Interior of the S. S. Sidney

Riverboats and Jazz

The bands that played on the Streckfus riverboats provided music for dancing in a wonderfully elaborate setting. Baby Dodds remembered that Marable’s band “played strictly for dancing. We played all the standards of the day and we used to make the classics into dance tunes.” The Streckfus music policy was designed to satisfy the customer, which meant that the bands were expected to perform a diversity of musical styles but focusing especially on popular songs of the day. Consequently, the musicians had to be able to play waltzes and rags as well as the “hotter” music associated with New Orleans jazz, which was kept to a minimum. Blues were rarely played. Sometimes the dance imperative could create problems for the musicians, as Baby Dodds recalled: “The Streckfuses were musicians and they knew what they wanted and they wanted to use a different time than we had been using. Some of the older people on the boat couldn’t dance to our music and Streckfus wanted to introduce what he called toddle time. It was really two-four but he wanted four beats to the measure…To me, four beats was all wrong….But for the older people it was easier since instead of dancing to a step, they would just bounce around.” Yet, if some musicians felt constrained by Marable’s requirements, they also realized the importance of the training they were receiving and of the value of the steady employment, so most accepted the rules that he laid down. After all, for a New Orleans musician, working on the riverboats was one of the best jobs available.