Tozo And Bozo

Plagiarism is all over the headlines this minute yet there’s only one potential piece of piracy we need to close the books on.

Compare “Tozo,” recorded on January 21, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s band and composed by Henderson with lyricist M. Cowdery:

and “Bozo,” an Edward Hite tune recorded in November 1928 by Clarence Williams and His Orchestra:

Sing or hum the ballad of the Hottentot sheikh along with Ed Cuffee’s slow, slack opening trombone on the second title: don’t these two tunes sound alike? Don’t the chord changes, at the very least, sound very similar? Did Hite pilfer Henderson (or whoever)’s work? Was he teasing at it by rhyming his composition with the title of the purloined stomp? Or did Clarence Williams just think it would complement a tune christened “Bimbo” at the same record session?

This uncertainty isn’t going away anytime soon. Let’s get to the bottom of this, people.

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A Birthday For Buster

I don’t usually celebrate jazz birthdays. Then again, Buster Bailey would have turned 114 today, and there is  “Log Cabin Blues,” featuring Bailey with Clarence Williams’s Washboard Five:

He’s witty in response to Ed Allen’s cornet, pensive in solo and tasteful in his obbligato around Allen’s lead in the last choruses. Throughout, he crafts in earthy scoops, baroque runs, brilliant execution and a sense of nervous animation: every note seems to spiral in place, every run pushes at the beat, not quite like Bailey is fighting the ground rhythm but more like he’s teasing it. Clarence Williams’s band, with Allen, tubaist Cyrus St. Clair, percussionist Floyd Casey and Williams’s piano and spare but smart arrangements, always makes for glorious jazz.

That’s all in a little over three minutes! I guess a little recognition is okay. Happy birthday to the late Buster Bailey.

Buster Bailey

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Much More Than A Goof: The Curious Case of Ken Moyer

Better researchers than I 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?

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Don Murray Goes Commercial

Longtime readers of this blog (both of them) have probably noticed the wealth of fan nonfiction devoted to clarinetist Don Murray. Dead by the age of twenty-sixfour, often overshadowed by his friend and fellow young talent cut tragically short Bix Beiderbecke and with a modestly-sized discography to his name, Murray is both a personal favorite and nowhere near overexposure in the history books.

Murray’s legacy is also complicated by a lot of commercial sessions that probably paid his rent but often didn’t leave room for improvisation. Everyone (or at least the 0.5% of the planet who enjoy hot jazz) knows that it is Murray cascading out of the opening stop chord on “Sorry” under Bix Beiderbecke’s leadership. It takes some patience to find his solo on “What A Wonderful Wedding That Will Be”:

Of course, it’s worth digging if you just like Murray, but his music is worth the effort. The repetition of the first eight bars after the bridge means he was either bored with the tune or simply liked those phrases. Either way, Murray’s clarinet (as well as Red Nichols’s squeezing and pecking on trumpet) adds rhythmic and technical interest to this affair. Murray did not get to stretch out nearly as much on commercial sides but they provide some of his most elusive and rewarding work.

It’s a pity the obbligato saxophone behind the vocal isn’t better recorded; it also gets some things done musically and it might well be Murray. Murray’s tenor on “Marvelous” is much easier to hear and the title might as well refer to Murray:

The rhythmic intensity of this side immediately skyrockets upon his entrance, with Murray’s triplets and hill-and-dale phrases injecting some hot virtuosity into a peppy but otherwise straightforward performance. Murray’s gauzy tone on tenor (heard here as well as on “Blue River” with Jean Goldkette) is similar to his light-toned baritone, while he kept a bright, open sound on both clarinet and alto saxophone.

It is likely Murray’s alto saxophone on the first chorus bridge of “Feelin’ Good” and possibly his clarinet on the eight-bar improvised bridge of the last chorus. The opening squeal is uncharacteristic but the tumbling arpeggios are pure Murray:

That alto’s rhythmic phrasing, especially of eighth notes, and tone are similar to the alto on “Just Like A Melody Out Of The Sky”:

Murray seems to have made a specialty out of these rhythmic paraphrases of non-refrain sections, such as the final bridge on “I’m Ridin’ To Glory” or his gorgeous texture and rhythmic recasting of the verse on baritone for ‘”Tain’t So, Honey, Tain’t So”:

The two records with Joe Venuti’s band are much jazzier charts that still don’t give Murray much spotlight. It’s easy to lament the infrequency or brevity of Murray’s solos (especially after, for example, you might have isolated the 240 or so records that Murray appears on and listened and re-listened to every solo, obbligato, ensemble descant and straight lead he ever waxed). Yet these records also demonstrate a musician working within constraints, responding to and enhancing a musical environment much different from out-and-out jazz settings. “Somebody Lied About Me” barely gives Murray ten seconds of audible space on clarinet and he still manages to make it his own:

“Commercial” is a dirty term in some jazz circles but it simply means the popular music of the time: melodic, danceable, often slickly executed, at times novel, other times trite and above all focused on different musical priorities than other genres, including jazz. So it’s impressive that Murray got away with the impromptu ornaments behind the band and awesome double-time decoration here. Maybe the business-savvy Sam Lanin was also a fan. Whatever the explanation, the sound of Murray’s clarinet piercing through Lanin’s spongy reeds is a very powerful example of musicianship and personality (even if it won’t gain admissions into any jazz anthologies).

“Maybe, Who Knows?” is practically a feature for Murray. He plays clarinet around the ensemble on the first chorus, switches to baritone for a swinging lead on the bridge, answers Ted Lewis’s vocals back on his clarinet and then improvises on the last bridge:

Not just any section man could pull it all off with the same tone, technique, style or those tasteful, spurring ornaments at end of the band’s phrases. I’m still hopeful that someone will unearth recordings of Don Murray playing in a trio a la Jimmy Lytell but, in the meantime, these records do very well on their own terms. There may not be much jazz in them, and some of it may not even be classified as “jazz,” but it is creative, confident and individual music.


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Dream Bands

The following began when a friend joked about jotting down my favorite obscure players. Before I knew it, unsung section men, underappreciated doublers, under-recorded causes that I wish I could hear more of and people I wish had recorded together came to mind, and the list of players turned into a list of bands.

The particular sizes of these bands always seemed to me like the most flexible, transparent ones for arranged jazz. More of a large combination than a big band in the current sense of the term, sections are small enough to form their own miniature ensembles, or chamber groups, that allow each player’s voice to blend, contrast or color the whole even in the tightest blend. Jazz has always focused on individuality of tone, and a band of eight to ten musicians allows massed effects while never burying anyone’s timbre.

Why are there no banjoists or guitarists?  I’m not good at picking them. This is an entirely personal, probably ignorant list, so take it with a grain of salt, ideally enjoy it and let me know if you’ve got your own dream band. Here goes…

trumpet 1: Phil Napoleon
trumpet 2: Tom Morris
trombone: Charlie Irvis
clarinet, soprano saxophone and alto sax: Buster Bailey
tenor and c-melody saxophones: Jack Pettis
piano: Arthur Schutt
tuba and string bass: Joe Tarto
drums: Chauncey Morehouse
Phil Napoleon’s clean, well-balanced sound and crisp placement of notes made him (as another friend put it) born to play on acoustic records. The thought of contemporary Tom Morris’s wa-wa mute commenting under and around Napoleon’s open lead or the two New Yorkers coming up with their own take on the Creole Jazz Band’s two-horn breaks is a perfect example of a collaboration that time and social politics now leave to the imagination. Buster Bailey and Jack Pettis are simply two of my favorite reed players, both intense in solos, stirring in collectively improvised ensembles and more than capable on written parts. The double-sax format in this band (heard on records by the early Fletcher Henderson band, Clarence Williams’s combos and more recently by the Fat Babies) was a great sound that unfortunately faded as bands got bigger.
Charlie Irvis is another straightforward, big-toned, pre-Teagarden and non-Mole trombonist from the acoustic era with a knack for adding slurs, fills and bass to ensembles. The rhythm section swung the Georgians hard through acoustically recorded surfaces, with Chauncey Morehouse especially gifted at using a variety of engineer-approved auxillary percussion to punctuate ensembles. This band would sound amazing on a Gennett 78 from around 1923.

trumpets: Bill Moore and Bobby Stark
trombone: Charlie Green
lead alto sax: Joe Poston
clarinet, alto 2 and baritone sax: Don Murray
tenor sax and clarinet: Woody Walder
piano: Frank Signorelli
string bass: Steve Brown
drums: Kaiser Marshall
This rhythm section of not-quite “unknown” nor “famous” players would have been a meeting of New Orleans (Brown) and New York (Signorelli and Marshall), as well as different idioms within those geo-musical associations. History’s loss again, since it’s easy and exciting to imagine Brown’s bass slaps and Marshall’s cymbal crashes kicking behind the ensemble. Signorelli may or may not have broke any historical ground but he laid plenty of musical foundation in some of the best jazz groups on record. He’d even get to solo here.
It’s just fun to think of lithe-toned, chattering Bill “The Hot Hawaiian” Moore trading fours with Bobby Stark, who plays with the fire and speed of a Jazz Age Roy Eldridge (and, in my humble opinion, a more vocal quality than fleet-fingered Jabbo Smith). Add in Charlie Green’s trombone bottoming out the brass parts and contributing gutty fills around the ensemble and you have a real exercise in contrasts. The same goes for Don Murray’s technical wizardry on clarinet and light-toned baritone paired with Woody Walder’s Southwestern, blues-soaked style on both clarinet and tenor sax; imagine the duets these two might play! Joe Poston’s bright, flexible alto would be an ideal voice to tie this or any other section together.

trumpet 1: Joe Smith
trumpet 2: R.Q. Dickerson
mellophone, clarinet, soprano and alto sax: Goof Moyer
lead alto: Gil Rodin
clarinet, alto 2 and baritone sax: Don Murray
tenor sax and clarinet: Prince Robinson
piano: Irving Brodsky
tuba: Cyrus St. Clair
drums: Dillon Ober
Joe Smith’s sweet tone and restrained style distinguished him from his more extroverted contemporaries, making him Fletcher Henderson’s first-call trumpeter. RQ Dickerson was a force of nature, blasting and moaning with the St. Louis-bred Missourians. These two might be the oddest couple on the list.
Its most under-appreciated musician (which is really saying something here) might be Gil Rodin. Rarely if ever getting to solo, Rodin diligently led Ben Pollack’s sax section band during the band’s glory years. His rich yet gauzy alto always seemed like a predecessor to Hymie Schertzer’s transparent lead in fellow Pollack alumnus Benny Goodman’s swing big band. Maybe Goodman the sideman already had an idea of what Goodman the bandleader might want in a sax section? Filling out the section, Don Murray is back and Prince Robinson handles third sax. Robinson combined some of Coleman Hawkins’s influence into his own more declaratory, at times brass-like, approach to tenor sax.
The multitalented Ken “Goof Moyer” could not only add a unique color reading trombone parts on his mellophone, but punchy solos on that instrument as well as several others. The rhythm section is another assembly of players who were much more than dutiful, often spurring, never distracting and never together. This band would’ve been something to hear, perhaps on a Victor 78 from around 1928, or after hours following a battle of the bands.

trumpet 1: Leonard Davis
trumpet 2: Ed Allen
trombone: George Brunies
lead alto sax, clarinet and violin: Darnell Howard
clarinet, alto 2 and soprano sax: Buster Bailey
tenor sax and flute: Larry Binyon
clarinet, tenor and baritone saxes: Don Murray
piano: Bob Zurke
bass: Artie Shapiro
drums: George Stafford
This reed section alone could be a band in itself. Larry Binyon is another unsung studio player who could play any piece of music on nearly any instrument with some of the best bands on records who no one thought to interview. Darnell Howard’s roots go all the way back to playing violin with WC Handy, through saxophone with King Oliver and Earl Hines to some gritty clarinet quartets with Don Ewell. Bailey and Murray are there not just because they are my top two clarinetists but because of their respective doubling abilities. Bailey played soprano when Clarence Williams couldn’t get Sidney Bechet, but always seemed worth another turn on the instrument. My permutation is rusty, but this setup alone generates 54 combinations of instruments, 192 if you count duos, trios and solos.
Bob Zurke’s wild contrapuntal flurries supported by the sensitive yet swinging Artie Shapiro and woefully under-recorded George Stafford was way more likely at a jam session than a recording studio. It just goes to show how much is left off the record. Ditto for Stafford’s colleague in the Charlie Johnson band Leonard “Ham” Davis, who never got as much airtime as his incisive lead with Eddie’s Hot Shots earned him. Ed Allen received much more attention as a musician on Clarence Williams’s payroll, playing clean leads, driving ensemble ones, passionate blues, vocally-conceived muted solos, Armstrong-tinged licks and just about anything else the imaginative Williams asked for. I love the thought of George Brunies’s big, foggy New Orleans tailgate trombone trading choruses with these two St Louis trumpeters. Sometimes thought is all we’re left with!

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The Jim-Dandies Have More To Offer

After ninety years and a few musical revolutions, it might seem like The Jim-Dandies were just waiting for other musicians to arrive and teach them how to “really” swing:

History shows that other musicians did arrive, in this case from the south, the midwest and most prominently New Orleans, musicians who played with greater liberty and a more relaxed beat than the Dandies. “Shake That Thing” and “Charleston Geechie Dance” were recorded almost right in the middle of the twenties (on October 24, 1925).  Even a superficial comparison with recordings made the same month by Louis Armstrong with his fellow New Orleanian Clarence Williams or by the Palledo Orchestra of St. Louis give an idea of what was on the historical docket:

The Dandies are far removed from the airy polyphony of traditional New Orleans bands, the crisp, bluesy ragtime-infused sound of many southwestern bands or the bravura modernism that Armstrong was already unleashing upon New York. Trumpeter Seymour Irick, a South Carolinian transplant based in New York City, reed player Percy Glascoe, a Baltimore-born bandleader plus Manhattan sideman and pianist/leader Lemuel Fowler (who apparently spent most of his life and career in New York) might instead represent what Louis Metcalf meant by “eastern” style:

When I joined Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club, about 1925, the men in the band were always fighting about which was the better style: eastern or western. When I say “western,” I mean everything that came out of New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City and places like that. The western style was more open…open horns and running chords and running changes. With Ellington, it was the new men like myself [who played in St. Louis], Johnny Hodges and [New Orleans native Barney] Bigard against guys like Bubber Miley and Tricky Sam Nanton [both of whom grew up in New York City]. They were playing wah-wah music with plungers and things.

louismetcalfIt is unclear why Boston-born Hodges is included with the “western” contingent, but it could have to do with the saxophonist’s tutelage under New Orleans expatriate Sidney Bechet. King Oliver was praised for his mute technique going back to his days in the Crescent City, which Garvin Bushell cited as an influence on Miley, so the association between “eastern” style and mutes is also uncertain. Just how mutes were actually used probably marks the difference between Oliver, Miley and Metcalf’s former boss in St. Louis, Charlie Creath, more than regional demarcations.

Labels can lose as much as they catch.  Nonetheless, “Shake That Thing” does lack the open horns and chordal improvisation Metcalf describes as already overtaking New York. Irick and Glascoe rely almost entirely upon melodic paraphrase rather than improvisational reinvention, and Irick certainly isn’t too hip to “wah-wah.” Fowler’s piano and Richard Ward’s percussion are spurring but dutiful accompaniment. The whole feel is rhythmically tense rather relaxed, the band playing with the beat and bar lines rather than between them.


The Jim-Dandies also play with absolute conviction.  The art of subtle but creative paraphrase generates its own type of excitement, as well as the impression that harmonic exploration is simply not a priority.  Rhythmic variation is a priority, just one based in a sense of intensity rather than relaxation.  Setting aside what we might now expect jazz to sound like, none of these players  needed any out-of-towners to show them how to play hot.  The musical DNA of New Orleans and Kansas City is now so deeply rooted in jazz that these records might just be a form of retroactive avant-garde!

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Lem Fowler’s Jim-Dandies On “Shake That Thing”

Ear witnesses to the twenties recount lengthy jam sessions, beyond the reach of period technology, under the radar of that era’s commercially oriented record companies and now just stories about what the musicians “really” sounded like. It makes a record like The Jim-Dandies’ “Shake That Thing” something of an anomaly as well as an echo:

This is the loosest of the (issued) quartet sides organized by pianist, composer and mystery man Lemuel Fowler. Fowler’s other records with trumpet, clarinet, piano and drums for the well-known Columbia label make room for improvisation between arranged sections; some passages even sound like stripped-down section parts for a big band. “Shake That Thing,” on the budget Harmony label, consists almost entirely of trumpeter Seymour Irick and clarinetist/saxophonist Percy Glascoe trading solo statements.

Lem Fowler from

Lem Fowler (photo from

Those solos work off melodic embellishment rather than complete reinvention of Papa Charlie Jackson’s song. The stamp of individuality might be a sudden but brief departure from the tune, for example Glascoe’s double-time sleight of hand on the first chorus, slight but signature paraphrase like Irick alternating staccato pecking with muted cries, or simply ripping up to an introductory phrase, bending a pitch, widening or narrowing vibrato, playing two notes in place of one or anything else from the arsenal of inflections that a jazz musician could use to instantly sign their name to a tune. Rhythmic recasting also allows them to have their way with the song without having to toss out its melody (and one can almost hear dance band arrangers scribbling things down to craft some snappy part for a brass section or clarinet trio). Irick switching between open and muted sounds and Glascoe doubling soprano saxophone and clarinet on the same record add another layer of variety, all the more remarkable considering it unfolds over just three minutes.

This unrelenting ornamentation is far removed from the elaborate improvisational flights now associated with jam sessions or jazz in general. The opportunity/challenge for these players seems to have been making the tune theirs while keeping it up front, perhaps as much for themselves as the audience. It’s easy to imagine this type of dialog taking place after a venue’s doors have closed, with the musicians sticking around to play for one another and the variations continuing to all hours of the night and into the morning, with excitement building from a musician’s ability to say something original with just part, or even all of, the song. In some way that makes a tidy (if admittedly reductionist) metaphor for jazz itself.

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Something To Say In Four Sides: Paul Biese And His Novelty Orchestra

Bandleader Paul Biese enjoyed critical as well as popular acclaim in Jazz Age Chicago and is now known to only the most diehard period aficionados. Such is life for many popular musicians. Yet Biese’s records provide an insightful, powerfully individual snapshot of the transition from popular music of the teens to jazz’s infiltration into the mainstream during the twenties.

The aptly-titled “Fast Asleep In Poppy Land” is heroin-speed instrumental ragtime, alluding to the cacophonous collective interplay of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, only without much improvisation and a hard-edged, urban take on the “nut jazz” no doubt all around Biese and his sidemen. Biese’s tenor saxophone moans on top of, through and all over the band, probably as much due to his vicinity to the recording horn as his tone and billing (he was the leader, after all):

Trumpeter Harry “Rags” Vrooman is especially interesting. He never plays a traditional “Dixieland” lead trumpet role, instead eliding the tune proper into a wailing, three-note ascending phrase alongside Biese, or playing double-time obbligato on “Bo-La-Bo” and decoration behind (!) Lloyd Barber’s trombone (!) for “Yellow Dog Blues”:

Vrooman’s sound, especially on “Dardanella,” hint at his possibly having heard the lift that New Orleans import Freddie Keppard gave bands with a couple of well-placed blasts:

Biese’s “Dardanella,” with Vrooman blasting out of the familiar ostinato and the leader booting like he’d be right at home in a rhythm and blues combo thirty years later, makes Ben Selvin’s peppy multi-million selling record of the tune seem unequivocally tame. Regional styles, bouncy but somewhat buttoned-up New York versus hardboiled Chicago, can already be detected at this point.

Like their Chicago counterparts in Isham Jones’s band, there’s a sense of experimentation with instrumental roles and small group textures in Biese’s group. The leader tries out different saxophone registers for varied effects. The rattle and clang of Lou Goldwasser’s rag-a-jazz drumming and Arnold Johnson’s rapid-fire piano add ferocious drive as well as color. Ralph Williams’s banjo, which jazz historian Mark Berresford has described as a typically Chicagoan blend of melody and rhythm, even adds some zither-like tremolos for a percussive effect on “Yellow Dog Blues.”

Contemporary music history taxonomy may have a hard time pigeonholing Biese’s music, and it’s easy to simply write it off “not jazz,” but its sheer energy, confidence and personality reveal more than just transitional commercial efforts. This was a band with its own voice, easy to dance to, fascinating to listen to and frustratingly absent from most reissues.Oakland Tribune on May 15, 1924

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Bobby Donaldson’s “Tribute” To Twenties Jazz

The twenties can now seem very far away, yet “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” from a session led by Bobby Donaldson for the Savoy label back in 1958, might make them feel as distant as the Pleistocene era. The arrangement features a deliberate, downright stereotypical “Dixieland” instrumentation and approach, with guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli plucking a banjo, Al Lucas swapping his string bass for tuba and drummer Donaldson tapping on rims. Rex Stewart and Emmett Berry even get to whinny through their horns on the introduction and coda, a throwback to the onomatopoeic “nut jazz” of the teens.

Ostensibly a feature for Buster Bailey, it all makes for a wickedly nostalgic trip back to jazz’s formative years that must have given the notoriously smartass clarinetist a giggle. He puffs away, tone smooth to a point well beyond soggy, delivering the first chorus with a satirical straightforwardness before sailing into more honest improvisation in the second one.

bdBailey was the eldest member of the group, four years older than trombonist Vic Dickenson and twenty-four years Pizzarelli’s senior, yet he wasn’t the only one to remember actually playing in bands where banjos and tuba were not just present but very effective. Playing with the likes of June Cole, Ralph Escudero and the indomitable Cyrus St. Clair, Bailey had felt the heft and punch of a gifted tuba player. Lucas seems to have only ever played tuba on record for this tune and a lone “Caravan” from an Illinois Jacquet date ten years later. To Lucas’s credit, his stubbornly ponderous roots and fifths and potbellied tone add their own ambience. Whether or not he was a “good” tubaist or even liked the instrument, he also stays in tune and on the beat, remaining a musician even as he sticks to making an effect.

Bucky Pizzarelli acts the part of a “commercial” (as in, more likely to backs jingles than jam sessions) banjoist with the Peter Sellers-like conviction, using rhythmic stiltedness and thin voicings to set the stage but never get in the way. It’s easy to imagine full-time rhythm banjoists such as Johnny St. Cyr or Tommy Fellini laughing along with Pizzarelli, or wry humorist Eddie Condon doing his own imitation. Whether Donaldson’s penetrating, robotic rim clicking is deliberate or not, it’s far removed from the what Frank Snyder did for New Orleans Rhythm Kings in the twenties or the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s Tony Sbarbaro accomplished well into the fifties.

It’s all so hokey that it turns into exaggeration without mockery, satire that reminds of better execution but doesn’t throw out the source material. Thirty years can also seem like a long time, but it was short enough for at least Bailey, Dickenson and Stewart to remember these instruments, ideas and best practitioners still in the process of being declared passé. There’s no way to tell what any of these musicians thought, but their playing makes one very insightful joke.

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Bix, Bernie And Hot Jazz In Davenport

Bernie Schultz and His Crescent Orchestra, 1926, WOC studio of Davenport, Iowa (left to right: Johnny Day, Vic Carlson, George Byron Webb, Eddie Anderson, Bernie Schultz, Al Waffle, Wayne Rohlf, Omar Hoagland, Art Wunder, Sandy Ross)

Bernie Schultz and His Crescent Orchestra, 1926, WOC studio of Davenport, Iowa (left to right: Johnny Day, Vic Carlson, George Byron Webb, Eddie Anderson, Bernie Schultz, Al Waffle, Wayne Rohlf, Omar Hoagland, Art Wunder, Sandy Ross)

Davenport, IA paid more than its debt to jazz by birthing one of its earliest and greatest artists, yet Bernie Schultz And His Crescent Orchestra shows there was more to Davenport than Bix Beiderbecke, more to “early jazz” than the geography covered in a jazz history seminar:

It’s hardly news that jazz was popping up all over the country during the twenties (right?) and the internet has cataloged so much of it that I’m unsure anyone will be surprised by this red-hot, thoroughly original music. Still, drummer Johnny Day getting to solo on “Sweet Violets” and “Sweetheart Of Sigma Chi (two sides, in 1927!), building up plenty of horizontal momentum while varying his sounds between drum heads and cymbals is worth at least one more hearing. Ditto for Harry LaRue’s dips into plump, coppery middle and lower registers, and clarinetist/alto saxophonist Eddie Anderson moving all over his horns like he just got a new toy.

Beyond the sheer joy of these sides or the novelty of hearing jazz in a city without urban sprawl, Schultz’s jazz demonstrates a lot of different musical influences at work, not all of which are likely to pop up in a Ken Burns documentary. LaRue’s playing, especially on “Hold Everything,” shows he was probably listening to that other cornetist from Davenport, if not absorbing his sense of construction and phrasing. The glee club vocals (a beautifully ironic foil to the solos), staccato tuba and ukulele-like banjo strums add a touch of “ra-ra, local college and/or sports team” pep with a harder edge. Bandleader and saxophonist Schultz led the band at Saint Ambrose University and wrote a few school songs, begging questions about the relationship between varsity bands and jazz in the Midwest (maybe we’ll get there after finding those pesky Bolden cylinders). The country fiddle and plucking banjo on “Hold Everything” just add to the stew.

DavenportThe Schultz band likely never made it (or possibly wanted to get to) New York City and its playing is refreshingly distant from New Orleans. The Crescent Orchestra did have a regular radio show with a local station and gigged a two-hundred-mile the territory around Davenport. According to former sideman Wayne Rohlf via Dick Raichelson’s liner notes to the LP A Bag of Sleepers – Volume 3 (Arcadia 2005), the band also traveled as far as Buffalo, NY and Erie, Canada, later reorganizing under Day’s leadership after Schultz’s departure. Rohlf explains that, after at least one abortive attempt at studying medicine in favor of music, Schultz ended up at George Washington University School of Medicine, practicing in Virginia and leaving just seven sides under his name ever issued on record. Saxophonist and historian Paul Lindemeyer notes that his band was actually one of a handful of Iowa-based units to record before World War II.

Based on the ferocious drive and reliance on improvisation heard on its records, the Schultz band must have been a revelation live. It also seemed to have been at least as curious and galvanized by jazz as any big city band. Schultz and his Crescent Orchestra may not have changed jazz history but it was plenty busy experiencing it, crafting the music towards its own ends and leaving something entirely individual in its modest wake.

Postscript: Bixographer Albert Haim looked into Bernie Schultz and his band’s history and shared his findings on his Bixography forum online.  What was it like to hear his group alongside the Fate Marble band?

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