During the 1920s, while Bennie Moten and George E. Lee reigned supreme in Kansas City there were more than 100 bands working throughout the mid-western territories.
Each band was associated with a larger city and had staked out their territory within that particular region and protected their turf very seriously. If you wanted to play in another band’s territory you had to get permission from the home band to do so.
For example, if Bennie Moten wanted to play in Oklahoma City he had to get permission from the Oklahoma City Blue Devils.
This led to many battles of bands that featured the visiting band taking on the home team. It was a gunslinger mentality with both bands shooting it out to establish superiority and build reputation. Usually the band with the best arrangements and the best soloists were the winners.
The territory ranged from Minnesota and the Dakota’s to the North, south to Texas, East to Denver and West to St. Louis.
They traveled by bus and car and played a variety of roadhouses, hotels, outdoor amusement parks and local halls and lodges.
It was rough conditions and low pay. The bands usually had a commonwealth set up where everyone shared the profits equally.
They played night after night in very high pressure situations leading to the development of many great jazz soloists.
Most of these bands never recorded and the few that did only recorded one or two records for small independent companies.
Some of the important bands included: Gene Coy’s Happy Black Aces, Boots and His Buddies, The Jeter-Pillars Plantation Orchestra, Alphonso Trent, Art Bronson’s Bostonians, Jesse Stone and His Blues Serenaders, T Holder’s Clouds of Joy, Zach Whytes Chocolate Beau Brummels, The St. Louis Crackerjacks and the most legendary and feared of all; The Oklahoma City Blue Devils.
It all came to a halt in 1929 when the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. The financial hardship made it impossible for the bands to continue to travel.
Since Kansas City was right in the middle of the territories and since Kansas City had plenty of work for musicians, many of the leaders and sidemen descended on the local scene adding to an already vibrant atmosphere.
The membership roles of Local 627, the black musician’s union, swelled from 87 members in 1927 to 347 by 1930.
With so many seasoned musicians in town, the stage was set for a musical explosion unlike anything before or since.