Wilbur Sweatman

Sweatman 2Wilbur Sweatman was born in Missouri in 1882. He was a gifted clarinetist, bandleader, and composer. By 1902 he was living in Minneapolis—already having toured with circus/concert bands of Professor Clark Smith Band of Kansas, the P. G. Lowery Band, and W. C. Handy’s Musical Spillers. He moved to Chicago in 1907 and spent time as an orchestra conductor before leaving for New York and the vaudeville stage in 1911. Sweatman gained notoriety as a popular vaudeville performer; he often ended his act by playing three clarinets at once. He also contributed to the popularity of ragtime during its “second wave” via his compositions “Down Home Rag” and “Old Folks Rag.” Sweatman and his band also recorded a series of discs for the Emerson and Pathé label

Wilbur Sweatman - Episode 1

Wilbur Sweatman has been unfairly ignored as a pioneering force in early jazz. In December 1916, Sweatman recorded his own "Down Home Rag.” Some historians consider this recording among the earliest examples of jazz on record. Sweatman can be heard making melodic variations even in this 1916 recording. It might be argued that Sweatman recorded an archaic type of jazz before the Original Dixieland Jass Band. Taking note of the commercial success of the Original Dixieland Jass Band and the Original Creole Orchestra, Sweatman changed his sextet and instrumentation in early 1917. His band now consisted of 4 saxophones and himself on clarinet---unusual for the time.
CompositionArtistYear
Kansas City BluesWilbur Sweatman1919
Down Home RagEurope's Society Orchestra1913
Down Home RagVictor Military Band1913
Down Home RagWilbur Sweatman with The Emerson Trio1916
Original Dixieland One StepOriginal Dixieland Jass Band1917
A Bag of RagsWilbur Sweatman1917
Joe Turners BluesWilbur Sweatman1917

Wilbur Sweatman - Episode 2

In 1918 Wilbur Sweatman was signed by the Columbia Record Company where he enjoyed great success and better distribution of his records. During his peak years of popularity in 1918 and 1919, Sweatman sold millions of records. His best-selling song was 1919's "Kansas City Blues,” which sold more than180,000 copies. However, by 1920, sales were decreasing, perhaps reflecting the waning interest in his novelty style of jazz, and the growing popularity of syncopated big bands. He continued playing his somewhat dated style through the 1920’s. Several important jazz musicians passed through his band, including Duke Ellington, Coleman Hawkins, and Cozy Cole. Most jazz history books have unfairly ignored Wilbur Sweatman as a pioneering force in early jazz. I believe these recordings shed light on an early 20th century jazz pioneer.
CompositionArtistYear
IndianolaWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Darktown StruttersOriginal Dixieland Jass Band1917
Darktown Strutters' BallWilber Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band1918
Oh! You La! La!Wilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Regretful BluesWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1918
Kansas City BluesWilbur Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band1919
Slide Kelly SlideWilbur Sweatman's Original Jazz Band1919