Nights at the Turntable

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Nights at the TurntablePRE-BIG BAND BUNNY

One of the greatest trumpeters in jazz history and an exciting musical force throughout the 1930s, Bunny Berigan led big bands during 1937-42 and starred on hit recordings by the orchestras of Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. However, as can be heard throughout Bunny Berigan & His Boys, he was at his best when he was part of freewheeling combos.

With the exception of a session from 1935 with his “Blue Boys,” all of Berigan’s small group dates as a leader prior to the formation of his big band are on this single CD. The 24 selections from 1936-37 include such notable sidemen as clarinetists Joe Marsala, Artie Shaw, and Matty Matlock, tenor-saxophonists Bud Freeman and Babe Russin, pianist Joe Bushkin, and drummers Dave Tough, Cozy Cole, and George Wettling. The size of the groups range from seven to 11 pieces with the final two sessions having the feel of a small big band. While there are vocals by the always-enthusiastic Chick Bullock, Art Gentry, and Johnny Hauser, the most memorable singing is by Berigan on “I Can’t Get Started,” recorded a year before his famous big band version.

Virtually every song has exciting Berigan trumpet solos, particularly “It’s Been So Long,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Swing, Mister Charlie,” “A Little Bit Later On,” “That Foolish Feeling,” and “Blue Lou.” The Bullock numbers are especially stirring with Berigan, who arguably ranked second to Louis Armstrong during this era, really pushing himself and showing that he was at the peak of his powers.

Bunny Berigan & His Boys (Retrieval RTR 79083, 24 selections, TT = 69:13) www.challengerecords.com

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Nights at the TurntableTHE ORIGINAL DIXIELAND JAZZ BAND AND JOE MARSALA – 1943-44

In 1917 the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (comprised of cornetist Nick LaRocca, trombonist Eddie Edwards, clarinetist Larry Shields, pianist Henry Ragas, and drummer Tony Sbarbaro) was the first jazz group to record. The band, which always seemed to suffer from personality conflicts, broke up in 1923. LaRocca and Shields retired, J. Russell Robinson (who succeeded the late Ragas in 1919) became a full-time songwriter, Edwards had some low-profile jobs (including recording with Lou Gold in 1926-27, two numbers with Brad Gowans in 1927, and the Coon-Sanders Orchestra in 1932), and only Sbarbaro continued as a full-time performer although entirely off records. In 1936 cornetist-leader Nick LaRocca managed to reunite the ODJB for radio appearances, new recordings and an appearance in a March Of Time newsreel. The reunion only lasted until 1938 when LaRocca went back into retirement. After recording in 1938 with a group billed as “The Original Dixieland Jazz Band” that included trumpeter Sharkey Bonano, pianist Frank Signorelli, and Sbarbaro, Shields also dropped out of music.

In 1943, dancer-choreographer Katherine Dunham organized a Broadway show, “The Tropical Revue,” that sought to tell the history of jazz. Clarinetist Brad Gowans (who was actually best known for his valve trombone playing) was a long-time fan of the ODJB and he led an Original Dixieland Jazz Band recreation group in the show that included Edwards, Sbarbaro, Signorelli, and cornetist Bobby Hackett. While that unit recorded three numbers on December 30, 1943, the same band with Wild Bill Davison in Hackett’s place made a set of radio transcriptions on December 3. The latter forms the first half of the recent GHB reissue Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1943/Joe Marsala 1944.

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The ten titles and six alternate takes from the ODJB set are intriguing for several reasons. It is one of the best showcases ever for trombonist Eddie Edwards and one gets to really hear what Tony Sbarbaro could do in a well recorded setting. While having a different tone than Shields, Gowans does an excellent job of reproducing his phrases. Most interesting of all is hearing Davison in this restrictive context. While Gowans is often in the spotlight and there are occasional piano solos, Wild Bill is only heard in the ensembles where he was expected to play the melody. Davison, as usual, puts plenty of personality into his playing and, by the last selection “Original Dixieland One Step,” he comes close to cutting loose a few times.

The final act for Eddie Edwards and the ODJB was when a similar group with the same frontline but a different rhythm section other than Sbarbaro recorded 12 titles for the Commodore label during 1945-46. The trombonist retired soon after that last recording.

The second half of this disc is unusual for who it does not include. Joe Marsala, a very good swing and trad clarinetist, usually featured his wife harpist Adele Girard in his bands where she invariably stole the show with her superb jazz playing. However Girard is absent on Marsala’s set of radio transcriptions from February 28, 1944, The clarinetist utilizes a conventional sextet that includes trumpeter Billy Butterfield, trombonist Lou McGarity, pianist Dick Cary, guitarist Eddie Condon, bassist Bob Haggart, and drummer George Wettling. They perform eight songs (along with two alternate takes) of straightforward Dixieland. McGarity is in particularly fine form although each of the horn players and Cary has plenty of excellent solos on such songs as “Panama,” “Weary Blues,” and “Wolverine Blues.”

Original Dixieland Jazz Band 1943/Joe Marsala 1944 (GHB BCD-100, 26 selections, TT = 71:48) www.jazzology.com

Image result for Vol. 1 – Swedish Jazz 1899-1930 (Caprice 22037SWEDISH JAZZ OF THE 1920s AND ’30s

Early jazz collectors who are close to owning all of the significant American and British jazz recordings will find much of interest in the Svensk Jazzhistoria. The series of two-CD sets in the Swedish Jazz History series gives listeners a strong sampling of the top jazz recordings by Swedish musicians. The recent release of Vol. 11 – 1970-79 (the series made its debut 20 years ago), serves as a perfect excuse to explore the first two volumes. The music, with 26 or 27 songs in each CD, is programmed loosely in chronological order. The extensive and colorful enclosed booklets are mostly in Swedish but fortunately, a few pages written in English are set aside to sum up each period.
While Swedish jazz did not become significant worldwide until the 1950s and the cool jazz period (with baritonist Lars Gullin winning a Downbeat poll), there was an active local jazz scene in Sweden by the late 1920s. Vol. 1 – 1899-1930 is a historic collection of very rare recordings that mostly just hint at jazz. A recording of “At A Georgia Camp Meeting” from 1899 and a 1913 version of “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” have plenty of spirit. Otherwise, the first CD includes a bit of rag-oriented piano, some straight dance music inspired by early Paul Whiteman, and fluent accordion players. Things begin to wake up a little in 1926 with the 13th selection. Trombonist Harry Hednoff is heard taking what is considered to be the first improvised Swedish jazz solo on “He’s The Hottest Man In Town” although the group sounds several years behind the times. As the music advances from 1926-30, many of the performances are arranged dance band music that happen to include a short solo of interest.

Image result for Swedish Jazz 1931-1936The second disc opens with a three-song 1952 reunion of the Paramount Orchestra playing some excellent Dixieland including “Sweet Sue” and “Dinah.” Those performances are followed by a few numbers by the band in 1928 featuring the same Red Nichols-inspired trumpeter Gosta “Smyger” Redlig. Otherwise, it is hit and miss throughout 1928-30. The only vocal in English rather than Swedish is the intriguing “I Told Them About You” by a vocal group clearly inspired by Bing Crosby and the Rhythm Boys.

While the Swedes often struggled to find their way in jazz in the 1920s, particularly rhythmically, Vol. 2 – 1931-1936 has the musicians making major strides. At first, their role models were white American players whose recordings were becoming widely available, with Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Miff Mole, Jimmy Dorsey, and Joe Venuti being particularly influential. A 1935 version of “Sweet Sue” featuring cornetist Gosta Toner has a close approximation of Bix’s 1928 recorded chorus with Paul Whiteman, followed by an ocarina solo! There are also quite a few violin and accordion solos of varying interest on these sides. But, starting with the Macce Berg Six’s version of “Dinah” from 1934, one can feel the impact of Louis Armstrong and, by the following year, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter. The latter is even featured on two numbers with a Swedish group in 1936, alternating between alto, trumpet, and clarinet. Otherwise, there are no familiar names on these recordings but one comes away from this music impressed by how quickly the Swedish musicians were catching with their American counterparts.

Vol. 1 – Swedish Jazz 1899-1930 (Caprice 22037, 53 selections, TT = 2:10:55) www.naxosdirect.com
Vol. 2 – Swedish Jazz 1931-1936 (Caprice 22038, 42 selections, TT = 2:30:46) www.naxosdirect.com

Image result for The Complete Decca Recordings (GRP/Decca GRD2-601JAZZ CLASSIC OF THE MONTH

Billie Holiday’s recording career can easily be divided into three main parts. Her 1935-42 recordings for Brunswick, Vocalion, and Okeh, both as a leader and with pianist Teddy Wilson, teamed her with all-star groups filled with many of the greats of the swing era including, most notably, tenor-saxophonist Lester Young and trumpeter Buck Clayton. Her last period for Norman Granz’s Clef and Verve labels (1952-57) were also with swing giants but found her voice gradually declining before her final two albums for Columbia (1958-59).

Between those two periods, Lady Day recorded 37 songs (and 13 alternate takes) for Decca during 1944-50. The music has been reissued many times in recent years although one of the most attractive packages is the two-CD set The Complete Decca Recordings put out by GRP back in 1991. During the 1940s, Holiday was very much in her prime, full of experience and life but not yet worn down by the ravages of alcohol and drugs. The Decca sides cover a variety of music and have Lady Day as the star, no longer having to share the spotlight with other jazz giants.

The very first Decca recording, “Lover Man,” was the biggest seller of Holiday’s career and also the first time that she recorded with strings. Lady Day is heard with other similar medium-sized bands (with and without strings), in a smaller group with her then-husband trumpeter Joe Guy and a rhythm section, accompanied by a studio big band, and even on a few numbers in which she is backed by a vocal group. While these recordings are not quite as jazz-oriented as her earlier and later sides, Lady Day’s voice never sounded better. Among the many highlights are “Don’t Explain,” “You Better Go Now,” “Good Morning Heartache,” “Easy Living,” “Solitude,” “I Loves You Porgy,” “My Man,” “’Tain’t Nobody’s Business,” “Them There Eyes,” “Crazy He Calls Me,” and “God Bless The Child.” One session has Holiday’s only two meetings on record with Louis Armstrong although the songs are unfortunately not gems: “You Can’t Lose A Broken Heart” and “My Sweet Hunk O’Trash.”

A bit underrated but full of timeless music, Billie Holiday’s Decca recordings are an important part of her legacy.

The Complete Decca Recordings (GRP/Decca GRD2-601, 50 selections, TT – 2:30:36) www.amazon.com


In every issue of the Syncopated Times, this monthly column features reviews of CDs by classic jazz, 1920s and ’30s, New Orleans Jazz, Swing and Dixieland artists, covering both vintage greats and some of today’s top musicians. Be sure to send a copy of your CDs to Scott Yanow, P.O. Box 1220, Lake Hughes, CA 93532 if you wish to have your recordings reviewed. If you are a musician and need liner notes, bios or press releases, feel free to drop me a line at [email protected]


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