While New Orleans-born John William ‘Bud’ Loyacano (1879-1960) is the earliest idiodextrous bassist known to date, he didn’t hear ‘jazz’ until his mid-twenties. His most notable associations were with Triangle Band (1917-1925) and the Halfway House Orchestra (1923-1928).
Loyacano and his six siblings grew up listening to their father play ‘popular songs’ on guitar and all four brothers went on to become active and influential musicians in an around New Orleans during the pre-jazz, rag-time and early jazz eras.
Bud began playing aged ten and performed on ‘Jew’s harp’, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, violin, tuba and eventually double bass. He worked in situations ranging from playing ‘polka, mazurka, schottische, valse’ for society dances to ‘ballyhoing outside burlesque shows’ and ‘thirteen years in the Mardi Gras parades’ playing jazz.
The self-taught Loyacano proudly declared ‘I was a ‘whippin’ piece of furniture’ on the bass fiddle; I used to slap them like nobody’s business’. He notes that bassists of his day almost always played two in a bar. When discussing his back-to-front playing, he described how he pulled the strings and let them slap back onto the fingerboard ‘just like any other’.
Considering that Loyacano says he never played walking bass lines (nor employed embellishments like raking and certainly never soloing), his idiodexterity may not have had any significant technical consequences at all. In the case of the ‘slap bass’ technique popular in early jazz of the 1920s, it may even have been an advantage, given that the desired sound was thin and percussive rather than deep and flowing.
Bud’s younger brother Joe revered the way he would ‘pop the hell out of the strings. Make them hit the fingerboard’ and noted that they called that style ‘woodblock bass’ for its percussive similarity to the drummer playing sticks on woodblocks. This clarifies that depth of tone was not a priority and further supports the idea that Loyacano’s idiodexerity had no impact on his abilities as an early jazz musician.