Here’s a case for all the popular music that jazz musicians had to record just to make ends meet during the prewar era.
The following session includes some of the best players in New York at that time, regulars in Ben Pollack‘s band and performing here in one of the many studio groups organized by impresario Irving Mills. Young Benny Goodman sticks to reading alto saxophone parts, and Jack Teagarden’s trombone is barely audible, yet it’s not just commercial dross:
Scholars and purists will probably fast-forward to Jimmy McPartland’s cornet solo. Some might even mention criminally underrated saxophonist Larry Binyon. Yet McPartland is as rich, penetrating and warm on straight lead as he is in his Beiderbecke-inspired improvisation. A typical prewar sax section (two altos and a tenor) has a bright, buttery sound that’s a refreshing change of pace from more modern reeds. Even the unknown, operetta-inspired crooner sounds more than bearable with Dick McPartland’s banjo, Harry Goodman’s tuba and Ray Bauduc‘s drums guarding the beat behind him.
Despite the simple tune and small space given to improvisation, a group of talented musicians makes it beautiful as well as rhythmic. There’s no way to tell if heroes are happy, but these professionals certainly sound good.
Good post. Pollack and Mills kept these musicians working, or we wouldn’t be enjoying their more highly regarded, jazzier efforts.
Right, and I think their experience in a variety of musical settings help make the recordings we know best possible. Thanks, as always, for reading and for joining in on the discussion.
Good music, expertly played, is always valuable and timeless. When professional musicians were handed a piece of new music in the studio, they didn’t know that it was going to become part of THE GREAT AMERICAN SONGBOOK or, if they were improvisers, A JAZZ CLASSIC. That canonizing has been the work of future generations constructing their own star systems of BEST and MOST MEMORABLE. But Coleman Hawkins just played BODY AND SOUL at the end of the date in the way he had been doing on the job; I’d bet that Ben and Benny tackled WAITIN’ FOR KATY as just another assignment: make the best of the material, play it honorably, finish the date; get a sandwich and a beer before the night’s work. I think that current professional musicians would say the same, even though the scene has changed irrevocably. Thanks for the musical and thought-stimuli, Figg!
That’s why I keep coming back to the earlier chapters of what many consider “art music,” whether that’s early jazz or Baroque: there’s a pragmatism to the music and an awareness of musical conventions, which often yields more interesting musical results than the post-Romantic, “unfettered artist with blank canvas” approach of later styles.
That, and I love brass basses and harpsichords.
Thanks for reading!