Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ziggy Elman- The Bluebird Sessions

Ziggy Elman (1914-68) was one of the outstanding trumpeters of the Swing Era. A brash, powerful player he was adept at lead, jazz or sweet facets of trumpet. Elman really made his mark with the bands of Benny Goodman (1936-40) and Tommy Dorsey (1940-3 and 46-7). This post will concentrate on the sides he made for Victor's Bluebird label. These sides show the Elman horn at it's best in a tasty, chamber setting. The sides were billed as Ziggy Elman and his Orchestra and recorded in New York.

Ziggy was born Harry Finkelman in Philadelphia and grew up in Atlantic City.(his professional name came from a combination of Ziegfield and Finkelman) Along with trumpet he was also proficient on trombone and the reeds. He broke in with the Alex Bartha band, favorites at Atlantic City's Steel Pier. He made his first recordings with Bartha in 1932 as a trombonist. (available on The Old Masters CD).Goodman heard him in 1936 on trumpet and hired him for his band. Along with Harry James and Chris Griffin, Ziggy became a member of one of the greatest trumpet sections of the era. All three men shared the lead work. Ziggy also had the Jewish Klezmer influence in his playing whether sweet or hot which made his trumpet sound unique.

Harry James left Goodman in late 1938 and Ziggy became the primary trumpet soloist. His popularity led to the series of Bluebird sides. The instumentation was Ziggy's trumpet along with the wonderful Goodman sax section and rhythm. Lead saxist Noni Bernardi did the arrangements which featured Ziggy's horn, sometimes voiced with the saxes. All the sax solis on these sides are beautifully written and played. On the first three sessions Jess Stacy's piano is an added bonus along with the tenor work of Jerry Jerome, Babe Russin and Art Rollini.

The first session of December 28, 1938 gave us Fralich in Swing, Bublitchki, 29th and Dearborn and Sugar.
Fralich is the predesesor to And the Angels Sing, based on an old Jewish folk melody. The format is familiar except for the vocal (to be added when the Goodman band recorded it). Ziggy's high flying Klezmer passage and swing rideout became an instant classic. (He would later use the arrangement with Dorsey and his short lived Big Band.
Bublitchki is another old Jewish piece reworked by Ziggy as a slow swing ballad with Ziggy's horn jumping from Klezmer sweetness to Louis-ish jazz cries. The sax soli is a gem.
29th and Dearborn is a straight ahead blues riff with nice tenor (Jerome or Rollini), some of Jess' patented blues work and some passionate blowing by Zig. The outchorus has nice trumpet and sax voicing.
The old Maceo Pinkard favorite Sugar gets a lightly swinging treatment with more horn/sax voicings and Jess' tasty fills and solos. The tenor is probably Jerome and Ziggy drives the band but not as bombastic as in the Big Band setting.

The next session on June 8, 1939 gave us You're Mine,You, Let's Fall in Love, Zaggin' with Zig and I'll Never be the Same.
You're Mine became another signature tune for Ziggy (he re-recorded it with his 1947 band). A lovely Johnny Green tune gets a tender melody statement by Ziggy with saxes on the bridge. Jess has one of his great trumpet-like choruses followed by mellow tenor (probably Rollini) then Ziggy digs in with Louis-ish jazz over stops and nice glisses on the outchorus before going up high over drum kicks.
Let's Fall in Love gets a tasty treatment by the little Big Band with Ziggy at his bombastic best.
Zaggin' a medium swing riff also became an Elman staple (he would reprise it with Goodman and his own band). The saxes state the theme with Zig on cup mute bridge(his cup sound was very Harry James like). After Jess and Jerome split a chorus Ziggy punches out two driving ride choruses over the saxes before finishing up high a la Louis.
I'll Never be the Same by Frank Signorelli and Matty Malneck has Ziggy's prety lead up front with mellow spots by Jess and tenor before Zig turns on the heat going up.

The third session was on August 29,1939 and featured You Took Advantage of Me, I'm Yours, Am I Blue and I Have Everything to Live For. The tenor solos on this session were by the wonderful Babe Russin.
Rodgers and Hart's Advantage has a percussive Ziggy intro with saxes taking the lead and Zig on cup mute bridge. Ziggy contributes a driving solo and there is more Stacy and Babe's booting tenor. Zig rips off some Louis-ish high ones on the rideout.
Johnny Green's pretty ballad I'm Yours (also recorded by Artie Shaw) has Zig playing it sweet and splitting with the saxes. After Jess and Babe ,Zig goes into some nice stoptime stuff ala You're Mine and finishes up high.
Am I Blue gets a nice medium ride with a lovely Stacy intro. There's more of Zig's cup mute on the bridge and a brash,strutting open solo. After swinging spots by Jess and Babe, Zig is off with more trumpet fireworks over the saxes. An alternate take exists with different solo spots and Ziggy equally firery and punchy on his solos.
I Have Everything to Live For is a nice but obscure ballad. Zig gives us more of his sweet side and Babe gets into a Lester Young groove. This was Jess' last session with the group before joining Bob Crosby, his solos thruout are gems.

The fourth session was on November 27,1939. Milt Raskin,another fine pianist had taken over for Stacy and Jerry Jerome was back on tenor. The sides were What Used to Was used to Was, Bye 'n Bye, Love is the Sweetest Thing and Deep Night.
What Used to is another Jewish flavored ballad with Zig's pretty Klezmer horn starring and a lovely sax soli-a bit like Bublitchki but nice to have.
Bye n' Bye is not the New Orleans favorite but a pretty medium ballad. Raskin and Jerome gets nice solo spots before Zig enters wailing for an interlude and rideout.
Ray Noble's Love is the Sweetest Thing has more of Zig's pretty horn and an alto spot by Toots Mondello. Zig modulates into a lovely rideout and coda.
Rudy Vallee's Deep Night (a lovely tune) has tight voicing with the trumpet and saxes. Zig gets in a mellow cup mute chorus and Raskin and Jerome precede his strong rideout over stops and the saxes.

The final session was on December 26,1939 with the same personell. The titles are Forgive my Heart, Tootin' my Baby Back Home, I'm Thru with Love and Something to Remember You By.
Forgive is a Ziggy original in a minor Jewish mode. There are pretty saxes with nice fills by Raskin. Ziggy goes into a fralich and swing finale ala Angels Sing.
Tootin' is another riff similar to Zaggin' with the same format-cup mute on bridge and Zig wailing over the saxes on the rideout. A bit familiar, but some great blowing by Ziggy.
Malneck and Kahn's great standard I'm Thru with Love has more pretty horn by Zig and that great sax section. After a modulation for Milt's piano, Zig takes the interlude and a close-voiced rideout.
We close with another classic, Dietz and Schwartz's Something to Remember You By. There are two sweet horn spots for Zig, more of Toots' alto and a driving Ziggy rideout.

These sides do follow into a set pattern but show Ziggy off to great advantage. The gorgeous sax section and solo spots bt Stacy,Raskin and the tenors give Ziggy nice contrast.
He graced many other free lance sessions including Teddy Wilson,The Metronome All-Stars, Mildred Bailey and Lionel Hampton(try out his wild blowing on Gin for Christmas). These Bluebird sides,give us the most complete look at Elman, the consumate trumpeter.

In 1940 Ziggy moved over to Tommy Dorsey's band and became one of his star soloists with standout solos on sides such as Swanee River, Blue Blazes, Hawaiian War Chant, Halleleujah, Blue Skies and the classic trumpet battle with Chuck Peterson on We'll Git It.
In 1943 he was called up for service duty and he played with an Army Air Corps Band in the Long Beach,California area. Ziggy rejoined Dorsey in 1946 and stayed for a year. He tried two attempts at his own band in '47 and '48 and made some wonderful sides for M-G-M. (some utilized the Dorsey band with Tommy's permission). Ziggy's post 1947 period was mostly as a studio musician on radio and recordings. He also recorded with Jewish clarinetist and humorist, Mickey Katz.

Ziggy kept busy during the 50s although his health started to decline. He contributed awesome solos to Jess Stacy's Goodman salute on Atlantic in 1954 (I believe the session is still on CD). Some reports had his lips bleeding at the session's end, he worked so hard.
Ziggy appeared in The Benny Goodman Story the next year,performing And The Angels Sing during the Carnegie Hall Finale. He was ill at the time and his trumpet work was dubbed by the great studio man, Mannie Klein.
Thruout the 50s and 60s,Ziggy kept playing and gave trumpet lessons(one of his students was Herb Alpert) and opened a music store.
Alchololism and heart problems took him in 1968.

Ziggy's work thru the years showed him to be a fiery,passionate jazzman and a consumate big band trumpeter. All his work is worth hearing, but we highly reccomend the Bluebird sessions for pure Elman.
The Bluebird sides are available on Classics CDs. Ziggy's M-G-M sides are on a Jazz Band CD and Circle CD has some live material by his own Big Band. His work with Goodman and Dorsey is readily available on CD and Youtube has a generous Elman section.

Ziggy's long gone but we can still keep Zaggin' with Zig thanks to his many outstanding recordings.

No comments: