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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.

Jimmy_durante_1935
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 BandJimmy Durante’s Jazz Band
Original New Orleans Jazz BandWhiteway Jazz Band
Clayton, Jackson, and DuranteThe Syncopating Skeeters

TitleRecording DateRecording LocationCompany
Inka Dinka Do
(Ben Ryan / Jimmy Durante)
2-13-1934New York, New YorkBrunswick
6774
Hot Patatta
(Jimmy Durante)
2-13-1934New York, New YorkBrunswick
6774

TitleDirectorYear
Roadhouse NightsHobart Henley1930
The New Adventures of Get-Rich-Quick WallingfordSam Wood1931
Cuban Love SongW.S. Van Dyke1931
The Christmas PartyCharles Reisner1931
Wet ParadeVicctor Fleming1932
Speak EasilyEdward Sedgwick1932
Le Plombier amoureuxClaude Autant-Lara and Edward Sedgwick1932
The Phantom PresidentNorman Taurog1932
The Passionate PlumberEdward Sedgwick1932
Blondie of the FolliesEdmund Goulding1932
What! No Beer?Edward Sedgwick1933
Meet the BaronWalter Lang1933
Hell BelowJack Conway1933
Broadway to HollywoodWillard Mack1933
Student TourCharles Reisner1934
Strictly DynamiteElliott Nugent1934
PalookaBenjamin Stoloff1934
George White’s Scandals 1934
Hollywood Party 1934
CarnivalWalter Lang1935
Land Without MusicWalter Forde1936
Little Miss BroadwayIrving Cummings1938
Start CheeringAlbert S. Rogell1938
Sally, Irene and MaryWilliam A. Seiter1938
Melody RanchJoseph Santley1940
You’re in the Army NowLewis Seiler1941
The Man Who Came to DinnerWilliam Keighley1941
Two Girls and a SailorRichard Thorpe1944
Music for MillionsHenry Koster1944
Two Sisters from BostonHenry Koster1946
It Happened in BrooklynRichard Whorf1947
This Time for KeepsRichard Thorpe1947
On an Island with YouRichard Thorpe1948
The MilkmanCharles Barton1950
The Great RupertIrving Pichel1950
Beau JamesMelville Shavelson1957
PepeGeorge Sidney1960
Il Giudizio universaleVittorio De Sica1962
Billy Rose’s JumboCharles Walters1962
It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad WorldStanley Kramer1963

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

 

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