Saturday, April 17, 2010

Forgotten Heroes of the Big Band Era: The Edgar Hayes Orchestra

One of the finest and most overlooked black bands of the swing era was that of pianist/arranger Edgar Hayes (1904-79). Hayes, an exellent pianist had stints with Fess Williams and his own groups in the 1920s. From 1931-6 he was a key member of the Mills Blue Rhythm Band as pianist, arranger and sometimes musical director.Hayes, along with saxophonist/arranger Joe Garland had a lot to do with the success of the Mills band. In 1936, he left Mills to form his own band and took Garland with him among other Mills sidemen. Although the band was only active for 5 years, it became extremely popular and it'a recordings for Varsity and Decca show an excellent, musical unit.

The band had a crisp, light swinging sound with some of the Jimmie Lunceford two-beat feel. Garland frequently used himself on bass sax and Crawford Wethington on baritone to create a deep, low register reed sound. (this voicing had been used on some of the Mills recordings. The band had many excellent soloists, not household names but very capable jazzmen. Among the standouts were trumpeters Henry Goodwin and Leonard Davis(a very underated trumpeter, his work with Eddie Condon's Hot Shots is superb),trombonist Bob Horton(a marvelous plunger player),clarinetist Rudy Powell(best known for his 35-6 sides with Fats Waller) and drummer Kenny Clarke. Clarke would soon be one of the pioneers of Bop, his solid work on the tubs and vibes are a highlight of the Hayes recordings. Many other veteran jazzmen passed thru the band including Clyde Bernhardt, Jelly James,(from the Fess Williams band),Shelton Hemphill,Bernie Flood,Elmer James and Al Skerritt. All these men were solid pros with much experience in the Big Band style. Here are some highlights of their recorded legacy.

At the band's first session for Variety (3/9/37) they recorded two vocals by Orlando Roberson and an exellent instrumental, Manhattan Jam. The theme is a semi Tiger Rag clone and has fine solos by Goodwin, Horton and clarinet by possibly Garland. Clarke's drums are very prominent and the band ends with a walk-off-a retard meant to walk the dancers off the floor.

The rest of the Hayes sessions were for Decca. On May 25, 1937 several standout instrumentals were waxed. The Hayes version of Caravan is a good one with a mystic intro, bass sax (Garland) and Goodwin's growling trumpet. Also featured are Powell's raspy clarinet, Garland's tenor and Horton's Tricky Sam-like growling. The coda features more of the low reeds against plunger trumpet. Edgar Steps Out by Goodwin has Hayes' stride work up front, low reeds and clean, swinging brass. Goodwin's buzz mute solo is reminicent of Rex Stewart and Clarke gets in some tasty breaks. Joe Garland's Stompin' at the Renny is a nice medium swinger a la For Dancers Only(Lunceford). Goodwin, Powell, Garland and the boss take solos. The trombone spot may be by Jelly James or Clyde Bernhardt. (the band was very strong on trombonists).

On July 27 the band cut a nice version of Laughing at Life (previously recorded on May 25). Trumpeter Bernie Flood takes an amiable vocal backed by the band's glee club (a la Marie). There's a nice sweet trombone spot along with the low reeds and a break for Clarke. Larry Clinton's Satan takes a Holiday contains elements of the stock arrangement but gives the usual drum breaks to Clarke on vibes. There are some nice clarinet-led reeds along with Garland and the boss.

The band also fielded a combo within the band inspired by Benny Goodman's units. On Sept. 7 the Edgar Hayes Quintet (Powell's clarinet and rhythm) waxed three pleasant sides. White vocalist Bill Darnell took the vocals (he sang with Red Nichols and Bob Chester and later had a succesful solo career). There are plenty of spots for Clarke's vibes (not far behind Lionel Hampton), Powell's tangy clarinet and the bosses' piano. Guitarist Andy Jackson lays down great rhythm on these sides. So Rare, Love Me or Leave Me and Blue Skies are all lovely sides.

The session of October 11, 1937 featured the full band and quintet. Darnell sang with both units.
Queen Isabella by Chu Berry is a similar followup to his Christopher Columbus. The Hayes rendition is a smooth medium swinger with Goodwin getting in some Louis-ish horn, Garland's tenor and more of the low reeds playing against the brass. The Dick Whiting-Johnny Mercer novelty Old King Cole gets a unique reading by Hayes and Co. Garland's bass sax and Horton's growling trombone are prominent along with plunger brass and Darnell's amiable vocal. The coda returns to the bass sax/trombone combination. The quintet and Darnell returned for three selections. The highlight is the old favorite, When You and I were Young Maggie featuring Clarke's Hampton-like vibes prominently.

The next session on January 14,1938 is a strong one. Meet the Band, a Garland original features the low reeds against brass riffs. Powell, Hayes, a shouting Goodwin and nice Clarke rim shots are highlights with the bass sax on the coda. Fugitive from a Harem opens with approriate mystical sounds, the main theme has a Larry Clinton-like sound with clarinets prominent. Garland's tenor reminds one of Gene Sedric of Fats Waller fame and Goodwin has a potent spot.
Edgar's own Swingin' in the Promised Land is a brisk swing riff with low reeds backed by Clarke's drumming. Horton gets in some more growl bone along with some high flying trumpet by Goodwin or Davis(himself quite a high register man). The low reeds return for the out chorus.
Clarence Williams' Barbary Coast Blues is an exellent side, Earlene Howell's vocal is very nice with touches of Ella. The boss gets a piano spot, more of Clarke's vibes and a nice sax soli and ensemble before the vocal reprise.

The next session was on Feb. 17,1938 and featured two Hayes favorites. In the Mood, written by Garland was first recorded by Mills' Blue Rhythm as There's Rhythm in Harlem. This version has most of the Blue Rhythm routine. The saxes have the familiar lead strain and there are solos for Goodwin and Powell. The low reeds are featured on the out chorus with Hayes piano playing off the band on the coda. The familiar brass crescendo was added by Glenn Miller. When Garland went with Louis Armstrong's big band he brought this chart and added the Miller ending. The Hayes version is one of the best of this swing classic. Star Dust became a surprise hit for Hayes. It's a straight dance arangement with flowery Carman Cavarello-like piano by Hayes.It became a signature tune for Edgar and henamed his later groups the Stardusters.
Help Me has Goodwin's buzz mute horn sounding like Fats' Herman Autrey along with good vibes work. Without You has an exellent vocal by Clyde Bernhardt (sounding a lot like Lips Page). Clyde also gets a nice trombone spot along with a clarinet/drum duet. The session closes with Will Hudson's Sophisticated Swing. The chart sounds like Will's stock with a few changes. Muted brass and sweet trombone are featured on the ensemble and Edgar gets in some more of his florid runs. A pretty dance chart.

In the spring of 1938, the Hayes band toured Scandanavia. While in Stockholm, a small contingent recorded as the Kenny Clarke Kvintett. The personell was Goodwin, Powell and the rhythm section(Eddie Gibbs was now on guitar) with James Anderson the band's vocalist.
These sides are pleasant small band swing, sounding a bit like Adrian Rollini's swing groups with a touch of the Fats Waller Rhythm. Clarke's vibes are heavily featured. Sweet Sue an instrumental has fine solo work with an original outchorus riff. I Found a New Baby has Powell on Alto(his alto sound was very smooth), Gibbs' guitar chording reminds you of Fats' Al Casey, some nice stride by Edgar and a "Hold Tight" riff. Once in a While and You're a Sweetheart are nice medium tempo ballads. Anderson's vocals are very much in the Bill Kenny Ink Spots tradition. A very nice session.

Edgar kept the band going until 1941 (Dizzy Gillespie had a short stint with the band). He settled in California, leading and recording with his Stardusters group. In the 50s and 60s he concentrated on solo work around Southern California. He died in Riverside, CA. on 6/28/79.
The Edgar Hayes band was a very musical and swinging band, certainly deserving more attention than it got in it's day.The arrangements of Hayes and Garland along with the exellent array of soloists really make this group one that should be heard by jazz and swing fans. Here's hoping that this post will inspire more people to seek out and enjoy their fine recordings.

The Classics label has two CDS, # 730 and 1053 that encompass all the Hayes output, including his later sides.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Three Stooges- Outer Space Jitters (1957)

This Stooge post will take a detour into the "dreaded" Joe Besser period. Diehard Stooge fans hate these episodes, although with the passing of time I've found some redeeming episodes and even grown to enjoy some of Besser's performances. This short is one of the better of the 1957-9 entries and the funniest of their "sci-fi" trilogy. We will also celebrate the upcoming completion of Sony's Three Stooges Collection. In June of 2010, all the Stooges shorts will finally be available on DVD.

Joe Besser was a talented comic and his work with Abbott and Costello, Milton Berle and on the Joey Bishop Show bear this out. He was working at Columbia in his own "shorts" series when tapped to become the 3rd Stooge. His whiny "not so hard" sissy character never seemed to jibe with Moe and Larry's "stooge" characters.. The team seemed more like the Two Stooges plus Besser.
Besser had his own contract and had a clause written in prohibiting the usual "Stooge punishment" doled out by Moe. As the shorts progressed, Joe did take some slaps and bumps and eventually developed more chemistry with Moe and Larry. This breezy short is lots of fun and Joe doesn't detract from the fun, rather adding some good bits of his own.

The film benefits from a great cast. Just about all of the Stooge regulars of the period appear. (Such stalwarts as Vernon Dent, Christine McIntyre and Kenneth MacDonald had left Columbia). Present here are Emil Sitka playing his "professor" character, Gene Roth(Mr. Borch), Phil VanZandt and Joe Palma(the "Fake" Shemp) as bad guys, Diana Darrin, Harriet Tarler and Arline Hunter as the "babes" and a pre- Bonanza Dan (billed as Don) Blocker as the Goon!

The "Plot" has the boys as assistants to Professor Jones who land on the planet Sunev ( This planet was also used in Space ship Sappy) to study the planet and it's inhabitants. The Grand Zilch (Roth) and his henchman the High Mucky Muck (VanZandt) plan on developing a race of Zombies to destroy the world! (sounds like a familiar 50s sci-fi premise). Along the way the boys meet 3 Sunevian girls, eat a delicious meal of clam shell and battery acid, rescue the kipnapped professor and battle the baddies and the goon! (Blocker).

The film directed by the one and only Jules White and written by his brother Jack has a cute, breezy quality to it. The boys go thru their paces as only old comedy pros can and even the added "distraction" of Besser doesn't deter from your enjoyment. Comedy highlights include the boys' entrance with Emil wearing derbies on top of their space helmets (the boys are dressed in cute trenchcoats with bowties). When introduced to the Zilch we get one of their patented verbal responses- Bewithched-Bothered and Bewildered complete with pug for Pal Joey from Larry. (also a Columbia release). It turns out that the Sunevians survive on battery power and the Zilch shows Emil one of his Zombies (Blocker) along with his plans to destroy the world!

The boys are introduced to 3 Sunevian girls by the Mucky Muck. Their electric kisses charge Moe and cook up Larry's gift of popcorn and Joe's frozen chicken! The boys sit down to a meal with the Muck and the girls. Here we get the old bit of trying to eat the clam shells complete with goofy faces. When they are told of their fate, Moe gives the Muck a blast of his hot water bottle, shorting his circuit! Two of the girls, Diana Darrin and Harriet Tarler were regulars from the early 50s. ( fans will remember Diana as Miss Lapdale in 1952's He Cooked his Goose). Miss Hunter was a Playboy Playmate.

The boys take off in search of the professor who has been tied and gagged.Moe takes Joe by the hand like a little kid(which he was). We get the old running into the Goon bit complete with nnahhs. At one point the Goon is standing behind Moe and Larry and Joe's frightened yelps are mistaken for a game of charades. Moe quickly loses the boys again and after mistaking the goon's grunts for Joe and Larry ("Quick snorting down my neck"-"You should try Bicarbinate" reacts with a great scream and hair flying in the air (the old blow-dryer bit).

Finally finding Emil , the boys untie him and undo the rather long gag accompanied by Larry's stock quotes of Anaconda-ponder and Tsimmus Inc. (earlier we met Capt. Tsimmus) , fond bywords from earlier shorts. Emil and the boys proceed to destroy the Zombie machine giving Moe a chance to reward Larry's backswings with a hammer and plane to the head! (Joe wouldn't be a part of this). The monster is destroyed when his juice is turned off and Dan gets his one big line- a death groan! Joe inadvertadely conks te Zilch with a pantful of gold he is stealing from the Sunevians and Emil and the boys make a hasty retreat for their ship. (Joe is real whiny with his cries of Let's get outa here!).

The epilogue is a good one-The boys have been telling the adventure to their infant sons. (via trick photography-they did this a few times with Shemp). When the baby sitter arrives( and suggests a nice restaurant) she has a Goon face and buck teeth (like Blocker). When the boys get a look at her they do the tried and true nnaahh! and jump out the window! Moe gets in an extra nnaahh! for good measure before his leap!

Although the film is full of patented routines and takes it moves along nicely and Joe is fairly easy to take. Besser himself suggested the boys change their stock haircuts(a bad idea). In this one Moe retains his bangs but Larry slicks his back. Most of the Besser episodes were either complete misfires (the two"talking horse" entries , Joe's darling Fifi and Muriel Landers as Tiny hit the bottom of the barrell ) or like this one, bearable. Many Curly and Shemp comedies were remade with much stock footage. (and even some stock guest appearances by them!). I also enjoyed Guns a Poppin', a remake of Idiots DeLuxe with an added confrontation with bank robber Mad Bill Hookup . Quiz Whizz and Pies and Guys also are pretty decent. (the later makes use of several stock pie fights). Greta Thyssen, a former Miss Norway appears in the aforementioned films along with the final Stooges short, Sappy Bullfighters. She was a gorgeous, voluptous girl and had good chemistry with the boys. It appears that the studio was trying to create a new leading lady for the boys- a la Christine McIntyre. Although the Stooges shorts ended with the 1959 releases,(already filmed in 1957) they would soon gain new popularity with the release of the shorts to TV. Besser left the team (his wife was ill at the time) and veteran comic JoeDeRita tok over as Curly Joe. (he had made a few shorts for Columbia in the late 40s). DeRita was a more genteel Stooge (which suited the mood of the 1959-65 feature films by the "mature" Stooges) and was better suited to the role than Besser.

The Big news is that on June 1 of this year Sony will finish their exellent Three Stooges Collection with the release of Vol. 8.(consisting of the 1955-6 Shemps and 1957-9 Bessers) After years of collecting VHS and incomplete DVD sets ,we now have all 190 Stooges shorts on high quality digital disc. I myself spent years taping episodes off TV on VHS tape and what a pleasure it is to have the entire Stooge catalog at my disposal on DVD. I know I echo the sentiments of fellow Stooge fans and we all applaud Sony for sticking with the series and finishing it. (many VHS collections never got further than samplers).

Till next time- Keep Stooging, but Not so Hard!!!