Bennie Moten vs. The Missourians, Part 1

JB: When one thinks of large hot jazz outfits predating the swing era that would bring—to name a few—Goodman, the Dorseys and Miller to prominence, the names Henderson, Goldkette, Ellington and Basie head that list, with both the Duke’s and the Count’s orchestras and careers outlasting the Swing Era by decades. Less discussed, except perhaps by the writers and readers of this fine publication, are the territory bands that were eating up the miles between gigs in the Mid and Southwest. Their music was almost the antithesis of the urbane, sophisticated, polished jazz orchestras of the East. The sound of these bands was earthy, wailing, and owing much to both the New Orleans jazz that had traveled up the river on the steamboats and the proliferation of blues surrounding the area from Arkansas to Texas, Oklahoma to Missouri and beyond. As we’ll see, the earliest sounds created by these bands also owed a good deal to the ragtime styles that saturated the Mid and Southwest states. Over the next three columns let’s explore Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra. His band would become the finest of the territory ensembles and, upon Count Basie’s taking over leadership after Moten’s untimely death at age 40 in 1935, would vie for jazz orchestra supremacy only with Ellington. For part 1 and 2, I’d like to interpolate the St. Louis-based group, The Missourians, into this stor
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Jeff Barnhart is an internationally renowned pianist, vocalist, arranger, bandleader, recording artist, ASCAP composer, educator and entertainer. Visit him online at Email: [email protected]

Hal Smith is an Arkansas-based drummer and writer. He leads the New Orleans Night Owls and the
Mortonia Seven and works with a variety of jazz and swing bands. Visit him online at

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