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Cool Jazz: 1925

Cool Jazz: 1925

Washington, D.C., 1925. "Better 'Ole Club Orchestra at the National Zoo." National Photo Company Collection glass negative, Library of Congress. View full size.


On Shorpy:
Today’s Top 5

Mellophone / French Horn / Sousaphone Confusion

The instrument in question is indeed a Mellophone. There are several indicators for this conclusion:

1. Tubing is half as long as a French Horn
2. Bell is on the left
3. Valves are played with the right hand
4. Mouthpiece is large, not slender and tapered like a French Horn mouthpiece
5. It is an Eb / F horn, with a rotor to switch between the keys (not usual for FH??)

I own and play a Conn Mellophone [also with the angled valves] exactly from 1925 -- the same year as the picture! It has the serial number 228,303 [the 1925 Conn serial numbers listing for brass instruments range from 219,850 to 230,899.] Instead of a rotor, I have various tuning slides from F to low C.

The angled valves are not solely a Mellophone phenomenon. When I started playing French Horn, I did have one with angled valves, not rotors!!!

My favourite at the moment is a hand-made Eb Kaiser circular alto, with rotors instead of valves (like a French Horn). I use that with a Besson small-baritone mouthpiece, and it approaches the mellow sound of the French Horn. As well, I have a number of various natural horns (no valves) [Eb, low Bb, and several high Bb].

And no, that horn is not a small scale sousaphone [as 'Instrumentalist' suggests]. Try putting that Mellophone around your neck!!! Haha!!

Best Wishes!

New to Shorpy

... and not that anyone is still keeping up w/this GREAT photograph, but I thought I'd answer the question on the trumpeter's hat hole.

His headgear is actually a mute (used like a bucket or a plunger mute). The hole (for his finger) makes it easier to hold on to, and with the better grip he could even use it in a "wah-wah" fashion like you've all probably seen with the plunger.

The Mellow Francophone

I'm going over to the mellophone camp. Especially with the marching band connection. Makes more sense to call it a march mellophone.

Conn Mellophone

Sorry to dwell, but it looks very similar to this Conn mellophone, because of the angled valves and position and shape of the valve pipes.

Mellophone Gets My Vote

Although some French horns did use piston valves instead of rotary valves (and some French horns even had the bell on the left), I'd say that is a mellophone. The mouthpiece looks larger and more bulbous than a French horn mouthpiece. This page has some great info about horns, including this:

The development of the mellophonium was to provide a horn that was easier to play, and put out more volume than the concert Horn, especially for a marching band. Also sturdier, of slightly heavier material than the french horn, mellophones were more suitable for rough conditions, like WWI and WWII Army Bands, other travelling bands or, god forbid, a Junior High band.
Developed after the Koenig and Ballad Horns, mellophones retained the pistons-played-with-the-right-hand design, to be more adaptable to musicians familiar with trumpets and coronets, usually more plentiful than concert horn players.
Hence the piston valve - left~bell tradition.

But what do I know? I'm just a drummer.

A Horn by some other name

Actually, this does appear to be a mellophone. Early varieties looked more or less like French horns, but the bell on the latter points to the right, and the valves are worked with the left hand-- the reverse of this.


The Sousaphone is tuba like and is worn by the player who is inside it. However, the French Horn is always called a French horn, a mellophone is another instrument altogether along the same lines as a small scale tuba itself.


She's dancing with a bear behind!

Modern Rhythmists Go To Town

We have all been taught to believe that "music soothes the savage breast, but we have never stopped to consider that an entirely different type of music might invoke savage instincts?

-- "Does Jazz Put the Sin in Syncopation?"

Polar bear

In the full size view you can see clearly how close the polar bear is to the woman....she doesn't appear to know!

[She and the bears got to be pretty chummy. - Dave]

Tsk, tsk, tsk

Dave, Dave, Dave ... it's not really that bad, is it?

[No. But I love to complain! - Dave]

Captive Audience

This photo reminds me of an old Shocking Blue video. They performed their hit "Venus" in front of caged monkeys.

[Not terribly unlike what your webmaster does. - Dave]


I believe the French Horn was also called a mellophone but usually only when marching. Sort of the same as a marching tuba called a Sousaphone.

Jazz style

Don't let the banjo fool you. While what we today call "Dixieland" was certainly one of the major roots of jazz, what this bunch played was almost undoubtedly the kind of 1920s jazzy dance band music that was soon to lead to swing. Banjos were common in such aggregations.

No Mellophone...

That's a french horn.

Breast, Beast

Yes, Dave, I did know it was "savage breast." However, as we both know it is often misquoted as "savage beast" and in this case the misquote is more accurate (and more importantly fitting for the photo) than the actual quote.


I never associated the mellophone (instrument being played by the guy standing next to the tree) with Dixieland.

Derby Mute

That's a derby mute (a.k.a. hat mute, bowler hat, wah-wah mute). Originally they were actual bowler hats. Gradually replaced by stamped metal mutes.


Why does the trumpet player appear to have a hole in the top of his bowler? Storage for his mutes? Bon-bons to feed the dancer?

Roaring Twenties

One of those great photos that evoke an era!


Photographer: "Squeeze in a bit. Band, move a little closer to the polar bear. Good. Now look stupid. OK, but you two woodwinds, look even dorkier. Great! Now smell like meat. Hooollld iiiit…"

Bear: *drool drool*


Apparently, if the look on Mr. Polar Bear's face is any indicator, music really does have charms to soothe the savage beast.

Either than or he wants a taste of that licorice stick.

[Ahem. Savage breast. Not "beast." - Dave]

Is Everybody Happy?

Clarinetist appears to be doing a Ted Lewis impression.

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