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“IT’S IN THE GROOVE,” or FORTY-FIVE SECONDS WITH EDDIE CONDON (1949)

If you were to take all the video footage of Eddie Condon and his bands before the early 1960s, it wouldn’t add up to an hour, and that is sad.  But this clip from a 1949 March of Time short just came up on YouTube thanks to “pappyredux,” and although I’ve seen it before, it is delightful. 

BILLBOARD’s reviewer disliked “IT’S IN THE GROOVE” and seemed bored by the shallow coverage of the history of records offered in its eighteen minutes, I don’t share that negative opinion at all: 

The actual date for this rehearsal is unknown, although a version of this assemblage — identified on the labels of the Atlantic 78 as “Eddie Condon and His N.B.C. Television Orchestra” recorded four sides for that company on May 25, 1949.  The reference to television is of course to the Eddie Condon Floor Show.  And it is tragic but true that no kinescopes of those shows have ever surfaced: we are lucky to have as much audio from those shows as we do (even though little of it ever made its way to CD — my collection exists on cassette tapes and five records issued on the Italian Queen-Disc label). 

On two of the Atlantic sides, recorded on May 29, 1949 in New York City, the band played rather undistinguished scored background (arranged by Dick Cary, I would guess) for the new singer Ruth Brown — those titles are IT’S RAINING and SO LONG.  The recording band was composed of Bobby Hackett, trumpet; Will Bradley, trombone; Dick Cary, Eb alto horn; Peanuts Hucko, clarinet; Ernie Caceres, baritone sax; Joe Bushkin, piano; Eddie Condon,guitar; Jack Lesberg, bass; Sidney Catlett, drums. 

The other two sides (a 78 I now have in my collection again, thanks to David Weiner and Amoeba Music) are SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES — identified in a subtitle as the theme for Arthur Godfrey’s television show — and a fast blues seated midway between Basie and late Goodman, called TIME CARRIES ON, a nod to the MARCH OF TIME.  Eddie and friends had recorded for Decca a slow blues theme — their version of DEEP HARLEM, retitled IMPROVISATION FOR THE MARCH OF TIME, so I suspect Atlantic wanted a similar recording.  The Erteguns were deep into what we would call the best small-band swing, and I wish only that they had signed Eddie up for record session after record session.  Herb Abramson told Chip Deffaa a story that suggests that this whole session was the idea of Condon’s friend, the indefatigable publicist Ernie Anderson, and that the two vocal sides launched both Ruth Brown and Atlantic Records.  I wonder myself whether Condon was temporarily released from his contract with Decca Records (overseen by Milt Gabler) to make this session, or whether Decca hadn’t signed another contract with the musicians’ union after the 1948 recording ban.

But all this historical rumination matters less than what we see here.  For me, it took a few serious episodes of staring-at-the-screen to get past the newsreel touches (the overly serious voice of the narrator, the animated stack of discs growing larger, then the large-print display of one statistic (a repetitive tendency predating Power Point by sixty years).  Then, after a visual reminder of Atlantic Records — the disc on the turntable (yes, try this out at home), we are in a quite small room, microphones visible but pushed aside, two soda bottles on the piano — an oddity, perhaps. 

Everyone is arranged around the piano for a rehearsal of TIME CARRIES ON, a fast blues with arranged passages, riffs, and a four-bar drum break at the end.  However, Lesberg seems hidden to the right, and I would not swear that I hear either Cary or Caceres . . . were they added only for deeper background harmonies on SEEMS LIKE OLD TIMES?

The music seems reasonably well synchronized with the film, suggesting that the players were not miming to a prerecorded soundtrack.  Great things happen: we can hear and see Eddie playing the guitar; his bowtie is especially beautiful.  (Hucko’s necktie is superb as well.) 

The players are so tidily attired in business attire that Hackett’s black or dark blue shirt comes as a small shock; we expect drummers to dress more casually, so Rich’s open-necked shirt is not surprising.  The music is hot but insufficient . . . but after the audible splice (or jump from one passage to another) we have a chorus that seems reasonably free-wheeling. 

Readers of JAZZ LIVES have long understood my deification of Sidney Catlett, and I am glad that he is on the record to play his own four-bar break, but I lament that he is not here.  It is possible that he was on the road with Louis Armstrong and that Rich made the film shoot, or (heresy according to my lights) that Rich was the drummer of choice and he couldn’t make the record date.  Buddy, by the way, plays splendidly on many of the Condon Floor Shows. 

It’s not a Town Hall Concert or a 1949 kinescope, but it is a wonderful glimpse into a world we would not other have seen had the March of Time people not wanted to array a variety of live musical groups to depict its own version of the history of recorded music.

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