TWO EARLY JAZZ BALLADS

Jazz history as presented by people who should know better is compressed into telephone poles glimpsed through the window of a speeding train: “All aboard!  MAPLE LEAF RAG . . . .WEST END BLUES . . . . LADY BE GOOD . . . . COTTON TAIL . . . . KO KO . . . . KIND OF BLUE . . . . A LOVE SUPREME.  Last stop, ladies and gentlemen!”

At best, an inexplicable series of distortions, omissions.

One small example of this odd perspective on the music I’ve spent my life immersed in is the discussion of the “jazz ballad.” I take it to be players or singers improvising over a composition in slower tempo, its mood romantic or melancholy or both.  Of course people wanted slower tempos to dance to: THE STAMPEDE was a marvel, but you couldn’t hold your darling close to you on the dance floor at that tempo.  One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA, followed by the Mound City Blue Blowers’ ONE HOUR, 1927 and 1929, respectively.  But that leaves out, for one example, Jimmie Noone’s SWEET LORRAINE and many other recordings.  And, of course, recordings are only a tiny sliver of what was being performed and appreciated.

But as far as jazz ballads are concerned, I think performances of songs titled I NEED YOU and NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU are certainly relevant.  And they have not been considered worthy of notice by those who reduce an art form to easy-to-swallow historical capsules, useful for those who need to pass final examinations.

Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music.  We’re told that recording supervisors embraced this hypothesis as well.  The exceptions proliferate: tell that to Charles Linton, Pha Terrell, Harlan Lattimore, Eva Taylor, and more.  But that’s another posting.

Enough grumbling about those who theorize from a very narrow awareness.  Here are two very seductive examples of category-exploding that also fall sweetly on the ear.  Neither performance has lyrics, but they would be easy to invent: to me they are very satisfying unacknowledged jazz ballads.

The first is Clarence Williams’ I NEED YOU, composers credited on the label as Jackson and Williams, from May 29, 1928, performed by Clarence Williams’ Jazz Kings : Ed Allen, King Oliver, cornet’ probably Ed Cuffee, trombone; probably Albert Socarras, clarinet, alto saxophone; Clarence Williams, piano; Cyrus St. Clair, tuba:

Then, a beautiful song by Tiny Parham from the last recording session he made for Victor, November 11, 1930, NOW THAT I’VE FOUND YOU:

That lovely record contains what is, to me, a delectable unsolved mystery.  The listed personnel of Tiny Parham And His Musicians is: Roy Hobson, cornet; Ike Covington, trombone; Dalbert Bright, clarinet, alto and tenor saxophone; Charlie Johnson, clarinet, alto; Tiny Parham, piano, leader; Big Mike McKendrick, banjo, guitar; Milt Hinton, brass bass; Jimmy McEndre, drums.  The Victor label clearly indicates “Whistling chorus by Maurice Hendricks.”  And a gorgeous twenty-four bars it is, in high style: the Red McKenzie of whistlers.  A small sidelight: “Hendricks” whistles the first sixteen bars elegantly, and I find myself missing him through the bridge and elated when he returns for the final eight bars.  

But who is or was Maurice Hendricks?  If he is a real musician, why doesn’t his name appear in any discography?  The theory that it might be young Milt Hinton (the initials are the only hint) is implausible because Milt is audibly playing brass bass — tuba, or sousaphone, what you will — throughout the record, not putting the horn down while the Whistler is so prettily doing his thing.  Brian Rust and “Atticus Jazz” say that “Maurice Hendricks” is Big Mike McKendrick, and I would grant a certain aural similarity between the name and the pseudonym, but a) why would a pseudonym be needed on the label, and b) why are there apparently no other recorded examples of Big Mike whistling? Was “Maurice” a friend of the Parham band, welcomed into the studio to amaze us now, ninety years later?

My best answers for the moment are of course whimsical: “Maurice Hendricks” is really Lew Le Mar, who made the hyena and billy goat sounds for the 1927 Red Hot Peppers session, or, if you don’t think that Lew hung around Chicago for three years just to get back in the Victor studios, I propose that the Whistler is Cassino Simpson, who was capable of more than we can imagine, but that’s only because Jack Purvis was busy making many recordings in New York in November 1930.

Theorize as you will, though, the music rises above whatever we can say about it.  Listen again.  Thanks to Mike Karoub for his ears, to Matthew Rivera of the Hot Club of New York and especially to Charles Iselin for bringing the second recording to my attention.

May your happiness increase!

4 responses to “TWO EARLY JAZZ BALLADS

  1. DAN MORGENSTERN

    About sweet male singers of big band era: In the course of a radio show about Jimmie Lunceford I mentioned the nickname assigned by a jazz critic (white, probably Ralph Gleason) to the band’s Dan Grissom: Dan Gruesome (he was also a member of the sax section and always in tune). I got a call from Babs Gonzales who gave me a welcome lesson: Grissom, he said, was popular with the ladies, who had a great deal of input when it came to what band to go to a dance to. I was already aware that Andy Kirk’s Pha Terrell, doing the sopranoed tenor vocal on “Until the Real Thing comes along” made that the band’s biggest hit. (I also was told, think by dear Mary Lou Williams, that he was pretty handy with his fists when needed). So, yes to sweet songs and singers. Parham’s whistler is good indeed (wish I could do those trills!) but square me has loved Elmo Tanner with Ted Weems doing Heart Aches (nice tune nobody does) for some seventy years. And of course Duke had not only Herb Jerffries but a host of others, plus a bunch of white sweet guys in the ‘20s. And then there was the really fine George Thomas with McKinney’s, killed in car accident, like alas so many good and even great musicians…. PS: That trumpeter with Parham sure was a Red Nichols man! Don’t underestimate the influence of the Five Pennies, or dimes and quarters on all of ‘20s jazz….

    >

  2. Mark Voitenko

    This post and Dan Morgenstern’s comments have catapulted me back to my junior high years when I used to listen to a compilation LP of 30s and 40s music that my parents bought—at my urging—from a television ad. I played it so often that I was able to whistle along pretty well with Elmo Tanner on “Heart Aches.’ Sadly the album’s issuer didn’t bother to identify the whistler. Fifty years later, I now know who it was.

  3. You wrote:
    “One of the “authorities” states that the first jazz ballad performance is the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke I’M COMIN’ VIRGINIA.”
    “Also what runs parallel to this “ballad hypothesis,” a statement I’ve heard recently, is the contention that Caucasian audiences liked sweet music; Afro-Americans liked hot music.”
    Without the sources, these statements are meaningless.
    What “authorities”?
    “I’ve heard..” From Joe Shmoe or a respected jazz historian?

    I wrote in the Bix Forum on Aug 23, 2008:
    It is often said that “Singin’ the Blues,” recorded by Bix and Tram on Feb 4, 1927, represents the first example of a jazz ballad.
    What is a jazz ballad?
    Suhdalter and Evans write, in connection with the recording of “SIngin’ the Blues,” “Heard as a whole, however, the record [“Singin’ the Blues”] is a pioneer effort in its introduction of the “jazz ballad” – a slow or medium-tempo piece played gently and sweetly, but not cloyingly, with no loss of muscle. An elementary concept now, it was unheard-of in 1927. Lang’s guitar accompaniment and counter melodies added immeasurably to the ballad feel of the number.”
    Richard Hadlock in “Jazz Masters of the Tewnties,” “With this record [Singin’ the Blues”], a legitimate jazz ballad style was announced – amethod wheerby attractive songs could be played sweetly without losing authentic jazz feeling and without sacrificing virility.”
    A word often used in discussing the jazz ballad is “lyrical.”
    A page in the Riverwalk Jazz site tells us that, “In jazz, the “ballad” style is intimate, lyrical and melodic. It usually takes the standard 32-bar song form, and is performed at a relaxed tempo. In the best jazz ballad instrumental playing, you can hear a story unfolding even without the words being sung.” The examples given are post-“Singin’ the Blues”: Bob Haggart’s “What’s New,” Louis Armstrong’s “If We Never Meet Again,” Hackett’s “Michelle” (named for his granddaughter) and Eddie Condon’s “Wherever There’s Love” … Django Reinhardt’s impressionistic “Nuages.”
    Grove online tells us,
    Ballad.
    In jazz and popular music a slow, sentimental love-song; the ballad forms an important part of the jazz repertory, particularly in the swing era. Ballads are generally cast in 32-bar song form (see Forms, §1(i)(a)) and 4/4 or 12/8 meter; they are performed at a relaxed tempo, in a soft, intimate style, and lack the rhythmic drive and intensity of four-beat jazz. The word is often used, loosely, of any slow piece, regardless of its form, style, or subject matter.

    Listen to these, all pre-Feb 4, 1927..

    That’s No Bargain The Red Heads Nov 11, 1926 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HYXD2qLpfH4

    Washboard Blues Arkansas Tavellers Jan 4, 1927 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGabLFxBMrw

    Someday Sweetheart Charleston Chasers Jan 4, 1927 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkqcsMrIu-8

    Are the above recordings waxed before Feb 4, 1927 by groups that include Red Nichols, jazz ballads? I think they are. Do you agree?

    Added just now: Perhaps a very early jazz ballad.
    My all-time favorite recording of the ODJB (I believe it is also Dan Levinson’s favorite) is “I’ve Lost My Heart in Dixieland.” Listen,

    This is a popular song written by the great Irving Berlin, is played slowly and with profound lyricism, and it is jazz. Is it possible that the ODJB have the distinction of having waxed the first jazz record AND the first jazz ballad?

    PS
    White-Hot Jazz Ballad
    The haunting ‘Singin’ the Blues’ changed American music
    By TOM NOLAN
    Wall Street Journal, June 2, 2007

    Eighty years ago, seven young white jazz musicians, led by a 25-year-old saxophonist from Illinois named Frankie Trumbauer, and including the 23-year-old Iowa-born cornet player Bix Beiderbecke, made a recording in New York of a tune called “Singin’ the Blues.”

    No one had heard anything quite like this disc in the 10 years since “the first jazz record” had been made, also in New York, by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (a group of white players from New Orleans). “Singin’ the Blues” had a subtle swing and a lyrical quality that seemed a world apart from the ODJB’s raucous uproar (though it was that same band’s pianist, J. Russel Robinson, who co-wrote “Singin’ the Blues”). Trumbauer and Beiderbecke’s nearly three-minute platter would be called “the first jazz ballad,” and its haunting sound would forever affect the course of America’s indigenous music.

  4. Dear Albert,
    My blog is not a courtroom. And if I choose to leave people unnamed rather than to single them out, that’s my prerogative. By the way, Mr. Schmoe has written quite eloquently on jazz.
    Thank you,
    Michael

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