'Territory Bands' of the Southwest
Texas was home base to dozens of barnstorming jazz bands touring the Southwest in the 1920s and 30s—playing their way through dusty frontier towns to big cities on the plains. These 'territory bands,' as they were called, traveled by car or bus, logging thousands of miles on vast circuits throughout the Southwest. Their bookings took them north to Minnesota, west to Denver and southeast through the cotton and tobacco country of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi.
One of the most remarkable of these 'territory bands' was led by trumpet ace Don Albert. Don Albert and His Ten Pals, later billed as 'America’s Greatest Swing Orchestra,' set out from San Antonio and spent ten years on the road playing hot swing for dancing, from the Lone Star State to the Big Apple.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz The Jim Cullum Jazz Band—augmented by five horn players—takes the stage of the Jo Long Theatre at San Antonio's Carver Cultural Center to re-create the sounds of the territory bands of the 30s and San Antonio swing. Much of this music has not been heard in 70 years or more.
In a script inspired by Sterlin Holmesly's oral history collection, the award-winning Broadway and Hollywood actor Vernel Bagneris brings to life the world of Don Albert and the barnstorming dance bands of the Southwest in the 30s.
Don Albert and His Ten Pals on the Road
Albert Dominique grew up in New Orleans' Creole 7th Ward in the early years of the 20th century. There were distinguished jazz musicians in his family—his uncle, Natty Dominique, had played alongside Louis Armstrong in Chicago jazz bands of the 20s; and his cousin, Barney Bigard became one of the top clarinetists of the Swing Era.
Still a teenager Dominique had built a reputation as a valued sideman on the Texas circuit when a call from a Dallas businessman in 1929 promising financial backing opened the door for him to lead his own band.
Don Albert and His Ten Pals seemed destined for fame from the start. With cash in his pocket from his Dallas-based investor Albert Dominque changed his name to Don Albert and headed back home to New Orleans in search of musicians for his new ensemble. Among those he picked up were reedmen Herb Hall and Louis Cottrell, and banjoist Ferdinand Dejean.
In 1930 the Ten Pals established themselves in the Southwest through long-term engagements at ritzy San Antonio night spots like Shadowland. The band was heard throughout the territory on broadcasts over San Antonio’s 50,000-watt clear-channel radio station, WOAI.
In a decade of almost nonstop touring between 1931 and 1940 Don Albert and his Orchestra played in 37 states, averaging 4,000 miles per month by bus. They survived tough years in the Depression, and played to sold-out houses in the heady days of the Swing Era.
Don Albert’s dusty band bus rolled back into San Antonio for the last time in July, 1940. One of the final dates Don Albert and his Orchestra played together was at The Library Auditorium, later known as the Jo Long Theatre, the venue for this show.
Photo credit for Home Page: Don Albert. Photo courtesy Institute of Texan Cultures.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick ©2012