A trombonist who suffered from asthma? Not a promising situation. And so the professional career of the classic New Orleans slide tailgate trombonist Honore Dutrey was cut short at a mere quarter of a century, while some of his peers kept playing for close to 75 years. Dutrey began gigging with various New Orleans combos starting around 1910, including clarinetist Jimmie Noone's band, with whom his taste for intriguing voices was amply demonstrated. He also worked with the Excelsior Jazz Band, a group whose roots extended as far back as 1880, but do not actually connect to the '90s jazz group from Toronto, whose link to the historic New Orleans band is in name only. The Excelsior Jazz Band was founded by Henry Allen, senior, in other words the father of Henry Red Allen, who already seems a little long in the tooth to most jazz fans. In 1917, Dutrey joined the Navy and like some unfortunate servicemen, was involved in a needless tragedy, permanently damaging his lungs during a shipboard accident. The terrible after-effects left him with asthma, a condition that eventually led to his death, though he gamely carried on blowing and waving his slide in the faces of front row gawkers. From 1920 to 1924, he played trombone with the famous King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band but also performed and recorded with classic jazz artists such as Carrol Dickerson, Johnny Dodds, and Louis Armstrong's Stompers. He also often led his own bands, following the first professional trails that would eventually lead to a national jazz scene. Apparently, Dutrey was not always that happy about what he found in the process. Heading north from the Crescent City to the Windy City, he was apparently shocked at the lack of status black people had socially in Chicago, compared to New Orleans where the trombonist was one of several black jazz musicians who was an actual property owner.
In the discussion of delicious instrumental blends in the front lines of jazz bands, the combination of Satchmo's improvisations and clever shadowing from Dutrey is not to be forgotten. No less an expert on New Orleans ensemble parts than trombonist Turk Murphy went into detail about how much musical virtuosity and harmonic invention were involved in the day to day blowing of Dutrey. In Murphy's liner notes to an album by the South Frisco Jazz Band, he explains the special challenge faced by a trombonist in a traditional four-horn New Orleans lineup: "It is necessary for the trombone to play a part that is generally in the higher register and of a more sustained and legato nature. The all-time master of this line was Honore Dutrey of the King Oliver band. If the trombone were to play a lower part, he would conflict with the bass or tuba. In the middle register, he would make the second cornet (or trumpet) less effective, and if he were to play an intricate high-register line, he would give the poor soul playing clarinet an absolute fit." Thus, the much longer career of Satchmo included a progression of trombone foils. As great as some of them were -- Jack Teagarden among them -- there was never another Honore Dutrey. Thus, it is quite common for Dixieland revival groups or other brass ensembles to play written transcriptions of Dutrey's improvised lines. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi