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Tracks Unwrapped

Milneburg Joys


When I first heard this tune called by the Dutch Swing College Band I could perhaps have been forgiven for thinking it was about a girl called Joyce from a town in Holland. After all, if there were tunes about mice living in a windmill in old Amsterdam, who could blame me for thinking Milneburg was in The Netherlands?

Rock my soul, with the Milneburg joys,
Rock my soul, with the Milneburg joys,
Play 'em mama, don't refuse,
Separate me from the weary blues,

The Dutch Swing College Band playing Milenburg Joys in 1960



Lake Pontchartrain

It gets even more confusing when you find that the tune is spelt 'Milenburg Joys' or 'Millenburg Joys'. Written by Jelly Roll Morton, he called it ‘Milneburg’. Milneburg is a settlement on the banks of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans where Elysian Fields Avenue ends.  It was named after the Scot, Alexander Milne, who developed the land in that area. In the 1700’s it had been called ‘Port Pontchartrain’ because of its location.

It was local people who started calling it ‘Millenburg’, the only reference to Port Pontchartrain that survived was the "Port Pontchartrain Lighthouse" and then that was taken out of operation in the 1920s.



Wind the clock back to 1923 and we can hear Jelly Roll Morton playing the tune with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings under the name of The Friars Society Orchestra on the Gennett label:



Milenberg Joys is, in part, the same tune as Golden Leaf Strut, with the omission of Jelly Roll's name as composer for the latter. The Gennett Recording Studios were located at the southern end of the Starr Piano Company factory in Richmond, Indiana, between a railroad overpass. On many occasions recording was interrupted when trains passed by the recording studio. The Friars Society Orchestra was: Paul Mares (cornet), George Brunies (trombone), Leon Roppolo (clarinet), Jack Pettis (C-melody sax), Glen Scoville (alto and tenor sax), Don Murray (tenor sax), Jelly Roll Morton (piano), Bob Gillette (banjo), Chink Martin (tuba or sousaphone) and Ben Pollack (drums).

The name "New Orleans Rhythm Kings" did not initially refer to this group, but rather to a group under the direction of vaudeville performer Bee Palmer.

The group included clarinettist Leon Roppolo who went on to recruit a band to play on the riverboats. That group included trumpeter Paul Mares. Mares wanted to move on from the boats and found the group an engagement at a club called the Friars Inn in Chicago. The engagement lasted for eighteen months with the group performing under the name "The Friar's Society Orchestra". They attracted the interest not only of a regular audience, but of other musicians including Bix Beiderbecke who often played with the band.

So, back to Milneburg. What do we know? The Old New Orleans website tells us:

‘In 1830, a railroad was built to connect New Orleans to the lakefront at Milneburg. The Pontchartrain Railroad was one of the first Milneburg Trainrailroads in the country - only 23 miles of track had been laid in the United States when work began on the Pontchartrain line.  It was constructed over miles of swampland that, until then, had been thought impassable.  The work was extremely hard and the mortality rate for the workers was high, especially during outbreaks of yellow fever. By 1840, the railroad company had opened two hotels and two bathhouses in Milneburg. A trip on the train, pulled by a boisterous steam engine locals dubbed "Smoky Mary," was described by a visitor in the 1930's: "A mile from the city, we had left the city and all dwellings behind us and were flying through the fenceless, uninhabited marshes.  At the lake, a quiet village of handsome hotels, cafes, dwellings, storehouses and bathing rooms burst at once upon our view.  A village has grown up around the terminus, all the names of the owners, the notices and signboards being French."

‘From the 1830's to the 1930's, Milneburg was a popular place for dances and parties every weekend during New Orleans' long hot summers.  Local musicians played everywhere - at private parties, clubs, cafes and saloons.  Many of the musicians who played there in the early 1900s went on to become world famous as the early pioneers of jazz.  Milneburg was a place where musicians of all races and cultures could gather to listen to each other and informally jam, so it was important in the development of New Orleans-style jazz.’. The Old New Orleans website is a valuable source for information and pictures of Milneburg.

Hey, hey, hey, hey,
Sweet girl, syncopate your mama.

All night long, with that Dixieland strain,
Play it down, then do it again,

It seems that the neighbourhood now designated as "Milneburg" by the New Orleans Planning Commission is actually to the south and inland of Shotgun Housethe historic Milneburg. The boundaries according to local tradition can vary, with some saying Milneburg is located in the area bordered by the streets of St. Roch, Elysian Fields, Filmore and Mexico, while other groups state the area is much larger, going from Leon C. Simon to Filmore, and Elysian Fields to Franklin.

The types of homes in the area vary but single-family dwellings are the most common. There were only a few 'shotgun houses', a very popular style of housing in the city of New Orleans. I had never come across this name before. Apparently New Orleans architectural historian Samuel Wilson, Jr. suggested that shotgun style houses first originated in the Creole suburbs of New Orleans in the early 1800s. He also stated that the term "shotgun" is a reference to the idea that if all the doors are opened, a shotgun blast fired into the house from the front doorway will fly cleanly to the other end and out the back.

A Shotgun House

On the other hand, Professor John Michael Vlach has suggested that the origin of the building style and the name itself may trace back to Haiti and Africa in the 18th century and earlier. He claimed the name may have originated from a term 'to-gun', which means "place of assembly". The description, probably used in New Orleans by Afro-Haitian slaves, may have been misunderstood and reinterpreted as "Shotgun”.


Like the majority of New Orleans, the neighbourhood experienced major flooding during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.


Ev'ry time I hear that tune,
Good luck says I'll be with you soon,
That's just why I've got the Milneburg joys.


As you might expect, over the years many bands have recorded the tune either as Milneburg Joys or Milenburg Joys. Sampling a few, Red Nicholswe start with this recording from 1925 by the Cottonpickers with some interesting notes by the Michael Laprarie who has shared it on YouTube.

Red Nichols

Michael Laprarie says:

‘You won't find a better example of 1920's hot jazz than this record, waxed August 21, 1925 at the Brunswick studios in New York City.  This is an early "light ray" electrical recording, cut on a device that channelled sound through a horn to a small mirror, which vibrated when struck by the sound waves. The vibrating mirror projected a spot of intense light on a photoelectric cell, and the vibrations of the mirror caused the light to fluctuate as it struck the photocell, which in turn caused a variation in voltage across the cell. This voltage variation was then amplified and fed to the disc cutter. The poor sound quality inherent in this recording process caused Brunswick to abandon it after only a few months.


The musicians are Red Nichols (cornet); Mickey Bloom (trumpet/mellophone); Miff Mole (trombone); Chuck Miller (clarinet); Frank Trumbauer (C-melody sax); Rube Bloom (piano); Roy Smeck (banjo); Joe Tarto (tuba) and  Ray Bauduc (drums).


Treme Logo

Our next choice is a jump to this brief video which is a real teaser. It is a snatch of an extract of by Delmond Lambreaux playing and singing Milenburg Joys in a New York Jazz Club and it finishes frustratingly early. It is taken from an 2010 – 2013 American drama series called Treme that featured an ensemble cast and musical performances by several New Orleans-based artists. Click here.

The series took its name from Tremé, the  neighbourhood of New Orleans, and begins three months after Hurricane Katrina as the residents, including musicians, chefs, Mardi Gras Indians, and other New Orleanians, try to rebuild their lives, their homes and their unique culture in the aftermath of the 2005 hurricane.

Click here for an extract from the opening episode.



We end with this video of Andy Schumm and His Gang playing Milenburg Joys at the Putnam Museum, Davenport, Iowa on August 4th 2011, presumably as part of the annual Bix Beiderbecke Jazz Festival. Andy Schumm is playing on Bix's Bach Stradivarius Cornet and Dave Boeddinghaus on the Bix-family piano.

Andy Schumm (cornet), John Otto (reeds), Dave Bock (trombone), Vince Giordano (bass sax/string bass), Leah Bezin (banjo/guitar), David Boeddinghaus (piano) and Josh Duffee (drums).



Ron Drakeford writes: 'As a  bit of interest, the shore areas of Lake Ponchartrain were socially very active at weekends when people were not working and out relaxing. To the North of Lake Ponchartrain lies the area of Mandeville and the popular venue  for jazz was the "Dew Drop Inn " on Lamarque St. This building is still in existance and has been purchased and donated to the community to keep it for posterity, by Jaqueline Vidrine. The likes of Buddy Petit, Bunk Johnson, Sam Morgan and Kid Ory were regular players.'


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More Tracks Unwrapped:

I Found A New Baby
Lover Man
Just A Gigolo
Milneburg Joys

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015