WWI Draft Registration Card
5th June 1917
Joseph Crawford was the real name of Buddie Petit, the renowned second generation New Orleans cornet player. Crawford was the natural son of Alfred Crawford and Rose Batiste (Baptiste), and was born in the infant town of White Castle, Iberville Parish, Louisiana, located on part of White Castle Plantation, about seventy miles upriver from New Orleans on the western side of the Mississippi. According to his World War I Draft Card, Buddie was born on 23rd December 1896, but there is considerable conjecture about the actual date of his birth. Karl Koenig, a prolific researcher of early New Orleans music, opted for a birth date of 4th August 1896 in his book “Under the Influence: The Four Hornsmen of New Orleans Jazz, 1994”. The 1900 U.S. Census recorded a date of August 1895 (as Joseph Petit); the 1910 U.S. Census recorded an age of 12 (born 1897) on 15th April 1910 (as Joseph Crawford); Buddie married Lizzie Braxton on 24th December 1912 and gave his age as twenty-two (born 1890); the age of twenty-four (born 1895) was recorded as at 1st January 1920 in the 1920 U.S. Census (as Joseph Crawford); he was listed as Joseph Crawford in the 1930 U.S. Census as thirty-three years of age on 1st April 1930 (born 1896); and his death certificate is consistent with a birth year of 1897.
It has been said that Buddie’s father, Alfred Crawford, died a few years after the birth of his son, and Rose Batiste took Buddie, his brother John (Sonny) born about June 1890, and his sister Elizabeth (Mary) born about May 1894, to New Orleans where she lived with Joseph Petit, a Creole, who worked as a porter, and was also a fine musician associated with many early bands in the Crescent City. The association with Joseph Petit undoubtedly brought out Buddie Petit’s natural musical ability to an early flowering, so that he was a highly regarded cornet player at a comparatively young age.
Buddie Petit’s early influence was Manuel Perez (1878-1947), whom he followed in parades whenever he had the opportunity to hear him, but Bunk Johnson and Freddie Keppard both gave him lessons at various times. He played so much like Freddie that, according to Freddie’s elder brother Louis Keppard, he was known as “Young Freddie.” A friendship between Buddie and Sidney Bechet began in 1909 when they formed The Young Olympia Band which persisted until Sidney left for Chicago in 1917. From time to time The Young Olympia Band included musicians such as Jimmie Noone, Yank Johnson, Pops Foster, Chester Zardis, Arnold Depass, Ernest Trepagnier, Paul Barbarin and Albert Nicholas.
In addition, Buddie played with orchestras other than The Young Olympia. He played with The Eagle Band after Bunk Johnson’s departure from New Orleans in 1914, and there is a rare photograph of a band of African-American musicians in the New Orleans Item of 28 February—1 March 1916. The musicians have been identified as Big Eye Louis Nelson, Frank Duson, Buddie Petit, Chinee Foster, Lorenzo Staulz, and Dandy Lewis.
In 1917, Frank Duson, Petit, and Wade Whaley went to Los Angeles to play in an orchestra led by Jelly Roll Morton mainly at Baron Long’s place in Watts, on the eastern outskirts of Los Angeles. Disputes arose over dress standards, eating meals on the bandstand, and sharing tips with the result that Duson and Petit departed for New Orleans. Jelly Roll explained his side of the story in this manner:
“But, man, those guys could really play. Petit was second only to Keppard on the cornet, had tremendous power in all registers and great ideas. He was a slow reader, but if the tune was played off first, he would pick up his part so fast no one knew he couldn’t read. And, as for Dusen (Duson), he was the best there was at that time on trombone. So we had a very hot five-piece band and made plenty money — $75 a night and tips doubled the salaries.
“But those guys couldn’t get used to all that money. They used to bring their food on the job, just like they was used to doing in the lowdown honkey-tonks along Perdido Street. Here they’d come every night to this Wayside Park with a bucket of red beans and rice and cook it on the job. (Man, I wish I had some of that stuff right now. The best food in the world!)
“So anyhow, Dink and me got to kidding the boys about this, because, as a matter of fact, this cooking on the job made us look kind of foolish. And Buddie, and Frankie blew up, threatened to kill us. Next day, they left town, without notice, and went back to New Orleans. Which shows you never fool with a New Orleans musician, as he is noted for his hot temper.” [MJR 163-164]
An offer from Bill Johnson in 1918 to play at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago was refused by Petit. For the rest of his life, he confined his playing to his home state, Louisiana, and the other Gulf of Mexico states of Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.
After World War I, Buddie resided at various time in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, the state capital, and Mandeville in St. Tammany Parish on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain. The only other surviving photo of Buddie comes from this period, and was taken in a street in Covington, St. Tammany Parish in 1920. Besides Buddie, the band consisted of Eddie Woods (drums), George Washington (trombone), a young, lanky Edmond Hall (clarinet), Buddy Manaday (banjo, guitar), and Chester Zardis (bass). The name of the band was clearly printed on the bass drum as “Buddie Petit’s New Orleans Jazz Band.”
Buddie Petit was of slender build, normal height of five feet eight inches and weighing around one hundred and forty pounds, about the same size as Lincoln’s favourite general, Ulysses S. Grant, the conqueror of the Confederacy and President of the United State from 1869 to 1877. Petit was of light complexion with thick straight hair, his appearance displayed a mixture of Native Indian, African, and Caucasian ancestry. Although the Draft Card records that he had brown eyes, Punch Miller remembered him as having grey eyes. Sadie Goodson (1901-2002), who played piano in Buddie’s band in 1930, said: “He was a chap with whom it was a pleasure to work. He spoke a broken English and a little French. It was difficult to understand him at times.”
Although Buddie Petit did not leave a recorded legacy of his playing, his legendary ability has persisted through the oral testimony of his fellow musicians. Jelly Roll Morton believed Buddie was second only to Freddie Keppard as a trumpeter (cornetist). Paul Barnes, who played that magnificent soprano saxophone solo on Jelly Roll’s 1928 recording of Deep Creek, said that Buddie “was a wonderful trumpeter. He played differently from others . . . played a lot of chords. If you listen to the first recordings of Louis, you might have been listening to Buddie Petit. I am not referring to the later recordings in which he holds the high notes, but the Hot Five recordings: there you will hear Buddie Petit.” The clarinettist, Joe Darensbourg, played with Buddie a few times in Baton Rouge, saying that “he played so nicely, always melodically. . . . If he lived today, he would be in the style of Bobby Hackett . . . a good reader and musician, one of the two best trumpeters I have heard.”
Other musicians have said that Buddie was not a good reader, but he had a fantastic ear. After hearing an orchestra play complex pieces like the Joplin rags a few times, he would remember all the orchestral parts, and make a head arrangement for his band to play. His band was specially noted for its playing of Joplin’s Rose Leaf Rag. Lee Collins said that Buddie was his idol, and he regretted that he never made recordings, as Buddie was one of the best trumpeters he had ever heard. Petit’s playing was all praise from his contemporaries with not even the faintest criticism.
After the departure of Louis Armstrong for Chicago in 1922, Buddie Petit was regarded as the finest trumpeter in Louisiana and the surrounding Gulf states. The 1920s was a period of hyper activity for him, and his playing was in great demand by white audiences as well as coloured audiences. His popularity, in many ways, led to his own downfall. Always a heavy drinker, even from his youth, Buddie Petit collapsed and died of apoplexy (sudden loss of consciousness generally due to rupture of a blood vessel in the brain) on 4th July 1931 at his residence at 1204 St. Philip Street, New Orleans. (Orleans Parish Death Certificate, Volume 202, page 1480) Two days later, after a church service, his body was interred in an unmarked vault at Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2. Louis Armstrong, who was playing near New Orleans at the time, was one of the pallbearers. [PH 35]
© January 2009 Peter Hanley
Special thanks to Daniel Vernhettes who sent me his well-researched article on Buddie Petit, published in the April and June 2002 issues of Jazz Classique magazine (France), and to the late Sir Georges Souyave, formerly Chief Justice of Seychelles and a judge of the UK High Court of Justice in Hong Kong, for translating the article into English for me.