Brunswick 6543 – Art Tatum – 1933

Art Tatum in the 1940s. Pictured in the 1944 Esquire Jazz Book.

One of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz music was Art Tatum, whose virtuosity on the piano was perhaps unparalleled.  He was a favorite of almost all fellow jazz musicians, as well as such classical greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski.

Arthur Tatum, Jr., was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a guitar playing father and piano playing mother.  As a baby, he was afflicted with cataracts, which left him mostly blind for the rest of his life, in spite of surgical intervention.  As a child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play the piano play by ear.  He attended blind school in the 1920s, and later studied music.  Tatum began playing on the radio in 1927, known as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist”, and soon began playing at the local Waiters & Bellman’s Club, where he was a favorite of jazz greats by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Fletcher Henderson.  In 1932, Tatum was noticed by the singer Adelaide Hall, who invited him to tour with her.  He accompanied her back to New York, where he made his first recordings as a member of her backing orchestra.  Not long after, he had his first solo recording session for Brunswick records, cutting the first versions of his famous arrangements of “Tea for Two” and “Tiger Rag”, among others.  His subsequent recordings were made for Decca.  Tatum remained in New York until the end of 1934, then went back west to the Midwest, and to Los Angeles, appearing on Rudy Vallée’s Fleischmann Hour in 1935.  He returned to New York in 1937, and then embarked on the Queen Mary for a tour of England.  After returning to the States, Tatum was a hit on 52nd Street throughout the 1940s, and toured around the country frequently.  He also participated in concerts and sessions organized by jazz impresario Norman Granz, and was one of Esquire’s 1944 Jazz All-Stars.  A chronic alcoholic, Art Tatum suffered kidney failure and died on November 5, 1956.

Brunswick 6543 was recorded in New York City on March 21, 1933.  It is Art Tatum’s first issued solo record, and his second and third recorded solo sides.  Both are modernistic stride improvisations on old standards.

First up is one of Art Tatum’s most famous performances, his frenetic arrangement of Nick La Rocca’s “Tiger Rag”.

Tiger Rag, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

Next up is Tatum’s interpretation of W.C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues”.  Brian Rust notes two issued takes of this side, this is “A”.

St. Louis Blues, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

Okeh 6893 – Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band – 1933

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

The time has come once again to honor the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  I’ve already covered her life in some detail previously, so this post is dedicated to her famous last session.

Bessie Smith’s career flourished throughout the roaring twenties, but was hampered by the onset of the Great Depression.  Bessie made her final recordings for the Columbia label—for whom she had recorded since her debut in 1923—near the end of 1931, as the economy continued to dive.  After two years spent touring, record producer John Hammond brought her back to the studio for a session with Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia since 1926).  For this session, Smith was paid a non-royalty sum of $37.50 (equivalent to around $690 dollars today).  With an all-star band led by pianist Buck Washington (best known as half of the popular vaudeville duo Buck and Bubbles) assembled to accompany her, the four sides cut at that session helped bring her style into the burgeoning era of swing.  That lone Okeh session, however, proved to be her last.  Smith made no further recordings between then and her fatal car accident four years later, and in that period of time faded into obscurity; by 1936 she was working as a hostess in a Philadelphia club.

Okeh 6893 was recorded on November 24, 1933 in New York City.  It was originally issued on Okeh 8949, this reissue dates to 1952.  In the band accompanying Bessie is the almost legendary lineup of Frank Newton on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Chu Berry on tenor sax, Buck Washington on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, and Billy Taylor on string bass.  Benny Goodman was recording in an adjoining studio that day, and sat in for this session, but I’m not sure if he can be heard on these two sides.  The songs on both sides were composed by Wesley “Socks” Wilson.

First up, Bessie is at her all-time best on the legendary “Gimme a Pigfoot”.

Gimme a Pigfoot, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Next, she gives another great performance on the classic “Take Me For a Buggy Ride”.

Take Me For a Buggy Ride, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Updated with improved audio on October 20, 2017.

Perfect 13090 – Bill Cox – 1933/1934

A Perfect sleeve emblazoned with the NRA Blue Eagle.

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 what may just be the greatest political topical song of the Great Depression-era: “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,

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, 1933 by Bill Cox.

Hard Luck Blues, recorded September 4, 1934 by Bill Cox.

Updated with improved audio on June 23, 2017.

Brunswick 6472 – Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians – 1933

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Guy Lombardo. From 1932 P&G publication.

Today we honor the consummate bandleader Guy Lombardo, whose Royal Canadians were a staple on records and radio for many decades—and who better to help celebrate the occasion than old Der Bingle?

Gaetano Alberto Lombardo was born in London, Ontario on June 19, 1902.  His father had each of his children learn to play different instruments so they could accompany his singing.  The Lombardo brothers put their first orchestra together when they were still children, and they first played in public in 1914.  Ten years later, Guy Lombardo and his Orchestra made their first recordings for the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, released on the Gennett label.  After Gennett, the Royal Canadians recorded briefly for Brunswick, which yielded two issued sides on Vocalion in 1927, and then with Columbia, with whom he stayed until 1931.  Following his engagement with Columbia, he took his band to Brunswick from 1932 to ’34, then to Decca, as many Brunswick artists did after former employee Jack Kapp founded the company.  The Royal Canadians switched to Victor for a period, before returning to Decca in 1938.  Lombardo’s was perhaps most famous for his New Years Eve shows, which began at the Roosevelt Hotel in 1929, and continued until after his death, with the tradition carried on by his band, despite competition from Dick Clark.  Though Lombardo’s “sweet” style of music was derided by many jazz fans who preferred their music served hot, he was reportedly hailed by the likes of both Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington.  Guy Lombardo died of a heart attack on November 5, 1977.

Brunswick 6472 was recorded January 12, 1933 in New York City by Bing Crosby accompanied by Guy Lombardo’s Royal Canadians.  Both songs originate from the 1933 musical film 42nd Street.

First, Bing croons “Young and Healthy”, with Lombardo’s Royal Canadians in fine form.

Young and Healthy

Young and Healthy, recorded January 12, 1933 by Bing Crosby with Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

On the flip-side, Lombardo takes top billing on “You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me”.

You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me

You’re Getting to Be a Habit With Me, recorded Janury 12, 1933 by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians with Bing Crosby.

Vocalion 2587 – Cliff Edwards (Ukulele Ike) – 1933

Today we celebrate the birthday of Cliff Edwards, the man known as “Ukulele Ike”.  He was one of the leading figures in the proliferation of the ukulele during the roaring twenties, and made his mark on the cinematic world as the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.  Edwards’ distinctive vocal style was punctuated with his trademark “effin’,” a sort of kazoo sounding scat singing of his own creation.

Cliff Edwards as illustrated in Radio Round-Ups by Gurman and Slager, 1932.

Clifton Avon Edwards was born June 14, 1895 in Hannibal, Missouri, of no particular musical background.  He took up singing in St. Louis saloons in his teenage years, and bought his first ukulele because it was the cheapest instrument he could find.  He was given the nickname “Ukulele Ike” by a bar owner who couldn’t remember his actual name.  In 1918, he made a hit in Chicago with “Ja-Da” and was hired onto the vaudeville stage by Joe Frisco.  He made his first phonograph records in 1922 with Ladd’s Black Aces and Bailey’s Lucky Seven, for Gennett, and was signed to Pathé soon after.  Over the course of the 1920s, he made his way to the top, becoming one of the most successful singing stars in America, with numerous hits on record and stage.  In 1929, Edwards was brought into the world of moving pictures by Irving Thalberg, and made his mark on the budding talking pictures with his introduction of “Singin’ in the Rain” in The Hollywood Revue of 1929.  He continued to appear in movies through the 1930s, and provided the voice of Jiminy Cricket in Walt Disney’s production of Pinocchio in 1940.  His stardom in stage, screen, and radio faded over the course of the Great Depression, though he continued to work in show business for many years, still making sporadic appearances in the 1950s and ’60s.  In spite of his fame and success, Edwards was careless with his money, and died penniless of arteriosclerosis in 1971.  Most of his medical bills were paid by Walt Disney Productions.

Vocalion 2587 was recorded October 24 and 26, 1933 in New York City by Cliff Edwards.  Both sides feature tunes from the 1933 motion picture Take a Chance.  Edwards is accompanied by Dick McDonough on guitar on the first side, and Artie Bernstein on string bass on the second.

Here, Ukulele Ike croons the Depression-era classic “It’s Only a Paper Moon” from 1933’s Take a Chance, in which Edwards appeared.  One of my personal favorites.

It's Only a Paper Moon

It’s Only a Paper Moon, recorded October 24, 1933 by Cliff Edwards “Ukulele Ike”.

Next, he sings a less remembered, but equally excellent tune, Herman “Dodo” Hupfeld’s “Night Owl”.  I can relate.

Night Owl

Night Owl, recorded October 26, 1933 by Cliff Edwards “Ukulele Ike”.

Updated on May 31, 2017 and June 9, 2017, and with improved audio on April 1, 2018.