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 with hot solos and just about everything you could desire in a jazz tune like this—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, the stomping “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 (nor any other kind of doctor for that matter) and therefore not qualified to dispense medical advice.

Updated with improved audio on August 4, 2018.

Okeh 8571 – Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra – 1928

The Lone Star State in the 1920s was home to a host of fantastic territory jazz bands, such as those of Alphonso Trent, Eddie Fennell and Sugar Lou Morgan, Fred Gardner, Jimmie Joy, and Le Roy Williams.  One of the most outstanding of these territory bands, both in musical virtuosity and history, was that of Troy Floyd.  Floyd’s eleven piece orchestra played at the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, and gigged on-the-side at the Shadowland, a notorious speakeasy and one of the most successful jazz clubs in Texas.

Troy Floyd was born around San Antonio, Texas on January 5, 1901, and learned to play the saxophone and clarinet. He organized his first group, a sextet, in 1924. The group expanded over time, and by 1928, Floyd’s orchestra was playing at the Plaza Hotel and broadcasting on KTSA.  Floyd’s band made two released records, both featuring one song broken up into two parts, plus an unissued recording of “Wabash Blues” on two of Okeh Records’ field trips to San Antonio.  Floyd’s band holds special significance in Texas’ musical legacy, for, in addition to its own merit, it helped to launch the careers of at least two musicians of note; in the 1930s, New Orleans born trumpeter Don Albert started his own Texas-based swing band, and banjoist J.H. Bragg founded a jazz group of his own, both of which made several records with Vocalion in the 1930s.  Troy Floyd disbanded his orchestra in 1932, and later worked as a pool hall operator in San Diego, California, where he died on July 16, 1953.

Okeh 8571, part of their legendary race series, was recorded March 14, 1928 in San Antonio, Texas. The personnel features future band leader and trumpet virtuoso Don Albert and Willie Long on trumpets, Benny Long providing unique solos on trombone, Troy Floyd and N.J. “Siki” Collins on clarinet and alto sax, Scott Bagby on clarinet and tenor sax, John Henry Bragg on banjo, Allen Vann on piano, Charlie Dixon (a different one from Fletcher Henderson’s banjoist) on trombone and tuba, John Humphries on drums, and the bellowing Kellough Jefferson singing the vocal refrain.

The title of “Shadowland Blues” refers to the San Antonio speakeasy of the same name, though the lyrics, sung by Kellough Jefferson, make no reference to the club. This amazing territory band recording is characterized by what has been called the “gut bucket” trombone playing of Benny Long, which some have said mars the performance, but I disagree, I think it gives it a unique and rural character, as opposed to homogenized classically-trained, Whiteman-esque jazz.

A two-parter, they play “Shadowland Blues (Part 1)” on the first side…

Shadowland Blues (Part 1), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

…and “Shadowland Blues (Part 2)” on the back.

Shadowland Blues (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on July 9, 2017.

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!