Friday, December 25, 2015

Seasonal Joys

As editor of Hans Koert's website and blogs I want to thank you readers for your support in 2015 and wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year 2016. - It's the time for the seasonal joys, here are some musical recordings to accompany the spirit of the holidays.


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Friday, December 18, 2015

When Lights Are Low - Lionel Hampton All-Star Session, September 1939

Lionel Hampton
Lionel Hampton signed a favorable contract with RCA Victor in 1937 that allowed him to invite musicians from other popular jazz orchestras of the time to record a series of sessions that otherwise would have been difficult if not impossible to organize. From 1937 to 1941 Hampton recorded 107 sides featuring musicians from the orchestras of Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Luis Russell, Fletcher Henderson, Fats Waller and Earl Hines, giving him the cream of the period’s soloists and rhythm players. These recordings rank among some of the best small band swing jazz of the late 1930s and they have since been reissued both on vinil and CD, i.e.. at the 5 CDs box-set from Mosaic some years ago, shown below (- unfortunately out of print).
Mosaic #238, The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-41
Here I like to put focus on a famous session from September 11, 1939 that unites Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, Chu Berry and Ben Webster as the dream sax section with a young Dizzy Gillespie (trumpet), Clyde Hart (piano), Charlie Christian (guitar), Milt Hinton (double bass) and Cozy Cole (drums); Hampton leads the session and contributes both on vibes and as vocalist.
Exerpt of discograpical info, Mosaic #238 (click to enlarge)
Benny Carter's arrangement of When Lights Are Low was the first tune and recorded in two takes, the second take probably is the best known featuring solo spots by Carter, Hampton, Hart and Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins
The first take of When Lights Are Low has a different solo by Hampton

One Sweet Letter From You has vocal by Hampton and the guitar playing obligato is by Charlie Christian (- here on acoustic strings)
Charlie Christian
The tenor solo is by Hawkins or Webster (- unfortunately I'm not the expert to differentiate the two in this session, sorry) 

Hot Mallets has a nice muted trompet solo by a young Dizzy Gillespie exchanging riffs with Carter's alto followed by a short tenor contribution by Chu Berry and a lengthy Hampton solo
Dizzy Gillespie

The last tune in this session was Early Session Hop that has fine examples of the sax section playing in unison followed by solos by Hawkins, Hampton and Carter
l-r: Webster, Carter, Berry, Hawkins (sax), Hart (piano)

What makes these recordings magnificent examples of small band swing of the late 1930s is not only the solo contributions by the reed players and the leader. The rhythm is execellently supported by great playing of both Milt Hinton's double bass, Christian's guitar comping and Cozy Cole's drums.
Cozy Cole
The rather short playing time of each of the recorded tunes leaves a wish for more, however, you could also say that the session is a fine example of the artistic formula expressing the experience that - sometimes - less is more ...!

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Saturday, December 5, 2015

Nobody's Sweetheart

Original Sheet front illustration (1924)
Nobody's Sweetheart was published in 1924 with music by Billy Meyers and Elmer Schoebel, and lyrics by Gus Kahn and Ernie Erdman. The song was introduced by Ted Lewis  in the revue The Passing Show of 1923.
Part of music sheet front
Jazz musicians took an immediate liking to the tune, and ever since its inception it has been a favorite of jazz players and listeners everywhere.

Isham Jones and his orchestra
Isham Jones and his orchestra was one of the first 'hot' dance bands to record a version of Nobody's Sweetheart in February 1924

The lyrics of Nobody's Sweetheart are about a female character who challenges the norm and morality of the the bourgeois, the text reads: 
You're nobody's sweetheart now.
They don't baby you somehow.
Fancy hose, silken gown--
You'd be out of place in your own hometown. 
When you walk down the avenue,
They just can't believe that it's you.
Painted lips, painted eyes, 
Wearing a bird of paradise--
It all seems wrong somehow that
You're nobody's sweetheart now.

Marion Harris
Vaudeville singer Marion Harris  had a hit with Nobody's Sweetheart in 1929 

Cab Calloway and his orchestra
Bandleader Cab Calloway and his orchestra had success with the recording of Nobody's Sweetheart with vocal by the leader 1930

During the 1930s Nobody's Sweetheart became part of the standard book of the swing jazz ensemble, here I'll focus on two recordings made on December 5, 1938.

Freddie Valier's String Swing - Robert Normann far right
The guitarist Robert Normann recorded his first session with Freddie Valier's String Swing in Oslo on December 5, 1938. Among the four recordings was a version of Nobody's Sweetheart featuring a great solo by Robert Normann, inserted below

Oscar Alemán in the 1930s
Also on December 5, 1938, this time in Copenhagen, another version of Nobody's Sweetheart was recorded. Oscar Alemán recorded his solo version of the tune while on tour in Scandinavia with Josephine Baker - the recording is an unaccompanied solo for guitar by a master of the instrument

This particular recording by Oscar Alemán - together with the three other tunes recorded at the same session - was my step stone 35 years ago to embark on a research adventure of the complete discography of Oscar Alemán. Until recently the online discography patiently and carefully collected by Hans Koert has been the most complete listing of Alemán's recorded legacy. Now a revised and updated version of the material including newly found items has been made available by Andrés 'Tito' Liber. You may read more about it at the Oscar Alemán blog that also has the links to an uploaded and free accessible version of the discography, here 

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Handful Of Keys - And More

Fats Waller
According to info at the Red Hot Jazz website quoted here: "Fats Waller's big break occurred at a party given by George Gershwin in 1934, where he delighted the crowd with his piano playing and singing. An executive of Victor Records, who was at the party was so impressed that he arranged for Fats to record with the company. This arrangement would continue until Waller's death in 1943. Most of the records he made were released under the name of Fats Waller and his Rhythm. The group consisted of around half a dozen musicians who worked with him regularly, including Zutty Singleton. Throughout the 1930s and early 1940s Fats was a star of radio and nightclubs, and toured Europe. He unexpectedtly died on board a train near Kansas City, Missouri of pneumonia in 1943."

Fats Waller and His Rhythm (1938)
About Fats Waller and His Rhythm the following is also quoted from the Red Hot Jazz website:
"Between 1934 and 1942 the group recorded about 400 sides, well over half of Waller's lifetime recorded output. Material ranged from downright lamentable to outstanding and Waller's treatment of it ranged from brusque to brilliant. (-) The "Rhythm" was primarily a studio band, and recording dates had to be worked into the musicians' different schedules. Waller's genius carried the band, enabling them to record as many as ten sides in a single day, often consisting mainly of new material. Rarely did band members know in advance which tunes they would be recording! It is a testament to the collective musical talent of the group that they managed so well without rehearsal. This chaotic approach succeeded in part because of consistency in core personnel which included Waller, Autrey, Sedric and Casey. The chaos no doubt contributed to the spontaneity which characterizes many of the Rhythm's recordings." (Mike Donovan at Red Hot Jazz, here )

Paul Asaro at the piano
Paul Asaro is one of a chosen few contemporary piano players who has continued the stride piano style of Fats Waller convincingly, here's an example

In 2012, Rivermont Records released a CD featuring Paul Asaro that revitalizes the music originally recorded by Fats Waller and His Rhythm

CD front: Rivermont BSW-2222, CD (2012)
Paul Asaro is accompanied by members of the Chicago based jazz ensmeble The Fat Babies - Andy Schumm (co), John Otto (cl,ts), Jake Sanders (g), Beau Sample (sb) and Alex Hall (dms), and the repertoire of the disc features both popular and lesser known tunes from the Fats Waller and His Rhythm's recorded output. There are forteen tracks at the CD, a tracklist is available here 

The Fat Babies with Paul Asaro on piano (press photo)
The music at the disc is excellently performed by Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies, audio quality is top notch recreating the atmosphere of the Victor studio recordings by Fats waller and His Rhythm. I highly recommend the CD as a successful attempt to relive some of Fats Waller's recorded legacy convincingly without spoiling the original source. These cats know their stuff and carry on a heavy heritage. - Below is inserted some examples of live performance of some of the tunes presented at the CD. Here's Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies from a live performance earlier this year performing Blue Turning Grey Over You 

From a live performance last year, here is Paul Asaro and The Fat Babies playing the lesser known I'll Dance At Your Wedding 

To end this, from a live performance earlier this year Belive It, Beloved - My, My, My! Now here 'tis; Latch On!


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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Savoy Ballroom Swing - Chick Webb And His Orchestra

The Swing Era of the 1930s emerged with the rise of big bands in the USA. Harlem in NYC had opened the Savoy Ballroom late 1920s, it was the hot spot of the city for dancers to meet and have a great time, both coloured and white people were allowed to attend and dance to music by popular swing orchestras.
Dancing couple at the Savoy Ballroom
Harlem and the Savoy attracted dancers and an audience eager to find amusement, the house orchestra of the Savoy accordingly encouraged the public to Go Harlem

This great swing music was of course played by Chick Webb and his orchestra, Go Harlem was recorded June 2nd 1936 
Chick Webb at the drums
Chick Webb had come to NYC in 1925, he led bands in various clubs before settling in for long regular runs at the Savoy beginning in 1931.
Chick Webb and his Savoy orchestra recorded the original version of Stompin' at the Savoy on May 18 1934, a swing tune composed and arranged by Edgar Sampson and since then a standard recorded by numerous other jazz artists

Chick Webb's big band was characterized by a crisp ensemble sound and the leader's disciplined, ferociously driving drum pyrotechnics and further a series of strong compositions and charts by Edgar Sampson. Although the orchestra did not become as influential and revered in the long run as some of its contemporaries, it nevertheless was feared in its time for its battles of the bands at the Savoy Ballroom. A famous encounter with the Benny Goodman orchestra at its peak (with Gene Krupa in the drummer's chair) left the latter band drained and defeated.
Benny Goodman's signature tune at the time was Don't Be That Way (- you can listen to a recorded version by the BG orchestra with arrangement by Edgar Sampson at YouTube, here), however, here's the version by Chick Webb and his orchestra -  Webb's orchestra introduced the Edgar Sampson arrangement with this version from November 1934

The Savoy often featured Battle of the Bands where Webb's orchestra would compete with other top bands from opposing bandstands. By the end of the night's battles the dancers seemed always to have voted Chick's band as the best. As a result, Webb was deemed the most worthy recipient to be crowned the first King of Swing. 
Although a judge declared Webb's band the official winner in 1938 over Count Basie's, and Basie himself said he was just relieved to come away from the contest without embarrassing himself, surviving musicians continued to dispute the ruling for decades to follow.
Chick Webb and his orchestra
Chick Webb became one of the most competitive drummers and bandleaders of the big band era, his playing technique at the drumset later inspired Buddy Rich and  Louie Bellson. Below I'll insert a couple of examples featuring great work at the drumset by Chick Webb. - Here is the Chick Webb orchestra's recording of Clap Hands, Here Comes Charley from March 23 1937

Next follows Chick Webb and his orchestra with their version of Liza, recorded May 1938; the drum solo introducing the well known standard is said to be the leader's "answer" to Gene Krupa's contributions to the Benny Goodman orchestra's famous version of Sing, Sing, Sing 

In 1935, Chick Webb hired the teenaged Ella Fitzgerald after she won a talent contest, he became her legal guardian and rebuilt his show around the singer.
In 1938, Chick Webb's orchestra featuring Ella Fitzgerald as solo vocalist had a big hit with the tune A Tisket-A-Tasket, and this was followed by another hit in 1939 with a recording of Undecided 

Sadly, Chick Webb died from spinal tuberculosis on June 16, 1939. After his death, Ella Fitzgerald led the Chick Webb band until she left to focus on her solo career in 1942 and caused the band to disband.
Chick Webb and his orchestra's contributions to great big band jazz of the Swing Era will remain, although his band did not become as influential and revered in the long run as some of its contemporaries. Nevertheless, the inserted audio examples above are proof that Chick Webb's band provided us with excellent swing of lasting quality, I think.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Violinist Eddie South (1904 – 1962) - A Striking Musician, Part Two

Georg Lankester continues his survey of the career of violinist Eddie South. Below follows the second part of the article Violinist Eddie South (1904 – 1962)   -   A Striking Musician, Part Two. The first part of the article is accessible here  

Eddie South
Eddie’s Recordings In France

The first appearance of the violinist was planned in the Club des Oiseaux in the Pavillion d’Elegance. Hot Club’s president, Hugues Panassié hurried to see South performing and on the initiative of secretary Charles Delaunay it was immediately after the concert decided to make recordings with Django in the studio.
Swing, SW 8 A - Eddie's Blues
His Masters’Voice (France) gladly accepted their request, and was prepared to record several titles of the violinist and Django Reinhardt, sometimes with a guest player. On 29 September 1937 two titles were recorded: Eddie’s Blues (by both artists) and Sweet Georgia Brown with Wilson Meyers added on bass.
Wilson Meyers
Moreover a recording of Lady be Good was made of three violinists: South, Grappelli and Michel Warlop, accompanied by Django, Chaput and Myers.
Michel Warlop
It is highly interesting to listen to these records. Here are two continents united viz. an American jazzman and a Belgian gypsy guitarist who created a new European swing style.

These records prove Eddie’s excellent violin playing, calm and inventive, backed by a unique rhythm, never monotone but full of variations and nicely swinging. Because of the guitar accompaniment the blues theme came forward even better. The recordings belong to the most beautiful that Eddie had made so far. His playing was so inspired that the Hot Club managers got the impression that he was somewhat envious of Grappelli’s position in the quintet.

He preferred the slow themes in which he could express his beautiful tone and could display trills. Eddie did not like so much fast runs although he certainly had these under control.

As mentioned earlier a record of the three best violinists of those days was made titled Lady be good in an arrangement by Django. One can listen to Eddie, Stéphane and Michel accompanied on two guitars and bass. After a typical Django solo each violin player gets its turn: Warlop a bit nervous, Grappelli as usual fully in control and South with several blues chords. The final chorus shows all violinists together with an arranged break.

Delaunay now came up with the idea to combine jazz improvisations with J.S. Bach’s music, played on violin. Though Eddie thought that this was a ridiculous suggestion those recordings were indeed made since Grappelli was interested because of the money it would generate.

For Django this was something fully unknown, but they let him listen to recordings of Yehudi Menuhin. On basis of those he prepared the way how to accompany. The guitarist admired Bach’s harmonies!
Swing, SW 18 A
Under the supervision of Charles Delaunay – the founder of the Swing label -  these recordings were made on the same day. It was a good initiative because these records are of historical value and illustrate the level of the musicians.

For the Swing label Delaunay also recorded duets of South and Grappelli with accompaniment, titles: Dinah and Daphne.
Swing, SW 12 B Daphne
It is fascinating to hear the different styles of these two artists and the beautiful alternating solos of Reinhardt.

SW 31 A Somebody Loves Me
On 23 November 1937 La voix de son Maître recorded two tracks of Eddie, Django and Paul Cordonnier (bass), “Somebody loves me” and “I can’t believe that you’re in love with me”, two romantic ballads.

And, of course, Hot Club fans enjoy the interpretation of Bach’s ‘minor concert’ performed by South, Grappelli and Reinhardt on the same date, followed by the improvised version of it (which included a guitar introduction). Finally the nice theme Fiddle Blues was played in an up-tempo. 

Brunswick flyer
In 1938 Eddie stayed some time in Holland where he made a few records for Brunswick. It would be the end of his European visits.

Back Home

Then he left Europa and made the voyage to his native country together with Benny Carter. During the Forties he played in several clubs among which Kelly’s Stables, had his own group and toured around with bass player Billy Taylor (known from the recordings with Rex Stewart and Django in Paris in ’39). He further worked with studio formations in Los Angeles and New York for MGM and other companies. Because of his popularity he also had his own radio program. In the Fifties Eddie also could be seen on television presented by well-known persons such as Herb Lyons and Dave Garroway.

Despite a declining health he kept playing. However, on 25 April 1962 he died in Chicago, far too early. Although, being a great violinist, he never got the reputation of Stuff Smith and Stephane Grappelli.

Some Features

Eddie South is in fact the most sophisticated violinist we have known. His first appaeranc as a classical musician most likely has been the reason to create such a subtle swing. He played in a very melodious way and produced pure and often soft notes.

He was fascinated by gypsy music and although many critics assert that he could not make this style his own, several recordings prove to the contrary. But some blues elements are certainly also noticable in his performances. Anyhow Eddie South surely has been a significant jazz violinist

Recommended recordings: Two guitars (1929), Eddie’s Blues (1937), Sweet Georgia Brown (1937),  Stompin’ at the Savoy (1941), Fiddle Ditty (1956).  

Georg Lankester

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Friday, October 23, 2015

Violinist Eddie South (1904 – 1962) - A Striking Musician, Part One

Georg Lankester writes a survey of the career of violinist Eddie South. Below follows the first part of the article, the second part will be published later. 

Eddie South (1904-1962)

In my stories on jazz musicians who played with guitarist Django Reinhardt, this time the  focus on the great American violinist, composer and arranger Eddie South.

We have to go back to the USA where Edward was born in Louisiana on 24 November 1904.Growing up he proved to be highly talented, since he was able to play the violin rather well at an early stage.

Like many others from the South, his parents went to Chicago when he was still young. And the prodigy (that’s what he was) was soon registered at the Chicago Music College in order to follow a classical music study. Unfortunately he had to finish it after one year, because of his skin color. There was no place for a black person, independent how well you could play. Realizing this Eddie switched to the jazz scene which was fully under development then.

A New Direction

Darnell Howard
He meets clarinetist Darnell Howard who teaches him the principles of jazz playing and also Charles Elgar. With both musicians he starts to perform.

He then gets work by joining the well-known orchestra of Erskine Tate, as well as the band of Mac Brady. Somewhat later he becomes the leader of the Syncopators with trumpet player Jimmy Wade. He joins this orchestra which plays in the popular Moulin Rouge Café from 1923-1927. It is with this band that he made his very first recordings for the Paramount label (in 1923). 

Based on his experiences and full of enthusiasm he now forms a small group without brass players, not very common then, and he calls them The Alabamians. The line-up is violin, piano, clarinet, guitar and drums.

Eddie South and his Alabamians
The next year he also works with Erskine Tate and joins the quartet of guitarist Mike Mckendrick as well.
Mike McKendrick
After some recordings for Victor with his own formation Eddie leaves for Europe where he will stay from 1928 till 1931. Like many other Americans he makes a tour through the UK and visits France frequently where Paris is becoming the city of the European Jazz (due to the Hot Club de France initiatives).

South, however, always keeps his interest in classical music and during his European stay he registers at the Conservatory of Paris to practice violin. His teacher there is Firmin Touche. But he also frequently visits Russian cabarets where famous Roma musicians play such as Jean Goulesco. Eddie is highly fascinated by gypsy Music.

In the autumn of 1929 he travels to Hungary to follow a study at the Music Academy of Budapest, one of the leading colleges for violin. One of his teachers is Prof. Hubay – a friend of Franz Liszt – who is also strongly influenced by Hungarian gypsies.

In the Roma composition Two Guitars which Eddie recorded in Paris (1929) for HMV one can hear him switching to the gypsy style, sometimes showing blues influences as well.

Meeting Django in the South of France

A young Django Reinhardt
In the spring of 1931 Eddie can be found in the French ‘Riviera’ where he performs in Cannes in the popular Bianco’s Night Club.  And it is there that he meets Django Reinhardt who travels around with his wife Naguine in order to earn some money. This contact was organized through the intermediary of bass player and band leader Louis Vola.

Somewhat earlier the guitarist and his brother Joseph had, for the first time in their life, heard American jazz records after they had met painter Emile Savitry. Both brothers were excited when they listened to Louis Armstrong, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang.

Django was quite impressed by Eddie South’s violin playing which included both blues and gypsy elements. Maybe this experience was the basis for the long association between guitar and violin shown in the Hot Club Music in the years to come.

In Cannes they were performing several times together. But also Eddie was surprised to discover Django’s feeling for improvisation and his fabulous rhythm, so they enjoyed playing together.

After a few months Eddie South went back to the States and restarted his performances in Chicago with his Alabamians. Those years he also accompanied various American singers. But in 1937 he travelled again to his beloved France. Paris was full of musical events and had become a real European center for jazz, stimulated by the World Exhibition which was visited by 34 millions of people. Eddie was there officially invited by the Hot Club de France and….soon he would meet Django again.

Georg Lankester

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