Saturday, October 18, 2014

Howard McGhee on Modern

Modern jazz time again. This record is not that rare (it has been reissued on CD), but at the same time, it's not particularly easy to find in any format.

Howard McGhee (1918-1987) was born in Tulsa and raised in Detroit. Although he was not as famous as, say, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, or Fats Navarro, he was, like them, an important figure in the transition to modern jazz. McGhee wrote "McGhee Special" for the Andy Kirk big band, and recorded it with Kirk in 1942. His own version, from three years later, is even more exciting and daring than the Kirk side. It's an outstanding virtuoso trumpet performance, as well as a lesson in the extended harmonies the modernists were exploring at the time.

The flip side, "McGhee Jumps," is a more basic blues tune, but with a few modern touches, and with good solos by (I think) Vic Dickenson on trombone and Teddy Edwards on tenor sax in addition to McGhee. This was also issued as "Cool Fantasy, part 1." The full personnel of McGhee's smallish big band is:

McGhee, Snooky Young, Karl George - trumpets
Vic Dickenson, Gene Roland - trombones
Robert Isabell, Gene Porter - alto saxes; Teddy Edwards, James King - tenor saxes
Vernon Biddle - piano; Bob Kesterson - bass; Roy Porter - drums.

 The Bihari brothers, Joe, Saul, and Jules, started the Modern label in Los Angeles in 1945. The story of the label and its subsidiaries is a long and fascinating one - too long to get into here - but many great jazz and blues recordings first appeared on the Bihari's labels.

My copy of this record is in generally excellent condition, but there is a little swishing at the beginning of each side. Enjoy "McGhee Special" and "McGhee Jumps," recorded in Hollywood in September, 1945.

McGhee Special

McGhee Jumps

Friday, September 12, 2014

Comparing Stokowski - Acoustic and Electric

Leopold Stokowski was one of those artists, like his contemporary, Duke Ellington, who understood the
recording studio early on. Most musicians in the early days of the record business were pretty much at the mercy of the recording engineers in terns of how their recordings sounded, but Stokowski and Ellington knew what they wanted the finished products to sound like, and knew how to achieve those results. At evey stage of his recording career, Stokowski was a pioneer. He rearranged the Philadelphia Orchestra on stage and in the studio for better balance (and later for better stereo separation). When electric recording became standard, he used the mixing board as well as the baton to achieve the dynamics he wanted from his musicians.

Stokowski's early acoustic recordings with the Philadelphia Orchestra represent the state of the art of the period, but he wasn't satisfied with them - and no wonder. The acoustic recording process could only
capture a fragment of the timbral and dynamic richness of an orchestra, and he was forced to use a reduced version of the orchestra, since the acoustic recording horn couldn't handle a full symphony orchestra. Stokowski really came into his own in the studio with the advent of the microphone. Recording on the stage of the Philadelphia Academy of Music with the full orchestra, his early electric recordings were revelatory at the time, and still sound impressive today.

Here are two Stokowski/Philadelphia recordings of the same piece, "March of the Caucasian Chief" by Mikhail Ippolitov-Ivanov. The earlier version was made at Victor's Camden, New Jersey studio on April 29, 1922. The second recording was cut in Philadelphia on October 11, 1927. It's an interesting contrast, and reveals much about the differences between the acoustic and electric recording processes.

March of the Caucasian Chief, 1922

March of the Caucasian Chief, 1927

Monday, August 25, 2014

Kryl and Haines from 1903

I found myself listening to a bunch of records from the first five years of the 20th century today, and decided to share one. The public's taste at this time, as least as the record companies read it, leaned toward novelty songs, marches, and what the British still call "light music." It was only with the onset of Caruso's recording career that music of any profundity began to be recorded.

But there is a certain charm in many of those early-20th-century records. I've chosen one because it's a typical brass showpiece record of the time, and because it's in remarkably excellent condition. Most of my records from this period are pretty worn, but I would guess that my copy of Oxford 1189 had never seldom played before I took it home from an antique store in Woodstock, Georgia.

Oxford was the second label used by the Sears, Roebuck & Co. chain of department stores. Their first label was Harvard; their most well-known and longest-running label was Silvertone. But between those two labels, from 1907 to 1915, they used the name Oxford on their records. The first Oxfords were pressed for Sears by Victor, using material from Victor's Zonophone subsidiary, but they soon turned to Columbia to provide their records. Oxfords were single-sided, and featured a confusingly-worded legal notice on their reverse sides; many labels used a similar notice at the time.

Oxford 1189 was pressed around 1908 from a master made for Columbia in early 1903: "Birds of the Forest." There is no composer credit on the label, but a little research reveals that this "Polka de Concert" is Sebastian Mayr's opus 75, and that it was a brand-new composition at the time of this recording. There is no artist credit, either, but the performers are the flamboyant Czech cornet virtuoso Bohumir Kryl and his frequent musical partner Leroy Haines on trombone. Kryl was a businessman and art collector in addition to being a soloist and bandleader; he was a well-known and much-recorded figure in the first few decades of the 20th century.

Enjoy this very nice recording of "Birds of the Forest" by Kryl and Haines.

Birds of the Forest

Friday, August 1, 2014

Unreissued American Music, part 1

Composer, violinist, percussionist, writer, and jazz historian Bill Russell started the American Music label in 1944 to issue the recordings he made of the traditional jazz musicians of New Orleans.  Between that year and 1953, Russell issued 40 78s (including seven 12-inchers) and 13 10" LPs of the music he recorded.  After that, the label was more or less dormant for years, although Russell would occasionally license some of the material for issue in Japan or Europe.

Eventually, the American Music catalog was bought by the Jazzology group, and Russell lived to oversee the first few AM CD reissues.  By now the CD series has expanded to the extent that almost all of Russell's American Music recordings are available on CD, including many alternate takes and previously unissued items.  But for a variety of reasons, there are a few of the original 78s that were never reissued on LP or CD.  I'll present them all here, starting with one side of AM 535, "Eh, La-Bas!" by the Original Creole Stompers.

The Stompers consisted of Herb Morand on trumpet, Louis Nelson on trombone, the searing clarinet of Albert Burbank, veteran guitarist Johnny St. Cyr, Austin Young on bass, and Albert Jiles on drums.  They were recorded by Russell at Burbank's home on Lapeyrouse Street in New Orleans on the evening of July 13, 1949.  Russell issued two 78s from the session; eventually almost the entire session was issued on CD, including four tunes from a rehearsal session the night before.  Barry Martyn, who produced the CD, opted to use the rehearsal take of "Eh, La-Bas!" instead of the originally issued take.  That rehearsal take has its own charm - it's slower, more relaxed, and two minutes longer than the 78 take.  But Burbank's clarinet is seemingly on fire on the originally-issued take, and it's a shame to let this fine music languish unheard.  So here's one side of American Music 535, featuring the clarinet and Creole vocal of Albert Burbank.

Eh, La Bas!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Arnold Földesy on Odeon

Here is a record by the brilliant, eccentric Hungarian cellist Arnold Földesy, on the American Odeon label. Földesy, a student of the influential cellist David Popper, played with the Berlin Philharmonic, and in 1924 began a solo career that lasted until his retirement in 1933. Fellow cellist Gregor Piatigorsky described him: "Unreliable and exuberant, and not very scholarly, he had a peasant-like directness, and his mastery of his instrument attracted me." Piatigorsky goes on to relate a visit to Földesy during which the latter practiced naked while his wife massaged his head.

The Odeon label had branches across the globe.  The history of American Odeon is confusing and convoluted.  The label was used by Okeh for "ethnic" recordings, and later for classical recordings made in Europe, like this one.  Okeh, and Columbia, who bought American Odeon along with Okeh, used a variety of label styles and colors.  Information about the 3000 series of imported recordings is hard to come by; my best guess about this record is that it dates from the middle of the 1920s.  In any case, Odeons were well-made records, and these two sides by a fine cellist hold up well.  Here is Földesy playing Chopin's "Nocturne in E Flat," Op. 9. No. 2, and "Serenade (Zur Guitarre)" by his teacher, David Popper.

Nocturne in E Flat


Monday, June 9, 2014

Jean Moeremans

Jean Moeremans was one of the earliest saxophone virtuosos to record, if not the first.  He was making records for the Berliner company as early as 1897, and went on to make nearly two dozen sides for the fledgling Victor company between 1900 and 1904.  It's not certain when Moeremans  was born (he died in 1937 or 1938), but at some point in the late 19th century he emigrated from Belgium to Canada, where he was heard by bandleader Patrick Gilmore.  He became a featured soloist in Glimore's band, and later joined John Philip Sousa's band and the United States Marine Band.

Moeremans' style is seems slightly odd, or at least archaic, by today's standards.  His nearly vibrato-less sound is somewhat bland, and his phrasing is not particularly distinguished.  But his technical abilities are apparent, and are even more impressive when one realizes that the saxophones of his time had more primitive keywork than modern horns, and that he's doing all that while negotiating double octave keys.

I've included two examples of Moereman's playing.  The first is a glimpse into the 19th century - "Fantasie on Old Folks at Home," recorded for Berliner on October 13, 1899.  This will require some sympathetic listening, as the surface noise overpowers the music at the beginning of the disc.  (It does get better as the record progresses.)  The second recording is from June 19, 1904 - "Carnival of Venice," from Victor 16244.  This was originally released on a one sided disc, but my copy is a reissue from 1910-1911, with a piccolo solo by Darius Lyons on the flip side.

Fantasie on Old Folks at Home - Berliner 0605

Carnival of Venice - Victor 16244

Friday, May 23, 2014

1920 Victor Catalog

 Here are some pictures of Victor's complete catalog for 1920.  The major labels issued annual catalogs like this, which were supplemented by monthly booklets listing new releases.  (Check out the Vocalion monthly supplement reproduced in full in my March 30, 2014 post.)  This is a thick book; the pages aren't numbered, but I would guess that it's at least 300 pages long. The paper is thin, but tough; Victor designed this catalog to stand up to a lot of use, and it's still in pretty good shape 94 years later.

I love thumbing through these old record catalogs - seeing what's in print, finding records I have, and getting a feel for musical tastes of the time.  Of course, I'm particularly interested in listings for records and styles of music that I like.

By 1920, changing tastes meant that the 1913-1914 recordings of James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, once the standard for African-American dance/popular music, were out of print.  But there was an exciting new style of music called jazz - so new, at least as far as the
record-buying public knew, that there only nine jazz records listed.  And they were given their own special listing; when I looked for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, the catalog directed me to "See 'Jazz Band.'"  If it looks like more than nine records were listed, look again - each side is listed separately.

The Victor label represented "class," and they were extremely proud of their Red Seal records.  This was their classical line, with an emphasis on opera.  At this time Red Seals were more expensive than Victor's regular black-label records, and were still only one-sided.  The Victor catalogs of this period all had a special section near the back, printed on pink paper, with the Red Seal listings.  This section is more elaborate that the rest of the catalog, with pictures and biographies (sometimes somewhat fanciful) of the artists.  Victor didn't get the full benefit of its contract with Enrico Caruso, which "does not expire until 1933," since Caruso himself unfortunately expired the next year.

And thanks to other insane 78 collectors on the web, I now know where the G.F. Johnson Piano Co. was in Portland.  They were the Victor Records dealer who distributed this copy of the 1920 catalog, as shown by the sticker on the cover.  It looks like there's a nice little park with an interesting sculpture there now.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Curtis Mosby - 1928

Here's some excellent, obscure early jazz by Curtis Mosby and his Dixieland Blue Blowers.  Mosby, born in Kansas City in 1895, was a drummer, bandleader, promoter, and club owner who was based in Los Angeles in the 1920s.  There his band recorded three sessions for Columbia between 1927 and 1929, resulting in four 78 RPM discs.  Columbia 1442-D represents the sole issued result of the second session, from March 28, 1928.

None of the members of the Blue Blowers are big names, but several of them should be familiar to early jazz aficianados.  Les Hite is in the saxophone section; he later led his own band, which backed up Louis Armstrong for a time in the early 1930s.  Tenor saxophonist Bumps Myers is heard near the beginning of his career, which was a long one; he later played and recorded with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Louis Bellson, and many others.  And he's on two of the greatest West Coast blues records ever: "Call It Stormy Monday" by T-Bone Walker and "Memory Pain" by Percy Mayfield.

But back to Curtis Mosby.  These are two fine examples examples of late-20s jazz; I particularly like the moody "Blue Blowers Blues."  The main soloists are trumpeter James "King" Porter and Ashford Hardee on trombone.  Porter also had a long career, including some R & B-flavored singles in the 1940s, but Hardee appears to have recorded only with Mosby.

Shortly after recording his final session for Columbia, Mosby's band appeared in the movie Hallelujah!, one of the first films featuring an all-black cast.  At the time I posted this, the nightclub segment featuring Mosby's band can be seen here.  The last selection his band plays is a speeded-up "Blue Blowers Blues."

Blue Blowers Blues

Hardee Stomp

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Lillian Glinn - Texas Blues

Lillian Glinn, a tough Texas blueswoman, was born in Hillsboro, Texas in 1902.  She recorded four sides for Columbia in December, 1927, when one of that company's field recording units stopped in Dallas to record local talent.  The results of that session were good enough, and presumably sold well enough, that she was invited to record 18 more sides for Columbia over the next two years.

I found her first issued record in a box of 78s in Chattanooga, Tennessee a few years ago, and it quickly became one of my favorite blues records.  Like many old blues records found "in the wild," it is well-worn.  (Blues and old-time country 78s tend to be very worn, while early classical records are often found in near-pristine condition.  Folks who bought classical records could afford to change needles frequently; rural record buyers often couldn't.)  In any case, I used more noise reduction than usual in my transfer of this disc.

Part of what I love about this record is the connection to the earliest days of jazz in New Orleans, via the presence of Octave Gaspard on tuba on "Doggin' Me Blues."  "Oak" Gaspard was born in New Orleans around 1870, and played bass and tuba with bands such as John Robichaux's at the time jazz was being born.  He moved to Texas during the depression, and showed up on several blues records made there in the 1920s.  He is thought to have died in Texas, but nobody seems to know when.

Gaspard is replaced on the other side, "Brown Skin Blues," by an anonymous guitarist, playing a twelve-string guitar, it sounds like.  Oddly, this side ends not with a vocal chorus or any kind of big finish, but with two fairly low-key instrumental choruses.  Pianist Willie Tyson plays on both sides.

At some point, probably in the 1930s, Lillian Glinn moved to California, married a preacher, and turned her back on the blues, performing only spiritual music thereafter.  But here is her first record, recorded on December 2, 1927 in Dallas.

Doggin' Me Blues

Brown Skin Blues

Monday, April 28, 2014

Billy Root on Roost

A scarce one today - the first recording by a fine modern jazz tenor saxophonist, Billy Root.  Root, who died last summer, was a Philadelphia-born (1934) saxophonist who played and recorded with Clifford Brown, Stan Kenton, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Hank Mobley, and other jazz masters.  In 1968, faced with dwindling prospects in the jazz world, Root moved to Las Vegas, where he made a good living playing in big bands and accompanying singers.

Root was an accomplished saxophonist and an excellent improviser, as can be heard on this 1949 Roost 78 - his first recording as leader, and his only one until 1999, when he made an album with trumpeter Vinnie Tanno.  The Roost label (also known as Royal Roost) was at first associated with the New York jazz club of the same name, and later merged with Roulette.  There seems to be almost no information available about this obscure recording; Root blows stirringly over an accomplished three-piece rhythm section, but no discography I have seen lists their names.  In any case, my copy is in near-mint condition, so enjoy some rare 1949 jazz by Billy Root.

Edit, 8/25/14: Someone pointed out that if Billy Root was born in 1934, the fine playing here is unlikely to be the work of a 15-year-old. I should have caught that. The standard discographies list this record as from 1949, but based on the catalog number, late 1953 or early 1954 is more likely.

Our Love is Here to Stay

Easy Living

Monday, April 21, 2014

Amelita Galli-Curci: Bell Song

Of my early opera records, I love those of Amelita Galli-Curci only slightly less than those by Caruso. (One of her record labels makes up the digital "wallpaper" on the right side of my blog.)  Galli-Curci (1882-1963) was born in Italy and came to the United States in 1916; she caused an immediate sensation among opera lovers.  She performed with both the Chicago Opera Company and the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

In her prime, Galli-Curci's vocal timbre, range, and control were stunning.  Luckily, she made dozens of recordings for Victor between 1916 and 1930.  Here is one of my favorites, "Dov'e l'indiana bruna," the "Bell Song" from the opera Lakmé by Delibes.  Although the libretto was originally in French, here Galli-Curci sings the aria in Italian.  This is from a one-sided, 12" Victrola Red Seal 78, recorded in 1917.

Amelita Galli-Curci: Bell Song from Lakmé

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Johnny's House Party

West Coast bluesman Johnny Heartsman (1937-1996) was a phenomenally talented guy; he played guitar, organ, and (surprisingly for a blues musician) flute.  He was Al King's guitarist and music director for several years in the 1960s- that's the Al King who was based in California, not the Albert King who recorded for Stax.  Heartsman's contributions to King's "Think Twice Before You Speak," "Reconsider Baby," and "Everybody Ain't You're Friend" are important to the success of those records.  Late in life, Heartsman made a handful of excellent albums, like The Touch on Alligator.  But in 1957, he had a hit record with the irresistible instrumental "Johnny's House Party" on the Music City label.

Although "Johnny's House Party" made it to #13 on the R & B charts, copies of the record are seemingly hard to find these days.  My copy is fairly worn, especially toward the inner grooves - I can't imagine anyone who owned this record not playing it.  But the spirit shines through.  It's a fun little record, with pieces of "Honky Tonk," "Night Train," and other R & B hits thrown into the house party.  Enjoy "Johnny's House Party," parts one and two.

Part one

Part two

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Dave Tarras on UK Columbia

I have dozens of 78s, LPs, and CDs by the great klezmer clarinetist Dave Tarras, but none is more beautiful than this 1927 pairing on English Columbia. Tarras emigrated to the United States from Russia in 1920, and quickly established himself as the foremost clarinetist on the Jewish music scene, rivaled only by Natfule Brandwein. I think of these two clarinetists as the klezmer equivalents of New Orleans jazz clarinetists Jimmie Noone and Johnny Dodds - Noone and Tarras were technically accomplished, controlled players, while Dodds and Brandwein were rougher and more unpredictable.

Here Tarras plays "Rumenishe Doina" and "A Rumenisher Nigun." A doina is an improvised rubato cadenza, usually leading into a dance number or medley. "Nigun" simply means "melody," and "Rumenishe" indicates the Romanian origin of these pieces. Tarras excelled at playing doinas, and he is at his best here.

Not only is the music wonderful, but the record itself is interesting as an object. It was issued on Columbia in the United States, but my copy is an English Columbia issue apparently imported into Israel (or Palestine at that time). One side has a sticker from a Tel-Aviv record store.

Here is the klezmer artistry of Dave Tarras at his best, recorded in April, 1927 in New York.

Rumenishe Doina

A Rumenisher Nigun

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Vocalion Catalog - September, 1934

Not only do I collect 78s, but for the past couple of years I have been collecting record catalogs from the 78 era.  I find them fascinating; like 78s themselves, the catalogs are windows to a lost world.  And while any record collection is formed by the taste of its owner, record catalogs give a fuller picture of the taste of the record-buying public of the time.  And of course, it's fun to find records from your collection listed, as well as listings of particularly rare or collectible records.

Most of the major labels issued complete catalogs of their in-print records annually, with supplements containing new releases printed monthly, or at least several times per year.  This post features the September, 1934 Vocalion catalog, listing new releases for that month, along with highlights from previous releases.

The history of the Vocalion label is fairly complex; here I'll just say that at the time this catalog was published, Vocalion was a subsidiary of Brunswick.  Both were owned by the American Record Corporation (ARC), which also owned Columbia at this time.  Vocalion was one of ARC's lower-priced labels; as you can see on the first page of the catalog, their records sold for 35 cents each, or three for a dollar.

This eight-page booklet is a delight to look through, especially for collectors of "race" records, as records marketed to African-Americans were called in the 78 era.  The "Vocal Blues" section in particular has listings for mouth-watering records by Blind Willie McTell (just called "Blind Willie"), The Georgia Browns (a group which included Buddy Moss), and the daddy of the blues, Charley Patton.  (Vocalion spelled his name "Charlie.")  In various instrumental categories you'll find records by Jack Kelly's South Memphis Jug Band, the Beale Street Washboard band (a fabulous little group which included New Orleans jazzmen Herb Morand and the Dodds brothers, Johnny and Baby), Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams, and Joe Robechaux's hot little New Orleans swing band.  There's a Blind Joe Taggart listed in the "Sacred Race Records" section.  Some black artists, like Cab Calloway and Jimmie Noone, apparently had enough crossover appeal to warrant listing their records in the "Popular and Standard Records" section.  The country section, "Old Time Tunes," is not quite as stunning as the Race section, but there are still some interesting names there - (Clarence) Ashley & (Gwen) Foster, Ernest Stoneman, and the Carolina Tar Heels, for example.

I'm posting scans of all eight pages of my fragile copy of this catalog.  Click for a larger view, and in most browsers, and can right-click, choose "view image" and click on the resulting image for an even larger view.  Enjoy the Vocalion record catalog from September, 1934

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Scottdale String Band

Yesterday I listened to some old-time country 78s, and the Scottdale String Band really made me smile.  This three-piece band was based in the mill village of Scottdale, Georgia, east of Atlanta.  The band was unusual in that the instrumental lead was taken by Charlie Simmons on mandolin and banjo, not by a fiddler.  The other members of the band were Barney Pritchard and Marvin Head, both guitarists.  The group made a dozen or so records for Okeh and Paramount between 1926 and 1932.

Scottdale, only a few miles from my house in Atlanta, grew up around the Scottdale Cotton Mill, opened by George Washington Scott in 1901.  The mill remained in operation until 1982.  Many great early country bands sprung up in the shadows of Southern cotton mills - check out Patrick Huber's fine book Linthead Stomp: The Creation of Country Music in the Piedmont South
The mill has been demolished, although there is a newer steel mill looming over the railroad tracks.  Many of the mill houses built for the workers remain, mostly freshly painted and restored.  The main design seems to have been a rather plain duplex- there are dozens of these nearly identical double houses in Scottdale.

My Scottdale String Band records are pretty worn, as many early country records tend to be.  But one side of Okeh 45103, "Chinese Breakdown," is in better shape than the rest.  You can hear Charlie Simmons' lead banjo, played with a pick, mandolin-style, it sounds like, rather than in the more common clawhammer style.

Unfortunately, the label of my copy of "Chinese Breakdown" is almost illegible, so I'm posting the best-looking label, along with the best-sounding music I have, by this great Georgia country group.  "Chinese Breakdown" was recorded in Atlanta on March 21, 1927.

Scottdale String Band - Chinese Breakdown:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sam Jones (Stovepipe No. 1) on Harmony

Sam Jones was the real name of the musician known professionally as Stovepipe No. 1.  That unusual name came from his trademark stovepipe hat, his kazoo made from an actual stovepipe, and his effort to distinguish himself from the similarly-named performer Daddy Stovepipe.  Jones, from Cincinnati, was an interesting, somewhat primitive musician whose style spanned blues, gospel, and country.  He billed himself as a "one-man band," and often played guitar, harmonica, and stovepipe kazoo in the course of the same song.  Jones, who was born sometime in the late 19th century, recorded for several labels between 1924 and 1930.

Harmony was a Columbia subsidiary, formed in 1925 to make good on a Columbia investment.  About a year before all the major record companies began recording electrically, Columbia had installed state-of-the-art acoustic recording equipment in its New York studio.  The records that resulted were some of the best-sounding acoustic recordings made.  But with the advent of the electric recording process, Columbia's new acoustic equipment instantly became obsolete.  Rather than scrap it, the company began using it to record material for a budget label, Harmony.  The original Harmony label lasted until 1932, but the brand was revived in the 1940s, and remained in existence as a Columbia-owned budget label at least until the 1970s.

Here is the country side of Sam Jones - Harmony 5100-H, recorded in New York on August 20, 1924.  These sides were first issued on Columbia as by "Stove Pipe No. 1 (Sam Jones)" and reissued on Harmony using only his real name.  Enjoy Sam Jones on guitar, harmonica, and stovepipe.

Cripple Creek and Sourwood Mountain:

Turkey in the Straw:

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Petite Suite de Concert

I just made a post yesterday, but can't resist posting again today, in honor of this blog's first follower, who is extremely knowledgeable about concert band music.  BHaynes, this is for you.

 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was perhaps the first black composer to achieve international fame.  An Englishman, he was regarded with great pride by African-Americans of the time, and made three concert tours of the United States.  His best-known work was probably the cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, but the Petite Suite de Concert is still sometimes performed.

 The Petite Suite is usually heard in its orchestral setting, but Coleridge-Taylor also wrote a version for concert band.  (I have been unable to determine which version came first.)  In any case, the British HMV version by the Band of H.M. Coldstream Guards must be one of the very first recordings of a "serious" concert band composition.  It was probably recorded in 1920, and issued on a 12" record in 1921.

The record was reviewed as part of a survey of the Coldstream Guards' recordings in the November, 1924 issue of Gramophone.  "Many people know nothing more of Coleridge Taylor than this suite.  The rendering on this record is rather unequal.  The Caprice (No. 1) and the Tarantelle (No. 4) are superb; Demande et response (No. 2) drags badly toward the close, while the Sonnet d'amo'ur (No. 3) lacks distinction.  But the record is well worth having."

You can decide if the reviewer was right.  Here is HMV 1011, with Lieut. R. G. Evans conducting the Band of the Coldstream Guards.

Side one - La caprice de Nannette/Demande et response:

Side two - Un sonnet d'amour/La tarantelle fretillante:

Monday, March 17, 2014

James McCool - The Low Back'd Car

For St. Patrick's Day, here's an early hit record of an Irish song.  James McCool  recorded "The Low Back'd Car" for Victor on April 20, 1905, and it sold well enough to stay in print until 1919, when he recorded a new version.  That recording, in turn, stayed in print until 1926.

"The Low Back'd Car" was composed by Samuel Lover, who also wrote "The Girl I Left Behind Me," in 1851 or so.  It's old enough to have been given "traditional" status among Irish musicians, who still sometimes perform it.  It almost immediately inspired Irish composer William Vincent Wallace to write a Fantasie on "The Low Back'd Car" for piano.  James Joyce quotes the song in both Ulysses and Finnegans Wake.  The success of McCool's record spurred many other recordings of the song, including a 1913 Victor Red Seal issue by John McCormack.

McCool recorded 15 or so sides for Victor, but "The Low Back'd Car" remains his best-known record.  My copy is an original one-sided pressing; based on the label style, it dates from 1905 or 1906.  A later pressing would probably sound better, since Victor's surfaces improved steadily throughout the first decade of the 20th century, but I love having an original.  Here it is:

Monday, March 10, 2014

Boyce Brown on Collector's Item

I'll begin this blog as I began my 78 collection, with a never-reissued jazz disc from 1940: "On a Blues Kick"/"I Surrender Dear" on the Collector's Item label.  The personnel is listed on the label, but there is no band name or leader credit.  The letters "BB" appear in the run-off area, though, leading me to believe that Boyce Brown was the leader.

 I've written about the mysterious alto saxophonist Boyce Brown elsewhere, so here I'll just add that this was the record that turned me into a 78 collector.  Several years ago I decided that I wanted to track down all of Brown's meager recorded output, but I soon discovered that this record had never been reissued in any format.  So when I found a copy on Ebay, I bid and won it.  Before the package arrived, I had purchased a late-1960s Miracord turntable, a 78 cartridge, and half a dozen other 78s.

Brown's improvising was imaginative and unique, and he had excellent command of his instrument.  Here are these two rare sides, recorded in Chicago on February 12, 1940.  Also on board are the great Wild Bill Davison on cornet, Mel Henke, a very interesting pianist, bassist Walter Ross, and Joe Kahn on drums. Enjoy!

On a Blues Kick:

I Surrender Dear: