red hot jazz jazzbanner

Jimmy Durante (1893-1980)Before Jimmy Durante (February 10, 1893 – January 29, 1980) became one of the most famous and lovable entertainers of the Twentieth Century, he was a hot piano player and bandleader. Durante was greatly influenced by Scott Joplin and had his first success in show business as a Ragtime piano player starting around 1911. He was billed as “Ragtime Jimmy” and played in New York City and Coney Island. Durante was part of the same wild crowd of early White jazz musicians as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Johnny Stein. When the New Orleans Jazz style swept New York by storm in 1917 with the arrival of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band Durante was part of the audience at Reisenweber’s on Columbus Circle. Durante was very impressed with the band and invited them to play at a club called the Alamo in Harlem where Jimmy played piano.

The band was soon the hottest thing in show business and Durante had his friend Johnny Stein assemble a group of like-minded New Orleans musicians to accompany his act at the Alamo. They billed themselves as “Durante’s Jazz and Novelty Band”. In late 1918 they recorded two sides for Okeh under the name of the New Orleans Jazz Band, they re-did the same two numbers a couple of months later for Gennett under the name of Original New Orleans Jazz Band, and in 1920 the same group recorded again for Gennett as Jimmy Durante’s Jazz Band.

Jimmy Durantes Original New Orleans Jazz Band. 1917
Jimmy Durante’s Original New Orleans Jazz Band. 1917 Left to Right: Johnny Stein, Achille Baquet, Jimmy Durante, Frank Christian, Frank Lotak.

In 1921, Durante collaborated with an African-American songwriter by the name of Chris Smith on the songs “Let’s Agree To Disagree” and “Daddy, Your Mama Is Lonesome For You” which were recorded by Mamie Smith. Durante went on to record with several White Jazz bands in the early 1920s including The Original Memphis FiveLadd’s Black AcesBailey’s Lucky Seven and Lanin’s Southern Serenaders.

Durante on The Jumbo Fire Chief Program, 1935

Jimmy was a solid Ragtime and Jazz piano player, but soon gravitated towards vaudeville as the 1920s wore on. He became part of a comedy music team called “Clayton, Jackson and Durante”. By the end of the decade the team was very popular on Broadway and Durante got a role in a play called “Jumbo” which made him a star. In the early 1930s he started to get roles in movies, and became popular on radio and eventually became one of the most popular entertainers in America. On his radio show he joked that he was working on a symphony, but he wouldn’t call it “Rhapsody In Blue” or anything like that. He would call it “Inka Dinka Do“. In 1934 he recorded a novelty song with this title and it became his signature tune. Jimmy’s popularity never really faded and he became one of the first stars of television. In his later years he was often cast as a lovable relic of the Roaring 20s, but few remembered him as one of the first Jazz recording artists.

band or session leader

New Orleans Jazz Band Jimmy Durante’s Jazz Band
Original New Orleans Jazz Band Whiteway Jazz Band
Clayton, Jackson, and Durante The Syncopating Skeeters

Title Recording Date Recording Location Company
Inka Dinka Do
(Ben Ryan / Jimmy Durante)
2-13-1934 New York, New York Brunswick
Hot Patatta
(Jimmy Durante)
2-13-1934 New York, New York Brunswick

Title Director Year
Roadhouse Nights Hobart Henley 1930
The New Adventures of Get-Rich-Quick Wallingford Sam Wood 1931
Cuban Love Song W.S. Van Dyke 1931
The Christmas Party Charles Reisner 1931
Wet Parade Vicctor Fleming 1932
Speak Easily Edward Sedgwick 1932
Le Plombier amoureux Claude Autant-Lara and Edward Sedgwick 1932
The Phantom President Norman Taurog 1932
The Passionate Plumber Edward Sedgwick 1932
Blondie of the Follies Edmund Goulding 1932
What! No Beer? Edward Sedgwick 1933
Meet the Baron Walter Lang 1933
Hell Below Jack Conway 1933
Broadway to Hollywood Willard Mack 1933
Student Tour Charles Reisner 1934
Strictly Dynamite Elliott Nugent 1934
Palooka Benjamin Stoloff 1934
George White’s Scandals   1934
Hollywood Party   1934
Carnival Walter Lang 1935
Land Without Music Walter Forde 1936
Little Miss Broadway Irving Cummings 1938
Start Cheering Albert S. Rogell 1938
Sally, Irene and Mary William A. Seiter 1938
Melody Ranch Joseph Santley 1940
You’re in the Army Now Lewis Seiler 1941
The Man Who Came to Dinner William Keighley 1941
Two Girls and a Sailor Richard Thorpe 1944
Music for Millions Henry Koster 1944
Two Sisters from Boston Henry Koster 1946
It Happened in Brooklyn Richard Whorf 1947
This Time for Keeps Richard Thorpe 1947
On an Island with You Richard Thorpe 1948
The Milkman Charles Barton 1950
The Great Rupert Irving Pichel 1950
Beau James Melville Shavelson 1957
Pepe George Sidney 1960
Il Giudizio universale Vittorio De Sica 1962
Billy Rose’s Jumbo Charles Walters 1962
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World Stanley Kramer 1963

Jimmy Durante; His Show Business Career by David Bakish, McFarland & Company, Inc., 1995
Schnozzola; The Story of Jimmy Durante by Gene Fowler, The Viking Press, 1951


Or look at our Subscription Options.