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The flute in jazz - who was first?

We're all familiar with the numerous modern exponents of the jazz flute such as Eric Dolphy, James Moody and Hubert Laws but who were the earliest players? JJ writer George Hulme makes a list

In a letter in the August issue, Ray Bailey raises the matter of the flute in jazz specifically mentioning Albert Socarras with Clarence Williams in 1929. Coincidentally, a jazz enthusiast recently brought to my attention the Flutist Connect website in which Wayman Carver is suggested as the first to play a jazz solo on record. The example cited was Sweet Sue with Spike Hughes.
I did some research and this was my result:
Wayman Carver
Loveless Love with Dave Nelson was recorded on 9 June 1931. Carver was with Benny Carter playing reeds and flute in 1932 and recorded Tell Me Your Dreams with Benny on 23 June 1932. Sweet Sue was recorded with Spike Hughes on 18 May 1933.
Early flutes
Many military-style and dance bands used flutes in the late 19th and early 20th century and some were recorded. Some examples are: The Mayfair Dance Orchestra (including a flute) recorded Balloons And Kisses - A Jazz One Step for HMV at Hayes, Middx on 1 April 1919. Eubie Blake's band (definitely a jazz unit) included Sam Yearwood on flute in 1921/22. They made several records. Art Landry had Al Sorenson on flute in 1923. Russ Gorman's Orchestra which included Red Nichols and Miff Mole had Nick Koupackis on flute in 1924. Roger Wolfe Kahn had Albert Brilhart on reeds and flute in 1926. Jack Hylton had Poggy Pogson on reeds and flute in April 1926. Paul Whiteman had Max Farley on reeds and flute in March 1927. Albert Socarras played flute on several session from 1927 onwards especially with Clarence Williams groups.
High Society
A significant point in this matter concerns the tune High Society by Porter Steele which was recorded many times in the early 1920s. Nowadays jazz bands play the tune with a clarinet chorus that is standard in format. This chorus originated when Alphonse Picou (a New Orleans Creole) created the chorus on piccolo/flute with New Orleans dance and marching bands. Unfortunately we do not have a recording of Picou at the time as non-white musicians rarely got the chance to record. That the chorus was remembered and copied repeatedly is important. We do have a recording of Picou made in 1940 when the jazz revival began.

George Hulme, Old Basing, Hants

27 October 2012

Your Comments:

Posted by Peter Westbrook, 16 August 2017, 10:53 (1 of 1)

I am the author of the book & film "The Flute in Jazz." (www.fluteinjazz.com). There is still a lot of information to fill in regarding jazz flutists in these very early days. Thanks to George Hulme for providing this. For more information go to www.flutejournal.com

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