Selecting your favorite sides from Nathan Glantz’s discography is like choosing the best slices from Brooklyn’s pizzerias: there are always more to try, and even the average example is satisfying. As Johnson and Shirley’s American Dance Bands on Record and Film explains, Glantz was a “pioneer recording session musician who played alto and tenor saxophone as soloist, sideman, or nominal leader on literally thousands of records during the 1920s.” When it comes to a legacy like that, you just rely on what you’ve sampled so far.
I spent some time listening to music attributed to Glantz, found a few sides that stood out to me, discovered that a few of them weren’t even made by Glantz, and want to share some of this great music.
In addition to being well-executed, these records are melodic, frequently rhythmic in a peppy if not driving manner, and often sported some refreshing orchestrations. “Sittin’ In A Corner” starts with a two-beat strut followed by the leader’s lush alto sax intoning the chorus.
The clarinetist resembles a more sparkling Ted Lewis. The ragtime xylophone conveys a touch of novelty music, but those same lines on a clarinet or a piano might simply sound hot.
Not all of this music sounds as overtly influenced by the burgeoning sound of jazz. While they never pretended to sound like a band from New Orleans or Chicago, based on these sides, Glantz and his fellow New Yorkers still added plenty of rhythm and inflection in their fashion.
The drawling, swaying saxes on “Hula Lou” seem all the more remarkable when considering these sides were probably cut with assembly-line efficiency.
The soprano sax hooting against the brass’s “Aloha ‘Oe” quote is another novel touch, but it’s followed by a trumpet solo over a more spacious, harder-hitting rhythm section.
This solo approach—a a freer variation of the melody over a heavily accented backbeat—resembles the format (not the feel) of Louis Armstrong’s recordings with Fletcher Henderson from around the same time. Cornetist Rex Stewart said playing this was called “taking a Boston.” He also noted that it was a new sound on the New York scene brought by Armstrong and his fellow Southerners. Musicians like Glantz and his sidemen must’ve kept their ears open but applied what they heard on their terms.
Glantz likely got to cut loose based on company edict rather than artistic whim. The minor key and fast tempo on “San” make it a pretty hot number on its own. Still, that opening trumpet curls around the pressing rhythm. Even the tight saxophone parts and syncopated brass hits make this sound like more than dutifully reading a chart.
Glantz’s brand of hot seemed as driven by humor as intensity. There’s a hard-edged trombone solo on “San,” but the clarinet switches from hoedown to gas pipe—with the bass clarinet throwing down licks in the middle! The snappy coda ends the side with a shrug.
“Oh That Sweet in Suite 16” increases the temperature further while staying within a lyrical dance band aesthetic. On clarinets, the reed trio gently pushes the trombone and gets in a rhythmic break.
Switching to saxophones, the parts lock in underneath the quacking sound. Replace the wacky noise with an obbligato instrument, and this would be a proud big band moment. Even the drummer gets to show off their rudiments on the snare. This one turned out to be by Ben Selvin, but any band capable of work like this should be praised.
Unsurprisingly, “Sweet Georgia Brown” and “Charleston” offer what I thought were the Glantz band’s most unbuttoned moments. For years, listeners like me assumed it was Glantz and company having a ball with these hot instrumentals based on an identifications appearing in well-known discographies. But, it turns out to be William Conrad Polla’s Clover Gardens band. See comments below. The brass in the first chorus of “Sweet Georgia Brown” sound like a three-way ad lib rather than a finely drilled routine, while the tight saxes create a foil in terms of instrumentation and phrasing.
Glantz alto saxophonist even ventures a hot solo on both sides. His coy single notes in stop time on “Charleston” are like initials in a letter to the listener. These are both sides that I came to out of curiosity about Glantz, and which I had always assume demonstrated an incredible degree of stylistic versatility. I’m glad I found them regardless of the author!
Occasionally maligned but nevertheless distinct, Glantz’s alto sax is a frequent and instantly recognizable part of his records. Collectors and dance band aficionados spot it immediately. That type of individuality is no mean task across hundreds of records and a bewildering array of pseudonyms across different labels. It’s plump enough to remind some of all the gooey cheese referenced earlier. The saxophone is now heard strictly as a jazz instrument, but these sides treat it as a concert band or even orchestral voice, opting for a lush, romantic tone rather than a hot agile one.
Glantz’s records were probably a godsend for audiences who wanted to hear the song and find the beat. It’s easy to malign such tastes as pedestrian, but his insistence on tunefulness offer hummable (if not heart-rending) melodies in some interesting settings, like the tenor lead with Harry Reser’s biting banjo and slick syncopated saxes against brass on “Sweet Man.”
“Say It Again” was also attributed to Glantz, but it was actually recorded by Adrian Schubert’s great band and features fat trumpet, biting saxes, and country fiddling on :
Like his fellow prolific bandleaders of the Jazz Age, Glantz surrounded himself with an acoustic era wrecking crew of topnotch studio musicians who could play sweet, hot, and everything in-between. Most of the names are a mystery in the ABDRF book, but there has been more research since then. (Just see the comments!) Red Nichols and Earl Oliver pop up on trumpet, but scanning the ADBRF book seems to show even more unknown personnel than usual with these twenties studio bands.
Whoever they were, and whatever band they played for, the reed players steal the show on “Ms. Annabelle Lee.” It starts with a hot clarinet intro that segues into lyrical saxes against a slashing trumpet. The hot descending ensemble break would fit right in on a Motown record, and the clarinets create a smooth glaze behind the vocal.
The fascinating clarinet trio, where they question and answer themselves in different registers, must have been a pleasure to pull off. The rhythmic shout chorus, with brass hits over a carpet of saxes, must’ve been a pleasure to dance to.
Of course, this is a ludicrously small sample of music when discussing Glantz. My scribbling is not intended to be an exhaustive dive into Glantz’s music—certainly not into his life. In fairness, I know far more about pizza back home than Glantz’s discography or biography, so please feel free to share your favorites and facts in the comments (and be sure to read them to get the full scoop on this music). This was a rewarding little trip and I learned a lot from these records (and the commenters).
Here’s a fascinating photo collage of Glantz…
This post began with listening based on curiosity and note-taking to track what I was hearing. The array of names and labels these recordings were released under is a testament to their popularity, but it makes for an occasionally bewildering experience just to track down a record. Here are my notes based on the ADBRF, Tom Lord’s online jazz discography, and The Online Discographical Project. One knowledgeable reader has updated these, so please check out those comments below!
“Sittin’ In A Corner” recorded on October 24, 1923 (mx. 9221-A-B-C)
- Edison 51265 as Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra
“Hula Lou” recorded on January 17, 1924 (mx. 9335-A-C)
- Edison 51297 and BA 4859 at Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra
“San” recorded on July 31, 1924 (mx. 5585-3)
- Apex 8242 as The Master Players
- Banner 1399 as Missouri Jazz Band
- Bell P-298 as Orpheum Melody Masters
- Domino 378 as Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra
- Oriole 256 as Baltimore Society Orchestra
- Regal 9695 as Six Black Diamonds
“Somebody Loves Me” recorded on October 3, 1924 (mx. 9770-B)
- Edison 51418 as Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra
“Oh That Sweet In Suite 16” recorded on April 6, 1925 (mx. 5946-1)
- Apex 8343 as Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra
- Apex 8430 as Rex Battle and His Mount Royal Orchestra
- Bell 345 as Frank Dailey’s Meadowbrooks
- Domino 21109 as Rex Battle and His Mount Royal Orchestra
- Leonora 10091 as Rex Battle and His Mount Royal Orchestra
- Oriole 467 as Dixie Jazz Band
- Pathe Actuelle 036253 as Southampton Society Orchestra
- Perfect 14434 as Southampton Society Orchestra
- Starr 1006 and 10091 as Rex Battle and His Mount Royal Orchestra
“Sweet Georgia Brown” recorded on May 5, 1925 (mx. 106007)
- Harmograph 1043 as Texas Ten
- Pathe Actuelle 10901 as Texas Ten
- Pathe Actuelle 036247 as Westchester Biltmore Orchestra
- Perfect 14428 as The Blues Chasers
“Charleston” recorded on May 5, 1925 (mx. 106008)
- Salbert 148, X-6022, and P6823 as Charleston Rhythm Clover Garden
- Pathe Actuelle 10901 as Texas Ten
- Pathe Actuelle 036251 as Westchester Biltmore Orchestra
“Sweet Man” recorded on December 31, 1925 (mx. 2361-1)
- Maxsa 1556, Pathe Actuelle 20429, Puritan 11429, and Silvertone 3503 as Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra
“Say It Again” recorded on February 19, 1926 (mx. 6454,2,3)
- Apex 8471, Banner 1709, Bell 400, Domino 3684 and 21144, Leonora 10135 and 10151, and Starr 10135 as Hollywood Dance Orchestra
- Imperial 1624 (take 3) as Imperial Dance Orchestra
- Oriole 589 as Billy James Orchestra
- Regal 8020 as Missouri Jazz Band
“Miss Annabelle Lee” recorded on July 8, 1927 (mx. 7385-2?)
- Apex 8657 and 8660, Broadway 1091, Domino 3995 and 21311, Edison Bell Winner 4831, Lucky Strike 24119, Microphone 22196, Regal 8356, Silvertone 1511 and 21511, Starr 10280 and 10282 as Hollywood Dance Orchestra
- Banner 6031 as Missouri Jazz Band
- Bell 528 as Imperial Dance Orchestra
- Imperial 1822 as Fred Rich’s Dance Orchestra
- Imperial 1908 as Imperial Dance Orchestra
- Oriole 954 as Roy Collins Dance Orchestra or Ted White’s Collegians
- Beltona 1386, Romeo 441, and Kristall 4011 as Nathan Glantz and His Orchestra