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New Orleans Jazz – News & Opinions – Sammy Penn

SAMMY PENN: Born in Morgan City Louisiana on September 15, 1902. Died in Florida on September 18, 1969.

Let’s start a little differently this time: for me, the best drummers in New Orleans for my pleasure were Baby Dodds, Sammy Penn, and Cie Frazier. But Sammy had a wonderful second string on his bow. He sang in the same phraseology as the legendary Fats Domino, and with his big cigar and huge smile he was a master of entertainment.

Sammy’s first job was in 1921 with Jake Johnson’s Band, then Chris Kelly’s Brass Band, Kid Rena’s Brass Band, and the legendary Eureka Brass Band. It was the mainstay of the Kid Thomas gang for a quarter of a century.

You must understand that entertainment was the name of the game. With Sammy Penn and Joe “Twat” Butler, Kid Thomas Valentine had a band of shows. Singers, personalities and Thomas with his famous “bag of tricks” No wonder this band survived in New Orleans and then toured the world to represent the birthplace of jazz.

In a lengthy interview with my friend Tom Stagg at his wonderful record store “Good Rockin ‘”, he describes Sammy Penn’s drumming as “ultra basic”. A kick drum, snare, tom-tom and cymbal attached to the kick drum. . As Tom recalls, he led the band relentlessly and with astonishing complexity of rhythmic sounds. This kit was simple, but the pacing was the opposite!

This is Tom’s memory of the last weeks of his life. “Sammy returned from a doctor’s appointment with the news that he had very high blood pressure and heart murmurs. Sammy played Preservation Hall that night and after another session with the Kid Thomas Band he loaded his gear onto a bus outside the Hall in St. Peters Street and left with Sammy for a tour of Georgia to Florida After just one concert, the bus returned to the Hall with just the driver, the route manager and the body of Sammy Penn.

Speaking to Barry Martyn, he calls Sammy Penn a great New Orleans drummer. Sammy played 4/4 on the kick drum and not in the more familiar cutoff time of New Orleans drummers. George Lewis preferred that 4/4 sound and Joe Watkins played that way, but without the explosive accents and complex rhythms of Sammy Penn. Barry was fortunate enough to participate in the Kid Thomas Band and found that he could not hear himself and had to adjust his volume and style to suit the band.

So Sammy Penn was the drummer for Kid Thomas and his Algiers Stompers and spent most of his life playing with that band. As Barry Martyn put it: “When Joe James and Sammy died, the band would never be the same again.”

To hear him at his best, you must listen to “Kid Thomas Valentine Creole Jazz Band on American Music AMCD 49 and” Kid Thomas and his Algiers Stompers “on Riverside OJCCD 1833-2. My great joy is seeing the man in action on a DVD of the December Band produced by Big Bill Bissonnette (possibly still available by contacting him on his Jazz Crusade website –

Sammy Penn was unique and we are lucky to have records to listen to. In Australia, the late great Peter Clohesy was influenced by him, and in Europe Keith Minter, Emile Martyn and Chris Marchant both give evidence of having heard this “original.”

My next piece will be an interview with Les Muscutt, a magnificent banjo musician from the UK who made a huge impression on the New Orleans jazz scene. Due to health concerns, you recently retired and I am sure you will find your story interesting. PS: A last minute call from Barry Martyn to say that his latest video on American Music AMVD4 will feature Kid Thomas with Sammy Penn, plus Kid Howard’s band and many other good things.

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