DUNN'S (DUTCH) BUGLE CALL BLUES:

JOHNNY DUNN IN HOLLAND

by ATE VAN DELDEN

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Johnny Dunn was born in Memphis, Tennessee, on 19 February 1897 and at an early age started in music. He made himself quite a reputation as a trumpeter, playing there in the Metropolitan Theatre in 1916 and 1917. He also attended Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Around 1920-1921, he went to New York, with W. C. Handy, who featured him in such specialties as Bugle Blues, which became something of a signature tune for Dunn. Handy recorded for Lyratone in 1919 and these may be Johnny Dunn’s first recordings. However the resulting records, although allocated catalogue numbers and announced in the trade press, were never issued and the numbers re-utilised. His first definite recordings were made with Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds in the Spring of 1921 and in December of the same year recorded under his own name for Columbia. Through his contact with publisher, composer and impressario Perry Bradford, Dunn became an exclusive Columbia artist until 1924 and this period, prior to the arrival of Louis Armstrong in New York in October 1924, was Dunn’s Golden Age. Even piano player Al Siegel recorded a Johnny Dunn’s Novelty Blues while on tour in Europe (unfortunately never issued). Dunn made his first trip to Europe in 1923 with the Plantation Reveue, starring Florence Mills and was a featured attraction of the Plantation Orchestra.


In 1925 Johnny Dunn was engaged with the Blackbirds Revue, again starring Florence Mills. The next year the show sailed for Europe, where its pit orchestra, once more called the Plantation Orchestra, recorded four sides for Columbia in London, on 1 December 1926. Some of these sides contain magnificent trumpet solo work, but much of this is by the band’s other trumpeter, Clifton “Pike” Davis, who was featured on some of Duke Ellington’s earliest recordings.
Back in the USA, Dunn picked up his recording activities again. In March 1928 and under his own name, he had two important record dates, one with Jelly Roll Morton and one with the duo of Fats Waller and James P. Johnson. But he had developed a taste for Europe and that same year he was back in Paris with Noble Sissle’s Orchestra. In the meantime, the name Plantation Orchestra had acquired some fame in Europe, thus an orchestra by that name toured through the continent, however without Dunn. As late as 1935, Lew Leslie toured England with a Blackbirds revue that included Pike Davis (also Edith Wilson and Jelly James), but not Dunn. Little is known of what happened to Dunn between 1929 and 1933, when he was in Paris. I like to think that in Paris he inspired Leo Poll (a Russian immigrant, whose real name was Leopold Polnarev) to his excellent 1929 recording of Bugle Call Blues, with bugle calls by Alex Renard.


What follows is an account of Dunn’s activities in The Netherlands, which stretched out for a period of nearly 4 years from September 1933 onwards. It is based on interviews that I did during the late Sixties with Charles Gelauff, Wolter Hofstede Crull and Lex van Spall, plus the data from the pre-war Dutch magazine De Jazzwereld, which published many of Dunn’s band engagements plus a handful of reviews. Igor Cornelissen’s 1964 newspaper article was what originally started me on the subject of Johnny Dunn in my home country.

To Holland

Lex van Spall was born on 6 November 1903 in Paramaribo, Surinam, the former Dutch colony on the South American continent. Lex’s racially mixed background had given him an exotic look, which allowed him to move easily between black and white bands. His parents sent him to Holland to study banking, but instead he became one of Holland’s earliest jazz musicians. His first instrument was the guitar and he picked up the alto saxophone after he got acquainted with piano player Theo Uden Masman. This was some 5 years before Masman started what became the longest living Dutch dance band, The Ramblers.


Saxophone players were in great demand in those years and Lex had a fine career which brought him all over Europe, Asia and Africa. During his long career he played with Sidney Bechet, Louis Mitchell, James Boucher, Sam Wooding, Arthur Briggs, Jack Hamilton, Fats Waller and Alberta Hunter. Unfortunately he hardly made any records, but he can be heard (on guitar) and seen in one astounding film document, the night club scene with Sidney Bechet’s band in the movie “Einbrecher”, made in August with Lilian Harvey and Willy Fritsch in Berlin.


By the early Thirties, after almost ten years of absence, Lex had returned to Holland. He got in touch with theatre-owner Abraham Tuschinsky. Tuschinsky ‘s Amsterdam movie palace was famous for its musical shows and around mid 1933, Lex joined its orchestra, which presumably was directed by reed player Jascha Trabsky, a Russian immigrant. Like any good show business man, Tuschinsky was always looking out for something new to surprise his audience. So around September he had a remarkable request for Lex. He asked him to go to Paris and find him some black musicians to augment the orchestra. In Dutch he said “zwartjes halen” (English: “get some blacks”), which may not sound that respectful, but Tuschinsky was certainly aware of their drawing power. He also produced money to finance a two-week trip to Paris to get them. And he expected the band to rehearse two weeks before their first public performance. So Lex traveled to Paris, around early September 1933. Having spent much time in Paris, he knew where to go. He arrived late in the evening at Gare Du Nord, went to his hotel in the Rue Frochot, near Place Pigalle, and waited in a musicians hang-out before they had finished their night’s job. He didn’t have to wait long, for soon a few black musicians came in. Other people in the bar already knew that Lex needed a few men and informed the newcomers. To Lex they said: “That’s the man you should get”, indicating Johnny Dunn, who was well-known there and supposed to be the “inventor of wa-wa-wa”. Presumably Dunn had just finished a series of shows with Josephine Baker. At first he seemed uninterested, but as Van Spall remembers, later on Dunn came towards him and, with his long pointed lips, asked: “Hey, who are you?” Right away he recommended himself as an all-round showman and told about his long, custom-made, trumpet. Lex knew that this was the man he needed, since Tuschinsky had a great interest in flashy show elements. On his question whether Dunn could read music the answer was:”Oh, yeah!”. Eventually this turned out to be not true.


Before signing the contract, Johnny produced a condition. He insisted that Lex should hire his fiend too, who, at that time, was supposed to be the best clarinet player in Paris. His name was Horace Eubanks. Eubanks is the obscure clarinet player on some of Jelly Roll Morton’s and Charlie Creath’s recordings. Lex agreed, and so he had completed his mission to Paris within a few hours after his arrival. About two weeks later they had to be in Holland for rehearsals. “Will this be paid?”, Johnny asked. “No, but you have everything free”, Lex told him, quoting Jascha Trabsky who would arrange for free lodging which he did. Tuschinsky allowed them to use for rehearsals the room above the main film theatre hall, where they also did test runs of movies. Johnny would be paid 175 Guilders per week (about 50 as of to-day), which was high; the average for a musician was 65 – 70 Guilders at the time, the other Chocolate Kiddies received 130 Guilders.


Van Spall spent two relaxed weeks in Paris and then returned to Amsterdam, on the expected date, to start rehearsing. In October 1933, the band played for public for the first time, in La Gaite, an after-hours cabaret next to Tuschinsky’s movie palace and also owned by him. The band now consisted of 10 men, 2 trumpets, trombone, 3 reeds and a 4 man rhythm section. In addition to Dunn and Eubanks, there was one more black American in the band. This was Jacob Green, the trombone player, who had been in Holland for some time before joining Van Spall. His name is spelled in various ways, for example also as Jake Greene. He is probably the same person who recorded 2 unissued sides with the Jim Dandies for Columbia in New York in 1926 and 2 more, also unissued, with Leon Abbey in London in 1928.
Lex van Spall’s new band was called the Chocolate Kiddies. Lex van Spall had been sitting in with Sam Wooding’s Chocolate Kiddies a few years earlier and probably knew that Sam had given up using this name, so it was now free to be picked up, including all its fame. Although it became known as Lex van Spall and his Chocolate Kiddies, its leadership was not undisputed. When I talked to reed player Jascha Trabsky, he said that it was his band, not Lex’s. Just to confuse matters further, drummer/vocalist Bobby ‘t Sas’s name also sometimes appeared above the bandstand.

During those years, it was the Dutch monthly magazine “De Jazzwereld” by whose standards any band was measured. In November 1933 one of their authors, Bob Schrijver, wrote:
“It is a remarkable band, formed by the Dutch saxophone player Van Spall for the cabaret La Gaite in Amsterdam; remarkable since you will find musicians in it with an outspoken hot style next to elements with a more of a hotel style. It is a mixed negro and white orchestra, which has among its public both strong admirers and abusers. The copper group consists of the negroes Johnny Dunn (played with Fletcher Henderson before), 1st trumpet, and Jacob Macc. Greece, trombone. These two wow-wow and growl in such a way, that many ears experience the finest jungle impressions, but others have less admiration. It should be mentioned that Johnny Dunn knows how to impress the public, both with his playing and with his attitude and dancing steps. Yet from a musical standpoint, we believe that eventually the whiter and totally white (including the Dutch) elements in the ensemble will gain the greatest sympathy.
The 2nd trumpeter, Rolf Goldstein, who performed the open solos, has a beautiful tone and doesn’t have to show off in order to make this known to the public.”


This review leaves one with mixed feelings to say the least. It would negatively impact the opinion about Dunn at the general public (but not at a very small number of jazz devotees) for years. And it may have contributed to the fact that the black musicians departed, one-by-one. Horace Eubanks was the first to leave. As Lex van Spall says it, he was not very useful on alto sax (he played third alto sax) and had too much vibrato. But on clarinet he was great indeed. He could play the very high flageolet tones, which was tremendous in those days. He was rather a shy fellow who never drank (unlike his friend Johnny Dunn). Sometime later Eubanks returned to the USA and in March 1935 he had a record session with Zutty Singleton for Decca.

A movie: Shuffle Off To Buffalo

Eubanks was replaced by alto saxophone player Johnny Becker and with him, in Decmber 1933, the Chocolate Kiddies made a historic document, a short movie, to be played at movie theaters around the country that, unlike Tuschinsky’s, could not afford a live band. In 2.5 minutes the band performs the tune Shuffle Off to Buffalo. Van Spall told me about this movie in 1969 and it took me 5 years to unearth it in an archive. I will never forget the thrill when I discovered that it actually featured Dunn both dancing and taking a trumpet solo. But unfortunately its soundtrack was incomplete. At that time I acquired some stills, shown with this article. Interestingly, when finally a copy with a complete soundtrack got into collectors’ hands, it had quite different shots. For example, the Dunn close-up is not in and the final shot is without Jascha Trabsky, who is standing at the far right side, as shown by the still. This, if nothing else, proves that even in movies there are alternate takes! This is the only known sound document of Johnny between his last New York recordings in 1928 and his death in 1937.

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The show goes on

After four months in La Gaite and in the Tuschinsky show directed by Max Tak, the Chocolate Kiddies got a new engagement, in “‘t Zuid” (in full “Het Zuid-Hollandsch Koffiehuis”) in the Hague. By this time also Jacob Green had left the band, and bass player Max Githmann was replaced by Aat Swart. With this personnel, the band had a radio broadcast for the VARA, the socialist Dutch radio organization. Radio required that a band was not just a jazz band; it asked for a wide musical repertoire. The Chocolate Kiddies played not only jazz and popular American tunes, but they were also great in tangos and other South American dances, and even in concert-like music. It was an all-round show band - a must for Tuschinsky, and as demonstrated in the movie short, the show element was certainly not forgotten. In Amsterdam one of their acts had been a medley of negro spirituals sung by a quartet consisting of Bobby ‘t Sas, Lex van Spall, Jacob Green and Johnny Dunn. In The Hague, Constant “Toto” Poustochkine reviewed the band positively for De Jazzwereld and even had some praise for Dunn (“he flings hot, muted choruses into the air with conviction”).


Lex van Spall remembers Dunn as rather a braggart. But he admits that on at least one occasion Johnny was able to back up on the things he said. That was in April 1934, when Cab Calloway’s band played in Amsterdam, at the Carlton Hotel, where they played for tea dances and dinner dances. He opened on Tuesday 10 April and closed on Sunday 15 April. One of these evenings the Chocolate Kiddies got together with Johnny Dunn in Tuschinsky and Johnny said: “Tonight we’ll go to my friend Cab Calloway”. He wanted to make a phone call first, but there was no time left, because of the large number of artists they had to play with that evening. At 0.45h after midnight, they were finished at the Tuschinsky and went to the Carlton hotel. Lex van Spall had his own interest: he wanted to hear Calloway’s tenor sax player, who had a big tone on the records. When they entered the Carlton, they saw Calloway dressed in a white suit fronting the band. And then it happened. The very moment that Calloway saw Johnny Dunn, he made a jump and cried: “Stop! Stop! There’s my friend! Johnny!”. The dancing public had to sit down since the music had stopped and the 2 musicians greeted each other like old pals. When the band started playing again, Lex could hear the tenor player (probably Walter “Foots” Thomas, - AvD), but this was a disappointment. The man actually had a very thin tone, his big tone on recordings must have been obtained with the help of the microphone. That night Johnny Dunn stayed with the Calloway men. Next day he said: “What did I tell you! You see, all my friends!”.


By May 1934, when the engagement at ‘t Zuid came to an end, the Chocolate Kiddies returned to Amsterdam, but without Dunn. Here is what Lex van Spall told me about Dunn’s departure from the band. Lex had plans to take the band to Switzerland and he was not convinced that the Swiss public would react favorably to Dunn’s style. Johnny had shown to be a bad reader and this resulted in one trumpet effectively (Rolf Goldstein) when new compositions had to be studied. (The movie short confirms this: when he is not soloing, Dunn just sits and waits -AvD). Not before he had heard it 10 times would Johnny be blowing audibly. So although he was great for shows, and for his specialty, the wa-wa choruses (he claimed to have invented them!), Johnny Dunn could not go to Switzerland with the Chocolate Kiddies. They left him in The Hague and went back to Amsterdam, then to Zurich. Bob Schrijver’s next review welcomed the changes in the band.

Johnny Dunn and his Rhythm Landers

During the Chocolate Kiddies engagement in The Hague, Dunn had top billing and now he was famous enough to be a bandleader by himself again. This was the start of a long period of short stays, changing personnel and changing bands. Dunn still didn’t have a large public of jazz lovers who appreciated his music.


De Jazzwereld approved his departure from the Chocolate Kiddies, and hardly showed interest in him at all. The first band he led was at ‘t Zuid during the summer of 1934. It was called Johnny Dunn and his Rhythm Landers and nothing further is known about it. Dunn was to use this name for most of his future bands, sometimes with the adjective “Hot”.
After a short period in the dancing Pschorr in Rotterdam, Johnny played in Hotel Hamdorff in Laren, near Hilversum, the Dutch radio city, and the location where many Decca recordings were made, unfortunately not by Dunn...
He was reviewed again by De Jazzwereld, not favorably. Unfortunately the reviewer, H. Freddy Koen Jr., did not give any names of Dunn’s colleagues, alto sax, tenor sax, piano and drums. Only the tenor sax made the grade. Here’s the write-up:
”Honestly, it could have been better, but this shouldn’t lead you to the conclusion that the music is bad. Judged from the standpoint of the dancers in the public, there’s not much to be desired. So the dancing is a pleasure, but for listening this band doesn’t suit me so much.
First of all there’s Johnny Dunn. He parades as the drawing power in advertisements and on posters, so he is obliged to let himself be heard a striking lot. Here it shows that his phrasing does not mean so much. His trumpet playing is not much more than some flirting with high notes, but he is delivering too much fragmented work. With that I want to say that his solo choruses do not seem to be a whole entity, but they create the impression that the improvisation is over before the chorus is finished, so that it becomes necessary to add something. I need to mention the tenor’s beautiful tone. Although he had only a few opportunities, he had a few fine solos. The drummer also does what is expected from him, but the piano player is very trivial when playing alone (I don’t even dare to write “soloing”). His rhythmic work is good though.”
Well, not really a review that makes one run to hear Johnny Dunn in person!


There is a report that Johnny Dunn performed with Freddy Johnson’s band in Groningen during 1934, but I have no details. It has been generally quite tough to find people who remember Johnny from this period. One of the few was Dutch pioneer jazz collector Wolter Hofstede Crull, who had been listening to jazz for 10 years when Dunn arrived in Holland. He recalls that Dunn lived in a boarding house in the Torenstraat in the center of The Hague. He visited him there once and brought some of Dunn’s Columbias with him. Johnny remembered those recordings. But the most striking event during this meeting was Johnny Dunn’s exclamation: “There was nobody who could blow like King Oliver in those days!”. In New York Oliver had been past his peak, so it probably applies to Oliver’s Chicago period, but did Dunn hear him there? Hofstede Crull remembered that Dunn was playing in a dancing in the Wagenstraat. This dates their meeting at about March 1935 when Dunn played in Tabaris, which was in the Wagenstraat. Around this time De Jazzwereld mentioned the activities of a Dutch lady singer, who used the name Joan Dunn, probably not related to Johnny at all.


Dunn’s next gig was in Rotterdam for the second time. Here he arrived as a specially hired star-trumpeter in the so-called “Negro Palace” Mephisto, a jazz club owned and managed by Jacques Papier. Papier would hire black American jazz musicians any time he could. And when he could not get an American, he would hire Surinamese negroes, since nobody saw the difference. Charles Gelauff, another old-time Dutch jazz collector, and a great trumpeter in his own right, was in his late teens at the time and he was the regular trumpeter at the Mephisto. Here is his story:
“The Mephisto started in 1934 or ‘35 and its earliest band included trumpeter Teddy Cotton and sax player Kid Dynamite, two blacks from Surinam. The Mephisto Sunday afternoon concerts were special. At three o’clock when it started, the place would be full of guests. There was no dancing; they all came to listen. At various times I played in the Mephisto with trombone player Jacob Green, with Kid Dynamite, drummer Johnny Stoffels, flute and sax player Max Woiski and even with tenor giant Coleman Hawkins. One day, Benny Carter’s singing sister Alice entered the Mephisto, together with a female piano player and together they did a show (Is she one of the 2 Alices Carter, mentioned in Jazz Records? -AvD). In early 1935 Jacques Papier, owner/manager of the Mephisto came to me and told me that my successor would be a very famous trumpeter, by the name of Johnny Dunn. I had a large collection of jazz records, but I had never heard his name before!”


Like Gelauff himself Dunn was engaged as an individual, to play with the house band, which probably stood under the direction of Max Woiski. After the war Woiski became famous for his South American music, and for his excellent flute playing. Gelauff had many occasions to play alongside Dunn during the band’s rehearsals. It influenced his own playing. He remembers that Dunn did not trust people around him. If you were sitting next to him and you would say something to your other neighbor, the alto player, then Dunn would think that he was the victim of gossip and might get furious. Maybe this was already influenced by his illness. The band would usually play standards such as St. Louis Blues and Some Of These Days. They would not play any blues; if someone asked for a blues, Dunn’s answer would be that his fellow musicians were unable to play real blues. Later on there were a few exceptions to this rule, like piano player Max Polak.


At one time Dunn told Charles Gelauff that he had been a sergeant in the Salvation Army (this may have led to the title of one of his recordings with Jelly Roll Morton - AvD), and Charles believes that this period had an effect on his style: he blows much staccato and attacks every note. Charles says: “He was a master of the rubber mute, but actually all his blowing and growling was from an earlier decade, Johnny still lived in the Twenties”. Dunn was also known for his show acts, but Charles never saw with his famous long trumpet. He does however remember how Dunn did an impersonation of Shirley Temple with her hit On The Good Ship Lollipop. He put on some lady’s underwear and a small hat and made a big show.


From the Mephisto, Johnny went to the dancing Cosmopoliet, also in Rotterdam, where he had his own band, his Hot Rhythm Landers, consisting of 2 trumpets, 2 reed, piano, drums and bass. Some photos were made of Dunn at this time. They show him in a street parade and they are probably the last photos taken of Dunn

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Interestingly, for the first time Dunn received a positive review from De Jazzwereld. Here it is:
The “Hot Rhythm” mentioned in the band name, is almost exclusively found at the leader, although Peter Sypesteyn, first sax and clarinet, was also heard in a number of good solos. However, Johnny Dunn, the only black element in the band, has to bring in the necessary swing and with him there’s no lack at all. Both technically and improvisationally, I think his trumpet playing is very good. He should not do periodical outbursts of high notes, this, I think, would add much to the originality of his style. His vocals, excellently presented by the microphone installation, are in authentic negro style. The other members of the band are not so prominent. They limit themselves to the accompaniment of the 1st trumpet and the 1st sax. The ensemble work is correct. The Cosmopoliet, which was recently redecorated, is now pulling a lot of dancing public.”
Well, two years after Johnny Dunn arrived in Holland, he almost had a uniformly positive review!

From this moment in history the details about Dunn’s activities get increasingly difficult to trace. De Jazzwereld never had an interview with or an in-depth article about him. Basically it had taken Dunn for old-fashioned and it preferred to focus on current bands and soloists. It briefly mentions a gig in Groningen, in the Astoria, in November 1935. According to John Chilton in his Who’s Who of Jazz, Johnny Dunn spent some time in Denmark in 1935. I have no details about this and would welcome any information on this from VJM’s readers.


In July 1936, Dunn and his 4-piece band played at Dreefzicht, a well-known restaurant in Haarlem. De Jazzwereld’s reviewer “E.G” was cautiously positive. He wrote that “Dunn had considerably improved, was really swinging and did not blow series of false notes”. During this engagement Johnny played a lot of good piano (!) too. His quartet consisted of himself, plus Ab Struik, reeds, Max Polak, piano and Joe Covington, drums. Dunn’s piano playing may have been due to rapidly deteriorating health and decreasing physical power.


Someone with a vivid memory from the mid Thirties was Edward “Ed” Roos, another pre-war Dutch jazz collector. Together with Joost van Praag, editor of De Jazzwereld, he went to Haarlem to listen to Dunn, who played there again in the summer of 1937. Ed Roos, when interviewed in 1964, remembered that Dunn’s piano player at this time was Jopie Kaan. As a musician Kaan was better known as Joe Cane and under this name he had played in the USA with Red Nichols and taken lessons from Joe Sullivan. He could play blues like Johnny meant them to be played - a rarity among Dutch pianists of the time. In Europe Cane played with Thompson’s Orchestra (see Storyville 1998-9, p. 154, where his name is incorrectly given as Joe Cove). Van Praag was an exception in the group of writers for De Jazzwereld, being the only one with a collection of Mortons and of Armstrong’s Hot Fives. He liked what he heard and as a result, four years after he arrived in Holland and after much neglect, Johnny got his well-deserved best write-up in De
Jazzwereld. It was titled “Johnny Dunn and the critics” and here it is:
“Three or four times I’ve been listening to Johnny Dunn and every time his playing astonished me.
Although he has been in this country for a long time, it’s only recently that I heard him for the first time. So this was the trumpeter about whom I had never heard other than lukewarm or bad reviews.
Unknown makes unloved, and this must have the reason for all those remarks, because for me he is the greatest trumpet player of all those who visited this country, with the exception of Armstrong, Cootie and maybe Bill Coleman. This conclusion is not in line with the attention given to him in Holland.
With his mighty volume Johnny Dunn totally controls the concert room. Moreover he has a magnificent tone, a beautiful old-style vibrato (in contrast to the somewhat decadent refined vibrato of many great hot trumpeters of to day, Armstrong not excluded), and now and then a delightful open growl. Generally he is playing in a rather marked legato style.
He pairs a rich fantasy to a fully faultless technical capability. This evening Johnny Dunn had much trouble with his lip and nevertheless there was no slip or weak moment. I don’t think that anybody noticed these lip troubles. Nowhere he indulged into tastelessness or high notes. It is just impossible to mention all good choruses played by Johnny Dunn. I do remember ‘After You’ve Gone’, ‘Baby Won’t You Please Come Home’, ‘Shine’, ‘St.Louis Blues’. (During the ’64 interview Ed Roos also mentioned Pretty Baby –AvD). Furthermore, let it be said that Johnny Dunn is no longer physically able to play several choruses in a row. That’s why he cannot be fully compared to trumpeters such as Cootie and Coleman, and certainly in America he would be seriously handicapped. But this does not mean that he is inferior to those who can actually do that. Because there is no lack of fantasy here (of which he has a great amount), but of physical disability, caused by a long career as star-trumpeter, a fault that even more damaged Freddie Jenkins.
I close with expressing the hope that from now on people will have a little more admiration for this great negro musician than shown in the past.”


At this time Dunn lived in Amsterdam in the attic of a boarding house at the Kloveniersburgwal in the heart of Amsterdam. Roos visited him there often. Amsterdam had several black musicians from Surinam, at that time a Dutch colony in South America. They also often came to see Dunn there. But he was already quite ill. The final year that Roos came to see Dunn, his landlady would say “He is very bad again, he gave up blood again”. But Roos says: “Johnny was not an alcoholic. When he was working he would not touch a drop; he wanted to ensure that he gave the audience value for money. He may have had tuberculosis, or asthma or bronchitis. He was just waiting for the end, though he never said so. And he drank just to forget.” Roos helped him to write a letter in French to Josephine Baker asking for help, but no reply came. Roos also remembered that Dunn gave guitar lessons and of course trumpet lessons in his lodging room. Teddy Cotton, one of the Surinamese, and Walter Rens, a band leader, had lessons from Dunn. And there were two shoe boxes full of old letters, yellowed photographs and copyrights. Roos also remembered how Johnny would start every show with his 2 meter long trumpet, playing Some Of These Days.


Joost van Praag’s fine review showed great appreciation for this major musician and it was long overdue. But it came too late to be of use to Dunn. It already referred to Dunn’s lip trouble and his poor health. By the time it was published, Dunn had to refuse an offer from Lex van Spall to join his band again, even for a tour to Switzerland. But within the next few months Dunn did leave Holland and went back to Paris. According to Ed Roos it was as a member of Julian Fuhs’ Orchestra. In Paris his health worsened and on 20 August 1937 Johnny Dunn died in the US Hospital in Paris, probably of tuberculosis.


By the time of his death he had been away so long from the American music scene that some people there thought he had been dead for a long time. One of these was a certain M. W. Stearns (Marshall?) who, in May 1937, had said so in a music magazine, whereupon, in June, he got a strong response from a reader who mentioned that Dunn “now has a white band in Amsterdam.” This publicity, too, came too late. Guitarist John Mitchell of Willie Lewis’ band and a former close musical colleague of Dunn informed Ed Roos: “Old man music maker is dead.”


The interviews mentioned above were all done in the late sixties. With the exception of Charles Gelauff, they have all gone from this world. I still appreciate their help in getting this article completed.

Listing of Johnny Dunn’s known engagements from his arrival in The Netherlands in 1933. (All with own band unless otherwise noted).

1933 Oct - Dec Amsterdam, Tuschinsky and La Gaite, Amsterdam (with Chocolate Kiddies)

1934 Jan Amsterdam, Tuschinsky and La Gaite, Amsterdam (with Chocolate Kiddies)
Feb-May The Hague, ‘t Zuid (with Chocolate Kiddies
July/Aug. The Hague, ‘t Zuid
Sep. Rotterdam, Pschorr
Oct. Groningen (?) (with Freddy Johnson’s band)
Nov/Dec Laren, Hamdorff (late November a short engagement in Den Helder)

1935 Jan Laren, Hamdorff
Feb Amsterdam, Papillon
Mar The Hague, Tabaris
Apr Rotterdam, Mephisto
May - Aug Rotterdam, Cosmopoliet
Sep (and Oct?) Utrecht, Dietsche Taveerne
Nov Groningen, Astoria
Dec Not in The Netherlands(?), in Denmark (?)
1936 Feb De Bilt, Hotel Poll (Johnny and his Band, not really Dunn?)
Jul Haarlem, Dreefzicht

1937 Feb Haarlem, Dreefzicht

May Haarlem, Dreefzicht

Unknown date Amsterdam, Heck’s

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Photographs and captions:
1. Fall 1933: Chocolate Kiddies led by Lex van Spall and Jascha Trabsky. L-R: Jake Green, Rolf Goldstein, Aat Swart, Johnny Dunn, Maurits Poons, Lex van Spall, Bobby ‘t Sas, Jacques Mirgorodsky, Horace Eubanks, Jascha Trabsky
2-4 Three shots from December 1933 Shuffle Off To Buffalo movie, “alternate take”
2-5.1 Opening shot, L-R: Jake Green, Maurits Poons, Rolf Goldstein, Johnny Dunn, Bobby ‘t Sas, Jacques Mirgorodsky
2-5.2 Dunn takes a chorus: Swart (partial), Goldstein, Dunn, Poons, Van Spall (partial)
2-5.3 Final shot: . Jake Green, Aat Swart, Rolf Goldstein, Maurits Poons, Johnny Dunn, Lex van Spall, Bobby ‘t Sas, Johnny Becker, Jascha Trabsky (Mirgorodsky hidden behind Van Spall)
6. 1935: Street parade in Rotterdam. Peter Sijpesteyn, clarinet, John Mok (?), tenor saxophone, Johnny Dunn, unknown, trumpet. Other unknown bystanders including what looks like a Salvation Army officer

Copyright 2001, Ate van Delden

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