If you dig into jazz history, you will inevitably find Bunk Johnson playing a trumpet. The actual story of Bunk Johnson is a bit murky. What is known for sure is that Johnson had bad teeth, and that for a while he had no trumpet. In 1930, a brawl broke out during a show and Johnson's bandmate Evan Thomas was stabbed to death. Bunk’s horn was also damaged in the fight, and by the following year, Johnson (who had also lost most of his teeth by this point) had essentially retired from playing.
Of some note is that, as with most of Bunk's story, it is unclear whether Johnson lost some of his teeth in that fight or if they were simply bad and he lost them later.
A couple of guys tracing the history of jazz for a book in 1938 kept hearing his name from well-known jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. They found Johnson working as a laborer and driving truckloads of sugar and rice.
The two writers asked for the story of jazz and he gave it to them - although most don't believe what Johnson said about himself. Many don't believe he played with Buddy Bolden or that he taught Louis Armstrong. Some even doubt he was honest about his age. Everyone doubts he played for Queen Victoria. But whatever the story is or was, it was enough to get people interested in Johnson, and it got people interested in jazz. Johnson's stories made the book popular, and thanks to the new publicity, a collection was taken up to buy him trumpet. Sidney Bechet's brother, a dentist, fitted Johnson with a set of dentures. He recorded his music for the first time in 1942, helping revive the New Orleans sound.
It's a good thing he did. He's got some great stuff. I prefer his earlier music to his later. There's a bit of a story that he was chasing some sort of refinement later on. His last album is sharp and perfect, but I miss the inebriated improvisation of the earlier work. All the same, I'm glad he got the new set of teeth. You have to wonder what was missed, or what was playing in his head when he didn't have them.
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