Early 20th-century New Orleans demanded live music for almost every occasion, and early jazz bands proliferated to meet the need. Competition between them was fierce. As part of the promotion, or “ballyhoo” to attract attention to the night clubs, bands would play against each other outdoors on the backs of horse-drawn wagons. The band that attracted the most listeners in these street encounters won the “battle” along with the crowd later that night in the club.
Since then, battles and “cutting contests” have been part of the lore of jazz. Usually, the competition is of a friendly nature, as in our broadcast this week. Banu Gibson, based in New Orleans, has led one of the most popular traditional jazz bands in the US for decades–her New Orleans Hot Jazz. The Jim Cullum Jazz Band has been playing it hot on the Riverwalk in San Antonio since the early 1960s. It was inevitable that the two eventually meet for the title of “Heavyweight Champion Jazz Band of the World.”
The battle, captured for our broadcast, took place in 1994 at the Zaragoza Theater at the Fiesta Texas Park in San Antonio. Stage legend William Warfield acted as referee. Tap dancing sensation Savion Glover performed with both bands—with Banu Gibson in “Wrap Your Cares in Rhythm and Dance,” and with the JCJB in the Bill 'Bojangles' Robinson