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BOOK: OUT OF ANONYMITY: THE PARAMOUNT AND BROADWAY TERRITORY BANDS. By Alex van der Tuuk. Rustbooks Publishing, 2013. 212 pp, color illustrations. $50 (US), $60 (Canada), $65 (Europe). All prices include shipping. www.rustbooks.com
One problem with pre - World War Two American sound recordings is that they infrequently represent music making at local levels. In the early days, record making was largely confined to the New York City area, where it was considered an audio extension of sheet music publishing. Outside of classical and art music, the job of records in those days was to present popular songs performed by professional phonograph singers and musicians whose utilitarian approach was modeled on Tin Pan Alley song pluggers and simple assembly line orchestrations.
This one-size-fits-all system sufficed until the 1920s, when radio programming from across the country exposed listeners to a far greater variety of music and performing styles than records offered. The then minor league OKeh label was first to remedy the situation when it traveled to Atlanta, St. Louis, Chicago and Detroit between June and October 1923 to capture blues, jazz, foreign language music and regional dance bands in local environments. The trips netted history-making performances by King Oliver, Bennie Moten, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Lucille Bogan, Jelly Roll Morton, Erskine Tate, and regional dance music by Finzel’s Arcadia Orchestra and Guyon’s Paradise Orchestra in Detroit, and Warner’s Seven Aces in Atlanta.
Two start-up companies in the upper Midwest began to record locally in the early 1920s. Gennett had begun as the Starr Piano Company in 1872 in Richmond, Indiana, and expanded to include phonograph and record manufacturing in the 1910s. Gennett’s first studio in New York produced records from 1917 through 1921, when a second one was built at the Richmond site to produce local and regional music.
The (Port Washington) Wisconsin Chair Company added phonographs and records to its home furniture offerings in 1917. Like Gennett, Paramount maintained a New York studio and produced records that were stylistically indistinguishable from Columbia, Victor and Edison products. In 1923, Paramount chose to focus on Chicago’s growing “race” record market, relying on an abundance of local and touring blues and jazz talent. For actual recordings, the Port Washington office relied on independent Chicago studios created by Orlando Marsh and the evangelist Homer Rodeheaver.
Within a few years, the center of gravity for both Gennett and Paramount shifted from New York to the Midwest, where their catalogs expanded to include regional popular, jazz, country, gospel and blues performers whose music wouldn’t otherwise have been captured. After closing its New York studio in 1927, Paramount built another one, six miles from Port Washington in Grafton, Wisconsin, recording exclusively there from around the start of 1930 until the studio closed in July 1932. The company’s budget label Broadway, begun in 1926, retailed for thirty-five cents and drew most of its material initially from Plaza, and later from ARC and Crown, all in New York. Broadway began to feature local bands more prominently after the Grafton studio opened, just twenty miles north of Milwaukee.
Joie Lichter’s and Bill Carlsen’s popular local bands had already recorded for Paramount/Broadway in the mid-20s, and a Carlsen session from around February 1930 marked the start of regular Grafton appearances by local popular music talent. Bands led by Bob Tamms, Glen Lyte, Bud Spaight, Lawrence Welk, Sig Heller, Joe Gumin and others filled out Broadway’s popular catalog from 1930 until production ended around July 1932. Other talent included Hawaiian guitarists, pop and gospel singers, a harmonica soloist and two Bohemian style polka outfits that appeared in Broadway’s 8000 country series. One, the Paul/Roman Gosz Orchestra, did extended sessions in later years for ARC/Columbia, Decca and Mercury and enjoyed a reputation that endures today.
Out of Anonymity is well named. Unless you’re a student of local history, few names documented here will mean much. Several titles by Bill Carlsen’s Wisconsin Roof Orchestra have considerable jazz merit and four 1928 tracks by the “Wisconsin U Skyrockets” reveal an obvious undergraduate interest in hot choruses and arrangements. Others relied on stock charts reproduced with varying levels of skill and enthusiasm by community musicians who entertained in theaters, ballrooms, school dances, broadcasts, and sometimes on the road when they weren’t day jobs and family obligations permitted. An abundance of French, Polish, Czech, Italian, German Scandinavian etc. surnames reveal that many ties to the Old World were still relatively fresh in 1930, and the popular music they created was part of the continuing Americanization process that helped them blend into the Midwest’s growing industrial and agricultural society, playing contemporary popular music their fans enjoyed. Our interest in them derives from their surviving recordings that briefly preserved their ephemeral music in a regional studio. By 1930 the flagship Paramount label was largely reserved for “race” and country records whose retain price was reduced from seventy-five to fifty cents around 1930, when much of the company’s pop and country output had migrated to the thirty-five cent Broadway label. Curiously, only a half dozen 12000/13000 series Paramounts were reissued on Broadway after 1929.
Alex van der Tuuk’s delightfully idiosyncratic Out of Anonymity gives us a taste of the lives and times of those whose community-based music was captured in the company’s last days and served as a diversionary tonic from the area’s Depression woes. It’s a thorough and thoughtful study that admirably documents records, performers and circumstances. His research uncovers data from online searches, interviews, a review of union records, and other resources that testify to the author’s considerable patience, persistence and enthusiasm. Label scans, snapshots, publicity photos and newspaper ads are nicely reproduced and the book itself is fun to read. It only falls short in organizing the wealth of material it includes. Occasionally there are slips that editing might have caught: on page 140, Virginia Beach, Virginia is conflated with Atlantic City, New Jersey and, on page 154, the pianist entertainer Liberace is confused with his brother George Liberace, a violinist. Sometimes relevant facts appear in a rush with names, places, venues, professional and personal details tumbling over each other in helter skelter fashion, connecting in ways that aren’t always obvious. Material is arranged by bandleaders’ names but sometimes subordinate figures with more detailed biographies overwhelm coverage allotted to principals. Its focus on Milwaukee area music precludes the inclusion of non-locals (or untraced locals) who also recorded in Grafton. Among others, (the) Hip (or Hip’s) Commanders (Broadway 1436, 1439) and orchestras of Ed Borglund (1506), Aron Steele (1479), Abe McDowell (or McDow, 1481, 1482, 1483), Lawrence Welk (1461, 1462, 1484), and others aren’t there, even though a label scan of 1484 appears on p. 133. Presumably these and other missing names couldn’t be tracked, but (assuming I’m right) it would be nice to see that spelled out and have the names at least cited in passing.
But these are small anomalies in comparison with the whole. Alex van der Tuuk and Rustbooks publisher Malcolm Shaw have assembled a wonderful and engaging study that does us and posterity a service in spotlighting this little remembered corner of American music making 85 years ago and its connection to hometown 78 rpm records. Other American cities in so-called “flyover” country between the coasts could boast of lively music too, but without surviving records we can only guess at what they sounded like. This engaging account owes its existence to records that introduce us to the participants, their lives and varied careers, and help us gain a sense of who they were and why they still matter.
CALENDAR: The 2015 Blues Images Calendar: Classic Artwork from the 1920s. With 24-track CD. $22.95 + postage and packing. www.bluesimages.com
For nearly a dozen years, John Tefteller’s Blues Images calendar has been a must for every record collector’s wall and this year’s edition does not disappoint. One may call this the $37,000 edition - one page of the calendar relates the story of how John acquired the Tommy Johnson Paramount of Alcohol & Jake Blues from an auction for the “record” price of $37,000. Both sides are meticulously remastered in the accompanying CD, though after the December entry, because there is no accompanying advert - yet. Another, less publicized find, came from dumpster-diving in Rhode Island, were a number of original record company photos of great blues arts were literally plucked from the trash bin.
So, here’s this year’s roundup...
January features the familiar 1930 image of Memphis Minnie and Kansas Joe, but in stunning detail and resolution. The photo was a publicity shot from Vocalion and extremely grainy images used in earlier publications had been taken from the company catalog. The recording here is their classic When the Levee Breaks for Columbia. February brings the first of the rubbish-rescue photos; the first look at Willie Lofton, whose Bluebird of Dark Road Blues is an up-tempo reworking of Tommy Johnson’s Big Road Blues. March features the return of Henry Thomas with a Vocalion advert for Texas Easy Street.
The full-screen photo of Son Bonds and Hammie Nixon - holding guitar and jug respectively, is an amazing image - again saved from the trash pile. Thank God!! The accompanying track is their Decca of I Want to Live So God Can Use Me.
The late spring and summer months bring us to the tried-and-true mainstays of Blues Images calendars. May is an advert for Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Match Box Blues, featuring the alternate take of his Paramount version. The excellent transfer allows listeners to hear his foot stomping that adds intensity to the great performance. For comparison, the Okeh version is provided in the bonus track part of the CD. Blind Blake’s Dry Bone Shuffle is June’s entry and Charley Patton’s Spoonful is July’s feature. August feature’s Cannon’s Jug Stompers doing Walk Right In, recorded for Victor in 1930, but revived in 1963 by a folk song group called the Rooftop Singers (One inaccuracy in the calendar notes: Cannon did receive royalties for the song, though it was a mixed blessing because his new-found funds made him a target for thieves). September bring us another Blues Image favorite, the Mississippi Sheiks, doing Shake That Thing, which had been a huge hit by Ethel Waters in 1926. By 1933, when this Paramount was recorded, the song’s appeal had been diluted by dozens of cover versions so this one sold poorly.
A newcomer, and a welcome one, is Roosevelt Sykes who enjoyed an extremely long recording career from 1929 to shortly before his death in 1983. The photo here is one of the earliest known of this great pianist (1930) and came from that trash haul. The accompanying track is an extreme rarity from Paramount in 1931, Conjure Man Blues. Irene Scruggs, masquerading as Chocolate Brown, and accompanied by Blind Blake on guitar is November’s entry, and is also the cover track: You Got What I Want, from a 1930 Paramount. It’s kind of formulaic in the It’s Tight Like That vein, but Blake gives it a very original, swinging touch. December, as usual, features a gospel track, and The Blue Jay Singers’ 1932 version of Clanka Lanka (the title taken from the bass figure sung behind the lead tenor) is better known as Standing By The Bedside of a Neighbor. This is one of my favorites, showing the transition of gospel group singing from the more staid chorus style to a more rhythmically dynamic sound that reached its zenith in the latter 1940s.
The highlights of the bonus tracks are Garfield Akers Jumpin’ and Shout Blues (ex Vocalion 1481) that’s seldom heard, especially for a very clean copy, Bill Wilbur (who may be Joe McCoy) My Babe Blues, which is a reworking of Charlie Jackson’s Coffee Pot Blues, that appeared on Decca-Champion in 1935. There’s also the flip of the expensive Tommy Johnson, Ridin’ Horse Blues which is a reworking of Maggie Campbell Blues.
The production is the usual high standard, so, once again, it is the calendar you will keep long after the year ends.
Finally, lets give the annual kudos to John Tefteller and the Blues Image crew for making this enjoyable package for collectors, and for making this great music and artwork available for all. No need to spend $37,000 on this... and at $26 it’s great value.
BOOK: NEW YORK RECORDING LABORATORIES 1100-1999 MATRIX SERIES. By Guido van Rijn and Alex van der Tuuk. Agram Blues Books, Prins Mauritslaan 95, 2051 KC Overveen, Netherlands. ISBN 978-90-814715-7-2. Hardbound, 311 pp. €40.00 plus postage. http://home.tiscali.nl/guido/
My parting comment, as I reviewed Volume 3 in this by-now-known-to-all reference set covering the various matrix series emanating from New York Recording Laboratories, was “roll on Volume 4 and a well-earned rest for the authors,” or something to that effect. Well, here it is, and there will be no rest at all for them, because there is now to be also a Volume 5, given that the early material simply didn’t fit a single tome, in that nice, handy format started 40 years ago with Storyville discography volumes.
There’s also a major change in the makeup of this volume from its three predecessors. The black-and-white material from newspapers and similar media used in the earlier volumes, which cover the mid- to late 1920s, is much scarcer for the early period of NYRL’s existence (1922-25 in the case of this volume), so the authors decided to incorporate sheet music cover illustrations, as well as a larger variety of label pictures, on the left pages of the volume. Part of the joy of sheet music is the use of colour; so this book turned into a four-colour production; hence, it costs a bit more than the other three.
And it’s also gorgeous. The work, as before, is incredibly detailed and precise. Sessions are dated (and in many if not most cases, the dating varies considerably from “guesstimates” in previous works) by some dedicated sleuthing, using either precise dates from unimpeachable sources such as musician or booking agent diaries, or second-level, circumstantial evidence, such as newspaper reports and even contemporary personal letters sent by artists. The Puritan label in its intricate manifestations is dissected, as are those fascinating spinoffs that use Paramount material, like Famous, Harmograph, Pennington, Lyratone and National, as well as a dozen other labels, many of which I’ve never seen, let alone owned. There’s an expert dissertation on just who the artist or artists are, who put together those lino-cut type illustrations for NYRL; and pages and pages of additional and corrected material for the three earlier volumes.
And for those who love contextual material, as do I, the sheet music in full colour is a joy to behold. As before, the illustrations on the left relate to the recording data on the right-hand pages. And it’s not just any old sheet music: the cameos on the front sheets reflect in many cases the artist whose recording appears in the listing. The authors also make a point of showing, where available, the rarest and most esoteric labels of relevant issues; and since it’s in full colour, you find yourself looking at labels you probably will never see in your own collection.
But enough puff about the peripheral stuff; what we came for is the listing, and unlike efforts to find the later, more obscure matrix series, these earlier listing are about 85% complete. As before, the authors appeal to the reader for information about missing material both within and without the scope of this volume, so your help is also still needed and solicited. The listings are, as before, meticulous and clearly presented. And as before, the print quality, binding and presentation (gorgeous early-Paramount bright blue label on the cover) are second to none.
Last time of asking; first time of telling, as my Geoger master at Barnard Castle used to say; this material is as complete as can be achieved, without a séance channelling Mayo Williams. Do get the whole series, if you don’t already have it, because I can say with certainty: “sold out” will mean “gone.”
THE VICTOR BLACK LABEL DISCOGRAPHY, Volume IV. Complete 22000, 23000, 24000, V-38000, V-38500, and V-40000 Series (1929–1935). By John R. Bolig. Mainspring Press, 608pp Hardbound. ISBN 978-0-9852004-8-0. $79 US, $85 Canada, $105 elsewhere. www.mainspringpress.com
This, the fourth volume in John Bolig’s mammoth examination of Victor’s catalogue series, is the one that all red-blooded jazz, blues and country music fans have been waiting for, for it covers the most desirable - and collectable - series devoted to these genres in the period of greatest interest to the readers of VJM. Hair has been torn, teeth gritted and pockets willingly emptied for the chance of acquiring some of the records listed in here, often based on the premise that “there are only 5 known copies of xxxxx (insert as appropriate).” So, is this book going to be the answer to record collectors’ prayers? What great revelations will be in store? Well, it depends on what you want...
Owners of the first three volumes will know where the author is coming from: Mr. Bolig is first and foremost a absolutist discographer. As Joe Friday supposedly said in the TV series ‘Dragnet’, “Just the facts ma’am.” In other words, if it ain’t in the files, it ain’t in the book. Bolig makes a great play of the fact that he has personally combed the Victor archives and thus what he presents is unquestionably correct. So, if there is no personnel or instrumentation listed in the files, or one that can be validated by unimpeachable contemporary, first hand sources, then it isn’t shown. In fact he starts the book on that very premise, quoting the Jimmie Rodgers recording of Blue Yodel No. 9. The files shows cornet, piano and guitar accompaniment. Well, you and me and the gatepost know that the ‘cornet’ is none other than ‘trumpeter’ Louis Armstrong and the pianist is his wife, Lil. Bolig would have it that the instrumentalists would have been all listed as ‘unknown’ were it not for the fact that Louis, in a 1960s TV show, said that he once made a record with Jimmie Rodgers. So, Louis gets listed but Lil, whom Louis didn’t mention in the interview, doesn’t. Jazz discography, as Chris Hillman recently wrote “... in earlier times would have been poorer indeed without the acceptance of aural evidence, some of which has in time turned out to be flawed or even nonsensical but much has since been validated by supporting documentation” , and of all the discographical forms, jazz (and blues) are the ones where the identification of participants captured in three minutes moment of intense creativity, is the ultimate Holy Grail. Consequently jazz discography, for all its many flaws, has always welcomed argument, discussion and speculation on the identities of performers when none is known for certain. Bolig pours scorn on this from the word ‘Go’, with a mean-spirited attack on Brian Rust and his approach to discography - “Listening to a record and claiming that the drummer sounds like somebody famous is not a legitimate way to do historical research. Good research, like good science, can be replicated by other researchers and other scientists. Mr. Rust’s discographies do not meet that test.” No matter how much Mr. Bolig disagrees, Louis Armstrong is unmistakably Louis, Bechet is unmistakably Bechet, Ted Lewis is unmistakably Ted Lewis and even drummer Stan King is unmistakably Stan King! And if there is any doubt, then there is every likelihood that it isn’t them.
So, beef aside, what can the average jazz or blues collector get from this book that he can’t get from the various incarnations of Jazz Records and Blues and Gospel Records? Actually, quite a lot. For one, it is very useful to see the whole ‘Hot Dance’ and ‘Race’ series issue by issue, and to easily locate the reverse of a cross-coupled item. Also, the information on some of the file cards can be at variance with that shown in the established discographies: for instance, the vocalist on the Missourians’ You’ll Cry For Me, But I’ll Be Gone is shown in all the editions of Jazz Records as Lockwood Lewis, but Bolig shows (presumably from referring to the file card) it to be drummer Leroy Maxey. Incidentally, the files also show that the band’s manager was bassist Jimmy Smith - something you won’t find it Rust. The fact that some issues were only issued in specific regions is also noted when it is shown, so now we know why the Williams Purple Knights Victor 22625 is so damn’ rare!
For all Mr. Bolig’s claims that the file cards and, by extension, the author too, are infallible, there are errors. on p. 329 he states that Victor V-38029 by Napoleon’s Emperors is issued as Thunder In My Dreams. Well, all the copies I’ve ever seen show it as Anything. Moving on to Fess Williams, Victor 23005, Ida Sweet As Apple Cider is shown as take 2. Well, on my shelf I have take 1 as well as take 2. Likewise, Victor 23003, Everything’s OK With Me Is shown as being take 2 but take 1 was also issued - I have it. Other readers will, I’m sure, be able to pinpoint many other such instances.
One particularly annoying element is the use of a film’s title as the primary title for a performance, for example Victor V-38139 is shown as Dames Ahoy, followed after the composer credit, then by the title it was issued under - in this case Hoagy Carmichael’s Barnacle Bill The Sailor - it might be like that on the file card, but it is pretty infuriating on the page! Also, there is no nominal differentiation between issues that appeared on other RCA labels - therefore Richard M. Jones’ Tickle Britches Blues is shown as being issued on V-38040 and on Victor: B-6627, when it would have been simpler and clearer to show that issue as ‘Bluebird.’
One omission that will particularly grate on blues collectors and many record dealers is the omission of sales figures, despite them being quoted on Victor’s ‘blue history cards.’ The author states that these numbers were added in response to a lawsuit and that many issues were pressed after the lawsuit was filed, and thus are inaccurate. Yes, that might be the case for a record that stayed in catalogue for several years, but many of the race series items, judging from copies known to be in circulation nowadays, had a very short catalogue life indeed, and may have only been issued in the locality of its making or where the artist lived and worked. so, for these, limited run issues, sales figures would have been very useful. For those desperate to see them, the 23000, V-38600 and V-40300 sales figures were reproduced in Dick Spottswood’s article ‘When The Wolf Knocked At Victor’s Door’ 78 Quarterly, Vol 1, No. 5.
For all its author’s ‘holier than thou’ attitude towards the jazz and blues discographical fraternity, it has to be said that this is a very useful book indeed, packed with information you will struggle to find elsewhere. Production quality is superb, as previous purchasers of Mainspring Press books will know only too well, with high quality paper bound between substantial board covers with black cloth covers. I for one will be referring to it regularly but, ultimately, it can only co-exist alongside, and never replace, the oft-infuriating, exasperating and much-loved ‘JR’ and ‘B&GR.’
BOOK: WOMAN WITH GUITAR. MEMPHIS MINNIE’S BLUES. By Paul and Beth Garon, City Lights Books. 408pp with illustrations. www.citylights.com
This book is an expanded and revised version of the book originally published in 1992 which is now long out of print. Its return is most welcome as interest in older blues has entered the popular mainstream and hopefully will broaden public awareness of this extraordinary woman.
Memphis Minnie, of course, is a towering figure in blues history. As a guitarist, she possessed both dexterity and drive; as a vocalist, she was expressive as any of her peers and, more often than not, she wrote her own songs instead of relying on stock verses. In addition, she was one of the few blues musicians who began in the rural tradition and successfully adapted to the urban styles of the middle and later ‘30s, and adapted yet again to the tougher-sounding post-war styles. In 1930, she defied the Depression with Bumble Bee. When sales of most blues discs had fallen into the 100’s, Bumble Bee racked up sales over 10,000 according to contemporary press reports. In 1941, she had her biggest hit, Me & My Chauffeur which sold widely into both popular and “race” markets and, judging by the number of copies that still turn up, it was arguably the biggest-selling slues record of the pre-war era. While she was unable to repeat the sales success of Chauffeur, discs like Pig Meat on the Line, I’m So Glad and Lean Meat Won’t Fry were excellent sellers, topping any other contemporary blues artist except, perhaps, Bill Broonzy.
Such popularity insured that Minnie would a lasting influence in blues - Chauffeur spawning dozens of cover versions from Bonnie Raitt to Precious Bryant.
As the 1950s opened, Minnie’s popularity began waning-at least on record. She did score a minor hit with Kissing in the Dark in 1953, but that would be her last commercial recording session. In 1958, she left Chicago and returned to Memphis to stay; coping with gradually deteriorating health until her death in 1973.
Fortunately, this book about Memphis Minnie comes from interviews with her and her sister and fellow blues artists while most of them were still alive, instead of combing the South for distant relatives or anyone who might have a distant memory of her. Consequently, we get a good picture of what kind of woman Minnie was - not surprisingly tough, able to hold her own in the though juke joints, an accomplished musician who took great care to keep current and write new material, and pragmatic enough to bed down with session made for their share of the recording fees.
Since Minnie wrote most of her own material, the author chose, for the main part of the book, to analyze her songs by subject groupings. Trains and Travel, Doctors, Crime, “Mad Love”, Horses, Food and Cooking and other elements of life in the South, and Chicago’s South Side. Garon places the songs in each catalog (admitting that some are pretty nebulous) with a discussion of the social and legal situations of the time; for example in discussing Memphis Minnie-Jitis (or Meningitis) Blues, he weaves in the fact that during the Civil Rights movement, some white physicians refused to deliver babies of African-American women suspected of being troublemakers.
The photos include a number of candid shots from her older days, recording sheets and some of her notes that she used in performances - from her records, one would never know she sang songs like How High the Moon, Tree in the Meadow, Lady Be Good and - get this - Woody Woodpecker.
Minnie was one of the first inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame, for excellent reasons, and this book does her justice. By all means, get it while you can.
BOOK: PSEUDONYMS ON AMERICAN RECORDS – A Guide to False Names and Label Errors on 78s, Cylinders and Transcriptions. Third Revised and Expanded Edition. By Allan Sutton. Mainspring Press. 479 pp; $69 US / $89 Canada, $95 elsewhere (incl. shipping). ISBN: 978-0-9852004-9-7. www.mainspringpress.com
No-one who has ever collected shellac (and its acetate or vinyl sisters) for more than a few months can have failed to come up against the enigma of the pseudonymous issue. Some are easily enough revealed for what they really are; some are genuine names adopted by this or that artist to avoid unfortunate arguments over contractual liabilities with other record companies (Duke Ellington’s Harlem Footwarmers, for example); some are random inventions of the record companies, perhaps hoping to disguise the fact that the original issue was at a higher price on a better-known label (the Original Indiana Five on Gennett as the Birmingham Five on Champion); others are blanket names that cover a multitude of gems…and sins. A quick riffle through one of my own shelves suggests that up to 20% of my collection could be under pseudonym! As most of us who’ve been around a while will know, identifying who really lies behind these names – in the same way as identifying the true personnel of the bands when we even know which they are - is to enter a world of snares, traps and delusions: as one critic (I can’t remember who) once remarked, if Red Nichols had actually played on all the records attributed to him, he would never have slept, eaten or stayed long enough in one place to get his trumpet out of its case. And so it has often been with pseudonyms as well: the Dixie Jazz Band, a name widely used on Oriole and Jewel (and less often on Challenge and Regal) by the Plaza group to cover everything from real jazz to no jazz, has led many an over-enthusiastic collector to hear Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra where Henderson never trod…in fact, according to the latest edition of this book, no more than two such issues are unambiguously attributable to Henderson! But, of course, just as certain unscrupulous record companies were prepared to suggest the great bandleader’s presence in their studios to enhance sales of otherwise mediocre material (Henderson’s Dance Orchestra on Black Swan, for example), so many collectors and dealers were happy to enhance the value of discs, on which his presence was at the very least highly debatable.
Over the past few years, however, there has been a much more forensic approach to identifying those responsible for the bands, singers and soloists behind the pseudonyms, and a highly welcome development this has been. At the forefront has been Allan Sutton, whose meticulous research has laid many a questionable ghost to rest; this is the 3rd edition of one of the most useful reference books I have on my shelves. It draws on more collector and documentary source information than ever before…and most importantly, it eschews the still too frequent tendency of some of us to substitute ‘probably’ for ’possibly’, or even worse, for ‘probably not’. Indeed, as the preface points out, every entry in previous editions has been re-examined, and if it lacks credibility, has been either deleted or clearly referenced as questionable.
The stress throughout has been on using utterly reliable source material: original recording files, company catalogues, trade press citations, and a host of other written materials, which, if they do not clearly point to the identity of an artist, will suggest it beyond reasonable doubt. Many company files, of course, have been destroyed or lost over the years: in such cases, meticulous comparison of matrix and control numbers on non-pseudonymous issues has often provided a new identification or confirmed an otherwise doubtful one. One of the greatest traps in the past has been reliance on aural evidence: this, in particular, has led many of us up increasingly muddy garden paths, as so many bandleaders and studio directors – not to mention the musicians they employed – strove to emulate the big names of the day. Sutton has abandoned it as a means of identification, except for singers (such as Arthur Fields or Vernon Dalhart), whose voices are almost impossible to mistake. Sutton has also made the decision to treat secondary source material with a healthy dose of scepticism: such sources (which include venerable tomes like Jazz Records, American Dance Bands on Records and Film, and several others) are only quoted when other sources are entirely lacking – and then with the caveat that you and I decide for ourselves how much credence to lend them. Anecdotal evidence – from seasoned experts – has only been included where it is clearly plausible; other apparently important and credible material – the Online Discographical Project, for example – has, according to Sutton, proved so unreliable overall (“sloppily compiled”), that it has been entirely disregarded.
What this means is that we now have the most up-to-date and credible evidence as to which American artists did what under which pseudonym, with source references given wherever possible. The book is a mine of priceless information, but in a handy format which can easily be carried in your back-pack or attache-case as you wander from stall to stall or junk-shop to junk-shop. But, as with every other reference book in the shadowy world of the US recording industry, there are gaps: as Donald Rumsfeld so enigmatically remarked (and it pains me to suggest the man was percipient, but there you go), there are known unknowns…and unknown unknowns. Some pseudonyms remain to be ‘broken’; others aren’t even on the radar. One of my collector friends, on hearing that I had this book for review, promptly sent me a list of a dozen or so Dixie Jazz Band issues in his collection that he had never been able to identify. Not a one of them is listed here: that is not to criticise Allan Sutton, merely to warn you, dear reader, that this is a continuing project and that almost certainly you have somewhere in your collection the key to unlock another little recording secret. Please send it to Mainspring Press, that we may all benefit. And buy the book…oh, and will someone please do the same for pseudonyms of British records!
CD: LIONEL HAMPTON & HIS ORCHESTRA. 1947-1948. Doctor Jazz DJ012. €17.95 plus postage. www.doctorjazz.nl
I remember seeing Lionel Hampton’s band around 1982 and was amazed at how the stuck to the hard-swinging, take-no-prisoners sound that it had been born with back in 1942. Shouting brass, strong beat, gutsy tenor sax solos, the leader’s vibes, then some shrieking high note trumpets on the way out. It’s no surprise that this set of newly-discovered airchecks have that same sound. Good full sound, I might add.
On this set, Hampton had the tough tenor Johnny Sparrow, trombonist Britt Woodman, Wes Montgomery on guitar and Jimmy Nottingham scouting the stratosphere on trumpet. Oh, and Charles Mingus on bass.
The sets are a typical mix of jump tunes and ballads. I always loved the early iterations of Midnight Sun, before it became a lounge-lizard anthem. Hampton wrote the melody – probably by refining solo ideas into a structured song, and began featuring it in the mid-40s as a vehicle for his playing.
Hamp’s Got a Duke is a reworking of a Jay McShann riff, You Say Forward, I’ll March, featuring plenty good solos and a surging rhythm section.
Mingus Fingers was, of course, a showcase for his erratic bassist while Vibe Boogie showcased the leader.
Before long, Hampton would be roundly criticized for keeping his soloists in a straightjacket of dated riffs and four-to-the bar rhythm. Indeed, a few years later, his star players, including Quincy Jones and Clifford Brown, would sneak away after lights out and cut a series of classic bop albums for French Vogue.
But today, that “old-fashioned” straightjacket sounds good and fresh. It does was jazz was originally supposed to do—get your body swaying and feet moving. If that’s what gets you moving, then move to this.
BOOK: THE JAZZ IMAGE. Seeing Music through Herman’s Leonard’s Photography. By K. Heather Pinson. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1-60473-494-2, paperback, 240pp, illustrated, $30.00. www.upress.state.ms.us
To anyone even vaguely interested in the subject, Herman Leonard is recognised as a key figure in jazz performance photography, an American whose proximity to the New York jazz scene of the 1940s and 1950s enabled him to photograph the great and the good of the day and whose images are widely known and valued.
So Pinson’s book seemed intriguing, at least in prospect. After all, Leonard’s is a story worth the telling. A man whose career trajectory took in world war two action, modern jazz, fashion and post-Katrina New Orleans and who enjoyed the patronage of the likes of Miles Davis and Quincy Jones would be worth someone’s attention, for sure. Well, the first thing to say is that this edition of Pinson’s book dates from 2010 and includes a dialogue with Leonard written as if the great man were still alive. Not so, for he died later in 2010. How odd, then, that the book should have been sent out for review in 2014. Oh well.
In another life, far away from the world of jazz, I was sometimes required to mentor students who were preparing their final MBA essays. The objective was to define a problem or issue, gather evidence and then to form a balanced conclusion based on analysis of that evidence. I had the devil’s own job to get students away from coming up with a preferred solution first and then searching for evidence to justify their conclusion. This, it seems, to me is what Ms. Pinson, an assistant professor of communication and media arts at Robert Morris University, has done. Her premise is that Leonard’s iconic photographs, with their smoke-laden club ambiance and back-lit subjects, served to define the public’s continuing awareness of the music and their expectations of it and that this has somehow played a part in how the music has developed.
She then charts the history of jazz in pretty banal fashion, taking the reader well away from any consideration of Leonard’s later work, providing copious citations from every commentator, philosopher and thinker of our time to serve her basic premise, without ever imagining that the reader may or may not buy in to it. I found much of the text exasperating and frequently simplistic, often wrong and repetitive too, the language suffused with the special vocabulary of the tenured academic, viz Pinson’s view that Herman’s images offer, “A particular kind of reality where an oscillating dialectic ensures a responsive and creative dynamic between artist and viewer.”
There are detailed commentaries on just a few Leonard photos, with considerable emphasis on this ‘social dialogue’ between photographer and observer. As Herman says, when she pushes him to comment on the smoky ambiance of his iconic shots, the so-called Leonard effect, “It’s a pictorial effect that a lot of people say that I designed it that way. That’s fine, but I didn’t design it that way. It turned out that way. The ‘best’ photos I’ve made were never by design or preference for that musician. It’s that they were great visual subjects.” A case, perhaps, of being the right man in the right place at the right time. ‘Nuff said.
Saying that this book resembles a limited doctoral thesis dressed up as a serious study and that it is typical of an all-pervasive genre of American academic publication, peer-reviewed and all, should be sufficient. It includes a Herman career timeline, a list of his exhibitions and a copious Notes section. Put your money to better use and avoid.
BOOK: CREATING JAZZ COUNTERPOINT: NEW ORLEANS, BARBERSHOP HARMONY, AND THE BLUES. By Vic Hobson. Hardback, 168pp, ISBN 978-1-61703-991-1, also available as an E-book. University Press of Mississippi, Jackson. $60.00. www.upress.state.ms.us
This book seeks to clarify two puzzles important in our understanding of the origins and development of jazz in New Orleans. Firstly to examine the relationship between two of the music’s most important early figures, Bunk Johnson and Buddy Bolden; secondly to show how barbershop music influenced the growth of instrumental jazz.
In my own book ‘Bunk Johnson: His Life and Times’ (Spellmount, 1988) I followed the interpretation by Larry Gushee and Don Marquis of the 1900 Census that Bunk was born in 1889, ten years later than his claimed birth date, and concluded that he had made this error either deliberately or wishfully to persuade the writers of one of the first significantly investigative books on jazz, ‘Jazzmen’ (New York, 1939) that he was an important early pioneer who had been an associate of Buddy Bolden, remembered by such New Orleans celebrities as Louis Armstrong Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton as a most worthy subject of their enquiries. I am told that because of this my book did not please Bill Russell, a contributor to Jazzmen and subsequent sponsor of Bunk throughout his musical resuscitation and the revered doyen of New Orleans jazz enthusiasm until his death in 1992. Incidentally, I presume that Vic Hobson is not aware of my book because it does not appear in the Bibliography.
After Bill Russell’s death his papers were placed in the Historic New Orleans Collection at the Williams Research Centre, New Orleans where I have had the pleasure of interrogating them myself for items relevant to my various projects; likewise the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University which contains a number of Russell’s interviews of jazzmen. Russell had always been protective of Bunk’s reputation and character and would not discuss any documentation which threw questionable light on him - even though he had much of it in his own possession. After his death the late Mike Hazeldine and Barry Martyn, leading New Orleans authorities both, felt able to put together an, at that time and still, definitive study of Bunk Johnson’s life and music from his early days through to his final lease of life. In ‘Bunk Johnson: Song of the Wanderer’ (Jazzology Press, 2000) the question of Bunk’s date of birth remains open but the authors accept that he was not as old as he claimed and suggest that a date around five years later is likely.
Vic Hobson follows up on this and shows reasons to suspect that the 1900 Census interpretation is flawed - which I am now happy to accept. Bunk’s statement that he played in Bolden’s band in 1895 is also flawed as Buddy has now been shown to have been still playing accordion at that time and only started his cornet-led band around the turn of the century; so Bunk could have played with him between then and 1907 when the leader succumbed to dementia; but whether as a regular member or a substitute to allow Buddy a break to drink or get together with one of his numerous ladies - or even as the cornet player in a second group when Bolden had more than one engagement to fill. Bolden’s original trombonist, Willie Cornish, recalled Bunk playing with Bolden so it is no great breakthrough to find the association “proved” though how close or continuous that association was is still mysterious and my own feeling is that Bolden mainly led his basic band which played for dancing in Johnson Park on his own.
In my book I quoted anecdotal evidence that Bolden would not have tolerated another cornet player in his own dance band but that they may have played together on parades. Hobson suggests that Bolden played in the so-called “second cornet” style which is usually quoted as being Bunk’s speciality, playing variations around the strong straight playing of the lead cornet - or around the melody if on his own. Two-trumpet teams were not obligatory in New Orleans dance bands although the later success of King Oliver’s band may have led those early researchers to suppose it was the norm. Most historians have envisaged Bolden as having “ragged” the melody in a loud and energetic manner, leaving the fancy stuff to one of his two clarinettists, probably Frank Lewis, but there is evidence that he was a capable musician, not the “noble savage” that romantic speculation saw him as hitherto and Hobson has certainly thrown some light on an important piece of the New Orleans jigsaw. He has also made good use of the various documentation which has come to light since Bill Russell’s death to clarify and amplify our knowledge of Bunk Johnson.
I must admit that I had always thought of barbershop singing, inasmuch as it can be seen as an art form in its own right, as originally a pan-American phenomenon. Mea culpa, as I had not read ‘Play That Barber Shop Chord’ by Lynn Abbott of the Hogan Jazz Archive, whom I know and respect as a foremost authority on the culture which led up to jazz. I had supposed that, as with ragtime, gospel music and even jazz itself, it was a hotch-potch of influences from American and European folk music, show business and even the orient. Abbott points out that, as the United States developed, in the south the menial task of barbering fell almost exclusively to slaves and then ex-slaves; barber shops became meeting places for the disadvantaged who would sing while they were waiting to keep their spirits up, pass the time and generally enjoy themselves. In New Orleans, in particular, they became havens for musicians to meet and arrange business, as in the case of the establishment of Bolden’s friend Louis Jones and no doubt the singing became more formally organised.
Louis Armstrong and other musicians of note started their artistic exploits in “a capella” harmony quartets and it seems only natural that when they took up instruments the harmonies and patterns should have followed. As jazz developed its early manifestations were emulations of the human voice, whether speaking, shouting or singing and expression of emotion was achieved by tonal variations which, as both Hobson and Abbott aver, are like those in the barbershop and blues spectra. White musicians were, of course, also the clients of barbers and in New Orleans, racially more flexible than the rest of the south, this may well have been an opportunity for stylistic interaction. Space is given to such early jazz musicians as Nick La Rocca and Jack Laine showing the music of their bands to have equally exhibited characteristics which could have been inherited from barbershop music. The author defines barbershop style exhaustively, using musical notation repeatedly which can detract from the flow for those not academically inclined; but he does seem to be making his point even though he perhaps over-eggs his pudding. Whether the influence is as linear and straightforward as he makes out is open to question and it does seem to me that he tends to over-simplify a terribly complex subject.
When it comes to the blues he is less convincing. No doubt blues harmonies and inflexions found their way into barbershop music as they certainly did into jazz, both generically and through interaction. Hobson gives as an example of Bolden’s repertoire Careless Love citing it as a blues; although it has had the word “blues” tacked onto it and has been performed by many blues artistes it is not in the blues idiom which can be defined, at least as distinctly as barbershop, as a form in its own right. Careless Love is a ballad, probably of folk origin from one or other side of the Atlantic, in the same way as Clementine or Red River Valley which have also become part of the jazz and blues repertoire using “blue notes” and other tonal emphases to heighten the emotion. No doubt these effects are the natural result of a naive and displaced society coming to a, to them, alien musical repertoire with a blank sheet to interpret it on. Hobson believes such effects hark back to African origins while others disavow the connection, but we cannot disbelieve that they come from the contrasted despair and durability of a disadvantaged and maltreated section of American society
Whatever the questions it leaves unresolved this is a stimulating book which enhances our knowledge and understanding of the music we love and of some of its most seminal protagonists. It also places barbershop music, now an international movement, in a proper historical context as an art form, clarifies its debt to African-Americans and its relationship with other such ethnic forms as Jazz and Ragtime and Gospel music; and it opens the door to those who have the desire and the energy to seek the answer to those questions.
BOOK: CODAS TO A LIFE WITH JAZZ: Essays by Trevor Tolley. Golden Dog Press, Ottawa, Canada. ISBN 978-1-927703-01-4, softcover, 177pp, suggested price $15.95. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Readers will be familiar with the author's name through his numerous articles for various jazz magazines, especially VJM. What they may not know is that he is Professor Emeritus and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature of the United Kingdom, has published several books on 20th century British poetry and has been awarded a Fellowship at the University of Texas in Austin. His love of literature matches his love of jazz which started when he was at grammar school and, together with an undiminished passion for record collecting, gives him the ideal qualifications to spout about our favourite subject.
The professor does so with erudition, keen perception, an inquisitive mind and is always able to draw positive conclusions. The book is a collection of articles that appeared in publications over the years, mostly the Canadian magazine, Coda (hence the pun in the title) or were presentations to jazz organisations. The vast majority of the articles have stood the test of time well, but a few chapters present a situation similar to the one I encountered recently when I decided to re-read Otis Ferguson: If the material is dated, it often comes across that way. It would have helped The Coda book if each chapter had listed the origin and date of the original article to help adjust the mind to the necessary time slot.
Three chapters bothered me in this way. The one on Sidney Arodin is mainly devoted to his discography, but with Lord and other advances in this ever-expanding science, I failed to see the point of reproducing this particular piece. There's a chapter on Norman Granz on whom we have since had a detailed tome, while the opening chapter raises issues with some of James Lincoln Collier's opinions in his book on Louis. There have been so many volumes on Louis since that 1983 landmark publication, that it now seems old hat, though let it be said that the points made by Professor Tolley are widely accepted today.
However, I am glad to report that most of the book still reads well and I particularly enjoyed the chapters on the Billy Banks records, Pee Wee Russell, Tesch , Chu Berry and such neglected stalwarts as Israel Crosby, Garland Wilson and Ernie Caceres. A wide range of jazz styles is covered, and to my surprise, I found myself avidly relishing words on the careers of what we call “the modernists.” Perhaps it is because I have not given these musicians much attention or listening time that I found the chapters on them among the more interesting and educational – Dodo Marmaroso, Thelonius Monk, the Adams-Byrd partnership, Walt Dickerson, Cecil Taylor. Now I know better. . . and maybe I'll borrow some discs. . .
Charlie Parker was one whom I have always appreciated, but I have never fancied listening to the Dean Benedetti recordings. I don't think I could stand the makeshift recording quality and the fragmentation of the numbers. It's enough to drive an audio freak like me up the wall. I still don't want to listen, despite the inclusion of the Hi-Di-Ho Club sessions - but I certainly enjoyed reading about it all. A fascinating piece on a remarkable project.
The final chapter, “Jazz Collecting in Ancient Britain – 1942” will appeal to all. It describes the author's early involvement in jazz and is one that will be echoed by many of our own experiences. This nostalgic blast includes a brief but fascinating insight into the controversial birth of Jazz Journal magazine.
Despite my slight reservations about the time lapse, I found the book enjoyable and enlightening. The Professor not only took me back, but also brought me more up to date. At the asking price, it's a bargain. And for those of us with grey hair, or none at all, let me say that it is printed on quality white paper in a good-sized, clear fount - an elementary, but oft-neglected, requirement for today's jazz fraternity.
Finally. . . yes, there IS a chapter on Adrian Rollini. And it is one of the best - even though it does start with the words “Adrian Rollini is little remembered today. . .”
BOOK: THE AMERICAN ZON-O-PHONE DISCOGRAPHY - VOL 1. Ten and Twelve-Inch Popular Series (1904-1912). By William R. Bryant. Mainspring Press, 360pp, Hardback. ISBN 978-0-9852004-0-4. $65 US, $79 Canada, $89 worldwide. www.mainspringpress.com
At the dawn of the Twentieth century the recording industry was in the same, gold rush-style, state that the computer and internet companies were in during the dot com boom-and-bust at the end of the same century. Cowboys, crooks and swindlers held huge positions of strength, and lawyers were getting fat on the hundreds of legal injunctions, claims and counter-claims from companies attempting to guard or overturn often-dubious patent claims. One of the sharpest thorns in the side of industry leaders Victor and their President, Eldridge R. Johnson, was the Universal Talking Machine Co, and its Zon-O-Phone label. After a spat with its one-time ally, The American Graphophone Company (Columbia, to you and me), Universal was left with no patent protection and its dealers being threatened with legal action if they sold Zon-O-Phone records. So, in 1903, Universal entered negotiations with the Gramophone & Typewriter Co. (later The Gramophone Co., and its HMV label), who in turn offered a controlling interest to Eldridge R. Johnson. Johnson acquired the rights to the Zon-O-Phone name in the Americas, whilst the unhyphenated name would be used by the Gramophone Co. and, later, EMI, until the 1940s.
Contrary to popular myth, Victor did not own Zon-O-Phone; its President had controlling interest, and the two companies initially had separate management, studios and engineers, including one Edward T. King, the same Eddie King who was to be the persistent nemesis of Bix Beiderbecke and other jazz musicians at Victor sessions in the 1920s. Prices for Zon-O-Phone were considerably lower than for Victor discs, so Johnson was in the unenviable positions of being controlling head of two competing companies! The price constraints meant that Zon-O-Phone’s roster of artists was very much of the ‘usual suspects’ variety - Billy Murray, Ada Jones, Henry Burr, Collins & Harlan et al. That being said, there are many fine ragtime and rag-flavoured recordings by the house orchestra, initially led by Fred Hager and, later, by Edward T. King. The majority of these sides are unlisted in the major jazz record discographies, mainly on account of their comparative rarity, but there are many - including Wall Street Rag which, apart from Maple Leaf Rag, was the only recording of a Scott Joplin rag made in his lifetime.
The author, the late William R. Bryant, who died at the early age of 44 in 1995, had left meticulously-detailed, carefully researched manuscripts, which Mainspring’s Allan Sutton has worked up into a well-laid out, beautifully-produced book, with the promise of a second volume to cover the earlier period to follow.
As for Zon-O-Phone in the USA, the writing was on the wall: persistent patent infringement threats from Columbia forced Johnson, wearing his Victor hat, to absorb Zon-O-Phone into the Victor fold where, after a ridiculous period of duplication of recordings, often by the same artists weeks apart, it was quietly left to die, the last issues being released in the summer of 1912.
Although this book may not appeal to the mainstream VJM reader, those with a penchant for a virtually unexplored area of ragtime recordings will find much to interest and inform them.
CD: SWING FOR YOUR SUPPER! By Molly Ryan, featuring Bucky Pizzarelli. Loup-garous-1005; obtainable from Loup-garous Productions, 27 Washington Square North, # 4D, New York, NY 10011, USA or at www.loupgarous.com
Molly Ryan is the undeniably better half of a musical marital union, the remnant half being Dan Levinson, whose albums on Stomp Off, Arbors and his own label, Loup-garous, have seen multiple reviews from this hand in the past.
This is Molly’s second CD. She performs eighteen selections, ranging in vintage from 1910 to yesterday. The salient characteristic in the choice of repertoire is a swing treatment that attracts and seduces the ear, both by its engaging vocal treatment, and by the skilled arrangements and voicing, at the hands of Levinson and trombonist Dan Barrett. It seems that Molly (who chose the featured songs) and husband Dan (who has already demonstrated boundlessly eclectic musical tastes in his other CDs) are among those few souls whose jazz tastes know no “era” or “period.” The product, then, has the savor of youth; for me it echoes what we heard live on the radio in the 50s, be it Ted Heath and Billy Cotton, the Stargazers and Alma Cogan in the UK; or the Andrews Sisters and Perry Como in the US.
Reinforcing this are numbers like Look For The Silver Lining, (shades of the Marion Harris Columbia version on Downton Abbey) I’m Just Wild About Harry and My Heart Belongs To Daddy, which make me feel seven years old again, since the band shows featured them into the 50s; but the musical vintage runs from Ah! Sweet Mystery Of Life, a true 1910 oldster, to Hushabye Mountain, a waltz, and my favourite piece on the disc, beautifully accompanied on solo acoustic guitar by Bucky Pizzarelli. That song comes from Chitty Chitty Bang-Bang and 1968… but there you go again, that’s Dick van Dyke, and he will be on black-and-white TV for me, with Mary Tyler Moore, in chastely separate single beds, forever.
For several numbers, Molly forms a trio with Banu Gibson and Maude Maggart, from New Orleans and LA respectively, and they swing beautifully together on Sing For Your Supper, Was That The Human Thing To Do?, Ready For The River and Save Your Sorrow. Get Rhythm In Your Feet is 1935 Goodman material with Helen Ward, but could equally well have been done by Bill Haley.
If you’re under 50, this music and style will be largely new. If you’re not, it will have the taste of the Mumm’s ’47 at your coming-of-age party; distantly remembered and still well-loved. In all seriousness, whatever your age, it’s worthy of your attention; it’s worthy of Dan and his young friends, it’s worthy of a place in your jazz library; it’s delightful.