Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Trumpet of John "Bugs" Hamilton

In our earlier post on Fats Waller and his Rhythm, we mentioned the excellent but rather obscure trumpeter, John "Bugs" Hamilton (1911-47).
John was a regular with Fats and the Rhythm from 1939-42 and his clean,big-toned but always tasty blowing is a highlight of the later sessions. Most Fats fans appreciate the work of Herman Autrey who was on Fats' first session in 1934 and continued with the band into '39. Herman was a Louis-influenced hornman who also excelled in muted blowing. He had many inspired solos on the bands many '34-'39 sides.

John was born in St. Louis, a great city for trumpeters-Clark Terry, Charlie Creath, Shorty Baker and Miles Davis to name a few. His earliest pro band was that of trombonist Billy Kato in 1930-1, followed by a short stint with  Chick Webb, Kaiser Marshall in 1935 and finally Fats. He started as an alternate member of the Rhythm,filling in for Autrey.
John first shows up on the Waller big band session of April 12, 1938. Fats put together touring bands occaisonally ,consisting of the Rhythm plus extra horns. Although Herman Autrey can be heard backing up Fats I believe John takes the tasty muted solo on Sheik of Araby and it sounds likes it's him on Hold my Hand playing   Louis-like glisses over the band's out chorus.

John always played with great taste whether muted or open. Here are a few highlights from the Fats series.The formats were pretty standard with Fat's piano-vocal and horn solos. John always did a workmanlike job,but these selections stand out.
His first session with the Rhythm was for the Muzak Transcriptions. John has standout lead work and solos on The Sheik and After You've Gone and his muted work on B Flat Blues is very tasty.
John's first Bluebird date on 8/10/39 produced a tasty version of Fat's Squeeze Me with nice muted work by Bugs. You're Lettin' the Grass Grow (11/3/39) features good cup mute and lead.From the same date comes a rollicking Darktown Strutter's Ball with a hot open solo by JH and a high flying rideout with John popping off some high ones. Oh,Frenchy!(1/12/40) has strong open and lead work. From the same date, the 2 part instrumental Moon is Low has an outstanding 2 chorus solo by John with some Eldridge like runs. Part 2 features Fat's organ with Band riffs.

You run Your Mouth(4/11/40) has a tasty open solo with some half valving. Stop Pretending(7/16/40) has a band backround vocal ala Marie with a nice muted Hamilton solo and rideout. I always loved Fat's E flat Blues since I had the old RCA lp.John gets in a nice wa-wa mute solo and there's a stop-time band section ala Shoe Shiner's Drag.
Everybody Loves my Baby(11/6/40) is one of the classic Rhythm cuts. Bugs stars on the catchy riff,trades off with Gene Sedric and leads a hot rideout chorus. As the late Ray Smith would say"-Pure Joy-Pure Jazz."

Scram ! (same date) is a riff tune by Leonard Feather and has some nice muted horn by John, who could sound a bit like Charlie Shavers on cup mute. Buckin' the Dice (1/2/41) has some high flying lead work by JH. He had no trouble in the upper register and sounds a bit like Roy Eldridge, here.
You're Gonna be Sorry (3/20/41) is another high flying swinger with a fleet muted solo by JH and a wild out chorus before Fat's vocal coda.

It was back to the Waller Big Band on 7/1/41 and even though Rhythm veteran Herman Autrey is in the trumpet section, JH stars on the solos. On Chant of the Groove, John is in a swinging Eldridge mood. Ain't nothin' to It has JH's solid muted work. I believe the solo on Rump Steak Serenade is by Autrey.
Back to the Rhythm, on 10/1/41 Clarinet Marmalade was cut. Sedric gets some nice spots,but JH is the star with two scorching choruses and a red hot rideout. Fats plays organ on this side.
Back to the Big Band on 3/16/42 for You Must be Losing your Mind with a short growl spot for JH and the instrumental, Really Fine has an excellent muted solo.
The Rhythm's last session on 7/13/42 didn't have any JH solos, but featured a great Fats composition, Up Jumped you with Love with a nice riff by John and Gene and more of John's patented backup.

John also recorded a Bluebird session with pianist/vocalist Una Mae Carlisle(1915-56) on 8/2/40,along with Al Casey,guitar-Cedric Wallace,bass and Slick Jones,drums. So the band had a very Fats and his Rhythm feel.
Una Mae,a beautiful young lady was a protege of Fats,played nice stride piano and had a lovely,jazz vocal style. The tunes recorded that day were Papa's in Bed with his Britches On,a fun novelty with a short muted solo by John. Now I Lay me Down to Sleep was a popular hit for Una and John provides pretty backup and a lovely melody solo ala Shavers. If I Had You and You Made me Love You follow similar formats with John getting short muted solos.
Una Mae is another neglected performer and will get her own post here,soon.

At this time we have no info on how John got his nickname of "Bugs" but will be back with an Addendum when we find out.
John played with violinist Eddie South in 1943,then dissapears from the music scene, due to poor health and bout with tuberculosis which took him in August of 1947 at the too young age of 36. He died in his home of St.Louis.
John was one of many hard working jazz musicians who didn't get the praise they deserved. Thankfully all his Waller recordings are available on RCA Bluebird and Classics. The Una Mae Carlisle session is on her series on Classics. The '39 Transcriptions (along with Fats' '35 sessions) is on a Viper's Nest CD.
If you're a Fats Waller fan or love good jazz trumpet,you'll become a fan of John "Bugs" Hamilton.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Swing Times Five - Raincheck

This recent CD release has become a favorite of mine for listening at home and in the car.
It features the ever tasty trumpet and flugelhorn of Jeff Hughes and the lovely,swinging voice of Debby Larkin
backed up by a top flight New England rhythm section. Jeff is also a wonderful cornetist, but chose to play a 1946 Benge trumpet for the session.
Jeff,a personal friend and colleague is well known around New England for his work with the Wolverine Jazz Band and his own combos. His horn has shades of Bix,Hackett,Berigan and Warren Vache-but is all Hughes.
Debby has been on the New England scene now for a couple of Decades and has graced the groups of Craig Ball,The Swing Legacy and her own group with husband Jeff Stout (another great trumpeter). She sings in a no-nonsense style with pure voice and jazz phrasing but never feels the urge to scat or over indulge.

Also featured is pianist Ross Petot, a busy performer known for his work with the Wolverine Jazz Band and Blue Horizon Jazz Band and a master of stride piano.
Guitarist Dan Weiner is a solid player with roots in the Herb Ellis/Barney Kessell style of jazz guitar.
Bassist Peter Tillotson is a new face but has impressive credentials and is a  solid rhythm man and soloist.
Drummer Dave Didrickson, a former Chicagoan also a Wolverine and a solid timekeeper in the Dave Tough tradition. The group ranges from trad to mainstream easily and Jeff and Ross' versatility gives the group that range. The band has played frequently at the Sherborn (Mass.) Inn .And now on to the musical highlights.

Raincheck-The title tune is a nicely swinging rendition of the Billy Strayhorn classic. Jeff's harmon muted trumpet and Ross duet the melody front and back with some of Ross' stride piano a highlight.

Love Letters- The beautiful Victor Young standard gets loving teatment from Jeff's fluegel,Ross'
piano musings and Dan's pensive guitar.

It Had to be You- Isham Jones' classic introduces Debbie with a clear,no nonsense rendering backed by Jeff's pretty muted horn. Deb always sings in perfect taste and swing.

I'm Checking out Goombye- This rather obscure but fun swinger from Duke dates from 1937,with Ivie Anderson's vocal..
Rosie Clooney recorded it with Duke in the 50s and in the 80s on Concord. Following Ross' delightful striding,Deb gets a lot of Rosie's pretty tone that still swings and Jeff contributes some Cootie-ish growl horn.

S'Wonderful- The Gershwin standard gets a lovely bossa nova treatment similar to Diana Krall's recent recording. Highlights are Deb's mellow vocal,Jeff's flugel (a bit Herb Alpert-ish) and Dan's guitar with shades of Wes Montgomery.

Cottontail- More Ellingtonia. Jeff opens with Harmon followed by Ross' Dukish comping and a spot for Peter's solid bass.

Get out of Town- This Cole Porter classic gets a mini-concert arrangement starting with Ross' rent part stride,then slowing down to a nice medium groove for Deb's tender vocalizing and Jeff's pretty trumpet  statements.

Speak Low- The Kurt Weill standard gets a moody latin treatment with Jeff's horn channeling Warren Vache and Herb Alpert. Ross and Dan also have tasty solo spots.

The Lady's in Love with You.- A great Burton Lane standby is given a swinging treatment by Swing times 5. Debbie's vocal is pure and swinging as are the solos by Jeff and Ross. A nice way to end a lovely but all-too short session of swing and the Great American songbook.

To purchase this delightful CD go to the group's website www. or do a search under their name. You won't be dissapointed.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Waxing Nostalgic:The Great Isham Jones and his Orchestra

This installment of our series of memorable LP purchases brings us to the masterful composer/bandleader Isham Jones (1894-1956). This LP was part of RCA Victor's Vintage Series and was issued as LPV-504 in 1964.
As a 12 year old jazz fan, I had heard Jones' name mentioned as a great composer and the band that Woody Herman eventually took over. I would soon appreciate the full, rich sounds of the Jones band as a top dance band and also a very respectable "hot" band.

Isham, a saxophonist had been leading a dance band since 1919. The Victor sides date from 1932-34 when he had one of his finest all around bands. As a composer Jones left us with many great standards such as I'll See you in my Dreams, The One I Love, It had to be You, On the Alamo, Spain, Swinging down the Lane, There is no Greater Love and You've got me Crying Again to name only a few.

This edition of the Jones band was very tight and full of a rich sound which was a hallmark of all his bands.
The hot sides swing with the best of them sounding a bit like Casa Loma or Joe Haymes. Let's sample some of the highlights:

As a young jazz fan I was immediately attracted to the jazz numbers. Later I got to appreciate the Jones'
orchestra's musical treatment of dance tunes-no mickey mouse or gimmicks-just beautifully played dance music.The orchestra's sound and texture was not unlike Paul Whiteman's, although the Jones band was smaller with only 3 or 4 strings.

Blue Prelude (4/6/33)-Written by Gordon Jenkins,one of the band's key arrangers,this beautiful theme features a smooth trombone lead played by either Red Ballard or Jack Jenney,some of Saxie Mansfield's big toned tenor and a tightly muted trumpet by leadman Johnny Carlsen.The Jones orchestra spotted some of the best players of the day along with some gifted jazzmen. Jenkins , of course went on to great fame as a studio arranger for Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole and Louis Armstrong to name a few.
When Woody Herman took over the Jones band in 1936, he used Blue Prelude as his theme until Blue Flame came along.

Sentimental Gentleman from Georgia (8/17/32) is a nice swinging fox trot sung by Eddie Stone, one of the band's violinists and an engaging novelty and ballad singer. We get hot spots by Milt Yaner on clarinet,Mansfields's tenor and Jack Jenney's trombone. The band swings the last chorus out nicely with that full orchestral sound.

Darkness on the Delta (12/16/32)-A pleasant medium tempo "southern" tune a la Basin St. and Sleepy Time down South.  Eddie Stone returns for a pleading ballad vocal.   He would later star with Freddie Martin for many years. The band plays this tune with a nice mellow 4/4 swing.

China Boy(5/10/34)- The old Chicago favorite gets a nice hot treatment by the Jones boys.Solos include PeeWee Erwin on muted trumpet,Sonny Lee on trombone and Mansfields's tenor. The call and response band riffs bring back memories of Casa Loma. Lee was a much underated hot trombonist who excelled on muted and plunger solos. He went back to Frank Trumbauer's band of 1925 and during the swing years starred with Bunny Berigan and Jimmy Dorsey.

Dallas Blues (5/10/34). This one really sent me as a 12 year old and is still a great example of hot jazz played by a full sized dance band.The band gets a nice romping tempo going but never screams. Just a lot of beautiful dynamics and beautiful riffing on the out chorus. Those riffs sound like one big horn. We also hear Lee's trombone and Milt Yaner on clarinet.At this point Jones used Walt Yoder's string bass along with Joe Bishop's tuba to create a driving beat.Bishop,later to be another key man in the Herman band did a lot of the hot writing along with Jiggs Noble.

The Blue Room (7/16/34)-Another fine hot arrangement with a standout solo by Pee Wee Erwin who had replaced George Thow in March of 1934.It's a strutting,chromatic line with some percussive triplets thrown in. In his biography, This Horn for Hire, PeeWee remarks that he's still proud of the solo-it's a good one. There's also more of Mansfield's tenor and a nice decrescendo rideout over riffs.

Georgia Jubilee (7/16/34)-A Benny Goodman-Artie Shutt composition-Goodman recorded it a few months earlier.Highlights are Johnny Carlson's muted trumpet, Milt Yaner's clarinet and a rocking muted trombone rideout by Lee over the Band riffs. We'll have to do a post on Sonny Lee,soon.

We don't want to forget the dance tunes-All beautifully played. There are five Jones compositions: I'll Never Have to Dream Again (a lovely waltz), All Mine-Almost,It's Funny to Everyone But Me, You've Got Me Crying Again and Why Can't this Night go on Forever.  . You've Got Me Crying is sung by Joe Martin ,another violinist who stayed with Isham for quite a while. Hal Kemp and Nat Cole had nice records of it.
Joe also sings For All We Know,another standard made popular by Nat.

Eddie Stone sings Louisville Lady (7/24/33) a bluesy ballad by Billy Hill  with a nice minor to major form and a lovely Carmen Lombardo tune Ridin' Around in the Rain which swings politely and suits Eddie's engaging voice.
Tommy Dorsey played this tune on a 1956 Statler Hotel broadcast. That covers the original lp that this 12 year old jazz fan found so attractive and 50 years later it sounds better than ever.

Isham broke up this band in 1936 for a brief retirement and more composing work. By 1937 he was leading a new band that recorded for ARC and made some swinging transcriptions. The band is a good one,though not as full of orchestral textures as the early 30s edition. It reminds you a little of the Hudson-DeLangeOrchestra. In 1937 and 38 Eddie Stone borrowed the Jones band for some Vocalion sides under his name. The few sides I've heard feature a politely swinging band. Jones continued leading bands into the early 40s, then concentrated on composing till his death in 1956.

Of course,Woody Herman took over most of the old Jones band in 1936 and a lot of his early sides still have a lot of the Jones feel. Mansfield, Bishop, Noble and several other Jones alumni stayed with Woody.
Before the end of the 1936 Jones band, some small band jazz sides were made for Decca as Isham Jones' Juniors. They feature Woody, Mansfield,Lee, trumpeter Chealsea Quealy and pianist Howard Smith.
They will certainly be revisited in a future post. There are several Jones CDs available and much of his music on Youtube, including a rare 1933 movie short.

To close here are some words from the original album by James T. Maher:
"Do not consider this music typical nostalgia of the early thirties. Isham Jones and his orchestra were never typical because they were the best."

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Second Chorus (1940)

Continuing our Big Band/Jazz Movie series is this pleasant musical comedy, always a favorite of yours truly.
Second Chorus contains the usual silly Hollywood cliches and an equally silly plot.
However, there is some great music by Artie Shaw, wonderful trumpet playing by Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield , the radiant beauty of Paulette Goddard and of course, the always delightful dancing and singing of Fred Astaire.

The slim plot involves Danny (Fred) ,a trumpeter and bandleader and his buddy Hank (Burgess Meredith), also a trumpeter. These two have managed to keep flunking in college to keep the band going. (Fred was 41 and Burgess 32 at the time!). Ellen (Paulette) enters as Band Secretary and object of both boys' affections.
When Artie Shaw steals her away,the boys try to get jobs with Shaw and get involved with eccentric millionaire Mr. Chisolm (Charles Butterworth) who is sponsoring a Shaw concert and yearns to be a Professional Mandolin player! After several silly misadventures, Fred gets the girl and a big solo number in the film's climax. Despite all of this nonsence, we get a lot of good music via Artie, his band and trumpet stand-ins, Bobby Hackett and Billy Butterfield.

Over the years there's been a lot of misinformation on who dubs for who. Bobby plays all of the Meredith solos and Billy dubs for Fred except for on Sugar ,where it's obviously Bobby's mellow tones.
There are some hilarious moments for musicians- On Sweet Sue,(played at a college dance) Fred and Burgess think they're auditioning for Shaw who has actually shown up to hire Paulette (who could blame him!). The ensuing trading of fours features glorious contrasts of the pure,Louis-ish Butterfield horn against the melodic cascades of Bobby(still into his Bix bag at this part of his career). Unfortunately, no one bothered to coach the two actors on fingering a horn-their wild flailings are a riot! (Before Shaw enters there's a bit of a blues with Bobby on lead,then Billy riding over him).

Later they get a chance to audition again at a Shaw gig. Fred chooses Artie's pretty arrangement of I'm Yours. Meredith has sabotaged his part backstage, writing in wrong passages and a wild, atonal held note that Fred thinks belongs in the piece!(this is probably Billy or a studio man) Meredith starts off okay on Lady Be Good (his break is played by Bobby) but is pulled off the band riser by an irate Fred just as he's about to solo! Artie has both trumpeters thrown out!

Astaire himself thought this was one of his worst films.The main problem is that he doesn't get to dance enough. When he does we're suppose to assume that Danny also can dance as good as he plays!
His duet with Paulette on Dig It!(Hal Bourne and Johnny Mercer) is a fun jitterbug routine done at a band rehearsal. (You can spot Fred's collaborator/choreographer Hermes Pan holding a clarinet).
Although Paulette has been listed as one of Fred's worst partners, she does a nice job and it doesn't hurt to have Fred as a partner. Her beauty and great legs also don't hurt a bit.
The production number Me and the Ghost Upstairs was cut from the film, although it survived via a Youtube clip and features some great Fred dancing assisted by Pan as a girl ghost!

We see plenty of Artie's 1940 band featuring Billy Butterfield, Vernon Brown (trombone), Les Robinson (lead alto) and a great rhythm section of Johnny Guarneri(piano), Al Hendrickson(guitar), Jud DeNaut (bass) and Nick Fatool (drums).We hear a good portion of Everything's Jumping played early in the film. Artie also had a full string section who appear on the Concerto for Clarinet sequence. This is the musical highlight of the film. Set in a club during rehearsal we get a good portion of the recorded version featuring Butterfield, Nick Fatool's drumming and Artie's virtuoso clarinet inprovisations on what is basically a blues.

Artie also contributed a lovely composition, Love of my Life with Johnny Mercer's lyrics. Fred sings this song to Paulette during the audition scene. Artie also recorded the tune for Victor that year and years later the New Artie Shaw Orch. conducted by Dick Johnson recorded it. Artie was obviously fond of the tune and it garnered a Best Song Oscar nomination.
The song Poor Mr. Chisolm (Bernie Hanighen and Mercer) is a comical number named after Butterworth's mandolin playing character. It's later used as Fred's big number in the concert finale.

As a sidelight, on Sept. 22, 1940 Fred recorded Dig It, Mr. Chisolm,Love of my Life and Me and the Ghost for Columbia with a fine studio band directed by Perry Botkin (who dubbed Mr. Chisolm's mandolin ramblings). The band consisted of quite a few members of the Hal Kemp Orch. along with such studio pros as Mannie Klein (trumpet), Dick Clark (tenor), Charlie LaVere(piano) and Spike Jones on drums. Spike was still a few years from forming his City Slickers, but uses his famous tuned cowbells on Me and the Ghost.
This selection surfaced on Youtube and has some nice singing by Fred and a politely swinging band. We hope to hear the other sides soon.

Over the years Artie has been lambasted for his acting, but I thought he did a nice job and played himself
without a lot of Hollywood "jive" talk and some humor.He was a very bright, sensitive guy and I'm sure he wanted to present himself as the consumate musician he was.
Paulette Goddard is a delight as a great beauty and works well off the boys. Meredith is a bit corny, but still fun as the eager Hank who tries to best Fred musically and romantically.Butterworth was a fine comic supporting actor but gets a bit too much to do here. His act gets a bit stale after a while. Still the film is good fun and the music saves the day when things get too silly.(Incidentally, Paulette and Meredith must have connected during the filming, they were later married for a time).

Second Chorus is one of many films that ran out of copyright. It has been put out in numerous budget VHS and DVD packages,all usually using an old, grainy print. The recent TV version on GET TV had a beautiful print, so there are pristine prints available.

Till our next Jazz/Big Band film-Keep Swinging!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Some Jazzy Stocking Stuffers

Following our previous Christmas jazz posts, Ira Ironstrings plays Santa Claus and Christmas with Louis Armstrong are some favorite jazz Christmas albums from the Pete Kelly collection.
An early 10" lp with delightful jazz holiday music is Urbie Green's A Cool Yuletide recorded in 1954 for RCA's subsidiary X label.
This is nice cool mainstream with some boppish touches, not unlike the Dave Pell Octet.
The personnel is Urbie, Joe Wilder,trumpet- Al Cohn,tenor- Al Epstein, baritone (a nice surprise) -Buddy Weed,piano-Mundell Lowe,guitar-Milt Hinton,bass and Jimmie Crawford and Don Lamond splitting up drum chores.The arrangements are by Charles Shirley. All these men are top studio players and great jazzmen.

The ensembles are tightly voiced and Joe Wilder's clean,boppish horn is a highlight thruout. Some of the highlights are a neat version of All I want for Christmas with a Northwest Passage riff on the intro and coda. I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa has a bit of the Jimmie Lunceford 2 beat before breaking into 4/4 for solos. Urbie's sweet Dorsey-ish horn is featured on White Christmas and Christmas Song with some nice spots by Lowe's guitar. Winter Wonderland is played at a medium swing with Joe getting in some Cootie-like plunger spots. Santa Claus is Coming has a bit of the Birth of the Cool sound with some tasty piano by the underated Weed.
The lp has been long out of print and not yet restored to CD but you can try ebay or youtube. It's worth the search.

Fans of Glenn Miller will really enjoy Christmas Serenade-In the Glenn Miller Style , a 1965 Columbia lp reuniting Tex Beneke, Ray Eberle and Paula Kelly and the Modernaires.
The studio band was arranged by Alan Copeland (a former Modernaires vocalist-he may sing on this session). There are some of the Miller reed and doowah brass sounds but the band has more of a swinging Les Brown sound.
Tunes from the original Miller book are It Happened in Sun Valley and Jingle Bells. Tex's vocals are a joy thruout and Merry Christmas Baby is tailor made for him. His tenor work on the album is exellent and he gets some mellow spots on Christmas Song and Snowfall (a nice chart). Sleigh Ride is given a nice swinging ride with more of Tex's tenor and the Mods have many nice moments with Tex and Ray Eberle (Ray sounds a bit creaky on his solo spots).
I noticed a curious arranging passage. The vocal coda on Christmas Song was later used on Herb Alpert's version on his own Christmas Album. Perhaps vocal arranger Shorty Rogers remembered it and worked it into his own chart!
This session came out on lp and later on cassette(I still have my copy) and has made the transfer to CD.

One of the classic jazz Xmas albums is Hark the Herald Angels Swing! (World Jazz-1972) by The World's Greatest Jazz Band.
This is one of the band's best lineups with Yank Lawson and Billy Butterfield,trumpets- Ed Hubble and Vic Dickenson,trombones- Bud Freeman,tenor- Bob Wilber,clarinet and soprano-Ralph Sutton,piano-Bob Haggart,bass and Gus Johnson,drums.
Bob's Bob Crosby-like charts abound and all the soloists excell in a very happy session.
Highlights include the title tune, a real swinger with Billy wailing up high on the out chorus. Yank and Gus turn Little Drummer Boy into a neat jazz conversation. (Yank using his trusty Harmon mute). Silent Night is turned into a bluesy but sacred outing and Vic and Gus get in some good humored vopcalizing on Jingle Bells and Rudolph. Ralph shows off his own Fats Waller piano and vocal chops on I'll be Home for Christmas. Christmas Song features the pure pretty Butterfield fleugelhorn. Every track is a gem. This is the kind of jazz album that even non-jazz fans will respond to.
As of this writing the lp hasn't been transferred to CD-It certainly should. You can get a copy on ebay and sample tracks on Youtube. Here's hoping someone puts it out on CD soon.

For Trad Jazz fans here are two tasty treats. In 1984 World Jazz released another standout Christmas album this time by the Jim Cullum Jazz Band. Jim's band from San Antonio has been a fixture on the trad scene for 50 years and this edition of the band is an excellent one.
"Tis the Season to be Jammin' features Jim on cornet, Randy Reinhart,trombone-Allan Vache,clarinet-John Sheridan,piano-Howard Elkins,banjo/guitar- Jim Johnston,bass and Ed Torres,drums.
The tunes range from a scorching Sleigh Ride to a Basie-ish Christmas Waltz in swingtime with a mellow Elkins vocal. We also get bluesy,sacred takes on O Holy Night and Ave Maria. Vache's hot clarinet takes honors on God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen and Randy's feature on Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas gives us shades of Teagarden. There's a nifty Santa Claus is Comin' with a Hot 5 style ensemble and merry band vocal. John Sheridan takes a stride feature on Nutcracker Rag. This is a wonderful album, expertly played and full of jazz joy.
It's available on CD from Jim Cullum's Landing. (the CD has bonus tunes not on the lp).

The great Turk Murphy and his San Francisco Jazz Band put out a lovely Xmas lp recorded in 1984 and 86. The lp was issued on the Merry Makers label and sponsored by See's Candies who also sponsored Turk's weekly radio shows from the Fairmont Hotel.
Songs of Christmas features several Turk originals along with favorites such as Silver Bells,
Santa Claus is Comin' and O Christmas Tree (alias Maryland,my Maryland). From the trad repertoire are Chimes Blues, At the Christmas Ball, Santa Claus Blues and a fun oldie, The Storybook Ball (also recorded by the Castle Jazz Band). There's also a great caricature of Turk on the cover by Ward Kimball of Firehouse Five fame.
Personell is Turk, trombone/vocal- Bob Schulz,cornet- Lynn Zimmer,clarinet/soprano- Ray Skjelbred,piano-Bill Carroll,tuba and John Gill on banjo, drums and vocal. This is one of Turk's best later bands and the album is full of great trad jazz sounds. I don't think it's been transferred to CD but you can check ebay for lps.

Back to swing sounds and a real sleeper that came out in 1986, Christmas in Jazztime by Glenn Zottola and his group. This album released on the Dreamstreet label has an instrumentation similar to the Urbie Green session and features tightly voiced ensembles and great soloists. Leader Zottola is a very versatile trumpeter with a clean, swinging sound capable of ranging from boppish runs to Louis-ish riffs and high notes. The wonderful Maxine Sullivan is a special guest on Jolly Old St. Nick, White Christmas and Jingle Bells.
Personell is Zottola, George Masso,trombone (I'm sure he did some of the arranging) - Phil Bodner, clarinet/alto/piccolo- Joe Temperly, baritone/ soprano/bass clarinet- Derek Smith, piano- Milt Hinton,bass and Butch Miles, drums.
There are many wonderful moments including a swinging Let it Snow featuring all the soloists. Winter Wonderland gets a nice bossa nova feel and Silent Night has a bluesy Duke feel with electric piano. On White Christmas, Glenn gets into his Louis bag with a classic Pops cadenza.
Joe's big sound on bari is featured on Christmas Song (he followed Harry Carney in the Ellington band). Greensleves gets a cool shuffle treatment and on Santa Claus there is more of Glenn's nod to Pops with a high note climax. All the soloists are tops but I should single out Masso's fluid but muscular bone work and the great clarinet spots by Bodner (a top studio reed man). The great rhythm section swings all the way thru.
The album has yet to surface on CD but do look for it on ebay and Youtube.

I'd also like to mention some compilations. Big Band Christmas on Columbia features Duke(Jingle Bells), Woody Herman(Let it Snow),Les Brown(We Wish you the Merriest), Jimmy Dorsey(Dixieland Band from Santa Claus Land), Les Elgart(Greensleeves), Claude Thornhill(Snowfall) and a lovely White Christmas by Bobby Hackett. It's been on cassette but perhaps not CD yet.
Jingle Bell Jazz also Columbia has been around for a while and is on CD. The tunes have been re-shuffled over the years from the lp days. The constants are Duke's Jingle Bells, Hamp's White Christmas, Brubeck's Santa Claus is 'Comin' and Chico Hamilton's Winter Wonderland. The lp originally had the Dukes of Dixieland playing Frosty the Snowman.
A Swinging Big Band Christmas on Laserlight CD features Lombardo, Krupa, Nichols, L. Brown, Larry Clinton, Bob Crosby and a lovely Christmas medley by Glenn Miller's Army Air Force Band. The highlight is Jack Teagarden's vocal/trombone feature of The Christmas Song recorded in 1954 and hard to find.

In closing , here are some random favorites that are out there on compilations or Youtube. The Firehouse Five plus Two's joyous rendition of Jingle Bells on Good Time Jazz(1950). Tommy Dorsey's Santa Claus is Comin' (1935) and March of the Toys (1939) on Victor. Dick Robertson's I Want You for Christmas (1937) Decca with a young Bobby Hackett. For more lovely Hackett check out his change of pace version of We Need a Little Christmas (Epic 1966) with pianist Ronnie David on The Swingin'est Gals in Town (Collectables CD). Louis Prima's composition What Will Santa Say? (When he finds Everybody Swingin') is a fun novelty from 1936 on Vocalion and there's that great duet of Jack Teagarden and Johnny Mercer with Paul Whiteman on Christmas Night in Harlem (Victor 1934). And lest we forget the amazing re-interpretation of the Nutcracker by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn on Columbia CD.
Here's hoping all these Jazz Christmas goodies bring you Happy Holiday Listening.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year. We'll be back with more blogs in 2012.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Waxing Nostalgic:Bunny Berigan/The Great Dance Bands of the 30s and 40s

Continuing our series of standout LPs of my youth,is this great collection featuring the best of Bunny Berigan's 1937/8 band. Originally RCA LPM-2078.
I recently enjoyed Michael Zipuro's exellent Bio. of Bunny, Mr. Trumpet(Scarecrow Press) . In his foreward he mentions this LP making an impression on him as a youngster,as it did to me. The lovely cover art also made an impression on a 10 year old jazz fan,showing Bunny in front of his band surrounded by dancers  and singing into an overhead mike (taken from a famous photo).
I had heard Bunny's classic, I Can't get Started and his enduring solos on Tommy Dorsey's Marie and Song of India, but hadn't heard much of Bunny's own big band from this period.
Along with Bunny's amazing trumpet flights I discovered what a fine,swinging band he had with exellent arrangements and soloists.
Here are my current impressions of the tunes I first listened to over 50 years ago.

I Can't get Started (8/7/37)-There's not much more you can add to this brilliant swing concerto for trumpet. Bunny used a similar arrangement for his 1936 small band version. His pianist and arranger Joe Lippman fleshed the earlier chart out with full band chords to back Bunny's opening cadenza and his brilliant flights following his vocal. Bunny uses the whole range of the horn thruout ending on a high Eflat ala Louis.
His vocal is also very charming(ably backed by George Wettling's brushwork). Bunny had a light,mellow tenor voice and phrased like he played his horn also an homage to Louis. This cut and The Prisoner's Song were part of an RCA Swing Symposium featuring the top bands playing extended 12' 78 performances.

Caravan(8/18/37) - Another perennial in Bunny's book arranged by Lippman. There is fine reed work featuring clarinets and Mike Doty's bass clarinet along with Bunny's wonderful opening and closing growls stating the melody. Doty was a fine leadman and veteran of the Joe Haymes, Phil Harris and Tommy Dorsey bands.

Jelly Roll Blues (11/22/38)-The Jelly Roll Morton classic gets a novel swing arrangement by Glenn Osser.
Clarinets state the melody at the beginning and end bookended by a brilliant Bunny solo using some of Louis' drama. Low and Middle register playing on the first chorus followed by a classic flight into the High register over stops. Bunny returns muted for the melody reprise. A classic Bunny solo.

Swanee River(5/13/37)- A Larry Clinton chart and another that Bunny played on many broadcasts and live dates. Along with Bunny's driving muted passages we get some wild, booting tenor by young Georgie Auld.
He would soon mature into a more big-toned stylist but his early work with Bunny is a delight.
You can also hear Bunny's driving lead trumpet-he was a consumate lead man.Bunny played a lot of lead in the band, but also had the veteran Steve Lipkins on lead and Benny Gooman's capable brother, Irving on 2d trumpet.

Never Felt Better,Never had Less(4/21/38)-This Glenn Osser chart shows the Berigan band's swinging way with a pop tune(a musical clone of Never say Never Again). Ruth Gaylor takes the pleasant vocal-she sang with Hudson-DeLange and later Hal McIntyre. Bunny takes a muted spot and leads the brass on the rideout. Miss Gaylor and Kathleen Lane were Bunny's best vocalists.

Trees (12/23/37)- See our earlier post on 8/30/08. Another classic solo,not as grandiose as Can't get Started but a great showcase of Bunny's drama and range on the trumpet. His impassioned solo goes from a low F (a fake note he lips) up to a high F all within one chorus. Bunny also leads the brass on the first chorus and rides the band home after Auld's tenor spot. This is Bunny at his very best. 

The Prisoner's Song (8/7/37).- One of Bunny's most popular instrumentals was the flip side to Can't get Started on the Swing Symposium set. The original arrangement by Dick Rose wasn't very popular with the band,but was eventually turned into more of a 'head' chart.
Unfortunatly, the LP version is edited omitting Bunny's opening growls and the band's first chorus. However we can enjoy Bunny's 3 fantastic choruses including that masterful descending line and his high note rips.
Also heard are Auld's kicking tenor, Joe Dixon's agile,rhythmic clarinet -he came over from Tommy Dorsey and was one of the outstanding soloists in the early Berigan band-and Sonny Lee's trombone. Lee was a veteran player(born 1904) who had worked with Frank Trumbauer, Isham Jones and Artie Shaw. He played lead and jazz,was a gifted improviser and had a neat muted sound using a felt hat. On live dates, Bunny would open up this chart-the June 26,1938 Magic Key radio broadcast has a five minute version with many inspired solos.

Rockin' Roller's Jubilee (10/14/38)- is another pop tune of the day (Victor saddled Bunny with many "dogs").
Bunny and the band inject a lot of life into their version (Erskine Hawkins also covered it). Jayne Dover,another Hudson-DeLange alum does a credible vocal . Bunny and Auld have hot spots and Bunny leads the brass on the rideout.The closing sax ensemble has Clyde Round's baritone prominent-a frequent Berigan voicing.We also get a bit of Joe Bushkin's sparking piano (another future jazz star) Buddy Rich had joined the band at this time.Bunny was obviously a fine talent scout.

Frankie and Johnnie (6/25/37).- Another popular Bunny swinger that was used frequently on live dates and broadcasts. Arranged by Dick Rose the chart sports Bunny on a hot midle register solo and some more of Auld's energetic tenor. Bunny joins the brass for a kicking rideout with him way up high.

'Cause my Baby says it's So (4/1/37).- A cute pop tune covered by other bands of the day features another Bunny vocal. He sounds loose and slurry here with a bit of that charming tenor. Bunny could also scat in a manner reminicent of Leo Watson of the Spirits of Rhythm. After the vocal he comes ripping out of nowhere with a stinging high note followed by a patented series of growls and clever inversions, he returns with a melody spot over the clever coda.

The Wearin' of the Green (5/26/38).- Bunny had several swing treatments of Irish favorites saluting his heritage,this is one of the best.The Joe Lippman chart begins and ends with a fugue-like passage by the clarinets and bass clarinet. Bunny plays some strutting cup and open trumpet followed by Auld. Next is a tasty jazz spot by trombonist Ray Conniff (long before his popular "Singers") and leadman Nat Lobovsky's
Dorsey-like sweet spot.  The band takes the bridge with Bunny emerging on a scorching high F and a bit of the Campbells are Comin'. Bunny even joins the trombones on a melody passage showing off his low register before the coda. A Berigan classic!

Black Bottom (12/23/37)-.Another old favorite given a swing treatment arranged by Dick Rose. This became another of Bunny's favorites for live shows and was often opened up for extra solos.
Bunny's solo is especially inspired with snatches of Louis' Cornet Chop Suey, Weather Bird and Potatoe Head before tossing in a bit of Arkansas Traveler. We also get nice spots from Auld,Dixon(riding over band riffs),Lee,Hank Wayland's slap bass and Wettling's drums.
The rideout has Bunny up high leading the brass. A great finale to a classic album and a wointroduction to Bunny Berigan and his band at their best.
The next year (1960) RCA Camden issued a follow-up LP,Bunny. This album has many more 1937-9 gems including Study in Brown, Azure , High Society and Jazz Me Blues. It will be the subject of a future post.
The original lp was transferred to a CD with extra cuts as I Can't get Started (out of print). For a time RCA Bluebird had all of Bunny's Victor's on a 3 Volume lp set. The best place to find all of his Big Band work is on the Classics CD series.  Many of his broadcasts are available on CD.
A Bunny Berigan Anecdote
My good friend and fellow collector Ed Reynolds of Wakefield, Mass. gave us this fun story involving the Berigan band.
During the summer of 1937, Ed caught Bunny's band at Kimball's Starlight in Lynnfield,Mass. , a popular open-air dance pavilion.
Besides enjoying Bunny's superb trumpet and band he was surprised to see girl singer Ruth Bradley sitting in with the sax section between vocal features . Miss Bradley was a capable reed player, having worked with Ina Rae Hutton's "All-Girl Band".
Ed reported it was a strange and lovely sight seeing Ruth in evening gown joining the other sax section.
I'm sure she saved Bunny a big headache in dealing with a missing saxophonist!

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era: Rita Rio and her Mistresses of Rhythm

During the Big Band Era there were many successful female musicians such as Billie Rogers and Dolly Jones(trumpet), Margie Hyams(vibes), Mary Lou Williams(piano) and Vi Redd (alto sax).
The All-Girl Band was a popular format for lady players during those years. Most successful was the band of Ina Ray Hutton and her Melodears.While the band was fine, Ina Ray's lovely face,figure and dancing put the group over. Other girl bands sprouted up including the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, Thelma White, Ada Leonard and Rita Rio,the subject of this post.

Rita was born Eunice or Una Westmoreland in 1914.She started as a dancer eventually graduating to a part in Earl Carroll's Murder at the Vanities in 1934.She was a fine dancer and singer and learned to play piano,trumpet and clarinet. She soon teamed with fellow chorine, Rene Villon as a sister act. Although Una wasn't Latin, she played up the ethnicity and learned to speak Spanish. Her dark, exotic looks gave one the impression of genuine Latin heritage. Rene and Una worked in clubs and vaudeville until Rene's marriage in the mid 30s. With her savings, Una formed an All-Girl band and took the name, Rio Rita.

Like Ina Ray, Rita was full of energy strutting and dancing in front of the band waving her baton and showing off her good looks and sexy figure,she was billed as the "Mexican Jumping Bean". Her band, like Ina's was quite good and featured some fine lady musicians.Until we find some broadcasts of the band we can only enjoy their film clips and two shorts all available on Youtube.

Clips such as Sticks and Stones, I Cried for You and Feed the Kitty show the band to be a solid unit with capable soloists. The band made two full shorts, Gals and Gallons and Rio Rita and her Orchestra (1939).
Other titles worth searching for are My Margarita, Flying Feet, Pan Americonga and I Look at You with a young Alan Ladd added as "boy singer". Rita also appeared in a Columbia Glove Slingers short, Fresh as a Freshman singing Gypsy from Poughkepsie.

Rita's good looks and talents made her a natural for the movies and in 1941 she signed a Paramount contract .She had a featured part in 1942's Road to Morocco. Her new name was Dona Drake (pronounced Dough-na). In Paramount's Salute for Three(1943) she appeared as Dona fronting an All-Girl band. Most of her future roles were as a support usually singing and dancing. She had a featured role in The Girl from Jones Beach. Dona married designer William Travilla in 1944, he became a very successful clothing designer at 20th Century Fox. Dona continued her career into the 50s. She gave birth to a daughter Nina in 1951. She slowly curtailed her appearances retiring in 1954.

Dona still appeared in William's fashion shows of the 60s including a Merv Griffin Show spot. She was still lovely and trim.Bad health soon dogged her with heart and respiratory issues until her death in 1978 at age 63. My good friend and fellow collector Ed Reynolds recalls seeing the Rita Rio Band at a Boston theatre date around 1939 and called it a "Real Swinging Group".
Hopefully we'll get more films and airchecks of this intriguing and historical orchestra.
Stay tuned for Addendums.