Louis “Old Man” Cottrell (1878-1927) was a pioneering American jazz drummer who is credited with introducing the “press roll” into jazz drumming. Cottrell is considered as one of the finest parade drummers of all time and contributed to the root of United States drum kit playing. He is known as the Grandfather of jazz drumming, having taught and influenced such greats as Baby Dodds, Zutty Singleton, Paul Barbarin, Louis Barbarin, Freddie Kohlman, Cie Frazier, Alfred Williams, Ernest Rogers, George Henderson and Albert France.
Louis Cottrell, Sr. played with John Robichaux’s Orchestra, the Olympia Orchestra and with Manuel Perez in Chicago. He also performed with A.J. Piron’s Orchestra. The nationally renowned Piron Orchestra traveled to New York in 1923 for an engagement at the Cotton Club and later went back to play at Roseland Ballroom. While in New York, the group made recordings for three different companies, Okeh, Victor and Columbia between 1923-25.
“Old Man” Cottrell also worked in Storyville, the red-light district of New Orleans, Louisiana. He worked at the 101 Ranch, Pete Lala’s and the Tuxedo Dance Hall in The District. Cottrell, along with fellow musicians Peter Bocage, Manuel “Fess” Manetta, and Luis “Papa” Tio, was performing the night of the infamous gunfight at the Tuxedo Dance Hall in March of 1913 which ended in the murders of the owners of the 101 Ranch and Tuxedo. Cottrell and others were able to escape out the back door without harm. Mr. Cottrell also worked for P.P. Werlein & Halsey in which he inspected and approved all new drums for their retail business.
In the judgment of his peers, Louis Cottrell was the best street drummer ever to play in New Orleans. Louis Armstrong described Cottrell as a fantastic drummer who would come on the streets in each parade with a brand new snare drum, which would break it up. Papa John Joseph, described Cottrell as the “best drummer we had yet. That man could roll a drum.” Johnny St. Cyr, the celebrated banjoist who worked with the giants of early jazz (Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Freddie Keppard and Jelly Roll Morton) also referred to ‘Old Man’ Cottrell as the best he could remember. St. Cyr and Cottrell worked together with the Papa Celestin Band.