Freddie Keppard (sometimes rendered as Freddy Keppard) (February 27, 1889 - July 15, 1933) was an early jazz cornetist.
Keppard was born in the Creole of Color community of downtown New Orleans, Louisiana. He grew up and worked as a shoe shine on Basin Street before he was a musician, His older brother Louis Keppard was also a professional musician. Freddie played violin, mandolin, and accordion before switching to cornet. After playing with the Olympia Orchestra he joined Frankie Dusen's Eagle Band, taking the place recently vacated by Buddy Bolden. Soon after Bolden was off the music scene, Keppard was proclaimed "King Keppard" as the city's top horn player (see: jazz royalty). This was mostly because he kept Buddy's style, which was popular but had not been recorded.
About 1914 Joe "King" Oliver won a musical "cutting contest" and claimed Keppard's crown. Soon after Keppard accepted an offer to join Bill Johnson's band in Los Angeles, California.
Johnson and Keppard's band formed as the Original Creole Orchestra which toured the Vaudeville circuit, giving other parts of the USA a first taste of the music that was not yet known as "jazz". While playing a successful engagement in New York City in 1915 the band was offered a chance to record for the Victor Talking Machine Company. This would probably have been the first jazz recording. An often repeated story says that Keppard didn't want to record because then everyone else could "steal his stuff." Another well known story is that he worried so about being copied that he sometimes played with a handkerchief over his hand to conceal his fingering. The recording company offered him $25 flat fee to make a record (a fairly standard rate for non-star performers at the time), far less than he was earning on the vaudeville circuit. His retort to this offer, according to Lawrence Gushee, was: "Twenty-Five dollars? I drink that much gin in a day!" The reminiscences of the other members of the Creole Orchestra reveal that another factor was that the Victor representative had asked them to make a "test recording" without pay The band balked, fearing it was a ploy to have them make records without being paid.
About 1917 Keppard settled in Chicago, which would remain his home (except for briefly going to the East Coast to work with Tim Brymn's band about 1920). Keppard worked in Chicago both as a soloist and with the bands of Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Erskine Tate, Doc Cook (for several years), Don Pasquall, and Lil Hardin Armstrong. Keppard was one of the first to bring jazz to the West Coast.
Keppard made all his known recordings in Chicago from 1923 to 1927. The only recordings he is certainly on are three sides under his own name ("Freddie Keppard's Jazz Cardinals"), two with Erskine Tate's Vendome Orchestra, and a dozen with Doc Cooke's Orchestra. These feature Keppard on second cornet. Second cornet was the logical and quite demanding seat for the premier cornetist in a two-cornet band, as evidenced by Louis Armstrong's role (one example of many) in similar sized bands and orchestras around the same period. His "Stockyard Strut" is an improvisation on the chords of "Tiger Rag". Keppard contributed to the Doc Coooke recordings, where he plays the 'walking-talking' style of Stomp Cornet that pre-dates jazz by about a half generation. It follows ragtime by the same margin. Keppard may have appeared on a few other recordings; many more are often dubiously attributed to him. Keppard was widely imitated both in New Orleans and Chicago, including contemporaneous and highly regarded players such as Louis Panico and Frank Guarante.
Many contemporaries said that either Keppard was past his prime when he recorded or that his recordings do not do him justice. Even with the constraints, the recordings demonstrate that Keppard was a very proficient player and an adventurous improviser. Keppard's style is much more raggy compared to Oliver's blues-tinged style. While Oliver had more admirers, to some extent preference was a matter of taste. Jelly Roll Morton, Lil Hardin Armstrong, and Wellman Braud all thought Keppard superior to Oliver.
Several musicians with clear memories of Buddy Bolden said that Freddie Keppard sounded the most like Bolden of anyone who recorded. This is how Keppard got his fame but also how he lost it. Keppard did not have a sound of his own and he came up in between Buddy, Oliver, and Armstrong. Keppard was extremely talented but was not unique.
Keppard suffered from alcoholism and tuberculosis in his final years. He died in Chicago, largely forgotten.
^ Hazeldine, Mike. "Original Creole Band", in Kernfeld, Barry. ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, 2nd Edition, Vol. 3. London: MacMillan, 2002. p. 200.,
^ Souchon, Edmund. "Jazz in New Orleans," Music Educators Journal 43.6 (1957): 42-5. Web.,
^ Carter, William. Some Historic New Orleans Jazz Performers, San Francisco, CA: San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation, 1996. /z-wcorg/. Web.,
^ David Dicaire, Jazz Musicians of the Early Years, to 1945 (North Carolina: McFarland & Company Inc., 2003),
^ Cherry, Hank. "Freddie Keppard: The King of in-between," Off Beat 2012 Print.