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Jim Robinson

New Orleans jazz musician Jim Robinson's consistency and appealing sound made him one of the most prominent trombonists of his time.

Jim Robinson

Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum

Jim Robinson. Unidentified

Nathan “Jim” Robinson, also known as “Jim Crow” or “Big Jim” Robinson, was a New Orleans traditional jazz and blues trombone player. Robinson was an esteemed figure in the annals of New Orleans jazz, and his consistency and appealing sound made him one of the most prominent trombonists of his time. Known for playing with the Sam Morgan band  for nearly a decade as well as for his many recording sessions with Bunk Johnson, Robinson toured extensively with George Lewis in the 1950s. Robinson was one of the most popular performers at Preservation Hall in the last decades of his career, playing with “Sweet” Emma Barrett, Percy Humphrey, and others. Robinson also served as a musical tutor to Frank Demond and Big Bill Bissonnette, both of whom cited him as a central influence.

Robinson was born on Christmas Day, 1890, on Deer Range Plantation in Plaquemines Parish. As a youth learning guitar, Robinson was tutored by the legendary traveling musician and teacher Professor James (Jim) Brown Humphrey, who taught music to young people in many rural parishes. Robinson would not take up trombone until his mid-twenties, when he served in the US Army in France during World War I. Robinson would learn trombone at the behest of Willie Foster, who suggested it as an alternative to guns or shovels.

Though Robinson had originally moved from Deer Range to New Orleans in 1911 in search of a job (he worked for a shipping company and played music on the side), the 1915 hurricane destroyed his birthplace, taking away the option to return home. After the war, Robinson returned to the Crescent City, where he labored as a longshoreman. Robinson heard and was influenced by a number of bands during this time. He practiced trombone by playing along with his sister’s player piano and took lessons from Sonny Henry. Robinson’s first big break came when he was asked to fill in for Kid Rena’s trombonist, who failed to show up to perform at an Economy Hall dance gig. After that night he began performing with a number of groups, including Kid Rena, the Golden Leaf Band, the Tuxedo Band, and the popular Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band, with whom he would play from 1925 to 1933. Robinson can be heard on the band’s recordings for the Columbia record label from 1927.

During the Depression, Robinson continued his work as a longshoreman during the day and performed with Kid Howard, George Lewis, and others at night. Robinson was asked to record for an important Kid Rena session on the Delta label in 1940. In the period that followed, Robinson would become the most prominent trombonist in New Orleans, as he was considered not only consistent but also reliable, and he had a deep, wide-toned sound. Many at the time noted that Robinson was particularly good at playing pleasing countermelodies to the trumpet line.

During the 1940s Robinson joined Bunk Johnson’s band and can be heard on most of Johnson’s recordings. He also played multiple New York dates with the Johnson band. In the period that followed, Robinson made a large number of recordings with George Lewis and toured with Lewis’s band throughout the United States and Europe. As a Preservation Hall musician, Robinson was very popular, appearing frequently with “Sweet” Emma Barrett, Percy Humphrey, and Billie and Dede Pierce. Robinson recorded as a lead instrumentalist with his own band for Atlantic, Pearl, and the Riverside Records 1961 Living Legends series, as well as the Smoky Mary label in January 1976, only a few months before his death.

Robinson died on May 4, 1976, in New Orleans.