Torchbearers for the vibrant traditional New Orleans jazz sound, the Dukes of Dixieland have enjoyed decades of success throughout their various incarnations. Originally emerging in the late '40s, the Dukes were formed by trombonist Freddie Assunto and his brother, trumpeter Frank Assunto. Sons of longtime New Orleans trombonist Jac Assunto, they were a nationally recognized live act for over 20 years, and issued many well-regarded albums like 1957's The Dukes of Dixieland and 1962's The Dukes of Dixieland at Disneyland. After the brothers passed away, the band's name was reborn under new leadership in the 1970s, and featured an evolving lineup of players. This second version of the Dukes of Dixieland has continued to tour and record, picking up a Grammy nomination for 1999's Gloryland and releasing a handful of concert albums, including Live at Jazzfest 2017.
The story of the Dukes of Dixieland is, in fact, a chapter in the broader saga of one of New Orleans' many musical dynasties, that of the Assunto family, which can boast at least three generations of musicians to its credit. Jac Assunto was one of the first jazzmen to record in New Orleans, documented in 1925 by Ralph Peer as a member of the Midnight Serenaders. The Dukes were formed by his two sons, Freddie and Frank, in 1949, and during the '50s they rose to national prominence, first as a feature of the Bourbon Street scene at the Famous Door, then as a touring act when they traveled to Chicago and Las Vegas in 1955. By this time, "Papa" Jac had joined the band, and the following year the Assuntos made Las Vegas their headquarters as they prepared to take the country, and the world, by storm. Between 1956 and 1966, the band made numerous recordings, including several with Louis Armstrong, and began an international touring schedule that covered most of North America, Japan, and the Far East.
The death of Freddie Assunto in 1966 brought the Dukes back to New Orleans in 1967; six years later Frank passed away, ending the predominance of the family in the band, as well as its first phase of development. Still, the Dukes continued on with a new lineup, and in the late '70s, they established themselves as a tourist attraction once again in their own penthouse nightclub atop the Montleone Hotel in the French Quarter. In the mid-'80s they underwent further personnel changes but continued well into the 21st century. They held forth at Lulu White's Mahogany Hall (the former Paddock Lounge), located on Bourbon Street. In 1991, Mahogany Hall was sold and closed, and the Dukes moved to the Steamboat Natchez at the Toulouse Street wharf in the French Quarter, where performed thereafter. They received their first Grammy nomination in 1999 for Gloryland, a collaboration with Moses Hogan's New Orleans Gospel Choir.
In all their various manifestations, the Dukes of Dixieland have offered listeners a snappy, toe-tapping style of jazz that is at once musically and visually entertaining. The four-disc Timeless appeared in 2006, an anthology of songs and tunes from the 16 albums the group recorded between 1974 and 2006. The genre-bending When Country Meets Dixie appeared in 2012, featuring the group in a country-jazz fusion with the Oak Ridge Boys. A year later, they paid homage to New Orleans trumpet legend Louis Armstrong with Celebrating Satchmo. Several concert albums followed, each recorded at the New Orleans Blues and Heritage Festival, including Live at Jazzfest 2017. ~ Bruce Boyd Raeburn~ Rovi