Tag Archives: The Chicago Loopers


There are many ways to honor the tradition, in jazz as well as the other arts.  Let us say you are a young musician who falls in love with an artifact — the OKeh record of TIGHT LIKE THIS by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five in 1928.  You can use the recorded music as an inspiration to go your own way, to play something that honors Louis but is your own creation.  Or, equally honorable, you can transcribe the recorded evidence, and offer to a new audience a live performance that comes as close to the original as possible, or one that allows for individual variation within the hallowed architecture of the original.

Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks — the great progenitor — and the newer groups such as the Original Cornell Syncopators and the New Wonders follow the latter path gloriously, sometimes recreating and re-enacting, sometimes honoring the original architecture while painting the interior windowsills periwinkle.

From left, Jared Engel, banjo; Joe McDonough, trombone; Jay Lepley, drums; Ricky Alexander, reeds; Mike Davis, cornet, leader; Jay Rattman, bass saxophone; Dalton Ridenhour, piano. Photograph by Jane Kratochvil

There are many ways in which the New Wonders are special.  For one thing, they offer repertoire that has not been overdone — no SINGIN’ THE BLUES, no STRUTTIN’ WITH SOME BARBECUE.  They draw from recordings made by the California Ramblers, the Chicago Loopers, Tiny Parham, Red Nichols, the Goofus Five, and others — wonderful pop tunes that haven’t been played in ages. And they are a great paradox, for their approach is exact (reproducing pieces of arrangements, both instrumental and vocal, that are not easy to do) but loose.  They are not museum curators, but they are not only playing the songs and moving on . . . and there is a spirit of great fun and ebullience without the least mockery or condescension.  A performance or a recording by the New Wonders is a convincing bit of theatre: as if this group of beautifully-dressed young men had come to your house with the sweet notion of bringing 1927 back for a few hours.  And they do it with love: the music can be precise and tender, or hot and bumptious — all in the space of a few songs.

I saw them create such wonders last August in Brice Moss’ pastoralia, and it was memorable, as you can observe here.  But there were limitations to the sound my microphone could capture, and this was the pianoless New Wonders.  So I am delighted to announce their debut CD, titled THE NEW WONDERS, so that no one can mistake it for anything else.  It’s a delightful banquet of sounds from Messrs. Davis, McDonough, Alexander, Rattman, Engel, Lepley, and Ridenhour, as they playfully work their way through FLAMIN’ MAMIE; REACHING FOR SOMEONE; I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED; BONEYARD SHUFFLE; POOR PAPA; I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS; I’D RATHER CRY OVER YOU; PERSIAN RUG; CLORINDA; I NEED LOVIN’; SMILE, DARN YA, SMILE; JUNGLE CRAWL; I’M WALKING BETWEEN THE RAINDROPS; SHE’S FUNNY THAT WAY; THE BALTIMORE.

I may be accused of ageism, but there is something particularly pleasing to hear these reasonably young (at least to me) musicians immerse themselves in music made by young musicians — an enthusiastic freshness.  And there’s another delightful oddity in the New Wonders’ presentation: the vocal choruses.  In my youth, we made fun of Wes Vaughan, we lifted the needle over Irving Kaufman (unless there was a hot obbligato) and in general, we waited for Bing to come along and make everything all right.  Four members of The New Wonders sing (Lepley, Rattman, Alexander, and leader Davis) and they do it splendidly, not only in solo — verse as well as chorus — but in reproducing the intricate vocal parts from the Chicago Loopers date, CLORINDA and I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED — with great style, earnest without being stiff.  Replaying this disc, I found myself looking forward to those beautifully-executed vocal outpourings, and I think you might share my pleasure.

Al fresco, August 2017

Here you can find out more about Mike and the band, and here is the band’s Facebook page.  And . . . . here is the CDBaby page for the new CD.

But the best way to buy a band CD is at the gig — maybe you’ll get it signed, and you have the direct economic transfer of giving money to the musicians who have just played for you, so here is the event page for the New Wonders’ CD release party — Tuesday, March 13, 2018, from 8-10 PM at Norwood, 241 W 14th St, New York, New York 10011.  Mike points out, “Norwood is a members-only club. In order to attend this event all tickets must be purchased in advance. NO tickets will be sold on the premises.”  And I won’t be able to make this gig, so those of you who are waiting for more videos might have to be in attendance, if possible.  It will be Wonderful.

May your happiness increase!


TEARING IT UP! (Vic Berton and Friends, 1928)

Walt Roesner and his Capitolians — the large all-star all-purpose orchestra that appeared at the Capitol Theatre in New York City — made a Vitaphone short film in 1928.  Two-thirds of the film is given over to 1) an impassioned tenor singing O SOLE MIO, and 2) an impassioned tenor singing ANGELA MIA.  Although these specialties are beautifully performed, they lack a certain savor or liveliness. 

But the last number by the orchestra is Hot, truly so.  And members of the band get to show off their considerable (sometimes quirky) solo talents in brief outings — with some of the most famous names in jazz doing their bit: how about Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Rube Bloom, Miff Mole, Leo McConville, Bruce Yantis, Vic Berton, Nat Brusiloff, Jimmy Lytell . . . ?!

I would not have posted this for the famous names alone — but I saw the entire short film recently for the first time and found myself watching the last number several times in a row, delighting in the music and the smiles on the faces of the musicians while their fellow players went at it.  And I found myself insisting that the Beloved watch Rube Bloom and vic Berton in tandem — and that pleased her, too.  I found this segment posted on Dailymotion with very accurate identifications, thanks to  somename who goes by the alias “lordlister.” 

So here it is, with commentary:


The eye is at first struck by the sheer number of beautifully-dressed men on the bandstand: twenty-five, perhaps, all with white flowers in their buttonholes.  Two pianos, a plethora of violins, bowed string bass, bowed cello.  Drummer Vic Berton standing in the rear amongst a good deal of percussion, including tympani.  Roesner opens this number with the cheerful explanation that his musicians have had an appropriately “heated argument” about which one of them is the hottest man in the band.  Not a bad idea.  The bouncy tune that opens the proceedings is I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED by Fats Waller and Jo Trent (a song, which, like many famous hummable Waller tunes, repeats one catchy phrase often as a melody line) — recorded most memorably in this period by two fellows named Beiderbecke and Trumbauer, as “The Chicago Loopers.”  Berton is particularly marvelous to watch, keeping time on the tympani with one hand while accenting a choked cymbal, sometimes visiting the head of his huge wooden bass drum — his legs spread to allow him to reach both places, raher like a wooden soldier in those white trousers.  I would have been very happy for the band to explore this tune at this tempo for the rest of the film, but the premise moves into a solo features, which allow us to see these musicians on camera in their prime rather than as faces in the ensemble.  (Many of them look particularly dark around the eyes: whether this was cinematic makeup or lighting of the time or a lack of sleep, I am sure one of my readers knows.)  And the cameraman seems reasonably content with having one-half of an additional musician in the frame, and neatly lopping off the head or hairline of a soloist — but he seems to know what’s going on and to go in for a close-up before everything has concluded. 

Up first after a piano modulation, Jimmy Dorsey on alto saxophone offers one of his particularly virtuosic solo choruses (in a manner beloved of Frank Trumbauer and Rudy Wiedoeft) showing off his incredible technique instead of hot improvisation.  This kind of playing — here superimposed over TIGER RAG — was a JD specialty (hear OODLES OF NOODLES, for one example).  Violinist Nat Brusiloff, next to Dorsey, is enjoying the chorus immensely.  And JD must have been famous by this time; he is announced by name.

Then, showing that you don’t have to go fast to play Hot, we have a memorable twenty or so seconds of one of jazz’s most forgotten men, trombonist Miff Mole, offering a chorus of HOW COME YOU DO ME LIKE YOU DO? complete with breaks (Berton has switched to wire brushes, as we see).  From this distance, Miff no longer seems as radical, as dashing as, say, Jack Teagarden or Dicky Wells, but his solo is masterful: the variations in tone and the way he gets gracefully but precisely from note to note, vocalizing the melody beautifully — and adding that lovely coda.  It sounds very simple but it’s an example of how much he must have amazed all the musicians, Hot and legit, for a long time.   I call your attention to Miff’s easy command of the horn and especially his glistening upper register, not the usual realm for most Twenties trombonists.

Violinist Nat Brusiloff (famous in radio as a conductor and for his early work with Kate Smith — his grandson is trombonist David Sager) offers more variations on the same theme . . . on what sounds like an intensely scratchy violin, with no apparent bow.  I’m told he is playing a “single-hair” solo, which I assume is one hair taken from his bow, but the physics of the whole thing are beyond me, in a good way.  Tell me where the other end of the single-hair is, please?  And at the very end of the solo, Brusiloff permits himself the slightest glimmer of an impish grin, “Geez, I pulled that one off, didn’t I, now?”  More violin acrobatics will follow. 

Banjoist Lou (Luigi) Calabrese, who might have been noticeable from the start for the way he has stretched his legs out in front of him, then plays an incredibly fast and stunning chorus of IDA, romping in what seems like double double time over ensemble chords, his fingers flashing over the frets more quickly than anyone would expect them to — and not a note smudged or smeared.  Something pretty follows (it would have to):  clarinetist Jimmy Lytell, looking shlyly sideways, gently swaying his body, pensively ambling through the melody of his own A BLUES SERENADE (composed with pianist Frank Signorelli), the reed player to his right curiously impassive through it all.  (Lytell gets lovely backing from the bowed bass seen to his right and from Berton’s tympani.)

What happens next is a highlight.  Pianist-singer-composer (DON’T WORRY ‘BOUT ME) Rube Bloom gets up from the piano for his limber almost-comic turn on DINAH.  He isn’t a splendid singer, but he’s got a rocking rhythmic engine reminiscent of Harry Barris, and he’s clearly having a fine time.  The long shot allows us to notice Berton, shifting around his set with tympani mallets, but then, halfway through, our attention shifts to Berton, who is “tearing it up” in a way that goes beyond the hip cliche — he’s actually tearing strips off of something (a square piece of fabric?) with each tear a rhythmic accent like a tap dancer or a sand dancer.  And the cameraman is sufficiently entranced eventually to move in for a close-up of this hilarious and marvelous rhythmic feat, remembering at the end that Bloom is supposed to be the headliner, even though he has had the spotlight stolen away from him.  (Incidentally, the much more sedate second pianist to the right is Arthur Schutt.) 

But violinist Bruce Yantis (someone I know only from a few late-Twenties sides with Eddie Condon, Red McKenzie, and Gene Krupa) is ready to follow Berton and Bloom with his violin solo a la  Joe Venuti, his bow disassembled and strapped around his violin so that the hairs play all four strings at once — it looks like fun but it isn’t easy to do well.  Luigi Calabrese has clearly heard Eddie Lang, as he should have. 

Before the ensemble gets itself together (we never find out who the hottest man in the band is or was, although my vote is split between Miff and Vic Berton) trumpeter Leo McConville, usually hidden next to Red Nichols, gets off with a very brief Hot solo (a half-valve flourish at the end?)  on the closing I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.

This short seems an ideal window into the best of the Hot late Twenties: that decade’s version of the 1938 Randall’s Island footage, but with sound and close-ups.  A ripping yarn!

ANDY SCHUMM and FRIENDS! (Sept. 2009)

I don’t think I have to praise young Mr. Schumm in this post — the video clips I’ve been posting (my own, from Jamaica Knauer and others) are eloquent testimony.  But here he is, surrounded by his musical elders, entirely comfortable, playing the music of Bix Beiderbecke that he loves, as well as a few rarities from the period.  Those well-known elders are Bob Havens on trombone; Scott Robinson on reeds; Andy Stein on violin and baritone sax; James Dapogny on piano; Marty Grosz, who needs no introduction here; Vince Giordano, ditto; Arnie Kinsella, drums. 

Andy opened his set with a slower-than-usual LOUISIANA, whose beginning I missed.  I especially admire Dapogny’s tremolos behind Scott Robinson’s Lesterish clarinet, and the way that Andy leaps in.  And Dapogny, playing the verse as an unaccompanied interlude, slyly reminds us that Mister Jelly was also in Chicago when Bix and the boys were visiting.  I apologize deeply for the lurching of the camera near the end.  Was I carried away with emotion or was it something more mundane?  Either way, the jazz ship was in no danger of going down: 

The second tune was ANGRY (it wasn’t really), which I associate with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings ans George Brunis, from the start of career to the end.  That’s some rhythm section!  Note the enthusiastic backing Arnie Kinsella gives Bob Havens, and the ferocious way Dapogny lets everyone know that he’s here at the start of his solo, emphasizing that three-note ascending phrase.  The tuba isn’t always a melodic instrument, but Vince just forges ahead, creating long-lined inventions that stick in the mind.  And I especially love it that Andy Stein said to himself, “This piece needs a baritone saxophone more than a violin,” picks his up, and boots the final chorus along energetically:

Next, from the Bix and Tram book (recording as “The Chicago Loopers”), the Fats Waller tune, I’M MORE THAN SATISFIED.  Perfectionists will note that there is a moment, coming out of the ensemble, where the team seems to have forgotten the signals (and what was the esoteric meaning of Dapogny’s right-hand gesture to the band — was it “My hand hurts,” or perhaps, “Could we start this thing, for the love of Jo Trent”?) but the performance recovers nicely.  Dapogny’s solo is a model of hot construction, and the rhythm section passage, with Vince finding his low notes and Arnie rocking the temple blocks, couldn’t be better:

And two rarities: ROSY CHEEKS (you can almost invent the bouncy lyrics without ever having heard it sung — it seems an illegitimate relative of BABY FACE, which makes sense in a plagiaristic way).  Although few members of this group could have been intimate with the song, it seems to have simple, if not simplistic chord changes, and they leap right in.  That no one in the house cheered when Scott Robinson concluded his energetically labyrinthine solo is a mystery indeed.  Perhaps they were busily concentrating on their heaped-high plates of food?  Notice how Arnie Kinsella drives the band along in the last chorus — his beat more nourishing than what was on those plates:

Then, a song recorded by Harold Austin’s Ambassadors for Gennett in 1930 (what resonance those words have) — an unusual pop tune called MONA*.  Andy’s lead is, like Bix’s late work, a both poignant and urgent.  The chorus split by and shared by Andy Stein (on baritone) and Scott (on metal clarinet) is a wonderful impromptu creation, again under-appreciated.  And the band energetically takes it out, with Andy Schumm showing the way:

To conclude the set (perhaps to everyone’s relief), Andy called NOBODY’S SWEETHEART NOW, much more familiar material.  Two endearing things happen at the end of the first ensemble chorus: Marty reaches forward and turns off the light on his music stand, because he doesn’t need it, and Arnie shifts into his own version of Jo-Jones-on-the-hi-hat, to encourage the congregation.  Am I the only one who finds such shifts, when done masterfully, absolutely levitating experiences?  And then, Scott whispers to Andy — certainly something about trading phrases.  What happens next reminds me a great deal of Bix and Tram on YOU TOOK ADVANTAGE OF ME, except we know it’s being created there in front of our eyes, gloriously.  More split choruses (Andy Stein and Marty, Vince and Arnie) lead into a final chorus that begins with some tentativeness and then gets heated in a nice “Chicagoan” way just in time for the last eight bars:

Yeah, man!  And more Andy Schumm footage to come – – –

*There’s also a fascinating YouTube clip of Austin’s recording — a good hot dance band of the period, with a debatable vocal — that uses period phonograph advertisements as illustrations — don’t miss the naughty postcard and the Hebrew family illustrations!  But you’ll have to search it out on your own.