BRIAN RUST - JAZZ DISCOGRAPHER, PART 2
By Nick Dellow
N.D. Was it while working at the BBC that you had your initial idea for compiling a discography of jazz records?
B.R. Yes. If information on a particular jazz record that Id never seen in print came to me, Id add it to my notes and this compilation eventually went on to become Jazz Records. Id got Delaunay, the 1940 edition, which I thought was useful as far as it went but it did not go nearly far enough for me - very few matrix numbers, virtually no recording dates and everything lumped together under one artist name. Then I got Orin Blackstones Index to Jazz*. That wasnt much better; it was set in tiny print and rather amateurish looking. By the 1950s, there was Jazz Directory**, which was produced in regular installments - I got all those as they came out. Unfortunately, they ground to a halt; I think the last one was 1955 or 1956. By then, I realised that there was a need for a more comprehensive discography. So I continued to collect as much information as I could, and also sought out musicians both American and British - who had taken part in recording sessions going all the way back to the start in 1917.
(*published 1945-1948 - n.d.)
(**edited by Dave Carey, Albert McCarthy and Ralph Venables; first volume published in 1949. See Postscript at the end of this article for further information - n.d.)
N.D. - In 1960, you left the BBC to concentrate on compiling the first edition of Jazz Records. Wasnt it a bit of a risk, at least financially, to leave the stability of the BBC?
B.R. I felt that Id had gone about as far as I could get, or as far as they would allow me to get! I thought: "I wonder if Id dare try it out on my own". My wife Mary and I had a fireside chat one night. She said: "Look, if you want to go out on your own, itd be the best thing that you could do. Youve got two books to write, and theyre wanted. Ill be with you". I couldnt have asked more from anybody than that, especially as wed only been married five or six years and we had a young child. I thought: "Well, Ill go for it". I had already sent out some publicity to announce that the book was coming out. I published it myself; the first edition was a loose-leaf affair, pretty much of a shambles, but it was successful and acted as a sort of springboard I took off from there.
N.D. - Were you influenced by other discographies when designing the lay-out of Jazz Records?
B.R. - I wanted it to look something like the lay-out of Jazz Directory but with fewer unknowns and see this and see that and refer to something else.
N.D. - When compiling the information for Jazz Records, you obviously approached the major recording companies to look at their recording files. Were they always hospitable and understanding of your needs?
B.R. - At RCA (Victor) in New York, yes, they couldnt have been nicer, and greeted me with open arms. The same was true of CBS (Columbia); they treated me like a visiting royal. American Decca were quite different; they wouldnt even open the door, let alone slam it in my face! Funnily enough, the attitude of English Decca was the exact opposite.
N.D. - What about EMI (HMV)?
B.R. - EMI in England were much the same as Decca in America they were very suspicious. The man that ran their archives department was very wary about the whole thing. In fact, he didnt like it a bit he was very gruff!
N.D. - You did eventually get in to see the EMI files though, didnt you?
B.R. - Oh yes. I thought: "Im not going to take this from some underling, Im going to the top!". So I wrote to the Chairman of EMI. I explained what I wanted and why I wanted it. I said: "This information will be of interest to people all over the world and will probably enhance the sales of your records. If the recordings that I am researching are re-issued, itll bring into being further re-issues, which will sell well. People will know what theyre getting because they will have read the book". The Chairman sent back a letter, personally signed: "Yes, by all means, you are welcome to look over our files. Show this letter to whomever it may concern". So, the head of the archives begrudgingly relented and introduced me to the librarian who showed me the recording ledgers. I must have gone back about a dozen times and in the end got quite friendly with the staff there.
N.D. - Its one thing to peruse recording ledgers neatly arranged in the vaults of large companies like EMI or RCA, but how on earth did you locate information about the activities of the myriad of small recording companies that existed - and went out of business - before the War?
B.R. - Thats another story! Most files for the smaller recording companies had long since gone the way of all flesh, or should I say paper, except Gennett of course - miraculously, their files were intact. As for other recording companies, I had to rely on sources such as trade magazines and newspapers of the time, as well as other collectors, surviving musicians and so on.
N.D. - Talking about other collectors, at this stage in your researches who were the key American collectors that you got in contact with?
B.R. - The first one was a young woman. I think her name was Marguerite Baldwin. She seemed to know her stuff and provided me with details of records and recording sessions. Soon after that, I established contact with Walter C. Allen and we pooled our resources; he could get in touch with surviving musicians, whereas I had already found much information via the recording ledgers and so on. Eventually, we co-wrote a book on King Oliver*.
(*Walter C. Allen and Brian A.L. Rust, "King Oliver", first published in 1955; revised edition edited by Laurie Wright, published by Storyville, 1987 - n.d.)
N.D. - And what about buying jazz records from the USA during the immediate post-War years?
B.R. - Well, there were few auction lists as such, but I managed to get in contact with several US collectors who traded. I even corresponded with collectors who were not interested in jazz but who were willing to trade records. They wanted early Hawaiian guitar records, organ records, even military band records, and of course, I could supply these by the stack. In return, they would send me jazz records and also supply me with information for the book.
N.D. - When was your first trip to the USA?
B.R. - The first time I went to the States was in October 1951, to both seek out information and also junk records. I met up with Walter Allen and we spent quite a bit of time junking.
N.D. - Did you find many rare jazz records while junking in the USA?
B.R. - On the Eastern side, no, but Mid-West and South, yes. There was one shop in New Orleans that I got to just in time. It was on Dumaine Street and was being sold to be refurbished. The owners were selling everything off they didnt want - and that meant records! The place was a real Aladdins cave. They had everything there - Bogus Ben Covington, Pine Top Smith, Charlie Patton, Blind Blake with Dodds and all sorts of blues numbers on Paramount - stacks of them!, as well as OKehs and other labels. So I more or less took the lot!
N.D. - How did you get them back to England?
B.R. - I wrapped them up in my used clothing and put them in a box, which Id got from my host. I packed them up well and posted them off to myself. The box arrived soon after I got home.
N.D. - How did you finance these trips to the USA?
B.R. - By selling off records I didnt want. By that stage Id acquired quite a number that I didnt really need.
N.D. It seems to me that the golden age for junking was the 1940s and 1950s, not just in the USA but in the UK too. Over here, I get the impression that there was a plethora of junk shops and street markets around at the time.
B.R. Yes, thats true, and they sold everything from worn-out carpets to kitchen sinks, as well as, of course, stacks of 78s, usually precariously positioned in an inaccessible part of the shop, hidden under a table or on top of an old wardrobe, mostly without covers! The street markets werent so bad because the records were at least accessible, being piled up on the ground - though if it rained, any exposed piles of records that had covers on were transformed into sodden, inseparable layers of shellac and cardboard!
N.D. The jumble sale (yard sale if you are American - n.d.) is another venue that often turned up - I use the past tense - stacks of shellac. I seem to recall you relating a story, or rather a nightmare, involving 78s at a Scouts jumble sale.
B.R. I arrived late and the jumble sale had in fact finished. Everything that was unsold and which appeared to be valueless was being thrown onto a big bonfire - including a number of 78s. I ventured as far as I could into the bonfire without ending up as a surrogate Guy Fawkes, and grabbed as many of the records as possible. Most of them were already singed round the edges, but I pulled out one which hadnt been. It was an American Perfect of Crazy Blues by Clarence Williams. It was literally seconds away from destruction! All the Scouts were surrounding the bonfire, watching me in expressionless awe as I braved their pyre like Joan of Arc. I said to one of them: "How much for this one?" and slung two or three coins at him, hoping it was the right amount. I didnt even stop to see if there were any other rarities as everything else had been burnt beyond recall. Id rather not know what was incinerated.
N.D. Mention of Clarence Williams reminds me that you met his wife, the blues singer Eva Taylor, when she was over here in 1967. What was her reaction when you played to her some of the Clarence Williams records that featured her vocals?
B.R. - Oh, very emotional. It reduced her to tears. I took the record off in fact, and said: "Im sorry, I should have known that you wouldnt want to hear it now" (Clarence Williams had died only two years before - n.d.). "Oh no, it isnt that", she said, "its just the memory that it brought back to me, of those happy days I had with Clarence. I love the records but I guess I have to be in the right mood to hear them". She was awfully sweet. The other thing I remember about her visit was the day that I showed her around London, looking at all the sights. Wed been walking around for miles, so I hailed a taxi to spare her of any further walking after all, she was nearly 80. As the taxi drew up, the taxi driver looked at her and immediately turned round and drove off in the opposite direction. I said: "Eva, whats the matter with that guy? He saw me hail him!" "Dont worry, honey", she said, "this happens all the time in the States" and then I understood what had happened. I said: "Ill wring his bloody neck".
N.D. Another singer you met was Annette Hanshaw, in New York. She was somewhat reticent about wanting to discuss her recordings wasnt she, at least initially?
B.R. Thats putting it mildly, Nick. She hated them, she really hated them! She said: "Oh, those awful old records".
N.D. Especially when you mentioned the pseudonyms that were used.
B.R. She really laughed about those. I told her that one session was issued over here on a record label produced only for sale in Selfridges department store in London (the label being Key - n.d.). I said: "But they didnt call you Annette Hanshaw, they called you Ethel Bingham". She rocked with laughter: "Oh no, not Ethel Bingham!"
N.D. When you met her in the 1960s, she had not sung professionally for many years. I believe she was a stenographer or something equally prosaic, wasnt she?
B.R. Yes, thats right. She worked in an office. Music was something in her past, and I was digging it up again!
N.D. Did she warm the idea of discussing the records in the end?
B.R. Yes, after I played her one or two records and it was obvious that I was absolutely 100% genuine, she told me everything she could remember.
N.D. Didnt she introduce you to Willard Robison?
B.R. - Thats right. We all had dinner together and that was something, I tell you! He was very nice too, but his memory was a bit shaky though. He simply remembered certain records that I knew about anyway and the companies hed made them for and that kind of thing. He couldnt tell me an awful lot else.
N.D. - Did Annette have fond memories of sidemen like Eddie Lang?
B.R. Yes, indeed.
N.D. - but not so fond memories of Tommy Dorsey?
B.R. No, definitely not. I think you are referring to the occasion when both Lang and Dorsey were in the accompanying orchestra at the Okeh studio and the studio assistant issued the wrong sheet music to the various musicians. On the down beat, they all came in playing the wrong parts, causing the most appaling noise! "I was up at the microphone" Annette said, "and I burst into tears because Tommy was making a fuss and I thought they were going to fire me or something I was only 19 and I was terrified. Eddie Lang came over and calmed me down and told me not to worry and that everything was going to be all right". He went over to Tommy Dorsey and said: "Cant you understand? Some guy has given us the wrong music. Theres nothing more to it than that. Tommy, come on!" Tommy was an absolute perfectionist of course, and something of a firebrand.
N.D. Talking of trombone players, you met Jack Teagarden when he was over here, didnt you?
B.R. Yes, that was when he was playing at the Coliseum in London in 1957. One day, his manager, Harold Davidson, came into the Library at the BBC, and as I already knew Jack was coming over I introduced myself and asked if I could meet him. So he arranged a meeting. I took along a portable wind-up gramophone and a bunch of 78s for Jack to listen to. The first one I put on was Get Out and Get Under the Moon by Sam Lanin on Perfect. He listened intently and as the trombone solo started, I said: "Is that you?" A broad grin spread over his face: "No, thats not me. Its a guy you may have heard of called Glenn Miller". I said: "Yes, the name is familiar" and he roared with laughter, adding: "He played a lot with me in those days; we played on some of those Red Nichols records. Id know his playing anywhere".
N.D. Did you meet Sidney Bechet when he visited England after the War?
B.R. No, but I saw him perform here, and that was an experience and a half! I was part of the privileged audience who saw him at the Winter Gardens in London in 1949, when he was accompanied by Humphrey Lytteltons band.
N.D. What was Bechet like live, compared to the recordings?
B.R. Exactly the same - majestic, vibrant, powerful.
N.D. Was he as loud as they say?
B.R. - Oh yes, he "didnt need no microphone", but although he could play loudly, everything he did was tasteful. He was the master of all he surveyed. He could be tenderly subtle as well as aggressively powerful, and that night on stage at the Winter Gardens he certainly ran the entire gamut of emotions. He was wonderful. And entertaining too! He started to play a blues and then introduced the old tune Silver Threads Amongst The Gold as a theme, running his fingers through his grey hair while still playing his soprano using the other hand! That brought the house down and even Humph had to laugh!
N.D. In his biography, Humphrey Lyttelton says that Bechet almost blew the band off the stage and into the orchestra pit, such was his power and energy!
B.R. Absolutely! I remember that Wally Fawkes pretended to snap his clarinet in half across his knee after Bechet played a particularly wonderful clarinet solo in Weary Blues.
N.D. You also briefly met Louis Armstrong while he was in the UK with his All Stars, didnt you?
B.R. Yes, that was in a car park outside the Olympia, in Earls Court. Id asked his manager if I could talk to him. Louis came out and we shook hands - it was then nearly midnight, and hed just completed two long sessions on stage. He said: "Do you mind if we go in my car and we talk through the window? Im a little bit tired but I told my manager that Id see you. So what do you wanna know?" I told him that I was writing a discography and looking for information. I said: "Theres one thing that collectors like myself have been arguing about for a long time. Whose band was it that made I Miss my Swiss - do you remember it?" He laughed and said: "Yeah, sure, I remember that one". I said: "Was that Hendersons band or what it Sam Lanins? Some collectors tried to convince me that you played with Sam Lanin on some records and that was one of them". Louis stopped smiling and said, assertively: "No, I didnt make any records with Sam Lanin. I played in the Roseland when Lanins band was there but I wasnt on any records with Lanin, no. Thats Smacks band. Yeah, I remember that record - it was a kind of fun thing, we had a ball doing that one".
N.D. - How did you come to establish contact with Nick LaRocca?
B.R. - Actually, he contacted me first! He had obtained the Columbia 10 inch LP of the O.D.J.B., and in November 1957 he wrote to me, saying how much he appreciated what I had written in the sleeve notes. He also listed the exact recording dates of all the original Columbias; I had only put guesses in the sleeve notes (Columbia had no documents at all!).
When I went to New Orleans in June 1959, it was as his guest, and he booked me a room in the St. Francis Hotel on Royal Street and gave me lunch and as much time as I wanted. He wasnt by any means as bitter or as churlish as I had been led to expect ("you dont want to bother with him - hes a big-mouth braggart") but he resented the lionisation of some jazzmen, actual or alleged, though he thought the world of Louis and Bix. His memory was crystal-clear, and his reminiscences were detailed and fascinating.
He couldnt do enough for me, and anything I wanted to know, or relics I wanted to see, were mine for the asking. He showed me the cornet he had used on his earliest records. "Try it", he said. I managed a few awful notes, and he laughed: "Maybe wed better just talk", so we did.
I took along the Tempo EP for him to hear our Tiger Rag*. "Thats good", he said. "You boys play it right - just the right tempo. So many of these guys now play it much too fast, and its not made to be played like that". I asked him if he had heard the Boston Pops Orchestras version. "Yes", he almost snarled, "but thats no good - all those fiddles and things". I also asked him what he thought of bop. "Well", he said perfectly evenly, "they have a right to be heard, the same as we did, but they arent playing jazz. If you have a modern car, you wouldnt compare it to a Model T Ford - theyre both OK, but theyre not the same thing".
(*By the Original Barnstormers Spasm Band, in which Rust played drums and washboard. Similar in concept and instrumentation to the Mound City Blue Blowers, the band achieved short-lived fame in the late 1950s with their renditions of jazz standards and popular tunes from the 1920s. Also in the band were the late John Wadley on harmonica and vocals and the late John Gunn, editor of The Gunn Report, on kazoo and vocals - n.d.)
N.D. - Which other members of the O.D.J.B. did you meet?
B.R. - I met and interviewed Billy Jones, the British pianist who replaced J Russel Robinson when the band were over here. He told me that he had learnt to play syncopated piano from "a coloured chap" who played in a club in London before the First World War. It was while playing opposite the O.D.J.B. in a four-piece band that Jones was asked by LaRocca if he would like to join the band as Robinson was returning home. He never forgot his days with the O.D.J.B., and said he was particularly impressed by their natural musicianship: "Youve got to appreciate that these boys were non-readers", he told me, adding "I was absolutely amazed by their terrific ear for music". He explained to me how the band would rehearse a new number: "We would get the sheet music. LaRocca and the others would crowd round the piano and I would play through the number once or twice. They would absorb the music so quickly, it was incredible! After that, the sheet music would be thrown away!" He added: "They were always improvising, and playing the blues came naturally to them".
In 1951, I met Tony Sbarbaro, but funnily enough it happened by accident rather than by design. I was travelling on the New York subway with Walter Allen when he suddenly nudged me and said: "Look over there. You see that guy by the door. Thats Tony Sbarbaro". I said: "No, is it really?". He was sitting there with a bass drum and several little bags hanging off it. I didnt recognise him initially because he was heavier-built and 30 years older than the O.D.J.B. photographs I knew so well. Walter introduced himself to Tony and then called me over. "Tony, this is a fan of yours". Tony looked up rather grumpily but as soon as he realised what I was there for, his face beamed: "Youre from London eh? I was there way back. Glad to see you! Im playing at the Stuyvesant Casino tonight, thats why Ive got the drum with me. Be my guest, and come along to hear us play. I dont know wholl be there".
Actually, there were some good musicians there that night, such as Bobby Hackett, Lou McGarrity and Bob McCracken. I thoroughly enjoyed it. That was the occasion when I met Bud Freeman. Walter introduced me to him, and Bud said in his best upper-class English accent: "My dear old chap, very nice to meet you, by gad. Im very fond of England dont you know!" Of course, he lived here for a while in the 1970s.
N.D. - Another drummer that you met in the States was Baby Dodds.
B.R. - Yes. I met him in 1951, in Chicago. Id got in contact with Bill Russell - of course, he knew everybody - and he said: "Well, well go and see Baby Dodds tonight". I was a bit concerned that he might not want to talk to somebody he didnt know but Bill said "Dont worry". In fact, Baby Dodds was very nice, very easy to talk to.
His memory was great. He told me how Jelly wanted a particularly loud gong for Jungle Blues: "I searched all over the music shops in Chicago trying to find one that sounded exactly as Jelly wanted it. I did find it eventually - a huge brass gong with Chinese carvings all over it. It didnt cost that much but it was a heck of a thing to carry through the streets to the station! Thats the gong you hear on the record".
N.D. Did he talk about his brother?
B.R. Yes, he said: "I wonder if you realise that Johnny made a record with Joe Oliver that he never got credit for, even though he was playing on half the record". I said: "I bet I know which one that was - Someday, Sweetheart. He said; "Yeah but not the Brunswick one". "Oh" I said, "was there another one?" "Sure there was. One we made when Louis was in the band". I said: "What was that?" He laughed and replied: "I dont know, one of the Gennetts I guess". When I saw the Gennett files, there it was, as a rejected side.
N.D. Identifying great soloists like Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet or Johnny Dodds on records is one thing, but how do you establish the personnel of the average studio band from the 1920s or 1930s?
B.R. The only way to work out the sidemen of studio bands is to familiarise oneself with what they sounded like the regular ones that is and check with their employers as it were. Luckily, I met or at least corresponded with many of the studio bandleaders, men like Ben Selvin, Sam Lanin, Nat Shilkret and Willard Robison. Also, personnel details were given in magazines such as The Melody Maker, and although they were not always 100% accurate they gave a good idea as to who were the regular sidemen.
N.D. There must sometimes surely be a degree of guesswork involved in determining who actually played on a particular recording date?
B.R. To some extent, yes. Often it is a process of deduction based on evidence from contemporary sources and from surviving musicians.
N.D. How would you know that a musician was being truthful and honest? After all, its not been unknown for a jazz musician to have a shaky memory or even to deliberately mislead a researcher.
B.R. If I thought there was the shadow of a doubt as to what they were telling me, I would test them on one or two points. I would ask them questions to which I knew the answers and if they gave me the right answers my faith in their veracity was usually restored.
N.D. The cut-off date for Jazz Records is 1942*, which is an obvious one as thats when the American Musicians Union started its dispute with the recording companies, which led to the commercial recording strike. It also neatly marks the start of what came to be termed be-bop, which ushered in the modern jazz age. I know that youve never been a fan of modern jazz, but I would like to know what it is that riles you so much about this genre, bearing in mind your unabashed love for the former eras of jazz music?
B.R. I refuse to accept modern jazz as being any kind of jazz in the real sense of the word. Call it bop if you like, but not jazz. I have an absolutely rigid, unalterable opinion on the matter. To my ears its a sort of caricature of jazz, and not a very good one at that. In fact, it actually nauseates me - when I listen to it, I really think Im going to be sick!
(*the first edition of Jazz Records only listed recordings up to 1931 - n.d.)
N.D. So you cant see a lineage between say, Gerry Mulligan and Adrian Rollini, even though Mulligan admired Rollini and could see a connection himself?
B.R. I cant see it, no.
N.D. I have one more question, which is similar to one I asked John R.T. Davies when I interviewed him for VJM a few years ago. If I were to play a Faustian role and offer you the chance to go back in time and hear the Original Dixieland Jazz Band live in person for one night at the peek of their triumphs - say, in 1918 - but in exchange you had to give me all your O.D.J.B. records, would you agree to do it?
B.R. Well, thats a leading question! Id do it provided I could take along with me a large acoustic horn, a cutting head, a turntable, some blank discs and a technician to record what I was listening to!Postscript
As is obvious from the above, Rust has no interest in modern jazz and consequently has never intended that Jazz Records should cover this genre. Jazz Directory did list modern jazz records, though, rather ironically, it was the inclusion of such recordings that eventually led to its demise. The discography was issued volume-by-volume in alphabetical order, and by the time Volume 6 was issued - eight years after Volume 1 - it was obvious that Volume 1 was already out-of-date! This necessitated updated versions of the earlier volumes, at which stage the publisher decided to pull the plug on the increasingly complex, and costly, project.
The mantle of discographer of modern jazz recordings was eventually taken up by Jorgen Grunnet Jepsen of Denmark, who started the alphabetical listing at M, which is where Jazz Directory had stopped. His first four volumes - entitled Jazz Records 1942-1962 - were published in the mid-1960s. Further volumes listing recordings up to 1969 were subsequently published in the early 1970s. In 1977, long-term work began on a huge update to the series - coordinated by Erik Raben - and the result, entitled Jazz Records 1942-1980, spans an impressive 11 volumes.
Meanwhile, in the USA, Tom Lord is compiling The Jazz Discography, an on-going project covering over 100 years of recorded jazz (and, presumably, ragtime). A total of 25 volumes is proposed, and these will be available on CD-ROM.Further reading: Jerry Atkins, Magnificent Obsession: The Discographers, IAJRC Journal, Winter 1989-90. (This excellent article provides a concise history of the jazz discography and discographers. It is accessible on-line at:-http://www.jazzdiscography.com/Essays/obsess.htm)
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