Monday, February 12, 2018

James Reese Europe's Victor Records

James Reese Europe (1880-1919), although largely forgotten today, is an important figure in the history of black American music. In the second decade of the 20th century, Europe took the New York (and beyond) dancing and music worlds by storm. In 1910 he formed the Clef Club, an organization to promote the black orchestras and composers of New York, and by 1912 he had attracted the attention of Vernon and Irene Castle, the most influential dance team of their time. Europe's dance orchestra became the Castles' "official" accompanists, which led to the Europe band's appearance in a Broadway show; they were the first black band to be featured on Broadway.

Europe's Society Orchestra recorded eight sides for Victor in late 1913 and early 1914. These records were state-of-the-art dance music of the time; the ragtime sides in particular must have been tremendously exciting for dancers and listeners used to more sedate sounds. Six of the sides were longer than the three-minute capacity of a 10" 78, and so were issued on 12" records. The ragtime sides have been reissued here and there over the years, but as far as I can tell, the others (a tango, a maxixe, and a waltz) have never been reissued.

When the United States entered World War I, Europe enlisted and took a band to France, where he served with distinction, with some front-line combat duty mixed in with bandleading. After the war he made a series of interesting recordings for Pathe; the best of these at least touched on jazz. Backstage at a concert, a disagreement with one of his drummers led to the latter stabbing Europe with a small knife. Although the wound seemed superficial, he died of internal bleeding a few hours later.

Since these were dance records (each label announces, "For Dancing"), the type of dance for each selection is listed after the title. The headlong rush of the one-steps, driven by the energetic playing of ragtime drummer Buddy Gilmore, is heady stuff, even over a century later. Here, at last, are all the Victor recordings by Europe's band. The usual caveats apply - these are acoustical recordings, and some sides are in better condition than others.

James Reese Europe conducting Europe's Society Orchestra, including Cricket Smith (cornet), Edgar Campbell (clarinet), Tracy Cooper, George Smith, and Walter Scott (violin), Leonard Smith and Ford Dabney (piano), Buddy Gilmore (drums) and five (!) banjo-mandolins. December 29, 1913; New York:

Victor 35359 (12")
Too Much Mustard - One Step or Turkey Trot (Cecil Macklin)
Down Home Rag - One Step or Turkey Trot (Wilbur Sweatman)

Victor 35360 (12")
Irresistible - Tango Argentine (L. Logatti)
Amapa - Maxixe Bresilien (J. Storoni)

Add Chandler Ford (cello), baritone horn and flute; omit banjo-mandolins. February 10, 1914; New York:

Victor 35372 (12")
Castle House Rag - One-Step (Europe)
Castle's Lame Duck - Waltz (Europe)

Victor 17553 (10"):
Castle Walk - One-Step or Trot (Europe/Dabney)
You're Here and I'm Here - One-Step (Jerome Kern)