Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Waxing Nostalgic: Hal Kemp-The Great Dance Bands of the 30s and 40s

This lp was another early purchase for a 9 year old Jazz and Big Band fan.
I had heard of Hal Kemp, but wasn't quite sure what to expect. I had purchased the Bunny Berigan
and Charlie Barnet lps in this series and was attracted to the cover artwork of leader Kemp standing in front
of his reed section.
As the album notes stated, the Kemp band was one of the most tasteful of the sweet bands. They started as
a college jazz band in North Carolina(like fellow bandleader Kay Kyser) and thru the years switched between sweet and swing styles.

The patented Kemp sound featured clipped brass and clarinet choirs(sometimes played into megaphones) Hal himself was a fine saxophonist and sometimes took over lead duties.
Pianist John Scott Trotter(later Bing Crosby's musical director) had a lot to do with the Kemp
sound. Other standout sidemen were drummer-singer Skinnay Ennis,reedman Saxie Dowell,
trumpeter Earl Geiger and trombonist Ed Kusby. Trumpeter Randy Brooks was with the Band in '39-40.
Ennis was one of the most popular sidemen with his breathless style of singing. He eventually
started his own successful  band.
Here are the selections on the album-A fine representation of the Kemp orchestra.

 Got a Date with an Angel (7/22/37)-The most popular Kemp selection. A pop tune from England tailored for the Kemp clarinets and clipped brass. Of course Skinnay Ennis' breathless vocal and the Band's vocal intro make this an instant classic. When Skinnay led his own band,this became his theme.

Heart of Stone (1/26/39) Recorded earlier for Brunswick,this features Bob Allen,the Band's straight singer. This is probably a Trotter arrangement with some of that octave piano and the clarinets featured.

Love for Sale (5/19/39) This has some of the Band's swing sound and a nice vocal trio by the Smoothies(known earlier as Babs Little and her Brothers). comp-Cole Porter,of course.

In an 18th Century Drawing Room (7/24/39 ). Raymond Scott's clever take off on a minuet shows
off the Kemp reeds and brass. The trumpets handle some tricky tongueing and there are plenty of
clarinet and flute spots. No Jazz but great musicianship.

Whispers in the Dark (6/1/37). A pop tune by Leo Robin from the film,"Artists and Models".(also featuring Louis Armstrong).
Bob Allen's vocal and the brass and reed figures give this the Kemp treatment.

FDR Jones (8/25/38). A popular omage to the great President(also recorded by Ella and Chick Webb). This features a fun vocal by Hal and his Swing-A-Roosters(probably the Band and the
Smoothies). More swing here with saxes instead of clarinets.

A Foggy Day(9/8/37). The Gershwin standard ala Kemp featuring some moody reed work,
clipped brass and Skinnay's distictive voice. The  pretty trumpet spot is probably Clyton Cash,
the successor to Earl Geiger.

Time on my Hands(5/19/39). One of my favorite Kemp charts,beginning and ending with a
moody descending line by the horns. The wonderful vocal is by Nan Wynn who sang with several
bands and did a lot of movie acting and vocal "ghosting". (see our post-Nan Wynn,"Is Everybody Happy?). There's also another nice sweet trumpet spot playing off the reeds.

Remember Me?(7/22/37) A cute HarryWarren tune tailor made for the Kemp brass and clarinets.
Skinnay gives a cheery vocal-he wasn't a jazz singer but handled a rhythm tune with ease. Also has
a nice growl trumpet spot and trombone by Kemp veteran Ed Kusby.

Let's Do It? (5/31/37). More Cole Porter and Smoothies. Another semi-swing sound for Kemp
with cute vocalizing by the trio,a nice sax soli led by Hal and a trumpet spot that sounds like Bunny Berigan(he was with the Band in '30-31) by Mickey Bloom.

Lamplight (7/22/37). Another one of Skinnay's signature tunes.(he used it with his own band).
A pretty ballad with nice band dynamics and Skinnay's pleading vocal.

Washington and Lee Swing(4/8/39). The old college favorite gets a nice lift by Kemp and boys.
Not a swing chart but has a Band vocal, nice saxes and a showy Brass outchorus.
(The band coda alwayseminded me of the last few notes of the "I Love Lucy" theme.

The Band was doing nicely with a mixture of sweet and swing in 1940 (they were a big favorite at College dances) when Hal was tragically killed in an auto crash in December of that year.
For a time Saxie Dowell,Bob Allen and Art Jarrett led the Kemp band and Skinnay continued to
feature his Kemp tunes with his Band.

Certainly one of the tastiest and musical of the sweet bands,the Hal Kemp Orchestra will always
occupy an important standing in the history of America's Dance Band era.