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Thomas Valentine

New Orleans traditional jazz musician Kid Thomas Valentine was one of the founders of Preservation Hall.

Thomas Valentine

Courtesy of Louisiana State Museum

Kid Thomas Valentine. Byrd, Syndey (Photographer)

A natural showman with a “roughhouse” percussive sound and known for his use of Harmon mutes, “Kid” Thomas Valentine—most often referred to simply as “Kid Thomas”—was a New Orleans traditional jazz and blues trumpet player. Thomas was often said to be one of the last original players of the pre-Louis Armstrong New Orleans trumpet style. Thomas and his band, the Algiers Stompers, also played an integral role in the founding of Preservation Hall. Thomas can be seen in Alan Lomax’s documentary Jazz Parades: Feet Don’t Fail Me Now, one of five films shot by Lomax between 1978 and 1985 for the PBS American Patchwork series.

Valentine was born on February 3, 1896, in Reserve in St. John the Baptist Parish, into a family of musicians; his father was a trumpeter with the Pickwick Brass Band. Because his father was the instrument keeper for the band, Thomas was able to try his hand at a number of instruments as a child, at first settling on the cornet and later, the trumpet. By age fourteen, Thomas had joined his father’s band; by 1915 he was playing cornet for professional gigs with the Hall brothers, among others.

By 1922 or 1923 Thomas had moved to the Algiers section of New Orleans on the west bank of the Mississippi River, where he played in a band led by banjoist Elton Theodore. By the early 1920s he had already largely developed what would come to be recognized as his signature sound––a hard-hitting, dance hall approach to performance that was exciting to watch and even better to dance to––and soon he was leading the Algiers-based band, as he would for many years. His band (usually called the Kid Thomas Band or the Algiers Stompers) was the house orchestra at Speck’s Moulin Rouge in Marrero for several years. Of the many players in Thomas’s ensemble over the decades, Joe James was with the group from its inception until his death. Louis Nelson was another long-term member.

In 1962 Thomas and his band, along with George Lewis, played in Minneapolis-St. Paul. This performance was so well-received that the Twin Cities would become a necessary stop for touring New Orleans jazz musicians for many years afterward. Assisted by British jazz drummer and scholar Barry Martyn, Thomas traveled to England in 1964 and made several recordings while there. In 1965 he traveled to Japan with the George Lewis Band.

An important series of jazz sessions in a French Quarter art gallery led to the founding of New Orleans’s famed Preservation Hall in 1961, and Thomas and his band were integral to this establishment. As Larry Borenstein and Bill Russell note in their Preservation Hall Portraits, “It is almost certain that Preservation Hall would not have evolved were it not for the vision and cooperation of Thomas Valentine.” Thomas’s band would be a mainstay at Preservation Hall from the 1960s through the 1980s. He toured throughout the world with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and toured and recorded extensively with Big Bill Bissonnette’s Easy Riders Jazz Band.

Thomas was first recorded in 1951 in what would mark the beginning of a long recording career that would include sessions for American Music, MNO, Mono, Jazzology, Riverside, Jazz Crusade, La Croix, and Smoky Mary record labels. Many critics have pointed to the Kid Thomas and George Lewis Ragtime Stompers album released by GHB as being an essential traditional jazz recording.

Thomas died on June 16, 1987 in New Orleans.