Saturday, December 19, 2015

Burt Shepard - The Robin

In time for Christmas, here's a comedy record from 1904 that I think is still pretty funny. Burt Shepard promises an imitation of a robin which never comes; it quickly devolves into a rambling, increasingly confused dissertation largely concerning drinking at Christmas.

Shepard recorded dozens of sides for Victor in the early years of the 20th century, both songs and comic recitations like this. During this period the record company was using the "Monarch" designation for its one-sided ten-inch records, reserving "Victor" for the twelve-inchers. My copy of this record is in decent shape, but there is one stripped groove near the beginning which causes a slight skip, at the phrase, "our dear little robin," about twelve seconds in. There are a few other slightly rough spots, but everything should be pretty intelligible. So enjoy "The Robin," recorded on July 26, 1904. And try to get the other fellow to buy that first drink.

The Robin

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Victor 1919 Delections Catalog

Here' are some scans from an unusual 16-page flyer from 1919. It's the list of records Victor was deleting from its catalog. I've included the front and back covers and a couple of representative inner pages. Note the stamp from Taylor's Music House in Springfield, Massachusetts on the front and the print date of July 1, 1919 on the back.

A favorite of mine is listed early on in the first column of page 10 (second picture). Victor 35372, "Castle House Rag" / "Castle's Lame Duck Waltz" by James Reese Europe's Society Orchestra, was state of the art dance music when released in 1914. But tastes change, and by 1919 Victor had recordings by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and Earl Fuller's Jazz Band. And Paul Whiteman was waiting in the wings.

Click on any picture for a closer view.

Friday, November 20, 2015

An early Zonophone Rag - Creole Belles

Here is one of the oldest records in my collection - probably the second oldest, in fact. It's Hager's Orchestra playing my favorite "cakewalk" rag, "Creole Belles." (The cakewalk rhythm, eighth note/quarter note/eighth/quarter/quarter, can be heard at the beginning of the first strain, just after the introduction.) This is an early Zonophone record with an embossed label, partially highlighted with white paint. The recording was probably made in 1900 or 1901, the record issued in 1901 or 1902.

Like early Berliner records, early Zonophones were recorded at around 71 RPM. J. Bodewalt Lampe's fine composition was published for piano in the key of G, but is and was usually arranged in the more wind instrument-friendly key of F for bands. (And this is a wind band, no matter what the label implies.) This one-sided, nine-inch record pitches in F when played just faster than 71 RPM. The playing surface is not in good shape; the announcement at the beginning of the record is mostly unintelligible. But the music is intact, and quite listenable above the surface noise; the sound even improves as the record progresses.

Fred Hager, who served as music director and what we would now call "producer" at Zonophone, was still in his twenties when he conducted this spirited rendition. He went on to serve in similar capacities at Columbia and Okeh, and for the latter company produced the early Mamie Smith records which led to the "blues craze" of the 1920s. Zonophone also issued a seven-inch record of Hager's Orchestra playing "Creole Belles."

Enjoy a favorite of mine, "Creole Belles," from Zonophone 651.

Creole Belles

Monday, November 9, 2015

Fred Dale - A Great, Little-Known Big Band

I have been collecting 78s in earnest (whatever that means) for about six years, but the seed was planted many years ago, when I was about 14 or 15. My grandmother gave me a couple of boxes of 78s - stuff she had picked up at garage sales as well as (I found out later), some of my uncle's old records. I was fascinated, and listened and enjoyed them indiscriminately at first. As time passed, some of the records began to stand out - I realized that, yes, Benny Carter was better than Larry Clinton, and Louis Armstrong better than Bing Crosby. I eventually got rid of most of the records, but kept a handful, even through all the years during which I didn't have a way to play them.

In one of those boxes was a record which grabbed me right away - a swinging modern jazz big band of which I had never heard. I had no idea who Fred Dale was, but even as a jazz neophyte I knew that this hot version of "Mean to Me" was pretty special. The ballad on the flip side was nice too, although not as earth-shattering. Later, when I was in college, I went to my school's library and looked up Fred Dale in the Jepsen jazz discography. It revealed that the Dale big band had recorded one session in 1954, and that the band was composed mostly of unknowns, but with a few big names mixed in. It was still a pretty mysterious record.

After my college days, the 78s went into the closet, not touched until my current obsession began in 2009. When I went through the box and rediscovered this disc, I was curious as to whether or not it would sound as good as I remembered. It did.

And of course, by then the internet existed. Some determined Googling resulting in some information about the band and the recording session. This is from the Indiana University Music Department website:

In 1953 the Fred Dale Band consisting of a majority of I.U. students entered a Metronome magazine Collegiate Jazz Band Contest. This was among the first of such contests and was adjudicated by tapes. The band included Al Kiger, Jerry Coker, Al Cobine, Buddy Baker, and David Baker. The band was a co-winner of this national contest along with the band from UCLA. The prize was a monetary award and a recording for a small label.

And from a Smithsonian Institute oral history interview with trombonist/composer David Baker:

Around this time there was a band that was formed by a guy named Fred Dale, who moved here, who would later work for MCA, the booking agency. He decided to put together a band. He put together an all -star band – he didn’t call it an all - star band, but it was an all - star band that had Kiger in it; it had Buddy Baker; a guy named Lou Ciotti on tenor saxophone; Jerry Coker; Al Cobine; a piano player – first of all Al Plank, then I think later on it was John Mast. The bass player – it varied, but at one time or another it was Bill Takas. At another time it was – I just can’t remember those details at the moment. That band was a band which Fred Dale entered in 19 – seems like it was 1953 – in the Metronome All Star contest. It was the very first – near as I know, the very first collegiate contest, and it was done by tape. You sent in a tape, and your band was adjudicated and decided who was going to be the best band. I think we ended up tying with the jazz band from Westlake [Westlake was a college in Los Angeles], which was a band which had Jimmy Cleveland and some of those guys in it – Lanny Morgan, whowould later be in Supersax and later on the Maynard Ferguson band when I was on there. 

So that was a great band, and that band did play a lot. We traveled, we played a lot of gigs, and we entered that contest and won it. But when Fred decided to make the album – the recording that was going to come out of it – he couldn’t take everybody to the West Coast. So what he did – I wrote one of the arrangements. I did the arrangement on "Mean to Me," which was really kind of a lift over the way Wes and them played it, with hits and things. So he took Lou Ciotti, himself, and then they used professional musicians on the West Coast to make the recording.

Baker's memory is not perfect - most of the band members at the recording session were indeed IU students, with a few professional ringers added - notably trumpeter Doug Mettome and trombonist Urbie Green, both of whom were already well-known. The personnel, according to Tom Lord's jazz discography, consists of:

Fred Dale - trumpet and vibes; Vern Cressler, Al Kiger, Doug Mettome - trumpet
Buddy Baker, David Baker, Urbie Green - trombone
Leonard Graves - alto & tenor saxes; Jerry Coker, Al Cobin - tenor sax; Ray Papai - bari sax
Al Plank - piano; Dick Wagner - bass; Richard Dickenson - drums.

Besides Dave Baker, several of the student musicians, such as Al Kiger, Buddy Baker, and Jerry Coker, went on to have careers in jazz. 

So here's a great, little-known modern jazz big band record on the Coral label, from June, 1954. I think that the trumpet solos are by Doug Mettome, trombone by Urbie Green, and tenor sax by Jerry Coker. My copy is in poor shape, especially the side with "Laura." But I was able to clean it up some, and the tracks are quite listenable, especially "Mean to Me." Enjoy.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Emmy Destin - Madame Butterfly on Edison

I haven't posted any Edison Diamond Discs before now, but my new turntable has a switch which enables playing vertically-cut records such as Edisons. I'm up to 16 Diamond Discs of various types, including jazz, early country, and classical. Here's a nice one: Emmy Destinn singing "Un bel di vedremo" from Puccini's Madame Butterfly.

Edison Diamond Discs don't look or play like any other records of the time. The difference is obvious at first glance: they are a quarter inch thick, and weigh about the same as three standard 78s. And they're not even 78s, they're "80s," since they play properly at 80 RPM. They're laminated around a core of some type of pressboard. The earlier Diamond Discs didn't have paper labels; the title and other information was embossed on the center of the disc. Edison later used paper labels, but they weren't pressed into the record (the method used by every other record company), they were glued onto the core - a space was left unlaminated for that purpose. The glued labels did not prove to be very durable, and Diamond Discs with torn or missing labels are common these days.

But Thomas Edison claimed that his odd little records were superior to all others on the market. And when I adjust my equalizer and play a Diamond Disc that's in excellent condition, it's hard to argue with Edison's claim. These records produce a full, rich acoustic sound. They have little of the high-end hiss other 78s have, although they have their own distinct surface noise - more of a mid-range rumble. And since vertical grooves don't take up as much surface space as lateral grooves, Edison could fit up to five minutes of music on one side of a ten-inch disc.

As with many Edison opera discs, the unlabelled flip side has an "explanatory talk" by Harry Humphrey, a well-known "voice talent" of the time. Oddly, the music side does not have the name of the performer, although she is mentioned in Humphrey's talk and in the Edison Records of Music that Lives catalog.

Emmy Destinn (1878-1930) was born in Prague, and had a successful career in Europe before joining the Metropolitan Opera in 1908. When World War I broke out in 1914, the patriotic Ms. Destinn returned home, where she was promptly put under house arrest by the Austrians. After the war, she returned to the United States, but she was out of shape physically and vocally, and her career never recovered. I would be remiss if I left out a mention of Arthur Rubenstein's surprise at finding a tattoo of a snake on her thigh during an amorous encounter.

Enjoy Emmy Destinn on Edison, recorded in New York on December 16, 1911. Harry Humphrey's explanatory talk was recorded in January, 1914.

Un bel di vedremo

Explanatory talk

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Woody Herman and the Sweetwind

By 1945, Woody Herman had one of the most popular big bands in the country, particularly among younger, more jazz-oriented listeners. The band was brash, fiery, and given to fast tempos. It was full of exciting soloists (Flip Phillips, Bill Harris, Pete Candoli, etc.) and was sparked by an excellent rhythm section: Ralph Burns on piano, guitarist Billy Bauer, the ebullient Chubby Jackson on bass, and veteran drummer Dave Tough, who was replaced toward the end of the year by Don Lamond. It was a band full of virtuosos, and they played with a "modern," forward-looking attitude. The band's abilities and progressive style even caught the attention of Igor Stravinsky, who composed Ebony Concerto for them, even stealing a brass lick from the band's recording of "Goosey Gander."

But paying a band full of stars wasn't cheap, and Herman was not in a position to turn down any sources of revenue that became available. So in 1945 or 1946, he endorsed the Sweetwind, a cheap plastic instrument
of the type usually known as flutophone or song flute. The Sweetwind was a far cry from being the "exact copy of Woody Herman's Celebrated Clarinet," as an ad in the November, 1946 issue of Popular Mechanics claimed it to be. But I imagine that a lot of kids shelled out the two bucks and pretended that they were famous bandleaders like Woody.

To promote the instrument, the Pioneer Musicial Instrument Company of Chicago, the manufacturers of the Sweetwind, issued two promotional records. The recordings were made in Chicago sometime in 1946, possibly in May, when the Herd (as the band was known) was in residence in that city. Herman was under contract to Columbia at the time, and I suspect that the records were made in Columbia's Chicago studios, or at least pressed by them; the distinctive script typeface of the matrix numbers stamped into the dead wax matches that of other Columbia records of the time.

The records are credited to Woody Herman and his Wood Choppers, but Herman is nowhere to be found on these four sides. The demonstration of the Sweetwind's capabilities is left in the hands of Flip Phillips; he is credited on the labels as playing "Sweetwind & tenor sax," but there is no saxophone on the records - just
Phillips' Sweetwind accompanied by the rhythm section. There is what sounds like a jazz head arrangement, "Sweet Wind Stomp," the Herd's closing theme, "Blue Flame," and two sides of music that were probably chosen because they were in the public domain, "Mighty Like a Rose" and "Folk Medley."

The records reveal the Sweetwind to be what it was: a toy. Phillips couldn't have been enamored of the instrument's impoverished sound. And the instrument was apparently difficult to play in tune, as are most such plastic flutes. But Flip does a decent job, considering the limitations of the instrument. And the two records provide a rare and fascinating glimpse of the Herman band's activities at the time, and of course, give us four more recorded examples of one of jazz's great rhythm sections.

Sweet Wind Stomp

Mighty Like a Rose

Folk Medley

Blue Flame

Monday, May 11, 2015

Okeh Catalog Supplement, January, 1925

It's been a while since my last post. But, inspired by a new turntable, I've been madly spinning 78s, and have some new transfers to post soon. In the meantime, here is a complete scan of the Okeh records monthly catalog supplement from January, 1925. Plenty of forgettable stuff is listed, of course, but several of these new releases are of interest to record collectors. There are country discs by Fiddlin' John Carson and Henry Whitter, and hot jazz/dance sides by The Goofus Five (a California Ramblers sub-group), Red Nichols' Arkansaw Travelers, and the Arcadia Peacock Orchestra of St. Louis. But the winner in Okeh's releases for the month has to be "I'm a Little Blackbird"/"Mandy, Make Up Your Mind" by Clarence Williams' Blue Five. Any jazz collector would love to have an original copy of this record, which features the first two great soloists in jazz (excepting pianists), Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. "Mandy" even features a solo by Bechet played on the contrabass sarrusophone, rather than on his customary soprano saxophone. Most of these records were recorded in November and December, 1924, which tells you how quickly record companies got their products on the shelves in those days.

Although I love browsing through the various record labels' big annual catalogs, with their comprehensive listings, these monthly supplements have their pleasures. There are often short biographies of performers, or, as here, descriptions of the recordings. But the fact that they often have artist pictures not found in the annual catalogs is one of the most valuable aspects of these monthly supplements. I particularly like the washed-out photo of a dour-looking John Carson here.