Tag Archives: Master Records

SIX MINUTES OF SWING MYSTERY (May 25, 1939)

We like to think that everything can be known, and in many cases answers can be found by the diligent, but I am sharing a small mystery with my readers, for their pleasure and perhaps our mutual enlightenment.

Certain jazz soloists are immediately recognizable: you can make your own list.  Other superb players are less familiar because of the paucity of evidence (we know what Charlie Shavers sounds like because of his distinctive approach, but we also have hours of his recorded work to compare any unidentified playing against.)  I think also of Coleman Hawkins’ comment about being on the road: that you could go to some small town and there would be a tenor player who no one ever heard of who would be as good as the famous ones.

When I saw this record — rather obscure and rare — I wanted it, for those reasons.  Also because Edgar Sampson, saxophonist, composer, arranger, never produced any music that was less than superb.  I knew one song — DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME — because of Fats Waller’s UK recording.  When I played it, though, I was impressed and mystified.  A great trumpet solo on JIVE, and rippling swing piano on both sides.

I have some vanity about knowing the great soloists of the period, and it piqued me that I couldn’t identify anyone except Sampson.  But I have friends who are also experts, and I tried their knowledge as well — let me list their names in alphabetical order: Marc Caparone, Menno Daams, Jan Evensmo, Jon-Erik Kellso, Bent Persson, Rob Rothberg, Bo Scherman — but no definitive answers.

About The Three Swingsters, I can only surmise that they were a vocal group with some regional fame — I think Pennsylvania — but I do not know whether the record was made to showcase them or not.

Before we go deeper, here is the mysterious listing in Tom Lord’s online discography:

Edgar Sampson And His Orchestra : 2 tp, tb, Edgar Sampson (as) unknown p, b and d, The Three Swingsters (vcl-1)
New York, May 25, 1939
WM1023-A Don’t try your jive on me (1) Voc 4942
WM1024-A Pick your own lick (1) –
WM1025-A Sly mongoose (1) (unissued)

My experts (I apologize if that seems too possessive) came up with names of who the trumpet soloist couldn’t be, and proposed Dick Vance or Benny Carter as the trumpeter, and Tommy Fulford as the pianist, with some thoughts of perhaps Eddie Heywood or Kenny Kersey.  Vance and Fulford were stalwarts of the Chick Webb band — this disc was recorded very late in Chick’s life — and at that time Sampson was the band’s musical director.  I have heard Fulford with Chick’s “Little Chicks,” and he is plausible — fleet and swinging.

On first hearing, I thought the pianist was Billy Kyle, but the player does not reach for Kyle’s beloved downward run, and Billy recorded that day with Jack Sneed for Decca (of course he could have made two sessions in one day). The connection to Master Records suggests the salutary influence of Helen Oakley. And PICK YOUR OWN LICK (written by “newcomers to songdom” Roy Jacobs and Gene de Paul, according to Billboard) was published by Mills Music.  de Paul went on to write DON’T TAKE YOUR LOVE FROM ME and I’LL REMEMBER APRIL, but LICK is not his finest hour.  Or three minutes.

Here’s DON’T TRY YOUR JIVE ON ME:

About PICK YOUR OWN LICK: I try never to write these words, but what a terrible idea — an attempt to have a pop hit by cannibalizing bits of other pop hits. But the band sounds good, even while the lyrics pummel us with obvious hopeful thefts.

Your thoughts?

May your happiness increase!

THE ELLINGTON MOSAIC, 2011

This post is a being written on the Duke’s 112nd birthday, but in my mind every day we can hear his music is a kind of birthday.  

I confess I am not an Official Ellington Idolator: you won’t catch me, here or elsewhere, referring to him as “the Maestro.”  But for me, his music accomplishes so many things that no one else’s did.  It exists at the intersection of Sound and Stomp, or beautiful tone-paintings and gutbucket rhythms.

Oh, I hear you saying — all jazz does that in some way. 

True, but Ellington knew how to balance both of those qualities so that neither obliterated the other.  And in his world the relentless plunging rhythms (think of Sonny Greer’s drums, Ellington’s smashing chords on the piano) enhanced the cloudlike auras of sound he loved — that saxophone section.  Debussy meets Sidney Catlett, both of them happy uptown.  And oone of the delights of his Thirties recordings is to hear him experimenting with the textures and timbres of “sweet music” mingled with distinctly vernacular sounds and rhythms. 

The apex of Ellington’s art — depending on which ideologist you choose — is commonly held to be the Victor period, specifically those two years when Ben Webster and Jimmie Blanton were illuminating the band — in the recording studio, at a dance date in Fargo, North Dakota, and more.  I think the music captured during that period is irreplaceable and unimprovable: MAIN STEM, the airshots, the pure sound and pulse of that band.  Across town, Basie and Lester and Buck, Walter, Herschel, and Jo, were accomplishing something of equal beauty and force, but Ellington’s Victors are something else!*

But the critical emphasis on those recordings has tended to flatten out the music that preceded that glorious period.  Until now, with the Mosaic set of the recordings for Brunswick, Master, and Columbia from 1932 to 1940, which I am listening to in astonishment and joy as I write these words.

A digression about Mosaic sets.  Some find them expensive, others are intimidated, and others say, “Gee, I have much of this music elsewhere.”  All these statements are valid reactions.  I felt differently about some of the sets that were objects I KNEW I had to have — the Buck Clayton Jam Session box, for instance, many years ago.

And I, like many collectors, thought all of the above — plus, “The sound on those cramped, stuffy Ellington Brunswicks was so irritating.”  This set transcends the limitations of the original 78s and the sound is bright (but never harsh) throughout; there is wonderful unfussy scholarship from Steven Lasker, and marvelous photographs.  There might be, perhaps, an Ellington collector who had managed to amass all of the 78s (including the alternate takes on Japanese Lucky), the Up-to-Date, Raretone, Blu-Disc, FDC microgroove issues . . . but who among us has been invited into George Avakian’s basement to hear and copy his previously unheard test pressings?

But the point of any Mosaic set is not, I submit, the six or seven new tracks.  It is the wonderful totality — all neatly bound up with a figurative bow, rather like having the best scholarly edition of Shakespeare you can find, or the complete DVD set of the Astaire-Rogers films. 

I used to hear a radio commercial for some very expensive watch, where the oleaginous announcer would intone, “You don’t buy a [insert name here] for yourself, you merely keep it for the next generation.”  It irritated me no end, because I am perfectly happy with drugstore timepieces, but in the case of the Mosaic boxes I understand the principle perfectly.  I hope to live long enough to have heard all the music in this set forty or fifty times, to have indulged myself in the sound of the reeds on DROP ME OFF AT HARLEM, the sound of Tricky Sam Nanton on IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE, the slow-motion TIGER RAG that is SLIPPERY HORN, every note that Ivie Anderson sang, the bright splash of Sonny Greer’s cymbals . . . too many delights to enumerate! 

Here’s the link.  And the set is limited to an edition of 5000 copies; mine is number 3099 . . . does that suggest something about TEMPUS FUGIT?  Or, “What are you waiting for, Mary?”

*For the people whose musical world is bounded by Blanton and Ben — the final session on this elaborate banquet of a box set has them both, along with Ivie, singing a meltingly sad SOLITUDE . . .