Tag Archives: Bluebird Records

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!

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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!

DREAMS, BLUEBIRDS, GOODWILL

I don’t usually write blogposts about blogging, but I ask my readers to follow this one to the end.  It has its own surprises.  The Beloved and I sometimes talk about worry and its ubiquity and how to shake it off.  About a week ago, I posted GET HAPPY?  And a day later, the Beloved posted her own variations on the theme, MY WORRY CUP.  Both of these blogposts have this piece of music in common:

I am always moved by the wistful optimism of the song and the beauty of Bing’s voice — and the way that this performance has its own satisfying dramatic shape, moving from song to recitative to whistling.  It’s a very compelling performance, and it always reminds me that one’s troubles can be made to vanish if you gently wrap them in dreams.  The lyrics also suggest that there is a limitless supply of dreams in the universe — always a good thing to hear.

You will notice that the YouTube video begins with a close-up of a lovely record label — what collectors call a “buff Bluebird,”very attractive in itself.  Bing recorded the song in 1931 and the record seen here is from mid-1937.

A few days after we had published our blogposts, the Beloved spotted a Goodwill store we had both delved into in 2011, always finding treasures.  We went inside, elated and curious, and threw ourselves into the treasure hunt.  I found a spectacularly bold Hawaiian shirt; the Beloved found her own prize.  I remembered that in 2011 I had bought a half-dozen late-Twenties records there, so I knelt on the floor among scattered 78s.  I opened one of the ten-record brown cardboard albums and saw a buff Bluebird label.  Expecting nothing remarkable, I drew out a well-preserved copy of Bing’s WRAP YOUR TROUBLES IN DREAMS, a record I had never owned.

It is a cliche to write, “My mouth fell open.  I was speechless,” but it was true.  Carefully I put the record into a paper sleeve and, holding it behind my back, went over to the Beloved and said, quietly — in the presence of Mystery — “You won’t believe this.”  And we marveled at the artifact that had appeared to us.

The object and its suggestive powers are both powerfully in our thoughts.  If you like the mathematical: what are the chances that a piece of fragile, breakable shellac would emerge intact after seventy-five years?  What are the chances that it should appear to us, who had been humming and singing and thinking about that song for the days immediately before?

I could hypothesize that Someone or Something put it there for us to find, as a little gleaming light on the path, or The Path.  Since I believe that the dead know what is going on on this planet, I could — with some quiet amusement — think momentarily that Bing had arranged for it to be there.  I could even entertain the possibility that it was there as a reward in a universe where such synchronicities are all around us if are hearts are open to them.  I could turn the whole idea on its head and think that this disc was the starting point for my journey and the Beloved’s, that we had thought of the song and written our posts because the record was waiting to be found.  I think it meaningful that the disc appeared in a place called GOODWILL, where many less fortunate people come to shop — their troubles larger than their abilities to dream them away.  All the omens, including the hopeful Bluebird, augur well.  The other side of the 78, and I think not by accident, is an Irving Berlin song called THE LITTLE THINGS IN LIFE.  Ponder that.

I have no real answers.  But I am awestruck, delighted beyond the quick formulaic responses with which we brush away the beautiful Mysteries: “accident,” “randomness,” “luck,” or “coincidence.”

What do my readers think?

And while you muse and dream, please listen to Mister Crosby.

I send thanks to Bing, to Harry Barris, Ted Koehler, Billy Moll, David J. Weiner.  I hope to spread Goodwill through JAZZ LIVES.

May your troubles be small.  May your dreams be powerful.

May your happiness increase.