Tag Archives: Fifty-Second Street

DISMISSED, DERIDED, DELICIOUS: THE VARSITY SEVEN: 1939 and 1940

If you consider an artist’s works in chronological sequence (bibliography as well as discography) certain landmarks blot out their neighbors.  In the case of Coleman Hawkins, there’s BODY AND SOUL, then the Hampton Victor date, then his big band — leading up to the small-group sessions of 1943-44 for Signature, Keynote, Savoy, and more.

The Varsity Seven sides — full of delights — recorded in December 1939 and January 1940 — haven’t received the admiration they deserve.  Hawkins’ admiring biographer, the diligent John Chilton, calls them “a pastiche of Dixieland.”  I disagree.

The Varsity label (please note the transparent pseudonyms for Hawkins and Carter) was run by Eli Oberstein, and it never seems to have been entirely out in the open.  I don’t know that Oberstein was the equal of Herman Lubinsky of Savoy, but Eli seems to have been ingenious in his dealings.  I believe the masters of these and other sessions were bought by Savoy, and thus the trail to licit reissues is complex.  Were they Victor sessions, they would have been available straightforwardly for decades now, including “official” CD issue.

Another side-note is that the session — one or both? — was co-produced by Leonard Feather and Warren Scholl, which may account for a Feather composition being there.  I knew two sides from this date because my Long Island friend Tom Piazza played them for me, forty-plus years ago: SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT and A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY.  I don’t know where each of the musicians was working in 1939-40, whether Fifty-Second Street or Cafe Society or uptown, but they come together to create great jazz.  Cheerful Jeanne Burns (known for work with Adrian Rollini and Wingy Manone) is a liability, but we’ve all heard less polished singers.  Here’s the information for the first session.

Benny Carter, trumpet, alto saxophone; Danny Polo, clarinet; Coleman Hawkins, tenor saxophone; Joe Sullivan, piano; Ulysses Livingston, guitar, vocal; Artie Bernstein, string bass; George Wettling, drums; Jeanne Burns, vocal.  New York, December 14, 1939.

IT’S TIGHT LIKE THAT (Burns, vocal).  The first two choruses — bless Sullivan and Wettling, who are bringing Jimmy Ryan’s to a record date or doing the Commodore? — are flawless.  Ms. Burns has pitch trouble, but I concentrate on Sullivan behind her.  Polo and Livingston (the latter sounding much like a sweet Teddy Bunn) aren’t derailed by the young lady, and then Hawkins charges in, “I’m back from Europe, and let me remind you who is still King!”  My idea of perfection is of course subjective, but the instrumental portions of this recording stand up with any other of this period:

EASY RIDER (Burns, Livingston, vocal).  Hawkins starts off rhapsodically, and is then relieved by Polo, whose sound in itself is an aural landscape, no matter how simple his phrases.  (In this, he reminds me of poets Joe Marsala, Raymond Burke, and Edmond Hall.)  Ms. Burns Is much more at ease at this tempo and in this range, and her unusual mixture of Mae West and Mildred Bailey is her most successful vocal.  Livingston’s vaudeville couplets are harmlessly archaic counterpoint, leading in to an ensemble where Carter and Polo take up most of the space, leaving Hawkins little to do.  One must admire the lovely drumming of Wettling — and how beautifully Artie Shapiro’s bass comes through — before the consciously “old-timey” ending:

SCRATCH MY BACK is the one Leonard Feather composition, and a charming one, revisited by Dan Barrett a few years ago.  I can’t figure out the changes beneath the melody — an experienced friend / musician says the first strain is similar to YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME.  I love the opening ensemble, and Shapiro’s deep notes behind Polo, then Sullivan’s rollicking solo chorus, where Wettling is having a wonderful time — and the passage where Sullivan abstracts the melody for great dramatic effect.  Then — what’s this? — a glorious alto solo by “Billy Carton” (heir to the cardboard box fortune) punctuated by a Livingston blues-pastoral.  Everyone steps aside for Hawkins, and a recap of the theme with Livingston adding sweet arpeggiated chords.  No complaints here:

SAVE IT PRETTY MAMA (Burns, vocal).  Aside from the ending, I don’t think of this as “Dixieland”: rather a series of splendid improvisations from Carter, Sullivan, and two choruses from Hawkins — over a gently propulsive and balanced rhythm section.  I find Burns’ version of Mildred Bailey’s upper-register-vibrato jarring, but I was listening to Polo, murmuring sweet limpid asides, and the rhythm section while she sang:

Fast forward to January 15, 1940: the same personnel except Big Joe Turner replaces Burns, an improvement.

And in his honor, they began with HOW LONG, HOW LONG BLUES.  In the opening ensemble, Hawkins is nearly submerged (could this have been what irritated Chilton?) which leads into a lovely chorus by Polo — with plain-spoken rhythm section work.  Then, Big Joe, in glowing voice, supported by a very powerful Sullivan, with lovely ensemble encouragements.  It almost seems as if Hawkins has been waiting his chance, and he takes it eloquently, before Big Joe and the band return.  At 2:23, apparently Turner has momentarily forgotten the lyric couplet or has gotten distracted.  A fine improvised ensemble closes off the record, with a Wettling accent.  This side seems slightly under-rehearsed, but the looseness adds to its charm:

SHAKE IT AND BREAK IT has always been a favorite, and this vocal version is a prize.  If there’s a sound more engaging than this rhythm section following Sullivan, I have yet to hear it.  Big Joe sounds positively exuberant (in touch with the lyrics); Polo and Livingston keep the forward motion going , and everyone is even more gleeful for Joe’s second chorus (“rub it all over the wall”) before particularly hot choruses by Carter and Hawkins follow, leading to jamming (with Wettling happily prominent) to end the record.  If this is “Dixieland,” I want many more sides:

A PRETTY GIRL IS LIKE A MELODY was not a song much utilized for jam session recordings, but to have it here is a pleasure.  I wonder if Oberstein said, “No more blues, fellows!  Let’s have a hot one!” as Big Joe left the studio.  Or it just seemed like a melodic yet under-played Berlin song, taken a little quicker than I imagine it was done in the Ziegfeld Follies.  A very simple — even cliched — vamp led by Livingston starts things off before Polo takes the lead — which surprisingly turns into an ensemble passage, then a wonderfully quirky Sullivan solo AND Hawkins leaping into his chorus with the zeal of a great athlete (powerful playing from Shapiro, Livingston, and Wettling) — then a magnificent Carter solo and a romping ensemble close.  This is one of the most successful sides of the eight:

And, finally, POM POM, a Carter original which might be a phrase from one of his solos scored for small band, with a particularly light scoring: I would have thought the opening 16 was scored for alto, clarinet, and tenor, but for the speed with which Carter plays trumpet on the bridge.  Polo’s chorus is so tenderly levitating that if you, hearing his work on this session, don’t want to hear more, then I have failed.  Hawkins is energized in his two-chorus solo, reminding me of the trio records he made in 1937, especially in his powerful second chorus — but Carter is as elegant a mountain-climber as I can imagine (with a distinct similarity to Joe Thomas or Bill Coleman of this period); another piece of swing lace-weaving from Livingston, and the record gracefully winds down — simultaneously hot and gentle.  Is that a recording engineer’s “fade” or simply everyone getting softer?  I don’t know, but it’s very sweet:

These aren’t flawless records. Some of them might have benefited from a second take.  But they are uplifting examples of the stars willing to come in and play two dates for what I imagine was scale.  All in a day’s work — and how glorious the results are.

May your happiness increase!

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DAN MORGENSTERN RECALLS FIFTY-SECOND STREET, SIDNEY BECHET, DICK WELLSTOOD, KENNY DAVERN, ALONZO LEVISTER, KANSAS FIELDS, and MORE (April 21, 2017)

Here is another unique interlude generously offered to us by Dan Morgenstern. I’ve posted earlier segments here and here — with immense pleasure.

In pursuit of the fine surprising stories that have delighted us so, I’d asked Dan to recall his experiences on Fifty-Second Street, slightly after that street’s legendary height . . . and here’s what he recalled, with portraits of Sidney Bechet, Alonzo Levister, Kenny Davern, and Dick Wellstood among others.

I will have the mental-emotional image of a set-long Bechet / Dickenson blues forever.  And since Dan was close to both Kenny and Dick, here’s a wonderful performance, little-known, recorded by the very gracious Joe Shepherd at the Manassas Jazz Festival on December 1, 1978. I WANT TO BE HAPPY, with Billy Butterfield, Kenny Davern, Spiegel Willcox, Spencer Clark, Dick Wellstood, Marty Grosz, Van Perry, Tony Di Nicola.

The video quality is a little fuzzy, but the music is memorable and more.  And thank you, Dan, for insights and generosities.

May your happiness increase!

“I THOUGHT I HEARD”: November 1945

No blues lyrics that I know begin with “The mail carrier came today, and (s)he brought me good news,” but it happens to be the case.  Evidence herewith:

Once again, prowling eBay about ten days ago, I saw ten issues of Art Hodes’ THE JAZZ RECORD — a short-lived and wonderful magazine on sale — and I took money out of the  grandchildren’s retirement fund and splurged.  The issues were the prized possession of someone whose name I can’t quite read, and their original owner not only read them avidly, but had a cigarette in his hand . . . typical of the times.

I will in future offer selections — a concert review, or a letter to the editor complaining about varying prices for King Oliver Gennetts — but this is what caught my eye immediately, and the neighbors called to complain that my whimpering was upsetting the dogs in this apartment building.  You will understand why.

On the inside front cover, there is a print column titled I Thought I Heard . . . Buddy Bolden wasn’t audible in 1945, but his heirs and friends were certainly active in New York City.

Stuyvesant Casino, 2nd Ave. at 9th St. — Bunk Johnson’s New Orleans Band

Nick’s, 7th Ave. and 10th St. — Miff Mole and orchestra with [Bujie] Centobie, [Muggsy] Spanier, [Gene] Schroeder, George Hartman, bass, Joe Grauso.

Down Beat, 52nd St. — Art Tatum.

Onyx, 52nd St. — Roy Eldridge.

Three Deuces, 52nd St. — Slam Stewart, Erroll Garner, Hal West. 

Ryan’s, 52nd St. — Sol Yaged, clarinet; Danny Alvin, drums; Hank Duncan, piano.

Cafe Society Downtown, Sheridan Sq. — Benny Morton band, Cliff Jackson, piano.

Cafe Society Uptown, 58th St. — Ed Hall and band.

Spotlight, 52nd St. — Ben Webster.

Yes, Sol Yaged is still with us — the only survivor of those glorious days.

To keep the mellow mood going, here is twenty-nine minutes of Art Hodes and friends from those years.  Spot the typo, win a prize:

May your happiness increase!

STREAMLINED, GENEROUS SWING: “7:33 TO BAYONNE”: JÉRÔME ETCHEBERRY, MICHEL PASTRE, LOUIS MAZETIER

Louis Mazetier, Jerome Etcheberry, Michel Pastre. Photograph by Philippe Marchin

Yes, a delightful new CD by players many of you might not be terribly familiar with — but JAZZ LIVES hopes to change this.  Without another word from me, visit here where you can (on the right-hand side) hear excerpts from three performances.  

This CD is the work of three splendid instrumentalists — Jérôme Etcheberry (of the Swingberries and other groups), trumpet; Michel Pastre, tenor saxophone; Louis Mazetier, piano.  And there’s no need to ask yourself, “Where’s the rest of the band?” because you won’t miss them, not even for four bars.

It’s clear that this is music with a pulse, a warm swinging heartbeat.  I envision the trio as if they were happily walking down Fifty-Second Street.  That isn’t to suggest that this is a repertory disc, although most of the repertoire would have been applauded in 1944, but that these three players have a deep commitment to Swing: in their medium tempos, in their infallible rhythms, and their lovely balance between solo and ensemble.  All three of them are hot players who find joy in ballads, who love to rock, who create backgrounds and riffs, so that the trio never seems like three voices lonely in the aesthetic wilderness.

They balance ease and intensity in the best ways, so that the session is as if Lips Page, Ben Webster, and Johnny Guarnieri found themselves in a congenial place with a good piano and decided to have some fun.  Both Etcheberry and Pastre are old-fashioned players, lyrical and hot at the same time, who aren’t copying but making their own ways through the material: maybe they aren’t Lips and Ben . . . perhaps Shorty or Cootie, Ike Quebec or Chu.  You get the idea. Mazetier graciously and unflaggingly is a whole rhythm section in himself, offering orchestral piano in the Waller manner — but we also hear touches of Wilson and Tatum.  For me, it’s as if my beloved Keynote / Savoy / Blue Note 78s had come to life in this century — and continued to amaze and please right now without a hint of conscious recreation.

The song list will give you a clear idea of what inspires this trio: the original for which the CD is titled, 7:33 TO BAYONNE, and DON’T BE AFRAID, BABY (by Etcheberry and Pastre respectively), ESQUIRE BOUNCE (associated with Hawkins and the Esquire All-Stars), YOU CAN’T LOSE A BROKEN HEART (echoes of Louis, Billie, and James P.), TIME ON MY HANDS, VICTORY STRIDE (think Ellington, James P., and the Blue Note Jazzmen), FOOLIN’ MYSELF (for Lester and Billie), SQUATTY ROO (for Hodges and Co.), SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA, I’VE GOT THE WORLD ON A STRING, a ballad medley of SEPTEMBER SONG, MY ONE AND ONLY LOVE, and COCKTAILS FOR TWO, a romping IF DREAMS COME TRUE (again, echoes of James P., the Webb band, Buck, Ben, and Teddy), and Mazetier’s LA LIGNE CLAIRE.

Before I remind you where and how you can buy this CD, which I encourage you to do, because it is good for the soul as well as the ears, I will say that musicians wisely don’t ask me how to title the new CD.  I say “wisely,” because not only do I have opinions, but I am often eager to share them.  But if the trio had asked, I would have said in a flash, “Call this one THREE GROOVY BROTHERS.” “Groovy” makes sense to anyone who’s heard the excerpts.  “Brothers” might not: their last names are dissimilar . . . but what I kept hearing all through the disc is a wonderful comradely embrace in swing.  No one wants to show off, to play more, to play louder, to do fancy stuff.  It’s all a kind collective endeavor, with each player trying gently to make sure the music sounds as fine as it can. Which it does.

You can buy the disc here — and for the monolingual, the form is easy to follow, and the little credit-card rectangles are, for better or worse, a common language.

May your happiness increase!

SATURDAY NIGHT FUN: DAWN LAMBETH, DAVE STUCKEY’S HOT HOUSE GANG, and DANCERS at SAN DIEGO (Nov. 26, 2016)

DAWN headshot

Dawn Lambeth sings; this band rocks. That’s all you need to know. Dave Stuckey, leader, guitar; Dan Barrett, Corey Gemme, brass (swapping cornet and trombone at will); Nate Ketner, reeds; Carl Sonny Leyland, piano; Katie Cavera, string bass; Gareth Price, drums. Recorded at the Saturday-night dance party at the San Diego Jazz Fest, November 26, 2016.

DAVE STUCKEY photos

Well, maybe a little explanation would do no harm.  Dave’s band is a wonderful combination of Fats Waller and his Rhythm (with sly twists) and any number of fabled Fifty-Second Street small groups.  But not only do they swing, but Dave writes and sings hilariously inventive originals. I’d known of Dave and the Hot House Gang because of their first CD, which I applauded here.

When I met him at San Diego, I immediately perceived him to be genuine, not someone wearing a mask for audiences.  Although he and his band had only one set on Saturday night, and it was to be a battle of the bands for dancers (not conducive to my video questing) I showed up anyway, and was rewarded with this riotous performance (audibly and visually) of SHIM-ME-SHA-WABBLE . . . and then this collection of Dave’s originals and jazz classics.

I met Dawn in the last century, first through the medium of her CDs, and then in person, on both coasts. I was impressed right away by her swing, the gentle timbres of her voice, the subtle way she glides in and out of notes and phrases, her approach always natural.  But usually I heard her in quiet, intimate settings (duos and trios) so when she stood in front of a larger band — such as Clint Baker’s — it was a pleasant shock.  And friends have told me that she is a superb big-band singer, utterly at home in front of four brass, three reeds, and a rhythm section.  I have yet to see this for myself, but look forward to it.  I got a taste of what it might be like when Dawn sang so beautifully with the Hot House Gang.

And these three videos — through no conscious design of mine — resemble Reginald Marsh paintings in motion, no small benefit.

The Forties hit for Ella Mae Morse — cowboy plus Harlem hip — COW COW BOOGIE:

Two for Billie, inspired by but not imitating her.  WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO:

And a pensive THESE FOOLISH THINGS, at a tempo to suit the dancers:

Hail, Dawn!  Hail, Dave!  Hail, dancers!  Thank you, San Diego Jazz Fest, for making this magic happen.

May your happiness increase!

FROLICSOME, THEN TOUCHING: MENNO DAAMS AND FRIENDS HONOR HOAGY CARMICHAEL (RICHARD EXALL, DAVID BOEDDINGHAUS, MARTIN WHEATLEY, GRAHAM HUGHES, JOSH DUFFEE) at the MIKE DURHAM CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY, November 6, 2016

menno-daams

Menno Daams is one of the great trumpet players (arrangers, composers, bandleaders) of our era, but, better yet, he is a sensitive imaginer, someone who understands intuitively how to make even the most familiar standards glisten.

He does it here in his brief but very fulfilling tribute to Hoagy Carmichael at the 2016 Mike Durham Classic Jazz Party, with the help of five kindred spirits who get the feeling and never lose it: Josh Duffee, drums; Graham Hughes, string bass; Martin Wheatley, guitar; Richard Exall, tenor saxophone; David Boeddinghaus, piano.  (And — consciously or unconsciously, perhaps because one thinks of Louis and Hoagy in the same moment — there are two lovely delicate slow-motion homages to Louis as well.  You’ll hear them.)

For RIVERBOAT SHUFFLE, rather than go all the way back to Bix — with the Wolverines or with Trumbauer — Menno and band take what I would call a 1936 Fifty-Second Street approach to this song, with echoes of Berigan or Hackett, Forrest Crawford or Joe Marsala, Teddy Wilson or Joe Sullivan, Carmen Mastren, Sid Weiss, and Stan King — light-hearted yet potent):

A thoughtful, gentle exploration of LAZY RIVER:

Then, something gossamer yet imperishable, a medley of SKYLARK / STAR DUST that begins as a cornet-guitar duet, and then becomes a trio. But allow yourself to muse over David’s incredibly deep solo exposition:

And because we need a change from those subtle telling emotions, Menno offers an audio-visual comedy, then THANKSGIVING, featuring a rocking and rocketing solo by Josh.  Appropriate, because I was thankful then and continue to be now:

Menno’s website is here; his Facebook page here.

Speaking of thanks, I owe some to the generous and expert Cine Devine, Rescuer Par Excellence and creator of fine jazz videos.

May your happiness increase!

“REJECTED TAKES,” DECEMBER 17, 1937

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Teddy Wilson, 1937, New York, LIFE magazine

Most jazz aficionados, if asked what pianist / bandleader Teddy Wilson was doing in the recording studio in 1937, would reply that he was a member of the Benny Goodman Trio and Quartet — recording for Victor — and creating brilliant small-group sessions with Billie Holiday for Brunswick.  Some might check the discography and report that Teddy had also recorded, under John Hammond’s direction, with singers Helen Ward, Boots Castle, and Frances Hunt.

But few people know about one session, recorded on December 17, 1937, with an unusually rewarding personnel: Teddy; Hot Lips Page; Chu Berry; Pee Wee Russell; possibly Al Hall; Allan Reuss; Johnny Blowers.  The singer is the little-known Sally Gooding.  (All of this material has been released on Mosaic Records’ Chu Berry box set, and two sides appeared on a Columbia/Sony compilation devoted to Lips Page, JUMP FOR JOY, with nice notes by Dan Morgenstern.  My source is the French Masters of Jazz label, two Wilson CDs in their wonderful yet out-of-print series.)

Teddy Wilson And His Orchestra : Hot Lips Page (trumpet); Pee Wee Russell (clarinet); Chu Berry (tenor sax); Teddy Wilson (piano); Allen Reuss (guitar); possibly Al Hall (string bass); Johnny Blowers (drums); Sally Gooding (vocal on the first three sides only)
New York, December 17, 1937
B22192-2 MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU
B22193-1 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22193-2 WITH A SMILE AND A SONG
B22194-2 WHEN YOU’RE SMILING
B22195-2 I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME

All of the instrumentalists on this session are well-known.  One can imagine Hammond selecting Chu from the Calloway band, Pee Wee and Blowers from Nick’s, Reuss from Goodman.  Lips and Al Hall were presumably free-lancing, although Lips may have been on the way to his own big band.

Sally Gooding is now obscure, although she was famous for a few years, making records with the Three Peppers and appearing at the 1939 World’s Fair. Here, thanks to www.vocalgroupharmony.com, you can see and hear more of Sally.  And this 1933 Vitaphone short allows us to see her with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band:

with-a-smile-and-a-song

WITH A SMILE AND A SONG (by Frank Churchill and Larry Morey) comes from SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, which had not even been released in theatres when this session was made:

with a smile and a song two

The singer whose voice you hear is Adriana Caselotti.  Nearly sixty years later, our own Rebecca Kilgore recorded the finest version of this song for an Arbors Records session led by Dan Barrett:

MOON SONG Becky Barrett

The obvious question for some readers is “Where’s Billie?” Although Miss Holiday recorded several sessions with Wilson in 1937, I presume she was on the road with Count Basie — which also explains the absence of Lester, Buck, Walter Page, Freddie Green, and Jo Jones.  Hammond and Billie didn’t always get along, and he was trying out other singers when he could.  Someone else has hypothesized that Billie would have been opposed to recording a song associated with SNOW WHITE, but this seems less plausible.  When she and Wilson reunited in the recording studio in 1938, they did IMPRESSION, SMILING, and BELIEVE, which may add credence to the theory.

Here are “the rejected takes” — each one mislabeled on YouTube:

MY FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU (from another 1937 film, HAVING A WONDERFUL TIME, also known as HAVING WONDERFUL TIME, with Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Ginger Rogers — and Lucille Ball, Eve Arden, and Red Skelton, early on):

This version — for those who know Billie’s — is taken at a jaunty tempo, which makes the melodic contours seem to bounce.

All I can say is that both Chu and Lips Page leap in — not at high volume or extremely quickly — with swing and conviction.  (I love Lips’ flourish at the end of the bridge.)  Sally Gooding’s singing is not easy to love for those who know Billie’s version by heart, but she is — in a tart Jerry Kruger mode — doing well, with quiet distractions from Pee Wee and the bassist.  Wilson is energized and surprising, as is Pee Wee, and there is a moment of uncertainty when one might imagine Chu and Lips wondering whether they should join in, as they do, yet the record ends with a solid ensemble and a tag.

The first take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG:

I love Chu’s introduction, and Teddy sounds typically luminous as the horns — almost inaudibly — hum harmonies behind him.  (When was the last time you heard a front line play so beautifully behind a piano solo?)  Then, Pee Wee at his most identifiable, lyrically sticking close to the bridge but with two of his familiar turns of phrase leading into a Lips Page interlude — sweetly restrained, as if modeling himself after Buck Clayton.  Sally Gooding, who may have seen the sheet music for the first time only a few minutes ago, sounds slightly off-pitch and seems to sing, “With a life and a song,” rather than the title.  But she gains confidence as she continues, and her bridge is positively impassioned (although her reading of the song is less optimistic than the lyrics).  No one should have to sing in front of a very on-form Pee Wee, whose obbligati are delightfully distracting.  When the band comes back for the closing sixteen bars, they are in third gear, ready to make the most of the seconds allotted them, although it is far from a triumphant ride-out (think of the closing seconds of WHAT A LITTLE MOONLIGHT CAN DO, in contrast). The rhythm section is quite restrained, but the bassist, Al Hall or not, adds a great deal.

The second take of WITH A SMILE AND A SONG has, alas, eluded me on YouTube (thus I cannot post it here).  It is similar in its outline to the first take, although everyone seems more comfortable with the song.  I wonder if Gooding had had real trouble avoiding her singing “life” on the first take, so each time she sings — correctly — “smile” on this version, there is the slightest hesitation, as if she wanted to make sure she wouldn’t make the mistake again.  You’ll have to imagine it.

WHEN YOU’RE SMILING:

The conception of how one could play this simple tune had changed since Louis’ majestic 1929 performance, and with four star soloists wanting to have some space within a 78 rpm record, the tempo is much quicker and the band much looser (hear Lips growl early on).  The ambiance is of a well-behaved Commodore session or three minutes on Fifty-Second Street, the three horns tumbling good-naturedly over one another.  In fact, the first chorus of this record — lasting forty-five seconds — would stand quite happily as the heated rideout chorus of another performance.   Behind Wilson, the rhythm section is enthusiastically supporting him, Blowers’ brushes and Hall’s bass fervent. When Chu enters, rolling along, he has a simple riff from the other two horns as enthusiastic assent and congregational agreement; his full chorus balances a behind-the-beat relaxation characteristic of Thirties Louis as well as his characteristic bubbling phrases.  Behind Pee Wee, the guitar is happily more prominent (did someone think of the lovely support Eddie Condon gave?) and Lips’ phrases at the end are — without overstatement — priceless.

I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT YOU’RE IN LOVE WITH ME:

Like SMILING, this 1930 song was already a classic. Wilson is sublimely confident, chiming and ascending, followed by a tender, perhaps tentative Lips (had Hammond asked him to play softly to emulate Buck?): the eight bar interludes by Chu and Lips that follow are small masterpieces of ornamented melody.  Wilson’s half-chorus has the rhythm section fully audible and propulsive beneath him.  Pee Wee, who had been inaudible to this point, emerges as sage, storyteller, and character actor, transforming the expected contours of the bridge into his own song, with hints of the opening phrase of GOOFUS, then Wilson returns.  (What a pity Milt Gabler didn’t record those two with bass and drums for Commodore.) Chu glides on, his rhythmic motion irresistible, then the guitarist (audibly and plausibly Reuss) takes a densely beautiful bridge before the too-short — twelve seconds? — rideout, where Blowers can be heard, guiding everyone home.

“Rejected” might mean a number of things when applied to these records.  Did Sally Gooding’s vocal error at the start of SONG convince Hammond or someone at  Brunswick (Bernie Hanighen?) that the session was not a success? Was Hammond so entranced by the combination of Billie and the Basie-ites that these records sounded drab by comparison?  Were there technical problems? I can’t say, and the participants have been gone for decades.  The single copies of these recordings are all that remain.  I am thankful they exist.  This band and this singer are musical blessings, music to be cherished, not discarded.

May your happiness increase!