I begin 2015 with an ancient record that cost me a dollar.
This record came from Down Home Music in El Cerrito, California, the home of surprises. I had never heard of either ensemble, but had faith in the repertoire chosen. One side was MAPLE LEAF RAG (by the Old Time Band Orchestra, whose title delights me for its vague wordiness) and the other HIGH SOCIETY (by Military Band).
I’ve not been able to find out anything trustworthy or substantive about these recordings, except for a dubious online posting that notes that MAPLE LEAF was issued on a Bluebird 78 in 1938. I was also pleased to acquire an actual Montgomery Ward label . . . in my childhood, Montgomery Ward existed only as a catalog entity — no actual stores, I think — from which one ordered items that looked enticing in the pages and waited eagerly for them to come. By that time, no one was ordering 78s from “Monkey Ward,” but I am guessing that this label offered material recorded by Victor for a distinct audience, perhaps people who lived too far from cities with record stores.
But no matter. I do not presume that the disc is so rare or even so esoteric. I find the music very pleasing in a genre-crossing way — stylistically bridging ragtime-orchestra and brass-band instrumentation, voicings, and conventions to create versions of two jazz classics that are recognizable, situated between concert-in-the-park orchestral performances and more liberated jazz band ones.
I hear looser syncopations on MAPLE LEAF; HIGH SOCIETY is harder to find in that orchestration . . . but both records have their own swagger and pleasure. It wouldn’t be fair to put them against the 1932 New Orleans Feetwarmers (MAPLE LEAF) or the Blue Note Jazzmen (HIGH SOCIETY): I appreciate them on their own terms. And I hope you will also.
Wishing you happiness and perceptions and joy in 2015.
May your happiness increase!