Tag Archives: Vocalion Records

STREET FOOD, AN EXOTIC HONEYMOON, EXUBERANT DANCE, 1936

If you asked me to give an overview of jazz and popular music in 1936, I might summon up Stuff Smith, Billie Holiday, Fats Waller, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Putney Dandridge, Fletcher Henderson, Teddy Hill, Gene Krupa, Fifty-Second Street, Red Allen, Art Tatum, Bob Howard, Mildred Bailey, Jones-Smith, Incorporated, Teddy Wilson, and twenty others.  It would be a little after THE MUSIC GOES ROUND AND ROUND but just right for I’SE A-MUGGIN’, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and RHYTHM IN MY NURSERY RHYMES, perhaps DINNER FOR ONE, PLEASE JAMES.

But in even broader strokes, this was the early triumph of the Swing Era, dominated by well-rehearsed bands, using intricate arrangements for dancers.  But art, however you define it, is never homogeneous: while Joyce and Woolf were exploding the conventions of narrative, many traditional linear novels were published and read.  In jazz, we know that Max Roach and Baby Dodds were on the same radio broadcast in most congenial fashion.  And in the very late Fifties, Herbie Nichols, Steve Lacy, Ed Allen, and Cecil Scott were all gigging in New York City simultaneously.

These musings come about because of Briscoe Draper’s posting on Facebook of a song I’d never heard, LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON, which delights me.  It features the clarinet playing of Arnett Nelson, someone I’ve heard about from one of my other teachers, Sammut of Malta — whose expert playing has nothing to do with the elegant playing of Benny and Artie, so much in fashion in 1936.  These tracks were issued under the all-inclusive but unspecific name “Chicago Rhythm Kings,” which jazz fans will recognize as a nom-de-disque for young white Chicagoans in 1928.

Here is the recording data, edited from Tom Lord.  Steve Abrams suggests that Guy Kelly is the trumpeter, but I feel that the player we hear is less assured.  And is the pianist Black Bob or Jimmy Blythe?  I do not know, nor are such matters my focus.

Lord notes: prob. Alfred Bell (cnt) Roy Palmer (tb) Arnett Nelson (cl,vcl) prob. Black Bob (p) prob John Lindsay (b) Jimmy Bertrand (d).  Chicago, March 11, 1936: YOU BATTLE-HEAD BEETLE- HEAD Vocalion 3208 / IT’S TOO BAD (WHEN THE SISTERS START TRUCKIN’ AROUND) in two takes; Voc 3208.
Same personnel but unknown (as-1) added.  Chicago, April 3, 1936: SHANGHAI HONEYMOON Bluebird 6371 / LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON (same, unknown vocalist).

Because Steve Abrams has generously made available his 78 transfer of IT’S TOO BAD / YOU BATTLE-HEAD, I have included that as well as the YouTube transfers, which might be from the RST CD collection.  (There are pitch and sonic differences: I would assume that the 78 transfer is a more trustworthy source, but such waters are deep and dark.)

I invite you to turn away from the news and immerse yourself in a different world, thanks to these “Hot Dance with Vocal Chorus” records.  I’ll have some listening comments at the end.

and the 78 version:

Flip it over, as they used to say:

This seems the same take as the 78, unless they followed the routines closely:

If you are enamored of SHANGHAI HONEYMOON, there are many versions with vocal refrains and ostentatious “Chinese” cliches.  However, Ray Skjelbred and his Cubs have performed this opus — you can find it on YouTube — with its ethnic-racial tendencies tamed, and a duet by Ray and Katie Cavera (also on the Jazzology CD, GREETINGS FROM CHICAGO):

and my new favorite ditty, which I hope to hear Dave Stuckey sing when we meet again (although that is a suggestion rather than an order — greetings, Pappy!):

Depending on how deeply you have steeped yourself in the music of the period, you may hear many different things.
First, the material itself is cheerfully homemade: except for SHANGHAI, the songs are composed by the players, and they are miles away from Rodgers and Hart or Arlen and Koehler.  That is not to condescend, for listeners respond strongly to campfire songs as well as poetry, but BEETLE and TOO BAD seem more enthusiastic than expert: the end-rhymes are inexact, and occasionally the lyrics and music do not fit neatly.  They are set-pieces for an audience who wanted to party: the “you’re a fool for getting so drunk” song; the “let’s celebrate wild action on the dance floor” song — reminiscent of a contemporaneous Tampa Red blues — especially because the Chicago blues records of this period employed many of the same musicians.  I hear echoes of MAMA DON’T ALLOW and HOW’M I DOIN’ as well as YOU RASCAL YOU.
LITTLE SANDWICH WAGON aspires to be one of those songs mingling love and the bill of fare (think WHEN LOVE DROPPED IN TO TEA) but it doesn’t get there; the composer(s) are more focused on what’s for sale than in a Billy Wilder meet-cute with someone’s hamburger being shared by thrifty lovers.  (I hear echoes of ACE IN THE HOLE in the first strain.)
SHANGHAI HONEYMOON is the most “professional” song of the four, possibly going back to 1927, and whether Lester Melrose had anything to do with writing it or simply required a portion of the royalties in exchange for getting it published, played, and recorded, I do not know, but the three other songs did not have any currency outside of this record date, where HONEYMOON did.  I have seen no sheet music for the other songs.
Second, these recordings are stylistically earlier than 1936 (no offense meant there either); rather than being “streamlined,” “innovative,” or “harmonically forward-looking,” they happily live in the musical world that Dick Wellstood called “grease and funk,” with TOO BAD and BEETLE sounding, to me, like Saturday-night-party music.  The closest parallel in jazz is the long series of Clarence Williams recordings, but these sides are genuine crossover music before the name ever emerged, with sideways connections to blues and roots music.
And this is understandable, given the histories of the players: for most of them, this was their last recording session, and some of them had been recording since 1921 or 1923.  I delight in Arnett Nelson’s wildly opinionated clarinet — “I have something to say and I have to say it loudly and right now,” and the powerful rhythm section. But we are miles away from the Benny Goodman Quartet, Toto.  I also have a special affection for the rather sweetly amateurish singer on SANDWICH: was he someone’s relative or friend?  (I wonder what the significance of “He didn’t serve no rice” is.  An easy rhyme for “nice,” or are there deeper meanings?
Finally, I wonder how these record dates came to be.  In New York, Williams made no records between 1935 and 1937, and his 1934 sides for the Decca “Sepia Series” were issued as the “Alabama Jug Band.” Did a Vocalion recording executive in Chicago perceive that this band — of known reliable musicians who were also appearing on blues records — should be given the chance to make two sides of their own compositions with the hope of a jukebox hit?  Musicians recorded such sessions with little preparation; they were paid scale.  It would not have cost Vocalion much, but clearly the records did not make a stir.  Did Nelson or someone else in the band take the test pressings over to the Victor studios and request a date in April?
I have stayed away from discussing race in this post, but I will suggest that a 1936 record buyer would recognize these four sides as being performed and aimed at a “colored” audience, to use the description of the times.  Yet I know Bluebird (by which I mean Victor) also used the “Chicago Rhythm Kings” name to issue a record or records by what I believe are white orchestras.
All this must, I think, remain mysterious.  What we have is rollicking, enthusiastic hot music played by Chicago veterans.  Thank goodness for records, and particularly for odd, cheerful ones like these four.
May your happiness increase!

VIBRAPHONIA: RAYMOND GRASIER and CO. at the 2011 WHITLEY BAY CLASSIC JAZZ PARTY (thanks to Elin Smith and Flemnming Thorbye)

Leaving aside Red Norvo, the obvious subject for this tribute would be Lionel Hampton, and a few of these performances are aimed that way, but the real honors go to the neglected Thirties recordings Adrian Rollini made for Victor and Vocalion, on vibraphone.

This set was the idea of Frans Sjostrom, the noble bass saxophonist who brought his horn onstage late in the program.  The band at the start was Andy Schumm, trumpet; Steve Andrews, reeds; Alistair Allan, trombone; Paul Asaro, piano; Mike Piggott, violin; Philippe Guignier, guitar; Bruce Rollo, string bass; Richard Pite, drums.

The first two selections are loose-limbed jam sessions on familiar changes — performances that recall the imperishable 1937-41 records that Hampton made for Victor:

I GOT RHYTHM (Elin):

ROSETTA (Elin):

Frans brought his bass saxophone onstage and gave the other horns a rest for the Rollini SWING LOW (Elin) — which doesn’t go where one would expect it to:

For me, the highlight of the set was their version of SMALL FRY, which harks back to a lovely 1938 recording Rollini made for Vocalion featuring Bobby Hackett, whose place Andy Schumm takes for an interval.  (Thorbye):

I’d like to see some bands in the States take on this tune — it has its own life!  Thanks again to Elin Smith, “elinshouse” on YouTube, and Flemming Thorbye, “thorbye” in the same place, for their willingness to offer their videos to JAZZ LIVES.

SPINNING PLENITUDES

A few weeks ago, a young couple came to my apartment to buy a piece of furniture I’d hardly used.  (Now there’s more space for dancing.)  The young woman earnestly asked me about turntables — thinking of being able to play her mother’s beloved 1970 record collection.  I showed her both a modern one (and played her a track from a Marty Grosz Stomp Off record, which absolutely floored her with its bounce and warm sound).

Then I decided to become a true eccentric, a genuine suburban antiquarian and descended even deeper into history by playing her a 78 (Keynote, J.C. Heard, ALL MY LIFE) on another turntable.

I don’t think this was a transformational experience for her (and her boyfriend was pleasantly impassive through the whole thing) but it was clear she had never seen anything like it.

“How do you know where to put that thing [the stylus]?”  “What happens when it comes to the end?”  “Is that sound [the surface noise] part of the thing, the record?”  “Does that have only one song?”  And so on.

I don’t want to rehearse the discussion of iPod and MP3 downloads / compact discs / vinyl records / 78s / live performance — too many acres to plow! — but I did revert to my childhood in two sweetly nostalgic acts this morning.

One, I played a 78 record — LOW DOWN DIRTY SHAME / SOLITUDE (Vocalion 5531, rim chip, V) by Joe Sullivan and his Cafe Society Orchestra.  Lovely.  Two, I stared at the revolving disc and the diminishing circles described by the needle as the music came out of the speaker.

And I thought, not for the first time, of the beautiful paradoxes.

When the needle is lowered into the first groove, listeners enter into that musical world — new or familiar.  All experience lies before us, all possibility!  (Jack Purvis might explode in the last chorus.)  But we are always conscious of the finite limits of that world.  Listening to a live performance, we can tell when the band is near the end — although there always might be two more choruses!  A record, a disc lying on the platter, is visually bounded — its beginning and end marked out for us to see.

So as the needle follows its path, I feel the joy of hearing what’s there, perhaps the anticipatory sensation of “I can’t wait for the good part that I know is coming,” yet there’s the sad awareness of knowing the end is near.  Another sixteen bars, another thirty seconds, perhaps another two inches of black grooves.  “Oh, no, it’s going to be over!”

Everything comes to an end, we know.

But with records we have the wonderful opportunity to pick up the needle from its mindless elliptical orbits in the run-off groove and have the experience again.  Imagine being able to eat another meal in the same restaurant without monotony, without satiety.  It’s not the first kiss repeated, of course.  But second and third kisses are seriously pleasurable, too.

For those who cannot play a record today, I offer a video simulacrum — I think of it as a natural antidepressant, with no side effects:

THE CELLAR BOYS: FRANK MELROSE, TESCH, WINGY, BUD, WETTLING, “CHARLES MELROSE,” 1930

Thanks to “atticus 70,” here are two wonderful hot sides from the glory days of searing Chicago jazz featuring two sadly short-lived and legendary players, pianist Frank Melrose and clarinetist Frank Teschmacher.  The other musicians on the session had longer lives: trumpeter (or cornetist?) Wingy Manone, tenor saxophonist Bud Freeman, drummer George Wettling, accordionist “Charles Melrose.”*  Recorded January 24, 1930.

The musicians took their name from the club (the “joint,” I think) they were playing in, which was called MY CELLAR.

The first selection is BARREL HOUSE STOMP (take A), and Frank Melrose appears right after the accordion solo; he’s propulsive throughout.  And Tesch is clear-toned and rasping as the spirit moves him.  Both Freeman and Manone are instantly recognizable, and although Wettling’s drums aren’t recorded as they would be in the Forties through the Sixties, he and his bass drum are solidly in there:

The other side was — no, IS — WAILING BLUES (also take A), reminiscent of KING OF THE ZULUS (without the vamp).  In the video slide show, the first picture is from 1932 (I think) showing a very serious Jess Stacy and George Wettling, seated, with a quizzically somber Tesch standing in back of them; other photos depict Wettling, Bud, Tesch, and even Jimmy McPartland.  In both displays Frank Melrose is shown in a hand-tinted photograph.  His boater is appropriately cocked to the side; his eyes stare, somewhat narrowed, away from the camera.  A serious man, the craft of playing barrelhouse piano a vocation not to be taken lightly:

This post is for all the devotees of Hot and especially for Aunt Ida Melrose Shoufler, one of this blog’s most cherished readers.  More about the Melroses in good time!  (Frank always kept good time . . . )

*Aunt Ida told Hal Smith that there was no “Charles Melrose”; Hal thinks the accordionist is Bennie Moten’s brother Bus, sitting in.  Any comments on this mystery?

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“MKG and FRIENDS” (Feb. 6, 2010)

Another jazz gift from some brilliant musicians, ably captured by Rae Ann Berry!

MKG and Friends, on February 6, 2010, at the Sounds of Mardi Gras in Fresno, California.

That new acronym, translated, adds up to MARC Caparone, cornet; KATIE Cavera, guitar; GEORGIA Korba, bass; along with Mike Baird, alto sax; Chris Tyle, clarinet and vocal; Ray Skjelbred, trombone; Jeff Hamilton, drums; and Carl Sonny Leyland, piano.

They were intended to perform as a trio, but this happy aggregation just grew, in a friendly way.  The overall ambiance reminds me of a late-Thirties record session (the Varsity Seven with Benny Carter, Joe Marsala, Coleman Hawkins, and George Wettling), or a Lionel Hampton Victor, perhaps a Keynote band — the same loose, groovy feeling.  Two of the musicians are happily and ambitiously playing instruments they aren’t always associated with: Ray is well-known on piano, Chris on trumpet and drums.  But their knowledge and love of the music comes through powerfully.

Speaking of “powerfully,” might I suggest that readers who aren’t on the West Coast or who aren’t familiar with his work need to pay close attention to Marc Caparone, whose hot playing is a highlight of this set and of the New El Dorado Jazz Band.  Rough or polished, intense or pretty, he’s a great trumpet player, subtle or driving.  He loves the obvious Masters, but you’ll hear a good deal of those glorious eccentrics Red Allen and Jim Goodwin in his ferocities. 

And I’ve singled out the nifty Jeff Hamilton for praise at other times in this blog — but he’s having a wonderful time here, getting the sounds out of a drum kit that say Swing Is Here.

Here is a spirited reading of Walter Donaldson’s MY BUDDY, originally written as a lament — but that was before Hawk (in France) and Hamp (in the US) latched on to it.  Wow!

Here’s another lament, defined by Katie Cavera as “the saddest song” she knows — NOBODY CARES IF I’M BLUE.  It’s not true, Katie — we would worry about you if the lyrics were true.  Could we make you some soup or a cup of tea?  

I delight in her girlish angst, as if Annette Hanshaw had somehow found herself in the Vocalion studios circa 1937, and in the ghosts floating through this performance — not only Pee Wee Russell and Red Allen but Sandy Williams or J. C. Higginbotham. 

DO YOU EVER THINK OF ME reminds me of Vic Dickenson, who liked it, and of Jon-Erik Kellso, who continues to do so.  A rocking performance of a sweet old tune, it has the sound of a Condon Town Hall Concert — with Jeff’s splashing cymbal summoning up Mr. Dave Tough, his accents suggesting Wettling or Catlett. 

Here’s something pretty and winsome from the singular Dawn Lambeth, who takes AS LONG AS I LIVE at the easy, convincing tempo she likes (with deep-down work from Marc, who seconds the emotions).  Nobody sounds like Dawn, and the embellishments she creates in her second chorus are delightful:

Time for something slow and romantic, a dance for the lovers, explicated by Dawn: hold your Beloved tight as Dawn and the band do BLUE MOON:

For the pastoral poets among us, a song I associate with Duke Ellington, Louis and the Mills Brothers: IN THE SHADE OF THE OLD APPLE TREE.  Dawn brings Nature inside for a few minutes:

A rocking boogie-inflected version of ST. LOUIS BLUES:

Finally, a swinging version of LINGER AWHILE, entirely in the spirit:

“Groovy!” I thought to myself, in its pre-1967 meaning.  You could look it up.

“RACE RECORDS”

Often insulting, demeaning pictures — to sell extraordinary music, primarily to the audience being mocked by the pictures.

Records falling from the skies seems a good thing, but not for shellac 78s.

The “Dusky Stevedore” singing down on the levee — material for a sozen popular songs of the period.

Those colored people were very superstitious, you know.

And their home life was sometimes less than orthodox or well-behaved.

This, from the label that brought us Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven.

Splendidly offensive — nineteenth-century caricature.

At least this advertisement — straightforward and plain — doesn’t thumb its nose at the people expected to buy the product. 

What’s the moral?  Perhaps it is that beauty, given enough time, transcends such condescension and prejudice.

“THE RECORD RACK”

About ten days ago, the Beloved and I took a day trip to Lambertville, New Jersey — a town known to some for its proximity to Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

But the Beloved and I like flea markets, and although we have never made it to Lambertville’s flea market at the right just-after-sunrise time to see all its wares spread out at once, we enjoy walking around through the tables of what must now be called “mid-century American vernacular furnishings,” which sometimes translates to the objects you recall from the Fifties and would not want to have in your house, and sometimes it means McCoy pottery, sheet music, and . . . recordings.

The outdoor flea market had little we wanted, so we found ourselves in one of the buildings that surround it, which was called “the Golden Nugget.”  In it, I wandered through an autograph dealer’s shop and poked through bookshelves.  Finding little to interest me on the first floor, I went upstairs, and there, at the end of the corridor, I encountered

THE RECORD RACK

“Vinyl From All Eras”

I’ll say

I saw a great number of neatly arranged 78 rpm records.  Early Pathes.  Albuns of twelve-inch jazz 78s.  Crosby reissues on mid-Forties Brunswick.  A bin full of Commodore recordings from that same period.  Many many swing and dance band and vocal recordings from the late Twenties on to the Fifties.  All of these delights were reasonably priced (a rare record went for eleven dollars; the Commodores were two dollars).

I was thrilled, and although I bought only two items, they were enchanting.  One is a Swaggie vinyl recording of an Australian jazz group — Roger Bell and His Pagan Pipers — featuring Bell’s originals, one of which is fetchingly titled ALL SHE WORE WAS A HECTIC FLUSH. 

The other had a rim crack which had been neatly repaired: it was a 1939 Vocalion by a Johnny Hodges small group.  Incidentally, I believe “goon” comes from a Popeye character, Alice the Goon, which might explain Sammy Price’s THE GOON DRAG.

What was equally delightful was that the young man in charge, Brooke Sudlow, was enthusiastic and well-informed.  We got into conversation about the music I was excited by, and it led to Brooke’s pleasure in listening to and playing Maxine Sullivan — so he is more than a purveyor of old records. 

I do not ordinarily use this blog to plug businesses, but I think that Brooke’s business (he runs it with Pat Doron) deserves your attention.  Here is what we now call “contact information,” and I know if readers are also looking for a mint copy of a Buddy Holly recording, they have a very good chance of finding it through Brooke and Pat . . . fairly priced, too.

Brooke’s phone is 609.712.2751; Pat’s is 609.462.2894.  Someone’s email is footmoon59@yahoo.com., and the Record Rack itself is located at 1850 Route 29, Lambertville, New Jersey 08530.  And those Commodores might still be there . . . !