Continuing in out tradition of honoring music heroes of the 1920s and ’30s, today we remember Andy Kirk, on the 118th anniversary of his birth.
Andrew Dewey Kirk was born May 28, 1898 in Kentucky, but soon relocated to Denver, Colorado, where he spent his early years. In Denver, Kirk was instructed by Wilberforce Whiteman, father of Paul Whiteman, learning to play saxophone and tuba. He started his career as a professional musician with George Morrison’s band, before moving on to Terrence Holder’s Dark Clouds of Joy. Holder left the band in 1929, and Kirk assumed leadership, moving the group from Dallas to Kansas City, and renaming them the Twelve Clouds of Joy. In Kansas City, Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy gigged at the Pla-Mor Ballroom, and made their first recordings, with Mary Lou Williams on piano, in November of 1929 during a Brunswick field trip, followed by several more the next year. In 1931, Kirk picked up Blanche Calloway as a vocalist, and made several more records under the guise of “her Joy Boys”, after which he stopped recording for several years. He reemerged in 1936 with a hep swing band and a lucrative contract with Decca, with the Twelve Clouds of Joy becoming one of most successful territory bands, and in some regards, the successor to a position held by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra. When Billboard began charting hit records, his “Take It and Git” was the first to chart on the “Harlem Hit Parade”. Kirk gave up music in 1948, instead turning to a career in real estate and hotel management. He died in 1992 at the age of 94.
Brunswick 4653 was recorded on November 7 and 8, 1929 in Kansas City, Missouri. From Kirk’s first and second sessions, and his first issued record. The Twelve Clouds of Joy are comprised of Gene Prince and Harry Lawson on trumpets, Allen Durham on trombone, John Harrington on clarinet and alto sax, John Williams on alto sax and baritone sax, Lawrence ‘Slim’ Freeman on tenor sax, Andy Kirk on bass sax and tuba, Claude Williams on violin, Mary Lou Williams on piano, William Dirvin on banjo, guitar, Edward McNeil, drums.
First, the band plays Mary Lou Williams’ hot jazz arrangement of “Casey Jones”, styled here as “Casey Jones Special”. I’ve always loved that brief interjection of country fiddle before going right back into jazz.
I’m not sure if “Cloudy” was the official theme song of the Twelve Clouds of Joy, but it ought to have been if it wasn’t. They recorded this tune again for Decca in 1936, with a vocal by Pha Terrell.