Saturday, March 25, 2017

Allan Reuss - An Extraordinary Jazz Guitarist

Allan Reuss (1915 - 1988)
Allan Reuss was an American jazz guitarist, who spent most of his career in the famous big bands of the swing era or as a studio musician. He was born in New York City in 1915 and began playing professionally as a banjoist at age 12. He took lessons and learned guitar from George Van Eps, who recommended Reuss to Benny Goodman. Reuss took over Van Eps' chair in Benny Goodman's orchestra in 1935 and played with Goodman on and off until 1943. He also played with Paul Whiteman's String Wing (1939) and joined Jack Teagarden's orchestra 1939-40. Next Reuss was with Jimmy Dorsey (1941-42) and Harry James (1942-43). At the same time he was a frequent session musician in the recording studios in New York until 1945, when he moved to Los Angeles. Here he continued as a studio guitarist and played with  Arnold Ross, Coleman Hawkins and Benny Carter a.o. After 1946, he was less frequently on jazz dates, but he took part in occasional reunions with Benny Goodman a.o. and continued studio work in hundreds of various recordings during the 1950s and 1960s as an anonymous musician.
Promo photo 1936
Allan Reuss was an extraordinary guitarist who formed the foundationin in the rhythm section of the swing orchestra . His role was primarily to keep the rhythm going, which he did excellently, but from time to time he had a chance to show off his sophisticated chord style solo playing placing him in the top class of swing guitarists. Below I'll insert some examples of Allan Reuss' solos with various artists.
Benny Goodman
As mentioned above, Allan Reuss joined Benny Goodman and his orchestra in 1935 on the recommendation of George Van Eps. Benny Goodman recorded frequently and was on radio at the time, but only a couple of times Reuss got the opportunity to play solo. An example from November 22, 1935 is heard in If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight with the full Benny Goodman orchestra

Lionel Hampton
Reuss freelanced as a studio musician from 1937 and was engaged by a.o. Lionel Hampton to take part in some of Hampton's studio sessions for victor. From a session recorded April 26, 1937 Allan Reuss has a short elaborated solo in a version of I Got Rhythm, here titled Rhythm, Rhythm. Participating musicians are Buster Bailey (cl), Johnny Hodges (as), Lionel Hampton (vib), Jess Stacy (p), John Kirby (b), Cozy Cole (d) besides Allan Reuss (g)

Jack Teagarden
Reuss joined Jack Teagarden and his orchestra 1939 and stayed with him through 1940. During this engagement, Allan Reuss had the opportunity to record his own Pickin' for Patsy - his   highly sophisticated solo piece with big band. The piece was recorded in New York, May 5 1939 and sounded like this

Variations in Jazz, I Never Knew (Asch 350-3B), 1939
A rather special recording was made for Moses Asch's record label in 1939 featuring Allan Reuss as a member of a pick-up ensemble named Peck's Bad Boys. Reuss contributes some extraordinary solo work which alone is worth this special record

Coleman Hawkins
Allan Reuss moved to Los Angeles, CA in 1945 to continue as a studio musician. For some time he led his own trio, but there were no recordings made. He was engaged by Coleman Hawkins to take part in his recording sessions for Capitol February-March 1945 and did a couple of short solos, a.o. in Stuffy recorded February 23, 1945. Participating musicians are: Howard McGhee (tp), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Sir Charles Thompson (p), Allen Reuss (g), Oscar Pettiford (b) and Denzil Best (d)

Benny Carter
The last solo work by Allan Reuss to be presented here is from a session with Arnold Ross Quintet featuring Benny Carter (as), Artie Berstein (b), Nick Fatool (d), Arnold Ross (p) and Allan Reuss (g) recorded in Los Angeles, April 1946. Three takes of The Moon Is Low were recorded, below is inserted the version uploaded a You Tube to end this small presentation of Allan Reuss


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Friday, March 17, 2017

Singin' The Blues - A Jazz Classic

Original sheet music (1920)
Singin' the Blues is a 1920 jazz composition by J. Russel Robinson, Con Conrad, Sam M. Lewis and Joe Young. The song was released with lyrics by vocalist Aileen Stanley in 1920 on Victor 18703.

Frankie Trumbauer's Orchestra with Bix and Lang
In 1927, Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra recorded the song as an instrumental for Okeh in New York on February 4th. The Trumbauer recording is considered a jazz classic, greatly contributing to Frank Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke's reputation and influence. Participating musicians are: Frankie Trumbauer (C-melody sax), Bix Beiderbecke (co), Bill Rank (tb), Jimmy Dorsey (cl), Doc Ryker ( as), Paul Madeira Mertz (p), Eddie Lang (g) and Chauncey Morehouse (dm)

An essay by David Sager gives an in-depth analysis of the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke recording, accessible here 

Sol Hoopii's Novelty Trio
Here we will focus on a few other recordings of Singin' the Blues. First I like to point to the recording by Sol Hoopii's Novelty Trio from 1928, which emulate the famous version by Bix and Tram. It is an example of Sol Hoopii's sophisticated steel guitar playing

In 1931, Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra recorded a version of Singin' the Blues, which re-arranged the Trumbauer-Beiderbecke version. Here the solo part of Trumbauer's C-melody sax is rearranged for the reed section, while Beiderbecke's solo is repeated by Rex Stewart's cornet

In 1939, Lionel Hampton recorded Singin' the Blues in his series of sessions for Victor. This version feature Benny Carter (tp), Edmond Hall (cl), Coleman Hawkins (ts), Lionel Hampton (vib), Joe Sullivan (p), Freddie Green (g), Artie Bernstein (b) and Zutty Singleton (d), recorded December 21, 1939 in New York

Finally, to end this small presentation of a famous jazz classic, here's a contemporary version from a live performance, which re-creates the famous Trumbauer-Beiderbecke recording. The recording was made August 4th 2011 by Andy Schumm and his Gang. Participating musicians were: Andy Schumm (co), John Otto, (reeds), Dave Bock (tb), Vince Giordano (sb), Leah Bezin (bj, g), David Boeddinghaus (p) and Josh Duffee (d) 


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Thursday, March 9, 2017

Novelty Piano

Original sheet music (1915)
Novelty Piano is a genre of piano music that was popular during the 1920s. A successor to ragtime and an outgrowth of the piano roll music of the 1910s, novelty piano can be considered a pianistic cousin of jazz, which appeared around the same time. Nola,  a 1915 composition by New York pianist Felix Arndt, is generally considered the first novelty piano hit.

Sheet music (1921)
Novelty piano came most powerfully to the attention of the public in 1921, with the appearance of Zez Confrey's Kitten on the Keys. The popularity of this piece quickly led to other Confrey works and inspired other artists to issue novelty pieces. The style remained popular through the end of the decade, at which time big bands were on the rise, player pianos were in decline, and the popularity of jazz continued unabated. Novelty piano slowly succumbed to, or was absorbed into, the new orchestral styles as the piano moved off center stage and took on more of a "support" role.

Although novelty piano has structural and stylistic similarities to the earlier ragtime form, there are also distinct differences. Ragtime was generally sold in the form of sheet music, so it was important to keep it simple enough to be played by the competent amateur. By the mid-teens, though, two new technologies had appeared which allowed the general public to hear music as performed by skilled musicians: the "hand-played" piano roll and the phonograph record. Novelty piano was developed as a vehicle to showcase the talents of these professionals, and was thus more often sold in the form of recordings and piano rolls than as sheet music. It was a new "turbo-charged" piano form, infused with chromatic piano roll flourishes, and influenced by the "modernistic" sounds of the art-deco twenties (which were themselves largely adopted from the French "Impressionist" pianists such as Debussy and Satie; "novelty" pianists tended to be highly classically trained, they were fully familiar with such "modern" pianists, and their fondness for complex chordal intricacies). (info extracted from Wikipedia, here
Zez Confrey (1895 - 1971)
As mentioned, Zez Confrey had a huge hit with his novelty ragtime composition Kitten on the Keys. Below I'll insert a few more examples of his most popular compositions. Here's first the 1923 Dizzy Fingers 

Original sheet music (1922)
Confrey had another hit with his Stumbling, here from the hand played piano roll by the artist

Another sheet issue of Stumbling
Confrey's novelty rags were also recorded by larger ensembles, for some time he had a contract with Victor to make recordings for the growing market of dance records. Here we'll end this small intro to the novelty piano tradition by inserting Paul Whiteman and his orchestra's version of Stumbling - a hit for the orchestra and with the dancing public


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