Tag Archives: Leo Watson

SO SAVORY, SO SWEET — VOLUME FOUR!

A Savory Disc

It’s not only Stupendous but Colossal.  And it’s Embraceable, too.

The fourth volume of music from Bill Savory’s discs is available to be ordered, and it features Bobby Hackett, Teddy Wilson, Joe Marsala, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Glenn Miller, and others.

That’s Bobby Hackett — detail from what I believe is a Charles Peterson photograph.

Since some people, even musicians, didn’t know who Bill Savory was and what riches he had for us, I wrote this in 2016 — which I hope is both introduction and inducement to purchase.  And I have no particular shame in “shilling” for Apple when music of this rarity and caliber is involved.

Here is the link which has all the delicious information — and, I believe, how to pre-order (or order) the package, which costs less than two elaborate Starbucks concoctions or one CD.  And here are comments by Loren Schoenberg, producer of this volume and founding director of the Jazz Museum in Harlem:

“Just like an old wine, they improve with age! So much of the music of the Era was played in the musical equivalent of capital letters. These performances are such a joy to hear from bands that played with the lower-case letters too, so relaxed and flowing.”

As the title emphasizes, the outstanding cornetist Bobby Hackett is prominently featured – on three tracks with his own ensembles and four as a participant in joyous jams led by the fine clarinetist Joe Marsala. Admired by trumpet giants from Louis Armstrong to Miles Davis, Bobby was already leading his own ensembles by the time of the recordings that open this album after gaining notoriety through his performance with Benny Goodman in his legendary 1938 Carnegie Hall concert.

Here he joins Marsala for a quartet of rollicking, extended pieces filled with dynamic ensemble work and inspired solos on California, Here I Come and The Sheik of Araby, as well as blues classics Jazz Me Blues and When Did You Leave Heaven.

A Hackett ensemble’s participation on a 1938 Paul Whiteman radio broadcast bring us the beautiful Gershwin ballad Embraceable You and a stomping take on Kid Ory’s Muskrat Ramble, with Bobby joined by the brilliant Pee Wee Russell on clarinet and legendary guitarist Eddie Condon.

A major find are three extremely rare recordings by the immortal pianist Teddy Wilson’s 13-piece orchestra, virtually unrecorded in live performances. Recently discovered and to this point the only excellent high audio quality (superb, at that) recordings of this group, these 1939 items feature such masters as tenorman Ben Webster and trumpeters Doc Cheatham and Shorty Baker. With Wilson’s majestic virtuosity front and center, the band is structured for smooth transitions and elegant voicings, employing the rare – for its time – two trumpet/two trombone brass section creating a uniquely singing dynamic that is as graceful as its leader’s singular artistry and presence.

Martin Block, famed for hosting terrific jam sessions (including those Joe Marsala excursions) also hosted the two loosely structured, but highly energetic 1939 jams here, led by the spectacular trombone titan Jack Teagarden and featuring Charlie Shavers on trumpet and the drummer and wildman scat-singer Leo Watson. Johnny Mercer also makes an unusual appearance alongside Teagarden and Watson for a highly spirited vocal trio on Jeepers Creepers.

This delightful album closes with three pieces by one of the most popular of the Swing-era big bands, the Glenn Miller Orchestra – all featuring the leader’s right-hand man, Tex Beneke on tenor sax and vocals. The exuberant sense of swing and joy that made the Miller orchestra so wildly popular is fully apparent throughout.

As I would say to the puppy, when playing on the rug and encouraging puppy-play, GET IT!  Even if you’re not a puppy or a dog-owner, these Savory collections have brought great pleasure. I’ve ordered mine.

May your happiness increase!

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SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE IN WHISPERS: “BON BON,” JOE THOMAS, EDDIE DURHAM, and BUSTER SMITH, 1941

Sometimes great art flourishes in corners where it is not at all expected even to survive.

George “Bon Bon” Tunnell (1912-1975) was an engaging singer — yet not well-remembered.  He was first a member of The Three Keys, and from 1937-42, he was the first African-American male singer to appear with a Caucasian band: Jan Savitt and his Top Hatters.  Incidentally, he was heavily featured with the band — and — one of the trombonists there was Cutty Cutshall (1939-40) something that would interest Condon scholars like myself.

The two sides below come from Bon Bon’s early solo career — four sides from this date, two the next year (where Decca seems to have wanted him to be an African-American Bing, or at least a Chick Bullock or Dick Robertson) and then some solo features with Steve Gibson’s Red Caps.  But with no disrespect to Bon Bon’s very nice singing, the two sides offer a rare combination — two musicians who, at this point in the Swing Era, did not receive all the opportunities to record their talents warranted.

They are guitarist / trombonist / arranger Eddie Durham, whose guitar sound is instantly recognizable — swinging but with sharp corners — and trumpeter Joe Thomas, also instantly recognizable and inimitable.  The second song, I DON’T WANT TO SET THE WORLD ON FIRE, is also Durham’s — although there are three other names on the label.  And, on clarinet, the”Prof” of deep Kansas City jazz, Buster Smith.   New York City, July 23, 1941: Tunnell, Joe Thomas, Eddie Durham, Buster Smith, Jackie Fields, alto saxophone; Jimmy Phipps, piano; Al Hall, string bass; Jack Parker, drums.  The other two sides — which you’d have to track down on your own (they are on the THREE KEYS CD on the Chronological Classics label) are BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, and Fats Waller’s ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES.

SWEET MAMA  (from 1920, I believe, and recorded by the ODJB) has lyrics that suggest domestic abuse and a real need for anger management, but the band is splendid.  But first we hear Durham’s spiky arpeggios, a very dark and threatening orchestral passage featuring growl from Thomas (not his usual approach) and leafy clarinet from Smith — a passage reminiscent of Durham’s approach to GOOD MORNING BLUES for Basie.  I find Bon Bon hilariously sweetly unconvincing in his gentle singing: this man couldn’t do damage to a sandwich, but we will let that pass.  (When he returns for his second vocal, he wants to convince us: “Papa’s really gone mad,” but his heart isn’t in it.  Too kind to make anyone cower.)

The half-chorus Thomas solo that follows is quietly magnificent: even through his mute, the steady glow of his tone comes through, as does his fondness for repeated notes, his love of 1927 Louis; his stately glide.  Where other trumpeters shout, Thomas caresses, and his solo winds down rather than moving out of the middle register.  It is equally affecting for what he doesn’t care to do — remember, 1941 was the age of great brass virtuosity — as for what he does. Thomas whispers sweet epigrams to us, and their impact is only felt on the third or fourth hearing.  I’d also call your attention to the strong but not overdone rhythm that Hall and Durham offer, as well as Smith’s sweet commentaries.  Bon Bon returns to assure us of his menace, but no one would be all that scared of “the fine undertaker,” which seems like a Waller touch.

The more famous song, justly, begins with an orchestral introduction that borrows quietly from THE MOOCHE, and we then move to a love song — where Bon Bon sounds more comfortable.  Durham’s arpeggios threaten to take our attention away: he’s not aiming to copy Charlie Christian’s smoothness, but he makes a deep impression.  Eddie is much more prominent here — it was his song and I wonder if he’d brought a small-band chart to the session. Then, less than half a minute of Thomas, but his sound, even muted, is like sunshine coming through the windows in late afternoon.  His gentle intensity; his love of the melody — and that upwards arpeggio in the middle is purest Joe (and purest Louis, if you need to find an ancestor) — quite touching.  When the band and Bon Bon return, the blending is completely polished and fetching.

(Joe gets three more extroverted outings on BLOW, GABRIEL, BLOW, which he executes nicely, and Bon Bon scats in the best almost-Leo-Watson manner.  ALL THAT MEAT AND NO POTATOES bounces along pleasantly, but once again Bon Bon must pretend to menace — “I’m fit to fight” — which is sweetly unconvincing.  Durham is delightfully in evidence and the other horns show their individual voices — but the two sides here are, to me, the standouts. Tunnell’s final side for Decca, before the recording ban, SLEEPY OLD TOWN, could pass for Bing, and it is delightful — with Russ Solomon doing a commendable Bobby Hackett.  But it’s no longer on YouTube.)

And just because it exists on eBay, a little more Bon Bon memorabilia — a signed contract, with amendments.

and the reverse:

I haven’t analyzed the contract.  Perhaps Laura Windley, our swing star and lawyer, might have something to say about it.  Until then, I will cherish those two Decca sides, full of instrumental surprises and engaging singing.

May your happiness increase!

“AND UNCLE TOM COBLEY (or COBLEIGH) AND ALL”

I just received this now out-of-print “Chronogical” Classics disc.

With all respect to Feather, journalist-publicist, promoter, pianist, composer, arranger of record sessions, I bought this rare item for the company he kept:

From left: Robert Goffin, Benny Carter, Louis, Feather, 1942

For me, the appeal of this now-rare disc in in sessions featuring Bobby Hackett, Leo Watson, Pete Brown, Joe Marsala, Joe Bushkin, George Wettling, Ray Biondi, Benny Carter, Billy Kyle, Hayes Alvis, Artie Shapiro, Cozy Cole, Buck Clayton, Coleman Hawkins, Oscar Pettiford, Remo Palmieri, Tiny Grimes, Jack Lesberg, Morey Feld, and two sessions featuring swinging British players.  I knew far less about trumpeter / singer Dave Wilkins, reedmen Andy McDevitt and Bertie King, pianist Will Solomon, guitarist Alan Ferguson, string bassist Len Harrison, or drummer Hymie Schneider.

These musicians (with Feather on the final two selections) were presented as LEONARD FEATHER AND YE OLDE ENGLISH SWYNGE BAND, and they recorded for Decca in London on September 12, 1938.

Here’s the personnel for the disc:

Listening in sequence, I discovered this side, which is now an instant favorite:

I hadn’t known this traditional English folksong, obviously updated, but the parade of names is very funny and definitely 1938 hip. I’m sorry the take is so short, because the band has a good time with the simplest material. A similar band had backed Fats Waller on recordings in April.  Was the idea of jamming on traditional folk material was modeled on Maxine Sullivan’s 1937 hits LOCH LOMOND and ANNIE LAURIE, perhaps on Ella Logan’s performances of folk songs swung, or a way for a recording company to avoid paying composer royalties.  Or both.

I searched for more information about WIDDICOMBE FAIR and found this wonderful animated film, hilarious and deft both:

Here are the complete lyrics — an oral narrative too long to reprint here, the moral being caution about lending important objects / animals / possessions. But a secondary moral is that anything can swing, in the right hands.

May your happiness increase!

EXPANSIVE, EXUBERANT: “THE VERY NEXT THING,” THE HOT JAZZ JUMPERS

Let me begin with a public service announcement.  If you prefer your jazz safe, timid, predictable; if you like it to be categorizable, neatly cut into half-inch dice, please read no farther.  The CD/DVD package I am about to announce and praise, THE  VERY NEXT THING,  is anything but formulaic.  It is, as leader Nick Russo says in the video below, an “eclectic mix of music.”

HJJ cover larger

The beautiful art is by Roy Kinzer.

Here’s some footage of the band — and a few pointed words from some of the musicians:

and here’s another view of Nick — with great insights from the musicians:

Now, I first met Nick a number of years ago as a member of Gordon Au’s Grand Street Stompers, Emily Asher’s Garden Party, and other groups.  I knew, when I came in the door and saw Nick that there were going to be engaging — sometimes surprising — melodies created, that the rhythm would be bountiful and imaginative.  I could relax and anticipate great things.  But I’d never heard Nick’s Hot Jazz Jumpers until now, when they are celebrating the pre-release of their new CD/DVD, and they make fine unfettered spacious music.

Most compact discs by one musical organization that come my way — and this is not surprising — offer similar musical experiences all the way through, sometimes seventy-five minutes’ worth.  And for many listeners, this is consoling, rather like buying a chunk of Manchego at the cheese counter. But the HJJ (if I may be so informal) are too large, energetic, and unruly to be confined to one stylistic box.  So the new disc — with seventeen performances — offers the beautifully idiomatic “traditional jazz” of WHEN THE RED, RED ROBIN COMES BOB, BOB, BOBBIN’ ALONG featuring trusted New York swing stars Gordon Au and Dennis Lichtman among others . . . three tracks later, one hears a free improvisation for Nick, guitar, and Miles Griffith, voice.  The range of repertoire is delightful broad, brave, and the results are compelling: CARAVAN, YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, NOBODY BUT MY BABY IS GETTING MY LOVE (when was the last time you heard that Clarence Williams song performed?), IN A MELLOTONE, SWEET GEORGIA BROWN, MANHA DE CARNAVAL, AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’, I’VE GOT MY MOJO WORKING, and THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE.  Then there are originals and less familiar numbers: two versions of the New Orleans JOCK-A-MO, the bluegrass FREIGHT TRAIN, JAM FOR LENNY, DIRTY40.

Listening to the CD, I was delighted by its expansive conceptions: the Hot Jazz Jumpers offered what their name promised, but I also heard more contemporary New Orleans music, echoes of Motown, of classic rhythm ‘n’ blues,  and less familiar forms that I learned were Gullah Geechee rhythms, North Indian classical music, and world music.  I heard subtle and bold percussion and rhythms, and two powerful voices: Bettina Hershey’s, vibrant, folk-inflected, eloquent, and the quite remarkable Miles Griffith, who — singing or scatting — roams freely in his own universe, whose monarchs are Leo Watson and Leon Thomas.

On the CD, you’ll hear Nick, guitar, tenor banjo, resonator, baritone resonator; Bettina Hershey, voice, guitar; Miles Griffith, voice / scats; David Pleasant, drums, harmonica, voice; Essiet Essiet, bass; Mamadou Ba, bass; Gordon Au. trumpet; Josh Holcomb, trombone; Dennis Lichtman, clarinet; Mike Russo, guitar.  The accompanying DVD has Eleven more songs, including video presentations of CARAVAN (with a delightful impromptu beginning), INDIANA, NOBODY BUT MY BABY, RED RED ROBIN, FIVE FOOT TWO, and some other surprises.

Now, I hope I’ve enticed the bold and tantalized the lively.  The best way to experience Nick Russo’s music is in person, although the two videos give strong evidence.

On Friday, July 24, 2015, you can hear and see the Nick Russo Trio featuring: Nick Russo, guitar/banjo;  Nathan Peck, string bass; Harvey Wirht, drums; with special guests Miles Griffith & Betina Hershey — at Bar Next Door (http://lalanternacaffe.com/) 129 MacDougal St, New York, NY 10012 (212) 529-5945 — three sets, at 7:30, 9:30, and 11:30.  Here is the Facebook event page.

On Saturday, July 25, 2015, Hot Jazz Jumpers New York City CD/DVD Release at WhyNot Jazz Room, 14 Christopher St. @ Gay St. NYC.  Tickets – $12
Doors 10:30pm // Showtime 11pm: Miles Griffith, voice/scats; Betina Hershey, voice/guitar;  Nick Russo, guitar/banjo/voice; David Pleasant, drums/harmonica/voice. Here is the Facebook event page for the 25th.

HOT JAZZ JUMPERS

Photo by Lynn Redmille

At these gigs, the CD/DVD will be available for sale — but the official national release of it is not until later in the year, so you will be well ahead of the pack. (Eventually, it will be available on CDBaby and iTunes, but right now you can have the delightful experience of purchasing it from the musicians who made it.)

Want to know more?  Here is the band’s website.  Nick is so versatile that he has two Facebook pages: here and here.

And for those who might be visiting Massachusetts in August, the HJJ have a mini-concert tour there in Woods Hole, August 3  – 5:  DVD/CD pre-release concerts at Quicks Hole Tavern in Woods Hole, 29 Railroad Ave, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Each concert goes from 9-11:30.  Details here.  At any of these concerts or gigs, I know you will hear honest, lively, stirring music. And purchasing the CD/DVD will enable you to take the Hot Jazz Jumpers home with you as well.  They’ve assured me they won’t mind.

May your happiness increase!

“FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO” (1928)

I’d never heard of John Forrest “Fuzzy” Knight (1901-1976), perhaps because I’d rarely watched Westerns, in theatres or on television. (He had a long career playing the hero’s friend.)

But when Jeff Hamilton nudged me towards this short film on YouTube, from 1928, I was immediately captivated by Fuzzy (so nicknamed because of his soft voice). He is s delightfully absurdist comedian, someone who swings from first to last, whose scat singing is hilariously unfettered (I think of both Harry Barris and Leo Watson) . . . and whose habit of singing into the piano is making me laugh as I write these words.

I can’t suggest even a hint of FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO by writing about it. You’d better try it for yourselves:

If you are wondering, “Ordinarily I comprehend Michael’s taste, or some of it.  Why is FUZZY KNIGHT AND HIS LITTLE PIANO appearing on JAZZ LIVES?  Are we going to be told that the Dorsey Brothers are hidden in the backing orchestra?”

Maybe they are, but that’s not the point.

This short subject is evidence to me of the cross-fertilization of hot music with more sedate forms of art by 1928. Whether Fuzzy was influenced by scat choruses on hot recordings — the Rhythm Boys or Louis Armstrong — I can’t say.  (But in your mind, put Fuzzy near to Eddie Condon in the 1929 Red Nichols short, and you’ll see the resemblance — not influence, but something more tenuous.)

He seems to be operating on his own energetic impulses, while pretending to be a full band when the mood strikes, and his unaccompanied interludes swing as well as any hot soloist.

To me, the film also says that the people who divide music into “art” (serious) and “showmanship” (low and banal) might be in error. Fuzzy Knight didn’t make Fats Waller possible, but some of the same riotous feeling is there, however transmuted.

Ultimately, the film delights me. May it please you, too.

I find it sad that John Forrest Knight is buried in an unmarked grave. But no one this lively and memorably himself as Fuzzy Knight, with or without his Little Piano, is ever dead.

May your happiness increase!

MARK CANTOR’S CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS (JAZZ ON FILM)

celluloidimprovisations

The renowned (diligent but never stuffy) scholar of jazz on film, Mark Cantor, is also a generous fellow, and he has launched a new website.

There, you can see and hear Fats Waller, Joe Marsala and Adele Girard, Louis Armstrong, Mary Lou Williams, the Washboard Serenaders, Andy Secrest, Benny Carter, Connee Boswell, Red Nichols, Lionel Hampton, Harry James, Dave Brubeck, Punch Miller, Lady Will Carr, Ethel Merman and Johnny Green, the Max Fleischer team of surrealists, Leo Watson, Teddy Bunn, Ray Eberle, Sidney Bechet, Thelma White, Buck and Bubbles, Maude Mills, Gerry Mullingan, the MJQ, Jack Teagarden, Buddy Rich, Oscar Peterson, Bill Robinson, Louis Jordan, Joe Williams, as well as groups and musicians we might never have heard about — the daring Sandra among them — and a few mysteries: unidentified players just waiting for you to recognize them. (If you are interested in footage of “the girls in the band,” you will find some here as well.)

Some of these films and excerpts are familiar, but many are rare: offered here for your viewing in the best available prints with good sound and clear images.

May your happiness increase! 

MORE ABOUT THAT WONDERFUL PARTY ON FILM (1935): THANKS TO MARK CANTOR

Just yesterday, I stumbled into a delight (thanks to Franz Hoffmann and Tom Saunders) — a YouTube video offering musical selections from a 1935 Oscar Micheaux film: music by Clarence Williams, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Hank Duncan, Cecil Scott, Jimmy McLin, and Eunice Wilson.  Here is that posting, with a link to the film.

That is a kind of delicious time-warp experience in itself.  Soon after, my friend, the most eminent / diligent jazz film scholar I know, Mark Cantor, asked me if I’d like to know more — and I not only said YES! but asked if he would mind if I shared his work with you.  Generously, he agreed.  And here it is.

CELLULOID IMPROVISATIONS by MARK CANTOR

Lem Hawkins’ Confession featuring Clarence Williams and his Jazz Band

I. Introduction: Filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, Lem Hawkins’ Confession, and the Leo Frank Lynching

In Names & Numbers #61, within the general text of the Clarence Williams “Personnelography” (part 4), a pair of Oscar Micheaux feature films are cited as containing appearances by Clarence Williams. In point of fact, however, Williams is present in only one of these films, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (also known as Murder In Harlem). In light of the work that has been done with Williams’s recordings, personnels and solos, it makes sense to share what details are available regarding his sole film appearance. The second film noted in the article, Oscar Micheaux’s Swing, features the orchestra of Leon “Bossman” Gross, with Dolly Armina Jones added as a featured trumpet soloist. This film is a topic worthy of a detailed discussion in itself, although it should be noted here that Clarence Williams does not appears in the film: alto sax Leon Gross is the leader of the band, and the pianist is Arthur Briggs. To eliminate any further misunderstandings, it must be noted that the music track by Clarence Williams used in the SOUNDIE “Sweet Kisses,” which features dance performances by The Mitchell Brothers, Evelyn Keyes and other, with no band on screen, is not a unique recording for the producer, W.F.C. Productions, but rather one of Williams’s Lang-Worth broadcast transcriptions.

Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951) is often cited as the greatest of early African-American filmmakers. While this is certainly open to discussion — the films of Spencer Williams are often more coherent, and those of William Alexander better made in terms of production values — one cannot argue with the talent and tenacity that Micheaux displayed in getting some forty-plus features produced and distributed between 1921 and 1949. Micheaux saw musical entertainment as an important factor in his films, both because audiences had come to expect cabaret scenes in black cast features, but also because musical performances could extend the length of a feature with relatively little additional cost, or risk of mistakes by less experienced actors and actresses. Lem Hawkins’ Confession contains an extended fifteen minute cabaret sequence in which a great deal of music and dance is seen and heard as the plot continues to develop. The music of Clarence Williams’ band aside, which is discussed in detail below, Lem Hawkins’ Confession is one of Micheaux’s most ambitious projects.

Based on his original novel, The Forged Note (1915), the story was first filmed by Micheaux in 1921 as The Gunsaulus Mystery. On-screen credits also note the story The Stanfield Murder Case as an addition source of the film’s plot. Both the novel, story and film were based, in turn, on the notorious Leo Frank case, in which a Jewish factory superintendent in Atlanta, Georgia, was convicted of the murder of 13 year old factory worker Mary Phagan. Leo Frank’s sentence was commuted to life in prison due to what the governor saw as a miscarriage of justice. In August 1915 Frank was kidnapped from prison and lynched by a mob of prominent Atlanta civic leaders. Later evidence suggests that the factory janitor, Jim Conley, actually committed the murder, although that has never been proved. What is known is that a mob, including a former governor of the state, two mayors (one of whom was still in office), three law enforcement officers and a number of other prominent citizens lynched Leo Frank on August 5, 1915. While this became the foundation of the story filmed in 1935 as Lem Hawkins’ Confession, Micheaux altered the story considerably, to the point of eliminating the lynching, in his screen adaptation.

As is sometimes the case with Micheaux films, the narrative is somewhat convoluted and often unclear, made even muddier by the constant use of flashbacks. It is important to note that the film is not a strict retelling of the Leo Frank case — the historical case is used as a very loose “frame” — and that Micheaux added a number of secondary plots; as noted above, Micheaux did not end the film with a lynching. A full and fairly accurate synopsis of the film can be found at the American Film Institute web site (http://www.afi.com). Here we are primarily concerned with the nightclub sequence in which all of the music is performed. The details of the musical content of the film follows a brief description of the film’s production.

II. The Production of the Film

According to on-screen credits, Lem Hawkins’ Confession (along with the three Micheaux features that preceded it) were produced for Oscar Micheaux Pictures by A. Burton Russell. However, this is a nom-de-production of sorts for Alice B. Russell, Micheaux’s second wife. The Russell family would probably not have been able to invest in a project such as this one, and we are still two years away from the time that Sack Enterprises would be become involved in the financing of Micheaux’s films. Where Micheaux got the funding for this film, probably in the neighborhood of $15,000, is unknown. Relatively little is known about the actual production of the film, although further information about the plot, casting of actors and so forth can be found in Patrick McGilligan’s Oscar Micheaux – The Great and Only (Harper Perennial, 2008). The only known advertisement in the press (New York Amsterdam News, May 11, 1935) notes that the “Premiere New York showing” of the feature would be held that week at the Apollo Theater. While it is somewhat unusual to find copyright registrations for black cast films, this feature was indeed registered for copyright with the Library of Congress, along with a handful of other film produced by Oscar Micheaux on August 23, 1935. This informationallows us to estimate a production date as between fall 1934 (so claimed by McGilligan) and spring 1935. Lem Hawkins’ Confession was released in the late summer or early fall of 1935. At some point in time the film was reissued as Murder In Harlem, with the new titled used for release in the South. Other sources suggest that the film was re-released yet again as Brand of Cain, although this has not been verified, and Brand of Cain may actually be an early pre-production title.

While a production location has not been established, Micheaux would have probably worked at a rental stage in Fort Lee, New Jersey, although other facilities were also available in Manhattan. My suspicion is that it would have taken no more than a week, or perhaps 10 days, to shoot the entire film. Micheaux produced, directed and wrote the feature. He also gathered a group of technicians who were quite likely inexperienced in film production, but nevertheless able to help Micheaux turn out a fascinating dramatic piece. With the exception of recording engineers Harry Belock and Charles Nason, none of the men involved in the production appear to have made a film before this feature, and none turns up in the credits of any subsequent film. While none of his cast members appeared regularly in major Hollywood productions, many of were cast fairly often in black cast films of the period. Among the more familiar names are Clarence Brooks, Alec Lovejoy, Laura Bowman, Bee Freeman, Eunice Wilson and “”Slick” Chester.

III. The Music: Clarence Williams and his Band

Although he is not credited on-screen, the band featured in the extended cabaret sequence is led by Clarence Williams. As musical director of the band, and presumably the entire floor show, Williams leads the combo, but does not play piano. Indeed, two well-known Harlem stride pianists sit side-by-side at the piano: to the front, almost certainly sits Hank Duncan, and to the rear, Willie “The Lion” Smith. (Smith’s trademark cigar can be seen in freeze frames of the duo.) Regrettably, there is no band feature per se, and neither Duncan nor Smith can be seen or clearly heard as soloists. The band includes two reeds, a musician who doubles on clarinet and tenor sax, and an alto sax. The first musician, seated to the left, is Cecil Scott. Not only has Howard Rye identified Scott aurally (Storyville Magazine no. 132, page 209), but Scott can be visually identified as well: compare the image of the musician here with Cecil Scott as he appears a decade later in four SOUNDIES produced for Filmcraft Productions. The alto sax who sits to Scott’s right is less easy to identify, but to my eyes it appears that this is Louis Jordan. While Jordan was a member of Chick Webb’s orchestra at this time, he had freelanced with Williams the previous year, and he recorded at least four titles with Williams in March 34; one of the numbers from this session, Williams’ “I Can’t Dance (I’ve Got Ants In My Pants) was repeated in this film. Mr. Rye is very astute in hearing a trumpet on soundtrack, especially because the musician can be seen only briefly on screen. While it seems logical that this might be Ed Allen, from what little can be seen of the musician on screen, it does not look like Allen to me. Howard also hears a string bass on soundtrack, but I can neither hear the bass, nor locate a bass player on screen. The band is rounded out by a guitarist, who I am certain is Jimmy McLin.

Two other performers appear with the band, an unidentified male tap dancer, and vocalist Eunice Wilson. Wilson was a popular singer and dancer who presumably appeared as a club and stage performer in the Chicago and New York City areas. Three notices in Franz Hoffman’s Jazz Advertised cite performances around the time of the film’s production. The Chicago Defender (November 12, 1932) notes that Wilson will appear at a Thanksgiving Party at the Regal Theater, along with Earl Hines and his Orchestra. In June 1934 it is reported that she will be one of many on stage in a National Auditions Benefit Show, also at the Regal Theater, this time backed by Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. ` In late 1934 Wilson appeared in a Warner Brothers / Vitaphone one reel short, All Colored Vaudeville Show, filmed in Brooklyn and released the following year. In this short subject Wilson appears with a small rhythm quintet billed as The Five Racketeers, personnel unknown. Her vocal feature is a song by Leonard Reed titled “I Don’t Know Why,” which is followed by a dance to “Tiger Rag.” Subsequent to the production of the Micheaux feature Ms. Wilson sailed to London (May 1936) as a member of the Lew Leslie Blackbirds troupe. More than a decade passes before we hear from Eunice Wilson again, this time in two final film appearances. No Time For Romance (Norwanda Pictures, 1948) stars Wilson, and also features a jazz combo led by Austin McCoy; it is the first black cast film to have been produced in color. Sun Tan Ranch was made the same year, with a similar cast, and is probably also a Norwanda Production.

Detailing the music in the cabaret sequence is difficult for a number of reasons. Save for the vocal and dance features, the music is played in the background, largely behind dialog, sometimes in complete performance, sometimes as a partial take. In addition, Micheaux’s rather rough editing, plus jump cuts resulting from damage to the master print over the years, makes it somewhat unclear where some numbers begin and end. Further uncertainty revolves around the actual recording of the soundtrack. While some black cast musical performances from the period are clearly filmed and recorded simultaneously, I suspect that the soundtrack for this film was prerecorded, with the musicians miming to the playback. While it seems that certain short segments, and even longer performances, might be repeated behind the dialog, I think that it is equally likely that the soundtrack numbers were recorded in a number of takes that could be “recycled” during the sequence.

IV. Film and Music Details

Lem Hawkins’ Confession An A. Burton Russell Production Micheaux Pictures Corporation Oscar Micheaux, producer, director and writer produced ca. late fall 1934 – spring 1935 Clarence Williams, musical director Clarence Williams and his Band: Clarence Williams, vocal and leader; unidentified trumpet; Cecil Scott, clarinet and tenor sax; possibly Louis Jordan, alto sax; probably Hank Duncan, piano; Willie “The Lion” Smith, piano; Jimmy McLin, guitar Much of the music is heard behind dialog, or in support of vocal or dance performance. Regrettably, there is no feature for the band in the cabaret sequence. (1) Ants In My Pants (Clarence Williams) – Clarence Williams and his Band (Clarence Williams and members of the band, vocal) (2) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (3) unidentified title, based on chord changes to “Ain’t Misbehavin’” with an altered release – unidentified male tap dancer, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (4) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (5) unidentified title, partially based on the chord changes to “Nobody’s Sweetheart Now” (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (6) Ants In My Pants (reprise) (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band (7) Harlem Rhythm Dance (Clarence Williams) – Eunice Wilson, vocal and dance, accompanied by Clarence Williams and his Band (8) unidentified title, or perhaps two titles linked closely together, the second of which is definitely a repeat of # 5 above (largely behind dialog) – Clarence Williams and his Band.

V. Evaluation, Conclusions and Post Script

The problems inherent in evaluating black cast films are many, and perhaps more so with this film than with most. Like other orphan films (that is, a film without copyright owners or custodians to care for the material) or other “poverty row productions,” Lem Hawkins’ Confession is plagued by poor picture and sound quality, poor edits and lost footage, and inadequate camera coverage where the music performance is concerned. However, considering Clarence Williams’s important to the music —- as a pianist, bandleader, composer and entrepreneur —- the fact that his band was captured film and is available to us is significant. As Howard Rye point out in Storyville Magazine, the music is wholly consistent with what Williams was recording during this period. Interestingly enough, Film Daily (2/20/40) noted an upcoming film series that was to feature Williams and his music. Sadly, nothing seems to have developed from the proposition that a series of two reel musical shorts was to be produced on the East Coast by Clover Swing Productions. Al Ford was slated to produce, and the series was to feature Eva Taylor, with music by Clarence Williams. The first release titled, which never saw the light of day, was to be Money Mad. After the release of Lem Hawkins’ Confession, save for the use of his compositions in various films, Clarence Williams disappears from our history of jazz on film. Once again, as with so many jazz film appearance, we are left wanting so much more, but thankful for what we do have!  

(My note: if every scholar in any field did work as careful and diligent as this, it would transform what we now call “research.”  Thanks to Mark Cantor!)

May your happiness increase!