Tag Archives: Jack Purvis

Three Minutes And Plenty Of Style

Here is a fantastic arrangement from the twenties that is not the work of a Challis, an Ellington or a Redman, or even a Hill or Nesbitt:

Discographies show leader/vocalist Arnold Johnson and pianist (as well as legend of the American songbook) Harold Arlen as this band’s arrangers. Lord’s discography and Jazz Oracle list Johnson as the arranger for this particular track.

The chart is not just jam-packed with instrumental and vocal textures; it’s also a stylistic smorgasbord. The introduction spotlights Pete Pumiglio’s clarinet riffing over suspenseful guitar chords, combining hot jazz and modern harmonies for some brief chamber music. Then a lush dance band baritone sax intones the chorus with prominent syncopated brass hits and violin runs mocking society bands: sweet, hot and comic all at once, and barely halfway into the record.

Another modernistic verse and transition feature the unique touch of soprano sax lead, followed by an alto sax break turning into a sax section break in barely two bars. Then, it’s right into a sax soli that is both lyrical and rhythmic, the type of written part sounding like an improvising soloist that would become synonymous with jazz arrangement. Wildman Jack Purvis even gets the hot trumpet bridge.

It all happens before the record even gets to the vocal. That vocal might now be dismissed as “dated,” but that would just be temporal prejudice. Stylistic preferences aside, the choir harmonies move against the lead in some interesting ways and the words are always clear. “Move” is the key word here: thanks to the vocal arrangement and the lightly stepping, resonant guitar and tuba underneath, there is no slackening of momentum. A short shout chorus followed by a vocal coda closes out this odyssey through the sonic landscape of twenties popular music.

arnoldjohnson

Photo from Pinterest user Gus Ynzenga.

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Arnold Johnson Gets It Done

This writer knew Arnold Johnson as the pianist on Paul Biese’s hell-raising sides of the teens and for his band’s vivid ensemble lines on some records with Jack Purvis. Wikipedia explains that Arnold Johnson had a long career in popular music, from vaudeville accompanist through bandleader to radio professional.

“Sweet Lovin’ Mama” is, at best, a sentence in the book of Johnson’s life. Yet it’s still another ear-opening example of this hustling musical professional: arranged with ample variety, played with energy as well as confidence, and hotter than any metaphor I could insert to introduce it:

The novelty sounds in the introduction are swept away to make room for some straightforward collective ensemble stomping, with Nat Natoli’s lead trumpet and the rhythm section hitting hard. Natoli’s breaks and muted upper-register vocalizing also raise the temperature. A chorus for sentimental violin with piano ragging around it is followed by a similar effect, now with the saxophone section around the trombone melody, then gliding into a wailing out chorus. Johnson may not have performed all the parts, but his name on the record label once again delivers the goods.

He worked in the music business rather than Jazz per se, and “Sweet Lovin’ Mama” may have been just a “product” made to satisfy demand. It concerns itself with nothing other than rhythmic intensity, textural contrasts, melodic variation, and instrumental give and take. Once upon a time, it made dancers move in their homes. Now, it makes listeners dance in their minds. If there is such a thing as “absolute hot music,” this track would be a good candidate.

Arnold Johnson is seated at the piano alongside the Frisco Jazz Band in 1917. Photo from thevarnishedculture.com.

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