Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis. From Jazzmen, 1939.
On September 23, 1907, 109 years to the day before this posting, the boogie woogie piano great Albert Ammons was born.
Ammons was born in Chicago to piano playing parents, who passed on the art to him at a young age. He developed his barrelhouse style with his close friend Meade “Lux” Lewis, taking notes from Hersal Thomas and Jimmy Yancey. In the 1920s, both he and Lewis were working as taxicab drivers, and began playing together as a duo. Ammons started a band in 1935, and recorded for Decca with his Rhythm Kings in 1936. On December 23, 1938, Ammons appeared in John Hammond’s concert, From Spirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall, celebrating the history of jazz from spirituals to swing. The event featured Count Basie’s orchestra with Hot Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing, the Golden Gate Quartet, bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry, and fellow boogie woogie pianists Pete Johnson, and Meade “Lux” Lewis, to name a few. The concert created a surge in the popularity of boogie woogie, with Ammons at the forefront, and he worked quite extensively throughout the following decade, culminating with his performance at Harry S. Truman’s inauguration in 1949. After a period of illness, Ammons died on December 2, 1949.
Blue Note 2 was recorded on January 6, 1939 in New York by Albert Ammons. It was Blue Note’s second release, from the new record label’s first recording session, held in a rented studio.
Ammons recorded his famous “Boogie Woogie Stomp” previously in 1936 for Decca with his Rhythm Kings, but that version, in my opinion, lacked the same kind of driving energy that characterizes this solo recording. A truncated version of the piece was used in Norman McLaren’s 1940 animation Boogie Doodle.
Boogie Woogie Stomp, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.
On the other side, Ammons improvises “Boogie Woogie Blues”, demonstrating his formidable ability as a pianist.
Boogie Woogie Blues, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.
A Perfect sleeve displaying the NRA Blue Eagle (to the right, above Morton Downey.)
September 13, 1933 was “NRA Day”, celebrated in New York City with one of, if not the largest parade in the city’s history, complete with an appearance by the U.S. Navy’s airship U.S.S. Macon.
With today’s politics, hearing of the NRA brings to mind the National Rifle Association, but in days of yore, it held an entirely different meaning. In the 1930s, the abbreviation referred to the National Recovery Administration. That NRA was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s earliest New Deal agencies, created in 1933 by the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). With its signature “Blue Eagle” as the logo, the NRA set forth a series of codes and regulations intended to help employ more people and get the economy back on its feet. Though popular with many workers, the NRA was ruled unconstitutional by Supreme Court, thus bringing it to an end in May of 1935. During its existence from 1933 to 1935, NRA Blue Eagles were displayed in store windows and emblazoned on all sorts of consumer products, ranging from garments to fruit crates to record sleeves.
Perfect 13090 was recorded in two separate sessions on August 30, 1933 and September 9, 1934 at the American Record Corporation studios in New York City. The former session was Cox’s first with the ARC, having recorded previously with the Starr Piano Company (Gennett). Interestingly for a black label Perfect, this is a laminated pressing.
On this disc, the Dixie Songbird, Bill Cox laments to his sweetheart his employer’s delay in joining the NRA in “N. R. A. Blues”. “When they gonna join the NRA? Sweet thing, sweet thing. When they gonna join the NRA, I never have heard the big boss say. Sweet thing, yes baby mine.”
N. R. A. Blues, recorded August 30, 1933 by Bill Cox.
Starting out with a little bit of the old “Jack o’ Diamonds”, on the flip, Cox sings a low down old time country blues tune, “Hard Luck Blues”, sounding a bit like Jimmie Rodgers in his vocals on this side. A Great Depression-era country tune evocative of Dust Bowl times.
Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.
Jimmie Rodgers in the 1920s. From the cover of the Jimmie Rodgers Album of Songs.
He was America’s Blue Yodeler, the Singing Brakeman, and the Father of Country Music. He was Jimmie Rodgers. From a humble upbringing, he went on to have a profound impact on the music and culture of the Western world. Those counted among his devotees spread far and wide across the globe, his influence stretching from contemporaries like the Mississippi Sheiks and Big Bill Broonzy, to blues artists like Howlin’ Wolf, to latter day superstars like Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan, and too many country musicians to count. Some have gone so far as to suggest that the legendary Robert Johnson’s guitar playing was an attempt to imitate Rodgers. Without a doubt, he was among the most influential musical figures and cultural icons of the twentieth century.
James Charles Rodgers was born on September 8, 1897, the sixth of seven children of railroad man Aaron Rodgers and his wife Elizain, a humble family hailing from Meridian, Mississippi. Although his birthplace is usually given as Meridian, Jimmie was likely born about forty miles northeast of there in his grandparents’ hometown of Geiger, Alabama, which Rodgers himself listed as his birthplace, and only began giving Meridian as his hometown to please the folks back home, who considered him a native. Some sources alternatively list Pine Springs, Mississippi as his birthplace. Jimmie’s mother died of the same disease that would eventually be his own downfall when he was but four years old, and the young boy was sent to live with a series of relatives nearby before returning home to live with his father, who had by then remarried.
As a young man, Jimmie’s father found him work on the railroad, first as a water boy. Later, he became a brakeman for the New Orleans and Northeastern Railroad. In his railroad work, Rodgers learned musical styles from hobos and fellow rail workers, and picked up blues traditions from the gandy dancers. For a time, Rodgers relocated to Arizona to work for Southern Pacific, where he likely picked up some cowboy songs, as well. In 1920, Jimmie married Carrie Williamson and had two children, the second of whom died in infancy. From his early youth, Rodgers was musically inclined, but he did not pursue a career in entertainment until later down the line. When he was twenty-seven years old, Jimmie contracted tuberculosis, which put his railroad career to an end. After some recuperation, Rodgers worked a variety of different jobs before deciding to focus on his passion for music and embark on a new career in entertainment. He found work in minstrel and vaudeville tent shows for a while, traveling around the South as an itinerant performer before more stable work came his way.
My sincere apologies for the long delay in posting here, I was preoccupied with other matters and couldn’t find the time nor the inspiration to come up with anything good to say. But, in the words of Douglas MacArthur, I have returned, and I will do my best to keep things moving along once again, starting with this rather obscure and mysterious jazz record.
The overwhelming bulk of material commonly seen on the Grey Gull labels (Grey Gull, Radiex, Madison, Van Dyke, etc.) consists of relatively uninteresting popular songs and old standards by singers or their own studio band, usually released under pseudonyms. That isn’t to say they’re not good, I’m personally quite fond of the Grey Gull studio band with their wild and unusual arrangements, they’re just not terribly thrilling. However, don’t be fooled, there are a few exceptional jazz gems to be found on those labels. Many of these “sleeper” jazz tunes occupy the “B” side of popular songs. We previously heard Cliff Jackson’s Krazy Kats play their unbelievably hot “Horse Feathers” on the back of an ordinary dimestore rendition of “Confessin’ (That I Love You)”. This disc falls into the same category, featuring a hit pop song on the “A” side, and hot jazz on the reverse.
The “A” side of Madison 6002 was recorded in November of 1930, the “B” side was recorded on January 17, 1930. The first side features a standard Grey Gull studio band, while the flip is a little more interesting.
The “Cosmopolitan Dance Players” version of “The Little Things in Life”, featuring a vocal by Irving Kaufman, is really quite nice, certainly nothing to complain about. A fine rendition of a fine Irving Berlin tune.
The Little Things in Life, recorded November 1930 by the Cosmopolitan Dance Players.
It is generally accepted that the personnel of the “Levee Syncopators” is unknown, aside from the tune’s composer Claude Austin, who likely serves as pianist. Brian Rust listed it as a studio group with Mike Mosiello and Andy Sannella, though the style doesn’t fit with theirs, and that hypothesis has often been dismissed. At least one source suggests that it (along with several other hot and unknown Grey Gull bands) may have been made up of Walter Bennett on trumpet, Alberto Socarras on alto sax, Walter Edwards on clarinet and tenor sax, Austin on piano, and an unknown banjo player, similar to the lineups of Bennett’s Swamplanders and Gerald Clark’s Night Owls around the same time. Listening to other sides featuring those musicians, it sounds plausible, but I cannot confirm one way or the other with any degree of certainty. With Grey Gull’s ledgers presumably no longer in existence, it will likely remain shrouded in mystery.
The Rackett, recorded January 17, 1930 by the Levee Syncopators.
Jack Teagarden in band uniform. From Jazzmen, 1939, photo by Charles Peterson.
August 20 marks the day that we pay homage to that great trombone man from down in Texas, Jack Teagarden, who was born on that day in 1905. In celebration of the occasion, here is a record that holds great significance in the development of swing music. It is credited by Benny Goodman himself as the record that really saw him come into his own element, well on his path to becoming the King of Swing.
Jack was born Weldon Leo Teagarden in the small town of Vernon, Texas. His father was an oilfield worker who played cornet in a brass band, and his mother played ragtime piano and church organ. Jack took up the baritone horn, soon switching to trombone, his brothers Charlie and Clois chose trumpet and drums, respectively, and sister Norma learned piano. In 1921, Teagarden joined Peck Kelley’s band in Houston, and was offered a position in Paul Whiteman’s band when the famous bandleader was passing through, though Jack opted to remain in Texas. He made it to New York City in 1926, where he recorded with the orchestras of Ben Pollack, Roger Wolfe Kahn, and various bands organized by impresario Irving Mills, as well as numerous jazz bands led by the likes of Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong, establishing himself as the finest jazz trombonist of the age (and perhaps of any age), and a popular blues vocalist on the side. In the early 1930s, Teagarden played with Benny Goodman’s orchestras, helping to percolate the early inklings of swing at its best, but in 1933, he signed a contract with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for five years, preventing him from leading his own band as the swing era kicked off soon after. Despite having fairly little opportunity for solo work with Whiteman, Teagarden was able to get in a bit of side work during that time, and started his own band after parting ways with Whiteman in 1939. Though his orchestra lasted until 1946, it found little in the way of success. After World War II, Teagarden played with Louis Armstrongs All-Stars, and toured internationally more than once, remaining a mainstay in the jazz scene until his death from pneumonia in 1964.
Okeh 41577 was recorded February 9, 1931 in New York City by the Charleston Chasers, under the direction of Benny Goodman. It is a dub of the original issue on Columbia 2415-D (why they dubbed it, instead of master pressing, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure someone could.) The almost unbeatable band features Charlie Teagarden and Ruby Weinstein on trumpets, Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Sid Stoneburn on alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Dick McDonough on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Harry Goodman on string bass. Jack Teagarden sings the vocals on both sides. Unfortunately, some dumbbell thought it was a bright idea to carve an “X” into both labels.
Besides perhaps Louis Armstrong, “Basin Street Blues” is associated with no musician more than Jack Teagarden, who performed and recorded it a number of times. It was in fact Teagarden and Glenn Miller who were responsible for adding the opening verse, “Won’t you come along with me. / To the Mississippi,” to Spencer Williams’ famous song.
Basin Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.
Also quite associated with Teagarden is W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues”, which he recorded again soon after for Vocalion with Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang’s All-Star Orchestra.
Beale Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.