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CD: TED LEWIS AND HIS JAZZ BAND. “RUNNIN’ WILD “ THE EARLY YEARS, 1919-1926. Rivermont BSW-1164. www.rivermontrecords.com
There’s a popular and widespread wisdom (or should I say, deficit thereof) about the music of a number of clarinetists, among whom are counted the likes of Wilton Crawley, Wilbur Sweatman, Boyd Senter, Ted Lewis and for that matter George McLennon, to the effect that their combination of embouchure, reed choice, style and musical execution renders them unworthy of serious consideration by the “true” jazz connoisseur. This is not only a mistake, since there are so many worlds to conquer in the jazz idiom once one reaches beyond Jelly, Bix, Dodds and Armstrong; but so many collectors and enthusiasts maintain this aversion stolidly from youth to old age, and even propagate it further as gospel, without ever investigating its veracity.
The truth is that every last one of those artists mentioned has virtues in the jazz idiom: (Ron Jewson gave me, in early years, a maxim to live by: “Everybody made at least one great record, Malc, otherwise the studios would never have recorded ‘em. All we got to do is look and find it.” I find this to be as true in my seventies as I did in my twenties.) The fact is also, that every adored jazz clarinetist played at some time, using the same embouchure and reed on a solo on a record somewhere, too. Buster Bailey, Johnny Dodds, Larry Shields, Sidney Arodin, Benny Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Don Murray; they all did. If you find that argument unconvincing, listen to Jimmy O’Bryant. And in fact, Alcide Nuiñez did it all the time, but he was from N’Awlins, so all is not only permissible, but forgiven a priori.
Ted Lewis suffers the calumny twice, unfortunately, because in his late-20s electrically recorded work, he prolifically employs Spanier, Brunies and Dorsey, as well as the odd spot for Fats and a gallery of other beloved talent. This fabulously wealthy opus completely eclipses and sidelines his early work, in most minds.
In my own case, this inherited wisdom changed for me, in London in 1967, when I discovered a Regal pressing (the British Regal label, of course) of “Novelty Jazz Band” playing Bo-La-Bo (Oriental Fox-Trot). I called Brian Rust, all excited; he filled me in that it was the guy in the crumpled top hat. I was as hooked then, as I still am now, on this marvelous early, unique, developing jazz.
Here, two men of similar tastes to mine, Bryan Wright and your VJM editor, have put together a superb compendium of Lewis’s early work. It’s not all-inclusive, but it’s sans pareil. We find the best work of a man who had a foot in half-a-dozen stylistic camps growing up in the first years of the century; the Jewish-immigrant family background, where the arts were and still are prized and poured out in full measure upon children, the klezmer world of ethnic music, the half-seen world of black entertainment, the vaudeville circuits, the travelling medicine shows, Tin Pan Alley and the music publishing sphere, night-clubs, dance-halls, and eventually, gramophone records with Earl Fuller’s Jazz Band on Victor. It was now the late ‘teens; the world was full of vamps, sheiks and arabesque art and architecture. But enough of context: this is about the music.
We start with Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me; heavily klezmer-influenced; the more so since Harry Raderman, another klezmer player, is on trombone. It’s a joyful, well-paced debut for Lewis’s Columbia career, which lasted fourteen years. When My Baby Smiles At Me likewise rattles along, with a surprising amount of improvisation from the leads. Hula Blues and That Riga-Liga-Lee are as good in jazz terms as any contemporary band, with Frank Lhotak of Jimmy Durante’s Original New Orleans Jazz Band riffing a duet with Sigmund Behrendsohn behind the leader’s clarinet.
Queen Of Sheba (another fashionably “oriental” title) is nothing less than delightful, and I’m hearing it for the first time. It’s a sprightly tune, recorded on the West Coast, an early Columbia field recording, and the last tune on the disc by the “Ted Lewis Jazz” band. It’s Ted Lewis and His Band from here on. Thanks, Ladies’ Home Journal, for equating jazz with sin, and looking after America’s tender maidens!
A tuba gives new depth to the sound on Sally Won’t You Come Back, followed by Home Again Blues; the performance in both cases rocking along, and the version of the latter title standing toe-to-toe with any other performance of the time. Down The Old Church Aisle is hokum from Ted’s medicine-show career, and he carries it off with panache. Comparison of Hot Lips with any other version of the time including the composer’s shows the Lewis version triumphing over all comers; Bees’ Knees likewise, though Lewis’s version preceded everyone else’s; he had himself credited as co-composer on the score with Ray Lopez; and other people then rushed to record it.
Now we’re into what were the gold discs of the early 20s; Lovin’ Sam; Runnin’ Wild; Tiger Rag; Aunt Hagar’s Blues. The tunes and the execution are different from most other versions; all are top-notch. Lewis plays soprano on Wet Yo’ Thumb, which features a trombone chase chorus, and truly bounces along. Beale Street Mama comes from an unissued test in Lewis’s archive in Circleville, Ohio, as does Twelfth Street Rag, from a test in Mark’s collection. Rejected they may have been for whatever reasons, but the performances are excellent.
So now we’re finishing out 1923 in Chicago, with another great “pop” tune, Steppin’ Out. Frank Lhotak leaves the band (Mark suggests he’s worn out with non-stop touring) and is replaced by George Brunies. George’s first coupling with Lewis produces two very different-sounding sides, San and She’s Everybody’s Sweetheart; the first stomping along as all versions of the tune do, the latter more sedate; but in my weird mind, the comparison is valid, between this version of San and Whiteman’s with Bix; and Lewis for me holds his own.
There’ll Be Some Changes Made has an almost “chatty” sound, driven by a driving banjo/piano combination accentuating the off-beat. It’s novel and charming. Comes then Eccentric, with a similar driving rhythm, not unlike the NORK’s version, followed by Rose Marie from yet another unissued test, as is also I Ain’t Got Nobody To Love.
I Like You Best Of All is also an unissued test, with very different solo voicing from the issued take. It’s a great tune, a great interpretation and a great take of it. Brunies is amazing, but so is everybody here. In many ways the solo and vocal work is better than that issued, but the take was rejected apparently for technical reasons. It’s superb, nonetheless.
If you’ve never heard Ted’s Ah-ha! either you’ve never been a junker or you’re Rip Van Winkle. This take was issued only in Canada. Yes it’s hokey… but by now that’s part of the Lewis charm.
And to finish, there’s only one electric recording on the CD. Bring Back Those Minstrel Days is pure Lewis nostalgia… a yearning for earlier years and earlier forms of entertainment; a show tune if ever there was. This cut comes from the single existing test of a most unusual record, so I assume you haven’t heard it yet; I certainly hadn’t.
That’s the music, and it rekindles a love of this multi-faceted entertainer (far be it from me to trap Ted in one genre like “jazz musician”) I’ve had for five decades.
And then, there’s the production. Bryan, at Rivermont, does the finest work possible in CD production, as he does at the piano. The packaging is neat, clear, flawless. Mark Berresford, of course, has a profound knowledge of the man and his career, so if there’s a gripe, it’s that the liner-note booklet, at 40 pages, is so replete with historical, discographical, biographical and photographic information, that it’s a hassle to extract the booklet from the CD case, and more difficult still, to replace it when done.
If you’ve avoided Ted Lewis, based on the kind words of advice offered by other collectors, you have a discovery to make. If you’ve loved his music as I have, for years, you still have that experience to come, because much of this material is from single copies of unissued material. Either way, you owe yourself the joy of serendipity. It’s worth any amount of effort, but all it takes is ordering the disc. What’s keeping you?
BOOK: THE FROG BLUES & JAZZ ANNUAL NO. 4. Edited by Paul Swinton. Pub. by Frog Records Ltd. 176pp, Softbound, illus. ISBN 978-0-9564717-3-4. £29.90 + p&p (£2.60 in UK). www.frog-records.co.uk
As youngsters in the 1960s, my brother and I always keenly anticipated Christmas, not least for the arrival of two or even three comic annuals - usually Rover and Wizard, The Beano or The Hotspur. These would keep us amused for weeks on end in those pre-wall-to-wall television and computer games days, with the tales of The Wolf of Kabul, Dennis the Menace, The Tough of the Track, the Bash Street Kids and so many more. So it’s great to see published in time for Christmas the fourth of Paul Swinton’s Frog Blues & Jazz Annuals, and I expect it will be received with the same degree of anticipation by older and greyer readers.
Once again Paul has assembled a collection of articles, both contemporary and recycled from long-defunct sources (in my opinion nothing wrong with that - it’s easy to forget that some great research and writing was published in very obscure self-published magazines in the 40s and 50s, which needs to be presented to a larger, modern audience) in a profusely-illustrated, beautifully-printed, full colour, book. How profuse those illustrations are can be judged by the fact that there are over 200 in 176 pages - many are in colour , including ‘glamour labels’ and sheet music covers. It is a visual feast.
As to the articles, it splits roughly equally between jazz and blues, with the latter being the most in-depth, not least Bruce Bastin’s eloquent homage to the Atlanta scene. His love and knowledge of the music is profound - how many blues researchers do you know who were nearly arrested for “consorting with blacks?”
Paramount expert Alex van der Tuuk contributes another well-written and researched piece on Son House, while Max Haymes’ article on selling one’s soul to the devil in the blues genre is fascinating.
From a jazz perspective the keynote article is Nick Dellow’s lengthy examination of the events around Sidney Bechet’s gunfight (or were there two?) with ‘Little’ Mike McKendrick in a Paris street in December 1928, which saw innocent bystanders injured and both Bechet and McKendrick imprisoned and Bechet deported. Using contemporary French and American newspaper reports it reveals the more unsavoury side of Bechet’s complex personality and brings into sharp focus the fact that music was the salvation that saved him from the otherwise highly likely scenarios of either being found dead in a gutter or dangling on the end of a rope.
Dan Vernhettes contributes a typically well-researched piece on the underrated Bob Shoffner which shows that he wasn’t just Cinderella to King Oliver and Tommy Ladnier, and Brian Goggin rescues from obscurity LaForest Dent, mainstay of the Bennie Moten orchestra. Incidentally, the banjoist in the accompanying photo of the Moten band in 1926 purports to show banjoist Leroy Berry - it isn’t. Comparison with the famous 1923 photograph of the band shows it to be the man known to us as ‘Sam Tall.’ Brian also contributes a short but important study of the trumpet solos on King Oliver’s Victors and who was responsible for them, showing in spreadsheet format each side and the attributions given in Laurie Wright’s 1987 edition of the Rust/Allen book ‘King’ Oliver, and his own views. I guarantee it will have you reaching for your Oliver Victors.
Paul Swinton’s own keynote contribution is a fascinating examination of the role of the humble washboard in jazz and blues, with particular emphasis on the flamboyant playing of Bruce Johnson. The fact that washboard and kazoo groups enjoyed great popularity on record and radio in the gloomiest days of the Depression was in no small part due to the fact that they were literally a cheap date - players of these ‘instruments’ were not considered ‘musicians’ and thus didn’t have to be paid union scale.
K-B Rau, whose work will be familiar to readers of Names & Numbers, contributes two of his somewhat controversial re-examinations of recordings made by black performers in New York in the 1920s - in this case trumpeter June Clark and clarinettist Arville Harris. Like me, you may not agree with everything he writes, but it does make one get up and play some of the records he discusses - and that’s no bad thing!
Most readers will have noticed that the trend in jazz and blues research is towards a much more forensic approach - due in no small part to the availability online of contemporary source material previously difficult or impossible to access. Whilst this has been of enormous benefit to the broader world of jazz and blues enthusiasts, there is only so much one can take of Census returns, Draft registration cards, Passport applications or ships’ manifests at one sitting. Paul has wisely balanced this type of article against ‘old school’ pieces written from the heart in appreciation of an artist - one of the more extreme examples of this genre being Carl van Vechten’s homage to Bessie Smith - it’s obvious from his writing style that he wouldn’t know a Draft registration card if it slapped him in the face!
If 176 pages isn’t enough, there’s an additional bonus of a 25-track CD of recordings by artists featured in the Annual. These include private tapes of Meade Lux Lewis at a party in 1961, unissued test pressings of Bessie Smith, Blind Willie McTell’s Love Making Mama, Jelly Roll Morton, Tampa Red, and Roy Palmer (I’d quite forgotten how out of tune Roy Palmer is on Trombone Slide - hence my parting with a copy of the test pressing) and airshots of Fats Waller, as well as jazz classics such as 29th & Dearborn by Russell’s Hot Six and King Oliver’s Deep Henderson.
The more astute reader will notice from the foregoing comments that the content of this edition of the Annual is entirely devoted to black performers - this is undoubtedly down to the material presented to the Editor for publication and, like VJM, any publication can only reflect what is submitted to it. Paul states in the Afterword that the 5th Annual will (probably) be the last - I know only too well the enormous pressure of putting a publication together - so those readers who want to redress this racial imbalance should start putting pen to paper now!
Like the comic annuals of my childhood, the Frog Blues & Jazz Annual will not fail to keep the reader engrossed for weeks or even more, and with Christmas around the corner I suspect that the back cover of this issue of VJM will be left in prominent locations in collectors’ households over the coming weeks!
A thoroughly good read and highly recommended.
BOOK: NYRL 1-1099 Matrix Series. By Guido van Rijn and Alex van der Tuuk. Agram Blues Books, Prins Mauritslaan 95, 2051 KC Overveen, Netherlands. ISBN 978-90-814715-8-9. 298 pp hardbound, illus. €40.00 plus postage. http://home.tiscali.nl/guido/
Here is the fifth and final volume of what was originally planned as a four-volume set of sequential listings of Paramount matrixes. It deals with the first recorded efforts of the NYRL from its beginnings to April 1922, the subsequent matrix series covered by Volume 4, reviewed in the last issue. What continues to be amazing is the amount of detail. The methodology is not only painstaking, it is a lesson on how this stuff needs to be done. In his correspondence with me, Alex v.d. Tuuk has quoted Robert Crumb, whose art most of us know and love. Crumb names Alex: “the monster of research,” with the comment: “who would write on this subject; it is so obscure?” The comment applies equally here to both Alex and Guido. It is amazing that a century after the events detailed in the work; and even more, half a century after a well-remembered collector in London told me in the 60s: “No-one knows much about Paramount; and as far as I can see it’s pretty certain things will stay that way,” that this level of applied palaeontology has produced results of this calibre.
Both authors acknowledge their debt to the person who made the pioneering inroads into NYRL history at the beginning of that same decade, Max Vreede. Max produced the first published listing of the Paramount race series in 1971, which started the ball rolling for Guido and Alex. They are also the first to avow the fact that, without Max’s pioneer work, none of their subsequent efforts would have had the level of detail and accuracy shown in this series of books. The list of acknowledgments to contemporary researchers also, is vast. Credit goes to both Guido and Alex for marshalling the forces to assemble the data.
Unlike the later material in some of the prior volumes, which exhibits large lacunae in terms of linking matrix, artist, title and recording details; much, and in the case of mxs. from the early 600s forward, almost all, is revealed here. In the introduction, the authors spend 24 pages analyzing the events and the personalities involved in the birth of NYRL as a recording concern, sired out of a furniture manufacturer; the development of its production methods, the links with sister and subsidiary labels, as well as the Puritan conundrum; then a meticulous matrix-by-matrix, session-by-session evaluation of recordings and their dates in this volume. The move (and the difficulties entailed therein) from vertical to lateral recording is discussed in detail, and explanations given for why this was such a perilous process. It’s all here; everything you could ever want to know.
Consonant with the theme developed in the prior volume, the product is also delightfully produced in full colour. The black-and-white material from newspapers and similar media from the late 20s, used in the three first volumes, is virtually non-existent from this early period, so the left-hand pages of the volume feature sheet-music, publicity material, dealer solicitation, catalogue illustrations and label copy. As in prior volumes, many of the labels illustrated here I have never even seen, let alone owned. There’s even a yellow Metropolitan, of which only one copy is known to exist.
So be assured, it’s gorgeous. The data itself, since it begins in 1917, the year Woodrow Wilson finally got it through his skull that Germany had crossed the line and declared war, contains much war-related material in the early pages. If America Here’s My Boy isn’t your cup of tea, Cordes’ Jazz Orchestra pops up with Darktown Strutters’ Ball in short order. Then 1920 soon rolls around, with Lucille Hegamin, the OM5 and a raft of people we know and love, standing out among the versions of Meditation from Thaïs and Take Me back To Erin.
But it’s more than just data. The sheet music, label images, artist photos and ephemeral material in full colour, all related to the material in the text, is a joy to behold. The listings are presented in similar style to the prior volumes, and the print quality, binding and presentation, with the bright blue early-style label (with the eagle on the talking-machine) on the cover, complete the set admirably.
If you’ve followed my advice in previous reviews of earlier volumes of this material, you’ve already acquired them, so you’ll just need this one. If not, then you seriously need to think of getting all of them. There won’t be a “new and improved” at any time in our lifetimes, from these monsters of research or anyone else.
BOOK: BIG BOY – The Life and Music of Frank Goudie. By Dan Vernhettes, with Christine Goudie and Tony Baldwin. Pub. by Jazzedit, 72pp, Hardbound, illustrated.
ISBN: 978-2-9534831-2-3 For price and ordering details visit www.jazzedit.org
Frank “Big Boy” Goudie was born in 1899 in Royville (later Youngsville), near Lafayette, Louisiana. He was well over six feet tall, hence the moniker – and was one of a number of black musicians, who, for a variety of reasons (not least the much more tolerant racial attitudes prevalent, especially in France, Belgium and the Netherlands), preferred to work in Europe rather than their native USA in the 1920s and ‘30s. Some of them, like Sidney Bechet, Tommy Ladnier, Coleman Hawkins, travelled back and forth across the Atlantic, as work and other commitments dictated; a few, like Goudie, having left his homeland in the early ‘20s, didn’t return for many years…in his case, not until 1956. As a result, he was little known in the USA and made all his commercial recordings in Europe. The many subsequent issues of his playing are all from radio broadcasts and private tapes.
The genesis of this book was in his adopted daughter, Christine Goudie’s visit to a Django Reinhardt exhibition in Paris, which led, via a series of contacts with various jazz researchers, to her collaboration with Dan Vernhettes, who wrote the basic text for this book.
As was the case with many Louisiana musicians, Goudie didn’t learn to play orthodox instruments, in his case reeds (mainly tenor-sax, but also alto and clarinet) until quite late on: violin (he made his own) and cornet / trumpet were his first instruments and it was the lack of good tenor players in France when he moved there in the early ‘20s, which persuaded him to learn to play the saxophone for which he became famous. He was also, though, proficient on guitar and piano!
Individual histories of lesser-known jazz figures (or figures in any field, come to that) can often be of little interest except to a small band of aficionados. This is not the case here, as the authors have used Goudie’s story as an opportunity to explore in some detail the jazz and more generally ‘exotic’ music scene in Mexico, France, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil and Yugoslavia (!), in which he spent nearly 40 years of his musical life. The result is a fascinating and detailed picture, not only of the music he played and where he played it, but also of the many musicians, band-leaders and club-owners, whom he knew, worked for or worked with. So we have potted histories of Louis Mitchell and Jim Europe, who were the idols of post-World War I Paris; of ‘Little Harlem in Montmartre’ and one of its early stars, Sidney Bechet; of Eugene Bullard, who organised an annual charity ball for the nurses at the American Hospital in Neuilly. An extraordinary picture taken at the 1928 ball shows just how many top-class black musicians were in Paris at the time; in a huge line-up of nearly thirty, we can see (apart from Goudie himself) Frank Withers, Cyril Blake, Arthur Briggs, Charlie Lewis, Bechet, Bobby Jones and Horace Eubanks. A map of the Pigalle area of Paris lists some thirty night-clubs and other music venues, at many of which Goudie played, including in a band led by Danny Polo, with Philippe Brun on trumpet. Another most interesting photo from 1934, shows Goudie’s band that played a season at Royan on the Atlantic coast: described as “Frankie Goudie’s famous black band from Siro’s (sic)”, what is so astonishing is that all the band except Goudie himself are actually white…as the authors say, something quite unthinkable in the USA at the time.
There are pen portraits of fellow reed-player Pete Ducongé, who had a hand in much that happened on the Paris and wider European jazz scene in the early to mid-30s and with whom Goudie collaborated on several occasions; of Willie Lewis, who made so many fine records in Europe, many of them with Goudie on sax; of Bill Coleman and of Wilson Myers…much, then, to entertain the reader beyond the minutiae of Goudie’s life – which included a visit to Cairo, where the Lewis band are pictured in lounge suits and fezes! The book is superbly illustrated, with many photos that I personally have never seen before, and many in which Goudie’s nickname of “Big Boy” is seen to be quite correct: he towers over the rest of the band and in one case, with Bill Coleman, he clearly stands a good foot higher than his compatriot.
The imminent German advance into France in 1939 saw Goudie sailing for Rio de Janeiro: he spent the war years in Brazil and Argentina, where he remained until 1946. There is a deal of interesting material on the jazz scene – or lack of it – in those countries and Goudie’s efforts to liven things up. He returned to France in 1946, having missed the boat he was originally supposed to travel on – a lucky break for him and his wife, as it hit a mine entering Bordeaux harbour! The post-war period is equally well documented with both text and photos of Goudie in Paris, Bern, Switzerland and Berlin – he spent five years in Germany, where he made some excellent records for Columbia and some not so excellent ones (from the jazz point of view, with a latino band) for Jugoton, probably on a visit to Zagreb, before eventually returning to the USA in 1956. “I decided I wanted to spend my last days playing the original jazz with musicians who knew how to play the music.” He couldn’t face all the “racism guff” he knew he’d find back in New Orleans, so, on Albert Nicholas’ advice, he settled in San Francisco, where amongst other things, he opened a music school, played with Earl Hines and many other musicians, both black and white…and worked at his original trade of upholsterer. Many tape recordings of Goudie have been issued on CD from this period – all from club and concert dates and some of them only recently discovered. He died on January 9th, 1964.
All of this is presented, as I’ve already indicated, in an entertaining text with many excellently reproduced photos…about Goudie you will learn much, but also about so much else that went on in and around his life, you will learn much more. Highly recommended!
CD: MEMPHIS ROUNDERS BLUES. Blues Singers Recorded in Memphis 1928-1929. Frog DGF80. www.frog-records.co.uk
This is a collection is previously unissued test pressings or barely-issued original 78s from Victor’s 1928-29 field trips. (See my review of the Ralph Peer biography elsewhere in this issue for the fascinating accounts of these and other sessions).
The artists here are Jim Jackson, Frank Stokes (who has nearly half the tracks in this collection), Tommy Johnson, Will Shade, Hattie Hart, Minnie Wallace and the mysterious Charlie Kyle.
The set leads off with previously unissued alternates of Jim Jackson’s 1928 recordings. Jackson had a huge hit in 1927 for Vocalion with his two-part Kansas City Blues. Not surprisingly, Victor had Jackson record its own version of the tune, setting his destination in Louisiana instead of KC which sold decently, but not nearly as well as the earlier version. The alternates here are not appreciably different from the issued 78, showing that Jackson had a very set routine for his songs. Jackson was in his 50s at these sessions and his roots were in minstrelsy and medicine shows.
His Victor output was much more oriented toward this material than his Vocalions and his three other songs in the collection come straight from that tradition: Wild About My Lovin’ (Hesitation Blues); This Morning She Was Gone and There Ain’t No Place for Me. The last tune is a 19th century style comedy routine with a ragtime accompaniment that Victor initially had decided against issuing (canceling its release on V-38033) but relented two years later. Such material co-existed with the blues and one suspects that Ralph Peer was less in tune with prevailing Afro-American tastes than his counterpart at Vocalion, J. Mayo Williams, who recorded Jackson singing mainly blues and contemporary hokum.
Frank Stokes was about the same age as Jackson and his resonant, muscular voice suited the full-sounding Victor equipment extremely well. He was the dean of Memphis bluesmen, sounding much more contemporary than Jackson—- nowhere more so than on ‘Taint Nobody’s Business which was a two-sided Victor 78. This version(s) here are fascinating alternates of both sides where Stokes adds new lyrics (“I want to stay in the sunny south where the sun shine on my baby’s house and I get three square meals a day...” is one)and changes others. It’s obvious that this was a favorite among his medicine show audiences and he had dozens of verses to keep it going. However, there is confusion on the blues forums about which takes are included here. The 78 issue (Victor V-38500) uses take #2 (part 2 has no take designation in the wax) so these are probably take #1 because Victor rarely used more than 2 takes on these field recordings.
The 1929 Stokes sessions are more subdued and feature violinist Will Batts, showing the singer was not all about hell-raising. The six sides sold poorly so they are quite rare today – Old Sometime and I’m Going Away was not discovered until the 1990s (by yours truly, I might add). The copy here presumably is the EMI file copy that was used for a Yazoo release about 20 years ago. Going Away is a lovely tune that eventually made its way into the rock and roll hall of fame as Ivory Joe Hunter’s since I Met You Baby. The final Stokes coupling, Memphis Rounder and Frank Stokes’ Dream was not issued until 1933 when Victor was closing down its 23400 race series. Here on the issued (barely, again) 78, Stokes returns to his stomping, good time mode that did not resonate with audiences mired in the Depression.
Will Shade was Ralph Peer’s talent scout and interlocutor with the city’s Afro-American community as well as a principal organizer of the Memphis Jug Band – Peer’s most successful race act. Shade’s ominously-titled She Stabbed Me With an Ice Pick and its session mate, Better Leave That Stuff Alone are alternates but offer little difference from the issued versions.
Tommy Johnson was part of the Jackson, Miss., contingent promoted by the Paramount talent scout Henry C. Speir. The two takes of his unissued Lonesome Home Blues were issued on an earlier Frog set (#22) in which both versions generally following the form of his Canned Heat Blues.
Charlie Kyle is something of a mystery. He’s obviously up in years as his stiff, formal delivery shows, but he apparently had no connection to Memphis other than recording there. The indefatigable researchers at Facebook’s Real Blues Forum (if you don’t know this page, surely check it out) believe he’d wandered in from Texas.
The only Memphis Jug Band sides in this collection were the two sides issued under Minnie Wallace’s name. The Dirty Butter track uses the issued take from a newly-pressed vinyl while Old Folks Started It is an alternate, though again with few differences from the 78. Both sides are the sort of dance riffs that were popular then – think Tight Like That.
As with all Frog releases the transfers (on this CD by Nick Dellow) are superb, especially as many came from vinyl/styrene copies which offer quieter surfaces and a more detailed groove impression than shellac 78s.
This collection is heartily recommended for anyone who loves to listen to blues – or wants to get to love listening to them. However, if you are a highly advanced listener who has all of the issued sides on other CD collections, then the differences in the alternate takes probably is not great enough to induce a purchase – but—if you are that dedicated a collector then you’ll want the alternates for their own sake.
CD: COTTON CLUB REVISITED: Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks. 13 tracks, available from Vince Giordano, 1316 Elm Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11230-5916, USA.
This latest offering from Vince Giordano celebrates the music featured by Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway at the Cotton Club in the 1930s. Giordano has long been an expert at recreating the sound of both the great pre-war decades of jazz and swing and this collection carries on in that tradition. Apart from one composition each by Ellington and Calloway, all the fine melodies here are from the pens of Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen (or in one case, Rube Bloom), who collaborated on so many of the revues featured at the club. Having had the pleasure of hearing the Nighthawks in the flesh in New York earlier this year, at which time my only slight reservation was that, when playing ‘live’, they had a tendency to take some numbers too fast, I can report that there is nothing of that in this present compilation: tempos are absolutely perfect throughout. My only serious criticism of this CD is that there’s no personnel listed, so it’s not possible to allocate many plaudits where they’re due. Here, then is a mixture of out-and-out jazz favourites mixed with swinging renditions of popular tunes, with enough hot solos to keep everyone very happy.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the disc opens with an authentic version of Ellington’s Cotton Club Stomp, transcribed by Andy Stein from the original 1929 recording. Rich Conaty’s liner notes do here allow me to congratulate trumpeter Dave Brown for his re-creation of Freddy Jenkins’ solo work on this number. Harold Arlen actually made the first recording of his Stormy Weather with Leo Reisman in 1933, but Duke Ellington’s version is infinitely superior. Vince Giordano sings the vocal preceded by a fine Cootie Williams-style trumpet statement of the tune. A few days earlier, Ellington recorded Get Yourself A New Broom with Ivie Anderson singing the vocal. There’s no vocal here, just a series of swinging short solos in a well-constructed arrangement. The next number, Trickeration, takes us back to Calloway: the temptation to play this one at breakneck speed is avoided, and the arrangement (another transcription by Andy Stein) lets the band capture the atmosphere of the original, down to the changes in rhythm – bursts of ‘flat-four’ – which made Calloway’s band so exciting.
One of the interesting effects of hearing so many Koehler-Arlen tunes in one go is the realisation that they not only captured the spirit of jazz so well, but that they did this within the format of utterly singable tunes…and none more so than I’ve Got the World on a String and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, from, respectively, the 22nd Cotton Club Parade and Rhyth-Mania. There can have been few others who wrote material for big swing bands, which became all-time hits with performers as diverse as Benny Goodman and Tony Bennett! Giordano and his men turn in thoroughly professional, smooth yet swinging versions of both these (their version of the second title is masterful)…and then move to a great, hot rendition of Harlem Holiday. This is followed by another tune that Arlen first recorded with Leo Reisman, but which Ellington played so much better: Happy As the Day Is Long, which has a pleasant vocal from John Leifert and some excellent solos from un-named members of the band. Minnie the Moocher follows, with full vocal from Giordano; this is a song, which par excellence was a Calloway speciality. His vocalisations are essentially inimitable, and Giordano doesn’t try to copy him, but this does leave the performance lacking a certain sense of excitement.
Raisin’ the Rent is a terrific performance, and shows off the band’s rhythm section to perfection. Vince Giordano himself must be one of the few bass players who, like those in the ‘20s and ‘30s, is as comfortable on both string and brass instruments – not to mention the bass sax, which he can handle as dexterously as Adrian Rollini. One of my favourite Arlen-Koehler numbers is As Long As I Live, featured in the 1934 Cotton Club Parade, and a fine version of which Benny Goodman recorded with Jack Teagarden providing the vocal. The Nighthawks’ rendition follows in that great tradition.
The two closing tracks are Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day and Truckin’, the latter, surprisingly, never recorded by Cab Calloway, though it would have seemed a natural for him. It featured in the 1936 Cotton Club Parade. The Nighthawks give it a splendidly swinging treatment. This is, then, an excellent set of Cotton Club titles, all true to the tradition of that great venue, but none of them slavish copies. As was the case with all the original recordings, you can listen to them, dance to them and sing along to them, all in equal measure…and you can’t say that of many tribute groups today.
CD: CLARENCE WILLIAMS - “SENEGALESE STOMP.” Frog DGF 81 www.frog-records.co.uk
This compilation (the 8th, not the 7th as is set out in Michael Rader's notes; the others are DGF 14, 17, 37, 48, 49, 57 and 75) devoted to the recordings of Clarence Williams is a real winner with twenty-six OKeh recordings from the Mark Berresford collection, beautifully transferred by Nick Dellow. They date from 6 November 1924 to 10 December 1926. I cannot praise it too highly. My only slight reservations relate to the absence of composer credits, misspelt titles and to the over-abundance of Eva Taylor vocals - twenty of them. She was a charming chanteuse with very clear diction but I do wish her husband had curbed his uxoriousness! The compensations, however, are overwhelming; nine sides with Louis Armstrong, two with June Clark, seven with Bubber Miley that have Thomas Morris on two of them, two with Jimmy Wade and last but certainly not least, four with Tommy Ladnier. The discographical section may raise a few eyebrows but more of that later. I note that Armstrong is shown as playing cornet on all of these sides with Clarence Williams whereas, according to Walt Allen in "Hendersonia" (Jazz Monographs No.4), he was playing trumpet on all of his Henderson band recordings (and the nine sides on this CD were all recorded when he was with Henderson) but cornet on all of his many blues accompaniments of the time. It has been said that Armstrong switched to trumpet at about the time of the Erskine Tate Vocalion session (28 May 1926) but that he played a cornet on all of the earlier Hot Five and on the Hot Seven recordings. Whatever he plays he is monumental. He is immediately recognisable and he dominates, sounding sober and relaxed at the start of Of All The Wrongs but with increasing momentum, particularly after the second vocal chorus. Buster Bailey's soprano precedes Eva Taylor's perfectly enunciated Everybody Loves My Baby and then it is an ebullient Armstrong for the rest of the side and with some crackling breaks. Bailey shines again on the tuneful Just Wait Till You See My Baby Do The Charleston but Armstrong takes over after the obligatory vocal. Charlie Irvis opens Livin' High and is prominent up until the first vocal but it is after the second vocal chorus that the band really gets into its stride. Irvis again distinguishes himself on Coal Cart Blues, a splendid tune, before Armstrong's firm lead with Bailey's soprano weaving away behind him before Eva Taylor's next contribution that is followed by more from the lively Bailey; then an exuberant Armstrong takes over. The two versions of Santa Claus Blues could hardly be more different. The first of these sets off at a frantic pace with Eva Taylor having no difficulty in keeping up; then Bailey performs as well as ever before Armstrong once again trumps everyone else. The second version is almost a dirge with Armstrong somewhat restrained yet still majestic. It is unfortunate that the two Clarences, Williams and Todd, could not be restrained from joining in the vocal choruses. Squeeze Me and You Can't Shush Katie present Eva Taylor with a contingent from the Henderson band but without Bailey. The band sound somewhat uninterested when compared with the earlier recordings and Armstrong is less commanding than hitherto.
Those who have had a surfeit of Eva Taylor will yearn to hear more of June Clark on Shake That Thing and Get It Fixed. His presence can be confirmed by comparing these sides with Sara Martin's I'm Gonna Hoodoo You, You Ain't Giving Me The Blues, What More Can A Monkey Woman Do? recorded on 23 November 1925 and those of Alberta Hunter the following month, Your Jelly Roll Is Good and Take That Thing Away. Eva Taylor's recollection in 1967 that gave rise to the Big Charlie Thomas myth is not to be relied upon. A further false recollection at the same time was her belief that a contingent from the Fess Williams band accompanied her on the unissued Edison recordings of Come On Home and Moaning Low by Clarence Williams and His Blue Moaners on 7 August 1929. A take of each of these titles appeared on LP many years ago (Ed ZM-473202. Recorded Publications 77) and two takes of both of them more recently on CD (Edison Laterals 4 DCP 303D). I hear Ed Allen, Ed Cuffee and probably Alberto Socarras. Returning to Shake That Thing and Get It Fixed, the band merely fills in between a series of vocal choruses on the first of them but there is one solo on the second. Unfortunately this is from the least interesting musician, alto player Len Fields who was associated with Clark and Jimmy Harrison at this time. The discography lists a trombone but there isn't one, and Coleman Hawkins, who is demonstrably absent.
There were two sessions recorded by Clarence Williams' Stompers, on 4 January and 7 April, sandwiching a revived Blue Five on or about 22 January (erroneously given as 4 January) 1926. Wild speculation once surrounded the identification of the cornet player on Spanish Shawl and Dinah , varying from two unknowns, to Thomas Morris and Ed Allen, to Joe Smith and then the much maligned Mainstream edition of Rust in 2002 correctly arrived at the glaringly obvious, Bubber Miley. He is magnificent on both sides, playing with exceptional drive and power in his lead and breaks. His playing here is in my opinion superior to much that we hear of him with Duke Ellington. It is apparent that for several decades it was not fully realised that Williams used so many men from Ellington's Washingtonians/Kentucky Club Orchestra on this date. Miley, Prince Robinson, Irvis, Otto Hardwick (who is credited with the baritone solo on Dinah) and Henry "Bass" Edwards were all in his band at that
time. Irvis proves himself to be not just another trombone player and is due for a reappraisal from someone with the musical knowledge that I lack. I regard with some doubt the identification of Buddy Christian as the largely submerged banjo player. Is it not more likely to be Freddy Guy who recorded with Ellington from 1924, through the thirties and to the forties?. It is refreshing to hear a swinging solo from Clarence on Spanish Shawl! I am almost convinced that Miley is the only cornet player on the Blue Five date. There might just be a very under- recorded second cornet on both takes of I've Found A New Baby and it may be detectable, albeit barely, on Pile Of Logs And Stone behind the long alto solo and immediately before Eva Taylor's entry. The difficulties stem from Miley's dominance and from the recording balance. These three sides do not have the immediacy of those of the
previous date. If indeed there is a second cornet player, it is likely to be Thomas Morris, a Williams sideman from July 1923. It is undoubtedly he who, after short submissions from Irvis and Miley, sets off JacKass Blues (that’s what the label says!) just as he does on his own Victor recordings three months later. Irvis, from whom Joe Nanton learned much, is featured and has a long solo on What's The Matter Now? Don Redman, the only reed player here, entertains on both soprano and clarinet and with his half-spoken vocal that is later to be heard on several of the early McKinney's Cotton Pickers dates.
It is hard to understand the "unknowns" suggested for When The Red Red Robin and There's A Blue Ridge In My Heart (Virginia) because it has long been established that this is the Jimmy Wade band, brought from Chicago to New York for an extended stay by Perry Bradford. They constitute the first and second Georgia Strutters dates and Perry Bradford's Mean Four, accompanying Alberta Hunter, Louise Vant and probably others. These are rather trite lyrics through not fault of Eva Taylor. Wade does not show a lot of imagination but has a full sound and is prominent throughout. When compared with the other recordings on this CD these do not stand out. Nobody But My Baby Is Getting My Love and Morocco Blues may be performed by members of the Wade band but without him. The former title with some stirring soprano (Clifford King?) and tenor (Arnett Nelson?) romps along with great enthusiasm but the latter is a dose of syrup with La Taylor tugging at the heart strings with much violin encouragement.
Real excitement returns with the four Blue Seven recordings and with the likely eyebrow raising. How some discographers could suggest that Candy Lips and the superb Scatter Your Smiles featured Ed Allen and other Williams regulars is beyond comprehension. It is patently obvious that Ladnier and Harrison constitute the brass. Ladnier was with Henderson at this time but Walt Allen queries Harrison being with him at this time. Eva Taylor is at her most sweet and seductive on both sides. She is followed on Candy Lips by a pensive Ladnier who seems to have caught her mood but pungently after a two clarinet passage where one of them may be the underrated Carmelo Jari (hear him with the Savoy Bearcats on Frog DGF8 and 12) rather than Buster Bailey. It is
with these reeds that the knotty problems arise. It is suggested that Arville Harris is present, playing clarinet and tenor. This is indeed debatable. Scatter Your Smiles is a delightful tune. An inspired Ladnier bursts in after the vocal. Eva Taylor returns and Harrison demonstrates his enviable technique. The tenor solo says "Hawkins" to me with what I consider to be a typical phrase at its conclusion. If it is Arville Harris on Baltimore and Take Your Black Bottom Outside for Brunswick and Hawkins on Shake ‘Em Up and Jingles on Paramount (all on Frog DGF37) then it seems to be Hawkins here with a customary sureness that Harris arguably lacks.
Three and a half weeks later Would Ja? and Senegalese Stomp were recorded, again with Ladnier and Harrison. The reeds are given as Carmelo Jari and with Prince Robinson taking the place of Harris. Would Ja? is very modern sounding, busy and tightly arranged. Ladnier leads and is followed by passages from the reeds where it not possible to identify anyone with confidence. Harrison is robust before Ladnier returns. He is at his most exciting in launching Senegalese Stomp, his lead impeccable. Harrison once again impresses. Although Robinson was a rival, Hawkins admired him. Nevertheless the tenor solo has phrases I again associate with Hawkins and I bear in mind the Henderson connections in respect of both recording dates.
I return to the beginning and repeat that this is an outstanding issue.
CD: HOT JAZZ & SWING “Nederlandsch Fabrikaat (Produce of the Netherlands).” 25 tracks, mainly unissued takes and air-checks; recorded 1926 – 1947. Doctor Jazz DJ014. www.doctorjazz.nl
Many collectors, I know, are little interested in jazz recorded beyond the borders of the USA and the UK, but it’s always been a pleasure for me to listen to jazz and hot dance music from pre-war Europe in particular. There has for too long, in my opinion, been a perception that only Anglo-Saxons could swing before the Second World War, a prejudice unfortunately fostered by Brian Rust’s decision not to list groups in Jazz Records, which didn’t include musicians “of international repute” (whatever that might mean), unless a visiting American or Brit was playing in the band! I would suggest that, for example, Svend Asmussen or Teddy Stauffer were better known in both Britain and Europe back then than Gene Kardos or Willie Farmer, names that would have meant little to the average jazz fan of the time. Be that as it may, my point is that there was a great deal of fine music recorded by relative unknowns everywhere, and not least in the Netherlands, which boasted one of the more active jazz scenes of pre-war days. The fact is that mainland Europeans tended to regard Britain as something of a wet blanket when it came to jazz – a point well made by Rex Harris in his book Jazz (Penguin Books, but now long out of print).
Most of the tracks are of unissued material and the CD opens with an unissued take of Stomp Off, Let’s Go by a quintet of multi-national (Russian and Belgian as well as Dutch) multi-instrumentalists, variously known as the Original Berkeley’s Five, or as (mis-spelt) here, Tuschinsky’s Berceley Jazz Band (after the theatre of that name, where the nominal leader of the band, Max Tak, also led the pit orchestra). This is a spirited performance, if somewhat jerky and vo-do-de-o-do during the first two themes, but settles down to a fine swing with good jazz-inflected playing in the third; there’s an excellent full-chorus alto solo from Jeff Candrix (brother of bandleader Fud) and a ride-out chorus better than most recorded in the UK at that time. Next up is Greenwich Witch, a piano solo by Joop de Leur: as the liner notes admit, it’s more jazzy than jazz, but very well recorded for the time (1927, by Electrola, in Potsdam, Germany), and better played than many other pianists of the time could achieve.
Melle Weersma was a pianist and arranger, who appears once in Jazz Records, for his work with Jack Hylton from 1935 - 1938 (he arranged Hylton’s ‘30s version of Tiger Rag). He was one of the pioneers of Dutch jazz and worked with trumpeter Louis de Vries in the 1920s. In the later ‘30s, he experimented with the kind of tone poems favoured by the likes of Raymond Scott and Reginald Foresythe, but, before that, in 1934, he led a group called the Red, White and Blue Aces (the colours of the Dutch flag). Their recording of Red Indian Chase, is a descriptive piece, which fortunately eschews the worst excesses of the genre and is more in the style of Duke Ellington than Foresythe. It’s long been a favourite of mine. This is the unissued first take and features a dexterous alto solo by Ernst Höllerhagen. The band also includes tenor-player Eddie Brunner, who later recorded in Paris with Bill Coleman (and Höllerhagen) and then took over leadership of Teddy Stauffer’s Original Teddies in Switzerland during the Second World War. The Ramblers Dance Orchestra were well enough known in the UK in the mid-30s, as several of their excellent jazz sides were issued (and recorded) there by Decca and indeed they also recorded with both Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins during their respective visits to the Netherlands. In 1934, when Farewell Blues was cut (unissued take -3 here), the band was still very much a jazz-oriented unit, led by Theo Uden Masman; this is a relaxed, red-hot side, with great solos, played at a tempo much more like that of the early ‘20s recordings than the frenetic versions that followed. This side was, as far as I’m aware, not issued outside the Netherlands.
The Ramblers made many of their recordings at the Casino Hamdorff in Laren, where American pianist Freddy Johnson and Surinamese-Dutch saxophonist Lex van Spall recorded four excellent sides, also in 1934, with You Took Advantage of Me presented here (unissued take -2). Nothing from this session was, again, issued outside Holland and the originals are extremely rare. The solo work is first-class, from a group that included black trombonist Jake Greene and a fine trumpet player, Rolf Goldstein, who played with Benny Carter’s band in 1937. The only unsatisfactory note is struck by the vocalist, Rosie Poindexter, who shouts rather than sings in an unpleasantly grating style. Majo Marco (the nom-de-guerre of Joop Dreese) was a reed-player and vocalist, who broadcast from the Hilversum studios of Netherlands Radio – on the evidence of the air-check of Swing, rather better at the former than the latter! He didn’t make any commercial recordings, so this is a rarity indeed and includes some excellent trumpet work from the Belgian Gus Caron, in a performance that really does swing. Another fine trumpet-player, Louis de Vries, made his first record with the aforementioned Ramblers in April (?)1935; a month later, he was in London, where he recorded two titles with a British group that included Lew Davis, Danny Polo and Billy Amstell. Nothing was issued from this session, but in June, the same titles (St Louis Blues, Moonglow) were re-recorded and issued, along with I Cover the Waterfront. Two takes of a fourth number, With All My Heart and Soul, were rejected; take -1 is now issued for the first time here. I suspect it never made it into the catalogue at the time because of Brian Lawrance’s rather fey vocal, which contrasts poorly with the jazz on the rest of the number. Certainly, de Vries’ playing is astoundingly good and we’re lucky to have this opportunity to hear it. He re-recorded this tune in Holland accompanied by the Ramblers, but, again, it was rejected for issue.
The Blue Ramblers were an entirely different group from The Ramblers Dance Orchestra; the Blue Ramblers was a semi-professional outfit led by trombonist Pi Scheffer, which made no commercial recordings at all. Though Scheffer made some further sides with a different band in the ‘40s (one of which appears later on this CD), his only recording with the Blue Ramblers, made in 1936, was Riverboat Shuffle. This record was a privately made, so-called glass-disc; the music is first-class, with some lovely solo work from the trumpeter and clarinettist as well as Scheffer himself on trombone. On the evidence of this side, it’s a great pity they cut no others.
AVRO (“General Association for Radio Broadcasting”) was one of the Dutch public broadcasters, rather like the BBC and, like the latter, had its own radio dance band in the 1930s and ‘40s. In the late ‘30s, its leader was clarinettist Hans Mossel, who was able to pick some of the best jazz musicians around for his AVRO Dance Orchestra, which recorded for Decca. On the basis of Copper Coloured Gal, it played top-class swing, with the vocal here supplied by Freddy Johnson, followed by an outstanding tenor sax solo, in an arrangement by Ernst van ‘t Hoff (whom we meet later on the CD as a bandleader in his own right). This is again an unissued take, as is the following track, Dear Old Southland, by the Coleman Hawkins Trio (with Freddy Johnson on piano and Maurice van Kleef, drums). Apparently, alternate takes of all the titles at this 1938 session were made, but there was a technical problem with this particular one, which made the first take unusable. Modern technology has ironed out the deficiencies and Hawkins’ playing can now be heard - both stunning and very advanced for the time. Gerda & Ulrik Neumann were a Danish vocal and guitar cabaret act, well-known throughout Europe: they toured with Jack Hylton amongst others and Ulrik Neumann was Hylton’s second guitarist for a year from late 1938; he had also recorded with Benny Carter in Kai Ewans’ Orchestra in 1936. Their solo recording of My Prayer, made just before the outbreak of war in 1939, is noteworthy for Ulrik’s guitar playing rather than the vocal work.
The next few tracks take us into the war years, when the Netherlands were over-run by Germany and fell under Nazi administration. The general assumption, that jazz was banned under the Nazis, is in many ways mistaken: in Germany itself, groups led by such as Kurt Hohenberger and Tullio Mobiglia recorded some fine jazz well into 1943. Jazz as such may have been a dirty word, but the Volk had to be kept diverted from the travails of war – and swing music was popular and accepted by the Kulturkammer (‘Chamber of Culture’) in the Propaganda Ministry as one way of achieving this! Moreover, Goebbels was determined to project a positive image of Germany abroad, and the Deutsche Europasender (DES – German European Radio Service) was one of his tools for this purpose. Jazz and swing were pressed into service as part of this propaganda effort - perhaps not least because they could also keep the occupied populations happy. So it was that, rather than banning Dutch orchestras like the Ramblers, the German Kulturkammer found itself promoting them on the Nazified Hilversum radio station and permitting them to record: the Ernst van ‘t Hoff orchestra was even sent off on a tour of Germany. The first of these wartime recordings here is of a popular tune of 1941. Hallo Mein Schatz, by the Frans Wouters Orchestra, nods towards the ‘popular’ (to keep the censors happy?) with a personnel that includes both a violin and an accordion – but played hot, and a vocal in German, but the tenor sax solo that follows is as good as jazz gets. The next track is one of the few on this CD that was actually issued at the time (though only in Belgium): it sold poorly and is so rare that it only recently came to light. Eddy Meenk began his musical career with the Ramblers, then took over the AVRO orchestra in 1935, modernising it and renaming it the AVRO Decibels. His 1941 recording of Le Clocher de Mon Coeur was no doubt intended to fool the authorities into thinking it was a syrupy ballad, but this group of unknowns turns in a fine jazz performance, led by an excellent muted trumpet – Meenk himself - and hot violin. One has to assume the German cultural hawks didn’t listen to every record that was made – and this is confirmed by the Czech bandleader Karel Vlach, who said that he got away with recording hot music in wartime Prague simply by presenting the SS with sheet music that was scored upside down!
There was, in fact, a good deal of excellent jazz and swing recorded in occupied Holland and Belgium throughout the war, in spite of censorship and shortages of shellac. The next two tracks date from 1943, the first being the second appearance by The Ramblers, by this time augmented into a full-size swing band. Ciribiribin is an air-check with a brief announcement at the start; it features a fine trumpet solo (George van Helvoirt? or Jack Bulterman?). Goebbels’ DES itself made a number of recordings for use on the radio, and two (unissued) by the Dick Willebrandts Orchestra are presented here. Si Patokaan (Rooster Song) is a traditional Indonesian tune, though you wouldn’t know it from listening to this very up-tempo version, which Willebrandts first recorded commercially for Decca. It opens with a forgettable vocal, but there then follow two searing solos from trumpet and clarinet. Willebrandts’ second track is a much more relaxed – and relaxing – performance of Ain’t Misbehavin’ from 1944. There’s a lovely vocal from Nellie Verschuur and, again, an excellent trumpet solo - by Kees van Dorsser(?), later well known as the trumpeter with the Dutch Swing College Band.
van Wouw was an Amsterdam music shop, which also ran a film unit and recording studio. The film unit was requisitioned by the Germans, but for whatever reason, the recording unit continued to function, issuing records that were sold through the Kulturkammer. In early 1944, it recorded the Piet van Dijk Orchestra, whose Aanzoek is a good example of how well some of these bands played. Tenor-sax player van Dijk turns in a fine solo, as does the pianist Willy van der Casteel. A smaller van Dijk unit, a quintet, plays a first-class version of Who’s Sorry Now, which again features pianist van der Casteel (who had clearly been listening to Teddy Wilson), as well as trumpeter Thijs Levendig – whose name, incidentally, means ‘lively’ in Dutch, and his solo is just that! Another member-to-be of the Dutch Swing College Band, Peter Schilperoort, makes an early appearance in, of all things, a Hawaiian quartet, Hawaiian Ensemble Puka Paka’s! Apparently, the censors were less tough on Hawaiian groups, so they were a popular way of getting jazz on record. Certainly, this recording of Louisiana (as Louise) is not the expected steel-guitar mish-mash: it’s a string of hot solos, with Schilperoort’s clarinet playing exceptional. This was another recording made by the van Wouw studio, as is an accordion solo by Mathieu Schwarts accompanied by guitar and issued as by Mat Mathews. Dempi is probably his first recording; after the war, he moved to the USA, where he played with some of the stars of modern jazz, including Herbie Mann, Al Cohn and Hank Jones, but not before he teamed up with the Dutch group The Millers. The Millers (the name is an anglicisation of Dutch Molenaar) were one of the most popular swing groups in the immediate post-war period, and were just at the start of their career when they recorded Crazy Rhythm in late 1943. An unknown but fluent alto player leads off this up-tempo rendition, with a hot violin and splendid piano following. Guitar, bass and drums all take their solo turns.
A big band led by Ernst van ‘t Hoff was another group that recorded for the DES in 1944, and their version of Smiles is the most modern-sounding performance on the CD. There’s some excellent solo work, but the arrangement is the most interesting aspect of this recording. van ‘t Hoff was a member of the AVRO orchestra in the late ‘30s, but his big chance came, ironically, when he was commissioned by the Reichsmusikkammer to form a big band, which recorded commercially to fill the gaps left as more and more foreign recordings were banned. The band was extremely popular with both young Germans and Wehrmacht soldiers, but was attacked by the Nazi mainstream – which resulted in van ‘t Hoff being arrested by the Gestapo in 1942. When he returned to Holland, he worked for the DES, though few of his recordings survived: Smiles is thus something of a rarity.
Two final tracks give us a glimpse of the post-war jazz scene in the Netherlands. Jack Bulterman was both arranger and lead trumpet for a number of years with The Ramblers; he was based in Brussels, Belgium, in the latter part of the war and in 1945 made a number of records there for Decca with former Ramblers members and the Belgian bandleader Fud Candrix. Invention is a Bulterman composition, clearly based on Alec Templeton’s Bach Goes to Town, and featuring a quartet of violins – less invention, perhaps than borrowing, but none the worse for that! The penultimate track is one more from the AVRO Dance Orchestra, in 1947, now sub-titled The Skymasters and led by Pi Scheffer. Their recording of You’re Driving Me Crazy was made for Decca, but never issued. It’s a workmanlike effort, with leader-trombonist Scheffer playing a Tommy Dorsey style high register statement of the melody; there are other good, short solos, but the rhythm section is somewhat wooden – which is maybe why it wasn’t issued.
There’s a bonus track to end with, an air-check from the Nat Gonella Georgians during their September 1935 visit to the Netherlands. Gonella might hardly have expected much of a welcome, given that the Dutch magazine De Jazzwereld (Jazz World) described his playing as “…superficial…hyperbole…insipid…more entertainment than jazz…”. Gonella was engaged to play for a number of dancing schools and Dutch Radio recorded the band when it played in the main hall of the zoo at The Hague! The full recording is lost, and what has survived is a short montage – more talk than music – which, frankly, does nothing to enhance Gonella’s reputation.
This final track may be a low point, but the vast majority of the tracks here are musically of very high quality…a raft of good listening, most of which has not been heard since it was recorded, except by the handful of collectors lucky enough to possess the original tests or air-checks. I’ve no idea what condition the original discs are in, but the re-mastering – by Harry Coster – is top quality with no discernible surface noise nor any loss of frequency response. Unfortunately, the liner notes on my copy are only in Dutch; my knowledge of German allows me to get the gist of what’s written, but any errors of fact in this regard are entirely my own interpretative fault!
The liner notes are lavishly illustrated, so let’s hope an English translation is forthcoming! And if you are one of the Eurojazz-sceptics, here’s a great opportunity to get your head out of the sand! Recommended.
BOOK: LISTEN TO THIS. Miles Davis and Bitches Brew. By Victor Svorinich. University Press of Mississippi. 202 pp. illustrations. ISBN 978-1-62846-194-7. $55. www.upress.state.ms.us
Back in 1969 a friend of mine who worked as a projectionist in a movie theatre in Tokyo where I lived at the time used to omit an entire reel from the late night showing of 2001, A Space Odyssey. He wanted to get home after a long night and, besides, he told me, “no one ever notices that a half hour is missing.”
This movie was released about the same time as Miles Davis’ then-controversial album Bitches Brew, and, remembering my friend in the projection booth, I cut about 20 minutes total out of the three longest tracks to accommodate both LPs on a single tape spool for a friend who wanted me to copy the album for him. He didn’t notice either.
The author of this excellent book, Victor Svorinich, a faculty member at Kean University in New Jersey, probably won’t like the first paragraphs of this review because he obviously loves this album, but my reaction seemed to sum up the attitude of the time: there were some brilliant spots in between a lot of tedium. Tedium is in the ear of the beholder but the author analyses this album brilliantly in the social context of the times, and in the more reality-based accounting and marketing offices of Columbia records –the latter being worth the price of the book alone.
The compositions in Bitches Brew are modal, which means in simple language, they do not have the traditional structure (beginning, middle, end with the appropriate chord changes) of Western Music. The object is to create a sound and a mood. Miles Davis had been playing modal music for years – Kind of Blue was a start—but Bitches Brew, released in 1970, incorporated elements of rock though guitarist John McLaughlin and electronics from the producer Teo Macero.
The ten musicians which included keyboardists Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul, saxist Wayne Shorter, recorded the compositions, Pharoah’s Dance, Miles Runs the Voodoo Down, John McLaughlin, Sanctuary, Spanish Key and the title track, over three days in August 1969. As the author describes the sessions, Davis would describe the sound he was looking for and then simply instruct the musicians to play. He would come in an out as he saw fit. After the recording, it was up to Macero, Columbia’s head producer and a Julliard Music School graduate, to assemble the piece-meal sections into a cohesive composition, adding electronic effects (a lot of reverb on Miles’ trumpet solos) making it one of the first albums where the producer/editor played as much of a role in the final product as the musicians.
The jazz community found the album not to its liking. Musicians panned it. Reviews were scathing. But it started selling to young fans raised on the Grateful Dead and The Who and it became Miles’ best selling album ever, elevating him to rock star status. Columbia’s publicity machine pushed the album to the psychedelic crowd, booked him at rock venues like the Fillmore Auditorium and within two years, Miles’ whose income had usually fallen well-short of his expensive lifestyle, was in the money.
The author gained access to Columbia’s files and published all of the memos (including Macero’s offer to direct Miles’ phone calls to the accountants who would deny him advances on royalties) on the selling of this album. It’s a rare glimpse into the reality side of the jazz business where the necessity to make some money is top of mind.
The author also published a letter to Columbia from Zawinul asserting his claim of authorship of Pharoah’s Dance after Davis began making moves to claim publishing rights for himself. The keyboardist was well-acquainted with the rewards of publishing and the fact that most jazz musicians can starve between gigs. Zawinul, while a member of Cannonball Adderley’s group, submitted a blues/gospel groove tune called Mercy, Mercy, Mercy whose subsequent ubiquity ensured he could live well without ever playing another job. (Google the tune…it’s sure you’ve heard it behind adverts and movie dialog).
Bitches Brew, so-named by Miles’ wife at the time, proved popular enough to launch the solo careers of McLaughlin, Zawinul and Wayne Shorter in the fusion groups Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra and Corea in his own groups. For Miles’ greater fame and wealth brought more indulgences into the dark side resulting in a breakdown in 1975 from which he never fully recovered.
This book is interesting even for those whose taste in jazz stops with Fletcher Henderson because the author really did his research to present a complete picture of the making of this album.
(PS: I bought Bitches Brew when it came out in 1970 because I really liked its predecessor, In A Silent Way. Maybe I will put it back on my vinyl turntable and give it another try)
CD: NEW CENTURY OF JAZZ. 26 tracks, including Dixie Serenaders, Memphis Jug Band, Ma Rainey, King Oliver et al. New Century NCD07066. £10 inc. postage and packing (£12 outside EU). Available from P.J. Gordon-Booth, 64 Thorpe House Rise, Sheffield, S8 9NP. Email: email@example.com
I am not entirely sure whom this CD is aimed at. The liner notes are quite brief and seem to target the casual buyer, one with little or no interest in or knowledge of jazz. The hope, presumably, is to stimulate some interest, broaden their knowledge and perhaps persuade them to look further afield. But the notes tell the novice listener very little about the music, who the groups and their leaders were, or indeed why these particular records have been chosen. They are all from the collection of Michael Binney and seem to have been selected as much for their rarity as their value in presenting an accurate picture of jazz over any precise period of its development.
There is nothing that was recorded before 1925; nothing from the greats like Armstrong, Ellington, Bechet or Morton, and for someone who knows little about jazz, there’s not enough information about the music on offer. Some background is needed: all the buyer gets are a series of ‘notelets’ about the tracks – interesting enough in their own way, but they don’t set them in time, place and style of jazz.
There also a few rather unfortunate errors: the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (who don’t appear on the disc) played, we are told “in unison” – they didn’t, they played in polyphony, something entirely different. The ODJB style was developed by other groups and “…gradually introduced the instrumental break…” – the ODJB’s recordings are full of instrumental breaks; and what is a ‘break’? That’s not explained. Furthermore, the CD presents jazz from the “golden age…when particularly the Victor company…led by not relegating Jazz to the dance band section of the catalogue and promoting it with enthusiasm.” I’m afraid Victor were just as guilty as other companies of relegating jazz to the Race catalogue, where it was only available to white purchasers on special order.
And so to the music…and let me say straightaway that there are indeed some rare and worthwhile items here and the transfers are generally very good: two from the Dixie Serenaders, four by the Memphis Jug Band, and two each from the Ross de Luxe Syncopators and Ma Rainey’s Tub Jug Washboard Band. However, all but three tracks are by black performers: the only white groups – both rare enough - are hardly representative of the contribution of white players to jazz, being the Campus Cut-Ups and the Five Harmaniacs… the former’s two last recordings for Edison open the CD: I’m the Medicine Man for the Blues and Campus Rush. The only liner comment on this is that it is “…the rarest of discs: an Edison lateral-cut issue… one can but conjecture in which direction the record industry might have progressed had Edison been able to continue with his superb electrical recording.” Leaving aside that, for the casual buyer, the term ‘lateral-cut’ is almost certainly confusing, and that ‘electrical’ is probably equally confusing if the difference to ‘acoustic’ is left unexplained, the name Edison will also tell them very little about jazz, which Edison disliked (when I mentioned him to an American acquaintance who lives close by Edison, NJ, he remarked “Ah, yes, the guy who invented the light-bulb.” Precisely so!). And Edison’s electrical recording was no better than most, certainly not as good as either Victor or Columbia /Okeh, not least because his studios were very ‘dead’ – of which the flat-footed brass bass sound on these tracks is ample evidence. My point, though, is that whilst this will be a highly sought-after item for the dedicated collector, its musical significance for a beginner is minimal. We don’t know for certain who the Campus Cut-Ups were, but reedman Nathan Glantz appears to be involved - they are lively enough but they didn’t know how to tune their instruments properly, and they represent a tiny musical backwater, well away from the mainstream of jazz. Their inclusion here suggests, pace the liner notes, that this collection is indeed aimed at the more experienced jazz lover-collector rather than the beginner.
The two Sonny Clay tracks, as by the Dixie Serenaders, are real collectors’ items: St Louis Blues, Cho-King are excellent big band performances by this territory group and two of the most accomplished and satisfying sides on the CD. There is some controversy over when they were recorded: Clay insists in 1929… the original Champion (NOT Challenge as per the liner notes) matrix and issue numbers are clearly from the last days of that ailing label, probably late 1931. Maybe both are true: they were recorded by Brunswick in Los Angeles, purchased by the Starr Piano Company, and possibly not issued until much later.
The next two tracks – the stunning Joe Turner Blues,and When Erastus Plays his Old Kazoo – by Johnny Dodds’ Black Bottom Stompers, would certainly merit inclusion in any compilation for the jazz novice; the same can’t be said for Harmaniac Blues by the Five Harmaniacs. This is hardly their best effort, there being several out-of-tune moments, and Coney Island Washboard, a tune which has the advantage of being known beyond the confines of jazz, might have been a better choice. Next up are Bubber Miley’s first two tracks with his Mileage Makers, made for Victor in 1930 (I Lost My Gal from Memphis, Without You Emaline). Regrettably, they are again hardly the best examples of his playing: the arrangements are banal and poorly executed and also feature execrable vocals by Frank Marvin. The liner notes mention Miley’s alcoholism and his use of the plunger mute, but nothing is said about his glory days with Duke Ellington – or indeed that he played in bands led by Thomas Morris, two sides by whom come next (Who’s Dis Heah Stranger?, The King of the Zulus). The notes list a banjo and female speaker as present on both titles, but neither is audible on the first.
Lem Fowler’s Washboard Wonders (The Florida Blues, Salty Dog) and Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra (Sad Man Blues) come next: good tracks and excellently recorded for the time (1925 / 1928), but once again not their best efforts, and a far better example of a washboard group could have been provided from Clarence Williams’ extensive repertoire. He only appears, on the final track, with his 1929 recording for Grey Gull of Close Fit Blues. It’s an excellent rendition of this number, but this is one of the less satisfactory transfers.
There are four tracks here by the Memphis Jug Band: all are extremely rare and extremely welcome, though presented in reverse order of recording. The first two, from their final three day session for OKeh / Vocalion in 1934, are Tear It Down, Bed Slats and All and Boodie Bum Bum, which are from possibly the most hard-to-find disc on this CD: terrific stuff and transferred from an excellent copy. The personnel is quoted, as are most, from the 1970 edition of Jazz Records, which is unfortunate, as the latest edition fills in the names of several ‘unknowns’. The second pairing is from their second session for Victor in 1927: Sometimes I Think I Love You, and Memphis Boy… once again, lovely sides, but the personnels are not entirely correct, though this doesn’t of course detract from the quality of the music – and is of little importance for the notional first-time buyer!
Earl Hines is represented by his 1929 recording of Have You Ever Felt That Way?, which originally appeared on the reverse of the Bennie Moten title above. Again, this is not, in my opinion, a good example of Hines’ orchestral work; the liner notes have quite a lot to say about his playing style and influence on other pianists of the time, but as this side features him only as a vocalist – and not a particularly good one at that – with his piano only occasionally audible behind the front line, I wonder why this was included. The same can be said of the two tracks by King Oliver, which follow: Papa-de-da-da andStop Crying. Oliver should certainly be on the CD, but why these two? They’re good enough for their time, but this is Oliver in his decline (it’s not even clear he plays the solo work), and if an electric recording was deemed necessary, then a couple of the Dixie Syncopators sides would surely have served much better.
I’ve always loved the Ross de Luxe Syncopators sides for their wild, unrestrained and sometimes unco-ordinated playing! This was one of the more interesting territory bands and all its output is rare and highly collectable…but as representative of 1920s jazz, its inclusion here is highly questionable. Finally, we have two tracks by Ma Rainey’s Tub Jug Washboard Band. Heah Me Talking To You and Prove It On Me Blues are both fine sides and once again very rare (though both have been re-issued on 78 as well as elsewhere).
All in all, this compilation is a real curate’s egg: the good bits are excellent and may well fill in some important gaps for the seasoned collector, but the rest is rather ho-hum and all have been out on CD before. As a ‘taster’ for the novice collector or jazz tyro, it’s an odd choice and gives a skewed idea of what jazz in the ‘golden age’ was and how it came to be what it was. But as an entertainment CD for the car in a traffic jam, it’s fine.