Don Murray On Alto Sax?

Here’s a little peek inside of my own listener’s diary, a meandering thought on lit screen sprayed out without attention to prose.

Brian Rust lists Don Murray on baritone saxophone and clarinet for the May 25 and June 28, 1928 sessions Joe Venuti and His New Yorkers. Murray’s baritone gets the lead on “’Tain’t So, Honey, ‘Tain’t So” from the first session (and Okeh’s sound shows off his light tone on the big horn). His clarinet might be filling out the lower harmonies under the flutes on “I Must Be Dreaming” from that session, and it’s likely part of the clarinet section behind Charlie Butterfield’s trombone on the first chorus of “Because My Baby Don’t Mean ‘Maybe’ Now” from the second session.

There are no other audible clarinet or baritone sax solos from these two sessions, yet the alto saxophonist playing the first chorus bridge of “Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky” on the second date might be Murray. The uneven eighth notes, cutting the first part of the beat short and emphasizing the second part of the beat (similar to a sixteenth-dotted eighth note pattern, the reverse of many attempts to notate swung eighth notes) are similar to Murray’s rhythmic approach. The phrasing is also very “busy” and arpeggiated a la Murray, and alternation between slurred phrases and light but definite tonguing also reminded me of Murray. The bright, open, fat tone is very different from his sound on tenor and baritone saxes but is very similar to his clarinet.

Rust lists Arnold Brilhart and Max Farley on alto saxophone and flute for these sessions, along with Herbert Spencer on tenor saxophone for the first session and Fud Livingston replacing him and doubling clarinet for the second one. Yet Rust also listed Murray as clarinetist, alto saxophonist and baritone saxophonist on “Blue River” with Jean Goldkette, despite Murray clearly playing tenor saxophone. Between doubling, transposing and doctoring, it’s worth viewing the reed assignments in Rust’s testament with a critical eye, or at least using ears to back them up.

Rust’s designated alto men, Brilhart and Farley, were mostly section men. Yet according to Ate Van Delden’s liner notes to the Timeless CD, Brilhart did play a few solos with the Varsity Eight a few years earlier and according to a few posters here on the Bixography forum, Brilhart plays lead alto with Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band. Assuming Brilhart got to solo on his own record date, session, we also have an example of him soloing on “Hello Aloha! How Are You?” Here are a few audio examples:


As opposed to the soloist on “Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky,” Brilhart’s tone is buttery and centered (more likely to cut and tie together other voices than swell under or over them), his rhythms more evenly delineated.

It’s harder to find examples of Max Farley’s tone for comparison, since he doubled a variety of different instruments other than alto sax and doesn’t seem to have played lead or soloed on any recordings. Yet whoever it is playing alto on the transition immediately following the first chorus, it is clearly a different player than the one on the bridge, presumably the same lead alto in the ensemble behind the altoist on the bridge. It might be Farley on the bridge, but there is a strong resemblance to Murray. Ditto for the possibility of Livingston.

Honestly, just a thought.

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