The practice of affixing honorific titles to the names of jazz musicians goes back to New Orleans at the start of the 20th century, before the genre was commonly known as "jazz". Cornetist Buddy Bolden was popularly known as "King Bolden".
The realization that such titles had commercial or public relations values that increased popularity also dates to this era. Violinist and bandleader Alex Watzke, observing Bolden's popularity, started billing himself as "King Watzke", and paid children to publicly point at him as he walked down the street and say "There goes King Watzke". While he succeeded in acquiring the title for himself, some fellow musicians used it more with amusement than with the respect accorded to Bolden. After Bolden was institutionalized in 1907, his "crown" was taken by Freddie Keppard who, in turn, "ruled" until 1914 when Joe Oliver took over the title.
Joe Oliver left New Orleans in 1919. Some later writers have assumed that the trumpet crown at that time went to Oliver's protégé Louis Armstrong, but Armstrong and his contemporaries made no such claim. Armstrong had a powerful rival in Buddie Petit, whom many ranked higher than young Armstrong in the period of 1919-1922. Neither billed themselves as "king". Oliver was known as "King Oliver" in Chicago, and was still regarded as the jazz king as late as 1925, when Louis Armstrong returned to Chicago from New York City. Armstrong's great respect and affection for Oliver was probably a factor in never claiming Oliver's kingship, although at the urging of his wife Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong was billed as the "world's greatest jazz trumpeter", rendering Oliver's title more ceremonial than a claim of supremacy.
Meanwhile in New York City in the 1920s, Paul Whiteman controversially began billing himself as the "King of Jazz". His nationally popular band with many hit records arguably played more jazz-influenced popular music than jazz per se, but to the dismay of many later jazz fans, Whiteman's self-conferred moniker stuck, and a motion picture The King of Jazz starring Whiteman and his band appeared in 1930. The "King of Jazz" title was a publicity stunt in 1923, by a musical instrument manufacturer that Whiteman endorsed, and Whiteman's publicists used it to good measure.
Jelly Roll Morton wrote an anthem to himself called "Mr. Jelly Lord" though surprisingly didn't bill himself "Mr. Jelly Lord." He was also one of many jazz musicians annoyed by Whiteman's claim, and had enough bravado to challenge it, by billing his band as "The Kings of Jazz" In 1924, the title never caught on.
Benny Goodman was regularly called the "King of Swing". His rival, Artie Shaw, was often called "King of the Clarinet". Goodman's song "King Porter Stomp" was written by Jelly Roll Morton after a piano player he knew named Porter King. Later a little-known bandleader took the name "King Porter". Nat King Cole's nickname is partly inspired by the nursery rhyme "Old King Cole" and partly inspired by his impressive jazz piano technique.
There was a popular big band, led by Blue Barron, a stage name. Blue Barron once billed himself as competing for the title of "King of the Mickey Mouse Bands". Pianist Albert Ammons was referred to both as the "King of Boogie Woogie" and the "Rhythm King" in the 30s and 40s.
Sharkey Bonano billed his band as "Sharkey & His Kings of Dixieland". What started out as the Assunto family band acknowledged Sharkey's supremacy but claimed a lesser title for themselves, becoming the Dukes of Dixieland. Charles Mingus dubbed himself "Baron Mingus" for a brief period early in his career. Many of Al Hirt's records credited him as Al "He's The King" Hirt.
Mamie Smith was billed as the "Queen of the Blues"; Bessie Smith outdid her with the billing "Empress of the Blues". In a later era, Dinah Washington was also billed as the "Queen of the Blues". B. B. King called himself the "Blues Boy" or "Beale Street Blues Boy" beginning early in his career and fellow bluesmen Albert King (born Albert Nelson) and Freddie King share a last name with him. They are now known[by whom?] as the "Three Kings of the Blues".
- God: Art Tatum
- The King: Joe "King" Oliver, Nat "King" Cole, Paul Whiteman, Buddy Bolden, Freddie Keppard, Benny Carter.
- The Mr. Lord: Jelly Roll Morton
- The King of Swing: Benny Goodman
- The King of the Clarinet: Artie Shaw
- The King of the Trumpet: Louis Armstrong
- "The King of the Jukebox": Louis Jordan
- "The King Of Smooth Jazz": Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Tormé
- The Queen: Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald
- The Duke: Duke Ellington
- The Count: Count Basie
- The Earl: Earl Hines, more commonly called "Fatha"
- The Judge: Milt Hinton
- The Court Jester: Ornette Coleman
- The Major: Glenn Miller, which in fact was his military rank during World War II
- The Prince of Darkness: Miles Davis
- Sir Roland Hanna, knighted by Liberian President William Tubman in 1970.
- Sir Charles Thompson was 'knighted' by Lester Young.
- High Priest of Bop: Thelonious Monk
- High Priestess of Soul: Nina Simone
- The Baron: Charles Mingus
- The Maharaja: Oscar Peterson
- The First Lady of Song: Ella Fitzgerald
- The Queen of Jazz: Ella Fitzgerald
- Lady Ella: Ella Fitzgerald
- President (Prez): Lester Young
- Lady Day: Billie Holiday, along with her mother (Sarah Julia "Sadie" Fagan), upon whom Lester Young bestowed the title of the Duchess
- The Divine One: Sarah Vaughan
- The Chairman of the Board: Frank Sinatra
- The King of Cool: Dean Martin
- King of Jazz Guitar: Django Reinhardt
- The Chairman of the Boards: Page McConnell
- The Last Word Of Jazz: Mel Tormé
- The related tradition of Calypsonian nicknames
- List of honorific titles in popular music
- List of nicknames of jazz musicians
- Berrett, Joshua (2004). Louis Armstrong & Paul Whiteman: Two Kings of Jazz. Yale University Press. p. 123. ISBN 978-0-300-10384-7.
- John Burnett. "Art Tatum: A Talent Never to Be Duplicated". NPR.
The great stride pianist Fats Waller famously announced one night when Tatum walked into the club where Waller was playing, 'I only play the piano, but tonight God is in the house.'
- Yanow, Scott (2003). Jazz on Record: The First Sixty Years. Backbeat Books. p. 136. ISBN 978-0-87930-755-4.
- Gene Santoro (April 1, 1999). "The Jazz Singer". The Nation. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
Davis was forever, and proudly, jazz's Prince of Darkness.[dead link]
- Robin D. G. Kelley (May 13, 2001). "Miles Davis: The Chameleon of Cool; A Jazz Genius In the Guise Of a Hustler". New York Times. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
- Jones, Max; Stanley Dance (2000). Jazz Talking: Profiles, Interviews, and Other Riffs on Jazz Musicians. Da Capo Press. p. 204. ISBN 0-306-80948-6.
- "Jazz Great Oscar Peterson Dies". CNN. Associated Press. December 25, 2007. Retrieved 25 December 2008.
Duke Ellington referred to him as 'Maharajah of the keyboard'[dead link]
- "Frank Sinatra". Hollywood.com. Archived from the original on 2012-05-27. Retrieved 2008-05-15.
- Django Reinhardt - King Of Jazz Guitar