Alcide "Yellow" Nunez

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

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

[photo of Nunez, 1918]

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, 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 Dixeland 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 concidered 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 concidered 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 copywrites 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 concidered to be a boost to the band, but were not seen as having commercial potential to write down and copywrite. 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 compeating 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.

Photo of Nunez from 1918 courtesy of Eugene Nunez


A More Detailed Biography of Alcide Nunez (under construction) Additional material, 11/12 April 2001 *

Early Years In New Orleans
Up to Chicago with the Original Dixieland Jass Band
Chicago 1917-1918 and the Livery Stable Case
On to New York City *
The Louisiana Five Jazz Band *
Baltimore to Oklahoma & other Travels *
Chicago in the Roaring 1920s
Final Years Back Home In New Orleans *
Biography Sources & Acknowledgements *


Other Alcide Nunez related pages:

Nunez's Influence on Pee Wee Russell and others
Alcide Nunez in New Orleans Nunez remembered from Oral History
Snapshots from Nunez Family Album
Photos of Nunez & The Lousiana Five Band


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Last modified: 12 April 2001

© 2000 - 2001 D.C. Meyer


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