Monday, December 19, 2016

United States Marine Band - Two German Marches

Marches are often derided by music lovers; some consider the march the most mindless of "light" music styles. But approached with an open mind, the march can, in its admittedly limited way, provide musical enjoyment. The march is a multi-strain form, presenting one melody after another, with no room for any real development. So while marches offer little chance for musical profundity, the best march composers were excellent melodists, and their offerings are worth hearing for the sometimes imaginative ways they handle the limitations of the form. I would argue that the best marches are as worthy of our attention as similarly limited forms such as ragtime and the Brazilian choro.

Here the United States Marine Band offers two German marches in recordings from 1914. The composers, Ernst Stieberitz (1877-1945) and Franz von Blon (1861-1945), were active in the German band world as conductors and composers; both wrote numerous marches, as well as other words for band. These two marches are melodically fresh and enjoyable, and these Victor recordings have not been reissued, as far as I can tell.

This post serves as a memorial to Bill Haynes, an excellent band conductor, authority on concert band music, and the first follower of this blog. Bill was senselessly killed in Atlanta on December 17, 2016. He loved the Marine Band, and considered that ensemble to be the best concert band in the world. So long, BHaynes.

Here is Victor 17730, by the United States  Marine Band, recorded in Camden, New Jersey in March, 1914
Unter dem Gardestern (Under the Star of the Guard) (Ernst Stieberitz)

Treu der Flagge (True to the Flag) (Franz von Blon)

Friday, September 16, 2016

1923 Gennett Sleeve

Until I plucked it from an antique store in Moorhead, Minnesota last year, this copy of Gennett 5290 in its original sleeve had not traveled far from home. The stamp on the front shows that it was sold at West Piano Company on 4th Street in Moorhead, presumably 93 years or so before I bought it in the same town. That this sleeve and this record were originally paired is evidenced by the record's catalog number written on the two top corners of the front of the sleeve. They are written by two different hands - a store clerk and the original owner, perhaps? One of them also wrote the number on the back.

The record itself, by the studio dance band Gennett called Bailey's Lucky Seven, is not particularly interesting. But I love the sleeve, and love the fact that it has remained paired to "its" record for nearly a century. The most intriguing aspect is the listing of records on the back - not so much the selection "of special appeal" listed on the left: hymns, sermons, monologues, and light classics - but the "latest popular numbers" listed on the right. There is one pop/dance record listed, but the other four are hard-core jazz and blues. There's one of Jelly Roll Morton's seminal piano solos, as well as two records by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, from the first racially integrated jazz recording session. I have one of those NORK records, and have thought about putting it into this sleeve, but decided that Gennett 5290 should stay with its original sleeve as long as I have it.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Original Sacred Harp Choir

Sacred  Harp singing, a style named after the hymnbook known as The Sacred Harp, is an unusual and very stylized form of a cappella gospel singing, in which the first verse of the song is performed with solfege syllables (fa, so, la, etc.) before the singers move on the lyrics of the song. The music is written with shaped noteheads; each shape corresponds to a solfege syllable - and the system does not correspond to the standard "classical" system of solfege. The style developed in the earliest days of the United States, and can still be found, especially in the southern states.

Sacred Harp singing was first recorded by the Brunswick record company in a series of sessions in New York in June and July of 1922. Based on contemporary newspaper accounts, the singers were apparently recruited from Texas and Georgia. Sacred Harp singing tends to be slightly rough-hewn, but the singers on the Brunswick recordings sing in a more refined manner, possibly reflecting the tastes of the record company. Brunswick thought enough of these recordings to issue them with a beautiful special label, depicting the shaped notes.

These sessions are notable for the first recording of "Amazing Grace," issued under the title "New Britain." Brunswick 5154, pairing "Greenfield" and "Hallelujah," has remained a more obscure disc; it doesn't appear in any discographies that I have seen.



Thursday, September 1, 2016

Back in the Groove

For a variety of reasons, mostly computer-related, I have been unable to add to this blog for a while, and the links to the sound files have been broken for some time. All of that has been worked out and the sound files have been reloaded. I'll be adding more stuff soon, and have several interesting 78s lined up to post.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Louisiana Five on Edison

The Louisiana Five is a band which I love far more than they probably deserve. Compared to the New Orleans jazz bands which recorded a few years later, they were stiff - bouncy rather than swinging - and there was little real improvisation on their records. Their ensemble sound was sometimes kind of hollow, since they didn't use a bass (just the pianist's left hand) and only used a trumpet (or cornet) on one of their recording sessions. But the clarinet lead, by Alcide "Yellow" Nunez, was strong and piquant, and imparted a real New Orleans flavor to the music. And if he didn't really improvise freely in the manner of later jazz musicians, Nunez used plenty of embellishment, and understood the blues. The music of the Louisiana Five is somewhat dated, and was left in the dust of history by what came after it, but Nunez's clarinet is reason enough to listen to these sides today.

Over a one-year period beginning in December, 1918, the band recorded nearly 50 sides for Emerson, Columbia, Okeh, and Edison. (And Little Wonder? More about that in a later post.) I've heard most of them, and they're remarkably consistent. The Columbias are perhaps the weakest, since the company had the group insert current pop tunes into their jazzy originals to create medleys. But for the most part the music of the Louisiana Five shows demonstrates a sure vision, even if the scope of the band was narrow.

Nunez was, as far as I can determine, the only New Orleans musician in the group; he came north with an early version of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band. Drummer Anton Lada was the leader, and Joe Cawley on piano and banjoist Karl Berger completed the rhythm section. Nunez's front line partner was trombonist Charlie Panelli, perhaps best known as one of the two alternating trombonists in the Original Memphis Five a few years later.

The band visited Edison's New York studios twice in 1919, and each session resulted in two issued sides. Here they are in chronological order: "Foot Warmer" and "B-Hap-e" from April 14, and "Clarinet Squawk" and "Yelping Hound Blues" from September 12. All were issued in cylinder form as well as on Edison Diamond Discs; my transfers are from the latter. "Yelping Hound" was probably their best-known tune, and the Columbia version was a minor hit. It's not nearly as dire as the title suggests; in fact, the bluesy quality brings out the best in the band.

Foot Warmer


Clarinet Squawk

Yelping Hound Blues

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Four Spades

On June 24, 1924, pianist, composer, and record producer Clarence Williams took a four-piece band into Columbia Records' New York studio and recorded two sides. The Columbia files listed the group as "Williams Instrumental Four," but when the record was issued, the labels called the group "The Four Spades." Yes, there can be four spades in a hand of cards, but the intent - "humorous" racism - is obvious.

Unfortunate label copy aside, the record is pretty interesting. The instrumentation is clarinet, alto saxophone, piano, and banjo, and the identity of the clarinetist is one of the things that make this record so intriguing. The Rust discography lists the personnel as Lorenzo Tio or Bob Fuller - clarinet, Ernest Elliott - alto sax, Clarence Williams - piano, and Buddy Christian - banjo. If it is indeed Tio on clarinet, this is one of the legendary New Orleanian's most prominent appearances on record.

Tio was in New York with A.J. Piron's New Orleans Orchestra at the time, and recorded with Williams on one other occasion, about a month earlier, when Williams' Blue Five backed up singer Eva Taylor (Williams' wife) for an Okeh record date. To my ears, it doesn't sound like Fuller on clarinet; although this clarinet plays a few "novelty" licks, Fuller's work was generally far more "over the top" in that regard.

In any case, here's a nice little obscure serving of early jazz, "Squabblin' Blues" and "Making Up Blues" by The Four Spades.

Squabblin' Blues

Making Up Blues