High Society

1901© Music by Porter Steele and Walter Melrose

Porter Steele      *

Walter Melrose *

Armand Picou is perhaps best known for originating the clarinet part on the standard “High Society”. Some have mistakenly stated that he wrote the number, which was actually a 1901 marching band composition by Porter Steele. Picou rearranged it giving it a gentle swing and paraphrased the piccolo part to create his famous clarinet solo. This became a local standard part, and no younger New Orleans clarinetist was considered proficient until he could duplicate Picou’s part. Unusually in a music that values improvisation it became a set piece; commonly later clarinetists would solo once through reproducing or sticking close to Picou’s solo, and then do their own improvisations on a second solo.i1
Picou´s clarinet solo on “High Society” was first devised while with the Tuxedo Brass Band and was possibly based a bit on a George Baquet idea.i2
Now for “High Society” (based on early research by Jean C Averty and Thornton Hagert in ‘Record Research’ Nov 1973).
The version we all know was copyrighted (as a march & two step) in April 1901 by Porter Steele. The score does not contain the celebrated clt solo. However, a later 1901 orchestration written by Robert Recker (violinist leader of the NYC Variety Theatre Orch) originates the piccolo trio part which Alphonse Picou turned into his now famous clt ‘test’ piece.

Two other “High Society” copyrights by Lucie Wyatt (Jan 1906) and Tom Lemonier- Clarence M Jones (Nov 1914) are not the Porter Steele composition. Jo [sic] Oliver and Lil Harding [sic] copyrighted “High Society” in Aug 1923, but the manuscript does not score the clt solo, which is on the King Oliver Creole Jazz Band record (22 June 1923). They had probably assumed that the tune was in the Public Domain because it had never been recorded.

They were obviously unaware that the “Arthur Pryor” band had recorded it in 1911. [I think Mr Hagert may have meant Prince’s Band. I have been unable to find a 1911 Pryor Band version.]

Although a lawyer, Porter Steele did not renew his copyright of “High Society” when it expired in 1929 and it passed into the Public Domain.
“High Society” (by A J Piron) was copyrighted by Clarence Williams in May 1929. This is the Porter Steele composition.
“High Society” by Porter Steele and Walter Melrose (with 32 bar new melody strains A and B by Walter Melrose) was copyrighted by the Melrose brothers in Dec 1931.
Clarence Williams and A J Piron copyrighted an arrangement of the ‘trio’ part with words, of “High Society” in Aug 1933.

In 1933 trumpet player Zilmer Randolph copyrighted his arrangement of the Louis Armstrong Orch 26 Jan 1933 recording of “High Society”. Notwithstanding the above, “High Society” is now in the Public Domain and is listed as such on the Public Domain Music web site which explains: “Music and lyrics written by an American author and published in 1922 or earlier are in the Public Domain in the United States. No one can claim ownership of a song in the public domain, therefore public domain songs may be used by everyone. PD songs may be used for profit-making without paying any royalties. If you create a new version or derivative of a public domain song, you can copyright your version and no one can use it without your permission. However, the song remains in the public domain, and anyone else can also make and copyright their own version of the same PD song.”i3


Sources (internet):
i1 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alphonse_Picou
i2 http://www.answers.com/topic/alphonse-picou
i3 http://ml.islandnet.com/pipermail/dixielandjazz/2004-August/021135.html
Sources (brassband history):