Vocalion 3567 – Erskine Hawkins and his ‘Bama State Collegians – 1937

Erskine Hawkins in 1936 or earlier, pictured in the 1942 Victor and Bluebird Catalog.

Right up there in the pantheon of great jazz trumpeters resides the “Twentieth Century Gabriel”, bandleader Erskine Hawkins, whose popular recordings helped to define the Swing Era.

Erskine Ramsay Hawkins was born in Birmingham, Alabama on July 26, 1914, named for local industrialist Erskine Ramsay, who promised to open bank accounts for boys named in his honor.  He attended Birmingham’s Industrial High School and played trumpet in the band under director Fess Whately before graduating to the State Teachers College.  There, he led the ‘Bama State Collegians, with whom he later traveled to New York to embark on his recording career.  Hawkins cut his first two records on July 20, 1936 for Vocalion, debuting with “It Was a Sad Night in Harlem”.  Thereafter, he returned to the Vocalion studio four times, recording four sides at each session, resulting in a total of twenty.  He also secured a gig as house band at Harlem’s renowned Savoy Ballroom, alternating with Chick Webb’s orchestra, an arrangement which lasted a decade.  Billed as the “Twentieth Century Gabriel”, as his popularity climbed, he was signed by the RCA Victor Company in 1938 to record for their Bluebird label, a fruitful arrangement that resulted in prolific recordmaking and numerous successes, including his own “Tuxedo Junction” in 1939—most famously covered by Glenn Miller’s orchestra—and “Tippin’ In” in 1945.  He remained with RCA Victor, eventually graduating to their flagship Victor label, until 1950, after which he moved to Decca’s budget label Coral.  After the conclusion of the Swing Era following World War II, like so many of his contemporaries, Hawkins’ fame began to wind down, but he remained active as a musician.  From the 1960s until the end of his career, he led the house orchestra at the Concord Resort Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of New York.  Erskine Hawkins died on November 11, 1993 at his home in New Jersey.

Vocalion 3567 was recorded on April 19, 1937 in New York City.  The ‘Bama State Collegians are Erskine Hawkins, Wilbur Bascomb, Marcellus Green, and Sam Lowe on trumpets, Edward Sims and Robert Range on trombones, William Johnson and Jimmy Mitchelle on alto saxes, Paul Bascomb on tenor sax, Haywood Henry on clarinet and baritone sax, Avery Parrish on piano, William McLemore on guitar, Leemie Stanfield on string bass, and James Morrison on drums.

First up, the ‘Bama State Collegians play a swinging orchestration of the Stephen Foster standard “The Old Folks at Home”, here given the familiar title “‘Way Down Upon the Swanee River”.

‘Way Down Upon the Swanee River, recorded on April 19, 1937 by Erskine Hawkins and his ‘Bama State Collegians.

On the flip, they play an outstanding jazz rendition of the 1921 Henry Creamer and Turner Layton composition “Dear Old Southland”, quite probably my personal favorite swing side.  Brian Rust notes that this piece was arranged by trumpeter Sam Lowe, and I suspect the former side was as well, though not noted as such.

Dear Old Southland, recorded on April 19, 1937 by Erskine Hawkins and his ‘Bama State Collegians.

Victor 25523 – Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra – 1937

The nineteenth of November marks the anniversary of the birth of the legendary “Sentimental Gentleman of Swing”—Tommy Dorsey.  I could pay tribute to him with some rare and obscure hot jazz disc from his early days, and indeed I probably should, but frankly, I’d rather commemorate the occasion with one of my favorites of his records, one of his biggest swing hits.

Tommy Dorsey, pictured in a 1940-’41 RCA Victor catalog.

The younger of the famed Dorsey Brothers, Thomas Francis Dorsey, Jr., was born on November 19, 1905 in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, one of four Dorsey children, of whom three survived into adulthood.  Tommy initially took up the trumpet as a boy in his father’s band, and later switched to trombone.  He played both instruments proficiently throughout his career.  Tommy got his first professional gig in 1921, when his brother Jimmy recommended him to replace trombonist Russ Morgan in Billy Lustig’s Scranton Sirens Orchestra, and both brothers played in that band until Jean Goldkette poached them for his own orchestra in 1923.  Tommy made his first recordings with Goldkette in 1924, but remained in the band’s roster—which also famously included the likes of Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, Joe Venuti, and Eddie Lang—only until 1925, when he left to join the California Ramblers. and began working prolifically as a studio musician.  Before departing, Tommy, along with other members of Goldkette’s orchestra, sat in at the first session of Bix Beiderbecke’s Rhythm Jugglers in 1925.  Both Dorsey brothers joined “King of Jazz” Paul Whiteman’s orchestra in 1927.  He made his first record under his own name in 1928: a pair of trumpet solos on the Okeh label.  The Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra also made their first records for Okeh in 1928, originally strictly as a recording band made up of studio men, an arrangement which continued into the 1930s.  Not long after forming a “real” band around 1934 with a recording contract for Decca, Tommy—always the temperamental one—stormed off the stage in 1935, creating a rift between the brothers.  Thereafter, the brothers split up; Jimmy continued to lead the former Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra for Decca, while Tommy bought out Joe Haymes’ orchestra and began recording for Victor.  Both Dorseys enjoyed great success leading their own orchestras, and the two became leading names as the swing era began.

With “I’m Getting Sentimental Over You” as his theme song, Dorsey’s orchestra was known for playing music on sweet side, but he also led a smaller jazz group: the Clambake Seven.  Among the many hits to Tommy Dorsey’s name were “Song of India” and “Marie” in 1937, “I’ll Never Smile Again” in 1940, and “Opus No. 1” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street” in 1944, the latter two featuring arrangements by Sy Oliver.  In 1939, Dorsey replaced vocalist Jack Leonard with a young man from Hoboken, who had previously made his first records with the orchestra of Harry James: Frank Sinatra.  Sinatra remained in his band until 1942, when, as things tended to go with Tommy Dorsey, they parted ways acrimoniously.  In 1947, both Dorsey brothers appeared in the biographical picture The Fabulous Dorseys, and in 1953, they finally reunited when Jimmy disbanded his own band was invited to join Tommy’s.  Together once again, they began appearing on television.  Tommy Dorsey died after choking in his sleep on November 26, 1956.  Jimmy took over and led his band until his own death the following year.  Like that of fellow bandleader Glenn Miller, the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra continued to operate and perform into the modern day.

Victor 25523 was recorded at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City on January 29, 1937 in a session supervised by Leonard Joy.  The orchestra is made up of Bunny Berigan, Jimmy Welch, Joe Bauer, and Bob Cusumano on trumpets, Tommy Dorsey, Les Jenkins, and E. W. “Red” Bone on trombones, Joe Dixon on clarinet and alto sax, Fred Stulce and Clyde Roundson alto sax, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Dick Jones on piano, Carmen Mastren on guitar, Gene Traxler on string bass, and Dave Tough on drums.  It originally appeared with Victor’s “scroll” label, which was discontinued in 1937, this pressing dates to soon after, probably around 1938.  It was Tommy Dorsey’s first big hit with his own orchestra, after his split with brother Jimmy.

On the “A” side, designated a “Swing Classic” and rightly so, the boys swing the old “Song of India”, originally from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1896 opera Sadko, with an enticing arrangement by Dorsey.

Song of India, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

On “B”, they play a song that’s truly near the top of my very long list of favorites, Irving Berlin’s “Marie”, with a lead vocal by Jack Leonard, backed by a chorus made up of members of the band—and a solid trumpet solo provided by Berigan.  I tell you, all the really best swing records have Bunny Berigan in the lineup.

Marie, recorded January 29, 1937 by Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra.

Melotone 7-07-64 – Big Bill – 1937

It’s come time once again to pay tribute to blues legend Big Bill Broonzy, on the (unconfirmed) anniversary of his birth.  Last time, I posted one of his earlier records, coupling his memorable flatpicked “How You Want it Done?” with “M & O Blues”, featuring his own jug band.  This time around, I present two sides from around the time when he was shifting from his country blues roots to a more urbane style.  I biographed Big Bill in that previous post, so I feel that I needn’t go over that again here.

An ever-versatile musician, the 1930s marked a period of development and transition for Big Bill Broonzy’s music.  He started out the decade playing pure country blues from back where he came from, akin to Josh White, or Buddy Moss.  His recordings from that period, like “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “How You Want it Done?” generally feature his own guitar, sometimes backed with another guitar or a piano.  Later, around the time the swing era kicked off in the middle part of the decade, Chicago evidently had an effect on him, as he started to develop a more citified style to fit with the public’s changing tastes.  Accordingly, his recordings started to swing, often backed by an instrumental ensemble with horn and rhythm, comparable to urban blues contemporaries like Peetie Wheatstraw.  He worked extensively with fellow blues people such as pianist Black Bob, Hawaiian guitar man Casey Bill Weldon, harmonica player Bill “Jazz” Gillum, and his half brother Washboard Sam.  By the end of the decade, his work had become quite sophisticated, producing some of his most memorable work, including “Key to the Highway” and “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town”.  After the end of World War II, however, as interests in folk music began to bud, Bill returned to his rural roots.

Melotone 7-07-64 was recorded on January 31, 1937 in Chicago. Illinois.  Big Bill is accompanied by a rhythm band made up of “Mister Sheiks” Alfred Bell on trumpet, Black Bob Hudson on piano, Bill Settles on string bass, Fred Williams on drums, and Broonzy’s own guitar.

First up, Big Bill plays a classic mid-1930s blues side, “Mean Old World”, an entirely different piece than the T-Bone Walker hit of the 1940s, though Walker may have found some inspiration in this Broonzy tune.

Mean Old World, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Next, Bill does a peppy one with a hot dance accompaniment, “Barrel House When it Rains”, featuring the piano of the mysterious Black Bob, among others noted Chicago blues figures.

Barrel House When it Rains, recorded January 31, 1937 by Big BIll.

Master MA 103 – Hudson-DeLange Orchestra – 1937

Some of my very favorite music comes out of the second half of the 1930s, yet so little of that has been featured here on Old Time Blues so far.  To remedy that omission, here’s some sweet swing, courtesy of the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

The Hudson-DeLange Orchestra was formed in 1935 by the songwriting duo of Will Hudson and Eddie DeLange, who were responsible for the 1934 hit “Moonglow”.  As one of the multitude of bands managed by New York jazz impresario Irving Mills, the band was usually fronted by DeLange, with Hudson remaining behind the scenes.  Contracted first to the Brunswick records (at the time owned by the American Record Corporation, for whom Mills’ artists recorded at the time), the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra held their first session on January 15, 1936.  The following year, they moved to Master, one of two labels (the other being Variety) made for a brief period in 1937 by the American Record Corporation for Irving Mills’ stable of artists. The bandleaders split up in 1938, and Hudson and DeLange went separate ways.  Will Hudson continued to lead the orchestra for a period, then recorded with a different band for Decca in 1940.  Eddie DeLange started a new band, and recorded for Bluebird.

Master MA 103 was recorded on March 10 and 11, 1937 in New York City by the (Will) Hudson-(Eddie) DeLange Orchestra.  In the band are Charles Mitchell, Howard Schaumberger, and Jimmy Blake on trumpets, Edward Kolyer on trombone, George Bohn and Gus Bivona on clarinet and alto sax, Pete Brendel on alto and baritone sax, Ted Duane on clarinet and tenor sax, Mark Hyams on piano, Bus Etri on guitar, Doc Goldberg on string bass, and Nat Pollard on drums.

Recorded on the latter date, Will Hudson’s “Sophisticated Swing” perfectly captures the elegance and—appropriately—sophistication of the 1930s, as opposed to the gritty Depression captured by, say, Bill Cox’s “N. R. A. Blues” (or most anything by Woody Guthrie).

Sophisticated Swing, recorded March 11, 1937 by the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

On the flip-side, the band swings a little harder on “The Maid’s Night Off”, recorded on the former date.

The Maid’s Night Off, recorded on March 10, 1937 by the Hudson-DeLange Orchestra.

Decca 1600 – Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats – 1937

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

Connie Boswell with ceramic cats, late 1930s.

The time has come once again to remember Miss Connie Boswell of the famous Boswell Sisters on the anniversary of her birth.  Last time, we celebrated the occasion with her “Washboard Blues”.  Since I’ve already covered Connie’s life, let’s instead take a look at a very important record in her career.

In 1936, the Boswell Sisters had taken their last curtain call.  Connie was the only one still singing professionally, and the Andrews Sisters came to fill the role once occupied by the Bozzies.   Though already a popular recording artist, the following year, Connie came up with something that was to make hers one of the biggest names in popular music through the 1940s.  Inspired by her childhood love for Caruso, as well as that for her sister Martha, Connie wanted to swing Friedrich von Flotow’s “M’appari tutt’amor” from the opera Martha.  At first, Decca was hesitant to release the swinging tune, worried that desecrating the operatic piece as jazz would spark outrage, but she convinced them, assuring the company that she would assume full responsibility if things turned sour.  On the contrary, “Martha” was Connie’s biggest hit since the breakup of the Boswell Sisters, and made her one of the biggest things of 1938, earning her a newspaper interview with famed reporter Ernie Pyle.  The attention Connie received even caused bandleader Larry Clinton to send an irritated letter accusing her of ripping off the idea from him.  After “Martha”, Connie held her position, making a series of hits, including a number of duets with Bing Crosby, until a 1947 hiatus took her out of the Hit Parade until her return to recording in 1951, at which point she revived “Martha” in “soundie” format for Snader Telescriptions.

Decca 1600 was recorded on November 13, 1937 in Los Angeles, California.  Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats are made up of Yank Lawson on trumpet, Warren Smith on trombone, Matty Matlock on clarinet, Eddie Miller on tenor sax, Bob Zurke on piano, Nappy Lamare on guitar, Bob Haggart on string bass, and Ray Bauduc on drums.

Below, taking up more space on this page than I’d like, you can see Connie Boswell’s own lyric sheet, most likely a rough draft, for “Martha”, presumably typed by Connie herself.  It is typed on a letterhead bearing the name of Harry Leedy, Connie’s husband and manager, as can be seen through the paper near the bottom.  Evidently, she made a mistake and flipped the sheet over to type on the other side.

Lyrics for "Martha" hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself, on Harry Leedy letterhead.

Lyrics for “Martha” hand typed, presumably, by Connie herself.

Now, the much anticipated, and unfortunately under-appreciated today, “Martha (Ah So Pure [M’appari tutt’amor])” really swings, thanks in no small part to the top-of-the-line accompaniment by Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.  As you can see, Decca took special care to label it “Swing Vocal” rather than simply “Vocal”

Martha

Martha, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Cats.

On the reverse, Connie swings another tune, this time the old cowboy song “Home On the Range”.  “I like the nightclub with its swinging saxes, but when it comes to payin’ taxes, I’ll take my home on the range.”

Home On the Range

Home On the Range, recorded November 13, 1937 by Connie Boswell with Bob Crosby’s Bob Cats.