It’s sort of set up like a slideshow, and doesn’t take all that long (20 minutes?) to read through, so I recommend taking a peek. But I’ll mention a couple of things that I was interested to learn about.
To be a little more precise about the subject matter, Riverboat Jazz gives an overview of jazz’s role in “the ‘excursion’ trade,” which involved relatively short trips — a day, an afternoon, an evening — in riverboats that had, instead of staterooms for sleeping, a big bandstand and floor for dancing and maybe dining. Captain John Streckfus, of the Streckfus line, plied this trade from New Orleans to St. Paul, and is credited as perhaps the key innovator of this form of diversion. His vessel named J.S. was, in 1901, “the first riverboat on the Mississippi specially outfitted” for such trips.
A subsequent Streckfus vessel, the S.S. Sidney, had a band led by a man with the extraordinary name of Fate Marable — “without a doubt the most famous riverboat bandleader.” Marable was from Kentucky, and apparently started out using other Kentucky musicians, but by 1918/9 had moved on to a band made up of New Orleans players. (The history says: “it was Fate that organized the first New Orleans band for the Streckfus steamers.” I had to read that twice to get that Fate meant Fate Marable, not Fate itself. Or maybe it’s a mix of the two!) Who was in this band? Louis Armstrong, Warren “Baby” Dodds, Johnny Dodds, Johnny St. Cyr, and George “Pops” Foster.
The Sidney (later renamed the Washington) was “the first boat to feature a New Orleans band on the river, and it helped to spread the word about the special talents of Crescent City musicians,” the history notes, continuing:
The Streckfus excursions ran from New Orleans to St. Paul, Minnesota, allowing numerous opportunities for patrons up and down the Mississippi River to hear what these players had to offer. Thus, musicians in places such as St. Louis, Missouri, and Davenport, Iowa, gained exposure to New Orleans style music, although it was confined to some extent by the guidelines set down by Marable and Captain Joe Streckfus. Even so, musicians and dancers alike could tell that New Orleans players were somehow different. As Captain C. W. Elder claimed, “None of the others had what was called good solid beat rhythm music with the Dixieland flavor.” One may safely conclude, then, that much of the success of the Streckfus Steamboat Line in developing the excursion trade after World War I rested on the special abilities of the New Orleans bands and the jazz flavor they brought to their performances.
There isn’t a great deal of information here — or possibly, anywhere — about what the repertoire was, beyond “popular tunes of the day.” It seems that “hotter” New Orleans jazz was “kept to a minimum,” and there was little if any representation of blues tunes. (You may recall that “jass” had yet to be embraced by the New Orleans elite in 1918.) Still, at the time, the history says: “For a New Orleans musician, working on the riverboats was one of the best jobs available.”
Check the whole thing here.