Back in the 1920s and ’30s, the place to go dancing in Western Massachusetts was Cook’s Butterfly Ballroom in my home town of Springfield, Massachusetts. The resident band was the Edwin J. McEnelly Victor Recording Orchestra, one of the better-know territory bands of the time. From 1924 to 1929, the pianist and arranger for the band was Frankie Carle.
I ran across an ad for the Ballroom from The Springfield Republican that promoted a three-day engagement by the famed Jean Goldkette Orchestra over February 7-9, 1927, that included a “battle-of-the-bands” involving the Goldkette and McEnelly orchestras. The ad described the occasion as “a musical war,” stating “Nothing to compare with this musical evening anytime, anywhere in the history of the dance.”
The advertisement went overboard in claiming “Jean Goldkette’s Victor Recording Orchestra and Henry Ford are the two things that made Detroit famous,” and continuing “The only appearance in the East outside of Broadway where they have been turning dancers away by the thousands every night during the two-week engagement in New York City. So don’t be a Turnaway. Usual Butterfly prices.”
Goldkette Reputation in the ’20s-’30s
Most jazz fans have little knowledge of the stature and impact the European-born bandleader-promoter John Jean Goldkette had on the world of jazz back in the ’20s and ’30s. One jazz historian considers the 1926-27 Goldkette aggregation to be one of the most important Big Bands in jazz history, comparable to milestone ensembles like Fletcher Henderson’s 1934 outfit, Duke Ellington’s 1940 band, or Miles Davis’ 1948-50 nonet.
Goldkette became a top music promoter with more than 23 orchestras blanketing America’s ballrooms, and he commanded the work of the best musicians with names like Bix Beiderbecke, the Dorsey brothers, Joe Venuti, Pee Wee Russell, Hoagy Carmichael, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Lang, Bill Rank, Pee Wee Hunt, Russ Morgan, Don Murray, and Spiegle Willcox.
In a 1926 Battle of the Bands with Fletcher Henderson’s band, Rex Stewart would later write, “We simply could not compete with Jean Goldkette’s Victor Recording Orchestra. Their arrangements were too imaginative; their rhythm too strong.”
In 1927, Paul Whiteman, the “King of Jazz,” and Adrian Rollini hired away most of Goldkette’s better players when Jean was unable to meet his payroll. In 1936, Jean filed for bankruptcy with $238,740 in debts, and only 45 cents in assets. He obviously was not a good businessman and actually went bankrupt twice in his life.
The late 1930s, ’40s, and ’50 found Goldkette again promoting groups like the Charioteers, Four Aces, Bobby Darin, and Tito Guizar. He also hired a librarian by the name of Frankie Laine to help with the music for the American Symphony and toured the Midwest as a classical pianist, going back to his musical roots. He died in 1962 at the age of 69 and is buried in the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, California, where his gravestone has the inscription “Prince of Jazz.”
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The museum in the 1811 Kid Ory Historic House in LaPlace, Louisiana, has closed due to the property on which the birthplace of the legendary trombonist is located is being sold. Edward “Kid” Ory was born on what was then known as the Woodland Plantation on Christmas Day, 1886. He grew up working on the plantation, driving a mule and buggy to bring food and water to the field workers.
In 1905 during his first trip to New Orleans, he bought a trombone with earnings from that year’s harvest. He eventually came to the attention of early jazz star Buddy Bolden. By the 1910s, Ory was a full-time musicians in New Orleans working with Louis Armstrong, Joseph “King” Oliver, and other greats and is credited with helping to define the role of the trombone in traditional jazz.
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“One good thing about music is that when it hits you, you feel no pain.” – Bob Marley
Also see: Grand Dominion Calls it a Day, which ran as part of Jazz Jottings in the print edition.