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Jazz Riverboat Shuffles


Bix Beiderbecke


The term 'Riverboat Shuffle' was presumably based on the bands that originally played for people on the Mississippi riverboats, but was possibly coined by Hoagy Carmichael when he gave one of his compositions the name. Apparently, in the spring of 1924, Bix Beiderbecke came to Indiana University where Hoagy booked him to play a series of ten fraternity dances, and the two became fast friends. It was for Beiderbecke that Carmichael wrote his first piece, calling it Free Wheeling. Beiderbecke took it with him to Richmond, Indiana (100 miles to the East), home of the early record company, Gennett Records, waxed it with his seven-piece band, “The Wolverines” and changed the name to Riverboat Shuffle.



Here's Bix playing Riverboat Shuffle.




Hoagy's lyrics for the song said:

Good people, you're invited tonight
To the riverboat shuffle
Good people, we got rhythm tonight
At the riverboat shuffle
They tell me that slide-pipe tooter is grand
Best in Louisiana
So bring your freighter, come and alligator that band
Mister Hawkins on the tenor
Good people, you'll hear Millenberg Joys
In a special orchestration
Even mama Dinah will be there to strut for the boys
In a room full of noise
She'll teach you to shuffle it right
So, bring your baby
I'll be seeing you at the riverboat shuffle tonight


Ken Fletcher sent us these pictures from a leaflet advertising a Riverboat Shuffle in 1958. Just looking at the line up of bands shows how popular these events were. Organised by Jazzshows Limited, they said: 'Following the tremendous success of our Riverboat Shuffle leafletsecond Floating Festival of Jazz, we have pleasure in announcing that we have again chartered both the 'Royal Daffodil' and the 'Royal Sovereign' for this year's event, which will be held on Sunday, 15th June. As last year, we shall be sailing from Tower Pier to Margate and back. To ensure that there will be plenty of room we are restricting the number of passengers so that everyone will be comfortable. Each boat is designed to give the maximum protection and you can be sure of a Riverboat Shuffle leafletwonderful outing whatever the weather.'

'The artistes who travel down on the 'Royal Daffodil' will return on the 'Royal Sovereign' and vice versa so that you will be able to see and hear all the bands and artistes at some time during the day.'

'Throughout the cruise the ships' bars will be open and drinks and food can be obtained all day. Luncheons, dinners and high teas will be served in the dining saloons but if you prefer to bring your own food you are quite at liberty to do so.'

The ships were scheduled to leave Tower Pier around 9.30 am, returning twelve hours later, allowing two hours ashore at Margate. '... the actual time of arrival back cannot be guaranteed owing to the tidal conditions in the Estuary.'

The price of tickets was £2 each and it was possible to pay by instalments. Under that plan, people could send 10/- deposit with the balance paid 'when you like, provided that all the money is in our hands by 1st June.'

Ken said: 'Having mis-spent my youth in the North London Jazz clubs of the 1950s, I always enjoy people's recollections of those times.'



Riverboat Shuffle Humphrey Lyttelton and others


The Riverboat Shuffle photograph above comes from clarinettist Alex Revell who says: 'Thought you might like to include this one. Taken on a riverboat shuffle. Don’t remember the date, but sometime in the late forties, or very early fifties, certainly before 1953.  Left to right: it’s Owen Maddox (I think), Chris Barber, me, Humph, unknown (I think a trombonist), Owen Bryce. Just to the right of Owen B  is his wife.'

Pete Ward said: 'In Alex Revell's photo, the un-named riverboat musician appears to me to be Bernie Newland. He was certainly in the London area at that time. I came across him again in the Taunton area in the '60s, and again in the Bristol area in the '70s.  I understand that he went to live in Germany sometime later, but I'm told that he is no longer alive.'




Were You On The 1955 Riverboat Shuffle?


Sandy Brown Riverboat Shuffle


Chris Watford clarinettist and bandleader sent us this photograph of the Sandy Brown Band playing a Riverboat Shuffle and wonders if anyone recognises themselves or can remember the event?

Chris says that the event was back in the 1950s. 'It was from Westminster that we started, travelling up river, possibly as far as Maidenhead. I believe this was a 2-band session shared with the Dave Carey jazz band. If a piano solo was in progress when the boat passed under a bridge, the band would grab their instruments and join in, with a wonderful ensemble sound bouncing off the underneath of the bridge arches!

I recognise Sandy on clarinet and Al Fairweather on trumpet, despite being stripped to the waist - it was a sweltering hot day! The stern of the boat was crammed with beer-guzzling youngsters - happy days! I think this was the summer of 1955, but it could have been the previous summer'.

Were you there?


There is footage of the Dutch Swing College band playing on a riverboat shuffle. 'A fragment from "Jazzbanditen"; the story of the "Basin Street Club", Düsseldorf, Germany. Made by Bodo Ulrich 1958. A Riverboat Cruise with the Drachenfells. In the backgroud the "Dutch Swing College Band" with a live version of Sandy Brown's "African Queen" with the amazing Jan Morks.'






My thanks to Tom Lee who writes: Doreen Beatty Riverboat Shuffle


'Quite by chance (I’m not sure how) I came across your Facebook page announcing the sad death of Doreen Beatty. Some years back I ran a paddle steamer website (bear with me, it’s worth the wait) cataloguing British pleasure steamers. In the 1960’s my late Grandfather’s employers ran ‘Floating Jazz’ cruises on some of their steamers in an effort to try and attract back some of the trade they were losing due to the rise of the motor car and cheap package holidays. On at least one of these cruises Doreen Beatty sang with the Mike Daniels Delta Jazzmen, on the evening of Sunday 25 June 1961, on the way back from Margate.

My website disappeared overnight when my ISP withdrew the ‘Freespace’ they had offered and hours of work almost disappeared with it. However, fortunately, someone at the British Library foresaw this and invited hobbyist sites such as mine to be archived by them for future researchers. As such, most of the site is still available, although you really do need to know where to look! Even more fortunately, one of my contributor’s father was on the cruises and took lots of pictures which he allowed me to share, subject to accreditation, in the public domain on my site. Now, here comes the punchline….Doreen was photographed singing with Mike Daniels and the picture is still viewable! The archived site also has other Jazz singers from the cruises. For this link please click here and you might find more to interest you.'

Picture courtesy of Pete at Thames Tugs.


Eric Jackson adds these memories:

Louie Bellson Skin Deep



One memory is of a group of lads keeping pace on the towpath and shouting out their request for Skin Deep which was a big band drum feature popular at the time. [Click here to listen to Louie Bellson playing Skin Deep with the Duke Ellington Orchestra in the 1950s]


Captain Bligh





The other memory was turmoil  at one of the locks as the captain  emerged in full Captain Bligh mode to bellow 'get off my ship' to us  gaggle of squiffy revellers.




Riverboat Shuffles were still being organised before the Coronavirus pandemic arrived in 2020 and hopefully will in due course start again.

If you have memories of a Riverboat Shuffle - please let us know.


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Other pages you might find of interest :

Don't You Feel My Leg - Maria Muldaur
Uncle Bonny's Chinese Jazz Clubs
Sandy Brown
Jazz As Art

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