Miff Mole on ‘Singin’ The Blues’

To the Editor:

The Feb 4, 1927 recording of “Singin’ the Blues” by Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke is one of the most important and influential 1920s jazz recordings. It was added to the National Registry in 2005. The citation reads: “Saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer and cornetist Bix Beiderbecke created some of the most significant jazz recordings of the 1920s, works still noted for their beauty and influence on fellow musicians.”

Red Wood Coast

The May 2024 edition of The Syncopated Times includes the article “Frank Trumbauer and Adrian Rollini: Profiles in Jazz” by Scott Yanow. In connection with the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke recording of “Singin’ The Blues” Mr. Yanow writes: “On that day (Feb 4, 1927), Trumbauer headed a septet/octet that also included … trombonist Bill Rank.” Because of its seminal significance it is crucial to ensure the accuracy of any data published about Bix and Tram’s “Singin’ the Blues.” Several current jazz discographies, including Tom Lord’s widely used online discography, list Bill Rank as the trombonist in the recording of “Singin’ The Blues.” In my article “The Mystery Trombonist in Bix and Tram’s Singin’ the Blues: Bill Rank or Miff Mole?”  IAJRC Journal; Vol. 44, Iss. 2, (Jun 2011): 32-34, I provided definitive evidence that Miff Mole and not Bill Rank was the trombonist in the legendary Bix and Tram recording of “Singin’ The Blues.”

Between Feb. 4, 1927, and April 30, 1929, Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra with Bix made more than three dozen recordings. Bill Rank was the trombonist in all except “Singin’ the Blues.” In 1981, Brian Rust wrote in the liner notes for World Records SH 413, Bix Beiderbecke: The Studio Groups 1927, “The question of whether Miff Mole or Bill Rank played on Trumbauer’s ‘Singin’ The Blues’ is still fascinating, and in view of what several musicians say, it looks as if Miff was present. Listening to it closely, I would say there is so little trombone to be heard, it could be almost anyone! I would never quarrel with anyone who said it was Miff, but at the same time, I wouldn’t argue about its being Bill Rank.”

Hot Jazz Jubile

There are two pieces of evidence that provide strong support for the presence of Miff Mole and not Bill Rank in the recording of “Singin’ the Blues.”

1. In a letter dated July 8, 1938, Frank Trumbauer responded to an inquiry from Ralph G. B. Venables (1914-2003), a record collector and authority on traditional white jazz of the 1920s and 1930s. Trumbauer wrote: “In the Recording of Singin’ the Blues”, Miff Mole instead of Bill Rank.

2. The second document in support of the replacement of Bill Rank by Miff Mole was published in the April 21, 1934, issue of the Melody Maker. Jazz historian and record producer Warren Scholl met Trumbauer in December 1933, while he was staying with Bill Rank and his wife in Astoria. Scholl interviewed Bill Rank and reported: “With the single exception of “Singin’ the Blues” (on which Miff Mole was the trombonist), he (Bill Rank) has played on every record Frankie Trumbauer made for Okeh.

Frank Trumbauer and Bill Rank, the two principal actors associated with the issue at hand, personally asserted that the trombonist in the Bix and Tram 1927 recording of “Singin’ the Blues” was Miff Mole and not Bill Rank. Clearly, the issue is settled.

Albert Haim
[email protected]

Dr. Albert Haim is Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at SUNY Stonybrook and a renowned authority on the recordings of Bix Beiderbecke

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