“Hot dance” has always seemed like a polite way to say “old music with horns that isn’t jazz, but still has balls.”
Like every other era in American music, the twenties had its share of bland, banal and ruthlessly commercial trifles. Ironically the “Jazz Age” also produced some of the most touching and inventive jazz on record.
Hot dance records fall somewhere between: not earthy or improvised enough to be christened jazz, yet much more inspired and inspiring than the sonic wallpaper lining most dance halls and living rooms at the time.
with the California Ramblers’ recording of the same tune:
The beauty of that second side rests in the way the Ramblers (d/b/a “The Golden Gate Orchestra”) pull at this nice little stock arrangement of this nice little song about some nice little girl getting passed around between sexual partners. The band treats the chart like their own plaything, with a rhythm leaning more towards fraternity stomp than society glide.
They start with a grand introduction and straight melody statement, with saxes cool as ice in a tumbler and a violin hovering at the end of their phrases like a dour chaperone. It makes Frank Cush’s slashing trumpet on the bridge sound that much more aggressive, hinting at what this girl is up to after all the party guests have left.
Most dance records of the time added variety with an improvised eight bars, or a jazzy half chorus if the bandleader was especially daring. The Ramblers devote an entire chorus to a sweaty, agitated exchange between Sam Ruby’s brawny tenor and Al Duffy’s now unbuttoned violin. Stan King pops his cymbals behind Duffy, and Cush sounds twice as defiant when he comes back for another bridge.
A tear jerking ensemble comes up only to be interrupted by some cutting alto (Carl Orech? Harold Marcus?), and the big-shouldered, Movietone-esque coda feels more like a concession than a finale. What started out as a peppy but mild dance record finishes as war between the sedation of the ballroom and the sexuality of the speakeasy.
For most commentators, the predominance of arranged material as well as the Ramblers’ emphasis on a very upbeat downbeat steers this side clear of jazz, yet it’s hardly lame, tame, generic pop. The players’ unique sound materializes even as they stick to written parts. There’s none of the wide open jam session feel that would later be synonymous with jazz, but the soloists burst forward with concision as well as spontaneity. It’s smart, rhythmic and sincere, and it even earned its practitioners a paycheck. Until iTunes comes up with a hot dance store, it’s close enough to lump in with jazz.