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…
4/4 to the fore! The transition to the Lown records is evident on these Edison rarities.
Hagan’s band was pretty far along this curve, too. I enjoyed the video of Ohio scenes. My grandfather was raised on a farm outside Somerset, seen here among the more well known places.
Thank you, Andrew.
I keep meaning to check out the Lown band! So much out there to hear…