Exploring Albany's inglorious past and dubious future

Albany’s “King Jazz”

Albany boy Frank (King Jazz) Graves became a bandleader around 1914, and by 1920 had scrambled his way up to regular nightclub and society bookings. His orchestra had a multitude of names in its heyday, including King Jazz Graves’ Marimbo Orchestra, King Jazz and His Yama Yama Five, King Jazz and His Collegians, and King Jazz and His Snappy Syncopating Serenaders.

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Graves knew how to put on a show, and became a local hit due in no small part to his habit of dancing in the audience while playing his violin with a lighted bow. King Jazz was a primo novelty attraction during Albany’s Jazz Age.

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In 1930, the famous bandleader Paul Whiteman starred in a sound film entitled “King of Jazz.” Graves, who had incorporated in 1924 under the name “King Jazz and His Orchestras,” immediately slapped an injunction preventing Universal from exhibiting the film in New York, claiming to be the only original King Jazz, and sued Whiteman for use of the name, making national news.

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The lawsuit dragged on for several years. In late 1932, the New York Supreme Court ruled in Whiteman’s favor:

“It is not established that “King Jazz” was ever a combination of words so singular as to have moved the public by its own uniqueness, nor has it been shown that the phrase owes its existence in any substantial degree to the ingenuity or activity of the plaintiff.”

To save face, Graves took out ads claiming that Whiteman had settled with him out of court for $250. Whiteman countersued, and in June 1934 was awarded a judgment of $10,056 and an injunction against the local bandleader.

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Frank “King Jazz” Graves hung up his illuminated bow and went to work for a local record distributor until 1963. He retired to Florida, where he died two years later at age 71.

Unfortunately, no recordings of King Jazz have survived, if they ever existed. However, if we’re to believe this 1931 review in the Albany Evening News, maybe we’re not missing much:

“Speaking of terrible programs, this broadcast of an orchestra calling itself ‘King Jazz’ over WOKO last night was the last word. It was simply unbearable. Whoever the gentleman is, obviously he couldn’t have chosen a more absurd title!

“Come on, WOKO, there are local bands that can do better than that. Certainly they couldn’t do any worse! Why not try a few of them?”

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