VOLTAIRE DE FAUT - By Ate van Delden


It is surprising to see how often Volly De Faut’s name pops up in early Chicago jazz. De Faut is on photos of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and built an impressive discography of recordings with Jelly Roll Morton, Muggsy Spanier, Jean Goldkette, Ray Miller, Merritt Brunies and Boyd Senter. Several of those recordings were done for the Autograph label, which were produced for distribution in the Chicago area and consequently sold poorly, making them great rarities . This may be one reason why De Faut still one of the most obscure white musicians from the days of jazz’s beginnings. Such is the musical importance of his recorded legacy that I felt it was time to redress De Faut’s reputation and correct some of the fallacies and mistakes that have been made over the years. Time and again this has proved necessary. A Dutch jazz monthly published an article about Jack Pettis, but the photograph depicted De Faut instead of Pettis (who is on another NORK photograph). William Russell’s monumental book on Jelly Roll Morton has a short interview with De Faut with a photograph which is said to show him, but actually it shows piano player Mel Stitzel. And the recent Retrieval CD’s with all the NORK’s recordings has another fault (or Faut?): a photo shows only half of Volly and only mentions his colleague Jack Pettis. Time to act. According to John Chilton’s ‘Who’s Who of Jazz’, Voltaire “Volly” De Faut was born on 14 March, 1904, in Little Rock, Arkansas’ capitol city, but his family moved to Chicago when he was six. He grew up in Chicago’s South Side and there he went to Englewood High School. Pianist Mel Stitzel went to the same school and later on they would work together in a number of bands. Clarinet and saxophonist Don Murray also came from the same Chicago area. In common with many reed players, De Faut’s first instrument was the violin. He started with it when he was six, when his family moved to Chicago, but at the age of fourteen he switched to clarinet and saxophone.

When he was seventeen, De Faut had his first professional engagement, at a summer holiday resort. After that he went to Texas with Roy Wetzel, a piano player who arranged player piano rolls for QRS. The following year, 1922, he had his first engagements in Chicago, with Sig Meyers’ band. Cornet player Muggsy Spanier and New Orleans bass player Arnold Loyacano were also in the Meyers band. From this engagement some major activities spun off for De Faut. Loyacano had been in the first incarnation of the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, even before they recorded, and also Muggsy had been occasionally sitting in with the band. Thus Volly De Faut quickly became acquainted with them and even became a band member but, like Loyacano and Spanier, he didn’t record with them. He was the successor to saxophone player Jack Pettis, who left to join Ben Bernie’s Orchestra in New York. De Faut also played with the Midway Gardens Orchestra and with Art Kassel’s band, but again didn’t appear on any of their records. Unfortunately Sig Meyers’ band, despite a high reputation in Chicago musical circles, never found their way onto record. But clearly De Faut did not have to complain about lack of work. When Art Hodes interviewed him for Downbeat magazine, De Faut told him that at one time he was playing with three bands. From 12 noon to 2pm in the Canton Tea Garden, from 3 till 6pm at the Moulin Rouge Cafe and then at his regular job at the Friars Inn with the NORK, from 1 am until 6 in the morning. All three locations were owned by Mike Fritzel and were on the corner of Wabash Avenue and Van Buren Avenue. The Friars Inn was a “hang out”, a location where customers came in late and stayed late. Gangsters such as Al Capone and Dion O’Bannion were customers as well as a more bohemian crowd, including theatre artists. Its reputation was such that it was filled to capacity every night. Pay was good: a seven day week in the Friars Inn earned De Faut $150 plus $ 100 in tips. One customer would give $ 1000 as a tip; another gave $ 500. One customer, high on bootleg liquor, liked to tear a hundred dollar bill in pieces and give the pieces to different members of the band. De Faut told Hodes that they had somebody in the band who would take them home and glue them together again. De Faut’s father, who loved opera, showed little interest in the kind of music his son was playing until it became clear how to much could be earned from it. Later on De Faut Sr. became a vice-president of the Brunswick Balke Collender Company, and through him Volly learned that Ray Miller received a $ 100,000 advance payment on a record contract.

In the same Downbeat article De Faut explained why he considered the NORK such a good band: “I’ve never played in a band or heard a band that had the rhythm that band had. I can’t describe it, but at least one or two times a night they would do things to me that I’ve never experienced since… we had Ben Pollack on drums, he was tops. Steve Brown would do things on bass; he picked a bass like no one today. He made the Whiteman band and he didn’t read…” De Faut lived on 35th Street for eight years and listened to all the black bands in the neighbourhood. From 1920 till well into the 1930s the best jazz in the world was played there, according to De Faut. Louis Armstrong played there in the Sunset Cafe and King Oliver was around the corner at the Plantation. Freddie Keppard, who played with Doc Cooke’s band at the nearby Dreamland ballroom, did not impress him very much - power only, but the best trumpet player was Bobby Williams, who died before he got on records (though he may be present on the ‘Sunset Band’ test issued on Frog DGF28 ‘Hot Stuff’ –MB)
Among reed players, Buster Bailey was his favourite. He had studied with the same teacher with whom De Faut’s teacher had studied. De Faut first played an Albert or ‘simple’system clarinet and this teacher got him to change to the more flexible Boehm system. Other De Faut favourites were Don Murray and Omer Simeon (whom he regarded as fine all-round musicians), Johnny Dodds, whose style he regarded as that of a real old-timer, and Jimmie Noone. Leon Roppolo he thought was great. He did not have the technique of the later clarinet players, but nobody could touch him in tone and feeling.

First Records
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As mentioned before, Volly De Faut was a member of excellent bands right from the start of his professional career but he did not record with them. He made his first records in February 1924 for Gennett in Richmond, Indiana. At the time he was playing with Sig Meyers’ Druids at Chicago’s White City Ballroom. With friends from this band, cornet player Muggsy Spanier and banjoist Marvin Saxbe, he formed a studio group with the name The Bucktown Five. Bucktown, near New Orleans, was a rough area and though none of the Five had been there, I have a feeling the band name was meant to convey something rough too.
Apart from pianist Mel Stitzel, who had previously recorded with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings after the departure of their pianist and director Elmer Schoebel, none of the Bucktown Five had recorded before. De Faut was 19 years old, Spanier only 18 and Volly’s old schoolmate Mel Stitzel, a veteran at just 22. Seven titles were recorded that day. Recently all eleven known takes of these recordings were issued for the first time together on a CD (Timeless CBC1080).

Richmond, Indiana, February 1924
11766, -b             Steady Roll Blues
11767                    Mobile Blues
11768, -a             Really A Pain
11769b                 Chicago Blues
11770, -b             Hot Mittens
11771, -b              Buddy’s Habits
11772                   Someday, Sweetheart

They allow us to appreciate how disciplined this group was. Their first title, Steady Roll Blues, had space for solos by front liners De Faut and Spanier, and thus was Volly De Faut’s first recorded solo. Hot Mittens, the fifth title recorded that day, though without a solo by De Faut, had his name on the label as co-composer together with Mel Stitzel and Marvin Saxbe. More solos by De Faut can be heard on Chicago Blues (in the low register) and on Someday, Sweetheart (a fine duet with Saxbe on guitar). The recordings were quickly released by Gennett and created a name for De Faut on the Chicago music scene.

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The Bucktown Five, c.1924. L-R: Muggsy Spanier, Guy Carey, Mel Stitzel, Voltaire De Faut, Marvin Saxbe.

A few weeks later The Benson Orchestra of Chicago recorded a title for Victor, which several collectors regard as a Volly De Faut item.

Chicago, April 1924
29826-3             Lonely Little Wallflow’r

The clarinet player is prominently featured on this record, which has not been reissued so far. His sound gives support to the opinion that it is De Faut. However Brian Rust, who did much research on the Benson Orchestra, doesn’t list De Faut in his discography of the band. This deserves more research.

In the fall of 1924 we find Volly again in a recording studio, now with the band of Merritt Brunies, who succeeded the NORK at the Friars Inn. In Chicago at this time a local record company had started to use an electrical recording process, well before the industry giants Victor, Brunswick and Columbia. This was Autograph, run by the enigmatic and highly talented engineer Orlando Marsh. The resulting records are remarkable for two things – firstly they were the first commercially available electrically recorded discs (disregarding an experimental recording of the unveiling of The Cenotaph in London in 1919) and, because of their limited distribution around the Chicago area exclusively, are among the rarest records in jazz history. The Autograph ‘sound’ is instantly recognisable by its thin, distorted range, but what can be heard is most obviously electrically recorded.

September 1924
613-2             Up Jumped The Devil
614                  Follow The Swallow

Cornet player Merritt Brunies and his brother, trombone player Henry Brunies were brothers of the better known George, one of the NORK members. They had succeeded in giving their band a pure New Orleans sound (as one can hear on LP Retrieval FJ124). That LP not only has the band’s Autographs, but their OKeh recordings as well, made between November 1925 and March 1926. One of the most interesting titles is Up Jumped The Devil, which the band recorded for both labels eighteen months apart. The first version, the Autograph, has a clarinet solo with piano accompaniment, which is lacking in the two OKeh versions.

Not long after his first recordings with the Brunies band, still in the fall of 1924, De Faut recorded two remarkable titles for Autograph. They did not appear on this label however, but on Gennett, who occasionally either leased Marsh Laboratories masters or had them recorded by Marsh on their behalf. Thus they are more easily found than other recordings De Faut made for Autograph. Together with piano player Walter Melrose he accompanied singer Kitty Irvin on the first vocal version of a jazz classic - Copenhagen.

Chicago, October 1924
615             Daddy Do
616             Copenhagen

De Faut plays a fine accompaniment on these recordings, which as far as I know, have not been reissued. Copenhagen was one of publisher Melrose’s greatest hits and a vocal version was deemed necessary to further enhance its popularity. Kitty Irvin’s recording may not have helped much to this purpose, since she almost makes the tune unrecognisable. Many years later De Faut told Art Hodes that he had made the very first recording of Copenhagen. Obviously this cannot be true, because Bix and the Wolverines did this in May 1924, but the possibility exists that De Faut remembered this recording with Kitty Irvin. Another possibility is that he made more recordings with the Benson Orchestra and was thinking of their Victor version from September 1924 and which features a clarinettist sounding remarkably like De Faut (available on Timeless CD1041).
De Faut made further recordings with Merritt Brunies’ band:

Chicago, November 1924
661             Angry
662             I Weep Over You

Chicago, May 1925

793             Flag That Train
Chicago, June 1925

817             Clarinet Marmalade

Some of these titles and also the above-mentioned Up Jumped The Devil, have a piano player who has been listening to Jelly Roll Morton, if it is not Jelly himself indeed, as claimed by the Retrieval LP (for Clarinet Marmalade). This is not that unlikely, because Morton himself belonged to that small circle of artists who recorded for Marsh’s Autograph label. He recorded for this label with his own Kings Of Jazz, with King Oliver and with… Volly De Faut.

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Chicago, May 1925

791             My Gal
792             Wolverine Blues

Chronologically these two recordings belong before Flag That Train by Merritt Brunies, their matrix numbers are immediately following.

Later, in a 1951 Record Changer interview, De Faut said that his work with Morton was fully improvised from beginning to end. “We just sat down and played… afterward Morton wrote out the arrangements.”. De Faut remembered that sometimes Morton allowed somebody to join who played on a comb or a kazoo. Maybe a member of the group who had recorded earlier with Morton for Paramount? It produced the above two titles. Autograph issued the first title under the name of Jelly Roll Morton’s Jazz Trio, but the second as Voltaire De Faut written in full, the only time that De Faut was mentioned as a performing artist on a record label during these years. In 1927 Morton would record Wolverine Blues again with a clarinet player, this time with Johnny Dodds, but De Faut’s original version should not be disregarded.

De Faut made more records with Morton for Autograph than were actually issued. He remembered that for five weeks they made a record every week with a now-forgotten female singer (Could this be Kitty Irvin? MB). These recordings were intended to be sold by a promoter who had his office in the Lyon & Healy Building. Furthermore he recorded with one of the great blues singers, but her name is forgotten too.

His memories about Jelly Roll Morton are too interesting to be left out here. He had much respect for his musicianship. De Faut: “In him the ego was substantiated. In fact it was just a cover-up... for a real inferiority complex. He always spoke of himself in the third person. When I knew him, Morton still had a whorehouse complex…. sang dirty songs and thought they were great. Also he was still hustling pool … Often [we] rehearsed in the Melrose office. [He] was a tremendous worker. If he was working on something, he would sit there for four or five hours at a stretch. At other times we would go out together to hear some new pianist. After he had made three or four trips and was convinced he was better, Jelly would go out again and cut him.”
A few months after these recordings, and still for Autograph, De Faut made two more recordings that can be regarded as classics of early jazz. The success of the Bucktown Five’s Gennetts brought four of its five members back in the studio, without a guitar player this time, but with a drummer and a tuba player added. It only produced two titles, which sound quite different from those Gennetts, in part due to the primitive electrical recording and in part the heavier rhythm section.

Chicago, July 1925

828             Why Can’t It Be Poor Little Me?
829             Everybody Loves My Baby

The Autograph sound once more adds its incomparable rough edge to the overall impression, excellent in its own way.

At this moment in time we reach an uncertain point in Volly De Faut’s career. Checking Rust we find that De Faut was still making records with Merritt Brunies from mid 1925 till March 1926, but from August 1925 with Ray Miller as well, who was in Chicago at the time. Playing in different bands at the same time is possible of course; De Faut had done it before. However, this seems somewhat unlikely in this case. In later interviews De Faut never mentioned the Brunies band but he did mention the bands of Charlie Straight and Ray Miller. Moreover De Faut had a colleague reed player with Brunies, Bill Creger, who had earlier produced a great New Orleans sound with Oliver Naylor’s Orchestra. I believe that he played the same role with Brunies, after De Faut’s left. That is why I do not mention here the remaining sides by Merritt Brunies, recorded by OKeh between November 1925 and March 1926.

In the Art Hodes interview, De Faut mentioned working with Charlie Straight in the Rendez-vous Café in Chicago, a location where young people brought their own bootleg booze. When De Faut was with Straight, one day “[Bix Beiderbecke] came in off a freight train. We got him cleaned up, bought him clean clothes, and he went right to work. But he drank. I saw him sober one night. Tremendous”. Phil Evans dates the period of Bix with Charlie Straight from end of March till beginning of July 1925 (but misses Volly De Faut’s information).
Charlie Straight made no records when De Faut was a member of his band, but Ray Miller’s band did. Here are some interesting Miller sides with De Faut.

Chicago, March 1926

E18317/9             Stomp Your Stuff
E18323/5             I Want You To Want Me To Want You

Chicago, July1926

E19951/2              I’ve Lost My Dog

I Want You can be found on a Timeless CD (CBC1066) and has along solo on alto saxophone, in addition to a clarinet accompaniment behind the vocal. I think both are by De Faut . Also, I’ve Lost My Dog has some (short) solo work by De Faut. I have not heard Stomp Your Stuff.

De Faut said that Miller once owed him $750 for recordings, but he had the habit of losing considerable sums of money by gambling. However one day Volly found Ray with $35,000 in bills under his silk shirt. He got his money!

It is obvious that De Faut preferred to record now and then with different bands instead of being linked to one particular orchestra. In New York, because of its many studios, this was common among jazz musicians but in Chicago it was less easy. Therefore, though larger than heretofore thought, Volly’s recorded output stayed relatively small.

After these 1926 recordings, we have to wait until 1928 before De Faut entered a recording studio again, with a Jean Goldkette outfit. During the intervening years he worked with many orchestra leaders more - during the Hodes interview he mentions Isham Jones, Bennie Krueger and Paul Ash. De Faut’s presence is not 100% confirmed, but here are the most interesting titles from the Goldkette-discography, that might include De Faut:-

Chicago, July 1928

46070-4             Just Imagine
46097-3              That’s Just My Way Of Forgetting You

Chicago, November 1928

48602-1              Sweethearts On Parade
48611-3              That’s What Puts The “Sweet” in Home, Sweet Home
48616-1             Withered Roses
48617-2, -3        My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now
48618-2, -3        Don’t Be Like That

Chicago, January 1929
48602-5              Sweethearts On Parade
48777-3             Take A Good Look at Mine
48778-2             Ya Comin’ Up To-night, Huh?

Some of these titles, in particular those of July and November, have a sound remarkably similar to that of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers of the same period (and often same recording dates) - not only the tight, disciplined type of playing, but the playing of the soloists as well. Since this band and its leader/arranger Don Redman were on Jean Goldkette’s payroll, this is not so surprising. But probably we have studio combinations here of several Goldkette bandsmen with soloists from MKCP. Some of the titles feature clarinet or alto saxophone solos. The clarinet on Forgetting You or on Home, Sweet Home could be De Faut, but my own feeling is that it is not. The same goes for the alto sax on My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now. On the other hand the clarinet solo on Take A Good Look sounds like De Faut to my ears.

So now we reach 1929 when, as De Faut said later, it was all over. He left for Detroit.

The Thirties, Forties, the Army and teaching music.
During the difficult depression years Volly De Faut had a steady job with the orchestra of radio station WGN. During the years 1931-1932 it was directed Adolph Dumont, an “acid, hard-boiled conductor”, according to De Faut. He was always tough on the violin players. He would wave a director’s baton in their face and say: “Two things come from Russia, thieves and fiddlers, and you are not fiddlers”. But towards Volly he was a gentleman. Volly spent at least 9 years with this orchestra. Later on Harold Stokes was leading this orchestra, as shown by an October 1939 Downbeat advertisement for Buescher saxophones. Stokes and De Faut had known each other for a long time: Stokes directed all the above-mentioned Jean Goldkette recordings and also provided the vocals on some of them.

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Voltaire De Faut and Harold Stokes

Although almost 38 years old, in early 1942 DeFaut was drafted into the army. One of his neighbours did not like him too much, and he was a member of the local draft board. De Faut spent two years in Pomona, California, leading a military band as well organising shows for the troops. In one way or another he still found an opportunity to study music for a year at St. Louis University. Thus he could teach music later on at elementary and secondary schools in Buffalo, Oklahoma.

Now and then he would still play with a jazz band; for example with Bud Jacobson’s Jungle Kings. John Steiner even issued a limited edition record of the band, Volly’s first since 1929.

Chicago, July 1945

                        Digga Digga Doo, part 1 and part 2

This recording, issued as White Label 17040, was recorded at the Uptown Players Theatre in Chicago, with some old hands from the Chicago scene: Johnny Mendel (trumpet), Warren Smith (trombone), Bud Jacobson (tenor saxophone and leader), Tut Soper (piano), Jack Goss (guitar), Jim Lannigan (bass), Claude Humphrey (drums). I have never heard these recordings and hope that they show up as a result of this article. Maybe even the unissued sessionmates exist somewhere. Their titles are Cherry, Fast Blues and High Society.
In 1950 De Faut made his final performance as a professional musician. This was a ten week engagement with the band of Doc Evans. Evans’ piano player at the time was Don Ewell. His Morton-like piano style was quite compatible to De Faut’s sound of course.

The Fifties
Volly returned to Chicago, but for a long time he had no work in music. During his California sojourn he had acquired some experience in working with dogs and now he was doing this for a veterinarian. He also started breeding dogs. At various times in this period he also found work as a hotel chef and a house painter.
What was his opinion about the music during the Fifties? He thought that there was progress for all instruments except for guitar. “Today’s guitarist learns three chords – tonic, subdominant and dominant – and in two weeks is a fully-fledged musician”. Some types of jazz had no attraction on him whatsoever, neither the melody, nor the chords. “Some [musicians] seem to feel that if they do something difficult, it’s good. That’s not so... And they’ve done everything electrical you can think of.”
With his traditional approach, Volly re-entered music. Piano player Art Hodes had known him from the days when he had recorded with Jelly Roll Morton and a co-operation started. Volly never got back into music full time, but he performed with Hodes regularly. At last, in 1953 De Faut recorded again, once again for John Steiner, this time as a member of the Art Hodes Trio. Steiner issued them on his resurrected Paramount label, on a small LP, Paramount 112.

Chicago, 10 December 1953

                           Someday Sweetheart
                           Washboard Stomp

These recordings are interesting for several reasons. First of all they allow us to hear Volly De Faut in excellent sound quality and in long solos, which once more prove his talent as an improvising jazz musician. Secondly Jasper Taylor was the drummer for these recordings. Taylor was a real pioneer of jazz - he had been a member of W.C. Handy’s band that had recorded for Columbia in 1917 in New York. Later on he went to Chicago and established a reputation as a top class drummer and xylophonist, recording regularly with the likes of Jimmy Blythe, Freddie Keppard, Johnny Dodds, Jelly Roll Morton as well as under his known name. He also worked in New York again, with Clarence Williams and Joe Jordan. During those years he added the washboard to his percussion kit (according to Baby Dodds, Jasper Taylor invented the washboard in this role. All of these four recordings have been reissued on a Jazzology LP, number J113. This LP has two more Art Hodes Trios, one with Darnell Howard and Baby Dodds, and one with George Lewis and Lawrence Marrero.

As mentioned before, Volly De Faut now became part of the Art Hodes scene. He did numerous tours with Art throughout the USA. Fortunately for posterity they also made some records for Bob Koester’s Delmark label. Koester really loved jazz and started his label about fifty years ago. The numbers in the right column are the Delmark issues.

Chicago, 23 March 1972, quartet recordings with Art Hodes (piano), Truck Parham (bass), Barrett Deems (drums)
                        Struttin’ With Some Barbecue              DS213, DE217(probably different takes)
                        That’s A Plenty                                   DS215
                        After You’ve Gone                             DE217
                        Sleepy Time Down South                    unissued
                        I Know That You Know                     DE217
                        Jackass Blues                                      DE217
                        Bye Bye Blues                                    unissued
                        Up In Volly’s Room                            DE217
                        Sobbin’ Blues                                     DE217
                        Ode To Louis Armstrong                    DE217 (This Ode consists of two titles: Do You Know What It                                                                                        Is To Miss New Orleans and Sleepy Down South)

Chicago, 25 April 1972, recordings by a Dixieland sextet consisting of Nappy Trottier (trumpet), George Brunis (trombone), plus the quartet mentioned above. DS215 is dedicated to the NORK (“NORK revisited”), but does not have its sound, although two of its former members are present.
                        Clarinet Marmalade                               DS215
                        Angry                                                    DS215
                        Sobbin’ Blues                                        DS215
                        Panama                                                 DS215, DE217 (dif ferent takes)
                        Ja Da                                                    DS215, DE217 (dif ferent takes)
                        When My Sugar Walks Down The Street    DS213
                        NORK Blues                                        DS215

DS213 is an LP and also exists as DD213, a CD, but with two additional titles, probably without De Faut: Ballin’ The Jack and One Hour.
DS215 is an LP, DE217 a CD. Delmark also issued tape cassettes.

These are De Faut’s final recordings as far as I know, but I would certainly not be surprised if there are more to be found.

Voltaire “Volly” De Faut passed away on 29 May 1973, in Chicago, at the age of 69.

All photos courtesy of Ate van Delden.