Annette Hanshaw’s Small Groups

Singer Annette Hanshaw’s wholesome good looks and girlish sound are like catnip for lovers of twenties nostalgia. That shouldn’t obscure her strictly musical gifts.

Hanshaw’s voice was definitely of its time: earnest, bright and occasionally a little thin. It was also rhythmic, flexible and sexily sweet yet completely natural. She takes a merely pretty little ditty like “Who’ That Knocking On My Door” and turns it into something personal as well as musical:

Hanshaw’s interpretation clues the listener into why none other than Tommy Dorsey (no pussycat when it came to evaluating singers or sidemen) christened her a “musician’s singer.” Hanshaw’s sense of float and drive catalyzes a dream band of (White) twenties jazz musicians, with Adrian Rollini on bass sax, Joe Venuti on violin, Eddie Lang on guitar and Vic Berton’s barely heard but powerfully felt drums in turn providing a beautifully spacious feel.

They also squeeze a variety of different sounds from this small hodge-podge of instruments. The exchange between Lang, Rollini and Venuti, with Venuti double-stopping harmonies behind Lang’s tight plucking, Venuti strumming aggressively behind Venuti’s violin and Rollini tossing out short bridges between them, feels like a crossed ensemble signal that clicked into something “right.” Along with Rollini’s hot fountain pen (sounding like a clarinet with a steel wool reed) the instruments partner with rather than parody the lead. This isn’t a singer plus an accompaniment; it’s a group of musicians, including Hanshaw on vocals. Hip stuff, even if it’s also a lot of fun.

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8 thoughts on “Annette Hanshaw’s Small Groups

  1. jazzlives says:

    Yes, children, music can be deeply edifying and dense with information, but it can also be joyous fun without losing an iota of its artistic seriousness. We listen to DOOR with pleasure but also with admiration. Thank you, Perf!

  2. Annette Hanshaw is a favourite singer of mine, and it’s been interesting to watch her popularity grow over the past decade. I know many younger singers and musicians of various styles who count her as an influence! I think increased access through the internet is the key here.

    • M. Figg says:

      I agree, Michael, and that’s also why I try to hype some lesser known players on my little slice of the web!

      Thanks, as always, for reading and for sharing your thoughts.

  3. tronepone says:

    Many yet to hear, but her Pathe’ sides seem to be looser and hotter than the later material reissued most recently on Sensation.

  4. dearieme says:

    Calling the band the Sizzlin’ Syncopators seems unusually accurate by the standards of showbiz.

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