Benny Goodman.

The only clarinetist years older than Alcide Nunez who made many recordings was the venerable Alphonce Picou. Picou's style is so early that some listeners have classified it as 'not quite jazz' or 'just barely jazz'. And Picou didn't record until his old age. On the other hand Nunez recorded in his late 30s, an experienced musician still in his prime. When we listen to Nunez's recordings from 1919, we're not just going to 1919 -- which is quite early in jazz history anyway. I believe were listening to a mature musician, some of whose style was already established years earlier. We're getting a rare chance to listen to the sound of very early jazz.

 

EARLY LIFE

Alcide Patrick Nunez was born on 17 March 1884, the youngest son of the large family of Victor Nunez and Elisa Chalaire Nunez of St. Bernard Parish.
His family was of Spanish and French decent, established in Louisiana's St.Bernard Parish since before the Louisiana Purchase. Many of the Nunez'es in Saint Bernard came to Louisiana by way of the Spanish Canary Islands. Alcide's son Eugene researched the family history as far back as he could trace, but wasn't able to find out if his family was from Islaño ancestry of not. In Spain and Latin America the family name is pronounced Nuñez, ("noo-nyes") spelled with a tilde over the second "n". Here in Louisiana we say Nunez ("new-nez"). From what I've seen Alcide never spelled his name with a tilde, and taped interviews with people who knew him before 1910 like Jack Laine and Frank Christian show his last name was pronounced Nu-nez even back then. So discographers and writers who spell Alcide's last name the Spanish way with a tilde over the "n" seem to be engaging in scholarly over-correction.

Alcide Nunez was in the city of New Orleans by a young age. He lived in the Marigny and Bywater districts of downtown New Orleans until his move up north.
Jack Laine, an older musician who lived in the neighborhood remembered Nunez playing tin-whistle as a child. Nunez's son Eugene remembered that his father enjoyed being able to make musical instruments out of almost any object; such as a guitar out of string and an old cigar box.

Alcide's friends and fellow musicians nicknamed him "Yellow". According to the 1939 book "JAZZMEN", this was because of his complexion.
It might be worth mentioning that the earliest references to this nickname tend to call him "Kid Yellow", and a popular early newspaper cartoon character was "The Yellow Kid" created by Richard Felton Outcault. Several competing cartoons featuring this character were running in the late 1890s.

Some interesting information on Nunez's early career appeared in New York papers when he was a notable figure on the New York music scene years later.
In 1918 and 1919, as "Jazz Bands" were becoming all the rage in New York, some New York theater and vaudeville newspapers started asking just what this new "jazz" was, and where did it come from? The interesting discussion that followed quickly identified the music as coming from New Orleans, and contained some interesting tidbits about some of the New Orleans musicians who were then in New York, including these reminiscences of Nunez's early career:

From The New York Dramatic Mirror 14 Dec 1918:

"Yellow" Nunez had been guitar player for John Spriccio. [...] famous jazz professor of New Orleans, John Spriccio, the vetern violinist, who teaches jazz. All the famous jazz artists in this country have been taught by him or his pupils. He was teaching jazz and "blues" a generation before they reached Chicago."

This is an interesting article. Is Spriccio the earliest documented jazz educator?

Nunez remained a friends with Spriccio, frequently visiting him in his later years in New Orleans in the 1920s and '30s.

Here's another article, from 8 February 1919 "VAUDEVILLE VOLLEYS" page 201:

One "Harry Huguenot" wrote that he was "born and raised in New Orleans" and recalled that about 20 years ago "there was a social organization in the New Orleans composed of young business men, numbering about one hundred. An orchestra was formed by some of the musical members, consisting of [Gus Shindler piano, Yellow Nunez (a Spaniard), guitar; myself, bass fiddle, and a cornetist name forgotten] The addition of Frank Christian, another guitarist, prompted Yellow Nunez to purchase a clarinet, and then from the clarinet began to flow the weirdest blue notes one ever heard. After a week of practice Nunez had these blue notes arranged as cadenzas, and I am firmly of the opinion that this was really the first 'jazz' effect in an orchestra. The orchestra became known as the 'RIGHT AT 'EM'S RAZZ BAND' and continued successfully for some time. I mentioned above that it was some twenty years ago, but a correct idea of the time can be ascertained by the fact that our star number was "Billy Bailey, Wont You Please Come Home." [...]we were the first to play it in New Orleans. Incidentally "Frankie and Johnnie" was an old selection."

The piece Bill Bailey came out in 1902.

It's remembered that Nunez could not read music, but had a good ear and could pick up tunes quickly and improvise variations on them. He could play several instruments, but mostly played C clarinet.

Early on he was not a full time musician.
Other than reading musicians with a regular job in theater orchestras, very few musicians were able to make a living playing full time in New Orleans then.
Old city directories lists Nunez as a "teamster" or a "driver". One musician recalled that Nunez drove a mule-drawn hauling wagon with fellow musician "Chink" Martin Abraham.

The photo shows Alcide Nunez, right, with his nephew, violinist Harry Nunez, in the early 1910s. In this photo they were playing at one of the old camps on Lake Pontchartrain with Frank Christian's Band. Nunez worked in the bands of his friends cornetist Frank Christian and trombonist Tom Brown. At least on occasion, Nunez put together a band under his own name. But for years his most important work was with bandleader Papa Jack Laine.i2

This photo shows Jack Laine seated in front of one of his bands. Alcide Nunez stands second from the left; Chink Martin Abraham stands second from the right. The musicians are standing in front a tent which is documented as having blown down in a storm in 1910, dating this photo to 1910 or earlier.

Many people recalled Alcide Nunez was often playing with Jack Laine's Reliance brass bands and dance bands. Nunez seems to have been working with Laine by about 1905 if not earlier.

Jack Laine, born in 1873, was the most active and one of the most important band leaders in New Orleans in the years between the Spanish American War and World War I. He often had multiple brass bands and dance bands working simultaneously at different locations. He hired young kids just starting to play up to some of the city's best regarded established musicians. When Nunez was mentioned to Jack Laine in his old age, Laine exclaimed, "Oh Boy! Wonderful!" He said that Nunez had played in his bands "for years and years and years".

By 1910 or before, Nunez was regarded as one of the top clarinetists in New Orleans and was well known. He contributed new tunes, strains, and variations to the Reliance Band repertory.

Clarinet player Tony Parenti said that the best clarinetists when he was little were the Baquet brothers and Yellow Nunez. They played nice jazz and were known to all. At that time Larry Shields was just one of the boys coming up.

Below is a photo of Nunez and two of his musical colleagues, taken in New Orleans in the early 1910s. Left to right, Nunez, trombonist Tom Brown, and cornetist Frank Christian. All three on occasion lead bands and hired each other.i3

=====

Nunez's background

Alcide Nunez's great-grandson, Robert Nunez (who is a tuba player for the Louisiana Philharmonic and sometimes plays with the Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble), says that the family came from Canary Islands to Louisiana's St. Bernard Parish 1700s.

 

Nunez in New Orleans before going up north

Clarinet player Tony Parenti said that the best clarinetists when he was young were the Baquet bros and Yellow Nunez. They played nice jazz and were known to all. At that time Larry Shields was just one of the boys coming up.

Bat Streckler (a non jazz N.O. musician, born 1877) said, "the first fellow I ever heard play jazz was Yellow Nunez. He played at Beter's place on Music (Street) and Claiborne (Avenue). He couldn't read (any music), but the minute he heard anything he could play it well".

Bandleader Jack "Papa" Laine, in a March 1957 interview, was asked by about Yellow Nunez by jazz historian Richard B. Allen. Laine exclaimed: "Oh Boy, wonderful! Just like Baquet." In 1959, Laine reminisced that Nunez used to play tin whistle when young, and that his Uncle played with the Mexican Band at 1884 exposition.

Wellman Braud mentions Yellow Nunez and Tony Giardina were fine clarinetists, but Sidney Bechet was the greatest.

Trumpeter Johnny Lala said about Nunez: Very good, a wonderful faker. Most others couldn't fake (at that time). (Jack Laine's son) Alfred Pantsy lead the #3 (Reliance) band, but it got to be hottest. It had Manuel Mello, Yellow Nunez, Jules Cassard valve-trombone. Knocked em Dead. Yellow was powerful. Lala would encourage him to jump band to join him.

Manuel Mello says he played with Nunez in Tom Brown's band. Nunez and Mello left the band when Brown asserted he was the leader..."you can never hear of a trombone player leading a band!"

Tony Sbarbaro said he played in Tango Palace, a bad place across the tracks, with Henry & Merrit Brunies, and Yellow Nunez.

Papa Laine, in two different interviews, said that Achille Baquet and Yellow Nunez composed "Livery Stable Blues".i4

Sources (internet):
i1
http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/5135/ANunez.html
i2 http://www.stphilipneri.org/teacher/pontchartrain/section.php?id=201
i3 http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/5135/NuStart.html
i4 http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/5135/Nunez2.html
i5 http://www.answers.com/topic/alcide-nunez

Sources
(brassband history):

Last updated: 12-03-2010