Paramount 12252 – Ma Rainey Acc. by Her Georgia Jazz Band – 1924

Madam “Ma” Rainey, as pictured in The Paramount Book of Blues, 1927.  Perhaps the most flattering portrait of Rainey.

Earning the honorific “The Mother of the Blues”, Madam “Ma” Rainey is Indisputably a legend of the blues.  Her jazz-inflected vaudevillian blues served to define the genre as it was to be on records and helped to pave the way for future blues recordings by male and female artists alike.

“Ma” Rainey was born Gertrude Pridgett on April 26, 1886 (according to most sources, with September 1882 being another possibility).  By her own account, she was born in Columbus, Georgia, though latter-day research implicates Russell County, Alabama as the place of her birth, though the former was her hometown in any event.  She began her career in the show-business in her early teenage years, when she won a talent contest in Columbus.  By the turn of the century, she was performing in southern minstrel shows.  In 1904, Pridgett married William “Pa” Rainey and the two toured as part of the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrels troupe, later forming an act called Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues.  In her travels across the southern states, Rainey encountered a young Bessie Smith in Chattanooga and took her under her wing, teaching her the blues.  Come December of 1923, traveled to Chicago and began recording for Paramount Records, an association which lasted through 1928 and produced nearly one hundred recordings.  On records, she was accompanied at first by Lovie Austin’s Blues Serenaders, Paramount’s “house” jazz band, before beginning to front her own “Georgia Jazz Band” which at times included the likes of Louis Armstrong, Kid Ory, Buster Bailey, and Fletcher Henderson, with occasional collaborations with Blind Blake, Papa Charlie Jackson, and Tampa Red and Georgia Tom on the side.  In the middle of the 1920s, she toured on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit.  After the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s, Rainey retired from performing and returned home to Georgia, managing two or three theaters in Columbus and Rome.  Gertrude “Ma” Rainey died in Rome, Georgia on December 22, 1939.

Paramount 12252 was recorded on October 15 and 16, 1924 in New York City.  Ma Rainey’s Georgia Jazz Band is made up of members of Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, including Howard Scott on cornet, Charlie Green on trombone, Don Redman on clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and Charlie Dixon on banjo.  On the second date, Scott and Redman are replaced by Louis Armstrong and Buster Bailey on cornet and clarinet, respectively.

First up is “Jealous Hearted Blues”, a largely “floating verse” twelve-bar blues song containing lyrics like “it takes a rockin’ chair to rock, a rubber ball to roll,” later notably included in “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues”.  It made enough of an impact to be covered by Barbecue Bob’s brother Charley Lincoln in 1927 and was later adapted by the Carter Family as “Jealous Hearted Me” in 1936.

Jealous Hearted Blues, recorded October 15, 1924 by Ma Rainey Acc. by Her Georgia Jazz Band.

On the reverse, Ma Rainey sings a legendary performance of her immortal “See See Rider Blues”—often in later years (incorrectly) called “C. C. Rider”, here erroneously titled “See See Blues” on the label.  Later pressings corrected this error.

See See [Rider] Blues, recorded October 16, 1924 by Ma Rainey Acc. by Her Georgia Jazz Band.

Vocalion 14926 – Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra – 1924

I always say, “good jazz is the best medicine¹.”  Whenever I have an ache or pain, it always helps take the edge off, and when I’m feeling blue, a hot tune will really pep me up!  Few records can do it better than this one, one of the great masterpieces from Louis Armstrong’s period with Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra.  With Armstrong in the mix, the band, also consisting of greats like Coleman Hawkins, Buster Bailey, and Don Redman, was just about unbeatable.

Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in 1925. Pictured left to right: Howard Scott, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Dixon, Fletcher Henderson, Kaiser Marshall, Buster Bailey, Elmer Chambers, Charlie Green, Ralph Escudero, and Don Redman. From Jazzmen, 1938, courtesy of Fletcher Henderson.

Vocalion 14926 was recorded October 30, 1924 in New York and pressed in that red shellac.  The always outstanding lineup of Henderson’s orchestra consists of Louis Armstrong, Elmer Chambers, and Howard Scott in the trumpet section, Charlie Green on trombone, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on clarinet and tenor sax, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, Ralph Escudero on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums.  All band members pictured above play on this record.

“Words” is a fine tune—I have no complaints—but it cannot begin to approach the masterpiece on the other side of the disc.  (I still would recommend listening to this one too, though!)

Words

Words, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.

Named not for the city in Denmark, but the tobacco in the States, “Copenhagen” is nothing if not a masterpiece.  Probably my all-time favorite Fletcher Henderson recording.  This is a take “B” of two existing takes, and they really get in the groove.  Is this the greatest jazz record of all time?  Maybe, maybe not, but it is up there.  (In fact, I may be crucified by some for it, but I like this one better than the Wolverines recording with Bix Beiderbecke.)

Copenhagen

Copenhagen, recorded October 30, 1924 by Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra.


¹ I am not a medical doctor and therefore not qualified to dispense medical advice.

Paramount 14012 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

In celebration of the 118th anniversary of Smack Henderson’s birth, here is a record I searched for long and hard, before I was fortunate enough to find this 1940s John Steiner reissue.  This near mint dub trades some of its audio fidelity for a much cleaner and smoother surface than I’d be likely to find on the original Paramount issue, which was once speculated in 78 Quarterly to have “less than ten copies.”

Paramount 14012 was recorded May 11, 1927 in New York City and was originally issued on Paramount 12486. This issue is a 1948 dub made by record collector and producer John Steiner. The band features the talent of Joe and Russell Smith on trumpet, Benny Morton on trombone, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins on tenor sax and clarinet, Fletcher Henderson on piano, Charlie Dixon on banjo, June Cole on tuba, and Kaiser Marshall on drums. The label erroneously credits Tommy Ladnier, who does not play on this record.

“Swamp Blues” tops my list of all-time favorite jazz recordings, and was the reason for my purchasing the record.

Swamp Blues,

Swamp Blues, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Perhaps even hotter than the previous, “Off to Buffalo” is another superb jazz side, not to be confused with the similarly titled Warren and Dubin song “Shuffle Off to Buffalo” from Forty-Second Street.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Off To Buffalo, recorded May 11, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

Updated with Improved audio on June 19, 2017.

Victor 20944 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

Accompanying this record is a tale of tragedy.  After long searching far and wide for an original Victor issue of Fletcher Henderson’s “Variety Stomp”, I was thrilled when a promising copy turned up on eBay, and I was able to win for an excellent price.  When the record was finally delivered, I opened the package to discover in horror that it was woefully insufficient to protect the contents from careless postal workers, and what would have been a nice V+ record was snapped in two pieces, just about through the middle.  The seller very kindly refunded the cost, and the record sat dejectedly for months on my broken record pile.

It wasn’t doing any good just sitting there, so eventually I decided to try my hand at repairing it, and with the remains of Victor 20944 and a tube of superglue, I carefully lined up the two halves of the record, and put a dollop of glue on the outside edges, and in the runout area on both sides.  After the glue dried came the moment of truth, I brought the repaired record to my turntable and to my surprise and relief, it tracked perfectly, and played through with only two surprisingly minor background clicks.

I have since acquired Henderson’s Bluebird issue of take 2 of “Variety”, and his acoustical recording on Harmony, but my heart still yearns for a better copy of this record.  Maybe someday.

Below, you can hear the results of my efforts, straight from the turntable, with no cleaning up or modification of any sort to the audio.

Victor 20944 was recorded April 27, 1927 at the Victor studios in New York City, and released in November of ’27.  Besides Henderson on piano and directing, the all-star lineup includes Joe and Russell Smith, and possibly Tommy Ladnier on trumpet, Benny Morton and Jimmy Harrison on trombones, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins playing his famous tenor sax, Charlie Dixon on banjo, and June Cole and Kaiser Marshall on tuba and drums, respectively.

On “A”, Henderson’s Orchestra plays hot on “St. Louis Shuffle” (take 2), composed by Jack Pettis and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

On “B”, they play one of my favorites, take 3 of “Variety Stomp”, which was only issued here, composed by Jo Trent, Ray Henderson, and Bud Green.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

I don’t think it sounds too bad for a record that was broken in half, myself!

Okeh 4296 – Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds – 1921

It seems fitting that my first real record post on this site (not counting the introductory one) is the one that inspired the name; Old Time Blues, by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds, an early black jazz record, and a pretty fine one at that.

This record, recorded February 21, 1921 in New York City for Okeh records, interestingly does not feature Mamie Smith herself, instead her backing group, the Jazz Hounds, play a pair of instrumental tunes.  Rust lists the personnel as being Johnny Dunn on cornet, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Leroy Parker on violin, Phil Worde on piano, and Chink Johnson on tuba.  See below for speculation on the identity of the xylophone player.

The first side is a composition by trumpeter Johnny Dunn, who also plays in the recording along with Buster Bailey on clarinet.  Perhaps one could consider this the theme song of this site.

Old Time Blues, recorded February 21, 1921 by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds.

The flip-side of that record is an instrumental version of Mamie Smith’s first recording, “That Thing Called Love”, composed by Perry Bradford, which heavily features an unidentified xylophonist.  Brian Rust specifically notes “not Mort Perry” on xylophone, yet Perry Bradford himself states in his autobiography, “on this date, we used Mort Perry on the xylophone.”  Alternatively, perhaps it could be the famous Green Brothers, Joe and George Hamilton, as suggested in the comments by Uncle Dave Lewis.

That Thing Called Love, recorded February 1, 1921 by Mamie Smith's Jazz Hounds.

That Thing Called Love, recorded February 21, 1921 by Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds.

Updated on June 24 and November 24, 2016.