Sunday, February 28, 2010

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era:The Eddie DeLange Orchestra

This will be a semi-regular post here at Pete Kelly's. The Big Band Era of the 1930s and 40s produced countless exellent swing and dance bands. Many of these bands were grouped into the territory or second drawer title. Most of these bands produced exellent music and boasted fine musicianship, they just didn't get the big push or attraction of the likes of the Dorseys, Miller, Goodman, Basie or Ellington. I have had the pleasure of doing several presentations on these forgotten heroes and we'll start our survey with a very underated but deserving band, that of lyricist/vocalist Eddie DeLange(1904-49).

This band was an outgrowth of the earlier Hudson-DeLange Orchestra. This band was a collaboration between composer/arranger Will Hudson(composer of Moonglow, Sophisticated Swing and Organ Grinder's Swing) and the personable DeLange who fronted the band and sang. Eddie had written the lyrics to Moonglow and Ellington's Solitude and the band was handled by Duke's manager Irving Mills. Hudson-DeLange itself was a very workmanlike band that spotted many young musicians who would graduate to other more established bands. (sort of a Triple A teram). Among their lineup were future stars the likes of Gus Bivona, Jimmy Blake, Doc Goldberg, Ted Duane, Bus Etri, Steve Lipkins and two fine gal singers, Nan Wynn and Ruth Gaylor.

DeLange was an interesting character, he attended the University of Pennsylvania, worked as a stuntman in Hollywood and started writing lyrics in the early 30s. Along with Hudson and Ellington he also collaborated with Jimmy VanHuesen, Louis Alter and Sam Stept. One of his early tunes, I Wish that I were Twins was recorded by Fats Waller, Red Allen and Valaida Snow .His personality and experience in Hollywood made him a fine frontman and when Hudson decided to front his own unit, Eddie continued with a new band of his own featuring some fine young players and some surprisingly good swing and Big Band dixieland charts a la Bob Crosby.

The band had a short life of 1938-9, but recorded a couple dozen sides for Bluebird and appeared on the Phil Baker Radio Show along with the Andrews Sisters, along with the usual club, theatre and dance dates. The band's theme was Don't Forget and on radio they used Eddie's tune, At your Beck and Call (also recorded by Hot Lips Page). The band's girl singer Elisse Cooper had come over from Hudson-DeLange, she was very young but had a winning, vivacious style and later sang with Tony Pastor,Jan Savitt, Ben Bernie and Chico Marx (the band was run by Ben Pollack and also featured young Mel Torme on drums and vocals). Like with Hudson-DeLange the band roster was made up of mostly newcomers but the ensemble and soloists are very polished. Players such as Torg Halten (trumpet), Fred Ohms, Mort Bullman (trombone) and saxohonists Marty Burman and Joe DiMaggio had future credits with jazz and swing bands. Ohms was a capable jazzman and did some late 40s stints with Eddie Condon, Muggsy Spanier and Billy Butterfield.

Although the band recorded it's share of novelties and pop songs, they cut a few classic jazz sides in a pseudo- Bob Crosby style. Such titles as Copenhagen, Muskrat Ramble, Willie the Weeper, Tight like That and Livery Stable Blues were not common fare for swing bands of the day. Here are some highlights of the DeLange band on Bluebird, from the few sides we own.

Pop Corn Man (Sept. 1938)- This novelty was also recorded by Hudson-DeLange the previous year. Perhaps as a tribute to Will the band opens with a bit of Organ Grinder's Swing which the boys pick up as a band vocal. Elisse does the vocal chorus and there's a nice trumpet spot. On the vocal reprieve the boys doa bit more of Organ Grinder's. A fun side.

New Shoes Blues (Sept. 1938). This is probably a band original. It sounds a bit like Crosby's Dogtown Blues and the trio of Jelly Roll Blues. The Dixieland feel is very prevalent with good spots for trumpet, tenor and clarinet with some nice clarinet-led reeds.

Willie the Weeper (Sept. 1938)- The old Louis Hot 7 favorite gets a new twist. Elisse sings the verses and the boys change key for a band vocal on the chorus with nice piano backup. There's more of that Bob Crosby feel and the band rides it home with a new, unrelated strain. Not sure who did the charts for DeLange, but there's some good work here. (some of the charts may have been leftovers from Hudson).

Copenhagen- Another jazz classic gets the Crosby touch (this may be a stock). There's a solid trumpet spot, probably by Halten who did some hot work with Gene Krupa. The exellent trombone solo is probably Ohms followed by clarinet solo and led reeds. There's also a nicely aranged dixie passage. (Red Nichols did a lot of these with his big band). This is the DeLange band at it's best.

He May be Your Man (But He comes to See Me Sometimes)- An old Red Hot Mama song recorded by Trixie Smith in the 20s. Elisse gets off one of her best vocals and there's more of that Big Band Dixieland sound (sound woodblocks by the drummer is a nice touch). Another good trumpet spot and a cute vocal reprieve by Elisse are highlights of a fine side.

Muskrat Ramble- Another classic gets a nice Big Band ride. The stoptime intro is novel and we get a roaring ensemble with sliding trombones. Solid solos by trumpet, clarinet, tenor and trombone (Ohms) lead to more stoptime and a swinging rideout. The band also recorded a novelty, You Can't Kiss a Fridgedaire with a Dixieland contingent called Eddie DeLange and his 8 Screwballs.

We hope to find more sides by the band to report on. As of this writing there isn't a DeLange Orch. CD. A good place to look is Ebay and perhaps a Big Band collector may download some of the other sides. My sides came from a good friend and collector, Ed Reynolds of Wakefield, Mass. I think the last time these sides were heard on the air was on the late Ray Smith's Jazz Decades show on PBS Radio. (more on Ray and his wonderful show later).

The band broke up in 1940 and Eddie concentrated on songwriting (save for a brief reunion with Hudson in 1941). He married model Marge Lohden in 1943. Two of his biggest song hits were associated with Louis Armstrong. Darn that Dream written with Jimmy VanHuesen was from the 1939 show, Swingin' the Dream with Louis and Maxine Sullivan. Do you know What it Means(to Miss New Orleans) was written with Louis Alter for the 1946 film New Orleans starring Louis and Billie Holiday. It has become a jazz standard. Other favorites with Eddie's lyrics include Deep in a Dream, Shake down the Stars, Just as Though You Were Here, Velvet Moon and The Man with the Horn.

It is hoped that this post will shed new light on a very deserving swing band of the late 30s. Eddie's talent as a lyricist is already appreciated, he left us much too early in 1949 at the age of 45. There will be more forgotten swing bands in future posts. Till then- Keep Swinging.

1 comment:

Mike DiMartino said...

Hi, I'm currently working on an arrangement of "Just as Though you Were Here"; so I was enlightened and fascinated by your article. I thank you! Now if only you can perhaps provide a scan of the verse! The only recording I can find that has the verse is by a Laurie Bordonaro, but she sings the verse kinda loosly, and I'd like to study the stock verse. Anyway, again thank you. And I was brought up on the bands. I play trumpet, too!