Jazz fans of a sedentary nature (I count myself among them) need to be reminded that this was and is music for dancing. Dancing. And I thank my friend, the splendid singer Laura Windley, for gently reminding me of this. But rather than create a long didactic episode, I offer this as evidence — just spotted on eBay.
The three pages depicted here tell quite a story. I’d never seen Teddy Hill’s photograph on sheet music before, but he and his band did not get to record this number, which isn’t surprising. We also know that musicians had their photographs on sheet music covers — whether as publicity for both sides or because the song was in their repertoire. The Hill band released eight sides in three sessions in 1935-36: at the time, I think they were considered by the record companies a second-string group, which is a real pity.
Their later recordings — eighteen sides — for Bluebird were billed as Teddy Hill and his NBC Orchestra, which suggests not only a radio connection but an accompanying higher level of fame. In 1937, Teddy and the band toured England and France (which is why Bill Dillard, Shad Collins, Dicky Wells, Bill Coleman, and other Harlemites recorded with Django Reinhardt for Swing Records); he led bands until 1940, alas without recordings, and then changed course and became manager of Minton’s jazz club in Harlem. He died in 1978.
As you will hear below, the band offered a deft combination of swinging dance music, hot solos, and interesting arranging touches.
A song by the same name was recorded by George Scott-Wood and his Six Swingers, but I can’t tell if it was this Blake-Taylor composition. The owner of the sheet music, Virginia, wrote her name and another detail, dating this in 1934: you did this so you got your sheet music back. Notice that the place all this TRUCKIN’ ON DOWN was happening was not Harlem or Chicago’s South Side, but Danville, Illinois, 138 miles from Chicago, which, in 1934, was a long drive. Swing and swing dancing was everywhere: a blessed phenomenon we can only imagine. We’re told that even the “O-Fays” [see the lyric] loved the dance:
One page from the inside shows that this was not just music that someone bought to gaze upon — or to have sit on the piano. It was played:
Even though I don’t dance — I have “a lazy gate” — the back page is entrancing:
It’s nearly all upper-body pantomime, and there’s no partner in sight to endanger: I could do this. Especially to the sound of Teddy Hill’s 1935-6 band.
Here‘s the link — should your impulses lead you to click on Buy It Now as a substitute for truckin’ it down uptown — although the seller is asking $399.99 plus $8.50 shipping (of course, that can be spread out over 24 months, a boon).
And here are the details about the Teddy Hill recordings that follow. But you can skip them with my blessing to get the dancing underway.
Teddy Hill And His Orchestra : Bill Dillard (tp,vcl) Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman (tp) Dicky Wells (tb) Russell Procope (cl,as) Howard Johnson (as) Teddy Hill, Chu Berry (ts) Sam Allen (p) John Smith (g) Richard Fullbright (b) Bill Beason (d). New York, February 26, 1935: LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE / GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS / WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN / WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART /
Frank Newton, Shad Collins (tp) replaces Roy Eldridge, Bill Coleman, Cecil Scott (ts,bar) replaces Chu Berry. New York, April 1, 1936
UPTOWN RHAPSODY / CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS (unissued) / May 4, 1936: AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL / BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY / PASSIONETTE /
And here’s some music. WHEN LOVE KNOCKS AT YOUR HEART, with a pretty vocal by Bill Dillard, followed by a gently hot chorus by Bill Coleman, and a very danceable final chorus, complete with piano plinks:
and one of my favorite silly tunes, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, LOOKIE, HERE COMES COOKIE, which starts with a searing Roy, who returns to light up the sky, in solo and leading the brass at the start of the verse, before a supercharged Chu Berry takes precedence — but wait, that’s the swing anarchist Dicky Wells taking the bridge. The YouTube poster’s copy has a few small skips, but it’s a romp:
Bill Dillard takes the vocal on GOT ME DOIN’ THINGS before Chu — almost sedately — comes in for a few comments:
WHEN THE ROBIN SINGS HIS SONG AGAIN is a wonderful combination of swing dance music, then things heat up with Bill Coleman, Howard Johnson for the bridge, then Coleman. Chu Berry is clearly in aerodynamic form, with Dicky Wells at his splendid surrealistic best, before Chu returns and Sam Allen plays a poised interlude:
UPTOWN RHAPSODY is a very daring chart at that tempo — like CHRISTMAS NIGHT IN HARLEM in a funhouse mirror — with Procope, Johnson, and Wells:
On AT THE RUG CUTTERS’ BALL, Sam Allen, Cecil Scott, Newton, Procope and Wells tell us in [Hendersonian] terms that we are in Harlem where riffs are born:
Here’s the band version of Willie “the Lion” Smith’s PASSIONETTE (what a wonderful reed section sound) with Frank Newton in his prime, then Russell Procope, and skywriter Dicky Wells, before the band rocks it out:
and Chappie Willet’s delightfully “modernistic” BLUE RHYTHM FANTASY, with Wells, Howard Johnson, Procope, and a swaggering Newton, then Cecil Scott:
I hope those sounds inspired some dancing!
Did you Truck On Down? It’s good for you.
May your happiness increase!