Brunswick 4653 – Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy – 1929

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.

Casey Jones Special

Casey Jones Special, recorded November 8, 1929 by Andy Kirk’s Twelve Clouds of Joy.

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.

Cloudy

Cloudy, recorded November 7, 1929 by Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy.

Brunswick 4535 – Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang – 1929

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado.

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado (1939).

May 25 is National Tap Dance Day.  It’s also the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great tap dancer and consummate entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  (The two falling on the same day is far from a coincidence.)  With his characteristic dancing and charismatic persona, Robinson broke numerous color barriers in the show business, and likely introduced the word “copacetic” into the popular lexicon.

Bill Robinson was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, at some point, he switched names with his brother and became “Bill”.  Robinson began dancing in front of theaters for tips at the age of five, and was eventually offered work inside the theater.  At one point, he had an act with Al Jolson.  His career as an entertainer was interrupted when the Spanish-American War broke out, and he enlisted in the Army.  Once out of the Army, Robinson embarked on a long and groundbreaking career in vaudeville.  After Bert Williams’ death in 1922, Robinson succeeded him as the top black entertainer in the United States.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Bojangles”.  In 1928, Robinson appeared in Lew Leslies Blackbirds of 1928, and in 1939, he had a successful run in Michael Todd’s Hot Mikado.  Today, Robinson is likely best remembered for his film appearances with Shirley Temple, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935.  Also in 1935, he appeared in Will Rogers’ last film, In Old Kentucky.  In his own final movie, in 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers.  Bill Robinson died of heart failure on November 25, 1949.

Brunswick 4535 was recorded September 4, 1929 in New York by Bill Robinson, whose tap-dancing is accompanied by Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  The personnel of the band seems to be undetermined, it is most likely a white studio group possibly consisting Mannie Klein and Phil Napoleon on trumpets, Miff Mole on trombone, Pee Wee Russell, Arnold Brilhart and/or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Joe Tarto on tuba, Chauncey Morehouse on drums and an unknown piano and guitar player.  Some other sources however, including Robinson himself, cite it as Duke Ellington’s band.  I would be inclined to believe it’s more likely the former of the two.

On the first side of this very entertaining disc, Robinson patters with his feet and with his mouth on “Doin’ the New Low Down”, a song he introduced in Blackbirds of 1928.

Doin' the New Low Down

Doin’ the New Low Down, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

On the reverse, Bojangles seems a little more exuberant on his performance of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.  “This is the way I walk when I got plenty money on Broad-way!”

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ain’t Misbehavin’, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

Victor V-38068 – Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders – 1929

Lionel Hampton. From Esquire's Jazz Book, 1944.

Lionel Hampton, sweat pouring down his chest. From Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.

Today we celebrate the birthday of vibraphonist and drummer Lionel Hampton with one of his earliest records.  From his time with Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders in Hollywood, these are the first two sides are from Hamp’s second session, and his first issued.

Lionel Hampton was born on April 20, 1908 in Louisville, Kentucky, and spent his childhood first in Kenosha, Wisconsin, then in Chicago.  As a teenager in Chicago, Hampton took xylophone lessons from Jimmy Bertrand, and played drum at the Holy Rosary Academy.  He began his musical career with the Chicago Defender Newsboys’ Band, and moved to California in the late 1920s.  Around 1929, Hamp joined Paul Howard’s territory band playing drums, with whom he stayed until the band broke up in 1930.  From Howard’s band, he was picked up by Les Hite, who led a band fronted at one point by Louis Armstrong during his tenure at Sebastian’s New Cotton Club in L.A.  With Armstrong, Hampton is credited with playing the first vibraphone in a popular song on record, in “Memories of You”.  After studying music at the University of South California, Hampton formed his own band in the mid-1930s, and played with Benny Goodman on the side.  Hampton continued to play and lead bands for many years, slowing down in his old age, and died of congestive heart failure in 2001, at the age of 94.

Victor V-38068 was recorded April 28, 1929 in Culver City, California, the first issued record by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.  The Quality Serenaders consist of George Orendorff on trumpet, Lawrence Brown on trombone, Charlie Lawrence on alto sax and clarinet, Paul Howard on tenor sax, Harvey Brooks on piano, “Kid” Thomas Valentine on banjo, James Jackson on tuba, and the young Lionel Hampton on drums.

First up is “Moonlight Blues”.  Lionel Hampton sings the scat vocal on this side, called “novelty effects” on the label.

Moonlight Blues

Moonlight Blues, recorded April 28, 1929 by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.

The flip, a stomp called “The Ramble”, is a masterpiece if there ever was one.

The Ramble

The Ramble, recorded April 28, 1929 by Paul Howard’s Quality Serenaders.

Updated with improved audio on June 21, 2017.

Columbia 14427-D – Bessie Smith – 1929

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1939.

On this day, we celebrate the 122nd anniversary of the birthday of the Empress of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith.

Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, though the 1900 census reported that she was born in 1892.  Both her parents died while she was still a child, and she and Bessie and some of her siblings turned to busking to make ends meet.  Her brother left to join Moses Stoke’s troupe in 1910, and returned later to take Bessie with him.  She worked, variously, in stage shows and on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit.  In 1923, Smith was in New York, and made her first records for Columbia, with whom she would remain for the rest of her career, save for a few Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh.  She became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, and the highest paid black performer in the United States.  In 1929, she made her only filmed appearance in St. Louis Blues.  Hard times came with the Great Depression however, she made her final recordings on Columbia in 1931, and after a hiatus, made four more in 1933 for Okeh, accompanied by Buck Washington and his band, which proved to be her last.

In the wee hours of September 26, 1937, Bessie was riding down Highway 61—”the Blues Highway”—with her lover at the wheel, when his Packard collided with a slow-moving truck ahead.  Bessie was mortally wounded.  The first to arrive at the scene was one Dr. Smith who dressed Bessie’s wounds while his fishing buddy called for an ambulance.  After some time passed with no ambulance in sight, the doctor decided to move Bessie in his own car, when another car came screaming down the road and plowed into Bessie’s Packard, which bounced off Dr. Smith’s car and landed in the ditch off the side of the road.  Finally, two ambulances arrived, one from the white hospital, and another from the black hospital.  Bessie Smith was taken to the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where her badly injured right arm was amputated, but she never regained consciousness, and died that morning.  (Contrary to rumors propagated by John Hammond, she did not die as a result of being brought to an all-white hospital, as she was not taken to an all-white hospital.)

Columbia 14427-D was recorded May 8, 1929 in New York City by Bessie Smith.  She is accompanied on piano by Clarence Williams and on guitar by Eddie Lang.  The DAHR shows takes “2” and “3” were issued on both sides, these are “3” and “2”, respectively.  Both sides are more than a bit on the raunchy side, so if you’re a prude, you may want to turn back here.

On the first side of this disc, Bessie sings “I’m Wild About That Thing”, probably one of her more famous tunes.

I'm Wild About That Thing

I’m Wild About That Thing, recorded May 8, 1929 by Bessie Smith.

On the reverse, Smith sings the equally racy “You’ve Got to Give Me Some”.

You've Got to Give Me Some

You’ve Got to Give Me Some, recorded May 8, 1929 by Bessie Smith.

Champion 15687 – Dan Hughey – 1929

Before there were folk singers like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, there was “The Kentucky Mountain Boy”, Bradley Kincaid (who performs under a pseudonym on this disc).  Equally comfortable in hillbilly attire as with round framed spectacles, tidy hair, and pressed suits, Kincaid was of a decidedly more sophisticated mold than many of the more “hillbilly” folk singers of his day, while still not succumbing to the urbanity that has in some eyes damaged the credibility of such performers as Vernon Dalhart.

Bradley Kincaid was born in Point Level, Kentucky on July 13, 1895 and made his radio debut on Chicago’s WLS National Barn Dance in 1926 and later became a member of the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville in 1945.  After a long and successful career which included giving future Grand Ole Opry star Marshall Jones the nickname “Grandpa” while working with him at a Boston radio station in 1935, Kincaid died following injuries sustained in a car accident at the ripe old age of 94 on September 23, 1989.

Champion 15687 was recorded January 28, 1929 in Richmond, Indiana by Bradley Kincaid, given the nom de disque “Dan Hughey” on this release.  It was also issued on Gennett 6761 and Supertone 9362, and later reissued on Champion 45057 by Decca.  The “A” side also appeared on Superior 2656.

One of the great classic American folk songs, Kincaid first sings “Four Thousand Years Ago”, called “The Highly Educated Man” by John A. Lomax in his American Ballads and Folk Songs.

Four Thousand Years Ago

Four Thousand Years Ago, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

On the reverse, Kincaid sings “Liza Up In the ‘Simmon Tree”.  This is one of those folk songs that bears great lyrical similarity to other songs; for example, “shoes and stockings in her hand and her feet all over the floor” can be heard in Wendell Hall’s “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No Mo'”, and “well, I wouldn’t marry a poor girl, I’ll tell you the reason why…” is similar to the lyrics of “Chewing Gum”, as sung by the Carter Family.

Liza Up in the Simmon Tree

Liza Up in the ‘Simmon Tree, recorded January 28, 1929 by Dan Hughey.

Updated on June 15, 2017.