Tag Archives: Bluebird Records

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

AN ANCIENT RECORD, IN IMPERFECT CONDITION, PLAYED BACK PRIMITIVELY ON OLD-FASHIONED EQUIPMENT, BUT THE MUSIC COMES THROUGH: “THREE’S A CROWD” (October 1938: Paul Ricci, Carl Kress, Jerry Sears)

Although I am glued to my computer for many of my waking hours, I am also fond of the old ways, especially when they work.  I could learn, no doubt, how to connect my ancient four-speed school phonograph (an eBay purchase) to my computer and, through software, create an mp3 file . . .  etc.  But the music is more important than the technology, so I present this primitive video of some delicious music.  “Three’s A Crowd” — Jerry Sears, piano; Carl Kress, guitar; Paul Ricci, clarinet — recorded six sides for the Bluebird label in October 1938.  They have not, to my knowledge, been reissued at any time.

I bought this disc for a dollar plus tax in Petaluma, California (in mid-2014) and enjoyed it so much I shipped it back to New York.  It is possible that it was a jukebox item, for ANYTHING FOR YOU is more worn than DALLAS BLUES, but that is mere speculation.  These videos are highly imperfect: you might hear the traffic outside my window, one floor down, the sound of the radiator pipes, and other noises — it’s even possible that Autumn, the anxious terrier across the hall who misses her parents, might have made some sound.  However, if you were to come to my apartment and listen to the record, these are the human and mechanical noises that you would also encounter.  Kindly address all complaints to the Customer Service Office, located to the right of the water cooler.

 

and Claude Hopkins’ theme:

Life is imperfect.  We are imperfect.  Music, however, comes as close to perfect as we will ever know.  Thanks to Nick Rossi, scholar and roving artist, for the inspiration.

May your happiness increase!

A TEA PARTY, 1936

Thanks to the ever-surprising Tim Gracyk, here is a new piece of history. (Tim, for those of you who don’t know, posts rare records, poetry, and philosophical commentary regularly on YouTube — in profusion.)

The “buff Bluebird” label is very appealing to the eye and nostalgic for me, so I paused while scrolling through Tim’s latest cornucopia.  Then I saw the band title, which was another inducement — because of its suggestion that hot jazz might be lurking behind that general monicker.

I started the video and listened very casually: nice band, good trumpet and clarinet, both familiar, but it wasn’t until the drummer hit an accent that I started to pay attention.  “That’s Stan King!  And it certainly sounds like Marty and Joe Marsala. . . . ”

The band was “Tempo King And His Kings Of Tempo” : Marty Marsala, trumpet; Joe Marsala, clarinet; Queenie Ada Rubin, piano; Eddie Condon, guitar; George Yorke, string bass; Stan King, drums; Tempo King, vocal, leader: another one of the swing combos, their roots in Fifty-Second Street, to emulate and ride alongside the Fats Waller phenomenon.

I couldn’t find out much about Frank Ryerson, except that he also was one of the composers of BLUE CHAMPAGNE, and what we used to call The World Wide Web (remember?) told me that he was a trumpeter in Glen Gray’s orchestra.

Why the alias?  Ordinarily bands recorded four sides in a three-hour session; this one was particularly fertile, and this band turned out seven usable sides.  So Bluebird 6690 had this recording on one side; on the other, a performance by Frank Tanner (leader of a Texas-based orchestra), SAILOR MAN RHYTHM.

The song isn’t memorable, but I find it intriguing.  For reasons that are somewhat amorphous eighty years later, there was a spurt of novelty songs with mock-historical themes: CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, QUEEN ISABELLA, THE MIDNIGHT RIDE OF PAUL REVERE, and others even less well known. Stuff Smith, not surprisingly, had the riposte with I DON’T WANT TO MAKE HISTORY (I JUST WANT TO MAKE LOVE.)

Before this session, Mal Hallet, Jimmy Dorsey, and perhaps other bands had taken this one on; after, on a 1937 radio transcription from Hilversum, the Ramblers with Coleman Hawkins performed it, then Max Rumpf in Berlin, and Seger Ellis and his Choirs of Brass.  Hallet may even have taken it as his theme song; there’s a 1944 V-Disc which is introduced by this song.  (Another V-Disc, which I’ve never heard, is called AFTER ALL THAT GIN, which is promising.)

It’s a good record, a lot of fun, and an otherwise hidden performance.  Thanks, Tim.

May your happiness increase!

FIRST-RATE FROLICS: DAVE STUCKEY and the HOT HOUSE GANG: “HOW’M I DOIN’?!”

HOT HOUSE GANG two

These fellows mean business: to swing and to lift our spirits.  And unlike a good many bands who market themselves as “retro swing,” the Hot House Gang can really play.  Experience, not imitation via the iPhone 92S.

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Happiness is hearing new music that has an old-time feel with modern vivacity. May I present Dave Stuckey and the Hot House Gang?

Their new CD, HOW’M I DOIN’?!, is a delight.

HOT HOUSE GANG

Dave himself (guitar and vocals) has an infectious swing, and the musicians he’s gathered around him are some of the best in the West, or perhaps the known world.  I was immediately reminded of Fats Waller and the ebullience he created on his Victor discs . . . but Dave has an advantage here.  Where Fats often had to lampoon substandard material (I am thinking of ABERCROMBIE HAD A ZOMBIE, where the last word refers to a particularly potent drink, not the night creature), Dave writes many of his own songs, words and music, and they have a jaunty, side-of-the-mouth comic flair: I found myself listening several times to each track — for the band, for Dave’s singing, for the lyrics.  In a different era, these would be hit singles — although they might be too hip for the room.  And although Dave urges the band on a la Waller, he can also be tender — on a rhythmic performance of GHOST OF A CHANCE or a romping I NEVER KNEW.

I knew this was a fine band and a fine CD about ninety seconds into the first track because I was smiling and bobbing my head — sure signs of swing pleasure. Dave’s ebullient singing caught me instantaneously, and I thought, “This is a song that would have fit right in on a 1936 Bluebird, although the lyrics are as hip as Mercer and the band has more room to rock.”

About those originals — they are new but seem immediately familiar (and the CD includes a lyric sheet for those readers on long car trips) — and each one rocks in its own fashion.  I worry about CDs that are entirely composed of the leader’s originals, but Dave is a triple threat: singer, rocking guitarist, and songwriter. Dave also has done the clever trick so beloved of Thirties songwriters: to base the conceit of his lyrics on a familiar phrase: LET’S GET HOT AND GO, STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE, WHAT WILL IT TAKE?, MAYBE IT’S THE BLUES, and two oddities, SISTER KATE (The Potentate of Harlem) and OPTIMISTICIZE.

And there is a pleasing sheaf of jazz classics that will never grow old: I NEVER KNEW, LOVE IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER, SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, I DON’T STAND A GHOST OF A CHANCE WITH YOU, ‘T’AIN’T NO USE.

Dave has two overlapping bands, each one filled with stars who can create mellow sermons — as soloists or as an ensemble playing Dan Barrett’s charts, which grace seven songs):  Corey Gemme, cornet, trombone, clarinet; Dan Barrett, trombone, trumpet; Nate Ketner, alto, clarinet; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Wally Hersom, string bass; Josh Collazo, drums — or Corey; Josh “Mooch” Petrojvic, piano; Larry Wright, alto, soprano, clarinet; Wally, Josh.

I confess to a surge of pleasure that the CDBaby page devoted to this CD says you will like it if you like Clarence Williams, Fats Waller, and Wingy Manone.  Someone’s got the best intentions, and someone’s been listening closely: mid-Thirties joy without any museum dustiness.  And that page offers a chance to buy the disc (how twentieth-century of us!) or to download the music.

Just to whet your appetite for the CD — or to pass the time until it arrives — here are a few videos of the band in their natural habitat:

TOO  BUSY, from December 2014, with Carl Sonny Leyland, Corey Gemme, Rob Hardt, Jeff Hamilton and Marquis Howell:

SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE, from October 2015, shot by JediJen7:

and BLUE LOU from the same evening:

Here’s Dave’s Facebook page, for those people fortunate enough to live in Southern California, where the band currently romps; you can also see and hear more and even find out how to purchase the CD.

The CD asks the question — even though the song is not one of the twelve titles — HOW’M I DOIN’?!  I can answer in the enthusiastic affirmative for Dave and his band.  Long may they swing and cheer us.

May your happiness increase!

JAMES P. JOHNSON MEETS LES BROWN (January 9, 1939)

On one of my record-hunting trips of 2014 I found a Les Brown 78 that would otherwise not have caught my eye.  That is not meant to demean the Brown band, just to say that I was never drawn to them.  But when I saw a Bluebird 78 of two lesser-known James P. Johnson songs (from the musical POLICY KINGS) I had to buy it to see what they sounded like.  The compositions were a love song called YOU, YOU, YOU — which I knew only through a much later recording by Dick Wellstood and Bob Wilber (instrumental) and one of the many songs celebrating a dance which possibly had a very short vogue if it had one at all, HARLEM WOOGIE.  (About a more famous recording of that song, more below).

The Brown band that recorded these two sides was John Martel, Melvin Hurwitz, Les Kritz (tp) Bob Fishel (tb) Les Brown (cl,as,arr) Steve Madrick (cl,as) Herb Muse (as,vcl) Wolfe Tayne, Carl Rand (ts) Billy Rowland (p) Allan Reuss (g) Bassie Deters (b) Eddie Julian (d):

YOU, YOU, YOU:

HARLEM WOOGIE:

Now, these are quite successful dance-band records, to my ears — although my ears are more accustomed to 1938 Basie, 1940 Ellington, 1939 Goodman, and so on.  And Herb Muse sings the two selections in a style, quite pleasant, that I associate with Pha Terrell and others.  But the records, judged as jazz opuses, are somewhat undramatic.

Here’s the HARLEM WOOGIE I remember, having first heard it around 1967 — featuring James P., Red Allen, J.C. Higginbotham, Gene Sedric, Sidney Catlett, and Anna Robinson: searing!

Even though Herb Muse sang the lyrics more clearly, Anna Robinson clearly had great force and presence; Red Allen’s echoing the rhythm of her closing vocal phrase is priceless, as are Sidney’s accents behind James P.  And behind Sedric. But listeners can absorb this on their own.

Lest anyone get the wrong idea, this is not a post setting up Bland White Swing Era music against Hot Black Authentic Jazz.  If you want to draw such conclusions, you are on your own, but I don’t encourage them, because the Brown and Johnson records have different purposes and intentions.

What does fascinate me is the brief moment-in-the-sun of two of James P. Johnson’s less intoxicating compositions.  Did he, or his publisher, offer them to as many “middle-of-the-road” Swing orchestras as possible, hoping for a hit, hoping for radio play?  Or was it the reverse (which I suspect): James P. was out of fashion in the late Thirties, attempting to be taken seriously as a classical composer — but — anyone who had been paying attention during the preceding decades knew that he wrote hits.  One of them was a love song, IF I COULD BE WITH YOU; another was a dance, CHARLESTON.  So it would be an odd bandleader who would ignore the songs from a James P. Johnson show.  It’s a pity the songs weren’t more memorable . . . or the recordings.  But it is, to me, a small but fascinating example of “crossover” before the term ceased to have any meaning.

May your happiness increase!

SEISMIC SWING FOR WASHBOARD SAM: CARL SONNY LEYLAND, MARTY EGGERS, JEFF HAMILTON, and PATRICK SKIFFINGTON at MONTEREY (March 8,, 2014)

The life story of “Washboard Sam,” born Robert Brown (singer / songwriter / washboardist) is melancholy and seems all too familiar: early fame, influential recordings, a short life — 1910-1966 — and burial in an unmarked grave.

WASHBOARD-SAM-1931

But his music lives on.  Here is a brief but successful musical tribute performed at the 2014 Monterey Jazz Bash by the Bay. At the head of this compact swinging band is the inimitable Carl Sonny Leyland, piano / vocal, with Marty Eggers, string bass; Jeff Hamilton, drums.

For this trio of selections, Carl invited the young washboardist Patrick Skiffington to join in, to give the music its proper shaking and rattling quality.

The washboard often has been looked down on in jazz but when it’s played well, it can drive a band (think of the hot records by the Washboard Rhythm Kings circa 1931-33).

Young Mister Skeffington knows his craft: as an ensemble player, he listens; he varies his dynamic range, and he’s a true addition to the band, his sounds and rhythms steady and varied. He’s been on the scene a bit, but JAZZ LIVES takes pleasure in welcoming him officially.

I wonder if I might see a quartet set by this band at a California festival?  An idea whose time might well have come.  For the moment, enjoy these three performances.

I apologize to those viewers who wanted to see Patrick in all his glory. It didn’t happen during this set — he is mostly hidden — but hearing is believing.  Next time, perhaps I will choose a better vantage point.

And thanks as always to Carl, Marty, and Jeff, who always create solid vibrations of the finest kind.

MY BUCKET’S GOT A HOLE IN IT:

SHE BELONGS TO THE DEVIL:

THE LEVEE CAMP BLUES:

May your happiness increase!

MUSIC, BUSINESS, ZIGGY and NONI

Where shall we start?  With the music, of course.

Here is an engaging record with the spontaneous energy and lilt of the best small-band swing, but with neat arranging touches. The players were from the Benny Goodman Orchestra of 1939:

This performance was recorded December 26, 1939 with Ziggy Elman, trumpet; Toots Mondello, Elmani “Noni” Bernardi, alto sax; Jerry Jerome, Arthur Rollini, tenor sax; Johnny Guarnieri, piano; Ben Heller, guitar; Artie Bernstein, string bass; Nick Fatool, drums.

From a splendidly informative profile by Christopher Popa (including an interview of Martin Elman, Ziggy’s son) we learn that Bernardi created the arrangements for the sides Ziggy did for Bluebird Records, Victor’s budget label. The profile — superbly done for Popa’s BIG BAND LIBRARY, can be found here.

This post had its genesis in something not a recording or a performance, but the result of a record session and the hope of making money from a hit. On eBay, I found this two-page contract between music publisher Bregman, Vocco and Conn, and Elman and Bernardi — for this song, then called I’M TOOTIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME.  (This title is a play on Maurice Chevalier’s 1931 hit WALKIN’ MY BABY BACK HOME — recorded by, among others, Louis and Nat Cole.)

NONI and ZIGGY contract

From this vantage point, the contract seems anything but lavish, although the format is standard and the terms might have seemed a good deal at the time.  I don’t think this venture made anyone richer.  I’ve never seen a copy of the sheet music?  And if one wishes to perceive BVC as exploitative, I am sure there is reason, but they at least published this folio, a good thing:

ziggyelman50trumpetlicks“Ziggie” is both nearly forgotten and much missed.  Like Charlie Shavers, he could forcefully swing any group in many ways (consider his work on sessions with Mildred Bailey and Lionel Hampton).  Harry Finkelman (his birth name) could do much more than play the frailich for AND THE ANGELS SING.  Those Bluebird records are understated delights (with a beautiful rhythm section for this session).

May your happiness increase!