Victor’s Church Studio, Camden (1918 — 1935): Lost and Found?
by Ben Kragting Jr and Harry Coster
 

This article first appeared in the Dutch-language magazine ‘Doctor Jazz’ last year. Although my knowledge of Dutch is scant, it was obvious that this was an important article, well-researched and carefully written, and deserved to be read by a wider, English-speaking audience. To this end, I approached co-author Ben Kragting to see if he and Harry Coster would like to see the article published in VJM, and they both agreed. Ben translated it into English and it was then checked over by pianist Alan Rogers. Grateful thanks are extended to them for their hard work! Ed

Introduction
In 1901 the record label Victor was officially founded by Eldridge Johnson as the Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden. In the early years of the history of the Victor Record Company, the factories, offices, and some of the studios were situated in the city of Camden. A more detailed history of this famous record label can be found in Brian Rust’s ‘The American Record Label Book’ (Arlington House, New York, 1978). In 1942 William J. Ganz made a fascinating short documentary entitled ‘Command performance’ showing how Victor Records were produced. This documentary lasts 19 minutes and can be seen on http://www.archive.org/details/CommandP1942. It shows and explains the complete manufacturing process, including the recording, followed by the making of the metal master discs and the final resulting pressed records.

A visit to Camden
At the beginning of the documentary ‘Command Performance’ one can see an overview of the building complex used by the Victor Company. The Dutch audio restorer Harry Coster visited the USA and the City of Camden in 2007. He was curious to find out how much was left of the extensive building complex in Camden, which was originally part of The Victor Talking Record Company (later R.C.A.).
 

1. The factories of the Victor Talking Record Company, c. 1920.

“I didn’t know where to look, but I had found a little map on the internet that gave me a fair idea of where it was; a site just past the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. Having arrived at the site, I was surprised to see that a large part of it still exists. Most of the original buildings have been demolished, but the main building that housed the main office and had the celebrated Victor Tower with the mosaic of the world-famous Nipper logo is still standing. This main building has now been reconstructed as an expensive apartment complex (Camden Waterfront Transformation). Originally, beside the main building were several studios, located there because it was quiet. The laboratory building that formerly housed the first studio and which was converted in 1925 to make electrical recordings was also situated next to this main building. Unfortunately these buildings have also been demolished and the space is now a parking lot. Still surviving is one of the factory buildings, which housed a big studio on the upper floor for symphonic work in the 1910s and 1920s. This building has also been converted into an apartment block. When I visited Camden the former studio floor was still empty and was being offered for sale as an apartment. By now I became very curious as to what the location looked like where once one of the famous working studios of Victor was located, the Victor Church Studio on 114 North 5th Street, Camden. In this studio Fats Waller made his legendary pipe organ recordings. Some sources said that this studio had to be demolished due to the construction of a subway; some other sources said that the church was demolished long ago, and the space turned into a parking lot. So I had no expectations whatsoever.”

2. The main building of Victor and the characteristic Victor Tower and the Nipper mosaic in 2007. (Photo courtesy Harry Coster)

3. The main building of Victor in 2007; on the right is the remaining factory building that housed the big studio for symphonic work. The laboratory building was demolished and is now a parking lot. (Photo: Harry Coster)
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 & 5. The famous pair of pictures taken in 1925 of a Victor acoustic recording session and of an electric recording session in Studio 1 of the seventh floor of Victor Building 15. (Mark Berresford Collection)

The history of the Victor Church Studio at Camden.
Larry Hufmann, who researched the career of the famous conductor Leopold Stokowski, also did some research on the Victor Church Studio(i), because Leopold Stokowski and also other famous conductors such as the Dutch conductor Willem Mengelberg (1922), Arturo Toscanini recorded there. Probably also the opera singer Enrico Caruso made recordings in this legendary studio: however, there is considerable doubt that he recorded there.

In February 1918 the Victor Company bought the Trinity Baptist Church, 114 North 5th Street, Camden.(ii) At first part of the building was used as a storage room. (‘Building 22’) At some point it was decided to remove the bell tower of the church, as can be seen in the pictures. It is not certain exactly when this was done. It was probably done in order not to offend the God-fearing folk of Camden by using a religious place for worldly entertainment. Early in 1918, immediately after the purchase of the church, Victor decided to convert part of the church into a recording studio.(iii) This was necessary because the noise of the production processes in the factories became a nuisance for the studios situated there. The upper floor of the church was made ready to house a studio and a recording room.

In those days the recording lathes had to be situated on an upper floor. This was because these turntables were not driven by electric motors but by the power supplied by the controlled descent of heavy weights, rather akin to a grandfather clock mechanism without an escapement. According to Harry Coster these weights needed to travel at least 4 metres in their descent! The recording speed had to be absolutely constant and that is why for many years the company chose weights instead of electricity as a power source. The precision of a Swiss clock mechanism was needed in a recording studio. After each recording the weights had to be cranked up again. Apparently the use of electricity was still considered risky, mainly because fluctuations in the electricity supply would cause the recorded sound to be distorted by speed variation and would result in a well-played recording having to be rejected. Also, a weight driven clockwork motor generated far more torque - necessary to incise a groove into wax, especially in loud passages where the resistance to cutting was greatest. For this reason weight-driven motors were still in use in a number of studios, including HMV, into the late 1930s.

Initially the wonderful acoustics of the church studio (see picture 7: the right-hand side of the building) couldn’t be utilised. “This is very logical”, Harry Coster explains. The acoustic recording technique of those days was not able to capture the sound as heard in the larger hall of the church, and so it was impossible to record a pipe organ in this hall.

Since February 1918 the upper floor of the church had been in use for recording symphonic work. (Picture 7: The left building or chapel) The room was big enough and it was insulated from the noise of the factory. This studio was known as ‘Camden Church Studio’ or the ‘Trinity Church Studio’. In 1925, when the Western Electric recording system was installed, it became possible to record using microphones. From then on the wonderful acoustics of the hall in the right-hand part of the church building came into their own. In 1925/1926 the church was converted again. The upper floor now became ‘Camden Church Studio Number 2’ and the church hall housing the famous pipe organ became ‘Camden Church Studio Number 1.’

6. Trinity Baptist Church (c.1870) with bell tower, as seen from the southwest corner where Cooper Street crosses North 5th Street. (Photo courtesy: Paul Schopp)
 

7. Trinity Church, probably late 30s. The space from which the bell tower was removed can be seen on the left. Studio 2 and the recording room were situated on the second floor on the left of the church building (The chapel). Studio 1 with the Estey pipe organ was situated in the right part of the church building. The picture must have been made after 1935 when Victor stopped recording there and had turned it into a store for employees. The sign in front of Studio 1 reads: ’RCA Victor (..) Employee sales’ (Photo courtesy: Larry Hufmann)

The difference in sound between the studios can be easily heard on the Howard Lanin recording (Victor 19797) of September 29, 1925. One side of the record Melancholy Lou (33433-2) was recorded in Studio 1, and one can hear the beautiful sound of the church hall. The other side, Don’t Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream (33434-5), has the compact and dry sound of Studio 2 that was on the upper floor of the other side of the building. The recordings of Jelly Roll Morton (July 8 to July 12, 1929) seem to have the sound of studio 2 and not studio 1 as Laurie Wright states in his book ‘Mr Jelly Lord’ (iv) (see also picture 14)

Unfortunately we don’t have a photograph giving us a good overview of both studios. We hope that someone will come up with hitherto unknown photos of the studios after publication of this article.

With the installation of the Western Electric recording system it became possible to make use of the Estey pipe organ for recordings. This pipe organ had been placed in the church hall, the building on the right (see picture 5). Some sources suggest that Victor got this pipe organ when they purchased the Trinity Church building. The Estey Organ Company from Brattleboro, Vermont gave each pipe organ they produced an opus number. This pipe organ was registered as opus 1850 and had been built in 1921(v). This means that the Victor Company itself bought the pipe organ. They obviously had plans to make use of the bigger church hall at a very early stage, perhaps as a rehearsal area for orchestras or singers before recording. The church hall was not very large, because it was part of a relatively small church, as it was not necessary for it to be any larger due to the fact that there were a lot of other churches in Camden. The introduction of the Western Electric recording system probably made it necessary to rebuild the pipe organ twice. In 1925 the rebuilding of the organ made it necessary for the company to rename the organ twice. In 1925 it became opus 2370, and after a second rebuild in 1926 it was renamed opus 2529. In 1925 Estey installed a console organ with lighting (a ‘luminous’ console). This console organ probably was a technical tour de force in those days. It remotely controlled the actual pipe organ, which was situated in a separate room elsewhere in the church hall. This was probably to provide a practical solution for a technical problem, which was how to record the powerful sound of a pipe organ from a distance using a microphone and at the same time allow the organ player to be in the same area as the rest of the orchestra or singers. In 1926 the Estey Organ Company was brought back to enlarge the instrument. A third manual with additional features (e.g. 2nd touch) were added to the console organ and several ranks of new pipes were added in the separate organ room that were intended to make the organ more capable of playing different styles (vi). It was on this newly rebuilt pipe organ opus 2529 that Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller made his famous organ recordings between 1926 and 1935.

The pipe organ recordings of Fats Waller in the 1920s
Fats Waller made his first pipe organ recordings in the Trinity Church building, Studio 1, on November 17, 1926. These were the first recordings of jazz made using a pipe organ. It was quite an accomplishment to make a ponderous pipe organ swing the way Fats Waller did. One has to bear in mind that the sound from the pipes of an organ come a fraction of a second later than when the notes are played by the organist. That’s not a great problem if the organist is playing solo, but it can be a big timing problem if they have to play with a band or have to switch to piano in between as Fats Waller did. Also the recording engineers had to do a lot of experimenting to get good recordings from the pipe organ. That this wasn’t an easy job can be deduced from the notes on the recording sheets of the first recording sessions. The recording sheet of take 1 of St Louis Blues and of Church Organ Blues (renamed Lenox Avenue Blues) stated: ’57-in from shutters in line with right column’. The other takes and also the issued take 4 of Lenox Avenue Blues were recorded with two microphones and a note: ’29-ft from shutters in line with right column’. On January 14, 1927 when another recording session with Fats Waller was done, the engineers found a better balance and they used one microphone and put it ‘7-ft from the shutters in line with the right column’ (vii).To date we do not know of any photographs that give us a good enough impression of the whole church studio: we have only one picture of the console of the Estey pipe organ, and the microphone they used for such sessions.

8. The only known picture of the Estey Pipe Organ in Studio 1 of the Trinity Church Studio. On this organ Fats Waller made his famous organ recordings. The Louisiana Sugar Babes and Thomas Morris and his Seven Hot Jazz Babies were standing near the console organ and the microphone. The piano keyboard was placed near the console organ. On this picture we see E.J. Quimby at the console organ with the tenor George Hopkins at the microphone. The famous Victor recording engineer Raymond Sooy is directing the recording. (c.1930).

Fats Waller’s manager (from 1938), Ed Kirkeby, wrote a biography of Fats Waller, ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ and gave an interesting description of Studio 1. ‘The Victor people had bought an old church in Camden, New Jersey, which contained an organ on one side of the large hall, and a Steinway concert grand on the other. Beside the Steinway was an additional console organ, convenient for recording piano and organ together, or organ and band’(viii). On this equipment Fats recorded with Morris’s Hot Babies and The Louisiana Sugar Babes.

The recordings of Fats Waller with Morris’s Hot Babies (1927) and the Louisiana Sugar Babes (1928) were not an easy task for Fats, and it shows that he was a real professional and experienced player to handle the obstacles he faced. Reed player Garvin Bushel participated in the Louisiana Sugar Babes session with James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Jabbo Smith on March 27, 1928. In his autobiography he remembers this session well and writes:

‘In March (1928) I went down with James P., Fats, and Jabbo to record in Camden, New Jersey. Victor had bought this church there which had a great-sounding organ, and used it as a recording studio. The organ pipes were in one room and we were in another.

Fats played organ on this date. The piano and the organ manual were together
[This is the same as the ‘console organ’ Kirkeby was talking about], but since the pipes were in the next room Fats had a real job, because the organ always sounded a fraction of a second late. It was quite a thing. And it was hard keeping time because we had no drums or bass. That morning, Fats didn’t drink his fifth of gin until after we got through recording' (ix,x)

Bushell’s statements are very interesting. First it proves again that there was a separate room in the church hall which housed the organ pipes. But secondly it indicates that Fats was well-prepared and didn’t drink during the session knowing he had a difficult morning and could be facing timing problems. On November 17, 1926 Waller’s first recording session on pipe organ also included a recording with Morris’s Hot Babies, but all takes of the recording of All God’s Chillun Got Wings were rejected. It’s not unlikely that the recording engineers weren’t the only ones having problems with recording the organ and a band together. Could it be that Fats Waller underestimated the job and drank too much, discovering too late that he needed all his concentration to get the job right with a sound that was delayed by a fraction of a second, despite (or may be because of) the fact that at this session there was a drummer to keep time (allegedly Eddie King, Victor’s A & R man and a former drummer with the Van Eps Trio)? For the recording session of May 20, 1927 of Morris’s Hot Babies we know for sure it was Eddie King playing the ‘rudimentary’ drums (xi).

9. Fats Waller at the Compton Grand pipe organ in the HMV Abbey Road Studio No.1 in London 1938.

Technical obstacles in Studio 1 (1926 – 1930)
The control and recording room had several problems in recording in Studio 1 of the Victor Church Studio. These problems can be heard on the original Victor 78 issues. The dynamics/volume of a pipe organ are controlled by the player. To do this he uses a foot pedal as can be seen in picture 9. If the volume pedal was pressed a little too firmly at any time, the recording room lost control and resulted in over-modulated grooves on the record. This was clearly a problem that was not easily rectified, because they would otherwise have made another take.

Harry Coster points out that if you listen to original issues of many of the early recordings, it is easy to recognise which ones were made in Studio 1, the church hall. ‘If you listen carefully, you hear at the beginning of the recording two very short buzzes. Normally the recording room gave a signal when the recording process had started. This obviously didn’t work well in Studio 1 so they gave two short buzzes in order to indicate that the recording process had started and the musician should begin playing. It can still be heard on several 78s’. (eg., Victor 21298, Shilkret’s Rhyth-Melodists, Chloe /When You’re With Somebody Else, for more than one reason an interesting recording (xii).

Another shortcoming of the Camden Church Studio can be heard on many original Victor 78s of the 1920s. Harry Coster: ‘Most recordings of the Camden Church Studio have a barely audible very high whistle at the beginning of the recording, but after three minutes, near the end of the recording, this very high pitch whistle is lower and can be readily heard.' (xiii). The explanation for this whistle is that the temperature control system in the recording room was not very good; the recording waxes had to be kept warm so that they could readily take the incision of the recording cutter. The room temperature was often too low, and that resulted in the wax on which the recording was made cooling down too quickly. (This high-pitch whistle problem was known as ‘cold wax chatter’) This shortcoming could be partly polished off on the matrices, but it still can be heard on several original 78s, not only at the Church Studio, but frequently on ‘field’ recordings, where the haphazard nature of the record sessions produced their fair share of technical problems - the 1928 Victor Memphis sessions are particularly dogged by this problem..

The end of the Trinity Church Studio
Up until 1935 several adaptations were made to the Church Studio to cure all the acoustic and other problems that blighted the building. Not only Fats Waller recorded there, but also several other jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Paul Whiteman, King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton (who is known to have recorded there on July 8 – 12, 1929).

The end for the studio came when the local authorities decided to extend the subway in Camden. The noise of the construction operations and the subsequent noise of the subway itself plagued the recording activities, which by then used very sensitive equipment. Most of the recording activities were relocated to New York and other places. In 1936 the Victor Church Studio was converted into a gymnasium for the Victor Athletic Association. Until 1947 Studio 1 also served as a store for the employees of Victor. In 1947 Victor (RCA) sold the building and after that there is no further information available about the former Victor Church Studio. There is also no information about what happened to the famous Estey pipe organ. It’s generally assumed that the building was demolished and became what is now a parking lot.

Lost and found?
With the address of the Victor Church Studio, 114 North Street in his hands, Harry Coster started looking to find where the former studio had been located. “During my 2007 visit to Camden I wanted to see the location of the legendary Victor Church Studio myself. When I entered the street and arrived at the address I was utterly astonished to see the building still existing! They have built a newer church beside it in the same style, but the old church is still there, and on the other side of the old church there is indeed a parking lot. Unfortunately the building was closed and I couldn’t get inside and I didn’t have any time left to return later, so I don’t know what is left of the old studio or the pipe organ.”
This was thrilling news and we decided to write about this discovery and dig into the history of the church, but I very soon began to have doubts.

 


10. Is the chapel on the left the former Victor (Trinity) Church Studio, and is it now part of the Tabernacle Of Faith Church at 115 North 5th Street in Camden? In the foreground is the visible debris the remnants of the bell tower that Victor demolished? (Photo: Harry Coster)

11. The possible former Victor (Trinity) Church Studio (left) from a different angle (photo Harry Coster)

When one compare the photos Harry Coster made with the pictures of the old Trinity Church (former Studio 2), there are some striking resemblances: the outward form of the church and what looks like the remnants of the demolished bell tower. But the differences are equally striking. The Trinity Church had a red brick front and this church has a sandstone front. Furthermore, the style of the front differs from the original design, as do also the positions of the windows. Did the Victor Company go to such a great effort in order to restyle and rebuild the old church as late as the end of the 1930s, such that it would match the style of the Tabernacle of Faith church? Another disturbing detail is the address: Shouldn’t 114 North 5th Street be on the other side of the road? Of course, a lot changes in 80 years. However, there had to be some more concrete (pardon the pun) evidence available somewhere.

I decided to contact the Municipality of Camden and got in touch with the official responsible for historical buildings in Camden. He said he would have to consult the city historian first. When I called him again he told me that he had been told that the Victor Church Studio had been demolished a long time ago, but that it had been situated on another location and not on North 5th Street! I then asked him if he had historical street maps which showed where 114 North 5th Street was situated in the 1920s and what the address of that site now was. The answer: ‘115 North 5th Street’! Then I asked the official to present the city historian with my evidence that the Victor Church Studio had been indisputably situated at 114 North 5th Street in the 1920s. The answer then was that we were absolutely right, but that the Victor Church Studio had been situated on the opposite side of the road to the Tabernacle of Faith Church and it had been demolished a long time ago and the location was now a parking lot. They were probably right, but not really convincing. Were there really two almost identical churches opposite each other, both having demolished bell towers? I had to use my own common sense to get the picture straight, because I couldn’t go to Camden and look into the archives there myself. First I studied the junction of North 5th Street and Cooper Street by using Google Earth, thus making clear for myself what is north and south in the city map. Then I studied the picture of the Trinity Church dating from c. 1870. The picture had been made from the south-west corner of North 5th Street and Cooper Street (xiv). I found out that the photographer had stood at the corner where the tower of the Tabernacle of Faith Church is situated, and then looked into North 5th Street. And indeed the Trinity Church had been situated directly opposite the chapel of the Tabernacle of Faith Church. If you use Google Earth you can see that nowadays there is a parking lot on the spot where the Trinity Church used to be. Then I started to look for an old aerial photograph of the city of Camden. There were very many churches in those days, but after studying the street maps I knew exactly what to look for. Finally I found a city view dating from the mid - 1920s showing North 5th Street. On this photo one can see very clearly the Tabernacle of Faith (then called Centenary Tabernacle) Church, with the chapel of the Trinity Church and formerly the Victor Church Studio directly opposite. It then still had its bell tower!(xv)


12. A rather poor aerial view of Camden mid-twenties. The Victor Church Studio (with bell tower!) is seen from the rear and stands in front of the Centenary Tabernacle Church opposite.

On the aerial view of Camden City the back of the Victor Church Studio can be seen. The white building with the bell tower and the chapel of the former Trinity Church stands directly opposite the chapel of the Tabernacle of Faith Church. It is clear to see that this building had two floors. Before 1925 the acoustic recordings were made on the second floor of the chapel. After 1925 this studio on the second floor of the chapel became known as Studio 2.


14. Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers recording in Studio 2 (8 – 12 July, 1929). In the background part of a carillon can be seen belonging to the bell tower of the building.
 


15. Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra recording in the Camden Church studio 1 probably during 1932.

Since 1925, Studio 1 had been situated in the building on the left of the white chapel with the bell tower. (aerial view photo 13). This later became the employee store for RCA-Victor. Also interesting on the photograph is the passage that can be seen on the roof from one building to the other (Studio 1 to Studio 2?). Was this built by Victor to connect both studios? We don’t know. We also don’t know what happened to the Estey pipe organ. If it had been preserved and sold to another church it is pretty certain that the Estey Company would have had some calls for its servicing or repair, so we can safely assume that it no longer exists.

Conclusion
We cannot deny that both Harry Coster and I were disappointed that the building no longer exists. This case of ‘mistaken identity’ made us dig deeper into the history in order to establish the historical importance of the building as an industrial monument. Alas, we can only give a glimpse of an interesting piece of recording history and some new insights about some of the well-known and legendary recordings of Fats Waller. We can now also have a more detailed picture in our minds of the place where some of our favourite jazz recordings were made.
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We would like to thank: Larry Huffman, Marc van Nus, Ate van Delden, Bob Thompson (City of Camden), and last but not least pianist Alan Rogers for smoothing out my very bad English translation. He recently released a very fine piano solo cd ‘Connections’ ( see: www.alanrogers.ch)

This article was originally published in Dutch for Doctor Jazz Magazine 203, p.8-16. This is a revised version. Ben Kragting is also the editor of this Dutch jazz magazine. www.doctorjazz.nl

Notes
i See www.stokowski.org
ii www.davidsarnoff.org/sooy-maintext.html ‘February, 1918: The Victor Company purchased the Trinity Church, 114 North Fifth Street, Camden, N.J., as we needed a larger studio for Symphony Orchestra recording’. From the diary of Victor recording engineer Raymond Sooy.
iii The memoirs and diary notes of Harry A. Sooy can be found on the internet. He was one of the notable Victor recording engineers. The notes contain a lot of information about the period 1898 to 1925. In March 1918 he wrote down the following interesting notes: ‘To take care of the necessity for quarters containing rooms large enough in which to do Symphony Orchestra recording, etc., the Victor Company purchased the Trinity Church Building, 114 North Fifth Street, Camden, this being the best available place. The building was put in order, and on February 27th I reported it was ready for operation, after which we made records of the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra, Victor Herbert’s Orchestra, the La Scala Orchestra of Italy and other organizations’. www.davidsarnoff.org/sooyh-maintext1909.html
iv ‘Mr Jelly Lord’, Laurie Wright, Storyville Publications (1980), pp. 62 – 68.
v www.esteyorgan.com/opuslist.html
vi www.esteyorgan.com/opuslist. Search for the opus number for more information about the pipe organ.
vii ‘Fats in Fact’, Laurie Wright, Storyville Publications (1992), pp. 25 and 28.
viii ‘Ain‘t Misbehavin’, Ed Kirkeby, Da Capo Press (1975), p.106.
ix ‘Jazz From the Beginning’, Garvin Bushell. The University of Michigan Press (1990), p. 74.
x Laurie Wright writes in his excellent book ‘Fats in Fact’ pp. 42 – 43, that both Studio 1 and Studio 2 were in use during the Fats Waller sessions of March 27, 1928. The actual recording obviously took place in Studio 1, and Fats Waller didn’t have to run from one room to the other as has been suggested. He must have played the console organ together with the rest of the band. There may have been other technical reasons for using both studios.
xi ‘Fats In Fact’, Laurie Wright, Storyville Publications (1992). p. 34.
xii For many years the organ playing on this recording was attributed to Fats Waller, probably based on information given to Brian Rust by Nat Shilkret. In his autobiography ‘Nathaniel Shilkret, Sixty Years in the Music Business’ (The Scarecrow Press, Lanham Maryland, 2005) Nat Shilkret writes these interesting lines: ‘After recording and arranging the Victor Salon Orchestra, I decided, for the sake of variety, to record without arrangements. I would hire top players like Lou Raderman, Tommy Dorsey, (Andy) Sanella, (Milton) Rettenberg and (Carl) Kress, a guitarist, all of whom had good ideas, and, with just scratch ideas, rehearse for hours on each tune. I encouraged them to suggest ideas, and I was satisfied if, in six hours, we recorded just two selections, rather than the usual eight records. We had worked on the tune Chloe (1928) without much success. It was getting late, and we had to catch the 5 p.m. train to New York for our radio dates. It was about fifteen minutes before quitting when I said, ‘Boys, let us try it once more – if I’m not satisfied, we’ll stop.’ We began our last attempt, and then we heard an organ playing with us, and it sounded great. We walked over to the organ, and there was Fats Waller, with a jug of gin. I quickly asked him to join us and use his marvellous ideas, and we finished in time. Later he recorded a few more records with us, and the name of the combination was Rhyth-Melodists. For some reason we did not record many tunes with the Rhyth-Melodists, but for many years I received calls about Fats Waller and his connection with the group.’ (pp. 97 – 98).
Probably Nat Shilkret’s memories got mixed up and he confused events, as can be seen to be the case several times in his book. As for Shilkret’s recording of Chloe Brian Rust in ‘Jazz Records’ names Fats Waller as the organ player, probably based on the unreliable memory of Nat Shilkret. According to Harry Coster the Victor Recording Book gives the personnel as follows: Sigmund Krumgold (pipe organ), Lou Raderman (v), Milton Rettenberg (p) and unreadable but looks as Win Heidz (traps) (this would be veteran Victor staff percussionist William H. Reitz - Ed).
Camden, N.J., March 2, 1928.
42529- 1 D (destroy)
2 H (hold)
3 Hi (hold indefinitely)

Take 2 was released. The master of take 3 has been preserved and it turns out the group was at first named ‘Shilkret’s Organ Combination’ instead of the Rhyth-Melodists! The organ playing on take 3 is almost exactly the same as on take 2, which is unlikely were it Fats Waller playing. Of course, this doesn’t necessarily prove that Fats Waller didn’t take part in the rehearsal Shilkret mentioned in his autobiography. Maybe the experience of Fats gave Nat Shilkret the idea to start an organ combination, as there obviously wasn’t an organ player present at his rehearsals. Maybe even some test records were made. But the combination of musicians Shilkret mentions: Tommy Dorsey, Carl Kress, Andy Sanella, Lou Raderman and Milton Rettenberg can be found in ‘Jazz Records’ at two Shilkret sessions a year later, in New York, 22 & 25 January, 1929. Maybe Shilkret made some tests with this group as the Rhyth-Melodists including Fats Waller? More questions than answers! Anyway the issued record of the Rhyth-Melodists we know of, Chloe (Vic 21298), is definitely without Fats Waller.
xiii The high pitch whistle caused by ‘cold wax’ can be best heard on the ‘master’ and prints of the ‘master’. From the master they make a ‘positive’, ‘mould’, or ‘mother (matrix)’ To reduce the whistle of a ‘cold wax’ to a minimum the ‘mother’ was intensively polished. From this polished ‘mother’ they made matrices to press records (‘the negative’). However, there still can be heard a light beep — especially near the end of the recording on some records (This problem wasn’t exclusive to Victor - all record companies suffered, some worse than others; for instance I have yet to hear a 1920s Federal recording that DOESN’T have cold wax chatter at the end! - Ed)
xiv www.dvrbs.com
xv www.dvrbs.com

 

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