Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Papa Charlie Jackson

A talented banjo player and singer from the 1920s-30s, Jackson has probably been neglected by just about everyone. I guess this is because jazz fans neglect him because he rarely worked with full bands, blues fans neglect him because he played the banjo instead of guitar, and ragtime fans tend to focus on pianists and orchestras.

Nevertheless, he is a solid performer, as these records show. Richly organic roots music!

Here's 'Drop that Sack', also recorded by Louis Armstrong's Hot Five (under the pseudonym 'Lill's Hot Shots'):

This record of 'I'm Alabama Bound' bears a striking similarity to Jelly Roll Morton's 'Don't You Leave Me Here' - songs like this have a way of popping up all over the place, no doubt adapted from a common pool of folk tunes and storytelling ideas:

Monday, May 30, 2011

Marbles - Herman Waldman & His Orchestra 1929

YouTuber 'Prozoot' has uploaded an admirable collection of rare 1920s and 30s dance band records.

Here is one of my favourites, in gloriously full sound:

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A hot jazz alliance...

Philippines-born Spanish pianist Elizalde led bands in the US before moving to Britain. There his band played at the Savoy Hotel in London during the late 1920s, featuring many of the best British jazz musicians of the time.

Three American stars moved temporarily to London to join him: Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Chelsea Quealey on trumpet and Bobby Davis on alto sax and clarinet.

I was listening to a CD of this band's work released on the Retrieval label when one particular personnel listing caught my attention, for Singapore Sorrows. It's a good enough record, but what's fascinating for me is that some great British musicians are joined by no fewer than FIVE of America's best jazz musicians: Rollini, Quealey and Davis plus Fud Livingstone and Rollini's brother Arthur on reeds. It's an astonishing roster for a regular working group in Britain in the 1920s.

But wait, there's more... Strumming away on guitar is Al Bowlly, soon to become one of last century's most admired singers. And playing trombone is Frank Coughlan, from New South Wales, Australia, an almost forgotten but major influence on Australian jazz.

Frank Coughlan's presence on this record serves as another reminder to me that the jazz world of the past is inseparable from the world in which I live now. Coughlan was born on 7 June 1904, in Emmaville. Google Maps tells me it's eighteen hours in the car to Emmaville. Coughlan, Elizalde, Rollini and the others are a lot further away. And yet here is the record:

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Miff Mole and Jack Teagarden

1920s trombonist Miff Mole is widely complimented for his technical assurance, and yet I feel critics often damn him with faint praise when they write of his polished performances on so many records with Red Nichols, the Original Memphis Five and others.

Mole wasn't simply a technically-gifted musician, he also had serious 'hot jazz' abilities. I've been listening to the Roger Wolfe Kahn CD available on the Jazz Oracle label. Amidst jaunty dance band arrangements, Miff Mole regularly emerges for a hot chorus, accompanied only by the rhythm section and occasional sparse saxophone backing. Hear the rhythm section 'dig in' behind him, mirroring the rhythmic energy he brings to his solos. They understand that he is playing 'hot'.

Jack Teagarden's debut on record was with the Roger Wolfe Kahn Orchestra, replacing an absent Miff Mole at the last minute. His trombone style is smoother and bluesier than Mole's, which may go some way to explaining why critics are often kinder when judging Teagarden. At the time, Teagarden must have been a revelation - an exciting new trombone sound, without losing technical skill.

I wonder how Mole felt though. Listening to Mole's solos on the Roger Wolfe Kahn album, I imagine I can hear a change in his approach post-Teagarden, a bit rougher and less angular. I imagine Mole trying to get his head around the new sound. It must have been unsettling. Perhaps it contributed to the changes he made to his playing style and his career choices in the ensuing decades.

Teagarden is incredible, but I more often find myself listening to Mole. His creativity, snappy rhythm and sheer consistency live on.

Here's Mole with Roger Wolfe Kahn:

And Teagarden's debut:

Monday, May 23, 2011

The amazing Frank Guarente

Trumpeter Frank Guarente had a fascinating life, and his band The Georgians was one of the best bands of the early 1920s.

A summary of his life:


A couple of records from 1926, recorded in Switzerland:

Three versions of 'How'm I Doin'?'

The song 'How'm I Doin'?' enjoyed some popularity during the early 1930s. It's a fun call-and-response tune I first heard through the excellent Don Redman recording. However, in transcribing that record for my own band, I discovered several other excellent versions.

Here's what I guess is a post-Bing Crosby 'Rhythm Boys' version:

Next is a more urbane rendition from the Mills Brothers:

Finally we have a Betty Boop cartoon featuring Don Redman's band. Betty Boop cartoons regularly include great jazz soundtracks - even when there's no Don Redman, Cab Calloway or Louis Armstrong obviously featured, bands like the Mills Blue Rhythm Band can be heard playing accompaniment that is similar but different to their records.

'How'm I Doin'?' makes its entrance after Don Redman's opening theme tune, 'Chant of the Weed':

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Is the medium the message in jazz?

To what extent does the medium through which we listen to jazz affect the way we appreciate/learn/remember it?

I'm a 'CD-generation' jazz listener. I'm used to having complete sets of this or that, with alternate takes included, all accompanied by detailed booklets by verbose jazz scholars. When I was a teenager, I consumed music at an alarming rate - five or more CDs purchased in one go, each with around twenty tracks, would last me a week or two. That's a hundred tracks, or fifty 78 rpm records' worth of music.

My older musician buddies would proudly tell me of the excitement returning from the record store with a new 78. Just two tracks, to be played over and over again. And you'd have to wait for the records you wanted. Completing a set meant a tireless search, rather than a single purchase.

So what does all this do to a developing musician? Have I been helped or hindered by CDs? I don't know. An interesting thing happened to me late last year though; I finally obtained a proper record player, a 1960s valve radiogram, with which to play the collection of LPs and 78s I'd (almost unwillingly) amassed. Going through the process of choosing each 78 after another, I realised how similar this process is to choosing the next YouTube clip. In fact, many of the YouTube clips I watch include video of the actual record spinning!

How strange it is that we use new technology to film old technology, all in the pursuit of music that is decades-old. This aging music sounds fresh and exciting to me, regardless of the medium.

Amazing Louis Armstrong footage

Here's some great footage of Louis Armstrong from the early 1950s. While he is almost certainly miming, the quality and uninterrupted nature of the footage makes it especially valuable.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Earl Hines & His Orchestra - Blue Drag

I haven't devoted much listening time to the Earl Hines band of the early/mid 1930s, and I'm definitely enjoying addressing this oversight. There are several excellent players in the band, including one of my favourite reedmen, Omer Simeon.

Here's a great arrangement of Blue Drag - dancers in the 1930s must have enjoyed this rhythmic groove.

Frank Teschemacher with Eddie Condon's Quartet

Clarinet/saxophone player Frank Teschemacher lived an even shorter life than his idol Bix Beiderbecke, dying in a car accident shortly before his 26th birthday. His phrasing and attack still sound fresh and inspiring to me.

Here are two of my favourite 'Tesch' recordings, with Eddie Condon's Quartet. As well as red hot clarinet and alto sax, we hear stomping piano from Joe Sullivan and the sort of drumming from Gene Krupa that proves he was more than just a showman. Eddie Condon plays the banjo with admirable drive, and does his best in the vocals department!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Another version of 'Treat Me Like a Baby'

Here's another version of 'Treat Me Like a Baby', this time by Ben Selvin's Orchestra under the pseudonym 'Phil Hughes & His High Hatters'. This melody is a real 'ear worm' - it's been wiggling around in my head for days now.

Featured here is the incredibly prolific and polished crooner Harold 'Scrappy' Lambert. While Al Bowlly and Bing Crosby are probably better suited to modern tastes, Lambert deserves much more attention than he receives.

This particular version has been recorded from LP onto cassette, from cassette to my computer, and then been turned into a video, so please forgive the poor sound quality!

Jack Purvis - Rare Trumpet Solos

These two recordings ('Copyin' Louis' and 'Mental Strain at Dawn'), featured back to back in the one YouTube clip, are legendary trumpeter Jack Purvis' best recorded work. In them, Purvis exhibits fascinating phrasing and a glorious 'snappy' sound.

Like so many YouTube clips from Atticus70, the historic photos interact wonderfully with the music to bring back the atmosphere of a past era.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Howard Lanin's Ben Franklin Dance Orchestra

Continuing on my 'hot dance' rave from yesterday, here are two glorious records from Howard Lanin. I've been familiar with 'Melancholy Lou' for years, but 'Don't Wake Me Up, Let Me Dream' was introduced to me by US cornettist Andy Schumm on his recent trip to Australia.

This music is nuanced and infectious (musically speaking!), giving clear evidence of the value of 1920s popular music as opposed to so-called 'true' jazz. Had I been a jazz musician in the 1920s, I believe I would have been very happy playing in a dance band like this, not in the least affected by the musical claustrophobia allegedly suffered by jazz soloists constrained by larger groups (i.e. Bix with Paul Whiteman).

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sunny Clapp & His Band O'Sunshine - Treat Me Like A Baby

I rediscovered this pretty melody yesterday. A band I played with years ago used to play it, but it had entirely slipped from my mind until I began clattering through some old cassettes.

Impressive multi-instrumentalist Sunny Clapp (composer of 'Girl of my Dreams') seems to have found the perfect tempo, in my opinion - it's a delicate little melody, but the reasonably jaunty pace makes it sound, well, 'sunny'.

I love the vocal, so typical of its era. What about the lyrics though? Can we stomach a song nowadays that promotes the infantilisation of one's romantic partner? It depends as much on the prospective singer as the audience, I suspect.