Gone Fishin’

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My Attempted Don Murray Discography

The following grew from a pet project of taking occasional notes on and finding as much music as possible made by one of my favorite musicians, Don Murray. I had collected a lot of information from incredible resources such as Tom Lord’s online Jazz Discography, Johnson and Shirley’s American Dance Bands On Records And Film and Albert Haim’s Bixography web forum. Yet my ears can only take me so far, so I am sharing this discography to benefit from more experienced and/or sensitive ears than mine. It can be accessed online here.

I also want to emphasize that this is a personal project and therefore only reflects my own subjective i.e. imperfect tastes and reactions to these recordings. It has also been assembled over the years between instances of real life, so it’s admittedly not the most elegant or conventionally designed discography. Above all, I apologize in advance for any inaccuracies, misattributions or other purely unintentional mistakes and I look forward to correcting them.

So, if you know more about these recordings or (fingers crossed) know of other Don Murray recordings, “have at it.” Thanks!

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Democracy Matters (?)

I’m coming out of my permanent state of semi-retirement just to tell my ones of readers that they can show some support for their favorite jazz musicians, including a few from the music’s alleged formative years, by voting for the next inductees into Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Hall of Fame. You can make your selections through this link:
http://academy.jazz.org/hall-of-fame/
With the state of arts in this country, this may be the last one, so why not vote bigly now? I’m not sharing my selection(s) but here’s a hint:

Best of luck to all of the nominees (but especially the ones who used brass rather than string bass).

Favorite Soprano Saxists Of The Twenties Not Named “Sidney”

Thanks to Ralph A. Miriello for inspiring me to write my own list!

Harold Peterson tossing off some Larry Shields-inspired descant over The Southern Rag-A-Jazz Band:

Gene Fosdick chirping an introductory verse for his Hoosiers:

My hero Buster Bailey, with the unenviable job of subbing for Sidney Bechet alongside Louis Armstrong, on a Clarence Williams Blue Five date and getting a whole paraphrase chorus to himself:

Sidney Bechet’s pupil and Duke Ellington star Johnny Hodges, spare and declaratory with a Perry Bradford group:

Someone’s crisp, bouncy soprano peeking out from the ubiquitous Ben Selvin orchestra:

Baltimore-born and New York-based Percy Glascoe switching between clarinet and soprano, while playing both in a similarly agitated style, with Lem Fowler’s Jim-Dandies:

If you like this sort of thing, I wrote a little more about this group here and here. Moving right along…

Stump Evans and then the redoubtable Omer Simeon, respectively wailing and bluesy with King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators:

Boyd Atkins with Louis Armstrong and His Stompers:

Incidentally, Atkin’s soprano solo (as well as Joe Walker’s solo on baritone) always sounded just great alongside Armstrong and Earl Hines to me. Yet John Chilton’s description of it as merely “effective” left me slightly embarrassed by my own ears. So I finally felt vindicated by Mr. Miriello including Atkins between Sidney Bechet and Johnny Hodges on his list! There’s also…

Harlan Leonard putting down his lead alto with Bennie Moten’s band for some soprano boogie:

then some soprano hoedown:

The little-known but very talented Goof Moyer on his own record date and with just a rhythm section behind him, burning up Fletcher Henderson’s “The Stampede”:

I hope you enjoyed the music.

Addendum: Percussionist and eagle-eye/ear Hal Smith spotted that the above clip erroneously labeled a picture of Albert Nicholas as Omer Simeon. Here is a photograph of Mr. Simeon care of Michael Steinman’s outstanding blog:simeon-1958-per-ebay-via-jazzlives

Thanks, Hal and Michael!

On Making A Difference

Sometimes it’s hard to tell who is reading this blog, which questions bring readers to it or the types of communities it reaches in cyberspace. Occasionally, internet metadata doesn’t just answer my curiosity but actually inspires my hope:

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I hope he/she/they found what they were looking for here. If I knew more people were interested in such topics, I’d just quit the day job and write full-time (paycheck be damned). Here’s some more smut-filled pop, as long as you filthy fucks out there are looking for it…

Gene Fosdick’s Hoosiers

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Paul Whiteman’s Saxophone Sext including Gene Fosdick, second from right. Image from http://www.jazzhound.net © Mark Berresford

Jazz from the twenties emphasized (but by no means exclusively relied upon) ensemble interplay and collective improvisation. The sound of a New Orleans frontline of trumpet, trombone and clarinet weaving in and out of one another is most commonly associated with this period/approach, but bands like Gene Fosdick’s Hoosiers obviously had other ideas in mind. This group recorded just ten sides, but they are models of ensemble-based, rhythmically intense, pre-Armstrong, Midwestern via East Coast jazz that unfurl a variety of ensemble textures out of standard dance band instrumentation.

In his (characteristically excellent) liner notes to a reissue on Retrieval, Mark Berresford explains that the Hoosiers’ first session included the band’s usual personnel. Joe Rose’s cornet is confident, and may have received the usual ample space given to that instrument at live gigs, yet on this session the saxophone section gets most of the attention. The way that the Hoosiers spotlight particular saxophones in addition to the section as a whole is particularly interesting. Novel but not merely novelty touches include the soprano sax lead with tenor sax harmony and the alto sax break folding into the full sax section on “One Night In June”:

The tenor lead with sax section counterlines on “Lost A Wonderful Gift” is a great example of split-section orchestration:

The Retrieval LP lists a sax section of Gene Fosdick on alto and soprano with an unknown tenor player, while Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1917-34 lists an unknown alto and an unknown tenor alongside Fosdick. Back in 1959, Horst H. Lange, in his The Fabulous Fives, said the section consisted of Fosdick on soprano with John Costello on alto and Jimmy Lytell (!) on clarinet. Tom Lord’s online Jazz Discography currently notes Fosdick as the lone (!) reedman playing soprano and clarinet.

Whoever they are, as a concerted section these saxophonists play with a rich, vibrato-laden sound. The lead alto is encircled rather than simply underscored by the inner voices, resulting in a blended timbre rather than simply the highest note dominating the line. It may have been a conscious effort, the natural result of individual tones coming together or just a byproduct of Vocalion’s acoustic, but it makes for a unique color next to the hundreds of sax sections and trumpet leads on record at the time.

The band’s name reflected Gene Fosdick’s Indiana home, and for the remaining sessions Phil Napoleon of the New York-based Original Memphis Five takes over on trumpet. While it’s hard to parse out regional styles here, this union of Corn Belt and Big Apple further expanded the band’s sonic arsenal. Napoleon’s strong tone (as though made to play on acoustic records, to paraphrase one commenter) and rhythmic placement earn the trumpet more room from the outset on “You’ve Got To See Mama Ev’ry Night.” Yet the saxes are just as smooth and still get their say. The snap of Napoleon’s horn next to the saxes’ purr is another one of those possibly unintentional but effective touches. Passing the lead between solo tenor and solo alto, plus the soprano’s slap-tongue arpeggio tag ending, just add more colors to the reed prism:

Berresford singles out the remarkable “drive” established by musicians who had likely not played together before. The sax section verse, for example, has a sheen, cohesion and danceable phrasing worthy of admiration. The hard-driving rhythm section punches out a joyously vertical, decidedly un-New Orleanian beat that pushes and pulls at the cross-voicings on top. Napoleon’s OM5 colleague, the stalwart Frank Signorelli, is likely contributing to the groove. The banjoist also deserves praise.

The third of the four Hoosiers sessions features a more common trumpet/trombone/clarinet configuration, as interpreted by players from outside of the Crescent City. Every frontline is a welcome opportunity to hear singular voices interacting with one another, but experiments with reeds combinations such as the baritone sax lead with trumpet obbligato on “Peggy” present other possibilities for collective improvisation:
[No clips online, sorry!]
The tenor on “’Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” resembles a bassoon or cello fashioning counterpoint under the solo soprano lead. It shows more influence from Bach rather than the blues but is just as stirring, and reminds of the wide variety of influences that jazz musicians continue to draw upon:

“Apple Sauce,” with a soprano seeming to embellish the section from inside rather than on top of the harmonies, sounds like some of the heterophonic reed duos of Black bands such as those of Clarence Williams or Fletcher Henderson. Subterranean baritone rumbles answering Napoleon’s cornet create an exercise in timbral extremes:
[No  clips for this recording, but more music after this commercial message:]
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By the final session, with Napoleon’s frequent partner in the OM5 Miff Mole on trombone, the New Orleans-style via New York City frontline dominates, yet the tenor and clarinet duet on “Farewell Blues” is another cleanly executed, clever touch:

The sound of a single tenor sax (likely Dudley Fosdick according to the Retrieval LP) chugging over some red hot syncopated percussion on “Railroad Man” excites both for its verve as well as the sound of a single horn over rhythm section during this ensemble-dominated period:

Napoleon’s trumpet dominates (and who’s complaining?) The Hoosiers’ last recorded side, “Aunt Hagar’s Blues,” further catalyzed by low-register clarinet, a moaning sax thickening the instrumental tapestry in the background and a stomping pendulum of swing:

Gene Fosdick’s Hoosiers earned just four recording sessions that spanned a mere six months. In addition to discographical sightings, biographical information for him is also sparse, with far more attention paid to his brother, the mellophonist and frequent Red Nichols associate Dudley Fosdick (an unusual example of a mellophonist getting more attention than a saxophonist). Yet it’s doubtful that personal details could provide a clue into what made these sides click musically. Whoever Gene Fosdick was, he and/or his band knew how to squeeze a lot of interest out of supposedly conventional instrumentation. Their music, what little they left to posterity, was plenty hot and really smart.

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I’m not sure if this Fosdick is related to the above, but he still somehow remains worthy of mention:

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Tozo And Bozo

Plagiarism is all over the headlines this minute yet there’s only one potential piece of piracy we need to close the books on.

Compare “Tozo,” recorded on January 21, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s band and composed by Henderson with lyricist M. Cowdery:

and “Bozo,” an Edward Hite tune recorded in November 1928 by Clarence Williams and His Orchestra:

Sing or hum the ballad of the Hottentot sheikh along with Ed Cuffee’s slow, slack opening trombone on the second title: don’t these two tunes sound alike? Don’t the chord changes, at the very least, sound very similar? Did Hite pilfer Henderson (or whoever)’s work? Was he teasing at it by rhyming his composition with the title of the purloined stomp? Or did Clarence Williams just think it would complement a tune christened “Bimbo” at the same record session?

This uncertainty isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s get to the bottom of this, people.

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A Birthday For Buster

I don’t usually celebrate jazz birthdays. Then again, Buster Bailey would have turned 114 today, and there is  “Log Cabin Blues,” featuring Bailey with Clarence Williams’s Washboard Five:

He’s witty in response to Ed Allen’s cornet, pensive in solo and tasteful in his obbligato around Allen’s lead in the last choruses. Throughout, he crafts in earthy scoops, baroque runs, brilliant execution and a sense of nervous animation: every note seems to spiral in place, every run pushes at the beat, not quite like Bailey is fighting the ground rhythm but more like he’s teasing it. Clarence Williams’s band, with Allen, tubaist Cyrus St. Clair, percussionist Floyd Casey and Williams’s piano and spare but smart arrangements, always makes for glorious jazz.

That’s all in a little over three minutes! I guess a little recognition is okay. Happy birthday to the late Buster Bailey.

Buster Bailey

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Much More Than A Goof: The Curious Case of Ken Moyer

Better researchers than I might find out what or who led to Ken Moyer receiving the nickname “Goof.” It’s safe to say that it didn’t help his legacy. Neither did Moyer leaving just three years of recordings to that name, almost always as a sideman in big bands led by Joe Candullo, Sam Lanin and Fred Rich and without much room to impress jazz posterity.

Which is the why “The Stampede” is such an ear opener:

That’s Moyer on mellophone, soprano saxophone and bass clarinet, making his own hot solo vehicle out of a Fletcher Henderson tune that already scorches in its usual big band settings. Moyer refashions the call and response introduction on mellophone, paring it down to a punchy, descending riff. He then elasticizes the main theme with syncopation and his wailing soprano sax. His bass clarinet won’t endanger Eric Dolphy’s status as a pioneer on the instrument but still adds it own distinct color and burbling energy.

Taken from the three sessions by Ken Moyer’s Novelty Trio, “The Stampede” is one of six sides featuring Moyer accompanied by just piano, drums and some very spare violin. Moyer plays all of the instruments on “Stampede” plus alto saxophone and clarinet throughout these sessions. There is a certain novelty to his playing so many instruments, and he does engage in some gaspipe clarinet and proto-Boots Randolph sax on other sides. Yet the doubling on “The Stampede” seems to be more a matter of creativity than gimmick: he plays all of these instruments well and creates exciting, interesting, not simply “goofy” music with them.

The format for each session seems to be one hot number coupled with a slightly more novelty-based one. “Mellophone Stomp,” written by Moyer and seemingly based on “Tiger Rag,” is the other jazz tune on the other two sessions and it also avoids musical shtick (if not reaching the same level of excitement):

Tracks for horn plus rhythm from this period are welcome opportunities to hear how soloists during the so-called rise of the jazz soloist handled improvisation outside of collective ensembles or not sandwiched between band sections. “The Stampede” may or may not be Moyer’s best solo on record (I’d say so but I’m no Moyeranic, or even Moyerphile). It is definitely one of his longest solos, highlighting a unique multi-instrumentalist at play in a looser jazz setting. It’s interesting to speculate on the results of further Trio sessions or ones with a better rhythm section (perhaps keeping Ray Bauduc on drums but with a livelier pianist than Moyer’s boss Fred Rich).

As it stands, Lord’s jazz discography lists Moyer’s last recording in December 1926, about a month after his last Trio session. Pianist Charlie LaVere reports that by 1932 Moyer was leading a band around Oklahoma City. Subsequent newspaper clippings show that Moyer’s territory band kept busy for several years in Texas, with gigs in Kentucky, Arkansas, New Orleans and Kansas City. By that time, he was simply “Ken Moyer” and it’s a small wonder why. Would anyone want to be a goof forever?

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Don Murray Goes Commercial

Longtime readers of this blog (both of them) have probably noticed the wealth of fan nonfiction devoted to clarinetist Don Murray. Dead by the age of twenty-sixfour, often overshadowed by his friend and fellow young talent cut tragically short Bix Beiderbecke and with a modestly-sized discography to his name, Murray is both a personal favorite and nowhere near overexposure in the history books.

Murray’s legacy is also complicated by a lot of commercial sessions that probably paid his rent but often didn’t leave room for improvisation. Everyone (or at least the 0.5% of the planet who enjoy hot jazz) knows that it is Murray cascading out of the opening stop chord on “Sorry” under Bix Beiderbecke’s leadership. It takes some patience to find his solo on “What A Wonderful Wedding That Will Be”:

Of course, it’s worth digging if you just like Murray, but his music is worth the effort. The repetition of the first eight bars after the bridge means he was either bored with the tune or simply liked those phrases. Either way, Murray’s clarinet (as well as Red Nichols’s squeezing and pecking on trumpet) adds rhythmic and technical interest to this affair. Murray did not get to stretch out nearly as much on commercial sides but they provide some of his most elusive and rewarding work.

It’s a pity the obbligato saxophone behind the vocal isn’t better recorded; it also gets some things done musically and it might well be Murray. Murray’s tenor on “Marvelous” is much easier to hear and the title might as well refer to Murray:

The rhythmic intensity of this side immediately skyrockets upon his entrance, with Murray’s triplets and hill-and-dale phrases injecting some hot virtuosity into a peppy but otherwise straightforward performance. Murray’s gauzy tone on tenor (heard here as well as on “Blue River” with Jean Goldkette) is similar to his light-toned baritone, while he kept a bright, open sound on both clarinet and alto saxophone.

It is likely Murray’s alto saxophone on the first chorus bridge of “Feelin’ Good” and possibly his clarinet on the eight-bar improvised bridge of the last chorus. The opening squeal is uncharacteristic but the tumbling arpeggios are pure Murray:

That alto’s rhythmic phrasing, especially of eighth notes, and tone are similar to the alto on “Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky”:

Murray seems to have made a specialty out of these rhythmic paraphrases of non-refrain sections, such as the final bridge on “I’m Ridin’ To Glory” or his gorgeous texture and rhythmic recasting of the verse on baritone for ‘”Tain’t So, Honey, Tain’t So”:


The two records with Joe Venuti’s band are much jazzier charts that still don’t give Murray much spotlight. It’s easy to lament the infrequency or brevity of Murray’s solos (especially after, for example, you might have isolated the 240 or so records that Murray appears on and listened and re-listened to every solo, obbligato, ensemble descant and straight lead he ever waxed). Yet these records also demonstrate a musician working within constraints, responding to and enhancing a musical environment much different from out-and-out jazz settings. “Somebody Lied About Me” barely gives Murray ten seconds of audible space on clarinet and he still manages to make it his own:


“Commercial” is a dirty term in some jazz circles but it simply means the popular music of the time: melodic, danceable, often slickly executed, at times novel, other times trite and above all focused on different musical priorities than other genres, including jazz. So it’s impressive that Murray got away with the impromptu ornaments behind the band and awesome double-time decoration here. Maybe the business-savvy Sam Lanin was also a fan. Whatever the explanation, the sound of Murray’s clarinet piercing through Lanin’s spongy reeds is a very powerful example of musicianship and personality (even if it won’t gain admissions into any jazz anthologies).

“Maybe, Who Knows?” is practically a feature for Murray. He plays clarinet around the ensemble on the first chorus, switches to baritone for a swinging lead on the bridge, answers Ted Lewis’s vocals back on his clarinet and then improvises on the last bridge:

Not just any section man could pull it all off with the same tone, technique, style or those tasteful, spurring ornaments at end of the band’s phrases. I’m still hopeful that someone will unearth recordings of Don Murray playing in a trio a la Jimmy Lytell but, in the meantime, these records do very well on their own terms. There may not be much jazz in them, and some of it may not even be classified as “jazz,” but it is creative, confident and individual music.

DonMurrayInParis1928CroppedFromMarkBerresfordPhotoViaBixographyWebsite

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