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."

1 comment:

pwlsax said...

You'd be surprised perhaps, but not that many fans come to Jones' (or anyone's) straight dance music by way of collecting or playing jazz, as you and I did. Conversing with fellow aficionados, I have found many more who started as movie or musical fans, or just generalist collectors.