Fine Finale for Jazz Legend’s Heir

Times Staff Writer

The money won’t bring back what Babette Ory has lost, including birthday cards from her father, legendary jazz trombonist Edward “Kid” Ory.

But the 49-year-old Santa Monica resident has received a settlement of $80,000 from those named in her 2001 suit against a Chatsworth storage facility that auctioned off Kid Ory memorabilia after she failed to pay the rent on a storage unit.

Ory had first rented a unit for her famous father’s memorabilia in 1988. In 2001, she said she was devastated to learn that autographed photographs and other items left her by the jazz pioneer who wrote “Muskrat Ramble” had been sold at auction by AAA Self Storage, in the 9100 block of Jordan Avenue.

The Woodland Hills attorney then representing the storage company, Vin Fichter, said Ory had not paid the $68 monthly rent on the unit for several months. Before the auction, the company had tried to reach her by certified mail as required by state law, Fichter said.


Ory said she received no notification letters from the company and believed her bookkeeper was paying the rent.

The unit’s contents, which had an estimated value of $250,000, included her Creole father’s baptismal certificate, in French; taped interviews; correspondence; fan mail; an oil painting of Kid with his slide trombone; cooking utensils he used to whip up red beans and rice and other Creole specialties; and cards the musician had sent his only daughter from the road.

“Thank God, it’s over,” said Ory, who signed the settlement agreement earlier this month.

Her attorney, Jamie Schloss, said the courts seem increasingly reluctant to award settlements to people who claim similar losses: “I think, in the court system, there have been enough fraudulent claims that the honest people who have really been hurt can’t get recovery.”


Attorney Rick Knock, who now represents AAA Self Storage, said that the case had been settled “with no admission of guilt on the part of my clients.”

Born in 1886 in Louisiana, Kid Ory played in the brothels of Storyville before leading one of the hottest jazz bands in New Orleans in the first decades of the 20th century.

John McCusker, a New Orleans photojournalist who is writing Ory’s biography, said the trombonist’s face would be on the Mount Rushmore of jazz, if jazz had such a thing.

“He represented the bridge generation,” McCusker said. “His was the generation between the earliest pioneers [like cornet great Buddy Bolden] and the generation of Louis Armstrong. He gave Armstrong his first real job, and many of the future stars of jazz passed through Ory’s band.”

Ory was known for his “tailgate” style on the trombone. As Chuck Conklin, Encino-based president of the nonprofit Jazz Forum, explained, the term dates to the earliest days of New Orleans jazz, when the music was often played from the back of a horse-drawn wagon. The trombonist would rest his instrument on the tailgate so his slide would not bump into the other musicians. “Tailgate” came to refer to a certain sound as well: The trombonist’s “tone would be sliding around the more staccato sounds of the trumpet and the clarinet,” Conklin said.

On doctor’s orders, Ory moved to Los Angeles in 1919, where he recruited a band of New Orleans musicians. His Original Creole Jazz Band -- sometimes called Spike’s Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra -- released the first New Orleans jazz record by an African American group in 1921.

Although best known as a peer of Armstrong, “King” Oliver, “Jelly Roll” Morton and other jazz royalty, Ory was also one of the first jazz musicians to be acclaimed by both African American and white audiences, McCusker said: “He was a crossover success before there was such a thing.”

A leader of the jazz revival of the 1940s and ‘50s as well, Ory died in 1973 at the age of 86.


His daughter said she was relieved that the most important artifacts relating to her father, including his instruments and the manuscript of an unfinished autobiography, are safely stored away. Ever since she learned of the auction, she has been looking for the dispersed items on EBay and Web sites that cater to jazz collectors.

Ory asked that anyone who finds items that belonged to her father contact her at her e-mail address, “I will negotiate a [finder’s] fee, no questions asked,” she said.

A private chef, Ory is planning an elaborate Kid Ory celebration scheduled for April 2005. With other jazz aficionados, she plans to take her father’s remains from Los Angeles to New Orleans by train. There, Ory will be reinterred in the city’s famed St. Louis Cemetery and a statue dedicated to him in the new national jazz park planned for the city that gave birth to the American art form.

Despite the settlement, Ory expects to see the inside of a courtroom again soon. In 2001, she filed a suit against Country Joe McDonald, of the 1960s group Country Joe and the Fish. She charged that McDonald’s 1965 protest anthem “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin'-to-Die Rag” is a rip-off of her father’s “Muskrat Ramble,” from 1926. McDonald has denied poaching Ory’s tune.

The case is expected to go to trial later this year.