While any article about music should have the music as its primary focus, the attempt herein is, in addition, to provide a background and cultural context to a group of exceptional dance bands from the early 1920s.1 The bands herein examined all bear certain musical similarities. However, beyond any subtlety, there lies a world of musical sound that was completely disparate from what had immediately preceded the years 1920 to 1925 and would prove equally different from that which appeared after those years. It is important for the listener of the music and the reader of this effort not just to sense the exceptionality of the musical expression, but also know the reasons.
It has been scientifically determined that even so-called “positive” stereotypes are harmful. 2 3 That being said, this author nonetheless maintains that, based on the evidence, the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. was both a Midwestern company (it was founded in 1845 in Cincinnati, Ohio by John Moses Brunswick, who was born in Switzerland)4 and that its business practices were governed by pragmatism, both before and after the inception of its gramophone business.
A Gradually Evolving Organization
Although J. M. Brunswick Manufacturing Company was originally created for the purposes of manufacturing carriages, its owner soon realized that billiards tables were largely manufactured in the United Kingdom and exported to the U.S. In 1874, it merged with Great Western Billiard Manufactory, owned by Julian Balke, hence the first two parts of the eventual name. In 1879 it merged with a competing company, H. W. Collender Company which had patented billiard cushions. Over the years, it expanded into many other products including bowling balls, pins, toilet seats, automobile tires, and finally phonographs.5
In 1925, the President of the company, B.E. Bessinger, recalled that by 1913 the company had been manufacturing pianos when it experienced a slump due to the recent uptick in world sales of phonographs. As a result, the company started producing gramophones, and by August 1916 it had produced around 16,000 machines for delivery. The corporation then went into alliance with the Pathé Frères Phonograph Co. of New York wherein Brunswick would promote the use of Pathé records and not sell any of its own under the Brunswick label within the U.S. The Brunswick gramophone machines would use a tonearm called the “Ultona” which was capable of playing both Victor-style lateral stylus discs as well as Edison-style “hill and dale” recordings.6
A Focus on Quality
In line with their obvious focus on quality, Brunswick began with two styles of cabinets, later producing a range of console and upright models, but without external horns, which by 1916 had become unfashionable.7
The agreement with Pathé resulted in Brunswick distributing its own line of recordings in Canada shortly thereafter. Although nothing was officially mentioned in the trade press, it would appear to us now, that by 1917, the expansion into the Canadian record market was quite probably part of a long-term strategy to establish an eventual foothold into the American record market.8
Brunswick’s connection to Pathé was no longer prominently marketed in 1918, and by September of the following year, the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co., started to announce its new U.S.-distributed records in The Talking Machine World. Brunswick continued to stockpile its new American recordings, and by 1920, had started to release them to the public.9 Inside the machines, the internal springs for their machines were of exceptional quality and internal wooden horns made of holly or spruce wood. 10
Brunswick had manufactured pianos, billiard tables, then gramophone machines – all regarded as “furniture,” and of exceptionally fine quality. Ensuring quality was very clearly how the organization prioritized its business, and how it intended to compete against its two largest rivals, Victor and Columbia Records (both of whom also manufactured phonograph cabinets as well).
Furthermore, they had the financial capital to gradually prepare for such a move. Brunswick could have used cheap materials to launch its new line of American records (much as the Cameo, Velvet-Tone, and Lincoln labels would all do later). Instead, the company used an expensive label with elaborate writing with a prominent “B” at the top. In fact, compared to many other lateral recordings of the late acoustic era (towards 1925), most modern collectors prize Brunswick records as among the best acoustic records ever made, and are of the opinion they are particularly well-engineered and bright in the higher registers. 11
The Temporary Demise of Columbia, the Rise of Brunswick
Due to stock speculations and over production, Columbia records (one of the two largest companies around 1920), went into bankruptcy and receivership. While this was bad news for Columbia and its artists, it was a real opportunity for Brunswick, who quickly stepped in and became the number two producer of records and machines, only after Victor. Brunswick subsequently produced a 50-page record catalogue in early 1921, with dealerships quickly opening up all over the United States.12 13
Once Brunswick had elegant cabinets and a stockpile of well-made records, in order to continue its focus on quality and successfully compete against Victor, it then needed a group of executives who could guide its musical output coherently, cogently, and with the continued sense of high quality. This pragmatism led to the hiring of Walter B. Rogers and Walter Gustave “Gus” Haenschen around this time. Neither of these executives were wanting for experience.
Two Leaders of Experience and Accomplishment
Rogers’ parents had immigrated to the U.S. from the United Kingdom around 1860, and he was born five years later. He studied at the Conservatory of Cincinnati, and by 1899 was offered a position with John Philip Sousa’s band as cornet soloist. By the following year, he was recording for the Eldridge R. Johnson company and the year after that, he signed an exclusive contract with Victor records, playing solos often with the accompaniment of Sousa’s band. Rogers also turned out to be an able arranger and arranged a most of Victor’s early dance records in the early 1900s. 14 During his tenure at Victor, Rogers had occasionally directed the very successful Victor Military Band.15
Rogers worked as Victor’s musical director until he left in 1916. He then worked for Par-O-Ket discs until it was sold in 1918. This was followed by a two-year stint at the New York Recording Laboratories which manufactured discs by the Paramount company. In the January 1920 edition of The Talking Machine World, it was announced that Rogers had assumed the duties of “General Music Director” at Brunswick. This would shortly thereafter be the more specific position of “Director of Classical Recording.”16 17
Right Place, Right Time
If ever there was a right man in the right place at the right time, it would be Gus Haenschen. Phenomenally well-educated (in both classical music and engineering), intelligent, and endowed with exquisitely good taste, his influence upon both Brunswick records and the popular music industry in America in general is inestimable. Just as it would be difficult to imagine The Beatles without their producer George Martin, it is extremely hard to think of many of the bands which recorded for the Brunswick label without Haenschen.
Haenschen was born in St. Louis in 1889 of German ancestry. He graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in 1912. In addition to his intense classical music training, Haenschen also knew Scott Joplin personally (whose Maple Leaf Rag Haenschen would record with his own banjo orchestra for Columbia’s private recording service in 1916). He had also met a number of other black ragtime composers and performers then resident in the St. Louis area. While in college, Haenschen was connected to a number of college bands in which he either played and/or directed.
In addition, he also worked in a store which sold gramophones, and he personally made connections with the Brunswick company and actively promoted their products due to the Victor company being unable to fulfill their obligations. He did this by showing the largest department store in St. Louis (Scrugg-Vandervoort, where Haenschen had worked) that the Brunswick machines were superior to the Victor, in that its tonearm, called the “Ultona” could easily be maneuvered so that it could play both lateral and vertically cut records (i.e., records such as those issued by Victor, and also the “hill and dale” records by Thomas Edison’s company. 18 19
James A. Drake interviewed Haenschen at various times between 1972 and 1979.20 It is fortunate that these interviews have been posted online by Mainspring Press, as they provide both researchers (and those with just a general interest) great insight into the culture and formation of the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Co. as it transitioned into the record business within the United States.21
In these interview sessions, Haenschen makes no bones about the phenomenal cultural differences between the Victor record company and Brunswick. Both Columbia and Victor appeared to have had a more rigid or “bureaucratic” approach to the promotion of their recordings. But Brunswick had a more pragmatic, creative, and even imaginative methodology.
According to Haenschen, both Victor and Columbia had a specific, set date for the announcement of their new releases each month. Brunswick, on the other hand, had “flexible release dates” so they could issue new releases when they felt that the moment was right. He states that they did this to “scoop” the other companies. This would be achieved by sending representatives (as Victor and the other companies would do) to musical shows and try to second-guess which songs might be successful.
If the Brunswick scouts had a good hunch about a song, based on audience reaction, Brunswick could get together an orchestra, a singer, an arrangement, followed by a recording, and have records in the stores weeks before Victor or Columbia’s monthly release dates. Furthermore, Brunswick could release a record any day of the week. In addition, Brunswick could offer a higher retainer to artists, which Victor could not match, as well as a higher percentage of royalties.22
Why Brunswick’s Recording Technology was Top of the Line at the Time
Haenschen also related much about the technology of the time – particularly how, in 1919, Brunswick had to use a completely different recording system to that of the Victor Company, as Victor’s recording system was under patent. That is the reason why Frank Hofbauer (who designed Brunswick’s recording equipment) designed a lateral-cut system which mirrored his work at the Edison company (i.e., using a groove width of 1/250th of an inch and a speed of 80 r.p.m., using wax recording blanks which Hofbauer had used at Edison, an electric coil on the cutting stylus – which heated the cutter and made a cleaner groove on the master – and by using cast lead weights to power the motor. This was because electricity was still subject to surges and was not reliable in 1919 as it could cause fluctuations in the speed of the turntable).23 So the high quality of recording equipment design at Edison was applied at Brunswick.24
Haenschen’s Responsibilities within Brunswick
Haenschen’s responsibilities also involved scrutinizing the arrangements used by the orchestras Brunswick recorded. This not only included the placement and positioning of musicians in front of the recording horn, but also the nature of the very arrangements themselves. For instance, dance bands in the early 1920s would add certain additional notes – the fifth degree of the musical scale, for instance – to the arrangements because they sounded well with dance hall acoustics. However, in the acoustic recording studio, the extra fifth notes of the western scale would make a song sound like it was in a minor key (i.e., the third degree of the western scale was lowered) instead of a major key.25
Haenschen even supervised the type of instruments used. Generally, Stroh Violins were employed in recording sessions because they had a special horn attached to them to increase their volume and so they wouldn’t be completely drowned out by the other instruments. Most bands would be comprised of twelve or thirteen musicians. Banjoists were placed right next to the horn so they could be heard a little. Brass players would be placed on either side of the bleachers in front of the horn, strings as close as possible like the banjo, clarinets would be placed in front of saxophones, and so on. If there were only a small number of musicians, Haenschen would have the saxophones and/or clarinets run down to be in front of the horn for when they were playing a solo, and then run behind the other musicians after they had finished their solo.26
The crooner Nick Lucas was an accompanist playing banjo and guitar early in Haenschen’s tenure at Brunswick. When Lucas initially started singing, because of the quiet nature of his voice, he came perilously close to sticking his head completely inside the recording horn. Haenschen gave singers a certain number of “tricks” to increase comprehensibility. For instance, he would tell singers to place the letter “J” after the letter “S” whenever they sang, so that the word “Shade” would become “S-Jade.” 27
As the reader might glean from the above, Gus Haenschen had the education and training to be involved in product design, even though he was not. In addition, he clearly understood all technical aspects of recording thoroughly. He was a fine classically trained musician, and capable of accompanying soloists on the piano, although he did not do that often, except at the beginning of his tenure at Brunswick. He had the ability to understand what “recorded best,” how to do it, and could change arrangements of dance bands so that they sounded well and were musically effective. And, as we will see, he had an uncanny ear for what constituted an outstanding dance band, thereby ensuring that the label’s various bands consistently produced a quality product.
Claim Regarding Personnel
No one’s memory is perfect. In another interview conducted by Cecil Leeson in 1973, Haenschen stated that most of the Brunswick bands were completely interchangeable, and that the personnel for all the Brunswick bands were almost exactly the same as the orchestra with which he has become almost synonymous (namely, Carl Fenton’s Orchestra, the Brunswick “house band.”)28
While Brian Rust’s discography of Dance Bands does not completely contradict the above statement, I am inclined to mostly disbelieve it, in spite of the fact that Rust often lists most Fenton personnel as unknown. This is because only Bennie Krueger’s and Ray Millers’ orchestras were in New York. The others were either in the Midwest or on the West Coast, and mostly recording in those areas. Further, they demonstrably had no similarities in personnel with either Krueger’s, Miller’s, or Fenton’s orchestras.
The main exceptions are that of trumpeter Hymie Farberman, possibly drummer Willie Farberman, and violinist Ruby [or Rubie] Greenberg, who appear to have recorded for both the “Carl Fenton” group and for Bennie Krueger’s orchestra, and both in New York City. Brian Rust’s discographies are also not perfect, but they do provide a good indication of much of the personnel of early jazz and dance bands of the 1920s.29
A Brief Note about “Stock Arrangements”
During the 1920s and 1930s publishing houses often released what are referred to as “stock arrangements.” Obviously, in the days before FINALE notation software, two options existed for creating arrangements: hand-notation and the printing press. The former was difficult and time-consuming; the latter was initially expensive to the publishing firm, but extremely fast in producing a performance of any given song. A song’s popularity might happen quickly, so bands might need arrangements equally as fast. In addition, both black and white bands used these “stock arrangements” as either a basis for a performance, or ad verbatim. As an example, in Chicago both Elmer Schoebel and Mel Stitzel wrote dozens, perhaps hundreds, of arrangements for the Melrose Publishing Company, valued as being “hot” or “Jazz” in their content. Further, Archie Bleyer’s stock arrangements were recalled by both black and white bands as being of the highest quality and being the most technically demanding.30
I have been listening to this music for many decades, and it is informative to make aural comparisons between different performances of obvious stock arrangements. For example, early in Fletcher Henderson’s career, Henderson’s musicians stay relatively closely to the stock. However, by the time Henderson recorded Copenhagen on October 30, 192431, he was starting to stray from the printed score significantly. The Oriole Terrace Orchestra (hereafter OTO) also recorded the same tune, and while similarities may be heard between the two renditions, there is clearly less improvisation in the OTO’s version.
However, even the lightest touch can turn a stock arrangement from something ineffably dull into something quite magical. An example might be to compare the OTO version of the song, Oh, Mabel,32 to that made by the California Ramblers. While the OTO’s version is certainly workman-like, Adrian Rollini’s bass sax solo on the second chorus and Stan King’s use of the kazoo on the third chorus makes the Rambler’s version more interesting, in my opinion, than that of the OTO.
What now follows is a brief discussion of what I subjectively consider to be the highest quality dance bands which recorded for Brunswick during the acoustic era.
The Oriole Terrace Orchestra
I once played a recording by the Oriole Terrace Orchestra to a very knowledgeable jazz historian who taught at a major American University. While he did seem impressed, the response was along the lines that they were obviously a good pick-up band from Chicago. Also, Gus Haenschen, in his interviews with James A. Drake, mostly remembered only the leaders, Dan Russo and Ted Fiorito. Further, he misidentified the band’s name as “The Orioles,”33 although he did correctly remember that they had a steady engagement at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago, hence the reason why many of their recordings were made in that city.34
I find the above occurrences highly surprising. As I did more and more research into the bands which recorded for Brunswick during its acoustic era, much of the time using the Library of Congress’ website “Chronicling America” (wherein one can do searches of many American newspapers from 1777 to 1963), I found more articles, advertisements, and notifications of the OTO than any other of these early Brunswick bands in this article.
Not only that, but I discovered more notices of them broadcasting across the continental United States in the early 1920s than any of the other groups as well. While this obviously does not conclusively prove that the OTO was significantly more prominent or visible than any of the other bands discussed in this article, it might indicate that possibility.
My first musical experience was with a copy of the OTO playing Swanee Smiles on Brunswick when I was 12 years old. When I told this to a collector in Aurora, Illinois, he disappeared for a few seconds, and returned with an exact copy of this record in very good condition which he gave to me as a gift. A couple of years ago, I purchased a third copy in excellent condition on Ebay.
Tim Gracyk’s measure of extremely high sales for a 78 r.p.m. record from the industry’s earliest years is the following: if, after purchasing several collections (from Estates or wherever), you find six copies of an item, then it most likely sold very well.35 36 While it is not possible to know record sales from the earliest years of the recording industry, based on my personal experience, (because I bought copies Swanee Smiles in good condition in New Zealand, the U.S. and in Canada) it is safe to say that there are strong indications that many recordings by the OTO (and Swanee Smiles in particular), sold very well.37
A newspaper article in 1922 discusses how the OTO will be playing at B.F. Keith’s Theater in Indianapolis during that week.41 (Parenthetically, if you were performing on the Keith or Orpheum theater circuits in those days, you were in the big leagues). On September 16, 1922, there is a notice in the Indianapolis Times that the OTO will present a concert at the Brunswick Shop on North Pennsylvania St., and that this is a compliment to the Manager of the Store, W. J. Baker.
I have found a review written in 1923 by Walter D. Hickman, Ten Best Keith Acts of the Variety Season,42 in which Hickman stated: “Of all the orchestras of the season at Keith’s,43 I selected the Oriole Terrace Orchestra [as the best]. To my mind this organization is unexcelled on the stage.” Considering that some of his other selected acts included Olsen and Johnson, Marion Harris, and Sophie Tucker, this is extremely high praise indeed.
The Society pages in the Indiana press announced that the OTO’s record of “Chicago” was one of the best records of the week.44 Another Society page in the Indiana press announced a concert and dance being given by the OTO.45 Also, that the orchestra has been a headliner at Keith’s in five large cities, and that they will start another engagement after the first day of 1923. The event is listed as the largest of its kind in the area. In a review of the event in the same paper on December 29, it was reported that there were over 300 couples dancing to the OTO, that there was a concert of both “Classical and Popular” music,46 and that there were 12 musicians in the group, “…each of them an individual artist.” The article goes on to say, “…The orchestra eclipsed with its artistic and novel playing and musical combinations and was acclaimed by those who heard it as the finest dance aggregation that has appeared this season.” And an advertisement in the same newspaper dated December 13 calls the OTO, “The Greatest Dance Orchestra Outside of New York.” So, these musicians were clearly very versatile as well as being very accomplished.
In 1923 an advertisement (posing as an article) the same Manager of the Brunswick Shop47 (W. J. Baker, again) tries to persuade potential customers to buy any number of Brunswick Band recordings, including those by the OTO (which is mentioned first), Isham Jones, Gene Rodemich, and Carl Fenton (whom we have established was not a real person).48
An article in the in the same newspaper dated October 4 of the same year, discusses how locals can take pride in one of the orchestra members, “Mutt” Hayes (who plays clarinet and saxophone) as he and the orchestra are playing a local concert at the Riverside Park Dance Pavilion.
In 1924, an article about the OTO appeared which, for the sequentially second time I can find, names the leaders for the OTO: Dan Russo (“Director”) and “Teddy” Fiorito (“Pianist and Coach”). Entitled, “Oriole Orchestra to Appear Here,” at Mr. Baker’s Brunswick store on North Pennsylvania, it announces that there will be a concert on the last two days of National Music Week, May 9 and 10.49
The OTO’s Brunswick record of Swanee Smiles was advertised on page 7 of the Seattle Star, on January 16, 1923, so the OTO was receiving significant press coverage all over the continental U.S.
A Full-Page Spread
And on page 8B of the Indiana Fort Wayne Journal Gazette from September 30th, 1923, there is a full-page spread devoted entirely to the OTO, with biographies of the two leaders of the band, and large advertisements for Brunswick on all sides. The page is titled, “Famous Oriole Terrace Orchestra Here Wednesday: Wonder Orchestra to play at River View Park Pavilion, Wednesday October 3, Brought Here by Iota Club.” On this page, the newspaper credits the OTO with the popularization of the Chicago radio station, WJAZ, and further stated that “…Each member of The Oriole Terrace Orchestra has been selected for his mastery of the instrument he plays…Each member…has been recruited from the most famous orchestras in the world.” There is also a whole paragraph praising Nick Lucas as both an instrumentalist on guitar, banjo, ukulele, and also that he “…possesses a fine clear voice that lends an even brighter hue to many of the orchestra’s dances.” Intriguingly, there are five paragraphs devoted to the accordion player, Frankie Papila.50 This section, entitled “Orchestra features Accordion Genius,” gives the following information: “Of a musical family, Papila has played the accordion since the age of eight and has appeared in vaudeville on the Keith circuit since he was eleven. His wonderful interpretive playing has shown him as a genius.” According to the article, the OTO was one of the first orchestras to feature an accordion player as a regular member of a dance orchestra, and that since the OTO many other orchestras followed suit. It continues, “Frankie Papila and his smile will be remembered long after the orchestra has been here.” So, he clearly was a very charismatic performer.
Interestingly, the leaders of the orchestra are only given two paragraphs each. The pianist, Ted “Fiorita” (sic – this should be “Fiorito”) is cited as the composer of “the latest big hit…sweeping the country,” No, No, Nora. Dan Russo (“Director – Violinist”) is mentioned as having previously directed a number of other orchestras including the Third Regiment of Michigan, and the composer of Toot, Toot, Tootsie and how he is unexcelled as a violinist, having been broadcast nationally via WJAZ in Chicago.
A mere pick-up band from Chicago does not get these kinds of notices and gushing displays of public respect. And why does a band barely remembered by a top executive at Brunswick Records get a full page spread in an Indiana newspaper and is referred to in the press as a “Wonder Orchestra” and “The Greatest Dance Orchestra Outside of New York”? The OTO is clearly a 1920s dance band ripe for rediscovery. So how did this group come about? And who were they, exactly?
Originating in Detroit
While there is obviously a Chicago connection, the OTO did not originate from there. The OTO had been organized especially for the opening of a new restaurant in Detroit, Michigan, called the Oriole Terrace.51 Opening originally as the Duplex Theater in 1915, the building was designed by Fuller Claflin. The original theaters seated approximately 750 people. It was thereafter transformed into a ballroom by the architect C. Howard Crane in 1922. After 1922, it was run by Jean Goldkette and operated as a “jazz ball.” It was later renamed “Grand Terrace,” and after a fire in April 1940, it was to become the Latin Quarters, and finally Grand Quarters before becoming abandoned around 2000, then demolished in 2011.52
Meanwhile, in Chicago of 1920, the manager of the Edgewater Beach (a hotel complex), William M. Dewey, had hired Paul Biese and his nine-piece orchestra to provide first-class entertainment for the affluent clientele who availed themselves of the amenities of the Edgewater: shops, swimming pools, tennis courts, fine restaurants, dancing and classical concerts. But in 1922, word had reached Dewey of the OTO, so he brought them out from Detroit, and engaged them at the Edgewater as a summer replacement for Biese. The OTO, as planned, returned to Detroit after the end of the engagement, although the Oriole Terrace dance hall closed shortly thereafter. But Biese’s orchestra did not return in the fall as anticipated, which left Dewey without an orchestra, so he went to Cleveland to find the OTO to return them to the Edgewater.53
According to one source, the OTO was signed to Brunswick records before the band was even formed. About eight sides were recorded on their first session,54 and a fee of $50.00 per side was paid, but it is not made clear whether this included the entire band, or whether that was just the payment to the two leaders. The band recorded with Brunswick up to 1923 when they moved to the Victor recording company. 55 However, Rust states unequivocally that the band does not move to Victor until 1925.56 Bad acoustics on the ceiling at Edgewater Beach were corrected before the band left, at a cost of $700. They band was then, apparently, recommended to one Bill Karsas who, in approximately 1926, decided to buy out their contract. Fiorito was paid $8,000 (it is not made clear by whom), and Russo took over the band.57
The OTO – aided by those Brunswick recordings – thereby achieved great notoriety in Chicago. It also helped that they started broadcasting live (from 1924) on a regular basis from the Edgewater hotel via the local channel, WEBH, which they often did with their guitar and banjo player, Nick Lucas, who sang a variety of songs (e.g., Charley My Boy, No, No, Nora, and Toot, Toot, Tootsie) written by the two leaders, Dan Russo and Ted Fiorito.58
Teodorico Salvatore Fiorito (1900 – 1971) was born in Newark, New Jersey, and while still in his teens, he played piano with the Harry Yerkes bands in New York City. In 1921, he moved to Chicago and became co-leader of the OTO with Dan Russo.59
Dan Russo (1885 – 1944) was born in Chicago and played violin both as a soloist as well as with the OTO. He had established the OTO before the arrival of Fiorito, and the band went on to perform at the Aragon and Trianon ballrooms in Chicago.60
After leaving the OTO, singer Nick Lucas (1897 – 1982, and who was also born in Newark, New Jersey) went on to a relatively spectacular career in vaudeville, night clubs, “soundies” and Warner Brothers’ musicals.lxi
One of the reed players, Clayton Naset (1895 – 1966) who played tenor and soprano saxophone, as well as the rothphone,lxii was a prominent member of the OTO. He was born in Stoughton, Wisconsin, and was working as a musician in Chicago when he wrote the phenomenally popular song, Dreamy Melody. He also wrote Susie which was recorded by Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines.63 This was not the only time the OTO recorded songs also recorded by the Wolverines, as both also recorded Copenhagen, and I Need Some Pettin’.
But apart from these tantalizingly small details about this orchestra and five of its members, there really is precious little that we know about this group. What we do have, however, are some glorious recordings they have left behind.
As for the tune Copenhagen, it was composed by Charlie Davis and first performed by his jazz band on April 5, 1924, at the Ohio Theater in Indianapolis, Indiana. Apparently, Bix Beiderbecke was present, and he and the Wolverines Orchestra recorded it on May 6, 1924, for Gennett.64 The OTO version was recorded on October 18 of the same year, and according to Rust, it was most likely the third recording of it. Further, Rust’s jazz discography lists recordings of the tune no fewer than 43 times. As discussed previously, Fletcher Henderson’s band recorded it after the OTO.
It is fascinating to compare the OTO version with that of the Wolverines, as both are quite similar. The Wolverines version starts off almost immediately with a clarinet solo followed by one of Bix’s earliest cornet solos, where you can hear him “bending” notes. The OTO version is more “strait-laced,” I suspect because most of the musicians had classical training, but you hear passages which are more chromatic in nature, and you also hear portamentia at the beginning of notes at the beginning of the arrangement, which is imitative of Bix’s technique. A clarinet solo is also heard at the beginning, and the trumpet solo which follows, while not in the same realm as that of Bix, is still very pleasant. And for those of us who believe that listening to accordion music puts us in the seventh circle of musical hell, one would do well to listen to Frank Papila’s very musical and jazzy breaks, as proof of his exceptional musicality.
Swanee Smiles65 (which I’ve always categorized as a “sort-of” rag) is listed as having been written by the song and ragtime writing team, Fred Hager and Justin Ring. I was not able to locate a copy of the stock, nor a piano instrumental version. However, a vocal version is readily available, as it is now public domain material, having been published by Sam Fox in 1922.66 It was not uncommon for publishers to issue vocal versions of instrumentals (one of the most famous being Maple Leaf Rag). We know that Hager and Ring were successful in publishing, as Hager reportedly received advance royalties for Swanee Smiles, bought a motorboat with it, named the boat after the composition, only to have the motor explode and destroy the boat.67 Hager and Ring composed a number of rags, the most famous of which is probably Gloria.
It is fitting that Fred Hager, like the OTO, was a recording pioneer, having made violin recordings on cylinder in the 1890s, and led a number of bands for Zon-O-Phone (starting in 1901), Columbia, Edison, and Okeh in the 1920s. In fact, Hager supervised the Mamie Smith recording of Crazy Blues, one of the first African American vocal recordings of blues ever made, and the first time a black singer was accompanied by a black band. Hager and Ring had worked together as early as 1899. Hager retired from the recording business in 1923, and managed bands thereafter.68
I have located several recorded versions of Swanee Smiles, so it was clearly a popular piece. The one by the Savoy Havana Band recorded in London, UK, November 2, 1922 (on Columbia 3203), shares the most in common with the OTO version (recorded around the same date). This would indicate both performances were both based upon the same stock arrangement, the salient differences being Billy Mayerl on the Savoy recording playing a piano instead of a celeste towards the end, the Savoy band using a different type of train whistle at the end, the OTO version being taken at a more relaxed pace and having a greater range of subtle dynamics. Along with the “hot” chorus at the end of the OTO version, there is a more audible virtuoso banjo break at the end. A third version by Clyde Doerr and his Orchestra (Victor 18981, August 29, 1922) seems to deviate the most from the “stock” mostly in the transition passages between the main sections.69
Ukulele Lady70 was published in 1925 by Irving Berlin, Inc., New York, with lyrics by Gus Kahn and music by Richard A. Whiting.71 Stereotyping lyrics aside, the music is masterful, and the OTO’s version of the stock, quite exceptional. The introduction uses chromaticism, and there are extensive solos by the saxophone, as well as duos by the trumpets using harmon mutes. Around the two-minute mark, there is a “stop-time” version of the chorus, followed by a saxophone break which “bends” the note in a more successful imitation of Bix than in Copenhagen72. The coda is especially clever, with a short saxophone duo break, punctuated on the last beat with only the cymbals.
Part of what makes the OTO’s recordings so delightful is not just their clean and sharp articulation, but their manipulation of the stock arrangements, and the subtle use of orchestration (e.g., the celeste in Chicago [ironically recorded in New York!] and Swanee Smiles.)
Bennie Krueger’s Orchestra
Bennie Krueger (1898 – 1967)73 was yet another of these musicians born in Newark, New Jersey. The 1900, 1910, and 1920 US Census confirms him as living with his parents, Abraham and Annie Krueger, in Newark, NJ.74 While his parents played no musical instruments, they apparently loved music. Krueger began playing violin at age 4, so he clearly had training in classical music, and he later attended South Side High School in Newark. A newspaper article in 1954 reveals that he broke “into show business as saxophonist with a jazz band in New York.”75 That jazz band was, of course, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (hereafter ODJB), and we will get back to that shortly.
Not all of the last statement is entirely true. The earliest document I could locate relating to Krueger is his World War I Draft Registration dated September 12th, 1918. While Kreuger clearly was a prodigy, his occupation on this document is listed as, “Musical Director” at the Ritz Restaurant on Nevins Street in Brooklyn, New York. So clearly by the age of 20, he was already rising to prominence in the New York music scene, and by February 1920 he had started recording for the Gennett label as “Bennie Krueger’s Melody Syncopators,” as well as for the Olympic, Pathé, and Grey Gull labels.76 In addition to playing violin and saxophone, Krueger also could play the piano, so he was clearly very talented, and very pragmatic, being able to replace other members of his band if they were out sick.77
But getting back to the ODJB, Krueger is more famous these days as being the performer added to the ODJB to make their records more commercial, and sound more like a dance band of the time. A number of sources state that the decision to add a saxophone was made by one or more executives at the Victor record company.78 At any rate, Krueger was definitely one of the first saxophonists to record with a jazz band.
The occurrence for which Krueger was more likely personally responsible was the addition of vocalist Al Bernard to the recordings of the ODJB. Bernard, like the original members of the ODJB, hailed from New Orleans and had worked with Krueger before on the Gennett label, although Bernard apparently had also previously worked with the pianist, J. Russel Robinson, so that might have been another reason for Bernard’s collaboration with the ODJB.79
By 1922, Bennie Krueger “and his Brunswick Orchestra” was performing weekday evenings at “Club Durant” at Delmonicos in New York City,80 the Palais Royal, and the Pavilion Royal on Long Island.81 Krueger was not just a New York/New Jersey phenomenon. He also played in the Midwest as well. A St. Louis writer described him as follows: “Possessing a radiant personality and an abundance of enthusiasm, Krueger injects these qualities into his numbers, the applause received is genuine and deserving.”82 He performed at T.D. Music Store in St. Louis,83 The Missouri Theater,84 and his records were advertised by Brunswick as far away as Moscow, Idaho.85
After his stints recording for Gennett and Victor, Krueger was brought to Brunswick by Gus Haenschen, who recalled, “Bennie was one of the great saxophonists of all time, on a par with Rudy Wiedoeft. We were so pleased to have both of them under contract at Brunswick. They were good friends, by the way. Although Bennie didn’t write songs like Rudy did, they were pretty much equal…[as instrumentalists].”86
From 1926 to 1929, his orchestra played on several radio shows broadcasting from the uptown Tivoli in Chicago. He was a master of ceremonies there for stage shows.87
A number of famous jazz musicians got their start in Krueger’s orchestras over the years, including Artie Shaw and Benny Goodman. In later years, Krueger directed radio programmes in New York for his own orchestra and that of Rudy Vallee in the 1930s, and from 1945 to 1949 he was musical director of a radio show in California. Towards the end of his life, he worked as a bridge instructor, in a travel agency, and a children’s clothing store in East Orange, New Jersey.88
Now, imagine flipping over the OTO 78 rpm record of Swanee Smiles and hearing Krueger’s version of Where the Bamboo Babies Grow89 for the first time. There were several recordings issued at around the same time, all of which, in my opinion, are more “ricky-tick” or stilted in their use of rhythm. Kreuger’s version really swings all the way through, and also has an introduction and an ending which are, if not original, then are apparently quite different from the stock as they employ a couple of bars of “stop-time” and other ear-catching effects.
Kreuger takes the solo at the beginning, and, having just played with the ODJB, he performs very nice call and response patterns with the violin and later the trombone. Hymie Farberman (or possibly Benny Bloom) gives a long but graceful trumpet solo near the end, and a banjo break ends the performance. His musicians are far superior in the mastery of their instruments than in any of the other recordings I have heard. I believe anyone hearing this record for the first time would have been astonished at its clarity and articulation in comparison to other versions.
I have located, in total, seven versions of this song, including a vocal by Frank Crumit,90 so clearly this was not an obscure tune when it first came out in 1922. QRS even released a piano roll (2064) as “played by Zez Confrey” in December of that year, a month after Kreuger’s recording of it.91
Tin Pan Alley veterans Lew Brown (lyrics) and Walter Donaldson (music) published this song with Shapiro, Bernstein & Co. Inc. Donaldson (1893 – 1947) was the son of a piano teacher and was the composer of many standards.92 Brown was born in Russia in 1893 and died in New York in 1958. He worked with a number of established composers (e.g., Albert Von Tilzer) but his most famous collaborators were Buddy DeSylva and Ray Henderson.93
Pleasure Mad,94 a composition by New Orleans clarinetist and soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet (1897 – 1959), has become a jazz classic in recent years. One of its most celebrated recordings was by Charles Creath’s Jazz-O-Maniacs in St. Louis, made on December 2, 1924. Surprisingly, Kreuger’s group recorded this tune almost six months earlier on June 24. Rust’s Jazz discography lists no fewer than 14 separate recordings of this composition. Having grown up in New Orleans, Bechet became familiar with or played with many of the most respected early New Orleans jazz musicians, including Bunk Johnson, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, and Freddie Keppard. In the mid-1920s, Bechet toured France, but was imprisoned for a shooting incident and later deported back to the United States. He returned to France in 1951 and spent the rest of his life there.95 Kreuger’s version, while perhaps not the type of jazz one hears in Creath’s recording, is nonetheless a raging arrangement, and comes as close to jazz as “hot” dance music is ever able to.
Krueger’s Charley, My Boy96 begins with a virtuosic banjo solo by virtuoso banjoist Harry Reser, who went on to great acclaim with his own band later in the 1920s. The trumpet improvises a little at beginning, followed by a respectable vocal by Billy Jones with sax obbligato underneath. Phil Ohman and “Victor Arden” follow up with an energetic piano duo which ends in off-beat chords accentuated down the keyboard, and the band continues with stop-time effects with a brief saxophone solo towards the end. Keep in mind that Brunswick really “pulled out all the stops” with this recording by including one of their better-known vocalists, a famous piano duo, and perhaps the greatest banjoist of the 1920s and 1930s, for the recording.
This song was written by Fiorito and Gus Kahn. Kahn was born in Germany in 1886, emigrated to Chicago in 1890, and died in Beverly Hills in 1941. He wrote the lyrics for Toot, Toot, Tootsie with Fiorito and collaborated on a number of other classic songs including, Ain’t We Got Fun, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Dream a Little Dream of Me.97
Some might fault Kreuger’s early recordings as “not being real jazz,” but to me, that is summing up their virtues and calling them a vice. I don’t think these recordings were ever intended to be the classic improvisation which one might find in the work of Bix Beiderbecke, in spite of Kreuger being famous for having recorded with the ODJB. However, there were two takes released of Where The Bamboo Babies Grow, and if you listen carefully, you’ll hear significant differences between the two. How much of it was spontaneous? Seeing as these were recorded on the same session, I would say that they are. Regardless of any nitpicking about improvisation, it is my belief that these sides stand firmly on their own as fine examples of eloquent and accomplished musicianship.
Isham Jones and his Orchestra
Although Isham (pronounced Eye-shum) Jones (1894 – 1956) was born in Coalton, Ohio, he grew up in Saginaw, Michigan, and like Bennie Krueger he started off by learning the violin, later extending his range to piano, string-bass, and tenor saxophone. His father was a coal miner, and for a while Jones worked at the same job until he realized he could earn more from music and have an easier life.98
In 1915 Jones moved to Chicago, and by 1918 the prodigious Jones had established a seven-piece orchestra (eventually playing at the Rainbo Gardens where the band increased to eleven players). During this time, he did a stint in the army.99
Another characteristic Jones shares with Krueger is that he was one of the very first tenor saxophone players to record. As author Scott Yanow points out, while Coleman Hawkins became a pacesetter on tenor saxophone, Jones’ jazz playing predates that of Hawkins.100 101
Trumpeter Louis Panico became an important addition to Jones’ band, having had lessons with King Oliver. Apparently, Bix Beiderbecke and Louis Armstrong were both fans of Panico’s playing.
Jones was a noted arranger and toured with his band in London in 1924.102 He was also heavily involved in the publishing industry, being a partner in the Milton Weil Music Publishing firm. In addition, he penned a number of famous songs, including I’ll See You in My Dreams, and It Had to be You.103
The press made quite a deal over his apparent wealth, having reportedly made over $800,000 in royalties from his songs and phonograph records by the age of twenty-eight.104 He also toured the Midwest extensively,105 and broadcast nationally, like Krueger and the OTO.106
After his early recordings, Jones disbanded and re-banded his group a couple of times. He recorded some radio transcriptions in 1940 and 1947, but by this time he was largely retired, and he died in Hollywood, Florida.107
Aunt Hagar’s Children Blues108 is also known as Aunt Hagar’s Children, and Aunt Hagar’s Blues. The original version credits James Timothy “Tim” Brymn as the lyricist,109 published by Handy Bros. Music Co. Inc. However, a newer version published in 1921 by Richmond Robbins (with Isham Jones’ Orchestra on the front cover) does not mention Brymn’s name at all. While I can’t find more information at this point, it might appear that after Isham Jones’ band played and recorded the number, it might have been of greater benefit to Handy to have a new version published with Jones’ band on the front cover.110 111
Jones’ recording is closer in time to the earliest jazz bands, and certainly reflects those influences, with most of the instrumentalists doing glissandi and portamenti at the beginning, and the clarinet taking the first solo using those effects. Around the one minute and fifteen second mark, we hear a “vamp” played by piano and banjo which is then underneath the trumpet doing a solo with the wah-wah or plunger mute (presumably Louis Panico). Nonetheless, there are very clear structural ideas being brought across in the arrangement, regardless of its attempts to emulate “rough” recordings of early jazz bands.
The Library of Congress has documentation of Al Short and Will Mont copyrighting Poplar Street Blues112 (Brunswick 2877) on December 17, 1924.113 However, Jones recorded the song over three months before it was copyrighted at the Library of Congress.114 115 His band’s recording is technically much smoother than the first, and the arrangement more polished. In the first chorus, there is a trumpet call and response pattern with the reeds. At around the one minute and twenty-five second mark, there is a stop time effect with banjo providing the forward driving rhythm, and during the repeat of the section, the trumpet with a wah-wah (plunger) mute improvises over the top. Overall, the style of the arrangement is moving towards the smoother dance music of the late 1920s which, in turn, moved towards swing music.
Gene Rodemich and his Orchestra
Thanks to The Missouri Historical Society, there exists a cornucopia of information about (and materials on) Eugene Frederick “Gene” Rodemich (1890 – 1934). Born in St. Louis, the press referred to him as The Ragtime Paderewski.116 Rodemich’s father (Henry) was a dentist, and he and his wife (Barbara)117 also had a daughter.118
There is not just a connection between Gus Haenschen and Scott Joplin (who taught Haenschen how to play Joplin’s music), but also one between Haenschen and Rodemich. Haenschen reported that Rodemich was a year younger than he but was well-known before Haenschen ever was as a band leader, pianist, and head of an orchestra exchange.119
Haenschen reported in another Drake interview that Rodemich was a good all-round pianist but played entirely by ear. Because Haenschen was a good arranger and good at sight-reading, Rodemich hired him as an arranger and Haenschen would sometimes “sub” for Rodemich when he was overbooked. Haenschen takes credit for writing down Rodemich’s music and doing arrangements for him. Apparently, Haenschen knew Rodemich’s father before he knew Gene, because, as the result of a diving accident Haenschen lost some of his front teeth, and Rodemich’s father created a bridge to replace them all.120
Rodemich’s father was, according to Haenschen, very financially successful, having a large dental practice. As a result, the family lived very well, and Gene could afford to take risks, including investing in a publishing concern, and creating an orchestra exchange – which could have lost a lot of money. Fortunately for Gene, the orchestra exchange became very successful, and Haenschen bought it from Rodemich in 1913.121 In addition, in 1915, Rodemich also married for a second time, and to Henrietta Pauk, the 19-year-old daughter of H. E. Pauk, a millionaire manufacturer.122
Another prodigious talent, Rodemich played on the Governor’s boat as it accompanied President Taft on the Mississippi to New Orleans, at the tender age of nineteen. He then spent two years in Chicago after which he returned to St. Louis. Rodemich also accompanied a singer in London, U.K., for a time. 123
Rodemich and Haenschen also worked together as a small publishing interest in St. Louis, sometimes publishing through Scott Joplin’s publisher, John Stark (Stark Music Company).124 Due to the close working relationship between Rodemich and Haenschen, this is the reason why, when Brunswick first set up its record business in the United States, Rodemich was one of the first people with whom Haenschen signed a contract on behalf of Brunswick.125
The local press announces this arrangement as early as 1919, with Rodemich’s “Sunset Orchestra” travelling to New York at the behest of Haenschen, to record twelve phonograph records, and also to play at the Biltmore Hotel.126 More than twelve records were made over the years, but not all in that year. In 1919, four sides were initially recorded, but I have never been able to find copies. Two were recorded in 1921 and never released. The earliest of Rodemich’s recordings that I’ve been able to locate dates from approximately 1920 (Margie). These early sides sound a little like the Green Brothers’ Novelty Orchestra (with an emphasis on marimba playing). Rodemich was yet to produce the snappy arrangements for which he would become celebrated, such as Blue Grass Blues, made in November of 1923.127
In larger cities, silent films were often accompanied by orchestras. During the 1920s, larger venues often had “name” bands to accompany films, and Rodemich’s group was to become a “name” band. In 1920, The New Grand Central Theater was reopened in St. Louis at a cost of $125,000 (with six months of renovations), and the local press described it as “One of the City’s Most Beautiful.” Gene Rodemich was named its musical director, for accompanying films. To accompany a silent film with an orchestra actually takes significant skill.128 And, more than once, Rodemich, along with his colleagues David Silverman and Allister Wylie, performed as a “piano trio” at the Grand Central.129
Rodemich was not averse to publicly voicing his opinions. On one occasion, he wrote to a local newspaper decrying the opinions of classical music critics as “ignorant” when criticizing “jazz.” Rodemich wrote, “If Mr. [Paul] Whiteman’s playing does not represent the spirit of the age, why is it that a representative audience composed of fifty percent of habitual symphony supporters stood in enthusiasm and shouted for more? Why should our critics have the temerity to suggest that we are lowering the musical standards of the country when in our frank adaptation of the so-called classical airs we are able to implant in the minds of our hearers the true beauty of these airs in a manner they understand and appreciate [?]…” He continued, “…at least give us credit for being sincere in our purpose. If in this revolution from the old order – the restlessness of the times – we can lay the foundation for the American music to be, then we shall have proved our usefulness, as being something more than just ultra-modern dance orchestras.” It is clear from his eloquent words that he felt both a mission and purpose (which is clearly tantamount to an aspiration to quality), with motivations not being purely based upon profits, and believing fully in the excellence of his musical ideas and expression.130
In another article, Haenschen, along with Rodemich is credited with making an improvement in jazz music. Rodemich stated, “…[Haenschen]…conceived the idea of getting real musicians to reorchestrate jazz numbers, according to each instrument its proper place in the orchestra [sic]. People at once appreciated this change. Then [Paul] Whiteman, leader of the most popular orchestra in New York, further commercialized the idea.”131
While recording at Brunswick, Rodemich humbly played amongst other outstanding pianist/bandleaders David H. Silverman (who recorded for Victor),132 and Allister Wylie (who also recorded for Brunswick in 1928) on his own recordings for Brunswick.133 Rodemich did achieve some success in song writing with his composition, Tia Juana, which was recorded by both Bix Beiderbecke and Ferdinand “Jelly Roll” Morton.134
In the early 1930s, Rodemich ended his career writing scores for animated short films for the Van Beuren Corporation,135 and creating musical soundtracks for re-releases of Charlie Chaplin films. On a visit to New York, he met Haenschen again while working for the National Broadcasting Corporation. Sadly, in 1934, Rodemich fell ill while working on a recording session and died shortly thereafter from lobar pneumonia.136
There is further evidence of both Rodemich’s and Fiorito’s expressed belief in the seriousness and quality of their work in 1922. In the St. Louis press, both are found to be in agreement with the head of the St. Louis Women’s Chamber of Commerce (Mrs. J. A. Goodman) in that “…she objected not to the syncopation, but to the discordant noise of cowbells, blaring trumpets and such orchestral ‘trimmings.’” 137
Rodemich then concurs that “…the move away from noisy jazz has been underway for some time. We are softening and subordinating everything to melody, harmony, and rhythm.”
In the same newspaper article, Fiorito agrees equally with Rodemich that “…noisy jazz was passé when the season opened last fall…but the dancers wouldn’t stand for softer music. They said it lacked pep, so we had to jazz things up a bit, to please our patrons…little by little we are getting away from the noise until now there is a well-defined public demand for better syncopation as opposed to jazz. And I think it’s a mighty good thing.” So, not only Rodemich, but also Fiorito were declaring publicly their desire for a serious popular dance music as opposed to what might be interpreted by some as an inferior musical product. Was this just an attempt to calm down public ire at purportedly inferior and unacceptable “noisy jazz” thereby placating the self-styled denizens of respectability? Or was it a genuine desire to show the world that their well-played and well-educated music deserved to be taken seriously? I strongly suspect it was at least a little bit of both.
Nonetheless, the above does not mean that Rodemich (in particular) was without a sense of humour. We can find all sorts of “novelty” effects in his recordings, such as scat singing and the use of plunger mutes amongst the trumpet players. Take the opening of Blue Grass Blues:138 after several very serious-sounding piano chords reminiscent of Rachmaninoff, a piano trio or duo transmutes into a chorus of trumpets using wah-wah mutes, then in the first section the clarinets do portamenti on almost every note, followed by the next section which is almost all “doo-wacka-doo” plunger mute work by the trumpets. The piano work which follows is very clearly done by at least two players, if not three (as we’ve discussed previously, Rodemich was given to performing “trios” with his colleagues Wylie and Silverman.)139 The arrangement also finishes with a “doo-wacka-doo” ending. Regardless of how we perceive these effects today, judging by Rodemich’s own words, he took his musical work seriously despite the comic effects.
Mobile Blues140 has at least twelve entries in Rust’s jazz discography, amongst them recordings by The Bucktown Five (featuring Muggsy Spanier and Volly de Faut and taken at breakneck speed); Bob Haring’s Happy Harmonists in early 1924 (and quite a slow rendition); Fletcher Henderson and his Club Alabam Orchestra (on Vocalion 14800 in the same year. In it, the reeds employ a lot of vibrato, featuring Don Redman soloing on clarinet, and it is probably the hottest version so far); and the version with which I grew up, Wade’s Moulin Rouge Orchestra (Paramount 20295), with Eddie South on violin and a hot piano solo by Teddy Weatherford, recorded in December 1923.
Mobile Blues was copyrighted by Fred Rose and Albert E. Short on December 17, 1923,141 and Rodemich’s rendition of it was recorded less than two months later. It has the most moderate tempo of any recording I have heard. Unlike the Bucktown Five version, it quickly sails into the main theme, played relatively slowly with “hairpin” dynamics (i.e., soft – loud – soft, soft – loud – soft) which shows a fair degree of subtlety. After a passage with the full band, there is a piano duet between Rodemich and his colleague Allister Wylie, using many “Novelty Rag” effects. A chorus using plunger mutes from the trumpet then follows. Trumpets then do chromatic effects up and down, followed by a trombone using the plunger mute. The final chorus uses “doo-wacka-doo” effects from the brass and ends with a “hot” improvised chorus.
So, what are we to make of Haenschen’s comments regarding Rodemich’s level of musicianship? While it is conceivable that Rodemich was strictly an “ear-player” (i.e., he could not read music), I find it hard to believe that he stayed that way for his entire life. It is true that Rube Bloom was musically illiterate, and Bix Beiderbecke also had struggles with musical literacy, but both were two of the most outstanding and consummate jazz musicians of the 1920s. Haenschen is the only source I can find who makes these assertions about Rodemich, and regardless of any “gaps” in Rodemich’s musical education, we can hear, nonetheless, a level of extraordinary musical accomplishment. Not to mention the fact that he took his musical work intensely seriously and responded with not a little irate passion, and with great eloquence, in the local press to accusations that his work was not important or serious.
St. Louis musician and researcher Dan Stevens has provided me with a 1925 photograph of the Rodemich band. Rodemich is standing, stage right, to the piano, and at the keyboard is one Jerry Simon, who later became a respected doctor and surgeon in St. Louis. But in 1925, he was playing piano with the band, and was apparently unable to read or write music. While this does not definitively answer the question regarding the level of Rodemich’s musical literacy, it does indicate that it would be possible for Rodemich to not have good musical literacy and still play in and lead a band effectively.142
Despite the statements regarding Rodemich’s level of musical literacy, his phenomenal attention to detail appears to be evidence of Rodemich being very clever indeed. Especially if Haenschen’s claim that Rodemich was strictly an “ear player,” was completely correct.
Ray Miller and his Orchestra
We have, thus far, travelled from the Midwest to New York, back to the Midwest, and we are now back on the East Coast again.
For a figure so prominent during the 1920s, surprisingly little is known about Ray Miller. It is believed that he was born in 1896, in Reading, Pennsylvania. The next we know of him, he is working in Chicago as a singing waiter in 1916, in the Casino Gardens where the first members of the ODJB were playing. When the ODJB moved to New York, Miller apparently followed forming a band, The Black and White Melody Boys featuring himself on drums and New Orleans musician Tom Brown.143
By 1922 Brown had returned to New Orleans, and Miller modified his dance band to sound more like the type which was then popular.144 Miller, like Ted Lewis, may not have been an outstanding musician in his own right, but like Lewis he certainly had exceptionally good taste, and did not hesitate to add phenomenal jazz musicians to his band. Amongst them were Frank Trumbauer (who claimed that Miller travelled all the way to St. Louis to request him to be in his band); Trombonist Miff Mole; and pianist Rube Bloom. Apparently, Miller’s booking agency had connections to Brunswick, which explains his making records for them. On May 31, 1924, Miller opened at the Beaux Arts Café in Atlantic City.145
The following year Miller’s band was announced as exclusively signed to Brunswick records and that their newest engagement was at The Arcadia in New York.146 Miller eventually took his business to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1927. However, he returned to Chicago the following year, where his band had Muggsy Spanier and Volly De Faut as members.147 By January 1929, Miller’s group had a recurring series of special Brunswick transcriptions for the National Advertising Company.148 Miller stopped recording in 1930, and no further information is available about him. It is believed that he died in 1974.149
Haenschen did not have kind words for Miller: “There’s not much to say about Ray Miller’s band because he had next to nothing to do with it…Ray was a mediocre player—a drummer, but not a very good one—and I didn’t even let him play in his recordings. I put that entire band together myself. I picked really good players who were in our studio band, the same guys who were in my Carl Fenton band, and I conducted them.150 Ray wasn’t even there for some of the recordings because he didn’t add anything. He was just the front man.” Haenschen continues, “The difference between Ray Miller and Isham Jones is like the difference between day and night. Isham was a consummate musician—an excellent sax man who could also double on clarinet, and a real leader…he wasn’t flashy, he didn’t have a ‘show biz’ ego…but man, could he lead a band…He was very interested in the recording process, and he worked with me on the arrangements that were necessary for acoustical recordings. He picked up all of that very easily, and he did his own arrangements for most of his recordings…”151
My personal opinion is that while Ray Miller (like Ted Lewis) probably wasn’t the outstanding musician which some of his band members clearly were, he certainly was more than adequate as a leader and factotum. Had he not a reasonable degree of musical taste and discernment, he would not have been invited with Al Jolson to perform at the White House in 1924.152
On the recordings of Red Hot Mama and Doodle-Doo-Doo, we are fortunate to hear consummate jazzers Miff Mole (trombone) and Frankie Trumbauer (C melody saxophone) on both, and Novelty Ragtime pianist and composer Rube Bloom on the second. Earl Oliver plays trumpet on Mindin’ My Business.cliii All three sides really swing, and the last two are interesting to compare to the jazz group, The Georgians. Although The Georgians is presumably a jazz group, they also played in a dance band, The Phil Specht Orchestra.
There is also a version of Jones’ I’ll See You In My Dreams,154 as played by the Ray Miller group and conducted by Isham Jones. It uses all sorts of unusual (for the time) timbral effects, such as the use of slide guitars, and slow “hair pin” dynamics. There is also the obligatory “hot” chorus at the end. I suspect this recording adds at least a little credence to Haenschen’s assertion that occasionally he would replace Miller as leader, as Jones (according to the label) is leading the band.
Vic Meyers and his Orchestra
In our chronicle of these 1920s Brunswick bands, we now move towards the West Coast. The story of Victor Aloysius Meyers (1897 – 1991)155 is an unusual one. While not exactly part of a political dynasty, his father was, for many years, the Treasurer for Morrison County. Vic Meyers followed in his father’s political footsteps by becoming Lieutenant Governor of Washington State in 1932 and Secretary of State in 1956.156
Born in Minnesota, his family eventually moved to Oregon. Meyers was the fifteenth of sixteen children, and his mother, a pianist, apparently inspired his musical interests. Vic started on violin but was playing drums at a seaside resort on a professional basis while still a teenager, thereafter touring the country with a ten-piece band.157 From 1923 – 1924, the band toured Coronado Beach, California, at the Hotel Del Coronado; New York; Springfield, Illinois; and Cleveland, Ohio. The average age of the band members was twenty-four, and according to local press, Brunswick sent $18,000 worth of recording equipment out to Seattle to record them.158
The group eventually played at Seattle’s Trianon, where it did coast-wide radio broadcasts, after which Meyers landed a long-term engagement at the Rose Room in the expensive Butler Hotel on James Street.159
Gus Haenschen gives no indication as to how Meyer’s band came to be contracted to record for Brunswick, but a news clipping from 1923 details how F. P. Coreoran (a representative of Brunswick) travelled from Chicago to Seattle to sign an exclusive contract with Meyers’ group. Preliminary negotiations were undertaken by E. A. Borgum, Northwest District Manager of Brunswick, who recommended the orchestra, so it appears that Haenschen had little, if anything, to do with the signing of Meyers. Nonetheless, the group became the first Seattle musical organization to make phonograph records.160 The Meyers band was a source of great local pride, frequently appearing in the local press.
After 1924, Meyers made no further recordings for Brunswick, but in September 1927 made some recordings for Columbia.161 In the 1930s, Meyers started a political career, but initially as a publicity stunt. Fearing that the 1932 Seattle Mayoral race would be too dull, The Seattle Times assistant editor encouraged Vic Meyers to run for Mayor, hoping that it would be pleasantly diverting. Most of what Meyers said and did was fairly comedic. For example, he suggested putting flower boxes next to fire hydrants to avoiding the waste of water dripping out of the hydrants. He was also reported as saying, “I won’t tell any lies about my opponent, if he won’t tell the truth about me.” Although Meyers’ bid for Mayor was ultimately unsuccessful, it did give him a taste for political life, and he was elected Lieutenant Governor in that same year. Despite Meyers’ penchant for goofy humor and publicity stunts, he took his position very seriously, and stood up for workers’ rights, pensions, and opposed racist laws.162
While Meyers’ band, like the others mentioned herein, are certainly not jazz, there is clear evidence of talented improvisation within the framework of the stock. This approach is analogous to that of Fletcher Henderson’s earliest work. Weary Blues163 begins with ensemble work but has virtuosic breaks by the trombone followed a “smooth” passage then “stop-time” effects. Around the one-minute mark, you hear an exemplary trumpet solo – seemingly improvised, and using growling and plunger mute effects, followed by hot piano playing underneath a baritone sax (?), punctuated by call and response patterns played by two trumpets. The obligatory “hot” chorus at the end, demonstrates keen improvising skills on the part of the band. The instrumental was composed by Artie Matthews (1888 – 1958) who nowadays is better known for his composition of five Pastime Rags published by Stark, Scott Joplin’s publisher. Matthews later went on to found his own classical music conservatory in Cincinnati, Ohio, where one of his students was to be Frank Foster, who became arranger for Count Basie’s Orchestra.164
Abe Lyman and his Orchestra
And now we’ve finally reached California. Abe Lyman (1897 – 1957, born Abraham Simon in Chicago, Illinois) unlike many other 1920s bandleaders, achieved musical success for a long time, from the 1920s through to the 1940s.165
Abe’s brother (Mike) moved to Los Angeles before Abe and approached trumpeter Roy Fox (who was born in the U.S. but wound up moving to the U.K.) around 1918, telling him that he and his brother were going to open “the finest club in the country” near Santa Monica. It would be The Sunset Inn, and Abe would be coming from Chicago to establish the band.166 Abe Lyman later attributed his musical success to the atmosphere on the West Coast. While on the East Coast in 1924, he stated to a local reporter: “Out there [on the West Coast], everybody is a pioneer…if you remember, it was only a few years ago that the rest of the United States, and in fact most of the world, was copying dances from San Francisco’s Barbary Coast…They copy everything we do. [On the East Coast] Many of the orchestra leaders are held down by tradition and convention. Out there [in California] one dares take radical measures with harmony and counterpoint…In this way, I believe we are able to get nearer to what the novelty loving public wants.”167
It is around about 1921 that the Lyman band recorded for the Nordskog Records label (although these sides are not mentioned in either of Rust’s discographies, which is strange beca
use I believe them to be of great jazz, as well as historical interest).168 Shortly thereafter Lyman recorded for Brunswick. One of the earliest Brunswick releases, No, No, Nora, (recorded in New York on August 3, 1923, Brunswick 2476), shows the band at that time to be competent enough, but clearly a lot “tamer” than some of the other hot dance band numbers. Even on the Nordskog 3019 record, Those Longing For You Blues,169 we are confronted with a much “hotter” band than would initially be presented on Brunswick.170 Lyman’s band would record prolifically for almost two decades, changing labels at least twice more,171 but I speculate that the change in overall sound from Nordskog to Brunswick happened because of the requirements of his change of performance venues, which will be discussed below.172
True to brother Mike’s predictions, The Sunset Inn was initially a phenomenal success, attracting many famous film stars, the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd. Unfortunately, after the “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal, film stars were forced to sign “morals clauses” as part of their contracts preventing them from going to night clubs, and this put a burden on many establishments. Probably as a result of this, The Sunset Inn closed, but Abe Lyman lucked out and signed a contract with The Coconut Grove in the Ambassador Hotel very quickly thereafter. One thing that this new location necessitated was to add a violin and saxophone to the band.
While not many movie stars frequented the new location, it still had a very impressive guest list.173 A further boon resulting from this new location is that Lyman first appeared on radio in 1922, broadcasting from the Ambassador Hotel by late March in that year on local station KOG, which was transmitted nationally.174
Haenschen mentions Lyman only nominally in his interviews, but he did state that Charles Chaplin nearly “drove Abe Lyman crazy” by pestering Lyman with correspondence. Around 1923, Chaplin became obsessed with recording his own music, and conducting Lyman’s orchestra to do so. A couple of sides were issued on Brunswick, played by Abe Lyman’s group (as conducted by Charles Chaplin), but Haenschen felt that these were of little musical interest, and the general public were certainly more interested in his films than in his composing.175
Lyman’s group performed on a number of early talking films in the 1930s, and in later years also performed on radio, including Jack Benny’s program in 1943. At the age of fifty, Lyman left the music business to concentrate on the restaurant management business and died ten years later.176
One thing which has not been mentioned so far is that Lyman’s pianist was Gus Arnheim, and he is definitely on these early sides, like California Blues. Arnheim later went on to be seen in “soundies,” wherein the announcer would say, “It’s Arnheim Time!”177 Sweet Little You178 and Mandalay were recorded a day apart in May 1924 and give further credence to the statement that Brunswick’s acoustic records had high quality reproduction of higher frequencies. It gives us ample opportunity to hear the nuance and virtuosity of the solos and breaks on trombone (Rust believes this may have been Vic Smith) and trumpet (most likely Ray Lopez). As we have come to expect, the level of musicianship in Lyman’s Brunswick recordings is of the highest order. Even the vocal is pleasant and controlled. Listening to these early sides, it is not hard to understand why Lyman found another venue in which to play so quickly after the Sunset Inn failed.
Herb Wiedoeft and his Cinderella Roof Orchestra
The last band which we’ll be examining has, like Ray Miller’s, little information that is readily available. What we do know is that Herb Wiedoeft was born in Germany in 1886 and died tragically young in a traffic accident in Oregon in 1928, at the height of his popularity. We know that saxophonist and brother Rudy (who gained a much wider reputation) at times played in Haenschen’s “Carl Fenton” group in New York. In the Drake interviews, Haenschen only mentions Herb in passing, but speaks well of him, calling him “…an excellent brass player, and a very fine bandleader, too.” Haenschen also recounts recording the Cinderella Roof Orchestra (which was named after a rooftop dance floor in the lucrative Los Angeles Biltmore Hotel) by setting up a temporary studio on that dance floor for Brunswick in the Summer of 1923.179
We also know that Herb came from an extremely musical family. Brothers Gerhardt (string bass) and Adolph (percussion and xylophone) played in Herb’s band. His sister Erica was an accomplished pianist.180
Herb, like Abe Lyman, got his start in recording by issuing two sides for the Nordskog Records label in 1922. Unlike Lyman’s Nordskog sides, this author does not consider them to be of lasting musical value. Brian Rust also does not mention these sides in his jazz discography. They have, however, been re-released on Compact Disc. In my opinion, the arrangements are rather flat and dull, without much in the way of interesting solos. One of the two sides is called Fig Leaf, and the arrangement is listed as by Gene Rose. This piece, however, is very clearly Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, but it is not given the spectacular treatment which it received by Wiedoeft’s orchestra when he recorded it two years later for Brunswick.181
Parenthetically, Nordskog records started in 1921, and was a short-lived venture located in Santa Monica, California. Although it had a recording studio, it had no pressing plant, so it contracted with Arto Records. In 1923, Arto filed for bankruptcy, and they were sued by Nordskog for 80 unissued masters. None were returned, and this precipitated Nordskog going out of business, as well.182
After Herb’s death, trombonist Jess Stafford took over the band,183 but, in the opinion of this author, the overall sound of the band changed to a more “sweet” rather than “hot” sound, and it never again lived up to its earlier high standards.
Beale Street Blues184 is an example of the band’s early “hot” style. We hear a lot of effects which add to the texture, but are never gratuitous. For instance, the clarinet’s use of flutter-tongue effects (which are actually very hard to achieve while keeping the instrument in tune), and the trumpets doing small glissandi underneath, much in the same way Bix might have done. The pianist, while clearly displaying a learned, classical music style, still gives a convincing “blues” performance with lots note clusters, followed by a trumpet solo above it, using a plunger mute. The final chorus is particularly polyphonic and “bluesy”.
Moonlight Memories,185 on the other hand, is probably the first of his sides which began the transition to a “sweeter” band sound. However, you’ll hear lots of subtlety, such as the use of chimes (used in symphonic music of twentieth century composers such as Ravel and Janaček), the occasional use of whole tone scales (which Debussy popularized), and long, sweeping melodies such as that played by duo muted trumpets towards the end, with a very rhythmic accompaniment underneath.
Two Small but Mighty Footnotes
Pianists Phil Ohman and “Victor Arden” were outstanding pianists on their own but forged their greatest success(es) as a piano duo. You can hear them both to great effect on Bennie Krueger’s Brunswick 2667 recording of Charley, My Boy. While Ohman made a few sides both as a jazz band member and accompanist in the early 1920s for Edison and with his own orchestra and with Arden in the mid-1930s, they also made a few sides for Brunswick. These give us great insight into the type of piano arranging which was expected during the 1920s. Their rendition of Gershwin’s Nashville Nightingale186 and Fiorito’s No, No, Nora, on Brunswick 2512 show Ohman’s abilities as a performer of the intensely virtuosic Novelty ragtime style.
Ohman studied classical music in high school but was not able to study in Europe because of his family’s modest means, as expected of American classical pianists of the time. Instead, he worked as a piano salesman and in the piano roll industry as an arranger until he got the job as pianist in Paul Whiteman’s Orchestra in 1922. A year later, he and Arden forsook their individual professional lives to concentrate on their duo piano career, the highlight of which would be in 1924, playing for the George Gershwin musical Lady Be Good. As one can hear, their articulation and sense of rhythm is as clear and articulate as it gets, and the individual lines within the arrangements are as pleasing as the overall general effect. Ohman continued working in films and radio until the end of his life.187
Born Lewis John Fuiks (1893 — 1962),188 “Arden” was equally virtuosic, and like his partner Ohman, began his career arranging piano rolls. Despite a short split between the two in the 1930s to lead their own orchestras, they reunited to issue many sides as duo-pianists-bandleaders, and for a time, shared a radio show. Arden continued to work as a band leader for most of his life, including working behind Dick Powell in the 1950s.189
I don’t know about the reader, but this author is absolutely exhausted after this musical journey that we’ve undertaken. This article has travelled in time from 1845 to 1925 – eighty years – and moved from the East Coast to the Midwest to the West Coast of the continental United States – all in the pursuit of excellence.
Despite all the research, most of the individuals discussed herein remain obscure and shadowy figures from a distant and mysterious past. Ironically, we probably know more about some Ancient Greek and Roman writers than we do of many American dance band musicians from the 1920s.
The reader will, no doubt, notice the absence of absolute proof. Admittedly, there is no “paper trail”; no secret memo distributed amongst the executives of Brunswick records discussing an intent to thwart their own attempts to maximize profits by ensuring the issuance of a quality product. In the opinion of this author, however, such documentation is not only unnecessary, it also completely misses the point. I don’t believe that these (mostly) very young men in the 1920s were solely motivated by artistic or engineering concerns to the point of impecuniousness.
Indeed, Isham Jones was phenomenally financially successful very early on in his career. He was quoted as saying, “I’m going to make a million and then quit…There’s no use working all your life. A million suits me fine.”190 However, as Haenschen pointed out when comparing Jones to Miller, he stated that Jones (like Herb Wiedoeft) was a great instrumentalist and band leader. I maintain that these individuals did not pursue excellence to the exclusion of money. As Jones said, the money was fine, but you don’t always need more. What gives lasting satisfaction and artistic accomplishment to humanity is the pursuit of excellence. The individuals herein discussed did this because it was part of the culture and zeitgeist in which they found themselves. Quality and integrity, in the early part of the twentieth century, were not dirty words.
By this, I do not mean to say that we should see the past through “rose-tinted glasses.” Indeed, the “Good Old Days” were only good to a select, wealthy few. As I chronicled in my article on Novelty Piano Ragtime, the only thing which allowed the vast majority of the North American populace to buy anything was the invention, in the 1920s, of consumer credit. Furthermore, the Armenian Genocide, the First World War, The Great Depression, the Second World War, and the Holocaust were all products of those supposed “Good Old Days.” Even Ancient Greek philosophers and playwrights were not immune to the treacherous temptations of nostalgia.191
Let’s look at a few salient examples of quality and integrity defining the artistic popular culture of the United States of the time. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, The Great Gatsby, was intended as a commercial interest (the publishing industry has always been about money), and Fitzgerald, after attaining good sales with previous novels, was disappointed that it initially sold fewer than 20,000 copies. This was regarded as a commercial failure at that time. The editor, Maxwell Perkins, was at the top of his game, and his efforts ultimately ensured that it attained the status of a masterwork.192 193
During the 1920s, the earnings and popularity of the silent film comedies of Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin always far surpassed that of Buster Keaton.194 Keaton’s career, finances, and life would eventually be in ruins until some recognition towards the end of his life, and posthumously. While he may not have been the intellectual that some people believe him to have been, from our vantage point now we can see that due to his use of the camera, his unprecedented special effects, comic timing, and masterly acting abilities, his films are arguably more sophisticated than that of his colleagues. Even a supposedly simple early film like his two-reeler from 1920, One Week, now receives glowing and scholarly attention.195 Keaton’s financial legacy from his early films may be in tatters, but his artistic legacy remains firmly intact.
Edward Hopper’s paintings of the 1920s, despite their recent obscenely high prices, were, at the time, well regarded more for their attention to detail and sense of isolation than for their price tag. For instance, in the painting, Chop Suey (1929), most of the human activity takes place not in the center of the painting, but on the lower left-hand side. Further, while the attention of the viewer is brought to its human subjects, only one face is relatively distinguishable (a woman’s face, having an almost doll-like quality), the others either being with their backs of their head to the viewer, blurry, or hard to distinguish. This constant contrast between distinguishable and barely distinguishable brings to mind the issues of memory. Nonetheless, one can see that this has real depth as an artistic vision and realization, incredible thought has gone into its creation, and it is not just a piece of commercial art, although one might argue that it was influenced by such.196
But the best example of all, was the Krazy Kat daily and weekly newspaper cartoons by George Herriman. In the early 1920s, his cartoons were regularly pulled from local newspapers of the Hearst Company, because local editors responded to complaints about “this weird stuff nobody can understand.” Hearst responded to this editorial rebellion by demanding that the cartoons be put back into the pages of his newspapers.197 By 1925, readers and intellectuals as diverse as T. S. Elliot, e.e. cummings, Pablo Picasso, Charlie Chaplin and Gertrude Stein expressed public delight in Herriman’s work. But William Randolph Hearst was ostensibly his patron, as many did not “understand” them. More recently, however, esteemed author Michael Chabon has said, “…George Herriman was one of the very great artists, in any medium, of the twentieth century.”198 Author and biographer Michael Tisserand has written a comprehensive five-hundred-page biography of Herriman. In 1968, Bill Blackbeard established the San Francisco Academy of Cartoon Art, a large part of whose mandate was to collect newspaper cartoons being dumped by libraries (in particular, that of Krazy Kat). In 1984, the first major exhibit of Herriman’s work took place in New York. By the end of last century, Krazy Kat was considered by Comics Journal as the greatest cartoon of the twentieth century. Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts came in second.199 In an age long before there was a concept of graphic novels, or even (for the most part) the serious consideration of cartoons took place, Herriman was earning a good living from producing popular culture which very few people of the time appreciated, but is now recognized for the intellectual, clever dialogue, and the refined, ornate nature of the drawing.
In my opinion, “quality” includes several factors. Those factors might consist of referential education, hard work, and integrity. By the first factor, I mean a solid foundation of the knowledge of past examples of any work, and the ability to re-use elements of those past examples in one’s own work either consciously or unconsciously. The second might mean working smart as opposed to long hours. Two examples are of composer Maurice Ravel (who often thought about what he was going to write for a long time, and then spent only a short time composing) and Frank Lloyd Wright (who was notorious for procrastinating, sometimes almost to the point of getting his drawings ready a couple of hours before the client arrived). Finally, to my mind, integrity means the willingness of the producer of a product to stand by their creation as something of intrinsic value even in the face of criticism or whether the product pays for itself. It is possible to find these traits in either a gramophone cabinet, a castle, a painting by Manet (or Monet), a photograph by Elliot Erwitt, or a piece of music by Duke Ellington.
Occasional pomposity and divisiveness aside, I partially agree with some of the writings of the late literary critic, Harold Bloom. Not his perception of the “School of Resentment,” per se, but at least his views on the “autonomy of the aesthetic.” In other words, that a work of art should be judged on its own merits, and not be devised nor denigrated to propagate a world view.200 However, in addition to that, in order to achieve these ends, one needs a certain level of education, hence the need for some sort of canon. The members of The Oriole Terrace Orchestra were finely trained classical musicians. Duke Ellington based some of his music on the gestures used in Beethoven’s sonatas.201 George Herriman’s Krazy Kat character quotes Shakespeare.
Without naming names, it is all too apparent that for some decades, too many companies have produced products more and more cheaply, so that it becomes considerably less expensive to buy a new product than to repair it. This is known as planned obsolescence.202 203 Most furniture made today is made from particle board and does not have a long life, even when it is expensive.204 205 Furniture which is designed to last any length of time (such as Amish furniture) is well-made and based on generations of expertise and training. Whether you are arranging and playing a popular song in the 1920s or building a piece of furniture, quality has importance. It is imperative to our human dignity to ensure that we do the best job possible – and that requires appropriate knowledge of the past.
The manufacturers of Brunswick records and gramophones (like their counterparts at Victor) created machines and recordings that, without doubt, have survived the test of time. Consider the following: I own a Victrola VV XIV cabinet gramophone which is over a hundred years old, looks great, and works perfectly (only the internal springs needed to be replaced recently). Do you have any DVD players or computers that will still be working or even around in a hundred years?
Insistence on quality is no proof of snobbery or “elitism.” No matter what the discipline, whether it be Mongolian throat singing or drawing cartoons, a knowledge of positive traditions and the development of expertise is essential in the creation of anything worthwhile, which might have any depth, and will result in its being appreciated in the future.206
While modern definitions as to the exact nature of “jazz” obviously differ greatly from the early 1920s, we, nonetheless, can find evidence, particularly in the written words of Haenschen, Fiorito, and Rodemich, that their focus was not on “noisy jazz” (a term designed, I suspect, to denote something which was produced quickly and cheaply), but rather, the production of a worthwhile musical product of quality.
Not every side ever recorded by the bands discussed herein are interesting or satisfying to listen to. But then, not every sonnet by Shakespeare is an unbridled masterwork (one is unfinished, having only thirteen lines). Even amongst all the roughly 1800 poems Emily Dickinson wrote in her lifetime, she also wrote a few that left something to be desired. And these were arguably the two greatest poets in the history of the English language.
Human endeavor, like its source, is never perfect. But the unwieldly and unending quest for excellence was the focus of Brunswick’s corporate culture, long before such a concept even existed,207 as this was part and parcel with American popular culture of the early twentieth century. It was the general expectation. These businessmen attracted intelligent executives of great organizational, technical, and musical accomplishment. They, in turn, attracted, like a magnet, the greatest dance orchestra leaders of their day, which, in our century, has left for us a recorded legacy of the highest musical and technical order, resulting only in the purest delight.
And man…could those guys lead a band!
I am deeply indebted to Magdalene Linck, Assistant Librarian, of the Missouri Historical Society who forwarded to me a large number of materials, exceptional in both quality and quantity, and for drawing my attention to the Clark Jr. and Mooney articles which provided some valuable information.
Extraordinary thanks to Dan Stevens of St. Louis, for the photographs and information. As previously noted, he is directly connected to the Rodemich story by his family history.
I would also like to express great appreciation to Greg Guderian, Library Associate, Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center of the Newark Public Library, for providing a number of good items from their archives regarding Bennie Kreuger (especially the copy of the Draft Registration card which, I believe, helps to confirm Krueger’s correct year of birth), and Ted Fiorito.
Thanks to Jon Milan for his assistance and encouragement, as well his providing me with a copy of his exceptional musical history, DETROIT: Ragtime and the Jazz Age.
Jordan Wright, Reader Services and Administrative Assistant, The Hanna Holborn Gray Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago, went to great efforts to find materials in the John Steiner Collection at the University of Chicago, and was extremely helpful. Thanks to Jordan as well.
Also, thanks to Nicolette Bromberg, Special Collections, University of Washington, for permission to use photograph SOC1922 of Herb Wiedoeft’s orchestra.
And many, many thanks to all of the following:
Mary Schaff, Washington State Library, Office of the Secretary of State, for providing information on Vic Meyers; Joe Bopp, Albert Balch Curator, Special Collections Librarian, Seattle Public Library, for information on Vic Meyers et. al.; Nicholas Beyelia, Librarian II, History and Genealogy, Los Angeles Public Library for the advertisement of Herb Wiedoeft’s first record; Tom Pellegrene Jr., Web/social media manager, The Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne, Indiana for information on the full page spread for the OTO; The Grand Rapids Public Library; Kristina L. Shanton, Music Librarian, Ithaca College; Rich Kamerman, COO/Label Manager, Brunswick Record Corp.; William Pemberton, Executive Director, River Raisin Ragtime Revue; Larry Melton; Mark O’English, University Archivist, Manuscripts, Archives, & Special Collections, Washington State University; David Schneider, Detroit Historical Society; The staff of the Allen County Public Library, Fort Wayne, Indiana; Lesley Martin, Chicago History Museum Abakanowicz Research Center, Chicago History Museum; Danielle Quenell, Office Administrator, Historic Seattle; Leigh Clark, Reference Services, New Jersey State Library; Kate Lambaria, Music and Performing Arts Librarian & Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Krista Feldt, Adult Services, St. Louis Public Library; and Tom Volkening, Engineering Librarian, Michigan State University.
Finally, to my wonderful wife, Shayna, for her support and advice.
© 2022 Matthew de Lacey Davidson
a A portamento, means sliding up or down to a note, usually from a short distance like a semitone or less. A glissando, on the other hand is where a note slides a much greater distance, by comparison.
Clark Jr., John L., Archie Bleyer and the Lost Influence of Stock Arrangements in Jazz; American Music, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Summer, 2009) (University of Illinois Press), pp. 138-179.
Drake, James A., Interviews with Gus Haenschen, https://78records.wordpress.com/ Mainspring Press, Accessed January 1, 2022
Gracyk, Tim (with Frank Hoffman), Popular American Recording Pioneers, 1895 – 1925; The Haworth Press, Inc., Routledge Taylor & Francis Group, 2000 and 2008.
Levine, Lawrence W., Highbrow, Lowbrow, The Emergence of a Cultural Hierarchy, Harvard University Press, 1988.
Milan, Jon, Detroit: Ragtime and the Jazz Age, Arcadia Publishing, 2009
Mooney, H.F., Popular Music since the 1920s: The Significance of Shifting Taste, American Quarterly, Vol. 20, No. 1 (Spring, 1968) (The John Hopkins University Press), pp. 67-85.
Rust, Brian, The American Dance Band Discography 1917 – 1942, Arlington House Publishers, 1975
Rust, Brian, Jazz Records, 1897 – 1942, 4th Revised and Enlarged Edition, Arlington House Publishers/Brian Rust, 1978
Sengstock Jr., Charles A., That Toddlin’ Town: Chicago’s White Dance Bands and Orchestras 1900 – 1950, University of Illinois Press, 2004.
Tisserand, Michael, Krazy: George Herriman, a Life in Black and White, Harper Collins, 2016.
1 In Sengstock, Preface, p. xi, Sengstock mentions how he is not as careful with the use of the words “orchestra” and “band” as he should have been. I, too, use both words interchangeably, and probably should not have done so. Sengstock’s explanation of how he conceives the difference between the two words is as follows: that a band is a smaller group, usually comprised just of winds, piano, and percussion, whereas an orchestra tends to be a larger group, usually with strings.
13 The author contacted by email the current holders of Brunswick records’ early historical documents on December 20, 2021, requesting information on recordings made in the 1920s, but no response was received.
14 Gracyk and Hoffman, pp. 279 – 283
15 Ibid, p. 349
16 Ibid, p. 283
17 Gus Haenschen in the James A. Drake interviews, hotly contests the statement that Rogers did not start work at Brunswick until the early 1920s. He appears adamant that Rogers began work with Brunswick in 1916, although he stated that it is possible that Rogers was technically employed on contract at that time. Please see: https://78records.wordpress.com/2019/08/09/the-james-a-drake-interviews-%e2%80%a2-gus-haenschen-the-brunswick-years-part-1/ (Mainspring Press Website)
19 While Haenschen appears to be enamored of Brunswick’s Ultona tone arm, many modern collectors are not. For instance, R. J. Wakeman (https://www.gracyk.com/brunswick.shtml) states that its elaborate design caused air leaks, also that they were made of pot metal, which can swell and/or weaken over time, easily breaking. Wakeman goes on to say that many modern listeners consider the reproduction sound of the Ultona to be merely adequate. Further, that when Edison discs were played using the Ultona, they can easily be damaged because the Brunswick mechanism had the grooves of the record guide the tone arm, rather than having a motor advancing the tone arm, as happens with the Edison machines. Edison even issued a warning to owners of their “Diamond Discs” that they should only be played upon Edison machines. Notwithstanding the problems with the tone arm (and I suspect that engineers at the time were not aware of the issues with pot metal – and Haenschen, who was an engineer, was never involved with any machine product development) – I still maintain that, generally speaking, and particularly after 1920, quality remained the principal focus and achievement of Brunswick gramophone and record production.
20 Gus Haenschen established a significant archive of materials at Ithaca College (New York) before his death, with apparently a great deal of information regarding his early recording career. Unfortunately, in an email dated January 3, 2022, Ms. Kristina Shanton, Music librarian for Ithaca College, informed the author that the Haenschen collection is no longer available for any access, and that at some point in the future it will probably be transferred to another organization. But judging by the nature of many of the questions posed, it would appear that James A. Drake had had access to these archives.
24 Dan Stevens, a musician whose orchestra is the Tiny Hill Orchestra, in an email to the author dated February 19, 2022, describes his efforts playing along to Rodemich’s Brunswick recordings. He discovered that most, if not all, of them, over the course of the entire record, become slightly lower in pitch, usually between a quarter and half tone. This, he estimates, is because of the Brunswick recording equipment sped up as the recording needle moved towards the spindle. While I am not an engineer, it might appear that although Brunswick’s equipment design was in some ways top of the line, there may have been a design flaw. Perhaps this might have been because the methodology worked better with diamond discs than with lateral-cut records. Despite this caveat, I still maintain that Brunswick spent a great deal of time, money, effort, and expertise on their recording equipment. Further, that any alleged defects were most likely the result of limitations of understanding regarding engineering principles prevalent at that time.
28 Gracyk, p. 114
29 Rust’s dance band discography shows almost no personnel for the Fenton group until the beginning of the electric recording era. And while Miller’s personnel gradually changes to include more and more jazz players (e.g., Miff Mole, Rube Bloom, Frankie Trumbauer), Krueger’s personnel remains fairly constant, and usually contains mostly classically trained “dance band” musicians.
30 Clark Jr., p. 138 – 139
31 This can be heard on FROG CD DGF 87, Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra: DO THAT THING, originally on Vocalion 14926.
32 Edison Diamond Disc 51491, recorded January 19, 1925, in New York, as “The Golden Gate Orchestra”
33 Perhaps this was Haenschen’s nickname for the orchestra?
35 Mooney, p. 69. Mooney discusses how a sale of less than 20,000 records and sheet music sales of 100,000 characterized a “hit” in the mid-1930s, in contrast to 500,000 and approximately 1,000,000 twenty years afterwards. I’m not certain of these numbers considering that the mid-1930s was the middle of The Great Depression, although he does cite Roland Gellatt, The Fabulous Phonograph, New York, 1955, p. 272. Mooney also discusses how, at 75 cents each, records would have been prohibitively expensive for the majority of the American population in the 1920s and 1930s, as few people had a sufficient income to buy gramophones and a record collection.
36 Haenschen (https://78records.wordpress.com/2019/09/27/the-james-a-drake-interviews-gus-haenschen-the-radio-years-part-1/ ) expressed incredulity that a purported researcher claimed that Ben Selvin’s recording of Dardanella sold 6,000,000 copies. Haenschen stated that if a record sold 100,000 during the 1920s it was regarded a big “money maker” and that sales collapsed during the 1930s because of the Great Depression. Nonetheless, Haenschen’s statement does seem to back up Mooney’s opinion partially, and Gracyk’s opinion completely.
37 Gracyk, p. 8 – 11. Gracyk discusses extensively how artists, advertisers, and occasionally companies would distort or exaggerate numbers of sales. Slate magazine, like many other sources (https://slate.com/culture/2017/02/nick-larocca-and-the-first-jazz-record-at-100.html ) claims that “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) was the first record to sell a million copies, but they do not cite their source, so this story is merely apocryphal. Gracyk mentions that several jazz resources claim that “Tiger Rag” recorded by the ODJB in 1918 sold better than any other ODJB record. This is also apocryphal misinformation because, as Gracyk points out, any collector will tell you that the 1921 ODJB recording of “Margie” shows up much more frequently. Apart from anything else, shellac was diverted to the US government for munitions in 1918 because of the First World War, so it is extremely unlikely that “Tiger Rag” sold more copies.
38 Washington DC Evening Star, May 22, 1922, and WCX in Detroit, also listed in the Evening Star on June 4, 1924.
39 Listed in the Brownsville (Texas) Herald on May 26, 1925, and listed September 18, 1925, in the New Britain Herald (Connecticut).
41 The Indianapolis Times, September 11, 1922,
42 The Indianapolis Times, April 28, 1923, Home Edition, page 7,
44 The South Bend News-Times of November 12, 1922,
45 The Richmond Palladium and Sun-Telegram (page 4), December 2, 1922, announced there would a concert (from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m.) and dance (from 9:30 p.m. to 1.00 a.m.) by the OTO on the 28th of December.
46 The specific works performed were not listed.
47 On 124 North Pennsylvania Street
48 The Indianapolis Times of October 25, 1923, page 7
49 The Indianapolis Times, April 24, 1924, page 6
50 The article in question spells the last name “Papila.” Rust spells it, “Papile.”
51 Sengstock Jr.,p. 105
53 Sengstock Jr., p. 105
54 Rust’s Dance Band discography, p. 1549, states categorically that the OTO only recorded six sides in May 1922 in New York.
55 John Steiner jazz collection at the University of Chicago, Illinois. A loose page from box 110, in Steiner’s handwriting provides this information, but the source is not stated. It might be from Sengstock, Jr., who typed a letter to Steiner dated July 20, 1971, regarding his discussions with Ted Fiorito, which was also found in the same box. The letter does not state much other than that Fiorito is 71 years old, is still working by necessity around 35 weeks a year, and is not terribly helpful in his responses to Sengstock. Also in the same box, there is an obituary from the Chicago Tribune, dated July 24, 1971 (four days after the date written on Sengstock’s letter), which gives Fiorito’s age as 70.
56 Rust, p. 1552, Dance Band Discography.
57 John Steiner jazz collection, same loose page from box 110.
58 Sengstock Jr., p. 106
62 A rare double reed instrument on which Naset solos on the OTO’s recording of “Rose of the Rio Grande.” This information comes from Milan, p. 80.
63 Milan, p. 80.
68 Gracyk, pp. 150 – 156
69 There is also a fourth version by a “Marek Weber” band (Parlophon Record Z6580 P. 1595-1, recorded around 1923 in Berlin, Germany, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb5Ye8i2bTo ), which I found unremarkable. There is a version by Husk O’Hare’s Super Orchestra of Chicago on Gennett 4983 recorded October 18, 1922. The Bostonian Dance Orchestra on Grey Gull 1144; Vincent Lopez and his hotel Pennsylvania Orchestra on Okeh 4736 recorded August 1922; and one I found in a Homochord catalogue, by Stanley C. Holt’s Dance orchestra on Homochord H432.
73 Most biographical sources state that Krueger’s date of birth is July 17, 1899. However, his draft registration card states that it is a year earlier, in 1898. While it is true that numerous young men lied to the government about their age around this time (apparently, the author’s grandfather did), the year of birth on FIND A GRAVE website (https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/201270170/bennie-krueger ) also gives Krueger’s year of birth as 1898. As a result, I am going to stick my neck out and say that, in lieu of finding a copy of his birth certificate, his most likely year of birth is 1898.
74 Email to author from Leigh Clark, New Jersey State Library, dated December 13, 2021.
75 The Newark News, May 9, 1954, article provided by the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library.
76 Rust, Brian, Dance Band Discography, p. 982.
77 The Newark News, Bennie Krueger, Newark Musician, Takes a Tip from Paul Whiteman, April 29, 1922, article provided by the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library.
78 Gracyk, p. 295, Tim Gracyk lists three possible candidates at Victor: John S. MacDonald, Eddie King, or Clifford Cairns. Tim cites his source on p. 227 – 228 as H.O. Brunn, in his book, The Story of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Louisiana State University Press, 1960). In my estimation, Brunn’s book uses Nick LaRocca’s account of what happened to the exclusion of almost all other sources. As a result, I believe that a fair degree of the information in Brunn’s book is not credible.
79 Gracyk, p. 261
80 Display AD in the New York Times, January 22, 1922, p. 98.
81 The Newark News, Bennie Krueger, Newark Musician, Takes a Tip from Paul Whiteman, April 29, 1922, article provided by the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library.
82 St. Louis Globe Democrat, Monday September 29, 1924, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
83 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Friday, September 19, 1924, performance at 415 North Seventh Street, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
84 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tuesday, September 23, 1924, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society. The advertisement shows how he had just released “Charley My Boy,” and “Pleasure Mad.” He also appeared at the same theater on October 2, 1924, as advertised in the same newspaper on October 1, where he is referred to as one of the world’s greatest saxophonists.
85 Moscow, Idaho, The Daily Star-Mirror, October 28, 1921, p. 3
87 The Newark News, May 9, 1954, An Orchestra Leader Who has a New Line, article provided by the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library. This article discusses how he travelled all over the United States when his orchestra was in its heyday.
88 The Newark News, April 30, 1967, Obituary, Bennie Krueger, 68, Orchestra Leader, Musician Dies, article provided by the Charles F. Cummings New Jersey Information Center, Newark Public Library.
91 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lbTFSyqrNd4 , L. Douglas Henderson informed me in a text message dated Tuesday, January 11, 2022, that this roll, while probably initially “recorded” by Confrey, was definitely arranged by Max Kortlander afterwards,
98 Yanow, Scott, Profiles in Jazz: Isham Jones, The Syncopated Times, Volume 6, No. 11, November 2021, p. 17
100 Ibid. Rust in Jazz Records gives the date of Krueger playing alto saxophone with the ODJB for the first time on November 24, 1920, approximately a month before Jones’ recording of “Dreamy Paradise” sometime in October 1920. Pending further discoveries, Jones’ recording, according to Yanow, is probably the first recorded jazz performance on Saxophone.
101 It could also be argued that Bennie Kreuger might even have pre-dated Jones by recording three unissued sides with the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (depending on how you want do define jazz performance) in September 1920, [p. 1177, Rust, Jazz Band discography].
103 Milan, p. 65
104 South Bend news-times., June 16, 1922, MORNING EDITION, Page 8, Jazz King Makes $800,000 in Five Years: Isham Jones, King of Jazz
105 Indiana daily times, May 15, 1922, Home Edition p 2
106 Evening star. [Washington DC], April 21, 1923, Page 5
107 Yanow, Scott, Profiles in Jazz: Isham Jones, The Syncopated Times, Volume 6, No. 11, November 2021, p. 17.
117 According to Wikipedia, Barbara died in 1897 and Gene’s father married a second time. An obituary for Gene identifies his stepmother’s name as “Rose”: https://tralfaz.blogspot.com/2013/05/gene-rodemich.html
121 Ibid, & https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gene_Rodemich#Early_life . Haenschen describes the exchange as an organization which supplied music for weddings and other events, and he credits his purchase of it from Rodemich as a defining point in his life. One of the weddings he supplied music for was that of Frank Hummert and his first wife. Frank and his second wife later founded Air Features, a broadcast company which hired Haenschen after he worked at Brunswick.
122 St. Louis Heiress Elopes with a Divorced Pianist, Chicago Tribune, May 11, 1915, clipping provided by the Chicago Public Library.
126 St. Louis Post-Dispatch Sunday November 2, 1919, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
128 St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Sunday, November 21, 1920, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
129 Their second public appearance together was advertised in St. Louis Globe-Democrat, on Sunday, August 20, 1922.
130 GENE RODEMICH TURNS GUNS ON CRITICS OF JAZZ: Declares New Art Form Is Ignorantly Cried Down as were Wagner’s Innovations, The St. Louis Star and Times, Monday, June 2, 1924, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
131 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Tuesday February 14, 1922, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
137 The St. Louis Star and Times, Thursday, January 5, 1922, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
139 Even though Rust and the label do not tell us who the other pianists are, I would hazard a guess that they were Wylie and Silverman.
141 Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series, see above for google books web link.
142 Email to author from Dan Stevens dated February 18, 2022.
150 As previously noted, based on information gleaned from Rust’s discography, I am not in agreement with this statement. And certainly, musicians of the caliber of Trumbauer, Bloom, Spanier, Mole, and De Faut certainly never recorded for the Carl Fenton group.
155 The website, https://www.historylink.org/File/8392 states that Meyers was born on September 7, 1897, but Ate Van Delden on Vintage Jazz Mart magazine (https://www.vjm.biz/articles3.htm ) states that he was born mid-1898. Seeing as Michael Hood on history link cites all his sources and Van Delden does not, I’m more inclined to think that Hood’s date is the one that’s more credible.
158 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 12, 1924.
160 Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June 12, 1923.
167 Orchestra Leaders Heed Advice to “Go West”: Kings of Jazz from Whiteman to Lyman, Have All Journeyed California-wards to Win Their Laurels, The Springfield News Leader, Missouri, Thursday, June 5, 1924, clipping provided by the Missouri Historical Society.
170 Ibid. This side may be heard on YouTube; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rh3IguFR41Q , Van Delden conjectures that Ray Lopez and Gus Mueller are playing on this side. It is certainly a lot more inspired by New Orleans playing than the many of the Brunswick releases.
172 Rust, Dance Band Discography, p. 1152
181 Ate Van Delden, notes for Timeless CD, CBC 1-079, The Herb Wiedoeft/Jesse Stafford Orchestra
187 Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/phil-ohman-mn0001262115?1642534278523
189 Artist Biography by Eugene Chadbourne, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/victor-arden-mn0000066735
190 Jazz King Makes $800,000 in Five Years, South Bend (Indiana) news-times., June 16, 1922, MORNING EDITION, Page 8 (Interview took place in Chicago on June 15).
191 Even the Ancient Greeks Thought their Best Days were History, Johanna Hanink, https://aeon.co/ideas/even-the-ancient-greeks-thought-their-best-days-were-history
194 Lussier, Tim, Lloyd vs. Chaplin, Who’s the Champeen? http://www.silentsaregolden.com/articles/lloydvschaplin.html , Lussier discusses the work of film scholar Richard Koszarski, An Evening’s Entertainment, University of California Press, 1994 as distinguishing this fact.
195 Egan, Daniel, One Week, https://www.loc.gov/static/programs/national-film-preservation-board/documents/one_week.pdf
197 Krazy & Ignatz, The George Herriman Library, 1916 – 1918, Fantagraphics Books, Inc. 2019, p. 10, The Kat’s Creation, by Bill Blackbeard.
198 Tisserand, p. 438
199 Ibid, pp. 437 – 8.
201 Levin, p. 245
206 The principal thesis of Levine’s book is that cultural hierarchy (i.e., the pretense that purported “high brow” cultural events, such as opera, Shakespeare plays, or literary discussions were generally decided to be of greater value and importance than so-called “low-brow” culture, e.g., jug band music from the 1920s, “folk art,” or the Elvis Presley film, Love Me Tender), was an artifice created by the wealthy classes around the middle of the 19th century through to the present day.