Better researchers than me 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?