Sidney Desvigne’s S. S. Capitol Orchestra

Riverboats and Jazz

After two seasons working for the competition, Desvigne returned to New Orleans to rejoin the Streckfus Line, replacing Fate Marable as band leader on the Capitol. This band remained for about four years, after which Armand J. Piron’s band took over. Judging from the comments of the musicians, the Streckfus family would often “shake up” the leaders and bandsmen, moving them from one boat to another. In addition, because of the high standards of musicianship that were associated with the riverboat orchestras, the best musicians were often lured away by offers from “the big time” in places like New York. By the 1930’s, big bands were in demand everywhere, and after departing the S. S. Capitol, Desvigne’s outfit found plenty of work in New Orleans, playing at fraternity and sorority dances at Tulane University and at San Jacinto Hall in the Treme. Desvigne later explained that although his riverboat band did occasionally play some “head” arrangements of the blues, it read practically everything else, at least until the parts were memorized. At different times in his career Desvigne played virtually all the Streckfus boats, but he remembered his days on the Island Queen as the best. Musicians pictured above are, from left to right, Louis Nelson, Eugene Porter, Gene Ware, Emmanuel Sayles, Adolphe Duconge, Sidney Desvigne, Marcellus Wilson, Ransom Knowling, Tats Alexander, Teddy Purnell, and Walter Cosby.