I’ve written approvingly of other issues on the Canadian Jazz Oracle label, originally the beloved idea of Colin Bray and John Wilby; I’ve learned that Colin approached John R.T. Davies at his home in Burnham, Bucks with the idea of starting a new label; “Ristic” joined as an equal financial partner. Jazz Oracle is a superb label for hot jazz, blues, and hot dance recordings, beautifully documented, and in fine sound — projects of consistent quality, far from the dreaded “bootleg” issues of past and present. This most recent issue, collecting twenty-seven tracks under the real and nominal leadership of one Benjamin David Goodman, whose centennial is next year, is an entrancing collection.
But first, a caveat. Goodman is so firmly fixed in the public mind as the hot clarinetist-bandleader-Swing Era-nostalgia-icon that it may be necessary to say that the BG here is not yet the King of Swing, and he certainly isn’t the elder statesman embracing “Memories of You,” “Send in the Clowns,” and “Avalon” on television.
Although the illustrious personnel on these 1930-33 discs includes Gene Krupa and Bunny Berigan, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Dick McDonough, Arthur Schutt, Larry Binyon, Charlie Teagarden, Manny Klein, Stan King, and others, the Palomar Ballroom is years in the future. What’s here is evidence of the cross-fertilization of jazz and dance music, hot improvisation nestled comfortably into well-played stock arrangements.
Some of us, as more rigid and less sophisticated jazz listeners, when presented with a Fred Rich or Sam Lanin 78, focused only on the sixteen-bar hot solos and ignored the rest of the record. True, someone hearing this CD for the first time may be slightly unsettled by the crooning of Paul Small, Scrappy Lambert, Sid Garry, Grace Johnston, or Johnny Morris. But an open-minded listener comes to realize that these records are immensely significant as artifacts of jazz’s subversive powers: the 1931 fox-trotting couple, clinging close during a rhythm ballad, didn’t know that Manny Klein or Dick McDonough was working his enchantment — but recordings like these made jazz acceptable to a public who might otherwise have thought it foreign, unbridled. And advocates of “pure jazz,” whatever that is, should go back and check out the Goodman Victors and Columbias of 1935-45, many of which are lovely dance music with swinging vocals — not that far from these 1930-1 hot dance sessions.
Listeners unmoved by hot dance music will still want to consider this issue for its four final tracks — a 1933 session under the leadership of singer Steve Washington. These records, in their own way, are precursors of the hallowed Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey sessions of the middle Thirties. In them, a little-known but emotionally compelling singer works as part of a small swinging jazz ensemble. Although “We Were The Best of Friends” is not an ambitious composition, once heard, Washington’s yearning version is hard to forget.
Good music for those who can hear it! And it’s available through http://www.worldsrecords.com, where you’ll find full details on this and other Jazz Oracle issues.