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!


  1. Monkey Wards records used Bluebird/Victor masters, so this would be the Bluebird Military Band recorded August 30, 1938. The Bluebird issue was BB B3201.
    Happy New Year, Michael.

  2. Back at you, Brother Tyle! I knew by the sound that it was not a repressing of a much older recording, and it fascinates me to hear the band take a peek at Swing phrasing but not break out into “modern” phrasing. Thanks for the information. (One of the reasons I posted this was to share the music, but the second was the certainty that someone like you would have some illumination to offer.)

  3. Thank you so much for all your efforts. Your posts make a difference in my day(s)!

  4. For anyone interested, Brian Hills (ace vintage style clarinet and sax player with my Nighthawks Orch) and myself have quite a collection of really early ragtime style playing by bands and banjo soloists. My earliest is 1897 by Sousa’s band. Brian has just completed a CD “The Dawn Of Jazz” ( 1900n to 19210 25 tracks of great interest, both musically and historically. The banjo players particularly were of an extremely high standard, only a few can play like them today…….(
    yes, it takes a hell of a lot of hard work, its not just God give “talent” that falls on someone.
    Anyone wanting a copy or more info, contact Brian on…. brianhillsjazz@outlook.com
    \If you want our own 5 album 122 track CD release, “Jazz Magic” contact me!
    Happy New year to all
    Carl Spencer
    Spencer’s Nighthawks

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