By many accounts, the swing era kicked off on August 21, 1935, when Benny Goodman’s band played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California. They say that Goodman’s boys were playing it on the sweet side, with stock arrangements and little swing, and the crowds weren’t much having it. Amongst the yawns, Gene Krupa suggested, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing,” and so the band got out their hot Fletcher Henderson arrangements and hepped the cats to kingdom come. Thus, the swing era was born.
Swing as a genre had emerged earlier in the decade, as the largely distinct styles of hot jazz and orchestrated dance music of the 1920s began to converge as one: jazz made for dancing. Early exponents of the style included the orchestras of Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Cab Calloway, the Casa Loma Orchestra, and others. Of course, there’s more to it than that, but you’ll have to ask a musician about it, ’cause I couldn’t tell you.
In a session supervised by Ed Kirkeby, Victor 25090 was recorded on July 1, 1935 at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City. It was released on July 31, exactly four weeks prior to his date at the Palomar. In the band are Bunny Berigan, Ralph Muzillo, and Nate Kazebier on trumpets, Sterling Ballard and Jack Lacy on trombones, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Toots Mondello and Hymie Schertzer on alto saxophones, Arthur Rollini and Dick Clark on tenor saxes, Frank Froeba on piano Allan Ruess on guitar, Harry Goodman on string bass, Gene Krupa on drums
Benny Goodman’s famous recording of Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter” (Stomp) received high marks from the music publications of the day, and rightly so, it’s a masterwork. Henderson’s own band recorded variations of the arrangement at least thrice, first in 1928 for Columbia, then for Okeh in 1932 as “New King Porter Stomp”, and finally for Vocalion in 1933. Whether or not Benny’s band played this one at the Palomar Ballroom, I really don’t know, but it seems likely.
King Porter, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.
On the reverse, they play a little less hot, but nonetheless excellent on “Sometimes I’m Happy”, from Hit the Deck—another Henderson arrangement.
Sometimes I’m Happy, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.
Benny Goodman, as pictured in Esquire’s Jazz Book, 1944.
The first birthday ever celebrated on Old Time Blues was the legendary Benny Goodman’s. Now the time has come around once again to pay tribute to one of the most important musical figures of the twentieth century, and one of my own favorites, the one and only King of Swing.
Benjamin David Goodman was born on May 30, 1909, the ninth of twelve children of David and Dora Goodman, a family of poor Jewish immigrants in Chicago, Illinois, a pivotal location in the development of jazz. Goodman’s father took him to free concerts on the weekends, and enrolled him in twenty-five cent music lessons at the local synagogue. He later took clarinet lessons under a classically trained professional. Benny soon joined the boy’s club band at the Hull House. He first played professionally in 1921, and joined Ben Pollack’s Orchestra at the age of sixteen, with whom he made his first commercial recordings in 1926.
In 1928, Goodman made his first records under his own name for Vocalion and Brunswick as “Bennie Goodman’s Boys”. By that time, he had already recorded quite extensively, and continued to work prolifically as a studio musician until forming his own orchestra. After making a series of dance band recordings for Brunswick’s Melotone label in 1930 and ’31, and one date with Columbia the same year, Goodman, with the help of John Hammond, who arranged for a series of sessions for Columbia, put together the first incarnation of the band that would make him famous in 1933. With Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, and others in-and-out, Goodman’s new band played swing. In June of 1934, Goodman and his orchestra opened at Billy Rose’s new Music Hall at 52nd and Broadway, and secured a spot on the NBC radio show Let’s Dance. With need to expand his repertoire as a result of his newfound success, Goodman began purchasing sophisticated arrangements from Fletcher Henderson. In 1935, Goodman’s orchestra switched from the failing Columbia to Victor Records, which soon produced a hit with “King Porter Stomp”.
On August 21, 1935, Benny Goodman’s orchestra kicked off the swing era with a famous engagement at the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California. In 1937, Goodman and his orchestra appeared in The Big Broadcast of 1937 and Hollywood Hotel. As Goodman’s popularity continued to soar, Goodman earned the distinction of leading the first jazz ensemble to play at Carnegie Hall, at his legendary concert on January 16, 1938. In addition to his orchestra, Goodman also led small groups, his famous Trios, Quartets, and Sextets. Goodman refuted segregation, employing the likes of Charlie Christian, Lionel Hampton, and Teddy Wilson, once stating, “If a guy’s got it, let him give it. I’m selling music, not prejudice.” At various points, his band employed the enticing vocals of Helen Ward, Martha Tilton, and Peggy Lee, among many others. In 1939, he left Victor to return to Columbia, which had been purchased and revived by CBS, with his band appearing on first issue of the revived label. His success did not falter through the end of the swing era in the middle of the 1940s. Even after swing had swung, Goodman was still in demand as a revered jazz musician. In 1947, he switched labels once again, to Johnny Mercer’s Capitol Records. He made forays into bebop, cool jazz, and classical music. Benny Goodman continued to play until his death from a heart attack on June 13, 1986.
Columbia 2958-D was recorded on August 16, 1934 in New York City. In the band are Russ Case, Jerry Neary, and Sam Shapiro on trumpets, Red Ballard and Jack Lacey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Hymie Schertzer and Ben Kantor on alto sax, Arthur Rollini on tenor sax, Claude Thornhill on piano, George Van Eps on guitar, Hank Wayland on string bass, and Sammy Weiss on drums. As indicated by the “Music Hall” appellation, this record dates to Goodman’s stretch at Billy Rose’s Music Hall.
First up is Benny Goodman’s amazingly energetic first recording of “Bugle Call Rag”, most certainly my favorite recording of the standard. Goodman recorded another notable version for Victor in 1936, and it remained a staple of his repertoire.
Bugle Call Rag, recorded August 16, 1934 by Benny Goodman and his Music Hall Orchestra.
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.
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.
Columbia’s custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.
In addition to Jimmie Lunceford, June 6 also marks the 126th anniversary of Ted Lewis’ birth. Here’s one of his most popular records of the 1930s, as well as one of my personal favorite Ted Lewis vocal performances.
Ted Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890. He took up playing the clarinet professionally, though some would argue that his abilities on the instrument were limited. He first recorded with Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band, and soon began recording for Columbia with his own jazz band, switching to Decca in 1934. With his trademark phrase, “is everybody happy?”, his schmaltzy “talk-singing” and tendency to employ top-notch musicians made him one of the most popular musical personalities of the 1920s, and into the 1930s, alongside Paul Whiteman. However, his style faded from popularity as swing became king, and his music fell out of favor, though he continued to perform for many years. Ted Lewis died on August 25, 1971.
Columbia 2652-D was recorded March 15 and 22, 1932 in New York City. Ted Lewis’ band consists of Muggsy Spanier and Dave Klein on trumpets, George Brunies on trombone; Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto sax, Sam Shapiro and Sol Klein on violins, Jack Aaronson on piano, Tony Gerhardi on guitar, Harry Barth on string bass and tuba, and John Lucas on drums.
The quintessential Depression-era tune “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, introduced in the motion picture Crooner, became one of the most popular songs of 1932, both for Ted Lewsis and for other artists. In my opinion, this is one of Lewis’ best vocals.
In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, recorded March 15, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.
On the other side, Lewis and his band do a fine job with “Sweet Sue – Just You”, featuring a great clarinet solo by Benny Goodman.
Sweet Sue – Just You, recorded March 22, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.