Legends & The Lost • Rare and Hot Jazz 1925-1930

It has been a few years since I last reviewed an album of Golden Age jazz. The peak of which in my reckoning being that amazing flowering of hot creativity in the second half of the 1920s. Many factors came into that event. One of them was the introduction of electric recording methods. Jazz musicians then and now listened to each other for inspiration. While we have the blessing of slowly absorbing over 100 years of jazz, the top musicians of 1928 were waiting at record store doors to hear what new innovations their rivals had cut just a few weeks prior. The electric process let you hear more out of each record, especially if you had ears to hear. It was an artistic explosion.

Rare and good are often in opposition. There are so many rare records, though, that keen collectors can pick out plenty of good ones to share, and new (to you) good is what you will find on Legends & the Lost: Rare & Hot Jazz 1925-1930. The cuts are from artists including Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra, the Georgia Strutters, The Kentucky Jazz Babies, Eddie & Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra, and Dixon’s Jazz Maniacs.

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Included are cuts that are truly rare, some given restorations that astound those lucky enough to have heard the source copy. That said, imperfections exist throughout; the wise listener accepts surface noise as the entry fee for a glimpse into obscure recording sessions taking place nearly a century ago through these practically unique pressed copies.

The tracks are grouped for each band, which is nice for both academic and experiential reasons. If you aren’t approaching this CD with overt seriousness, and I beg you not to, it is enjoyable to think of it as a set from the Georgia Strutters followed by the Kentucky Jazz Babies and accept those inaccurate geographic distinctions the same as an audience would in 1928. There is some very hot playing here, worthy of being enjoyed first before breaking out your scalpel. Then by all means cut away.

The album begins with the first two tracks Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Orchestra recorded in 1925, and then an unissued test pressing of “Mo’Lasses” from 1929. This is the first time any of these cuts have appeared on a Frog release. The next six tracks are from Georgia Strutters recording sessions in 1926, ’27, and ’29. These are not as rare as other material on this disc, likely because of the big names involved; Jabbo Smith, Arnett Nelson, Willie “the Lion” Smith, Perry Bradford, and more. Of note is Jimmy Harrison on trombone, a forthcoming book about whom is teased in the liner notes. The playing is as great as you’d expect.

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A late addition to this release is a two sided record on Victor by the Kentucky Jazz Babies. “Old Folks Shake” and “No More Blues” were recorded in 1929 and reissued on a previous Frog release. A recently discovered cleaner copy, mistakenly thought to be an alternate take at first, warranted a new reissue. They are great sides and fit right in on the album. Clifford Hayes’s violin and the more boisterous style of a group that is essentially the Dixieland Jug Blowers even serves as a bridge to the unique group to follow.

The buried gem of this release is the ten tracks from Eddie and Sugar Lou’s Hotel Tyler Orchestra which, though recorded in 1929 and 1930, sound at times like hot Chicago groups from ten or even twenty years later on the verge of Rock n’ Roll. It is almost anachronistic and worth the price of admission. These are the elements I enjoy in the jug and washboard bands of the period, particularly those featuring Johnny Dodds, but taken to wild roadhouse extremes. The notes say these tracks were once legend as some of the most “raucous, out-of-control and exciting records ever made…” Jonathan Berliner suggests the first session was booze fueled, and the vocal and several mushy spots suggest that may have been the case. But I think the negative impression left by his assessment is undeserved. There is something great and unique about these records. I’m glad they got “past Quality Control” at Vocalion and survived until this release. This is the first opportunity to hear all ten tracks together, with four being from a more sober but equally exciting 1930 session.

Four recordings of Vance Dixon’s Jazz Maniacs, which close the disc, are taken from clean Paramount originals. Their version of “Tiger Rag” is distinct and interesting. This is hot creative jazz from the 1926-27 peak of the explosion, where everything that came before and hints of what was to come are heard simultaneously.

Frog Records, founded in 1994 by collector David French, is a British label that specializes in remastering and reissuing jazz, blues, and jug band music. It is currently owned by Paul Swinton who produces the Frog Blues and Jazz Annual, a sought after collection of new research and articles accompanied by a CD of rare releases. Their catalog, which focuses on the rare and hot, now runs 90 releases deep and is well worth exploring. Five CDs can be delivered to the US for $22 shipping, so you might as well bulk up the order. The music on Frog releases often can’t be found on YouTube, and certainly not at this fidelity or accompanied by important, and accurate, notes.

In ordering the CD there seems to be confusion with the label. The correct item is Frog DGF 89, there is an alternate cover showing 1929-1930 rather than 1925-1930, looking deeper it is the same tracks, and indeed some are from as early as 1925. So if you see that cover when ordering it is not a sequel or a different record.


Legends & The Lost • Rare & Hot Jazz 1925-1930
Frog Records DGF 89

Joe Bebco is the Associate Editor of The Syncopated Times and Webmaster of SyncopatedTimes.com

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