FindAGrave.com has been a valuable asset for researching musicians who don’t warrant mention by John Chilton or Gunther Schuller. This website not only provides important dates, locations and biographical information, but its photo request service uses photographers “in the field” to help fill in the blanks.
That service now gifts a fitting coda to a recent post about reed player and discographical ghost Ben Whitted:
Morbid, heartwarming and informative all at once, this headstone encapsulates the bundle of influences and experiences hiding under an “obscure” name. An ex-military musician turned dance band sideman and occasional jazz soloist, Whitted not only witnessed but also participated in several chapters of American popular music. He must have had something (dare we say “unique?”) to say on his instrument, more to offer than matrix numbers and dates alongside the musicians we all know so well. That’s one reason to keep listening.
It’s hard to argue with genius, not just because of its power but often because it has been granted that status postmortem. It’s harder to even question a (by all accounts) kindhearted and often humble genius like Louis Armstrong. Yet Armstrong’s description of his first experience in a recording studio is either too modest, or this blogger is that obtuse:
The Gennett [record company] people found that they had to put me twenty feet back of the other players [in King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band] because my high-register notes were so strong they would not record clearly any closer.
The story of Armstrong’s cornet literally placing him far apart from his contemporaries from the very start of his recorded legacy is easy to believe and still awe-inspiring close to a century later. It symbolizes just another part of his vast toolkit: resplendent tone, melodic flow, technical facility, rhythmic inventiveness, improvisatory imagination, an array of vocal inflections and a sound that could blow off a roof to boot.
Don’t forget gifted second cornetist. Records and ear-witnesses demonstrate Armstrong’s ability to fashion just the right harmony, counterpoint and decoration under and around Oliver’s lead without usurping it. It’s what he was there to do with Oliver, what he had been doing night after night at Chicago’s Lincoln (originally Royal) Gardens. Armstrong was powerful in a number of ways, even when he wasn’t the center of attention.
Which is why the idea of his being unable to tone it down at a record session always left me incredulous. Even if the twenty-three year old Armstrong was simply that nervous before a big recording horn for the first time, he had already played in a variety of settings in his native New Orleans. In addition to parade bands and jazz ensembles, he must have supplied more sedate music for dancers, atmosphere for social events and accompaniment for more than a few singers. It’s also hard to imagine Armstrong standing twenty feet back from the band at their regular gig, or that club patrons would have forgiven his sticking to one loud dynamic.
Armstrong may have (famously) not known what “pp” meant on paper but he must have been familiar with, and capable of, playing softly. In this case, the real power of this genius seems to sabotages its own claims.
Thoughts? Contrary arguments? Brickbats? A patient smile? It always seemed to work for the man himself…
Here’s a little peek inside of my own listener’s diary, a meandering thought on lit screen sprayed out without attention to prose.
Brian Rust lists Don Murray on baritone saxophone and clarinet for the May 25 and June 28, 1928 sessions Joe Venuti and His New Yorkers. Murray’s baritone gets the lead on “’Tain’t So, Honey, ‘Tain’t So” from the first session (and Okeh’s sound shows off his light tone on the big horn). His clarinet might be filling out the lower harmonies under the flutes on “I Must Be Dreaming” from that session, and it’s likely part of the clarinet section behind Charlie Butterfield’s trombone on the first chorus of “Because My Baby Don’t Mean ‘Maybe’ Now” from the second session.
There are no other audible clarinet or baritone sax solos from these two sessions, yet the alto saxophonist playing the first chorus bridge of “Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky” on the second date might be Murray. The uneven eighth notes, cutting the first part of the beat short and emphasizing the second part of the beat (similar to a sixteenth-dotted eighth note pattern, the reverse of many attempts to notate swung eighth notes) are similar to Murray’s rhythmic approach. The phrasing is also very “busy” and arpeggiated a la Murray, and alternation between slurred phrases and light but definite tonguing also reminded me of Murray. The bright, open, fat tone is very different from his sound on tenor and baritone saxes but is very similar to his clarinet.
Rust lists Arnold Brilhart and Max Farley on alto saxophone and flute for these sessions, along with Herbert Spencer on tenor saxophone for the first session and Fud Livingston replacing him and doubling clarinet for the second one. Yet Rust also listed Murray as clarinetist, alto saxophonist and baritone saxophonist on “Blue River” with Jean Goldkette, despite Murray clearly playing tenor saxophone. Between doubling, transposing and doctoring, it’s worth viewing the reed assignments in Rust’s testament with a critical eye, or at least using ears to back them up.
Rust’s designated alto men, Brilhart and Farley, were mostly section men. Yet according to Ate Van Delden’s liner notes to the Timeless CD, Brilhart did play a few solos with the Varsity Eight a few years earlier and according to a few posters here on the Bixography forum, Brilhart plays lead alto with Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band. Assuming Brilhart got to solo on his own record date, session, we also have an example of him soloing on “Hello Aloha! How Are You?” Here are a few audio examples:
It’s harder to find examples of Max Farley’s tone for comparison, since he doubled a variety of different instruments other than alto sax and doesn’t seem to have played lead or soloed on any recordings. Yet whoever it is playing alto on the transition immediately following the first chorus, it is clearly a different player than the one on the bridge, presumably the same lead alto in the ensemble behind the altoist on the bridge. It might be Farley on the bridge, but there is a strong resemblance to Murray. Ditto for the possibility of Livingston.
Honestly, just a thought.
Berklee College of Music celebrated April Fools’ Day today with a funny, well-produced video (which no one paid me to share or endorse) that made the spoon a little fuller for an instrument that already takes a fair amount of shit:
Maybe it’s the squawky timbre, the association with milk-mustached kindergarteners or how comically simple it is to use, but the kazoo makes for an effortless punch line.
Early jazz aficionados may not be laughing as hard. The kazoo was a hit among novelty-crazed listeners in the twenties and appears on many records from The Jazz Age. In hindsight it might be accused of gobbling up time on 78s that could have been put to better use by just about any one else playing just about any other instrument (when it comes to comb or tuba, it’s still a toss-up). It’s easy to imagine purists scratching their heads and pounding their fists at the travesty not just of George Brunies soloing on kazoo rather than trombone, but the fact that those twenty-five seconds of kazoo could have instead gifted us more time with Bix Beiderbecke’s seraphic cornet (fifty seconds if you count alternate takes!):
Most of the music’s original listeners were probably more interested in a good time rather than a profound emotional experience or instrumental exploration, so maybe we can forgive the kazoo, its practitioners and enablers. Judging from California Ramblers drummer Stan King’s energy and comic timing on the instrument, he either didn’t mind it or was simply that much of a professional. The double-kazoo (?)(!) chorus on “Tessie, Stop Teasing Me” is not only a funny little exchange but also another jittery foil to Bill Moore’s tightly muted trumpet:
There’s no way of knowing whether such musical considerations came into play as the Ramblers gave the public what it wanted and seemingly had a very good time earning a paycheck. It’s also unclear whether Jelly Roll Morton included the kazoo on several of his earliest recordings because he liked it or its potential to sell records. My own favorite example of Morton with kazoo (though admittedly that’s not a very competitive category) is “My Gal Sal”:
Buddy Burton hoots and blasts under and between Volly de Faut’s clarinet and Morton accompanies it all with a sensitivity that belies the comic nature of the recording. Come to think of it, no one is phoning it in on this performance. If this was meant as a joke, both de Faut and Morton went pretty far for the sake of a gag. Maybe de Faut and Morton were laughing at the kazoo, or maybe all the musicians on these sides were laughing with it.
Close to a century later, the kazoo is still fun to listen to and laughter is permissible in all but the direst contexts. Yet I can’t help but wonder how we might react to Alfred Bell’s slashing lead and haunting tone if we were hearing him on his customary trumpet rather than this particular member of the membranophone family (and thanks to Berklee for teaching me that term):
Would we be more impressed if the kazoo was harder to play, or if it was actually taught at a conservatory? The kazoo was marketed as the most “democratic” instrument, since anyone could play it, so are we laughing with the kazoo, or at participatory government? What if the instrument had its origins in folk music rather than novelty ephemera, in native traditions rather than the US Patent Office, in animal skins and woodcarving rather than plastic and the assembly line?
There is a lot more to be said about this funny little instrument. Someone should teach a class, or make it part of a curriculum! Oh, right…
Al Weber mostly stuck to tuba on the few recordings he left behind as a sideman with Cass Hagan, Bert Lown and a post-Adrian Rollini (and therefore below most commentators’ radar) edition of the California Ramblers. There’s no explanation for why Weber picked up the string bass on one lone date with the Ramblers, or why he put it away every other time he made a record:
Weber slapping away on the three solo bridges of “Me And The Man In The Moon” is the most prominently “jazzy” aspect of his sound on record (and each bridge spotlighting a different reed is some very smart arranger’s touch). Yet even his plucking behind the band gives the entire side a lift. Weber’s tone is solid, his time secure and his anticipatory attacks are from perfunctory oom-pahs. They’re not the scene-stealing cross accents of Steve Brown or percussive thwacks of Wellman Braud but they are admirable and ear-whetting work. The same goes for Weber’s syncopated pops and jogging accompaniment on the tune’s session mate, “You’re The Cream In The Coffee”:
The transition from tuba to string bass during this period has been widely discussed and debated in all its stages of grey. The only crystal clear development from this period is that several now-unsung sidemen were regularly doubling string, brass and even reed bass. Listening to Weber, Min Leibrook, Joe Tarto, Harry Goodman (yes, even him) and others who never got the historical clout of a Braud, Brown or Pops Foster, it’s also clear that they listened and learned from what was out there. That’s an impressive skillset, more so if it was just par for the course for this era’s bass players. It gives a new meaning to “all in a day’s work” and really defamiliarizes the term “sideman.”
Weber, by the way, was apparently no slouch on any of the instruments listed on his resume. In addition to playing for no less than Sousa himself, Weber’s round sound on tuba contributes to Hagan’s snappy arrangement of “Varsity Drag,” complete with Red Nichols slicing away in solo and ensemble:
and Weber gets a break all to himself on “My Ohio Home,” polishing off some subterranean notes with clarity and control:
Records like these keep me wondering what other sounds are out there, beyond the Smithsonian boxed sets and buried inside discographical footnotes…
Nuance, originality of style and above all depth of inquiry: each one is more useless than the last on the Internet. When in Rome rebooted do as the Redditers do, so today I’m hate-linking to one of the worst examples of “writing” about prewar jazz I have ever encountered, right here.
It’s not just the knowingly cynical headline or casual to the point of camp (every hipster’s secret weapon that turns out to be facing the wrong direction) tone. Generalization takes the place of history here, sarcasm the place of insight. At least one intelligent, sincere source has praised Mr. Wondrich’s Stomp and Swerve: American Music Gets Hot, 1843-1924 as a later departure away from that style, yet this nearly sixteen year old article sticks out like a middle finger on the author’s resume.
So why dredge this article up? Aside from trying on the snark that seems so popular on other websites, Wondrich’s piece turned up on the third page of results for a simple web query on “Don Murray clarinet.” So this is what some curious person will discover about a great musician and early jazz more generally in their own research. That, um, kinda’ annoyed this unpaid, non-professional pseudo-writer.
See that? I can do it too!
It’s fun to imagine regular readers of this blog asking between posts, “What is Andrew listening to now? Where is he? What is he going to post about next?” Imagining all that assumes regular readership, which is a flattering idea that I have no way of either proving or disproving. Yet the Internet is a great place for conjecture as well as self-flattery, so let’s assume such questions are being raised and take them one at a time.
I have spent the past few weeks listening almost exclusively to the California Ramblers, near-obsessively picking through the hundreds of sessions the band recorded under multiple aliases and in various combinations from around 1924 through the early thirties. Even with all that variety, I’d answer that I’ve been listening to one uniquely New Yorkian territory band. The Ramblers’ sound is an alloy of polish and pep, forged by young, technically proficient players experimenting with improvisation, jazz rhythm and ensemble interplay. They just happened to be based in and no doubt influenced by the professional entertainment capital of the country. Open-eared historian Allen Lowe described the Ramblers’ recordings as “high definition glossy, but never merely slick” and asserts that the band counted “some of the best white jazz musicians of the twenties” among its ranks. Leader and bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini contributed both nimble, creative solos as well as flexible, interactive bass lines; it’s no surprise that he has been covered extensively elsewhere. I’ve reflected on the lesser-known gifts of reed player Bobby Davis and drummer Stan King in previous posts. The Ramblers’ revolving trumpet chair alone is a sort of mini conservatory of white, pre-Armstrong players. Depending on the date or label, you can hear the chatter and squawk of Bill Moore (a light-skinned African American whose career is now bound up with white jazz and who I’ve also written about previously): flip, acrobatic Red Nichols: Roy Johnston’s clipped, archaic to the point of avant-garde attack: and Chelsea Quealey’s lithe, Beiderbeckian lines: They’re all spread out over a range of instrumental combinations, from freewheeling trumpet over rhythm section to tightly arranged tentets. All of these combinations famously reconfigured stock arrangements and their ingenuity adds novel twists to even the most sing-songy pop ephemera, such as the intriguing, harmonically novel introductions on the Goofus Five’s “‘Ya Gotta’ Know How To Love“: or the Golden Gate Orchestra’s “Heart Breakin’ Baby“: The Varsity Eight reinvents the nonsensical “Doodle-Doo-Doo” as an outight hot jazz instrumental: and Quealey’s conversational lead redeems “I Left My Sugar Standing In The Rain” for the Goofus Five in the face of singer Beth Challis’s weapons grade corn: Their approach to more familiar jazz material, some of which was already well-worn in their own time, illuminates what made those tunes so fecund in the first place. There’s a richness and inevitable velocity to the Five Birmingham Babies’ recording of “Copenhagen” despite there being just six players: The Goofus Five apply a simmering, riff-based approach to “Everybody Loves My Baby” (that’s all the more remarkable taking place several years before Count Basie and Miles Davis): It’s hard to pinpoint a core repertoire for the group since they seem to soak up everything. Their return trips to “Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues” and “Deep Sea Blues” hint at a California Ramblers repertoire, applying variations in tempo, arrangement and feel to tunes that don’t appear to have caught on with other groups: Even the often overlooked post-Rollini Ramblers band, which Richard M. Sudhalter analogized as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the Rollini-era band’s Hamlet, offers plenty of enthusiastic, cleverly arranged experiences: All that time with the Ramblers music has made me feel like I’m touring various Manhattan studios, places for recording engineers and company personnel to consult and/or argue with musicians, spaces where creativity and commerce vie for time, which of course is money. I step over Rollini’s bass sax, couesnophone and hot fountain pen and between Bobby Davis’s clarinet, soprano and alto saxophones, all within arm’s reach because they’re likely to be used on the same three-minute performance. Stan King takes up more or less room depending on the date or label, either relegated to just cymbals and kazoo or bearing down on his full drum kit. I’m constantly bumping into piles of sheet music, veteran jazz tunes and Tin Pan Alley newborns strewn about, in some cases their ink still drying and in others their paper soon to line birdcages. This whole musical continuum feels quintessentially Jazz Age New York: busy, crowded, cramped, proudly intense and earnestly upbeat, rarely if ever settling in one spot and eagerly biting into whatever’s in front of it, even while occasionally smirking while chowing down. It’s just another rewarding vestigial limb on the tree of jazz history.
So much for my listening and location. As for what I’m going to write about, I’m still unsure because I don’t have any particular insight to offer about the California Rambler’s music, even after extensive binge-listening. At this point I feel like I’ve spent several hours in front of a Rembrandt and can only “conclude” that the artist was Dutch, that he painted portraits and his painting has the air of seventeenth century Europe. The Ramblers’ gargantuan discography, with so much to savor, so consistently well-executed as well as infectiously joyous, doesn’t help things. It’s easier for me to penetrate Bennie Moten’s music, not because his ragtime cum blues stomp-down style is “simpler” but because there is simply less of it to parse out. Ditto for Clarence Williams’s airy, Southern-infused textures and sophisticated balance between soloist and ensemble or even Ray Miller’s aggressive Midwestern punch. It’s much harder to find an earhold onto the Ramblers’ sheer musical mountain. Unfortunately generalization, nostalgia and personal impressions hardly get to the bottom of anything other than the writer’s navel, so I’ll just have to keep listening to this music. Insights about what made the band tick musically, beyond the personnel listings and matrix numbers, are welcome from anyone who stuck around long enough to get through this latest post (even if you’re sorry that anyone asked the questions that got us here).
In the meantime, I can’t help but think about some advice that singer/songwriter Bill Withers gave to a group of young musicians: he suggested they think long and hard about the resources, dedication and above all ability needed to become a professional musician, reminding them that just because a person likes sex it doesn’t necessarily mean they should become a pimp. I’m not playing music but I am trying to say something productive about it. Maybe I should have just said “bravo!” and called it a day.
Remember the American idea of popular music is totally different from the Continental. [In America] we take a popular song as the starting point and interpolate it to suit our own ideas.
-David Berend, “Tenor Banjo Questions” in Metronome, January 1929 (quoted by Lawrence Gushee for “Improvisation and Related Terms In Middle Period Jazz,” in Musical Improvisation: Art, Education and Society)
Some bands and artists [during the twenties] had devoted fans, but most customers were apparently still shopping for songs rather than specific performances: They would hear “Whispering” or “When Francis Dances with Me,” go to a music store, and ask for a record of it…if the [version they heard] were out of stock most people were happy to go home with an alternate version…
-Elijah Wald, How the Beatles Destroyed Rock ‘n’ Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music
A music lover was passing a pet shop one afternoon when he heard something that sounded like a bird singing dixieland jazz. Unbelieving, he hurried inside and beheld a big, beautiful bird in a splendid cage, giving out a spirited rendition of “The Saints.” Our music lover asked the proprietor, “Is that bird for sale?”
The proprietor nodded: “One thousand dollars for both birds, and that’s a bargain.”
The music lover now noticed a second bird in the shadowy corner of the cage: scrawny, with disheveled feathers and in sore need of a bath. This small wreck of a bird stood uncertainly, swaying now and then, occasionally blinking a bloodshot eye, sometimes sipping from a container of amber liquid.
The music music lover said, “I want the big bird that sings! You can keep that other one.”
The owner quickly replied, “You’ll have to take both birds or none at all. The little bird is the big one’s arranger.”
-Earle M. Moss in The Jazz State of Indiana by Duncan Schiedt
White jazz of the twenties was far from monolithic, though sometimes a little confused by its own vague notions of just what jazz was and by its chronic failure to distinguish between the real thing and novelty effect.
-Allen Lowe, That Devilin’ Tune: A Jazz History, 1900-1950
A new song might receive dozens of different recordings during the twenties, with record companies scrambling musicians to ensure that their label offered the latest hit to customers rifling through record shelves. Companies just sought a profit while musicians just needed a paycheck and consumers just wanted a catchy melody and/or danceable beat.
So goes the common wisdom about this era in American music. A hit from 1924 indicates that at least a few people in that iron triangle wanted more.
“Doodle Doo Doo,” written by “Sobbin’ Blues” and “Tin Roof Blues” composer Mel Stitzel, probably looked promising to sight reading studio players and discriminating record buyers. On the other hand, Art Kassel’s lyrics were the type of novelty that would continue to spellbound audiences through “ooh, eee, ooh-aah-aah,ting, tang, wallawalla-bingbang” right up to “zig-a-zig-ah.” Jeffrey Magee lists them as another instance of the craze for tunes with the word “doodle” in them, and this example worked like a charm for Eddie Cantor. David A. Jasen describes “Doodle Doo Doo” as another hit for the singer/comedian, whose signature phrasing and chutzpah helped sell many tunes:
Cantor is backed by a jazzy small group (mostly sticking to the printed sheet music) but his performance is all about the silly lyrics. Jasen also notes that “Doodle Doo Doo” became a dance hit for Ray Miller and Jack Linx, whose recordings (for Brunswick and Okeh, respectively) were cut within weeks of Cantor’s Columbia side. Perhaps they were given a boost by Cantor’s vocal rendition, or the record-buying public had enough of Kassel’s lyrics.
Miller’s Chicago big band features strong brass and creamy sax sections selling the melody, Miff Mole and Frank Trumbauer providing solo variations and not a single vocal:
No one was playing saxophone and trombone like Trumbauer and Mole. Miller was both business savvy and musically minded: he provides a smooth, medium-tempo beat for dancers that also allows listeners to savor his soloists’ elegant work. Roy Johnston’s trumpet on the verse may be dismissed as “dated,” but next to such polished company its clip and growl adds variety as well as humor.
Jack Linx’s Society Serenaders probably offered ample variety for audiences accustomed to Cantor’s earnest but slick delivery. It’s unclear whether Okeh’s mobile recording unit predicted success with this or any other tune from the Birmingham-based group, or whether listeners appreciated its approach as more than hillbilly exotica [skip ahead to 2:50 into the clip below for “Doodle Doo Doo”]:
Whatever else they made of it, people heard a territory band jamming on a pop song to its own country beat, without any attempts by banjoist/singer Maurice Sigler at drawling “Ah lahk the rest, but what ah lahk best….” The record’s popularity evidences the wide open possibilities for both sales and music at this point in American popular music.
Even if audiences were just looking for something to dance to, many musicians stepped up with more than a metronomic beat. Adrian Rollini and the California Ramblers, d/b/a the Varsity Eight for the Cameo label in May, throw out the lyrics but keep the melody for their hot small group instrumental:
Ray Kitchingham’s banjo keeps things strutting before Bill Moore’s trumpet buzzes in and sparks things with a spare paraphrase over Stan King’s cymbal cuts. A chase between Bobby Davis’s alto and Rollini’s bass saxophones on the verse is followed by bass clarinet decorating the chorus.
The Georgians, recording “Doodle Doo Doo” two days later for Columbia, also mine plenty of textural and rhythmic variety from a supposed novelty song using different musical resources:
The Varsity Eight builds up from its leader’s bass saxophone in the rhythm section while the Georgians let leader Frank Guarente’s trumpet drive things from the top. Following sustained chords in the intro, he leads a jittery New York-style collective improvisation, followed by a very a la mode sax section with Arthur Schutt’s piano tickling around it. The verse is then used like a riff, building up steam before the succeeding chorus reconfigures Stitzel’s syncopations on the upbeat. Guarente then returns with some King Oliver-inspired muted trumpet.
Twenties jazz was all about variety, all the more remarkable when a band was making what may have been the second, fifth or tenth recording of the same tune that year (or month). Ben Bernie and His Orchestra got around to “Doodle Doo Doo” for Vocalion a few weeks later than Cantor but after several other instrumental versions. His take is one of those distinctly overstuffed twenties arrangements that may or may not have had listeners humming but which must have made an impression on them; the band spins a tapestry of kazoo, bluesy chalumeau clarinet, talking trombone, crying saxophones, band vocal, banjo pickin’ and a minor key “exotica” section for bass clarinet and muted trumpets:
Bernie offers plenty of instrumental shtick with some purely musical rewards, such as the opening “doo-wacka-doo” trumpets that work well as a busy counterpoint behind the saxes on the first chorus. The same texture is then inverted, with the trumpeter (Don Bryan?) now playing a “doo-wacka-doo”inspired solo with busy saxes behind it for a smirking, symmetrical and very smart effect.
Vincent Lopez and His Orchestra recorded “Doodle Doo Doo” for the Edison label in October as the Broadway Dance Orchestra, after all of the above recordings. Rather than trying to outdo anyone in terms of novelty or variety, the Lopez outfit keeps things simple and very personal:
Bob Effros’s trumpet is powerful but unflashy. The band works up a sturdy, straightforward groove. Aside from the intriguing clarinet/banjo duet and trombonist Dave Boyd, there is very little improvisation or clever orchestral variation. The band’s sound is enough: hot in its rhythms, warm in its textures, always confident and tight without seeming uptight. It may sound naive, but sometimes just the combination of several different instruments played by ten individuals yields exciting and very distinct results.
Even straightlaced performances such as that of the Benson Orchestra of Chicago aren’t necessarily just a matter of musicians reading their parts:
The outdated, profit-driven system that allowed allowed Eddie Cantor and Jack Linx to share sales might inform modern hindsight. It’s tempting to hear the Benson recording as the buttoned-up, commercial version of a mediocre song, outshined by what jazzier groups such as the Georgians had to say with the tune, which is in turn eclipsed by that group’s recordings of jazz instrumentals such as “Farewell Blues” before that’s all rendered obsolete by the music found in jazz history syllabi and Smithsonian boxed sets. It’s worth reconsidering the Benson band in the same light that Jazz Age consumers encountered it, as one of many groups, all working on the same tune within months or even weeks of one another, huddled in studios that may have been only a few blocks apart, making sense of the newest musical trend while splicing the sound audiences expected with the sounds they had to offer those listeners.
The musicians and recordings begin to express different musical priorities rather than advances or missteps, options rather than right or wrong answers. Some alternatives are more influential or musically sophisticated than others, some more likely to be grabbed off the shelf by twenty-first century ears, yet each one remains valid on its own terms.
That perspective is not only fairer to a band like that of “D. Onivas” but gives the listener something new to hear (rather than laugh at):
Onivas recorded “Doodle Doo Doo” for Perfect in May, opting to put some grit into its polished surfaces via Hymie Farberman’s growling trumpet “taking a Boston,” getting the band in on the jazz act on its own terms. What might have been a gimmick in 1924 musical gimmick can now be heard (enjoyed!) as the meeting of stylistic eras and musical ideas. It’s not Louis Armstrong trumpet, yet that doesn’t take anything away from the music.
It’s worth mentioning that recording industry politics and the racial environment surrounding them prevented Armstrong, his then-employer Fletcher Henderson, his (and Frank Guarente’s) teacher King Oliver, Ma Rainey, Doc Cook or any other Black musician from recording “Doodle Doo Doo” until well after World War II. That may seem like a dispensation, yet as working musicians those band probably would have appreciated a stab at such a popular song. More importantly, their absence closes off further musical possibilities from those musicians and this tune.
Years after its publication, Kassel would make “Doodle Doo Doo” his big band’s theme song, allowing younger generations to hear it throughout the thirties and forties. It was reincarnated as a campfire song and at least two more risque ones, also making a brief appearance in Elvis Presley’s 1969 film THE TROUBLE WITH GIRLS. Even Broadway singer Mandy Patinkin saw fit to include it on one of his albums.
On the border between nostalgia and creativity, New Orleans pianist Armand Hug apparently remembered the tune fondly, recording a rolling, bluesy piano rendition in 1956 that grafted chord substitutions and contrapuntal bass lines onto Stitzel’s tune (with Phil Darois’s bass and Charlie Duke’s drums accompanying Hug with the finesse and understatement of a Baroque continuo):
Jazz blogger Michael Steinman recalls trombonist Vic Dickenson using “Doodle Doo Doo” as a key-changing exercise at gigs in the mid-seventies, modulating up one step with each chorus. It hasn’t had much luck at jam sessions since, but who knows what the future may bring? It may or may not be a “good song” but it is a song, and that is all a musician needs.
Michael Steinman shares some vivid photos and revealing, funny as #@%$ anecdotes about tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans on his blog. Chances are if you’ve found my blog then you already know about Michael’s, but if you don’t, get thee to the Favorites bar!
It was also interesting to read that string bassist Walter Page chose to play sousaphone i.e. brass bass for certain numbers. Also fascinating is Evans’s apparent disdain for the instrument. It means that the Texan saxophonist must have been hearing other options in the rhythm section before his time with Basie, so much so that he developed a preference for one bass instrument over the other. Meanwhile Page himself, who pretty much did for string bass what Cervantes did for the novel and Haydn accomplished for the symphony, sought different textures in the bass chair. In other words, no bass instrument seemed to be an inevitability in prewar jazz!
Originally posted on JAZZ LIVES:
A newly discovered photograph, circa 1937, of Freddie Green and Herschel Evans, thanks to Christopher Tyle from here.
Herschel “Tex” Evans, born in Denton, Texas, did not live to see his thirtieth birthday. We are fortunate that he was a member of the very popular Count Basie band of 1937-39, thus there are Decca studio recordings and airshots, and that John Hammond set up many small-band record dates for Basie sidemen. One can easily hear Herschel’s features with the band — BLUE AND SENTIMENTAL and DOGGIN’ AROUND — but some of the small-group recordings are not as often heard. A sample below.
Here he is with a Harry James small group (among others, Vernon Brown, Jess Stacy, Walter Page, Jo Jones) for ONE O’CLOCK JUMP:
Mildred Bailey with Buck Clayton, Edmond Hall, Jimmy Sherman, Freddie Green, Walter Page, Jo Jones, IF YOU EVER SHOULD LEAVE:
from the same session…
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