Small Jazz Bands, 1934-39

Small band jazz pic

The faces of 1930s New York jazz. Top row, Bunny Berigan, Adrian Rollini, Buddy Rich, Roy Eldridge; 2nd row, Putney Dandridge, Joe Marsala, Rex Stewart, Willie “the Lion” Smith; 3rd row, Sharkey Bonano, Louis Prima, Frankie Newton, Johnny Hodges; 4th row, Mike Riley & Eddie Farley, Teddy Wilson, Stuff Smith, Wingy Manone.

This is something a bit different from my usual posting, or even one of my online books. A few months ago, I compiled a large group of jazz recordings made during the period 1934-39, mostly by musicians who worked in and around the 52nd Street area of New York in the 1930s. I did this because this period has always fascinated me–it gave birth to a few very well-known jazz bands, particularly the John Kirby Sextet, Joe Marsala’s groups and Eddie Condon’s Chicagoans–but also included some famous names in transition from journeymen or sidemen on others’ records to leadership and in some cases from being just insider favorites among other jazz musicians to stardom. I purposely avoided using any of the Kirby recordings, only included Marsala as a sideman in others’ bands (a job he worked fairly regularly until early 1937, when he was finally handed a band of his own), and used just a few examples of early Condon because I wanted to focus on many other musicians who were important to “the street,” as it became known.

But in writing the liner notes for my own little project, I amassed so much information and made some surprising and interesting connections (did you know, for instance, that Bunny Berigan once played in the band of Dick Stabile? or that in 1936-37, Fats Waller had an anonymous competitor known only by the stage name of Tempo King?) that I ended up with a 48-page novella, so to speak.

I thought about sharing this with my readers, but held back because, although all of these records could be found to listen to on YouTube or the Classic Jazz Online website (http://www.jazz-on-line.com/pageinterrogation.php), my WordPress account prohibits my uploading music files, particularly the many that I collected for this set. So I was left in a quandary as to what to do.

Eventually, after two months of sleeping on it, I decided to do this. Below are the first 14 pages of this jazz novella, complete with the pictures I collected for the set. If you like what you see, you can then click on this link – Small-Jazz-Bands – and voila, you can pull up, read, and/or print out the whole thing for yourself. I think you’ll find it fascinating; I sure did.

NYC in the '30s

One of the reasons why so many jazz listeners nowadays ignore the music produced before the Bop Revolution is the more conservative harmony used. With only a few exceptions—Earl Hines, Bix Beiderbecke, Art Tatum, Roy Eldridge, young Dizzy Gillespie—none of the musicians before 1942, when Thelonious Monk’s Epistrophy was first recorded, were using extended chord positions or basing their compositions and improvisations on upper harmonics, and it wasn’t really until Lennie Tristano came along in 1946 that pianists began to understand how to harmonize beneath such daring solo excursions, or play solos of their own.

Another reason is that, as we know, all jazz from the earliest days of New Orleans style up to and even including the bop years was based on popular tunes. This was particularly true throughout the Jazz Age of the 1920s and the Swing Era. Indeed, popular song structure was so ingrained in musicians’ minds that even several of the “bop standards” we now know were simply rewritings, or contrefacts, of existing pop tunes of the 1920s and ‘30s. By the 1950s, a decade after the Bop vs. “Moldy Fig” wars, there was still a strong pushback against the more harmonically daring jazz of the era. This was the reason why Ella Fitzgerald outsold Anita O’Day and Carmen McRae, why the big bands of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman continued to outsell Stan Kenton and various other musicians like George Russell or Monk who occasionally dabbled in large groups, and why we suddenly had Swing Revivalists like trumpeter Jonah Jones making a big splash while his more progressive-sounding brethren like Clarence “Gene” Shaw struggled for work. As jazz became ever more complex and difficult for the general public to absorb, the reactionary strain had a healthy and hardy growth period, and this in turn created a wider rift between Jazz That Was and Jazz That Is.

Yet, ironically, the great strides made in any era of jazz pushed aside the past as if it were unnecessary to listen to or understand. One of the reasons for all this is that jazz, much more so than its bigger and older cousin classical music, evolved much more quickly in a shorter period of time. It boggles the mind to think that, in 1940, depending on where you were at the moment, you could hear pianists Jelly Roll Morton, Hines, Tatum, James P. Johnson, Ken Kersey or Thelonious Monk, and five years later it was possible to hear trumpeters Bunk Johnson, Wingy Manone, Louis Armstrong and Harry James cheek-to-cheek with Gillespie, Miles Davis, Fats Navarro, Howard McGhee and Red Rodney. Moreover, only a few of the ‘20s jazz and Swing Stars bothered to keep up with the new trends. Tenor saxist Coleman Hawkins was one of the very few to not only adapt to the new music but become a staunch advocate of it, and for his pains he was dropped by his countless fans from the previous decade.

Yet there is something to be said for listening to jazz performances where the improvisation and the underlying harmony all move in the same direction, where there is more convergence than conflict, and yet still be able to hear various influences at work as well as artistic growth, and that is what these recordings exhibit. As jazz began moving away from the small group concept into the large band mold, spearheaded by Chick Webb, Bennie Moten, Fletcher Henderson, Glen Gray and, in his own sound world, Duke Ellington, it certainly did seem as if the Swing Era was inevitable. What few counted on was the overriding influence of the pop market; as bands became more and more popular, they were forced to play even more banal and forgettable songs that would quickly become yesterday’s pop garbage. This even affected the most popular small jazz band of all, Fats Waller and his Rhythm, but Fats devoured the pop garbage he was forced to record and spit it out as vital jazz with more than a touch of irony and disdain in it. Not all the bands you will discover here were as lucky, but some managed to do the same thing.

And, on top of all this, the music is fun to listen to—something that often escapes the abilities, or sensibilities, of many modern jazz musicians.

By and large, this set attempts to chronicle the vital small groups that played in and around New York City during the Depression. It was an era made possible, and legal, by the repeal of the Prohibition Amendment in 1933. With alcohol now again allowed to be made legally and safely, going to a jazz club to down a few, eat a meal and enjoy the jazz played there became a favorite pastime of New Yorkers.  The Onyx Club, founded by Joe Helbock in 1927, was the oldest of them, having operated during the time of bootleggers and thus simply moving smoothly into the post-Prohibition era. Thanks to the Onyx Club’s favorable location on 52nd Street—it had started out at 35 W 52nd Street but moved to 72 W 52nd Street in 1934 and 62 W 52nd Street in 1937—the other clubs that were to do a brisk business moved into surrounding buildings, thus essentially moving the epicenter of New York jazz from 133rd Street in Harlem downtown.

Spurred by the Onyx Club’s success, other venues sprang up on “the street.” Among the earliest of the Onyx’s competitors was the Hickory House, which opened up at 144 W. 52nd Street. They claimed to have invented the concept of the jam session and “sitting in,” and they well may have in the more general sense, although occasional individual jazz musicians were always allowed to sit in with the hired band now and then prior to their opening. In 1933 they became the first jazz club to broadcast over major networks. The Famous Door opened in 1935 at 35 W 52nd Street. The Yacht Club was at 66 W 52nd St, the 3 Deuces at 72 W 52nd Street and, a block away, we had Kelly’s Stable at 141 W 51st Street. I can’t find a year when the Tap Room opened, but they were an outlier, being four blocks away at 234 West 48th Street, and were not a self-contained jazz club but inside the Hotel President. The latter was lucky to get an artist-manager who could not only run the business end but also provide quality jazz and hire the best musicians he could get to move over there, bass saxist extraordinaire Adrian Rollini. Several of these clubs became famous locally, and to a certain extent outside of the region, by means of catchphrases or song titles: “Get your juiced at the Deuces,” “Swingin’ on the Famous Door” and “Jumpin’ at the Hickory House.”

In addition to all of the above, the New York jazz clubs—excepting, sadly, the Tap Room which had management oversight by the hotel it was in—were major players in the public integration of jazz. Benny Goodman gets, and deserves, much credit for being bold enough to force national audiences to accept his band with black musicians in it, although for several years they were limited to pianist Teddy Wilson and vibraphonist Lionel Hampton who only played in his trio and quartet, but the New York clubs were “the Big Easy” of jazz integration on a much wider scale. Eventually, from 1937 onward, the hero of “the Street” was clarinetist-bandleader Joe Marsala, who history has shown did more to integrate jazz in a public venue than any other performer of his time, but the musicians who ran their own bands in the other clubs certainly did their part. As author Lewis A. Erenberg pointed out in his superb book on the subject, Swingin’ the Dream (Chicago University Press, 1998), the Swing Era gave African-Americans the hope that society itself could be changed from within via the integration going on in the swing bands of the day and, just as importantly, the public acceptance of all-black bands as being the equal or the better of many of their white competitors. Some worked behind the scenes, such as Glenn Miller hiring black arrangers Eddie Durham and Mary Lou Williams to write for his popular orchestra and Tommy Dorsey building his entire swing book from 1940 to 1946 on the scores of black arranger Sy Oliver, but the fact that both Miller and Dorsey expressed publicly their admiration for the bands of Jimmie Lunceford and Count Basie (as mentioned earlier, Ellington, though admired, operated on a different musical aesthetic) meant a lot to white swing fans across the nation, and as Goodman, Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw began hiring black musicians and singers for their white bands also spoke louder than words that it was time to put racial divisions aside and recognize that African-Americans had as much if not more to offer jazz aficionados than they did. Goodman probably summed it up best when he said “I’m selling music, not racism,” and in his groundbreaking 1938 Carnegie Hall concert he expanded his usual inclusion to invite members of both the Ellington and Basie bands to perform with him.

But as I say, it was in the New York jazz clubs of the period that wider integration and more mobile integration took place, for anyone and everyone was invited to sit in with the white bands and some even became permanent members. Moreover, Joe Helbock instituted an “amateur night” policy in which he put on what amounted to mixed-race jazz concerts as early as 1936. And with this racial integration, the small jazz bands of the era helped the music grow and prosper. Thus we can see that these recordings not only document some excellent, swinging music, but also a mixture of styles, all of which contributed to the ambience of the era.

I have purposely omitted, for this survey, the three most famous and popular of these bands: Fats Waller and his Rhythm, which began playing in the New York clubs in 1934 but quickly became a national act that was constantly on tour; the John Kirby Sextet, most famous of the groups to emerge from the Onyx Club, which also had a national profile and a weekly radio program; and Joe Marsala’s various bands, which  I have covered separately elsewhere, but if you toss in one CD each from these three musicians to this survey you’ll have an almost complete picture of the busy musical interaction that was going on.

We begin our survey in May of 1934 with one of the most influential musicians on The Street, Joseph “Wingy” Manone.

WINGY MANONE

WingyJoe “Wingy” Manone (February 13, 1900 – July 9, 1982) is often forgotten today or, if remembered at all, patronized as just another white 1920s trad jazz trumpeter and singer, but the musical and cultural history of 52nd Street jazz during the Swing Era almost revolved around him. This was as much due to his bubbly, infectious personality as to his musical talents as well as the fact that, as a product of the Chicago jazz scene, he too was color-blind when it came to performing with black musicians. He got his nickname as the result of a streetcar accident at age ten, when he lost his right arm, but used his prosthesis so naturally and unnoticeably that many people were unaware of his disability.

After years of playing and recording in both New Orleans and his hometown, Manone—whose name is often misspelled as “Mannone” on record labels—made a brief splash in New York in the fall of 1930 when he made a few records with Red Nichols and his Five Pennies. Most celebrated of the lot was the recording of Corrine Corrina on which he played a hot solo on the mouthpiece of his trumpet—a little trick that confounded many hot jazz collectors who, for years, thought he was using some kind of strange mute. But this early New York fling did not last long; by 1931 he was back in Chicago and, in fact, was not to record again until these 1934 sides.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that around 1932 trombonist Jack Teagarden wanted Wingy to be part of his jazz band, but when the trumpeter auditioned for him Big T discovered that he was musically illiterate—not an uncommon thing among early jazz musicians, many of whom played by ear rather than from scores. “Wingy, I can’t have you in my band if you can’t read,” said Teagarden. “We have some really complex scores. Go back to Chicago, gig around a while and learn how to read; when you do, give me a call.”

So Wingy went back to Chicago and playing around the Windy City. About six months later, he called Teagarden and told him he now knew how to read music. Jack sent him train fare to come back to New York and audition. When he arrived, Teagarden put a score down in front of him. “All right,” said the trumpeter. “Here goes Wingy!” He got all of two bars in when he stopped, baffled by the notes on the page.

“Damn it, Wingy, you told me you knew how to read!” said an angry Teagarden.

“Well,” said Wingy, “I studied all the way over on the train. I really thought I had it down!”

No Calling CardSo there went Wingy, right out of the Teagarden band. But by early 1934 he was back in New York and a major player in the club scene.

Like his friend and colleague Francis “Muggsy” Spanier, another white Chicagoan with a similar style, possibly a better technique but not more imagination, Manone by 1934 was playing a hotter version of the two-beat style of jazz, veering at times towards a four-to-the-bar beat. Manone made his impact via a punchy style with dramatic high notes thrown in for effect. One of the most ironic things about listening to Manone’s records is that you come away with the feeling that this guy is really got without really being able to pinpoint what it is about his style that impressed you. In other words, he didn’t impress you with the unique construction of his solos, as in the case of Armstrong, Beiderbecke and even Nichols (whose playing was admired by both of the first two), but by the overall hotness that just made the music swing in a very enjoyable way. On the first session, he is partnered by Kentucky-born clarinetist Matty Matlock, later a mainstay of the Bob Crosby band, and New Orleans tenor saxist Eddie Miller who had started out as a clarinetist. The rhythm section of guitarist Nappy Lamare, bassist Harry Goodman (Benny’s brother) and drummer Ray Bauduc (who was also a mainstay of the Crosby band) really cooks. In the second session we hear a young and still relatively unknown clarinetist named Artie Shaw, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, black trombonist Dicky Wells (later a member of Count Basie’s band) and a black rhythm section of John Kirby on bass and Kaiser Marshall on drums. Ironically, this rhythm section sounds lighter and less impactful than the previous one, but Wingy swings like mad and, on In the Slot, both Freeman and Shaw turn in splendid solos.

San Antonio ShoutHaving no shame, Manone then decided to co-opt the name of the once-famous New Orleans Rhythm Kings, though not a single one of the original members is present on the first session and, in fact, this sounds the most like a typical Chicago Dixieland jam on Panama. Matlock’s clarinet is particularly hot on this one, however. In his next NORK recording session, he at least had the good grace to invite original trombonist George Brunies to join the action. On both sessions, the rhythm section again plays pretty hard with the unknown drummer Bob White moving things along. In the second session, the clarinetist is Louisiana-born Sidney Arodin, almost forgotten nowadays, who turns in a fine solo on San Antonio Shout.

Perhaps Manone’s most famous recording session of 1934, omitted here because it has been reissued so many times, came in August when his band included Wells, Shaw, Freeman, Kirby, Kaiser Marshall and Jelly Roll Morton on piano, the only time the great New Orleans jazz master ever made a record as a sideman. But he needed the money, Manone knew it, and so invited him to sit in. He was that kind of guy.

LOUIS PRIMA

PrimaOnstage wild and wacky, offstage quiet and reserved, the enigmatic but colorful Louis Prima (December 7, 1910-August 24, 1978) owed his entire career to a lucky chance. Hickory House owner John Popkin happened to be in New Orleans in 1933 when he heard the still-young trumpeter-vocalist and insisted that he migrate to New York. Manone, playing at the Onyx at the time, didn’t appreciate the competition, since Prima not only had a wider range on the instrument but was also more virtuosic, in a class with Armstrong and Bunny Berigan. Being from “the big easy,” he naturally named his group the New Orleans Gang although, like Manone’s New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the only New Orleans player in it besides himself was trombonist George Brunies (and Arodin from nearby Westwego).

For those of us who, like me, are only familiar with later-day Prima when he was running his fast-paced Las Vegas act and barely played the trumpet except for an occasional lick now and then, it’s utterly amazing to hear how he could rip through a tune like Horace Henderson’s Jamaica Shout with such insouciance. A couple of other points of interest about this and other Prima performances from the era are that, though he is from New Orleans, he is clearly playing a stomping four-beat style of jazz, with Artie Shapirio’s bass emphasizing that tempo along with guitarist George van Eps, drummer Stan King and, a real surprise to me, pianist Claude Thornhill who six years hence would be leading one of the quietest and most atmospheric of all big bands. Even in a combination vocal-trumpet showpiece like ‘Long About Midnight, Prima is already in full Swing Era mode; there is nothing old-timey Dixielandish about this performance except perhaps Arodin’s very New Orleans-influenced clarinet. But oh! Just listen to Prima’s octave-and-a-half upward portamento at the beginning of the last chorus for a perfect example of just how good he was.

Jamaica ShoutEven more so than Manone, it’s evident from his recordings that even as early as 1934 Prima was a human dynamo in front of an audience. Friendly or not, Manone clearly could not have withstood the competition Prima gave him. Listen to his triple-tonguing in I Still Want You or any of the other tricks he pulled out of his hat and you’ll be amazed that this guy wasn’t picked up buy some manager, similar to Joe Glaser for Louis Armstrong, to make him a superstar. True, in 1935 Hollywood beckoned, taking Prima out of the New York club scene temporarily; he can be seen doing cameos in a few films, such as singing and playing trumpet opposite Bing Crosby in I’m an Old Cowhand from 1936; but the kind of sustained promotion and publicity that Glaser lavished on Armstrong was not to be his, and by the early 1940s Prima was struggling, which is when he shifted his act from hotshot jazz to ballads, rhythm ‘n’ blues and pop versions of Anglo-Italian songs like Angelina and Bacciagaloop Made Love on the Stoop. Audiences ate it up, but from a jazz standpoint it was quite a downturn for a man who clearly had the talent to be a #1 jazz headliner.

In the December 1934 session, Prima now has two more authentic New Orleans musicians in his band, Eddie Miller (here on his original instrument, clarinet) and guitarist Nappy Lamare, but “frog-faced Thornhill” is still on piano and now drummer Stan King. King (1900-1949). King was a fixture of the New York jazz clubs and jazz recording sessions of the era, always in demand because of his crisp, precise style (Mel Lewis absolutely adored his playing) but seldom reliable because he was an even heavier alcoholic than Eddie Condon or Pee Wee Russell, which was saying something. Thus we must treasure every recording session on which he played, because he was always good, always swung, and at the same time gave dozens of people a lesson in jazz drumming.

For all his joie-de-vivre, infectious vocals and dazzling trumpet playing, Prima always seemed to struggle to produce a hit record. Ironically, one of his biggest came after he went west to California, the 1935 recording of The Lady in Red. It was a fortunate moment in which Prima did not have to sacrifice his jazz identity yet was still able to put a good tune over in such a way that it sold a good number of copies.

…AND HERE GOES WINGY AGAIN!

Hey, you can’t keep a good man down, and God knows Wingy had enough pep and chutzpah to spare. So here he is in 1935, again with his hot rhythm section of Harry Goodman on bass, Lamare on guitar and Bauduc on drums, this time even more committed to the four-beat style than before. He’s also biting the bullet to play, sing and record a couple of popular tunes of the day, Shirley Temple’s hit song On the Good Ship Lollipop and Al Jolson’s big hit of the same year, About a Quarter to Nine. Yet he does so with such good humor without playing too much tongue-in-cheek that you end up loving the records, particularly the first, without minding the fact that he has just recorded a piece of musical crap. Shades of Fats Waller! In Swing, Brother Swing, he laments the fact that he’s been swinging all his life but can’t seem to reach the younger listeners, so he just has to get hotter. And he does, indeed he does.

A WORD FROM DUKE ELLINGTON

EllingtonBy 1935, Ellington had spent nearly three years moving away from the “Jungle Band” style of his 1926-31 orchestra, and was now starting to make some recordings with smaller groups ranging from a sextet to an octet—but nearly always under the name of one of his sidemen (Johnny Hodges, Rex Stewart, Barney Bigard or Cootie Williams). This rare outing under his own name produced this gem, Indigo Echoes, a truly impressionistic piece of jazz that is almost sui generis in his output. Yet it was virtually ignored when first issued except by musicians, only becoming more popular when Columbia reissued it in the 1940s. I hesitated as to whether or not to include any Ellington small band recordings here since they never performed publicly, but although the public paid little attention to most of them, musicians clearly did, and they were very influential in that respect. So there you are.

WILLIE THE LION, HIS CUBS AND OTHERS

The Lion 1William Henry Joseph Bonaparte Bertholf Smith (November 23, 1893-April 18, 1973), known to others (whether you liked it or not) as “The Lion,” was surely one of the most colorful and quixotic personalities in jazz. His mother gave him his long-winded name to reflect his various heritages: Joseph after St. Joseph, Bonaparte to reflect his French blood, Bertholf after the last name of his biological father, who was Jewish. Willie the Lion was somewhat fluent in Yiddish and, to his dying day, claimed to be a member of one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. He chain-smoked cigars, bragged that he was the greatest pianist in the world, and named himself The Lion. He gave a couple of different reasons for this; one was that he was given a medal for his bravery in World War I (true, though he mostly played drums with the African-American military band led by Tim Brymn), another that he was a “lion” in the boxing ring (partly proven—he did engage in prizefighting). He began playing piano as a youngster, mostly ragtime, but developed a jazzier style after the War when playing in Harlem clubs opposite James P. Johnson, the originator of stride piano.

The Lion 2Smith’s improvisations were never as tidy or regular-sounding as those of Johnson or the latter’s great protégé, Fats Waller. Rather, he played in irregular phrases that didn’t quite join up together neatly, yet somehow always made sense, but as a maverick and a braggart who thought himself better than everyone else, Smith paid the price of lessened fame. He was, however, a welcome visitor in the New York clubs of the mid-‘30s and he did manage to make several recordings. The first session here has an odd feel to it, using a washboard instead of a drummer. This puts the music more in line with such late-1920s/early ‘30s groups as the Washboard Resonators, Beale Street Washboard Band, Washboard Serenaders and Washboard Rhythm Boys. It makes an incongruous sound in There’s Gonna Be the Devil to Pay alongside Smith’s jaunty yet rather sophisticated piano. Tennessee-born cornetist Ed Allen had played in Chicago with Earl Hines, but only until about 1925; his style is hot but clearly anachronistic. Smith’s own composition Streamline Gal, taken at a medium tempo, swings a bit better. Clarinetist and alto saxist Cecil Scott is a mediocre improviser, but Allen sounds much better here, as does Smith.

Despite its title, Harlem Joys sounds much less like Harlem jazz than like something Jimmie Noone would have played at the Apex Club in Chicago c. 1928-29. Smith’s solo on this one is very inventive, however; note how he skips a beat yet makes it sound as if it fits in. Scott’s clarinet isn’t too bad on this one, either. Surprisingly, Smith does get the band to play in a more modern style on Swing, Brother, Swing, which features some nice growling by both Allen and Scott, who’s really not bad at all on this title. Willie the Lion surprises us here with a vocal, his voice almost unrecognizable to those of us who know him better from his recordings of the 1950s and ‘60s.

ENTER BUNNY BERIGAN

Berigan 1Roland “Bunny” Berigan (November 2, 1908 – June 2, 1942) was one of the greatest stars and one of the biggest tragedies in jazz—like Bix Beiderbecke, preventable but inevitable. A star at age 22 with the nascent Hal Kemp Orchestra, he was signed by Paul Whiteman the following year but, as was so often the case with jazz talent, Whiteman held him under wraps most of the time. But Berigan’s sound and style, so similar to that of Louis Armstrong that even Armstrong paid him the ultimate compliment of saying that he was the only other trumpeter who came close to him, were so impressive that he quickly became a highly sought-after musician in the recording studios and jazz clubs. After leaving Whiteman, Berigan played in Abe Lyman’s band before returning to freelancing, then in 1935 he was hired by Benny Goodman just before his swing band hit the heights of popularity in August of that year. Restless as usual, Berigan left Goodman about a year later to play with rival Tommy Dorsey’s orchestra, where he recorded two classic solos on Marie and Song of India but again was given little else. Yet he continued to record fairly regularly in the studios, both under his own name and as a member of others’ bands, until in the fall of 1937 he formed his own big band to tour and record.

Berigan 2In a certain sense, then, Berigan doesn’t quite fit the profile of the New York club musician, but although his live performances in those clubs were sporadic his recordings were enormously influential and showed how he could play in a variety of styles and settings, among them discs with the Boswell Sisters, the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, and this rare outing with a recording-only band led by Glen Gray’s staff arranger, Gene Gifford. Most of Gifford’s scores for Casa Loma were hot and peppy, i.e., Dance of the Lame Duck, Black Jazz, White Jazz, Casa Loma Stomp etc., but Nothin’ But the Blues, which he co-wrote with Wingy Manone, is a slower, moodier piece. Thornhill is back on piano, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Baduc on drums, and Wingy himself sings the vocal, but it is Berigan’s rich, dramatic trumpet playing, even more inventive than that of Prima, that steals the record as it normally did. The flip side, Dizzy Glide, is uptempo but with a smoother rhythm than that usually played by the Gray band; Freeman and Berigan play a chase chorus to open the record, followed by a good clarinet solo by Matty Matlock and an OK middle eight by one Morey Sammuel on trombone. Wingy again takes the vocal, backed nicely by Dick McDonough’s guitar. In the following chorus, Berigan has to share solo time with Thornhill, who is pretty good, and Sammuel, who is just OK, but Bunny gets the rideout.

PUTNEY DANDRIDGE

Dandridge 1Virtually forgotten today, pianist-singer Louis “Putney” Dandridge (January 13, 1902 – February 15, 1946) was born in Richmond, Virginia but moved to New York in 1918 where he worked in a musical revue called The Drake and Walker Show. By 1930 he was accompanying tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and, a year later, appeared in the cast of the revue Heatin’ Up Harlem with singer Adelaide Hall. He appeared with Bojangles in a scene in the 1932 film Harlem is Heaven and toured Illinois and the Great Lakes region before settling in Cleveland, Ohio, co-leading a band with guitarist Lonnie Johnson until 1934. He then began working as a solo act, moving to New York where he quickly ensconced himself at the Hickory House alongside Wingy and the boys. 1935-36 was clearly the highlight of his career, during which he recorded a slew of sides for Vocalion with some of the major jazz talent, black and white, that flowed in and out of the Hickory House. By 1938, however, he had virtually disappeared from the scene, apparently due to ill health, and died eight years later.

Dandridge 2By the time he made these records, Dandridge’s vocal style was sort of a cross between Leo Watson and Fats Waller. He shouted more than sang most of the time, played pretty hot piano, and recorded with some of the top jazz talent of his day. Considering how closely some of his work emulated Waller, it’s a bit surprising that Fats loaned him his “Rhythm” band for the first session in March 1935: Herman Autrey on trumpet, Gene Sedric on clarinet and tenor sax, Al Casey on guitar and Harry Dial on drums. With Waller’s own band behind him, it’s small wonder that the record sounds like Fats, and he even tosses in spoken encouragement to the players the way Fats did. One difference, though: he plays a surprisingly good chorus on the celesta, an instrument that Waller rarely featured. On the flip side, Mr. Bluebird, Dandridge’s vocal seems to presage the R&B singers of the late ‘40s. A month later he was back in the studio, now recording with two of the Swing Era’s brightest stars, trumpeter Roy Eldridge and his amanuensis, tenor saxist Leon “Chu” Berry, who died in an auto accident in 1942. Here, Dandridge’s piano style is very much in the Waller mold but not nearly as inventive, and he scat-sings a chorus very well in the Leo Watson manner. Berry plays a wonderfully soulful solo on Chasing Shadows, which also finds “Little Jazz” Eldridge in a somewhat laid-back mood.

On the August 1935 session we’ve switched bands once again. Now we hear Henry “Red” Allen, who at the time was playing in Joe Marsala’s little band, along with clarinetist Buster Bailey, pianist Teddy Wilson, bassist John Kirby and drummer Walter Johnson, the last two having been let go by Fletcher Henderson when he disbanded in 1934. Allen plays a simply wonderful trumpet intro on Isn’t This a Lovely Day? followed by a rare Bailey solo on alto sax before turning things over to Teddy Wilson, who leads into Dandridge’s vocal (with muted interjections from Allen in the background). The same band also gives us wonderful renditions of Cheek to Cheek, That’s What You Think (not to be confused with the song of the same title later recorded by Anita O’Day) and Shine. On the next-to-last Dandridge selection presented here, doing a very good pop tune of the day called Cross Patch (also recorded by Waller and Lee O’Daniel’s Hillbilly Boys), the band contains but two known names, trumpeter Wallace Jones who worked with Duke Ellington from 1938 to 1944 and drummer Slick Jones who, at the time, was working with Waller. By this time Dandridge’s vocal style had become a bit more lyrical and less hyper but no less swinging. In the last selection, Sing, Baby, Sing from 1936, we hear another rarity, clarinetist Joe Marsala playing alto sax. Allen is back on trumpet and in fine form, and the remainder of this mixed band includes pianist Clyde Hart, guitarist Eddie Condon, Kirby on bass and Cozy Cole on drums.

ROLY’S TAP ROOM GANG

Rollini 1Adrian Rollini (June 28, 1903 – May 15, 1956) was one of jazz’s real giants but, like some of the other musicians in this survey, has been relegated to the dust-heap of history except by those who collect “classic jazz.” A virtuoso of the bass saxophone—indeed, the only really great bass saxophonist in the music’s entire history—he also played the “goofus” or queenophone, a free-reed instrument resembling a saxophone, the “hot fountain pen,” a weird little instrument that looked like a miniature clarinet, and later, vibes and piano, and through all of it one heard his peculiarly “rolling” beat, as if the music were gliding along on roller skates, and a looseness to the swing that was especially unusual in the late 1920s.

Rollini also had a good head for the business end of music, and in 1927 started his own orchestra after the big-name stars of Jean Goldkette’s band were let go due to financial considerations. Bix Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer, Chauncey Morehouse and New Orleans-born bassist Steve Brown all joined Rollini’s band, which he called the New Yorkers, and there’s a good chance they would have made it but for the serious misfortune of a fire burning the club down. Undeterred, “Roly” just kept on rolling along, playing on scads of records for Red Nichols and then, in the 1930s, organizing his own recording sessions, including one famous one that included both Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. By 1935 he was both bandleader and manager of the Tap Room, which is when these records were made.

Rollini 2Rollini was well aware that the bass sax was becoming as passé in jazz as the banjo and tuba. He continued to play the bass sax in his own bands on occasion, but began turning more and more to the vibes. The first recording here features Rollini, his younger brother Arthur (who soon joined the Benny Goodman orchestra) on tenor sax, jazz violinist extraordinaire Joe Venuti and the little-known but very able Victor Engle on drums. On the next session, Venuti is out but we hear several of the Hickory House regulars of the time: Dandridge on piano, Wingy on trumpet and Joe Marsala on clarinet along with guitarist Carmen Mastren and a totally unknown singer named Jeanne Burns. Forgotten she may be, but her light yet attractive and very hip singing voice, with a bit of rapid vibrato, sounds eerily modern to our ears today. (In I Got a Need for You, Wingy sings “I wish I got a weed for you!”) Piano and guitar really set up a typically Rollini-like rolling rhythm at the outset of Weather Man, which features a nice Marsala solo and bit of levity between Manone and Dandridge s the former embarks on his vocal. Mastern, who was to later play with Tommy Dorsey, takes a nice single-like solo as well.

Typically of a Rollini session, Nagasaki is taken at nearly the same fast clip as the Putney Dandridge recording, but somehow sounds more relaxed due to the rolling beat. Dandridge does both vocal and piano honors here as well. Roly picks up his bass sax for Honeysuckle Rose to good effect as Dandridge contributes a wonderfully light-voiced vocal. Jeanne Burns returns on Jazz O’ Jazz as we also hear a rare example of Rollini’s speaking voice.

–(c) 2020 Lynn Rene Bayley

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