Of all the hundreds of bands to record jazz, there were only a relative handful that stayed home in New Orleans instead of traveling away to Chicago, Los Angeles, or New York, and were recorded playing what might be described as pure, unadulterated jazz, perhaps akin to what was played by the legendary Buddy Bolden’s band. Among the New Orleans hometown bands were those of Armand J. Piron, “Papa” Oscar Celestin, and among the finest of them all, Sam Morgan.
In spite of Morgan’s excellence in music, not much is known about his life. He was born in Bertrandville, Louisiana in the late part of the nineteenth century—most sources state 1895, others offer the date of December 18, 1887. Part of a musical family, his younger brothers Isaiah “Ike”, Al, and Andrew also turned out to be musicians. Sam, like his brother Ike and so many New Orleans greats, took up the cornet. Morgan grew up playing in the brass bands in Plaquemines Parish, and took up residence in New Orleans in the mid-1910s, where he became the director of the Magnolia Brass Band. A stroke around 1925 forced a year of convalescence, but he soon returned to music as a member of Ike’s band, the leadership of which soon became his own. With a sound characterized by a strong reed section at the forefront and a walking bass plucked out on the bullfiddle, Morgan’s band became a popular group in the Crescent City, as Morgan touted in his verse of the eponymous song: “ev’rybody’s talkin’ ’bout Sammy, ’cause Morgan’s got the best go here” (or something to that effect, he’s rather hard to understand). Their repertoire consisted of both hot jazz tunes like “Mobile Stomp” and “Bogalousa Strut” (both of which incidentally drew their names from nearby towns) and traditional hymns and negro spirituals like “Over in the Glory Land” and “Down By the Riverside”. On the side, Morgan ran some kind of a treasure-hunting service. When the Columbia Phonograph Company made a field trip to New Orleans in April of 1927, Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band cut four sides at Werlein’s Music Store, followed by another four that October. Morgan continued to lead his band until 1932, when he suffered a second stroke that put him out of music permanently. Following several years of ill health, Sam Morgan died on February 25, 1936.
Columbia 14258-D—in the “race” series—was recorded on April 14, 1927 at Werlein’s Music Store on Canal Street in New Orleans. The band consists of Sam Morgan and Isaiah “Ike” Morgan on cornets, Big Jim Robinson on trombone, Earl Fouche on alto sax, Andrew Morgan on clarinet and tenor sax, Tink Baptiste on piano, Johnny Davis on banjo, Sidney Brown on string bass, and Nolan Williams on drums.
On the first side—also the first recorded at Morgan’s first session—is “Steppin’ On the Gas”, a different piece than the 1925 tune of the same name that Jimmie O’Bryant recorded for Paramount.
On the reverse, they play another hot Sam Morgan composition: “Mobile Stomp”.