All right, class. Are you ready for this week’s Jazz Quiz? (Put that phone away, please: you won’t find the answer there.)
Name a jazz trumpeter who worked and recorded with Eddie Lang, Jean Goldkette, Paul Specht, Don Voorhees, Emmett Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Red Nichols, Joe Venuti, Gene Krupa, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Pee Wee Russell, Roger Wolfe Kahn, Vic Berton, the Georgians, Adrian Rollini, Mannie Klein, Stan King, Ben Selvin, Eugene Ormandy, Jack Teagarden, Eva Taylor, Fred Rich, Sam Lanin, Dick McDonough, Bunny Berigan, Carl Kress, Babe Russin, Hoagy Carmichael, Glenn Miller, Elizabeth Welch, Benny Goodman . . . .
OK. Hand your papers in. Who knows the answer? Henry?
“Is it Jack Purvis, Professor?”
“A very good answer, but no — this trumpet player never went to jail.”
“Leo McConville, Professor?”
“Good job, Jennifer!”
Here’s a sample of Leo at work and play:
And a more elusive one, where the listener is waiting for Leo to emerge into the open — which he does in the last seconds of the record:
And another (with lovely still photographs of Clara Bow to muse on):
McConville comes across as a very “clean” player, capable of a strong clear lead, accurate and correct, but also comfortable with a Bixian kind of melodic embellishment that could be very heated and relaxed at the same time. He was born in 1900 in Baltimore and began playing professionally in 1914, working and recording with the Louisiana Five. At some point, he was one of the very busy New York studio musicians and he seems to have raced from one record session to the next with stops in between for radio work. (It’s difficult for modern listeners to imagine that radio was so important as a medium for live music, when each network had a large orchestra on staff, but it’s true.)
McConville had the good or bad fortune, depending on how you look at it, to work often in the groups of Red Nichols. Good — in that this was steady, well-paying work; bad in that he was not going to get to play hot choruses and make a name for himself. There are no LEO AND HIS GANG sessions for OKeh. He did not record after 1930, and four years later he retired from the New York music scene, preferring the more tranquil life of raising chickens in Maryland to standing around at the bar with the Dorsey Brothers in Plunkett’s. But he continued to play gigs with local bands — so his retirement seems to have been his choice rather than a matter of a failing lip. And he lived until 1968.
I hope to be able to tell you more about the elusive Mr. McConville in days to come. For the moment, I offer these pages from the September 1931 RHYTHM magazine — courtesy of my generous friend, the brass scholar Rob Rothberg — which show that Leo was taken very seriously in his lifetime. And there are many more recordings with Leo to be heard on YouTube.
It interests me that Leo was being featured in this magazine even when he was no longer recording . . . or is it that his post-1930 recordings have not been documented? Anyway, I would like a subscription to RHYTHM and would be more than happy to pay six pence a month for the privilege — look at that snappy Deco cover!
and . . .
Leo comes across as poised, polite, with his own views — his own man, admirably so. We should know more about him . . .
Ooh, goody! I love Leo! Thank you so much for this post!
Hey, prof, Jennifer cheated! She read it off my paper!
I knew something was wrong. I want to see both of you in my office tomorrow at 11 AM sharp. Jennifer will have to do an extra research assignment on Boyce Brown and you, Mr. Jones, will cover your paper with your arm next time. 11 AM.
You can see Leo McConville in action in
Leo played alongside Bix in 1930 in the Camel Hour. Bix autographed the sheet music for “In the Dark” to Leo. This is what Bix wrote, “To Leo: One of the best personally & musically. Thanks for saving my life on the Camel hour numerous times. The Best. Bix Beiderbecke.”
A comment about Eddie Lang’s “Freeze and Melt.” The band consists of Leo McConvillle, t; Tommy Dorsey, tb; Jimmy Dorsey, cl,as; Arthur Schutt, p; Eddie Lang, g; Joe Tarto, sb; Stan King, d. Replace Leo by Red Nichols, Tommy by Miff Mole, Stan by Vic Berton and omit Joe, and you have the early Five Pennies. But the sensibility of Eddie vs the Five Pennies could not be more different.
Yes, the Lang recording has the feel of a compressed, loose jam session — the Nichols records are lovely but much more architecturally-conceived. That’s not an insult to Red, who could play and who appreciated others who could, too. Too many listeners have taken the contemptuous attitude of (say) Mezzrow and Condon about Nichols — that he was a taskmaster and a cold disciplinarian — as gospel. I’ve talked this over with my friend Andrew Sammut, and we agree that Nichols had certain standards: you show up on time, you don’t fall over drunk on the stand; you change your shirt; you shave, etc., that the “wild” Chicagoans didn’t like . . . and they spent a good many years making fun of him for such repressiveness.
Thanks for this, Michael.
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