Big Band Era 29/30
Sometimes a trip to a local thrift store may pay of with an interesting findings. As for this time I fond an almost entire collection of “The Greatest Recordings of the Big Band Era” box sets with 2 records in each box along with a small booklets. Too bad I was broke and only bought this one. Below is a recreation of the original booklets along with pictures and side notes.
Record 29. Bunny Berigan & his orchestra
|Side A||Side B|
|1.FRANKIE AND JOHNNY (2:48)
2.MAHOGANY HALL STOMP (2:31)
3.TURN ON THAT RED HOT HEAT (vocal by Gall Reese) (3:21)
4.I CANT GET STARTED (vocal by Bunny Berlgan) (4:46)
5.THE PRISONER’S SONG (4:11)
6.MAMA. I WANNA MAKE RHYTHM (vocal by Bunny Berlgan) (2:49)
Originally issued on RCA VICTOR, Courtesy of RCA corporation.
|1.BLACK BOTTOM (3:22)
2.RUSSIAN LULLABY (3:06)
3.THE WEARIN’ OF THE GREEN (3:34)
4.HIGH SOCIETY (2:45)
5.I CRIED FOR YOU (vocal by Kathleen Lane) (3:21)
6.JELLY ROLL BLUES (3:23)
Originally issued on RCA VICTOR, Courtesy of RCA corporation.
|Side A||Side B|
|Jan Garber and his orchestra.
1. MY DEAR (I LOVE YOU TRULY) (3:12)
2. IT”S EASY TO REMEMBER (vocal by Lee Bennett) (3:04)
3. I’M SHOOTING HIGH (vocal by Lee Bennett)) (3:04)
4. A BEAUTIFUL LADY IN BLUE (vocal by Lew Palmer) (3:10)
5. CLODHOPPER (2:20)
Originally issued on Decca, Courtesy of MCA records, Inc.
Originally issued on RCA Victor, Courtesy of RCA corporation
|The california Rambles
1. STOCKHOLM STOMP (3:03)
2. VO-DO-DO-DE-O BLUES (3:10)
3. THE PAY-OFF (3:34)Les Hite and his Orchestra
5. BOARD MEETING’ (3:01)
6. T-BONE BLUES’ (3:12)
produced under Licance from CBS Records, Special Products.
Originally issued on bluebird, courtesy of RCA corporation.
Bunny Berigan and His Orchestra
Bunny Berigan had everything he needed to assure instant success, lasting fame and immortality. He was a jazz trumpeter of extraordinary gifts, an idol of his generation. Musicians who heard and knew him still speak with awe of a tone rich and singing throughout the whole range of his horn; of a soaring, rhapsodic style whose majesty rivaled that of Bunny’s idol, Louis Armstrong; of a power and attack which hit the ear, in one fellow-brassman’s phrase, “like a cannon.”
With his instrumental mastery, engaging personality and matinee-idol good looks, Berigan seemed touched by the gods. He could lift an entire band to undreamed-of heights through his magnetism and the sheer excellence of his playing. “It was a kind of raw genius,” was the way saxophonist Joe Dixon, a longtime Berigan associate, chose to put it. “He had pulse, an inner electricity. He made you play beyond yourself, just through the example of what he did.”
Yet Bunny Berigan’s story is one of failure. Of promise unfulfilled. Of opportunitiesâgreat ones âmissed and muffed. It’s a story of drinking and personal profligacy and wasteâand, ultimately, of steep decline and early death. Like the story of another great jazz hornman of a decade earlier, Bix Beiderbecke, it is an American tragedy.
Berigan’s story started brightly. Born on November 2, 1908 near Fox Lake, Wisconsin, Rowland Bernard Berigan took to the trumpet early and first began attracting local attention in the late 1920s. Bandleader Hal Kemp, passing through Wisconsin, heard him at a roadhouse but did nothing, complaining that though the youngster had a good beat, he hadâin arranger John Scott Trotter’s wordsâ”the tinniest, most awful, ear-splitting tone you ever heard.”
Bunny stayed at it, practicing, playing and spending his free time in Chicago listening to Louis Armstrong. By early 1930 he had improved enough that Kemp offered him a job. The Kemp orchestra’s records of this period are a revelation. By now Berigan had a big, warmly flowing sound. It dominates the brass section and thrills the ear in solo. Here, for the first time, is a white trumpeter who has incorporated Armstrong’s romanticism and sweeping bravura in a distinctly personal style.
The early 1930s brought Berigan almost immediate success, especially in the radio and recording studios. His versatility was all but unmatched: he could play lead, read any kind of music quickly and accuratelyâand turn in stirring, passionate jazz choruses. He is all over recordings by the Boswell Sisters, Mildred Bailey, the Dorsey Brothers, Dick Robertson, Chick Bullockâeven by Paul Whiteman, whose vast orchestra he appeared with for several months. For a while in mid-1935 he was a member of Benny Goodman’s brass sectionâand had much to do with the band’s impact that summer during its history-making trip to the West Coast. Berigan choruses on several Goodman recordings of this timeânotably King Porter Stomp, Sometimes I’m Happy, Blue Skies and Jingle Bells âare among the landmarks of the big-band years. “He just had to be heard,” said trumpeter Steve Lipkins, later to play lead in Bunny’s own band. “He was the first jazz player we’d heard at that time who really played the trumpet well, from bottom to top, evenly and strongly throughout. Besides that he had a special magicâand you had to hear that to understand it.”
But along with the reminiscences about Bunny’s prowess on the horn came other tales: of epic benders and lost weekends. Of violent mood swings and ugly confrontations while Berigan was under the influence of alcoholâall of which tempered the admiration of many employers with wariness about Berigan’s personal reliability. Finally, there are the most heartbreaking stories of allâof irresponsibility and mismanagement of his own band, usually just at times when they were most damaging. The Berigan band, more than one side-man and friend has said, should have been one of the greatest of its eraâand would have been, but for the personal waywardness of its brilliant leader.
Bunny Berigan had, in the catchword of a far later time, charisma. That made it inevitable that he would emerge from the ranks of other people’s bands to stand, tall and handsome, in front of his own. “If you could have seen him there onstage in a white suit, with his blond hair and penetrating gray eyes, holding that shiny gold trumpetâwell, if that didn’t knock you over when he started to play, ain’t nothing going to knock you down,” said pianist Joe Bushkin, a Berigan associate throughout the 1930s. “His talent just shone through. If you met him and didn’t know he was a musician, you’d at least know he had to be a very talented, gifted guyâso intense about everything.”
Bunny swept top trumpet honors in Metronome magazine’s first reader-popularity poll, instituted in 1936 by freshman editor George T. Simon. That seemed to be the final stroke in persuading Berigan to take action on his longstanding interest in forming a band of his own. The beginning of 1937 found him taking out a band for a string of dates in New England and a brief residency in New Jersey, but it was clear that Bunny had much to learn about the nuts and bolts of the bandleading business. At that point his old friend and drinking companion, trombonist Tommy Dorsey, stepped in with an offer as generous as it was unprecedented. Berigan would become, for a while, a sometime member of Dorsey’s orchestra, traveling and recording with itâand all the while would observe how Tommy and his manager, Arthur Mi-chaud, handled the business side of things.
The arrangement proved advantageous for both men. Berigan got his schooling, while Dorsey got Bunny’s vital, exciting trumpet solos. Two Dorsey/Berigan recordings, Song of India and Marie, are in the fifth set in this collection. Not long after these recordings were made, Berigan appeared in New York City at Victor’s East 24th Street studios as leader of a brand-new 13-piece band, reshaped out of his first unit. It had some veteran namesâdrummer George Wettling, trombonist Sonny Leeâa few Dorsey alumni, the excellent pianist-arranger Joe Lipman, and at least one new talent: a teen-aged tenor saxophonist from Toronto named Georgie Auld.
“That band had a sizzle, a drive,” said Joe Dixon, who had been with Bunny in Dorsey’s band and was with him now. “It wasn’t a very disciplined band, but the 4lan of the men made up for it.” Said Joe Lipman: “He just had this ability to inspire people. He was a thrilling player, as good as anyone in the world.” Bassist Arnold Fishkind, himself only 16 when he joined Berigan, said “Some bandleadersâTommy, Artie, Bennyâ were disciplinarians, who knew what they wanted and how to go about getting it. Bunny would do it all by himself, teach by example. He’d play his jazz choruses, and when you wanted an out chorus he’d go back and stand with the trumpets and play leadâwhich was sensational, because no one could do it the way he could.”
The band’s early recordings show its zeal, and none better than its reading of the traditional blues, Frankie and lohnny. “You couldn’t lay back in that band,” said Dixon, who plays the energetic, slashing clarinet solo here. Auld is all rhythmic agitation and fast, nervous vibrato. Bunny, by contrast, rides easily and intensely across two choruses, backed by Wettling’s backbeats. “You played a lot of backbeat in that band,” said Johnny Blowers, who joined on drums in 1938. “It was a heavy band, and that was one way of pushing it.” (June 25, 1937.)
On the same date, the band recorded Mahogany Hall Stomp, in clear tribute to Bunny’s idol, Louis Armstrong. Berigan uses Louis’ famed break to open his first soTo, and Lee and Auld contribute engaging bits before Bunny returns to ride things out with declarative majesty. It’s easy to hear what prompted Armstrong, in a Down Beat interview some years later, to affirm that “to me, Bunny can’t do no wrong in music.” (June 25, 1937.)
Turn on That Red Hot Heat opens with Bunny growling effectively into a plunger and Dixon digging into his reedy low register over a woodblock backing by Wettling. It’s not an outstanding song, but its mixture of major and minor, a little like Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies’, affords Bunny fertile harmonic ground for a solo. He works through the whole range of his horn, generating intensity that carries over into a shouting ensemble passage which ends the recording. (August 7, 1937.)
What makes Bunny Berigan’s recording of I Can’t Get Started such a lasting favorite, defying time and the changes of fashion? For a start, said Joe Dixon recently, “ifs romantic, a beautiful, clever song. It’s dramatic and poignantâespecially Bunny’s singing, which has some kind of charm and vulnerability. People just don’t forget it.” Even beyond that, it is Berigan’s trumpet concerto, in which his emotions are on the line and every aspect of his virtuosity on display. More than any other recording, it illustrates James Lincoln Collier’s remark that Berigan “was a genuine romantic, perhaps the purest romantic in jazz …”
There is no sense of strain. From the first notes of the opening cadenza to the final, crowning concert high D-flat, the tone is broad and lustrous, the phrasing generousâthe passion compelling. (August 7, 1937.)
The Berigan band did The Prisoner’s Song at the same session, and the two titles, issued back-to-back on a 12-inch 78-r.p.m. record, were an instant hit. The arrangement by free-lancer Dick Rose takes the old tearjerker at a fast clip, leaving lots of room for solos by Bunny, Dixon, Auld and Lee. Berigan, especially, is awesome. He swoops and dives, cries and exultsâyet never abandons a sense of melodic structure and balance. It ends, as it begins, with Bunny growling into his plunger over an oddly sinister figure by the rest of the brass. (August 7, 1937.)
Mama, I Wanna Make Rhythm more than amply illustrates Joe Dixon’s remark that “we were low men on the totem pole at Victor when it came to getting decent songs to play.” The feature of this recording that more than makes up for the choice of songs is Bunny’s vocal, full of charm and high spiritsâand his own personal brand of scatting.
His solo struts high and handsome for half a chorus over Wettling’s firm foundation. “Bunny never let up,” said trumpeter Irving Goodman, in the band for this and most of the other dates. “He always gave it everything he’d got.” (September 3, 1937.)
Bunny’s admiration for Louis is proudly on display in his solo on Black Bottom, a relic from the Charleston-crazy 1920s, arranged by Dick Rose. He opens with a series of breaks which reads like a digest of Armstrong’s greatest recorded work of the 1920s and early 1930s. “Bunny sure knew his Louis!” exclaimed former Armstrong clarinetist Joe Muranyi on hearing this record. “And not just the well-known records, either!” Auld bases much of his chorus on a paraphrase of By Heck, a 1915 pop tune which had been revived successfully by the Dorsey brothers a few years before. Dixon and Lee get off good ones, too, before the band, energized, swings things home. (December 23, 1937.)
Bunny’s solo in Irving Berlin’s Russian Lullaby is extraordinary in its grasp of the emotional core of the melody. Without reflecting on the similarities between the song and Tchaikovsky’s famed Swan Lake theme, if s worth noting that both melodies have an inner cry, which speaks directly to the emotions. Bunny, too, has it here: his full chorus has almost anguished outbursts that carry him to the highest reaches of his horn. Auld and Dixon also solo well in this spirited performance. (December 23, 1937.)
The clarinet ensemble which opens Lipman’s arrangement of The Wearin’ of the Creen would have been enough to assure immortality for this performance of the old St. Patrick’s Day anthem. With lead alto saxophonist Mike Doty on bass clarinet, the reeds achieve a depth, precision and delicacy which seem to refute assertions about haphazard rehearsal and lack of ensemble discipline in the Berigan band. Bunny strides in on the heels of this display and, in the words of drummer Blowers, “just picks that whole band up and swings it himself.” Auld and trombonist Ray Con-niff have their momentsâas does Conniff’s section-mate, the brilliant but short-lived Nat Lu-bovsky. But Bunny tops them all, sailing in on a massive, hair-raising high G (concert F), a full octave above the ensemble lead in the final chorus. “If s not just playing high,” said Joe Dixon. “When he hit one of those notes it sort of vibratedâI mean inside you!” It does here, but Berigan has one more surprise in store: right at the end, there appear to be three trombones in a particularly rich-textured passage. Close listening reveals that ifs Bunny, using his cavernous low register tone to blend with Conniff and Lubovsky and fill out the harmony. (May 26, 1938.)
The personnel of the Berigan band had changed considerably by the time it recorded High Society, and some of the changes are obvious. There was a new drummer, a cocky young Brooklynite named Buddy Rich, whose tense drive was quite different from the dixieland accents of Wettling or the buoyancy of Dave Tough or Blowers. Joe Lipman was spending more of his time arranging, leaving the piano to Joe Bushkin. The band still had its old spirit, but there was a new, aggressive edge. This reading of the old New Orleans warhorse omits the traditional clarinet chorus, but keeps the flavor by using the saxophones as a clarinet section much in the manner of Bob Crosby’s dixieland-accented ensemble. Bunny contents himself with half a chorus on this one, leaving room for Auld, Bushkin and Conniff. (September 13, 1938.)
I Cried for You found the Berigan band’s fortunes faltering. Major engagements were fewer and farther between, and there were evermore punishing one-nighters, sometimes in remote locations. Yet Berigan could still work magic. His solo here, following Kathleen Lane’s appealing vocal, has a floating, dreamlike quality. It begins low, voluptuous, and ascends through the registers, staying ever within sight of the song. It plays the lyrics as much as the melody, and ends with a final outburst of passion. It’s presented here in a hitherto unissued “take”âanother version made the same day as the one that was issued. Bunny’s solo is if anything, more passionate, more urgent than the one on the familiar master. Auld’s brief solo indicates considerable growth. Gone are the nervous vibrato and jumpy phrasing, replaced by a sumptuous approach clearly rooted in Coleman Hawkins and the other black tenor masters. (November 22, 1938.)
Ifs appropriate that this collection should end with Jelly Roll Blues, Berigan’s salute to composer-pianist Ferdinand (Jelly Roll) Morton. Bunny’s performance on this superb Lipman arrangement is a valedictoryâtwo choruses full of majesty, strength, infinite tenderness. There’s a lot of Armstrong in it, but the essence is Bunny himselfâ vividly human, fallible, endlessly sympathetic. He brings to bear both the basic force of the blues and the lyric intensity of the melodic improviser. (November 22, 1938.)
The Bunny Berigan orchestra lasted scarcely more than another year before its leader, broke and discouraged, gave it up and went back for another stay with Tommy Dorsey. That didn’t last either. By this time Berigan’s drinking had taken its toll. He was sick, shrunken, a shadow of what he’d been. Johnny Blowers, running into him one day, expressed disbelief: “I wanted to cryâhe was thin, emaciated. Almost unrecognizable. It made me terribly sad. I liked him very much.”
Bunny Berigan died at the Polyclinic Hospital in New York City on June 2, 1942. There has never been another to rival him.
RICHARD M. SUDHALTER
Jan Garber and His Orchestra
A short, jovial, high-spirited man who was both a salesman and a musician, Jan Garber was known primarily for his sweet style, which was much like that of Guy Lombardo.
But Garber also led bands that took a totally different, swinging tack. He had started out as a classical violinist and was playing in the Philadelphia Symphony when he was inducted into the Army during World War I. He became an Army band director. After the war he formed a dance band which, in 1920, became the Garber-Davis Orchestra with pianist Milton Davis as co-leader. It was in the tradition of the dance bands of the 1920s, a band that played pop tunes of the day but colored them with the then-new jazz inflections that had been introduced in Harlem and on Chicago’s South Side. When the Garber-Davis Orchestra began recording in 1921, it included Chelsea Quealey, who became one of the better-known jazz trumpeters of the 1920s, and another trumpet player, Harry Goldfield, who won fame late in the decade with Paul Whiteman. Harry’s son, Don Goldie, has been a band-leading jazz trumpeter in his own right since the 1950s.
Davis dropped out of the band in 1924, and Garbercontinuedtolead it until 1931. By that time he had developed what he later called “the first swing band”âa slight exaggeration in view of the existence of such bands as the California Ramblers, Jean Goldkette’s Orchestra and the Casa Loma Orchestra. But even leading a semi-hot band was, Garber said, “a little too rough for me.”
While his band was playing an engagement in Cleveland, Ohio in 1931, Garber heard a band from Ontario, Canada, led by Freddie Large, an alto saxophonist with a style similar to Guy Lom-bardo’s “Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven.” Lombardo’s Royal Canadians was the most popular dance band in the country at the time. It had originated in Ontario eight years earlier and had its first success in Cleveland four years before Garber discovered the Large band there.
Garber took over Freddie Large’s band with the promise that he could, get good bookings. He not only got the bookings but managed to establish and maintain an identity of his own. Except for a three-year hiatus, Garber continued to follow the Lombardo tradition successfully for 40 years, initially in the Midwest and during the 1950s and 1960s in Las Vegas, Nevada.
That three-year lapse came during World War II when Garber’s 12-year-old daughter Janis complained that “all the kids laugh at you because your band is so square.” To placate his daughter, Garber got rid of his sweet band and put together a swing band, with arrangements written by Gray Rains. But it was the wrong time to try to establish a new identity. The country was too involved with the war to worry about Jan Garber’s musical style. And not many people knew about the change, because the musicians’ union imposed a recording ban for two of the three years that Garber led a swing band. Thus, it made few recordings. After losing $50,000 in the venture, Garber sent for Freddie Large and went back to his sweet style and his identity as the “Idol of the Air Lanes.” Ironically, ten years later his daughter Janis was singing with the sweet band that she had once derided.
Garber continued to lead his band until the early 1970s, when he retired to the home that he had maintained for many years in Shreveport, Louisiana, the hometown of his wife, Dorothy Comegys. He died there in 1977 at the age of 82.
Garber’s radio theme was My Dear, which he wrote with Freddie Large. It was a slow, strict tempo waltz which had great appeal for the dancers in the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago and the other midwestern dance halls in which the Garber band made its reputation. The solid beat is emphasized by the bass played by Charles Ford which gets the tune started in this recording. Although the reeds and the brass play with a broad sweep, they are not exaggerated as they would become in some of the mickey-mouse bands of the later 1930s. The vocalist is Lew Palmer, who was Garber’s drummer, and the piano runs that flow through the arrangement are played by Horace Rudiselli, known as Rudy Rudisill. After joining Garber’s “semi-hot” band in 1928, Rudisill stayed over with the sweet band until Garber gave it up to try his swing experiment in 1942. (December 14, 1933.)
It’s Easy to Remember follows the Lombardo pattern, although it is not quite as suave as the Lombardo approach. In the deep singing voice of Lee Bennett, it has one of the most consistently distinctive features of Garber’s orchestra. Bennett’s voice became so closely associated with Garber’s band that he was the only individual who seemed to be irreplaceable. It’s Easy to Remember is from the only successful collaboration on a film score by composer Richard Rodgers and Lyricist Lorenz Hart. It was sung by Bing Crosby in the film “Mississippi” in 1935. (February 25, 1935.)
Garber’s sweet band began its recording career in 1933 on the Victor label when Lombardo was recording for Brunswick and, starting the next year, for Decca. But when Lombardo switched from Decca to Victor in December 1935, Garber moved from Victor to Decca. Throughout their careers the two bands followed each other from label to label, with Garber invariably being picked up by the label that had just lost Lombardo. Lombardo’s first session for Victor was on December 14, 1935. Garber’s first session for Decca was two days later, and it included I’m Shooting High, written by Ted Koehler and Jimmy McHugh for the 1935 film “King of Burlesque,” in which it was sung by Jack Oakie, Warner Baxter and Alice Faye. Lee Bennett performs as the vocalist in Garber’s version. (December 16, 1935.)
A Beautiful Lady in Blue was a sentimental waltz introduced in 1935 by Jan Peerce. Jan Garber recorded it at his first De£ca session on December 16, 1935, with Lew Palmer singing the lyric in strict one-two-three fashion. The tune became a great favorite on Garber’s ballroom circuit.
Clodhopper shows another side of the Garber band. As a reminder of its brief period as a swing band, this rhythmic tune by Frank Bettencourt shows how Garber (and Freddie Large) could expand the band’s Lombardo voicing for a swing effect. Bettencourt was a trombonist in Garber’s post-World War II band and wrote many of its arrangements in the late 1940s and 1950s.
JOHN S. WILSON
The California Ramblers
One 1925 recording by Fletcher Henderson’s great orchestra speaks most eloquently across the years about the fame and influence of the California Ramblers during the 1920s. For this recording of a pop novelty called Pensacola, Coleman Hawkins abandoned his customary tenor sax for a fling at its big brother, the cumbersome B-flat bass saxophone. Arranger-fellow reedman Don Redman, revered as one of the pioneer architects of big-band jazz, meanwhile tried his hand at the Cuesno-phone, a French-made device distantly related to the harmonica and known as the “goofus.”
Their aim: to emulate the soundâand perhaps the commercial successâof the California Ramblers, a white “hot” dance band formed in 1921. Through its ranks passed many of the major white jazzmen of the pre-swing years. The current tendency to emphasize the importance of early black musicians, however overdue and just, has to some extent come at the expense of fair evaluation of white musicians. No group seems to have suffered as much as the Ramblers. They were, in Michael Brooks’ apt words, “the first big band on record to consistently produce dance music with strong jazz overtones.”
The California Ramblersâwhose only connection with that state seems to be that the name sounded goodâwas built chiefly around the manifold talents of Adrian Rollini. Born in New York City in 1904, Rollini had been a child prodigy who at age four gave a Chopin piano recital at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Before his 20th birthday he had become adept at xylophone, drums and a variety of other instruments. With the Ramblers he was featured on the bass sax, an instrument that has had few champions through the years because of its size and unwieldy nature. By 1922 Rollini had not only mastered it, but had found a way to play it with agility and great rhythmic impact in a jazz settingâthis a full year before Louis Armstrong brought his cornet north from New Orleans to join Joe (King) Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band at the Lincoln Gardens in Chicago.
Rollini’s firm, flexible rhythmic foundation and nimble solos on his musical leviathan gave the Ramblers a focus, an identifiable musical personality; it also helped them to come across with compelling energy. In Rollini’s hands, the goofus and such other near-toys as the “hot fountain pen”âa kind of miniature clarinet with holes like a penny whistleâoften became eloquent musical instruments. All of this helped make the Ramblers a great hit among the debutantes and flaming youths who turned the prohibition years into one long party of dancing and drinking.
[adsense userid=”ca-pub-8120924578332448″ type=”large-rectangle” align=”left” slot=”6249953740″ ]Often the band seemed to be working off the top of its collective head: its arrangements were often publishers’ “stock” orchestrations, stripped down to essentials, with improvised solos substituted for heavily arranged ensembles. A lot of the music was very much of its place and time, vo-de-o-do in the fizzy spirit of the age. But it was invariably well played, and the jazz solos took pride of place. Trumpeters Red Nichols, Chelsea Quealey and Jack Purvis, trombonists Tommy Dorsey and Abe Lincoln, saxophonists Jimmy Dorsey, Bobby Davis and Fud Livingston were among those immortals who were Ramblers at one time or another. When Rollini sailed for London late in 1927, he left a capable replacement in Spencer Clark.
In their heyday, the Ramblers recorded for dozens of record labels under a bevy of pseudonyms. They were, at one time or other, The Goofus Five, The Golden Gate Orchestra, The Palace Gardens Orchestra, The Five Birmingham Babies, Goldie’s Snycopators, Ted Wallace and His Orchestra and numerous others. Often they recorded the same song in essentially the same arrangement, barring shifts in solo order, for several labels.
The California Ramblers ceased regular recording in 1931, but returned several times during the 1930s only as a name used to identify a number of studio groups. But the band by that time had come and gone, leaving its imprint on jazz history.
If any single recording shows the Ramblers at their best it is Stockholm Stomp, composed by saxophonist Jack Pettis and pianist Al Goering. It’s taken at a bright tempo, with cleanly played ensembles and spirited solos from Bobby Davis, a violinist who may be Al Duffy, and Rollini, who I kicks, sputters and rumbles throughout the entire performance. Early in the performance he and trumpeter Chelsea Quealey have a bit of engaging interplay on the song’s second strain, which bears a close resemblance to part of Copenhagen, another popular jazz-band number of the era. Toward the end, the Ramblers demonstrate a sensi-I tivity to and control of ensemble dynamics rare for [that time. (December 30, 1926.) | Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues, by contrast, accents the band’s ability to provide light-hearted, danceable entertainment with a jazz flavor. W.T. (Ed) Kirkeby, the band’s manager (and for years friend and manager to pianist Fats Waller) opens with a little vocal jokeâa paraphrase of Crazy Words, Crazy Tune, another pop tune of that year recorded by the Ramblers. He sings the lyric to Vo-Do-Do-De-O Blues with more vo-do than blues, and leaves the rest to the band. Trombonist Abe Lincoln and alto saxophonist Davis get short solo moments, but it’s otherwise straightforward dance music, played cleanly and with enough pep to set them dancing from here to West Egg and back. (May 26, 1927.)
The Pay-Off catches the band about nine months later, after Rollini, Davis, Quealey and the rest had departed to join Fred Elizalde’s orchestra at the Savoy Hotel in London. It’s a composition by ban-joist Howard (Howdy) Quicksell, a former member of the Jean Goldkette Orchestra and associate of Bix Beiderbecke. The Ramblers deliver it with drive and accuracy, in a beautifully recorded performance. Trumpeter Fred van Eps, brother of guitarist George, has most of a full chorus, with Spencer Clark taking the bridge and showing he’d learned well from Rollini. Other solos are by Pete Pumiglio on alto sax (twice), Joe LaFaro on violin and Reg Harrington on trombone. (February 10, 1928.)
Les Hite and His Orchestra
Ifs perhaps ironic that Les Hite’s chief fame with jazz fans rests on a coincidence: that his band, the California Syncopators, was the house ensemble at Frank Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in Los Angeles in late 1930, and backed Louis Armstrong on a series of immortal recordings between then and the spring of 1931. The irony is especially bittersweet in view of Hite’s prominence throughout the 1930s as leader of one of the major black big bands active on the West Coast, a band through which dozens of major players passed on their way to individual recognition.
Bom in Illinois on March 13, 1903, saxophonist Hite had arrived in California in 1925 with a traveling vaudeville show, liked the climate and stayed, working as a sideman with numerousbands around Los Angeles. In late 1929 he organized a band of his own, and got a major break nearly a year later when he took over the Cotton Club from trumpeter Vernon Elkins during Armstrong’s engagement.
He also inherited Elkins’ drummer, a young Ken-tuckian named Lionel Hamptonâand it was not long before the value of that inheritance became clear to him.
The Armstrong recordings, among them Memories of You, featuring Hampton’s first recorded solo on the vibraphone, did much to bring Hite to wider attention, and all but assured him a job at the Cotton Club for as long as he wanted it. Yet California of half a century ago was in many respects light-years away from New York City and the eastern centers of jazz ferment and activity. A coast-to-coast telephone call was an event, and a trip from New York to Los Angeles took several days. As a result, bands and individual musicians with considerable reputations in Los Angeles might be all but unknown in New York City.
Such outstanding jazzmen as trumpeters George Orendorff and Lloyd Reese, trombonist Sonny Craven and even such later stars as trombonist Lawrence Brown and saxophonist Marshall Royal had to wait for recognition either until they went east with well-known bands or until a combination of radio and records carried their names beyond the Rockies.
Saxophonist Eddie Barefield, who led his own excellent band in California during the 1930s, has spoken often and in detail of dozens of men who made their reputations with Hite, Curtis Mosby, Charlie Echolls and other West Coast bands but whose activities remain all but undocumented today. Older musicians still recall with respect the band that the trumpeter Buck Clayton led in Los Angeles after his return from China in 1936, before he went east to join Count Basie in Kansas City.
There is little doubt that Les Hite’s band was considered among the very best on the California scene. It formed the nucleus for the instrumental combination heard to advantage on the soundtrack of the 1939 Marx Brothers comedy, “A Day at the Races,” which also featured the Duke Ellington Orchestra and singer Ivie Anderson. According to Barefield and others, there was enough work in films, plus the New Cotton Club job, to keep Hite and his men happy at home throughout the 1930s.
In 1939 all that changed. For reasons not yet clear, Hite abandoned that life, broke up his band and took over another unit, one that had formerly been led by another saxophonist, Floyd Turnham. With Turnham in the reed section, the new Hite band hit the road, opening in Dallas, Texas, in late September 1939. From there, augmented by blues singer and guitarist Aaron (T-Bone) Walker, Hite headed for his first try at New York City, and engagements at the Golden Gate Ballroom and the Apollo Theater.
The Hite band spent the next several years working throughout the Midwest and the East, even venturing occasionally into New England. The personnel during this time was constantly in flux: a great many future jazz stars, among them trumpeters Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Wilder and James (Snooky) Young, saxophonist Buddy Collette and pianist Gerry Wiggins, were Hite sidemen.
The band’s recording activities were sketchy^, unusually so for a band so prominent in its home territory. Board Meeting and T-Bone Blues, heard here, are from the Bluebird recording session of March 6, 1941. Aside from T-Bone Walker, who solos on the latter title, the only players whose names will be familiar to jazz fans are trombonist Britt Woodman, later to star with Duke Ellington, and New Orleans-born bassist Al Morgan.
Les Hite disbanded for the last time in 1945 and turned his energies to a number of business ventures, working a casual job now and then as a saxophonist. In the last five years of his life he ran a booking agency. He died in Santa Monica, California on February 6, 1962.
RICHARD M. SUDHALTER
All photos from the Frank Driggs collectionunless otherwise indicated
© 1982 The Franklin mint record society