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#LADIESOFPRESHALL: Jeanette Kimball Biography

#LADIESOFPRESHALL: Jeanette Kimball Biography

Jeanette Salvant Kimball (piano, organ) b. December 18, 1908 (Pass Christian, Mississippi) / d. March 29, 2001 (Charleston, South Carolina)

Jeanette Salvant was raised by her mother, Susan “Susie” Salvant, a cook for a private family, and her father Julius “June” Salvant, a carpenter, along with her older sister, Octavia, and two younger brothers, Julius and Gaines. Listed in the U.S. census variously as “B” for black and “Mu” for mulatto, the Salvants were English speakers, with French Creole of color heritage. Both Susan and Julius Salvant had been born in Louisiana, but had relocated to Pass Christian, in Harrison County, Mississippi.

Located less than 70 miles east of New Orleans, Pass Christian was a logical stop along the way for New Orleans bands on Gulf Coast tours, making the small town conducive to an introduction to jazz in the early 1900s. Jeanette’s strict upbringing prevented her from attending public dances where these traveling groups played–even in her late teens–but she was able to hear these bands, including Sam Morgan’s, Kid Rena’s, Tom Albert’s, and, later, Papa Celestin’s when they would ballyhoo their way through town. To ballyhoo is to advertise a band’s wares by playing from the backs of trucks. It is doubtful that she heard the role of the piano in these bands, or saw the pianists (who were frequently women) since pianos were not generally carted along on these mobile previews-of-coming attractions.1 But she did gain a familiarity with the music of New Orleans jazz bands from hearing their piano-less ensembles, quite literally as they traveled through town. Jeanette’s own musical life began quite early, despite the fact that she was the only person in her family whose interest in music was more than casual. [2] In addition to hearing jazz bands on the backs of trucks, she gained exposure to music from the Catholic church, social, and school events, from the records that her family had at home, and from piano lessons. Her sister Octavia, who was three years older, took piano lessons, but only Jeanette became a serious musician. [3] Her mother decided to get her a music teacher when Jeanette proved her talents by playing the piano when they visited other people’s houses. [4] She began taking lessons at age seven, and was teaching music by the time she was fourteen. [5] In one interview, she told of a music class she taught to children and adults at the age of eleven. [6] Throughout her life, she would continue to study music, and to play at home alone. She enjoyed all kinds of styles besides jazz, including classical, semi-classical, and opera. [7]

Kimball regularly credited her piano teacher with giving her the training that would solidify her reputation as a player who could sight-read anything and transpose on the spot. "I had a good teacher,” she wrote to historian D. Antoinette Handy. “Her name was Anna Stewart, a graduate of Boston Conservatory. And I just loved music always and had a natural talent from God, which my deceased mother recognized--God bless her soul." [8] In another interview, she said that Stewart was a graduate of the New England Conservatory, rather than the Boston Conservatory. [9] In either case, it seems that Stewart was a conservatory trained musician, who did not only teach her gifted bass, and harmony. [10] In fact, Stewart’s method, which Kimball would continue to uphold, began with a strong foundation in music theory. [11] Kimball told William Russell that she “lived at the piano” when she began taking lessons from Anna Stewart, that she took three lessons a week, for which Stewart charged a weekly total of fifty cents. She recalled that while boys as well as girls took piano lessons in her home town, there were more girls. She also remembered another talented piano student, Ruby May Townsend, who became a public school music teacher later on. [12] Jeanette gained ensemble experience as a child, when she played in a string band consisting of Harry Watson, mandolin and leader; Eddie Watson, guitar; Henry Watson, banjo; Murray bass, and herself on piano. [13] This band played at a hotel, the Inn by the Sea. [14]

Though some accounts say 1925, and others 1926, it was probably the summer or fall of 1925 when Papa “Oscar” Celestin stopped long enough on one of his trips through Pass Christian to audition a new pianist for the band he was in the process of reorganizing. [15] Celestin had parted ways with his longtime co-leader of the Original Tuxedo Orchestra, trombonist William “Bebe” Ridgely, who had managed to retain the name of the band, plus many of the musicians, including the pianist, Emma Barrett. [16] Celestin worked with several pianists after that, including Manuel Manetta, but was seeking a permanent person for the band. On the recommendation of a friend of the Salvants’ in New Orleans, Celestin, along with his alto saxophonist Paul Barnes paid a visit to audition Jeanette in her home. She had just graduated from high school. Although she was accustomed to sheet music scored specifically for piano, she was leader made the same promise he had previously made Emma Barrett’s mother: if her daughter could join his orchestra, he would personally look out for her safety. There had been at least two women pianists in Celestin’s band before Salvant, including Barrett and Sadie Goodson. Even though Jeanette was in her late teens and had never been far from home, her mother allowed her to join the band, in part because of Celestin’s promise, and also because the family had many relatives and friends in New Orleans. In fact, Jeanette would live with a friend of her mother’s until she married Narvin Kimball in 1929. [17]

Celestin’s new eight-piece band was called the Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra, and competed with Ridgely’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra for what were known as “society” jobs. Jeanette Kimball would recall her first job with Celestin as an engagement at the Pythian Temple Roof Garden where Manuel Perez's band was also playing. Mercedes Fields was Perez’s pianist, and remembered this job as being September 19, 1926. However, as Jempe de Donder points out, this may be a few months off, since her first recording with Celestin took place in April 1926. [18] Besides Celestin, on trumpet and cornet, the band included Paul Barnes (alto sax), Sidney Carrere (tenor sax), John Marrero (banjo), Simon Marrero (bass or tuba), August Rousseau (trombone), Abbey “Chinee” Foster (drums), and Jeanette Kimball piano. The band played mostly stock arrangements, though sometimes Paul Barnes and John Marrero wrote for the band. This band played society jobs, Carnival balls for both black and white organizations, and on the Capitol river boat. More recordings would follow, also for Columbia, in 1927 and 1928. [19] Among the tunes she recalled recording with the band were "Station Calls," written by John Marrero, and Paul Barnes’s "My Josephine."

Two or three years after she joined, Celestin switched to a larger 14-piece band format. The larger band did not perform stock arrangements as had the previous group, but played special arrangements by alto saxophonist Cecil Thornton. Jeanette remembered enjoying Thornton’s arrangements because the piano parts were challenging. John Marrero and Paul Barnes had left by this time. Banjo player Narvin Kimball, whom Jeanette would marry in 1929, was hired to fill the vacancy left by Marrero. The personnel changed frequently at this point. Jeanette, who sang as well as played piano when she lived in Pass Christian, also sang some with the big band. [20]

Celestin’s larger band toured a great deal. Narvin Kimball recalled that in 1929 or 1930 the band began playing at hotels in Biloxi, Mississippi. [21] Narvin recalled that Jeanette’s skills were well suited for traveling. “One thing that she could do at sight ... when you’d go in certain places the pianos weren’t tuned correctly. She would make immediate transposing. She was a very good musician.” [22] Jeanette Kimball told William Russell that the band was kept constantly busy, and traveled throughout the South. [23] The band toured Mexico in 1932. [24]

Jeanette played in the big band until 1935. She quit to raise her two daughters, but continued to take college courses, in music and other subjects. This is not to say that she quit playing during this period altogether. On the contrary, she taught music and took what playing jobs that she could do while raising her children. She became the organist and choir director of the Holy Ghost Catholic Church. In 1946, she played with a six-piece group led by Buddy Charles at the Dew Drop Inn. Then from 1949-53, she played with Herbert Leary’s dance band. She referred to these bands as “stationary” bands since they didn’t require her to travel. [25] She and Narvin co- composed “My Memphis Baby.” The marriage to Narvin did not last, but she retained the name Kimball. She also taught her own girls piano during this time period, but interestingly, did not want them to be professional musicians.

After a nineteen year break from Celestin’s orchestra, Jeanette rejoined his band in 1953. [26] On May 8, 1953, Jeanette was at the piano when Papa Celestin’s band played at the White House for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. She recorded several times in the 1950s for the Southland label: including the sides issued on L.P. as Papa Celestin’s Golden Wedding, which included the popular recording of “Marie Leveaux,” named for the famous voodoo priestess of New Orleans.

Celestin died in December 1954. The band continued under the leadership of Eddie Pierson, then Albert “Papa” French, though it continued to be called the Celestin band. Jeanette played with this band until 1977, while also playing and recording with other groups. She traveled a great deal while playing in the Celestin “ghost” band, including tours of the British West Indies, France, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. [27]

In the 1970s she was one of the pianists most in demand in New Orleans, for both gigs and recordings. In 1979, she became a member of the newly formed Original Camillia Band, led by English trumpeter Clive Wilson. She became one of the regular players at Preservation Hall with two different bands: Clive Wilson’s Original Camillia Jazz Band, and Kid Sheik. She traveled to Paris with the Preservation Hall Jazz band in 1979. According to Benjamin Jaffe, Kimball was “highly regarded as a musical innovator in New Orleans traditional jazz.” He recalled her as “a very dignified person. Always very well-dressed. A stickler for doing things the right way.” [28]

In February and March of 1980, Jeanette recorded an album under her own name, Sophisticated Lady (New Orleans NOR 7208). Primarily a trio and quartet setting with her colleagues from the Originally Camillia Jazz Band, this album leaves an excellent record of her piano style. One reviewer wrote, “Jeanette Kimball’s style is unique. Her very extensive background in all styles of music has allowed her to move a considerable distance from the usual New Orleans style of jazz piano. She plays in a clipped, staccato manner with a very unusual approach to the rhythm.” The reviewer praised her ability to “build tension and interest” by varying her relationship to the beat, a little ahead, or a little behind. [29]

When Kimball began having health problems In the late 1990s, her daughters Barbara Massey and Evangeline Kimball Donnelley convinced her to retire. Kimball left New Orleans to divide her time between her daughters and their families in Ohio and South Carolina.

She died at the age of 94 on March 29, 2001.

"She only retired three or four years ago when I removed her from New Orleans bodily," Massey said. [30] She only missed two things about New Orleans: Preservation Hall and the Holy Ghost Catholic Church. 

Biography courtesy of"A Feminist Perspective on New Orleans Jazz Women" by Sherrie Tucker commissioned by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.

Featured photo courtesy of the Ralston Crawford Collection.

Notes


1. Bruce Raeburn confirms that the photographic evidence would indicate that
pianos were not placed on trucks for the purposes of advertising a band, even if the
band’s instrumentation included piano. Pianos were hard enough to keep in tune in the
Louisiana (and Mississippi) humidity without driving them around in the backs of trucks
on bumpy roads! Email correspondence with Bruce Raeburn, 12-15-2003.

2. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History, interviewed by William Russell, February
10. 1962. Oral History Digest--Retyped. 1 [of 2], Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane.

3. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History. Also present, Lars Edegran Barry
Martyn, Richard B. Allen. Property of Barry Martyn. Oral History Digest, June 16. 1969,
Reel 1, Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University.

4. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, oral history, June 16, 1969, 1.

5. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, interviewed by film-maker Kay D. Ray for Lady Be
Good: Instrumental Women in Jazz. Video # 301, in possession of Kay D. Ray.

6. Jeanette Kimball, interviewed by William Russell, February 10, 1962, I (of 2)–
Digest–Retyped, 3-4. Also mentioned in Jempe de Donder, "The First Lady of New
Orleans Piano," Appeared in Dutch in Doctor Jazz Magazine (Sept. 86) 26-28, but is in
English in Old Mint vertical file, 9.

7. Jeanette Kimball, oral history, June 16, 1969, Reel I (only), 4.

8. From correspondence from Jeanette Kimball to D. Antoinette Handy, January 11,
1978, quoted in Handy, Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras. 2nd Edition.
Lantham, MD and Kent, England: Scarecrow Press, 1998. 236-7.

9. Jeanette Kimball, oral history, June 16, 1969, Reel I (only), 3.

10. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History Digest, June 16, 1969.

11. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History, interviewed by William Russell, February
10, 1962, II of (2)–Digest–Retyped, 8.

12. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History Digest, February 10, 1962, 4.

13. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History Digest, June 16, 1969.

14. Jeanette Salvant Kimball, Oral History Digest, February 10, 1962, 4.

15. While Salvant recalled that her first job with Celestin was September 19, 1926,
Jempi de Donder points out that she must have joined earlier since she made her first
recordings with Celestin in April 1926 on Columbia. de Donder, 10.

16. Samuel B. Charters, Jazz: New Orleans: 1885-1963, (New York: Oak
Publications, Revised Edition, 1963), 69, 137.

17. de Donder, 10.

18. de Donder, 10.
19. There is much disagreement on the personnel of these recordings. They are
currently available on CD, Jazz Oracle, BDW 8002, Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin Recorded in
New Orleans 1925-1928: The Complete Recordings in Chronological Order and Azure
AZ CD-12.

20. Jeanette Kimball, oral history, June 16, 1969, Reel I (only), 3.

21. Narvin Kimball, oral history, interviewed by William Russell, November 25, 1961,
II (of 2)–Digest–Retyped, 7.

22. Oral history, Narvin H. Kimball. Interviewer, Barry Martyn. December 21, 1998,
New Orleans, LA.

23. Jeanette Kimball, oral history, interviewed by William Russell, February 10, 1962,
II (of 2)–Digest–Retyped, 7.

24. “Celestine Band to leave for Mexico,” Louisiana Weekly, February 13, 1932, 8.

25. Jeanette Kimball, oral history, interviewed by William Russell, February 10, 1962,
II (of 2)–Digest–Retyped, 8.

26. While Jeanette said that she rejoined Celestin in 1953, Jempi de Donder
suggests that she was already playing with the band again in 1951.

27. Wiegand, Bill. "Jeannette (Sic) Salvant Kimble (Sic), Much Traveled Pianist is
Native of Gulf Coast." States-Item February 6 1964: unknown, Old Mint vertical file.

28. Lynn Jensen, “Jeanette S. Kimball, pioneer jazz pianist,” Times-Picayune, April
4, 2001, B-4. Newcomb vertical files.

29. Duke Darnell, Record Review, Sophisticated Lady, NOR 727, published in
Second Line Summer 1982. Old Mint.

30. Lolis Eric Elie, “Jazz World Loses a Luminary,” Times-Picayune, April 4, 2001,
page unknown. Vertical file, Hogan Jazz Archive.

Bibliography
 

Primary Sources
Kimball, Jeanette Salvant, interviewed by film-maker Kay D. Ray for Lady Be Good:
Instrumental Women in Jazz. Video # 301, in possession of Kay D. Ray.

Kimball, Jeanette Salvant. Oral History Digest. Interviewed by Lars Edegran Barry
Martyn, and Richard B. Allen, June 16, 1969. Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane
University, New Orleans.


Kimball, Jeanette Salvant. Oral History Digest–Retyped. Interviewed by William
Russell, February 10, 1962. Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, New
Orleans.


Kimball, Narvin H. Oral history. Interviewer, Barry Martyn. December 21, 1998, New
Orleans. Video. New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park Office, New
Orleans, Louisiana. Also available at Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University,
New Orleans, Louisiana.


Kimball, Narvin H. Oral history. Interviewer, William Russell, November 25, 1961. Reel
II (of 2)–Digest–Retyped. Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University, New Orleans,
Louisiana.

Secondary Sources
“Celestin Band to Leave for Mexico,” Louisiana Weekly February 13, 1932, 8.
Charters, Samuel B. Jazz: New Orleans: 1885-1963, (New York: Oak Publications,
Revised Edition, 1963), 69, 137.

de Donder, Jempi. "The First Lady of New Orleans Piano." Unknown source. Vertical
file, Old Mint. (This article appeared in Dutch in Doctor Jazz Magazine Sept. 86,
26-28, but the English language version in the Old Mint files has no publication
information, though the pages numbers are: : 9-15).

Elie, Lolis Eric. "Jazz World Loses a Luminary." Times-Picayune, April 4, 2001, page
unknown. Vertical file, Hogan Jazz Archive.

Handy, D. Antoinette. Black Women in American Bands and Orchestras. 2nd Edition.
Lantham, MD and Kent, England: Scarecrow Press, 1998. 236-7.

Jensen, Lynne. "Jeanette S. Kimball, Pioneer Jazz Pianist." Times-Picayune April 4
2001: B-4. Vertical file, Newcomb.

“Papa Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Band Back from Europe,” The Second Line,
November-December, 1964, vol. XV, no. 11 and 12, 18.

Rose, Al, and Edmond Souchon. New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album, third edition,
revised and enlarged (Baton Rouge and London: Louisiana State University
Press, 1984), 67.

Vacher, Peter. "Jeanette Kimball, New Orleans Pianist Who Played Dixieland Jazz with
Key Bands for 70 Years." The Guardian, http://www.guardian.com.co.uk April 20
2001: no page numbers listed on website.

Wiegand, Bill. "Jeannette (Sic) Salvant Kimble (Sic), Much Traveled Pianist is Native of
Gulf Coast." States-Item February 6 1964: unknown, Old Mint vertical file.
 

Discography


New Orleans Records NOR 7208
Sophisticated Lady: Trios and Quartets, Jeanette Kimball (piano), with Clive Wilson
(trumpet), Herb Hall (clarinet), Waldron “Frog” Johnson (trombone), Les Muscutt (guitar
and banjo), Frank Fields (bass), Freddie Kohlman (drums).

With Don Albert
Southland SLP239, “Roses of Picardie,” “Lily of the Valley,” “Holding My Savior’s Hand,”
“After the Ball is Over.” New Orleans, September 1962. Don Albert (trumpet), Frog
Joseph (trombone), Louis Cottrell (clarinet), Jeanette Kimball (piano), Placide Adams
(bass), Paul Barbarin (drums), Sister Elisabeth Eustis and Choir (vocal on “Lily of the
Valley” and “Holding My Savior’s Hand”). (Bruyninckx, A69.)

With Oscar “Papa” Celestin
Jazz Oracle, BDW 8002, Celestin’s Original Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra/Sam Morgan’s Jazz
Band (CD includes Jeanette Salvant’s first recordings with Celestin, 1926-28), also
Azure AD CD-12.

"After Hours" By Jeanette Kimball From Sophisticated Lady

"After Hours" By Jeanette Kimball From Sophisticated Lady

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OffBeat: Quiana Lynell And Preservation All-Stars To Perform Ella Fitzgerald Songbook