Thursday, October 23, 2014

From Major to minor

By David "Chet" Williamson Sneade 

He was known as the “Black Cyclone” and the “Worcester Whirlwind.” He was Marshall “Major” Taylor, a three-time world champion cyclist and one of the first Black American champions in any American sport.

He was also a musician who may have played ragtime in the pre-jazz era. Taylor sang and played both the mandolin and piano and received his nickname in a band setting. This item ran in the February 21, 1900 edition of the Worcester Daily Telegram: “Marshall Taylor is his real name, but Major he has been ever since he was a 10-year old boy at school, he wielded a baton in front of a juvenile band.”

Taylor was born on November 26, 1878 in rural Indiana and raised in Indianapolis, but he became a champion in Worcester. His life was one of great triumphant and equal tragedy. He died penniless in Chicago on June 28, 1932.

His story is well documented. There are a collection of books, numerous articles, and websites dedicated to his greatness. Here in Worcester, a handsome statue of his likeness stands outside the library, a street has been named after him, and annual cycling events happen in his honor.

Little is known about his musical life. What we do know is that in his downtime, he liked to play music. At one point – at the height of his championship reign -- Taylor used his fame to enter vaudeville.  

In his landmark book, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer author Andrew Ritchie wrote about this experience. “There was talk of Taylor going after more motor-paced records, benefiting from his end-of-season strength and fitness to attack the prestigious 1-mile world record, as he had done at the end of 1898 and 1899. But instead of undertaking the stress and strain of more record breaking, Taylor embarked on a new career. Capitalizing on his success and fame as champion of America, he decided to go into vaudeville."

Ritchie notes that vaudeville was the popular entertainment of the day and part of Taylor’s everyday experience. The writer says that the cyclist had a fine singing voice and like other athletes before him, he would have been quite the novelty on stage.

Unfortunately, he did not get to share his piano playing with vaudeville audiences. As Ritchie says, Taylor was a bicycle racer after all and that in itself made him a popular entertainer. The cyclist was contracted by local agent Charles Culver, the manager of the Worcester Coliseum on Shrewsbury Street. Instead of a musical performance, Taylor agreed to ride a stationary bike known as ‘home trainer,’ a kind of treadmill for cyclists. He was to compete against one of his rivals, the famous Charlie ‘Mile-a-Minute’ Murphy,” who is credited with – as his name implies -- being the first cyclist to ride a mile in one minute's time. 

Worcester Daily Telegram, 1901

Ritchie picks up the action: “Home trainers were set up alongside each other on the stage of a theater and connected to big dials, which showed the distance the two riders had covered by means of two big arrows. The machines were splendidly set up on stage, decorated with flags. With firing of a pistol, the race began, the two men pedaling furiously, while the audience followed the sprinting in front of the roaring, cheering crowd.

“Culver thought the act would be an instant hit, and he was right. When it opened at the Park Theater in Worcester at the end of October, sandwiched between comedy routines, acrobatics, song and dance acts, and moving pictures, it was an instant success. The audience ‘cheered until it was hoarse as the race progressed,’ reported the Worcester Telegram, ‘bursting into wild enthusiasm when the dial at the rear of the stage showed the riders’ progress, and one followed them as they moved around the circle with as much interest as one would riders on a race track.’"

Ritchie says that from Worcester, this unusual vaudeville team played to packed houses in Pittsfield, Springfield, Hartford, and other cities and towns throughout New England.

“Taylor also rode a mile on his home trainer in the window of a Hartford bicycle dealer’s shop in the record time of 43½ seconds, a speed equivalent to 82.5 mph. A crowd of more than a thousand people watched him,” Ritchie says. “Having established the success of the act, Culver contracted with Keith’s Theater in Boston for the two cyclists to appear nightly on the Boston stage, and the home trainer races continued throughout December and January. Keith was perhaps the most famous vaudeville company on the East Coast, and it was they who pioneered the idea of a continuous, revolving performance, which the audience could enter and leaved as they pleased.”

Taylor traveled to Europe and Australia to compete for his world championships. In 1901, he spent four months in France, from March to June, which as Ritchie says, “proved to be the climax of his athletic career. At the zenith of his physical strength and international popularity, he arrived in France at the culmination of a long period of rumors and promises of his imminent coming. Promoters and spectators were hungry for the new sensation. There would be something magical about the first visit, something that gripped the public imagination. …

“One evening, the entire staff of L’Auto-Velo took him to the circus to see ‘Little Chocolate,’ the clown, the only other famous black person in Paris at the time. ‘Chocolate’ referred to Taylor’s presence during his performance, and all eyes in the theater were turned towards the box where Taylor sat, enjoying himself immensely.”

This celebrity status was two decades before black American entertainers, such as dancer Josephine Baker and jazz musician Sidney Bechet, became the darlings of the French.
Ritchie says when “not training, or giving interviews at his hotel, or visiting the sights of Paris, Taylor read and wrote letters or played the piano or mandolin. He was also a keen photographer and took pictures with the portable Kodak he had brought with him from the United States.”

In their book, Major Taylor: The Inspiring Story of a Black Cyclist, Conrad and Terry Kerber say that the champion cyclist, was a somewhat frustrated musician. Quoting a French newspaper article of the day, the Kerbers state that the cyclist was a self-taught pianist, who “because of his hectic schedule, hadn’t found the time to play [the piano] as often as he had wished.” Taylor was staying at the Malesherbes Hotel and in the lobby was a beautiful black Steinway piano. 

The writers also add that on one particular night he was “in a melodious mood, he drew up a vacant stool, set his bowler hat on top of the piano and sat down. Initially a small crowd noticed and gathered around him. Taylor played tentatively. The small crowd grew. Warming to the gathering, Taylor started singing “Hullo My Baby,” an American song made popular during the 1900 Paris Expo. The crowd joined in.

"One journalist, who was present at the gathering said that he had a 'remarkable singing voice.' Taylor’s hands poured across the piano, feet stomping on the pedals, voice wafting throughout the room. Champagne was brought out, and people listened and sang and slurped.”

“Hello, Ma Baby,” is an interesting choice for Taylor to sing. It’s not really a piece of ragtime music, although it refers to the popular music of that time: “Hello! ma baby, Hello! ma honey, Hello! ma ragtime gal.” The song was actually written by the Tin Pan Alley team of Joseph E. Howard and Ida Emerson in 1899. It also harks back to an early time, the Minstrel-era and the derogatory styling known as “coon songs.”  

The song, first recorded by Arthur Collins on Edison, is said to be the first tune of its kind that refers to the newly invented device, the telephone. The chorus refrain is complete with: Send me a kiss by wire / Baby, ma heart's on fire! / If you refuse me / Honey, you'll lose me / Then you'll be left alone / Oh, baby, telephone / And tell me I'm your own!”

According to Wikipedia, the chorus is “far better known than its verse, as the introductory song in the famous Warner Bros. cartoon One Froggy Evening (1955), sung by the character later dubbed Michigan J. Frog and high-stepping in the style of Bert Williams.” 

Scott Joplin
Needless to say, Ragtime this is not. Artistically, this is a long way from say, Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag,” the composition that launched ragtime's popularity in 1899.

As for Taylor playing ragtime piano, no record exists. However, it is conceivable and most probable that a proud African-American, would have played the most popular and artistic black art-form of the day.


As mentioned, much has been written of Taylor’s life in Worcester. He moved here in the fall of 1895 when he was only 15. He relocated from his native Indianapolis with his employer, Louis “Birdie” Munger, a bicycle maker and racing enthusiast who opened the Worcester Cycling Manufacturing Company.
Louis Munger
The Worcester Daily Telegram reported that soon after his arrival the young cyclist competed in a race presented by the newspaper. “After winning the Telegram race, Major Taylor’s fame increased rapidly,” a reporter noted.

Coming to Worcester turned out to be the right move at the right time for Taylor. In his autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, Taylor wrote: “I was in Worcester only a very short time before I realized that there was no such race prejudice existing among the bicycle riders there as I had experienced in Indianapolis. When I realized I would have a fair chance to compete against them in races I took on a new lease of life, and when I learned that I could join the YMCA in Worcester, I was please beyond expression. … It did not take me very long to get acquainted in Worcester, especially when its riders discovered that I owned a fine, light, racing wheel on which I could ride with the best of them.

The corner of Main and George Streets, 1900. Taylor: “There was a saying at that time that any bicyclist who could climb George Street Hill, one of the steepest inclines in Worcester, had the makings of a high grade bicycle racer. Appraised of that tradition I decided to try my skill on the hill. There was a big crowd on hand to see me make my initial attempt. It was a tough assignment that I had wished on myself, but I made it on the first attempt and within fifteen minutes I repeated the stunt riding down on both occasions. That was the first time a bicycle rider ever turned this trick – and very few have accomplished it in the intervening thirty-two years.”

“I shall always be grateful to Worcester as I am firmly convinced that I would shortly have dropped riding, owing to the disagreeable incidents that befell my lot while riding in and around Indianapolis, where it not for the cordial manner in which the people received me.”

Mrs. Taylor, Major and daughter Sydney 
Taylor not only lived and trained here, he married, raised a child, and purchased a home in Worcester, at 2 Hobson Ave. He was a member of the John Street Baptist Church and when not traveling, the champion cyclist, worked a variety of jobs in addition to being employed by Munger.

He first became champion at 21. He was out of racing by 1910 at the age of 32. His decline was as steep as George Street hill.

Local writer Albert Southwick chronicled Taylor’s slide: “He invested $15,000 in a business venture that flopped. He tried to enter Worcester Polytechnic Institute to study engineering, but was turned down, ostensibly because he had no high school degree.

“Then his health began to give way. He may have had an enlarged heart from all those years of training. In the 1920s, he came down with shingles, a painful, debilitating disease. With no steady income, he was forced to sell off his wife’s jewelry and other items that he had purchased in better times. Finally he had to sell their home on Hobson Avenue and they moved into a modest apartment on Blossom Street.”

Southwick also reported that Mrs. Taylor, who had come from an educated family, “went to work as a seamstress. Gradually she became estranged from Taylor, as did [daughter] Sydney. [His] final energies went into his autobiography, which he published at his own expense under the title The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds. It is a long, rambling book, filled with details of individual races. It does not tell enough about Major Taylor, the man.”

The book was first printed in Worcester by Wormley Publishing. It is dedicated to his former trainer and employer, Louis Munger. In its forward, Taylor wrote: “I am writing my memoirs, however, in the spirit of calculated to solicit simple justice, equal rights, and a square deal for the posterity of my down-trodden but brave people, not only in athletic games and sports, but in every honorable game of human endeavor.”

Continuing to describe the champion’s demise, Southwick says that while ill and broke, “Taylor went from door to door selling his book. His wife, unable to stand the strain any longer, left Worcester and went to New York. She never saw him again. In 1930, he too, left Worcester and headed for Chicago, his car filled with copies of his book. In Chicago, he live at the YMCA, from which he went forth every day to peddle his autobiography.

Taylor died on June 21, 1932, in the charity ward of Cook County Hospital. He is buried in a pauper’s section of the Mount Glennwood Cemetery. He was 54. According to Southwick, The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, was the only one to note the Worcester Whirlwind’s death.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: . Also see:  Thank you.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Worcester’s Werme and Whiteman

By David "Chet" Williamson Sneade

He was a member of city’s first generation of jazz musicians. His name was Oscar Werme, who was born in Worcester on December 3, 1893. He played bass horn, trombone, and tuba, with such local groups as the Fidelity Orchestra and Swan Serenaders.

The later was led by the talented young multi-instrumentalist, composer, and arranger, E. A. Swan. The Serenaders were first organized in 1922 with the specific intent to play the new “hot music,” of the day, jazz. 

In an interview in an April 24, 1927 edition of the Worcester Telegram, Swan is quoted as saying, “Jazz is coming and a perfectly legitimate development of modern music. All musicians are turning to it, some more, some less. The modern way of syncopating the classics is extremely popular and is bringing the best things in music to people who never heard of them before. Jazz is now firmly established, the music of the future, and already has become classic in a certain way; the only difference being that it is more alive than the older type of music.” 

In the 1950s, James Lee, entertainment columnist for the Telegram ran this item: “Oscar Werme of 12 Heard St. has brought to the Main Stem [Lee’s column] a locally-historic picture, the first edition of Swanie’s Serenaders, which is reproduced herewith. The leader was the late Einar Swan, the Worcester boy who (as any Main Stem reader knows) composed the deathless song, ‘When Your Lover Has Gone.’"

Lee also noted that the orchestra “played together in 1922, first in Worcester, then in Webster. Three of its members, Werme, Swan, and Benny Conn, previously played together in the Fidelity Orchestra of Worcester. The instrumentation of the Serenaders was typical of the day: Piano, drums, sax (and clarinet), violin, banjo, trumpet, and trombone.” 

Swanie’s Serenaders, 1922: Front row, from left, Joe Toscano (banjo), Ernest Pahl (drums), Einar Swan (saxophone). Back, Julius Levinsky (violin), an unidentified man, Oscar Werme, and Benny Conn.

Werme told Lee that pianist Swenson did not show up for the photo and an unidentified man stood in as a replacement (man in glasses). Other early local jazz musicians in this circle included Sammy Swenson, George Trupe, and Leo Kroll. Toscano was the teacher of the notable Worcester banjo player Paul Clement, and his brother, guitarist Pete Clemente.
Lee says that a couple of years later, Werme switched to tuba and joined Paul Whiteman’s Leviathan Orchestra. He spent for four years with the band. “Swanie went on the New York where his genius with practically any musical instrument won him solo spots with several famous orchestras.”

An early business card of the band read: “Swanie’s Serenaders. Have played Keith and Poli’s Circuits – Our engagement – Your Success.”

Keith was Benjamin Franklin Keith, one of top vaudeville agents in the country at the time. Poli, as in Poli Theaters, was Sylvester Zefferino Poli. In the late 1880s into the 1920s, he was recognized as the “largest individual theatre owner in the world.”

In New York, many of the Serenaders appeared under that name Palais Royal Players, which is not to be confused by Paul Whiteman’s Palais Royal Orchestra. Evidently, the Players were like a minor league team of Whiteman’s stable. The Palais Royal, located at Broadway and 48th Streets in New York City, was a large café and nightclub in Times Square. Whiteman started playing the venue in 1920.

A September 7, 1923 edition of the Norwalk Hour mentioned a Palais Royal Players gig in Connecticut. Under the heading: “Night of the Big Dance of Craftsmen’s Quarry” and subhead of “Will be Marked by Presence of the Palais Royal Orchestra in Pavilion,” the piece stated:  “Following their appearance here, the Palais Royal players will play for an Allington, Penn., syndicate. During the coming winter they will play at the Ormond Hotel, Fla. The orchestra is making a big hit on its stay here, especially the quartet selections.

“The members of the orchestra are: Sam Swanson [sic], piano; Julius Levinsky, saxophone [sic]; Ernest Pahl, drum; Oscar Werme, bass horn; Leon Kroll, cornet; George Trupe, trombone; Edward Patrowicz, cornet; Joseph T. Tuscano [sic], banjo; Einar Swan, saxophone [sic], and leader.”

The dance was held at Roton Point in Norwalk and the reviewer went on to say that audiences at the venue were “listening to the best music in its history, is the consensus of opinion of all who have been attending the park since the Palais Royal Orchestra, Paul Whiteman’s unit came here. Everyone, including even those who do not dance but merely come to hear, says that manager Neville Bayley of the park should have had the players here earlier in the season. Much hope is being expressed that the players will be here next year.”

Einar Swan

Swan’s entrée to the Big Apple was with Victor Lopez and after receiving the call, he moved to New York. Of the Serenaders, Werme and Patrowicz soon followed. Patrowicz hitched his horn to Eddie Duchin. Werme landed a gig with Paul Whiteman, where he played in the orchestra leader’s ensemble then known as the Levithan Orchestra. It was named after the S.S. Levithan (Vaterland), an ocean-liner that at one point in its storied career, was considered the largest ship in the world. According to the 1927 Telegram article, the band ran its course after its leader’s talents were recognized nationally: “The Swannie Serenaders’ were all right but Einar Swan stuck out from the rest of them like a bar of soap in a coal scuttle, and it wasn’t long before he received an offer from the famous Roseland Gardens in New York city, an offer which he accepted.”

A cutline from the dining room publicity photo reads: “The world's largest steamship when built, luxury liner Vaterland boasted elegant architecture and furnishings. It featured a winter garden, swimming pool and therapeutic spa rooms, smoking rooms, and a glass-roofed social hall with theatrical stage. The 800-seat dining room (above), a replica of New York City's Ritz-Carleton's, was finished with mahogany, walnut, gold, and bronze.”

Marlboro, MA, July 1923

As mentioned, Werme spent four years with Whiteman. The Telegram reported that after returning to Worcester, he was a “50-year member of the Athelstan Lodge of Mason, a past grand monarch of the Aletheia Grotto and member of Aletheia Grotto Band. Werme died at the age of 77 in 1971. Werme left the Swan Serenaders in 1922. Given this information, the best guess of his tenure with Whiteman is probably from 1923-26.

That means Werme played in the Levithan band on their first trip abroad and with the Palais players and orchestra thereafter -- which means he enjoyed some primetime with Whiteman.

It was at a time when Whiteman was first crowned, “King of Jazz.” It means, Werme may have been in the band when the Whiteman orchestra premiered, Rhapsody in Blue, with composer George Gershwin at the piano. It also means, that the Worcester tuba player sat in the horn section with such early jazz greats as Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

After his roaring ‘20s tour with Whiteman, Werme returned to Worcester and became a cost accountant at Avco-Thompson Steel Division, where, until his retirement in 1958, worked for 30 years. 

He married and settled down in modest home at 112 Heard Street, near the Auburn line. As mentioned, he was active in the local Masons and played in the organization’s band for 50 years. Werme died on August 27, 1971. He was 77.

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Wonder cornets and the first American-made saxophone

By David "Chet" Williamson Sneade 

Isaac Fiske
Many of the first generation of jazz musicians – Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, et al – may have all played instruments made in Worcester. There is also the distinct possibility that the first American-made saxophone was manufactured here in 1888. 

The saga begins with Isaac Fiske, a pioneer in the development of American brass instruments. He was from Holden and in Worcester, he led the popular Fiske Cornet Band and manufactured a line of fine quality horns. 

His cornets were known for its copper bell. The shop was located at 13 Mechanics Street in downtown Worcester, not far from where drum-maker Walberg & Auge was situated. 

In 1886, Fiske sold the company to Charles Gerard Conn, who before outsourcing the company permanently in his hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, continued the operation in Worcester for more than a decade. 

According to Danny Chestnut, an expert on Conn and his company, instruments made by Fiske were “considered to be the best in its time. Conn operated it as a company subsidiary, and in this way he achieved his objectives. The company's product line now centered around the ‘Wonder’ cornet, but in 1885, Conn began importing French clarinets and flutes.”

The Conn company began as an outgrowth of his development of a rubber-rimmed mouthpiece. This was developed at the Elkhart plant before it was lost to fire. Conn was a celebrated cornet player himself and is said to have invented this particular kind of mouthpiece as a way of relieving lip pain after excessive playing. It was first patented in 1875, the same year Conn introduced his silver-plated brass mouthpiece.
Young C.G. Conn

According to Richard I. Schwartz, before becoming a maker of brass instruments, Conn was a soldier from Elkhart, Indiana who fought in the Civil War. “In 1869, he was married and had jobs as a sewing machine salesman, heath-care product salesman, silverware engraver and plater, zinc collar-pad maker (for horses), and rubber stamp maker,” Schwartz said. “Conn was twenty-seven years of age in 1871 when he started playing the cornet. He was obliged to do so as a result of an accident at the zinc collar-pad factory. Shortly after he commenced his study of the cornet, he toured with Haverly’s Minstrels.”

Schwartz says that in 1876, Conn established a partnership with Eugene Dupont, a French instrument maker. “In 1877, the Conn-Dupont company expanded to a three story building, used previously as a furniture factory. … The Conn-Dupont company dissolved in 1879 and Conn became sole owner of C. G. Conn & Co. In 1883, the plant burned down and in three months C. G. Conn built a new and larger factory. By early 1884, the firm was employing 130 workers.”

When C.G. Conn purchased the Fiske company in 1886, he used its Worcester facility for the manufacturing of Conn instruments. The marking on these instruments at this time read: "Made by C. G. CONN/ ELKHART, IND. and Worcester, Mass.” According to most sources, the instruments are rare and precious to collectors. Fiske, himself is said to have praised instruments from the C. G. Conn company. Of its Wonder Cornet, he said: "the only perfect cornet in the world." 

Cornet player Charles “Buddy” Bolden is widely recognized as the first “king” of New Orleans jazz. He was an enigmatic figure, born in 1877 and conceivably played the popular horn of the day, the “Wonder” cornet. 

First introduced by C. G. Conn in 1886, it was the center of the company’s brass line in Worcester. The early Wonders were built at the old Fiske plant and sold in the key of C, Bb, and A.

Bolden’s radiance burned red hot in the infancy of jazz before being committed to an insane asylum in 1906. In his landmark book, In Search of Buddy Bolden: The First Man of Jazz, author Donald Marquis notes that the beginnings of jazz and the story of Charles "Buddy" Bolden are inextricably intertwined. “Just after the turn of the century,” he said, New Orleanians could often hear Bolden's powerful horn from the city's parks and through dance hall windows.

Buddy Bolden, stands with cornet in hand behind guitarist

“Despite his lack of formal training, his unique style-both musical and personal-made him the first "king" of New Orleans jazz and the inspiration for such later jazz greats as King Oliver, Kid Ory, and Louis Armstrong. For years the legend of Buddy Bolden was overshadowed by myths about his music, his reckless lifestyle, and his mental instability.”

Bolden was never recorded and there is only one known photo of him. Trying to pin down the actual make and model of the cornet he played is an exercise in conjecture. One can only say it is possible. If you break it down time-wise, Bolden was only 10 years-old when the Wonder was first sold on the market, but continued for the next decade, making him 20. So, it’s possible, but no known record exists and it’s nearly impossible to tell from the photograph.

King Oliver is seated. Louis Armstrong stands fourth from the left. 

King Oliver however definitely played C.G. Conn instruments. Joseph Nathan Oliver (1881-1938) was a pioneer in the use of mutes in jazz. Influenced by Bolden, Oliver is said to have used a variety of objects in the bell of his horn, from hats to cups and his favorite mute was a small metal one manufactured by C.G. Conn, which was played on his famous recording of “Dippermouth Blues,” written for Louis Armstrong. The great Satchmo was the second cornet player in Oliver’s band at the time. However, it should be noted that this seminal recording didn’t happen in April of 1923.

As far as C.G. Conn making the first American-made saxophone, the story may well begin in Worcester. According to Schwartz, it happened in 1888. “The instrument was built with the collaborative efforts of clarinetist/saxophonist Edouard A. Lefèbre who, later in 1895, supervised the manufacture of C. G. Conn’s saxophones.” 

Adolphe Sax

The saxophone was first introduced by Belgian-born Antoine-Joseph Sax in Paris in the 1840s. Lefebre was a French-born instrument designer and former well-known soloist with John Philip Sousa's band. According to Paul Trynka, author to The Sax & Brass Book, it has been suggested that the saxophone was brought by Lefebre with him to the US and used as “the basis for the first Conn saxophone.”

Writer Steve "Saxgourmet" Goodson says that the first saxophone built in United States was constructed at the Conn plant in Elkhart, in 1889, for E.A. Lefebre. 

"Mr. Lefebre was also a friend of none other than Adolphe Sax, the inventor of the saxophone and had previously supplied to him by Sax himself," says Goodson. 
E.A. Lefebre
Now, here's where things get dicey. The other major contributor to the first American-made saxophone, was Ferdinand August “Gus” Buescher (pronounced as “Bisher”), who was a foreman at the Worcester plant. Goodson claims that the original Conn saxophone was "actually constructed by Ferdinand 'Gus' Buescher at the Conn factory." The question is: Was it built in Worcester or Elkart? In either case, the first American-made saxophones were irrefutably manufactured in Worcester. 

Conn, Alto, 1888, Gold and Silver-plated, Worcester

F. A. Buescher

It is believed that the model used was an alto saxophone that Mr. Sax labeled as serial number 36. In addition to the alto, Conn then added the soprano, tenor, and baritone to his “Wonder” instrument line. 

Conn, Alto, 1890, Worcester

In 1894, Buescher left C.G. Conn and established his own company, the world-renowned Buescher Band Instrument Company. He was also an early champion of the C Melody saxophone. 

In 1897, C.G. Conn opened its first retail store in New York City at 34 East 14th Street. A year later, the company left Worcester and re-established its manufacturing base back in Conn’s hometown of Elkhart, Indiana.

 File under Jazz Worcester related: The original inventor of the Harmon Mute was a New Hampshire-born brass player, who at 17, led the Worcester Brass Band. His name was John F. Stratton. From Papa Joe Oliver to Miles Davis and beyond, jazz trumpeters have selected Harmon as their chosen mute. 
Miles Davis
In the book, Music of the United States of America, edited by Richard Crawford, he talks about the early days of the music and cites Stratton for his contribution. Under the chapter of Sam Morgan’s Jazz Band: Complete Recorded Works in Transcription, he writes: “The straight mute was the basic mute of all early New Orleans cornetists and trumpeters and the one most in favor seems to have been the small doorknob-shaped straight mute called a pixie mute. Oliver and [Louis] Armstrong are known to have used pixie mutes, which are still employed by local trumpeters today. 

“The Harmon mute (or ‘wah-wah’ mute) was also a staple item among early New Orleans cornetists and trumpeters. Its distinctive ‘buzz’ timbre, played straight or with cupped hand for the ‘wah-way’ effect, is unmistakable even on early jazz recordings, such as the present Morgan sides. It was frequently employed by Oscar ‘Papa’ Celestin, who made it one of his signature sounds. King Oliver, a noted master of novel, or ‘freak’ muted effects also made the Harmon ‘wah-wah’ one of his special effects and he was even thought in some quarters to have invented this mute. 
“Oliver’s connection with the Harmon mute, by name, is interesting in itself. Oliver played at the Dreamland Café (at 3518 S. State St.) in 1918 as a side man in Lawrence Dahe’s Orchestra, and in January 1920 he formed a new band at the Dreamland under his own name, Oliver’s Original Creole Jazz Band, which played there until May 1921, when the band left for California. Patrick “Paddy” Harmon, a noted entrepreneur and club owner in Chicago who heard Oliver’s ear-catching ‘talking cornet’ effects with the ‘wah-wah’ mute at the Dreamland Café and who hired Oliver to play occasionally at his own Dreamland Ballroom (at 1761 W. Van Buren St.), took the initiative, possibly without Oliver’s knowledge, of having the mute patented under his name. U.S. Patent number 1578763 was issued on March 30, 1926 with a George Schlurearlburg listed as ‘Inventor’ and P.T. Harmon listed as ‘Assignee.’
“It appears, however, that this specialty mute was designed long before Oliver’s used of it. U.S. Patent number 51363, registered December 5 1865, for a ‘Mute for Musical Instrument’ used the same principle (i.e. an inserted cylindrical mute with full cork collar, or gasket that forced all the air through a tube in the mute’s core) as did the later Harmon mute. The patentee was John F. Stratton of New York, a bandmaster from Worcester, Massachusetts who became a successful manufacturer and importer of musical instruments. (See Bevan, “A Nineteenth-Century Harmon Mute, 129-30.)  John J. Joyce, Jr.” 

 John Franklin Stratton was born in West Swanzey, NH on September 14, 1932. He played a variety of instruments: the bugle, trombone, clarinet, and violin. After his band leading stint in Worcester, Stratton moved to Hartford, CT and eventually New York City, where he opened a music shop. During the Civil War, Stratton is said to have provided the government with more the 50,000 bugles and trumpets. He died in Brooklyn, New York in 1912. See: The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. 
Here's the Harmon mute entry from The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, written by Clifford Bevan: “The Harmon mute (first patented in 1865 (US Patent 51,363), though not under this name, by John F. Stratton of New York) is a hollow metal mute held in the bell of the instrument by a cork collar so that all the air from the mouthpiece is directed through the mute; the chamber of the mute protrudes outside the instrument. The outer face, which may have a concave surface, is punctured in the center by a hole, through which passes an adjustable tube (or stem), open at both ends; the oscillating air column passes out of the mute chamber through the tube, the length of which (altered by pushing in and pulling out) affects the character of the sound produced. The sound is distant, with an edge that varies in presence according to the position of the tube. On many Harmon mutes the tube is removable; without it the player can produce a wa-wa effect by covering and uncovering the bowl-shaped face of the mute with the palm of the hand, thus controlling the escape of air through the hole.”

Note: This is a work in progress. Comments, corrections, and suggestions are always welcome at: Also see:  Thank you.