WHO WAS MIKE DURSO AND WHERE DID HE GO?

I would guess that hot jazz, especially the Chicagoan variety, would have upset Hercule Poirot’s delicate stomach, but we could use his help on this matter.  This posting owes its existence to my new jazz-friend (although I’ve read his work for a long time), Larry Kart of Chicago.  I’ll let Larry start us off:

You may be way ahead of me here (at least I hope you are), but listening to the radio Saturday, I heard this 1927 track “The New Twister” by The Wolverines (Bix’s old band under the leadership of pianist Dick Voynow, with Jimmy McPartland taking Bix’s place). The music has IMO a proto-Chicagoans feel (the first McKenzie-Condon sides were shortly to be made). Drummer Vic Moore has a nice a “Chicago shuffle” feel going, 17-year-old reedman Maurice Bercov, says Dick Sudhalter in “Lost Chords,” had “heard Johnny Dodds and the rest on the South Side but worshipped Frank Teschmacher, emulating his tone, attack, off-center figures … he wound up recording two months before his idol [did] .”

But who the heck was trombonist Mike Durso, who takes the IMO impressively fluid solo here?

Thanks to “Atticus Jazz” for the lovely transfer of this rare 78, as always:

The personnel of this band is listed as Dick Voynow, piano; director; Jimmy McPartland, cornet; Mike Durso, trombone; Maurie Bercov, clarinet, alto saxophone; unknown guitar; Basil Dupre, sb / Vic Moore, d. Chicago, October 12, 1927.

Back to Larry:

By contrast, here is THE NEW TWISTER played by Miff Mole and the Molers (with Red Nichols, et al.) from the same year. Mole’s trombone work here is not without its charms, but in terms of swing and continuity, it’s day and night, no?

To complicate matters (or to add more evidence) here is the reverse side of that disc, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE:

Larry continues:

The guitarist on the Wolverines track is Dick McPartland, Jimmy’s brother. Bercov’s contemporary, pianist Tut Soper, described him as an “extremely galling, sarcastic and difficult man.”

Looking for more on Durso, I came across this “moderne” 1928 piece by trumpeter Donald Lindley, “Sliding Around,” on which Durso may be a sideman. (There’s no trombone solo though.) Jazz it’s not, though it’s certainly aware of jazz — those oblique references to “Royal Garden Blues.” That’s Lindley , b. 1899, in the cap [the YouTube portrait]:

The beautiful video is by our friend Enrico Borsetti, another one of my benefactors, and the Lindley side eerily prefigures the Alec Wilder Octet.

Finally, here is LIMEHOUSE BLUES by “The Wolverine Orchestra” which might have Durso audible in solo and ensemble:

After Larry had asked me about Durso, and I had to confess that I’d barely registered his name or these recordings, and I had no information to offer (he’d stumped the band), I went back to the discography and was pleased to find that Durso had a history, 1923-28 and then 1939: recording for Gennett under the band name “Bailey’s Lucky Seven” which had in its collective personnel Jules Levy, Jr., Jimmy Lytell, Red Nichols, Frank Signorelli, Hymie Farberman; then Sam Lanin, with Vic Berton, Merle Johnson, Joe Tarto, John Cali, Tony Colucci, Ray Lodwig; sessions with the Arkansas / Arkansaw Travelers, a Nichols group where the trombonist may be Mole or Durso.  That takes him from 1923-25; he then records with Ray Miller, with Volly DeFaut.  All of this takes him to 1926, and all of it is (if correctly annotated) recorded in New York.  The Wolverines sides above are in 1927, in Chicago, as a re 1928 sides with the larger Wolverines unit, Donald Lindley, and Paul Ash (a “theatre orchestra,” Larry says).

Then, a gap of a decade, and Durso, in 1939, is part of the Vincent Lopez Orchestra, recording for Bluebird.  Then silence.

I realize that discographies are not infallible research documents, and that Durso might have made dozens of sides that a jazz discography would not notate, so I am sure this listing is incomplete and thus not entirely accurate.  But, to paraphrase Lesley Gore, I think, it’s my blog and I’ll surmise if I want to.  I am going to guess that Durso, probably born around 1900 or slightly earlier, was one of those musicians who could read a tune off a stock arrangement, blend with another trombone in a section, improvise a harmony part, knew his chords, and could — as you hear above — play a very forward-looking solo given the chance. Remember that THE NEW TWISTER came out in 1927.  Who were the trombonists of note?  Ory, Brunis, Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Harrison, Charlie Green, Benny Morton, Mole, perhaps Charlie Butterfield.  Teagarden may or may not have impressed everyone yet.  (I am sure I have left out a few names.) Durso had technique but wasn’t in love with it, and his playing is lightly swinging and mobile; his solos make logical sense, with no cliches.

So between 1923 and 1928 or so he is what we might call “a studio man,” who obviously is known for his improvising ability, otherwise he would not have been in the studio with McPartland.  (Scott Black!  Did Dugald ever mention Mike Durso?)  More speculation follows.  I can safely assume that pre-Crash, Durso might have made a living as an improvising musician, but at some point the safer employment of sweeter big bands might have called to him.  Did he have a family to support?  Did he perhaps appreciate a regular paycheck playing in theatres and dancehalls as opposed to playing in speakeasies?  I can’t say, having even less that speculation to go on.  Did he die after 1939, or do some war work and decide that getting home after 5 PM with a lunch pail was easier than being a hot man?

The trail goes cold here.  Perhaps some readers can assist us here.  I know that you know, to quote Jimmie Noone.  And if no one can, at least we have the collective pleasure of having heard Mike Durso on THE NEW TWISTER. Thanks in the present tense to Larry Kart; thanks in advance to those of you who will flood the comments section with information.

May your happiness increase!

Advertisements

19 responses to “WHO WAS MIKE DURSO AND WHERE DID HE GO?

  1. Andy! Heroically quicker than a speeding bullet. Could you give a precis of this for those of us who can barely read the clipping?

  2. And playing on New Year’s in 1958 (The NY Post): https://tinyurl.com/mikedurso1958

  3. I’ll try to interpret the scan of the item from Jack O’Brian. It’s a good one.

    “My favorite quote of the week came from a slightly plastered gentleman who was threaten that old cliché of all barroom belligerents, the time-honored intention of expectorating into an antagonist’s cornea. The scene was the dance floor of the Copacabana, a sub-basement nightclub located several floors below East 60th Street, the time was a few minutes before midnight, and the malty gentleman who sounded off so quotably was listing dangerously toward the string section of Michael Durso’s harmonists who were engaged in playing ‘Tea for Two.’

    “The inebriated one loudly announced that he was just in from Scranton and insisted that Mike Durso play ‘The Pennsylvania Polka,’ a tune which was in this particular gentleman’s estimation apparently the sovereign hymn of the Keystone State, saloon division.

    “Durso had little time left before the midnight floor show was to start, and attempted to explain to the Scranton expatriate that his off-beat battalion would play it right after the show, a postponement which aroused considerable resentment. The malty gentleman menaced Michael with a threatening digit and exclaimed:

    “‘You’ll either play it now or I’ll spit in your trombone!’”

  4. This site, from which I linked the above pages, has a wealth of goodies: http://fultonhistory.com/Fulton.html (There is also ancestry.com for those who are subscribed.)

  5. Tony Martin And Michael Durso & His Copacabana Orchestra – A Night At The Copacabana ‎(2×7″, EP). It appears that Durso moved away from jazz to accompany Tony Martin on this EP. The year?

  6. Also this item from the Long Island Star Journal 1/24/1958:
    Copa Bandsman Wins 75G Verdict
    Michael A. Durso of Great Neck, the bandleader at the Copacabana night club in Manhattan, won a $75,000 verdict yesterday from a jury in Jamaica
    Supreme Court.
    Durso sued Robert O’SulIivan of Brooklyn because of injuries he received when his car and O’Sullivan’s were In collision in May 1954, on the Queensboro Bridge.

    Apparently Jack O’Brian recycled his Durso story (Schenectady Gazette, May 20, 1968:
    Italian composer-star Domenico Mondugno walked out on a charity benefit at
    the Hilton Hotel after a hassle with maestro Mike Durso; we remember a lad in a tiff with Mike during his Copacabana days who closed the case by advising Mike, “I’ll spit right in your trombone!”

    He apparently had a radio hookup on WMCA (New York) in 1935, from numerous sources.

  7. Andy, I have connections to Great Neck, as you know. And Domenico Mudogno (sp?) wrote VOLARE, I believe.

  8. From the Schenectady Gazette, Aug. 1, 1935:

    PIPING ROCK CLUB OPENS ITS SEASON AT SARATOGA SPA
    Saratoga’s rendezvous of distinction the Piping Rock Club now under the direction of Al Del Monico, opened Monday and climaxed the Spa’s track opening day. Georges Metaxa, Broadway stage favorite sang and acted as master of ceremonies. His inimitable introduction to the club’s joyous throng
    of Gomez and Winona, smart dance team, who presented their routine
    with intricate steps and graceful dipping. Jean Sargent, popular radio songstress, entertained the guests with her vibrant voice and colorful personality. Mike Durso, rated as America’s outstanding trombone soloist and now leader of hls own orchestra, played riotous dance tunes in soothing fashion. The singing of Gall Reese, vocalist with the Durso orchestra was favorably received. Nick Vozen and his tango ensemble alternated with the Durso band, playing rhumbas. boleros and tangos to round off the evening’s entertainment. This array of talent Is presented three times nightly for dinner, supper and late show

  9. Gail Reese went on to Berigan.

    Andy, how much do I owe you?

  10. There’s a decent obit for Mike (Michael Alfred Durso) in the 28 December 1975 NYT. He was born 13 February 1905 and died on 25 December 1975. He was living in Bolton Landing at the time of his death. He also logged 3 years in the Navy in WW2–I’m guessing in a service orchestra? Don’t have details yet.

  11. I thought the quest would prove irresistible.

  12. It was! Thanks for the challenge!

  13. Hans Eekhoff

    I interviewed Jimmy Mc Partland several times at great length, also discussed with him many of his recordings from the 20’s. I have it all on tape; just looked it up he says: “That Wolverines session was organized by Dick Voynow who owned the name “Wolverines” and used it for several recording sessions after the old Wolverines had disbanded. Voynow by that time was also A & R man for Brunswick and he could organize these sessions. Mike Durso was older than us and an established musician. I remember being impressed to play with him.”.
    Hope this is of interest.

  14. Mark Cantor, film scholar who is both hedgehog and fox (see Isaiah Berlin: Mark knows many things deeply) has added this:

    In 1942 Durso was on a SOUNDIE recording session backing Marcella Hendricks, and it appears that the band might be a CBS radio outfit. That might be how he was paying the bills at the time: studio orchestra composed of New York union musicians under the direction of Edwin Ludig (Edwin Ludig, leader; Charles Margolis, Mannie Weinstock, trumpets; Mike Durso, trombone; Arnold Brilhart, Murray Cohan, Martin Golden, reeds; Samuel Liner, piano; Jack Kimmel, string bass; John Cali, guitar; Chauncey Morehouse, drums).

  15. Thanks to all who have replied!

  16. I am delighted too. See what you started?

  17. Brian Rust’s American Dance Band Discography has Durso recording several Sam Lanin sessions in the fall of 1924, 2 Billy Wynne and his Greenwich Village Inn Orch sessions in spring 1925 and a Vincent Lopez and his Suave Swing Orch session of April 18,1939, all in NYC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s