Ben Selvin Playing Everything Cool

From Original Dixieland Jazz Band-style ensembles through hot dance music to smoother charts looking ahead to the big bands, bandleader Ben Selvin kept up with all the trends while regularly staffing his studio outfits with the cream of New York City’s musical crop.

By 1931, when Selvin gave “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby” the treatment while it was still hot off publishing house presses, he was a twelve-year record industry veteran with a wealth of styles under his belt.

Fats Waller and Alex Hill’s tune serves as a retrospective of Selvin’s experience. Selvin was a consummate professional who always “sold” the song. He also recognized a quality tune when he heard one. Its skipping melody, choreographing the elation of newfound romance, and Hill’s schoolboy-excited lyrics remain clear.

Yet Selvin lets the tune try on several musical outfits, starting with a bright and broad Dixieland chorus (and gleaming lead by trumpeter Tommy Gott). Then, young Benny Goodman’s solo bridge has the same feel that would grace hundreds of his own recordings as a leader throughout the Swing Era.

After the vocal, the minor key verse—which itself has a touch of the vaudeville pit band—carries the slightly harder edge of Harlem nightclubs. Here, Charles Magnante’s accordion adds a theatrical organ-like texture. A typical dance band tenor chorus by Hymie Wolfson follows: slightly booting, paraphrased just enough to add rhythmic interest while maintaining the tune, somewhere between a hot chorus and straight lead that links from the improvised sections into the final restatement of the tune. The bridge even has some Armstrong-inspired dips into the upper register.

Records like this one show jazz and American dance band music not so much at a crossroads but able to draw upon both the past and the cutting edge without embarrassment. Selvin knew what worked musically and didn’t have to bother worrying about what was hip.

Hip enough to seem square. Image courtesy of PRR8157 via deviantart.com.

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