THREE AND ONE-HALF MINUTES OF GRATIFICATION

In the taxonomy of older jazz, we know where we stand, or at least where the classifiers tell us we should be standing.  There are Hot Bands (usually African-American) and Sweet or Dance Bands (Caucasian).  There are, of course, groups that snip the barbed wire to escape or to visit the other side — Claude Hopkins performing TREES in a very arboreal manner, then, several years later, Bunny Berigan setting the forest on fire with the same song.  (The Louis – Gordon Jenkins version of that same song, fifteen years later, is beyond dispute, and I’ve started disputes when people looked askance at it.)

But it has been my experience that most jazz fans of a certain ideological bent prefer — mutely or vividly — their music Hot and either played by African-Americans or by Caucasians in the Hot style.  Or in cases where a Sweet band offers a Hot solo, we can find the 78s that have that twenty-second interlude played to a fine powder, the rest of the record nearly pristine.

What do we do with this curious and wonderful artifact, however?  It is at once a superb dance record; it swings easily and well; it is a wholly satisfying performance and presentation.  I present it to JAZZ LIVES’ listeners in hopes that they can listen to this buff Bluebird 78 from 1933 with open and appreciative ears, enjoying the recording for what it is.

The group is the Joe Haymes Orchestra — Haymes had played piano and arranged for the Ted Weems band — but under the nominal leadership of Mike Doty, thus Roy Wager, Pee Wee Erwin, trumpet; Ward Silloway, trombone; Mike Doty, clarinet, alto saxophone, vocal; Toots Mondello or Dan D’Andrea, Paul Ricci, Bud Freeman, reeds; Paul Mitchell, piano; probably Mac Cheikes, banjo; Gene Traxler, string bass; Charlie Bush, drums; Joe Haymes, leader / arranger.  New York, November 9, 1933.

And the song is PUDDIN’ HEAD JONES — recorded also by a Ben Selvin group, Don Redman, Hal Kemp, and perhaps a half-dozen other bands in 1933.

Here’s the performance:

From the start, this is an assured, swinging band.  The melody statement — muted trumpets, possibly a baritone saxophone line, Gene Traxler’s strong string bass and Charlie Bush’s rocking drums — is easy and non-threatening for the dancers who simply wanted a fast fox trot, but the band is splendidly rehearsed without being at all stiff.  And a gorgeous modulation follows — leisurely, with clarinet (I guess Paul Ricci) on top, while Bush shifts to either a low-boy or a hi-hat cymbal.  Without overstating my praise, the Haymes band — under Doty’s name — is grooving at the first minute in such a lilting easy way that other bands never reached.  In the first seconds of Doty’s vocal, he sounds more declamatory than the song requires — but that’s a 1933 style of singing when there wasn’t a microphone, and the singer needed to be emphatically clear so that the witty bits of the lyrics were heard and understood.  Beneath him, the band swings and Ricci ornaments it all.  (I’ll get to the lyrics in a bit.)  Even though the lyrics are hilarious and verging on the naughty, the band doesn’t emphasize the punchlines: no rimshots or bass-drum hits.  The listener must pay attention. After the vocal, the band subtly says, “WE can swing like mad, too!” with delicious interludes for clarinet and I think Dick Clark on tenor saxophone (it’s not Bud), supported beautifully by the wonderfully focused slap of Bush’s wire brushes.

(A one-bar digression: what is known about Charlie Bush?  HE COULD PLAY.)

When well-executed, “glee club” choruses for the band are just marvelous — if you needed a musical definition of logical architecture or building momentum, you have it in the way the band voices rock wordless riffs behind Doty.  And although his voice isn’t up to the challenge of shouting over the band at the end, he certainly delivers the message.

Those lyrics.  One encounters this song, depending on one’s level of empathy, with some doubts.  Will this be a narrative about how stupid an elementary-school student was — the equivalent of the polite dozens for middle-class Caucasians?  You know, the sort of humor that builds on “You’re so dumb . . . ” But — the clever turn of the bridge, where the fictional character we have been invited to laugh at turns out to be the Teacher’s Teacher (a folk take in swingtime) with a real punchline in the last words of the bridge — something has turned around, and in some ways we are a little embarrassed at underestimating Puddin’ Head, who is much smarter than we thought and probably much smarter than we are.  Are we meant to assume that  Teacher has already spent time in interdisciplinary studies with Puddin’s older brother?  I leave that to you. But our young dunce turns into an expert wooer, and as an adult a diligent citizen, frugal and energetic — so much so that in this 1933 Depression-era saga, he is presumably the only man in the neighborhood who is well-loved, securely affluent, perhaps even wealthy.  An American success story: from dunce to happy successful man in three minutes and change.

“Underestimate people at your own risk” might be the moral of this tale.

I knew I had to write a blogpost about this record when I needed to hear it four or five times in a row — with great joy — from YouTube.  (And I also purchasesd or re-purchased the three Haymes reissues that exist, and await their arrival.)

Of course, there might be grumbling in the imaginary cyber-audience, “Great record.  But how much better it would be with, say Jimmy Rushing singing, and Ben Webster on tenor.” Perhaps.  But I love what we have, and cherish it as a perfectly accomplished piece of hilarious swinging art that needs no improvements.

May your happiness increase!

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6 responses to “THREE AND ONE-HALF MINUTES OF GRATIFICATION

  1. Don "Zoot" Conner

    Love your essay,Michael.

  2. Ida Melrose Shoufler

    I never heard this, though I remember my mother talking about it. (she may have played it for me) I always enjoy whatever your blog is, and I enjoyed the swing in this record, Thank you NM

  3. Michael, I think it was I who produced the reissue CD with “Puddin’ Head Jones” on it. As the recipient of several boxes of uncompleted research on Joe Haymes in the 1990s, I basically ended up his biographer and a lifelong fan.

    On the Mike Doty session, the Haymes band, together since 1930, is on borrowed time, about to be sold to matinée idol Buddy Rogers. Buddy knew he couldn’t play Haymes’ arrangements on a national theater tour, but quietly strung Joe along, leaving him with a pile of unsold charts and a nice cash settlement. Joe often took such deals, allowing him to hole up with a rented upright, reams of manuscript paper and staggering quantities of alcohol. The result of which was – several times in the 1930s – a new and very good band.

    Anyway, “Puddin’ ” combines the several elements that dancers (and collectors) loved about Haymes: a solid sense of swing, a willingness to spot creative soloists (somewhat passé in that anodyne interlude between jazz age and swing era), and an equal willingness to put over folksy novelty with a streamline modern atmosphere. (The glee club-plus-hot music sound had almost made him the “next big thing” in 1932, but there was to be no “next big thing” that year.)

    The personnel, to the best of my research, has a reed section consisting of Mike Doty (lead), Johnny Mince (clarinet and 3d alto), Dick Clark (tenor), and Spud Murphy (bari and assistant arranger). Otherwise your lineup is solid, but for the bassist. Walt Yoder would not follow the Haymes boys onto Buddy Rogers’ stand, but looking for further musical kicks, found himself with Isham Jones’ topnotch organization.

    Anyway, I thank you for such a loving exegesis on Joe’s music, and I’m sure Joe would thank you, too. -Paul Lindemeyer

  4. Now THAT’S a comment to treasure! (I put Joe back on piano and thank you for the correction.) What do you know of Charlie Bush? He deserves some commendation.

  5. Not much, other than that he stayed with Haymes into 1937 and acted as road manager. That year, Down Beat reported the two of them were approached by MCA to travel to England to organize bands, but declined.

  6. Another ghost who swings.

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