Tag Archives: big bands

RIP Joe Muranyi

Joe Muranyi, courtesy of Henning Janos

Joe Muranyi passed away last Friday.  A bad Internet connection and a busy weekend kept the news from me until Monday, and uncertainty about what to say kept me from commenting until today.

Muranyi was best known as the last clarinetist to play with Louis Armstrong, as well as a good friend of Armstrong’s, a prodigious jazz writer and a fine musician in his own right.  Muranyi was a link to a seminal force in music.  He was also the person who taught me how to give Louis Armstrong the benefit of the doubt.

As a younger listener,  I was one of those Louis Armstrong fans who just assumed that the great trumpeter’s career as a jazz artist ended some time around 1928, when big bands, vocals and Tin Pan Alley made him into a (mere) “popular entertainer.”  Joe Muranyi’s liner notes for the 1989 BMG/Bluebird CD Laughing Louie taught me better.  Knowing the man and his music well, he pointed out that Armstrong wasn’t holding back, he was playing just the notes he needed for maximum impact.  He wasn’t selling out by leaving jazz tunes behind, he was flexing his imagination and chops by looking ahead to new material.  Most of all, he was reaching more listeners.  Armstrong was all about reaching people.

Muranyi’s commentary moved like great sports casting.  It was also optimistic, open-minded and above all insightful, treating these 1932 and 1933 studio sessions not as popular concessions or the product of opportunistic management, but as the sincere work of a pensive yet joyful artist.  In short, Muranyi heard music, and from then on so did I.

And that’s all I have to say about him.  I’ll leave the rest to some other writers who help me to hear more and understand better:

Goodbye, Josephus” from Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives.

In Loving Memory of Joe Muranyi” by Ricky Riccardi at The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong.

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White Plays Black

Given Jazz Age assumptions about which bands were supposed to play what, and the frequency of jazz-tinged instrumentals in Joe Candullo‘s discography, it’s remarkable that  the violinist and bandleader was able to record quite a bit of music other bands were simply expected to play. The same ratio of hot to sweet music was the norm for Duke Ellington, Bennie Moten or Charlie Johnson.

Occasionally double standards come in handy. Had the Candullo band’s family trees or repertoire been different, they might just be another jazz band, or another (most likely forgotten) dance orchestra. Luckily, the “novelty” of these players’ backgrounds draws attention to real musical discoveries. The tight ensemble, instrumental variety and tense but energetic beat on “Black Bottom” reveal some distinct archaic pop:

Candullo added his own sound to several tunes that Moten, Fletcher Henderson and King Oliver also recorded. Doc Cooke‘s band, featuring the pugilistic Freddie Keppard on cornet, gave “Brown Sugar” a raucous, red-hot treatment, while Candullo’s version simmers the themes and instrumental textures into a warmer feel [follow the link to listen]:

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xnowsu
Joe Candullo & His Everglades Orchestra – Brown… by kspm0220s

Historian and collector Mark Berresford notes that “why and how Candullo and his men got to record such material is a mystery.” By the Swing era, the sounds of Harlem, New Orleans, Kansas City and other territories were well known in popular music. Yet saxophonist and bandleader Charlie Barnet‘s unabashed admiration for Ellington, Henderson and Count Basie would earn him a reputation as a derivative stylist, a second-rate soloist and another pop musician getting rich off of others’ creativity.  Assuming that musicians can play great music without innovating, Barnet left behind plenty of upbeat, passionate music.  It’s fairly obvious (and not just from the titles) where performances such as “The Duke’s Idea”

and “The Count’s Idea”

come from, but the emulation is sincere, flattering and far from an exact duplicate of its source material. Barnet was clearly a student of Coleman Hawkins’ tenor and Johnny Hodges’ alto, but does that make his own sax any less swinging and assured? He was also one of the few big band leaders to frequently incorporate the soprano saxophone. It adds a shimmering lead and tongue-in-cheek blues statements to “Pompton Turnpike”:

Thank goodness audiences and critics have moved beyond evaluation by association: just ask Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Leontyne Price, Eminem, Karmin…

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