The Jazz Oracle label, which was recently purchased by Upbeat, has a very valuable catalog of 1920s jazz that fortunately Upbeat is making widely available. One of their sets, Richmond Rarities, includes all of the recordings made by four territory bands: Alex Jackson’s Plantation Orchestra, Alphonse Trent, Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, and Red Perkins’ Dixie Ramblers.
While the playing is not flawless on these vintage recordings from 1927-33, one can easily understand why these ensembles were working so regularly in the Midwest; they had so much spirit and enthusiasm and were up-to-date in their repertoires.
Alex Jackson’s ten-piece unit only includes one slightly recognizable name, tuba player Bob Ysaguirre who later played bass with Red Allen. Their four numbers are joyfully primitive with “Jack Ass Blues” and “When Erastus Plays His Old Kazoo” being particularly memorable.
Pianist Alphonse Trent and banjoist Zack Whyte are the best-known of the four bandleaders. Trent’s eight titles include such notables as trumpeters Irving Randolph, Peanuts Holland, and Harry “Sweets” Edison (in his earliest recording), trombonist Snub Mosley and, most notably, violinist Stuff Smith at the start of his career. Their eight selections (spanning 1928-33) include “Louder And Funnier,” “Nightmare,” “I Found A New Baby,” and hot versions of “After You’ve Gone” and “St. James Infirmary”; the latter is surprisingly taken up-tempo.
Zack Whyte’s group (most of their output was actually released under the name of Eddie Walker) recorded six titles in 1929 which on this reissue are augmented by three alternate takes. Whyte’s band includes such future stars as trumpeter Sy Oliver, tenor-saxophonist Al Sears, and pianist Herman Chittison performing such songs as “Mandy,” “It’s Tight Like That,” and “West End Blues.”
In contrast trumpeter Red Perkins, who sings on “My Baby Knows How,” only recorded four titles in 1931 (including “Hard Times Stomp” and “Old Man Blues”) and none of his sidemen caught on with better-known bands. However his ensemble holds its own with the others, making one wonder about the many other territory bands of the era that were not fortunate enough to ever be documented.
Richmond Rarities is just one of a score of invaluable early jazz collections that Upbeat now has available for today’s 1920s record collectors.