Nick Dellow is a diligent researcher (and an audio engineering wizard), so I’m excited to share his latest project: an investigation into trumpeter Bill Moore. This article originally appeared on Mr. Dellow’s Facebook page. I asked him to share it via my blog for those who don’t use Facebook.
Dellow is (as always) assiduous and passionate, and Moore was a talented jazz musician who led a fascinating life—which Nick sheds plenty of light on! It was a pleasure to contribute some research to his piece. I know readers will learn a lot from it.
A profile of the Ipana Troubadours in Radio Broadcastmagazine singles out just one sideman in the band. Even among musicians that leader Sam Lanin “picked from the country’s best dance and symphony orchestras,” he receives special attention:
Lucien Schmit, for instance, virtuoso cellist, was Walter Damrosch‘s first cellist for five seasons and is also an accomplished pianist and saxophone player. Schmit is a representative member of the group.
A photo of the Troubadours shows an unidentified player holding a cello with a saxophone at his feet. Section mates on either side of him hold their saxophones. But the cellist’s sax doesn’t even get a stand; it rests directly on the floor. If the reader didn’t know any better, they might assume that sax was just an occasional double.
Of course, “Lucien Schmit” sounds like “Lucien Smith,” a name record collectors and hot dance aficionados likely recognize as one of the saxophonists on several recordings by Lanin and other bandleaders. It’s found next to more well-known names like Bennie Krueger, Miff Mole, Red Nichols, Harry Reser, and the Dorsey brothers in many discographies.
A 1931 radio listing makes the connection more explicit, but even the copywriter faces an identity problem with his subject:
Many performers know how to double in brass, but Lucien Smith will demonstrate the talent which permits him to triple in brass and strings. He will appear as soloist on piano, cello, and saxophone. Best known as a master of the cello, Mr. Schmithas won the praise of music critics for years…it was [conductor Eugene] Ormandy‘s idea to present him in the three phases of his artistic accomplishment.
Mistaking the saxophone as a member of the brass instrument family may be mere carelessness. But the switch between “Smith” and “Schmit” suggests which artistic phases are more or less important. Smith may play many instruments, but Schmit is the cello master earning critical praise.
In contemporary reports, saxophonist “Lucien Smith” didn’t get much attention. With just a couple of exceptions, that name is limited to discographies. For the sake of argument (and according to far more knowledgeable researchers than this writer), it’s safe to assume they were the same musician. And some cursory research shows he enjoyed a long and varied musical career spanning different instruments, repertoires, and artists.
Government records indicate that Lucien Alexander Schmit was born in Belgium on January 6 of either 1898 or 1899 (depending on which draft card). A New York Timesobituary from July 22, 1976, fills in the blanks and notes early talent:
Lucien S. Schmit, a cellist who first performed publicly at the age of seven in Paris and who became a member of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra at 13…came to this country in 1909. He became first cellist in the New York Symphony Orchestra in 1921 under Walter Damrosch.
Still, there’s a big issue here. And it’s not just the middle initial, which was reprinted as “S” elsewhere. The obituary omits the subject’s many recordings as a reed player with several bands. It even ignores his extensive work as a cellist on recordings with everyone from Quincy Jones to David Sanborn.
This obituary doesn’t mention any ability—let alone talent—for playing saxophone. “Lucien Smith” got left out of the obituary for “Lucien Schmit.”
Across multiple discographies, newspaper articles, radio listings, promotional materials, and other documents, the division between names and roles is surprisingly consistent. “Lucien Smith” plays reed instruments, mainly sax, and “Lucien Schmit” is a cellist. And, based on the amount of historical documentation, the cellist received a lot more press and promotion.
Conductor Walter Damrosch’s pick for principal cello was bound to get plenty of attention. Audiences and critics respected Damrosch for his musical direction, premiering new works, and educational efforts. Damrosch’s New York Symphony was a respected institution later incorporated to form the New York Philharmonic. He remains a well-known name to this day.
Aside from brand recognition, a principal cellist would probably have handled most (if not all) of the solo parts for the orchestra. Several reviews talk about “Lucien Schmit” featured in works such as Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto in A Minor and cello pieces by Bach and Boccherini. One New York Times critic praised Schmit as a “graceful and fluent player” in a program of contemporary classical pieces. A writer for Etude magazine, years after hearing Schmit with the Lutèce Trio, recalled that an audience of about 5,000 people “thought him the star performer” despite playing on a mediocre instrument.
Schmit played under Damrosch for five seasons. Half a decade playing to critical acclaim with a renowned orchestra under an esteemed conductor casts a large shadow. At this time, many listeners were more likely to turn their noses up (in public, anyway) to jazz and popular music. Among self-identified “respectable” circles, European art music was the accepted social currency. It was bound to get more press in mainstream publications. It also seems like Lucien Smith, the saxophonist, was rarely featured as a soloist. In short, his dance band legacy might have suffered based on cultural associations and sheer audibility.
It’s unclear when he began playing saxophone with dance bands. The earliest discographical entry (that the writer could find) for “Lucien Smith,” the reed player with Lanin and others, is a February 1922 session with Bailey’s Lucky Seven for the Gennett label. Smith is listed as playing tenor sax in the probable personnel. Yet at the time, he was still the principal cello under Damrosch. It’s also hard (for this writer) to single out a distinct tenor sax voice on “My Mammy Knows” or to identify the tenor lead “On the ‘Gin, ‘Gin, ‘Ginny Shore.”
His reasons for deciding to play saxophone professionally are beyond this writer’s research or qualifications. He may have wanted to try something new. Maybe the popularity of dance bands seemed financially promising or musically challenging. It was likely some combination of practical and personal reasons. Whatever the cause, saxophonist Lucien Smith doesn’t appear on another dance band date until August 1924.
From that point, he’s on plenty of great hot dance and jazz records! Discography entries that include “Lucien Smith” read like a who’s who of hot dance/jazz bands: Nathan Glantz, Dave Kaplan, Krueger, Lanin, and Ben Selvin are just a few of the names. Tom Lord’s online jazz discography lists Schmit on 85 sessions between 1922 and 1931—and that’s just what made it into the discography as “jazz.” He likely doubled multiple saxophones and clarinet as a working dance band musician. His substantial presence with these bands indicates significant skill, versatility, and reliability.
Despite the obvious talent, the last session listing Lucien Smith on reeds appears to be August 7, 1931, with violinist Billy Artz’s band. Artz and Lucien both played in B.A. Rolfe‘s famous orchestra, where Lucien is listed as doubling clarinet, tenor sax, and cello. The two likely forged a connection there. He may also be the hot tenor sax on “There’s A Time and Place for Everything.” But at this point, maybe regularly playing tenor was unneeded or less lucrative during the Great Depression.
Radio Cellist and More
Instead, cellist “Lucien Schmit”—who happened to also play saxophone and piano—resurfaces in the press and discographies. The New York Times obituary states that “During the 1930s, he was active in radio musical programs…musical director of ‘The Royal Typewriter Hour’ and for 20 years was featured on such programs as ‘The Telephone Hour,’ the Firestone Show, the Longines Symphonette program and ‘The Prudential Family Hour.'” But that obituary is entirely framed around his work as a cellist.
Some contemporary reports of “Lucien Schmit” reference work as a saxophonist and pianist, like this April 24, 1930 radio listing in the Hartford Courant:
Lucien Schmitt [sic], the violincellist of the Melody Moments orchestra and other concert orchestras on the networks, will demonstrate his ability to triple in brass and strings…He will contribute piano, cello, and saxophone solos to the concert.
In directories for the New York American Federation of Musicians, Local 802 (generously provided by Vince Giordano), there’s only “Lucien A. Schmit” listed in the “Cello” section. Whatever else he may have played on the radio, Schmit’s primary role was always as a cellist.
Over the next few decades, in addition to radio work, his cello as well as his violin and viola are listed in studio recordings with Kenny Burrell, Perry Como, Johnny Griffin, Coleman Hawkins, Artie Shaw, and Wes Montgomery, among others. Almost inevitably, it’s “Lucien Schmit” in the string section. Grammy-wining bandleader and hot music historian Vince Giordano explains that pianist Dick Hyman recalls “Lucien” coming to sessions carrying both reed instruments and his cello.
Along the way, he and his wife raised their only child (who went on to a respected career in engineering). Lucien passed away following a stroke on July 20, 1976, in a hospital near his Manhasset, Long Island home.
Depending on the area of his considerable experience, you might end up reading two different narratives. Almost all the discographies and press clippings that mention the cellist reference Schmidt, Schmit, or Schmitt. Except for very few contemporary articles, Lucien Smith, a saxophonist, is only found in discographies (though the prolific and knowledgeable discographer Javier Soria Laso gets a lot of credit for covering all the bases by referring to “Lucien Smith/Schmitt/Schmidt”).
There may be a better or more straightforward explanation for using different names. And wider research may show that the associations between the names weren’t as cut and dried. Maybe “Smith” was a deliberate alias or just a propagated typo. But just looking at (some) writings, you might think Lucien Smith’s saxophone was a temporary side hustle compared to Lucien Schmit’s cello.
That probably says more about audiences’ and reporters’ perceptions of “serious” and “popular” music during Lucien’s lifetime. His musical career makes for a single interesting story. You’d just better know who to look for.
American Federation of Musicians, directories from 1937, 1943, and 1958
American Dance Bands on Record and Film by Johnson and Shirley
Many thanks to Vince Giordano for sharing his recollections, relevant newspaper articles, and 802 directories. Thanks also to Javier Soria Laso for his insights into the subject and meticulous discographies that first connected the names for me. Thank you, Aaron K., for your fine edits. And thanks to “P.C.” on Facebook.
Vintage Jazz Mart magazine was kind enough to publish an article I wrote about Gene and Dudley Fosdick. Researching their rich, varied lives and careers was fascinating. If you’re interested, visit vjm.biz for instructions on how to get a copy of the autumn 2022 issue. It’s a long piece, but I hope you enjoy reading about these musician brothers.
I hope anyone still reading this blog is doing well. I wanted to share this recollection (that I found interesting) here in case you had not seen it elsewhere.
Dudley Fosdick recalls arranger and reed player Fud Livingston, as quoted in George W. Kay’s profile of Fosdick in The Indianapolis Jazz Club’s winter 1964 issue of Jazz Notes (which originally appeared in the July 1958 issue of Jazz Journal of London):
In case the image does not come through, here is a transcript:
And here is the record referred to by Fosdick:
If that’s what execution falling behind conceptions sounds like, I’ll take it!
Don Murray didn’t live nearly long enough for me to tire of his playing—but who lives to a thousand? I’m always eager to hear more of his bright, spiraling clarinet and gorgeous sax work from the few years he recorded during his tragically short life. So, based on some leads from far more experienced listeners, I shook one discographical branch.
This open document collects my listening and uneducated guesses. Please feel free to add your own annotations and comments or just enjoy the music!
Here‘s the second and final part of my look into the life of Darnell Howard, an incredible musician and utter mensch! This one was a pleasure to research. Thanks again to The Syncopated Times for this opportunity to share some of his story. I hope you enjoy it.
For years, I’ve enjoyed Darnell Howard’s work as the fiery clarinetist on records spanning Jazz Age Chicago to West Coast “revival.” But researching his life and career helped me appreciate him as a versatile musician, hustling performer, proud Chicagoan, and—by all accounts—a warm soul.
This is the story of a record, a photograph, a discographic mystery, a quizzical image, and a lot of smiles.
Said smiles belong to Charles Elgar and his band, seen in this photograph dated November 1921:
Elgar’s Creole Orchestra, from left to right: Charles Elgar, Leroy Bradshaw, William Shelby, Walter Wright, Walter Gossette, William Neely, William Randall, Bert Hall, Harry Swift, Richard Curry, Joe Sudler, Clifford King, and Darnell Howard. Photo from Mark Berresford’s collection. Web image courtesy of The Syncopated Times.
The photo is from Mark Berresford’s collection. While researching the life of Darnell Howard—seated all the way to the right with the biggest grin in the bunch—I emailed the collector and historian about using the image in a future article, and he mentioned the following:
I’ve always been fascinated by that photo, as the implication, judging from their faces, especially Darnell Howard’s, is that they are listening to themselves. If that’s the case, it may give credence to the Autograph test pressing of “Muscle Shoals Blues.”
The record he mentioned is a rollicking performance of the tune from an unidentified band on an unissued recording. The music was not available on YouTube, so I offer apologies for my limited knowledge of iMovie in putting this video together:
It’s uncertain who made this rollicking music, but thankfully, they committed it to record. As Berresford explains in his liner notes for the Timeless Historical CD From Ragtime to Jazz, Vol. II (which introduced me and many others to this recording):
“Muscle Shoals Blues” is a mysterious and historically important record. Nothing is known of the band, other than they sound Black, and as the record was made in Chicago, it is likely they played in one of the large dance halls in the Windy City. Unlike New York, Chicago had a reputation early on for large African American bands such as those led by Sammy Stewart, Dave Peyton, Erskine Tate, Charles Elgar, and Carroll Dickerson, and it is possible one of these aggregations is heard on this record.
Berresford explains that if this were the Chicago-based Elgar band, “they would have had to get their skates on.” He pointed out that George W. Thomas published his “Muscle Shoals Blues” in August 1921. By November 1921, Harry Raderman’s Jazz Orchestra in New York City had supplied the tune’s first (known) recording. Berresford also suggested that with Thomas having been in Chicago since 1920, he could have plugged the song to local bandleaders in the Windy City, including Elgar.
This test pressing was from the Autograph label, which was owned by Marsh Laboratories and Orlando Marsh, a pioneer in electrical recording. I was intrigued by the connection between this image and this record, and Berresford was kind enough to connect me with Richard Raichelson. Among his extensive musical scholarship, Prof. Raichelson wrote the book on Marsh: Orlando R. Marsh: Chicago’s Pioneer of Electrical Recording.
Raichelson had heard the theory before, was still interested in the possible connection, and was similarly gracious in sharing his knowledge:
The photo shows a band of 12 members, including Elgar. We only wish that he had not placed his hand in a position to obscure the label. Elgar is certainly playing a record that seems to put a smile on everyone’s face. But why? The date on the placard is November 11, 1921: Armistice Day. Were they laughing over a recording of a performance that they were supposed to do for the holiday?
He dates the record to November of 1921. His research shows that Thomas copyrighted his tune on August 29, 1921, with a copy of the sheet music listing an office in Chicago. He also offered that even with the tune being copyrighted in 1921, Thomas may have written it earlier.
As Raichelson explains in his book, it was likely by a nine-piece Chicago theater band comprised of two trumpets, trombone, clarinet, flute, violin, possibly a tenor saxophone, brass bass, and drums. The sound offers further clues for him:
The recording of the band by Marsh is quite good. Despite being early, it’s better than many of the others he recorded at the time. His studio in 1921 was the Essanay Film Company. However, this recording sounds like it could have been made in a theater or a hall. Elgar did play at the Navy Pier, which was also a ballroom, during this time. Since Elgar’s band played at the Navy Pier and Harmon’s Ballroom, were there any ads that specified any of the tunes he performed?
Raichelson also suggested that the band may have been appreciating a now lost record. He shared a clipping from the Chicago Whip of September 24, 1921, that mentions Elgar may record for the Emerson label. “Based on the date,” he asked, “would it be possible that they did and were listening to an Emerson test in that photo from November 11, 1921? This is the only reference I’ve seen to a recording on Emerson.”
From the Chicago Whip of September 24, 1921. Courtesy of Richard Raichelson.
What began as a request for permission to use a photo turned into a fascinating set of connections. If this is the Elgar band on “Muscle Shoals Blues,” it’s a welcome look into a band and bandleader that didn’t record much, a fascinating snapshot into the sound of a Chicago big band from that time, and Darnell Howard’s first recorded work on clarinet to boot. And it all began with his smile! My sincere thanks to Mark Berresford and Richard Raichelson for sharing their insights and their time with me.
It was a pleasure to research the life and music of Prince Robinson. Everyone from Louis Armstrong to Duke Ellington revered the clarinetist and tenor saxophonist! For more about this fascinating musician, please see my article in The Syncopated Times—which was kind enough to give me an opportunity to share his story.
Paul Whiteman is not a universally admired figure in jazz history.
That’s about as neutral a way to put it without rehashing arguments about the popular bandleader being called “the king of jazz” or the ratio of jazz content to symphonic or popular elements in his music. Suffice it to say that much of Whiteman’s extensive recorded work is not listed in discographies focusing on jazz.
Still, here’s an interesting record that does not appear to have made the cut:
The gliding full-chorus trombone and growling muted trumpet take up a good portion of the side. Yet even without the ample solo space that defines jazz for many listeners, as an experiment in the wonders of so-called “two-beat jazz,” tap a steady two-beat pulse along with this record. See if your finger, foot, head, etc., is hitting at the same time as the band’s feel. Try to stick to just two steady beats. There’s a lot more going on here rhythmically, even without improvisation.
The first 20 seconds of the record alone are a buffet of syncopation: the intro bouncing between the trombone’s jabbing lead and the band’s upswing; the verse hinting at a bouncing duple even as the sax section’s responses pull at the pulse, and then the chorus hammering the downbeat while the brass lifts the upbeat (and likely dancers’ feet). Even the winding oboe obbligato in the middle of the trombone solo has its own little lilt—not to mention creating an interesting texture.
Whiteman is now associated with texture and symphonic heft, but other than the dramatic interlude between the soloists, this side focuses on rhythm and melodic clarity. It was waxed in October of 1923, around the same time King Oliver and His Creole Jazz Band were recording in the Gennett, Okeh, and Columbia studios.
What a fascinating coupling of bands this must have been to pick up at your local record vendor and appreciate back-to-back at home! Imagine contemporary jazz appreciation being as catholic as pre-war music consumption!