Decca 129 – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 1934

Today, June 6, we remember the great bandleader Jimmie Lunceford on the 114th anniversary of his birth.  This record was his first to be released on Decca, swingin’ in 1934.

James Melvin Lunceford was born June 6, 1902 in Fulton, Mississippi.  Like Andy Kirk, Lunceford studied under Wilberforce Whiteman in Denver, learning to play reeds.  He went on to attend Fisk University and became a phys-ed instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee, where he organized a student band called the Chickasaw Syncopators.  The Chickasaw Syncopators cut two sides for Columbia in 1927, and two more for Victor in 1930.  By 1934, Lunceford’s orchestra had evolved into a hep swing band, and he landed a gig at the Cotton Club in Harlem, following in the footsteps of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  By the height of the swing era, Lunceford’s was one of the leading swing bands in the nation, equal to that of Ellington or Calloway.  On July 12, 1947, after playing McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died during an autograph session in a record store.  He had been suffering from high blood pressure, though some suggest he may have been poisoned deliberately by a restaurateur who was displeased to be serving black people, as some of his band members also fell ill after dining at said restaurant.

Decca 129 was recorded September 4 and 5, 1934 in New York, Jimmie Lunceford’s first and second sessions for Decca.  The band features Jimmie Lunceford directing Eddie Tompkins, Tommy Stevenson, and Sy Oliver on trumpets, Henry Wells and Russell Bowles on trombones, Willie Smith and Earl Carruthers on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, LaForest Dent on alto sax, Joe Thomas on clarinet and tenor sax, Edwin Wilcox on piano, Al Norris on guitar, Moses Allen on string bass, and Jimmy Crawford on drums and vibraphone.

First, they play Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.

Sophisticated Lady

Sophisticated Lady, recorded September 4, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.

Next, seemingly as an answer to the previous side, they play “Unsophisticated Sue”.

Unsophisticated Sue

Unsophisticated Sue, recorded September 5, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.

Decca 1840 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1938

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

In the mood for a bit of swing?  I hope so, because today we celebrate birthday of the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia.  She moved north to Yonkers during the Great Migration.  After falling on hard times as a teenager during the Great Depression, she entered an amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Though she originally intended to dance at the show, after feeling intimidated by another dance act, she sang instead, imitating the style of her favorite singer, Connie Boswell, and won the twenty-five dollar prize.  In 1935, Chick Webb reluctantly took her on as a vocalist in his band, which she stayed with for the remainder of the decade.  When Webb succumbed to his illness in 1939, Ella took over the band, recording under her own name.  After Webb’s band broke up, she continued to record as a solo artist, and the rest as they say, is history.  After a life of music, her health declined in the 1980s, and Ella Fitzgerald died comfortably in her home on June 15, 1996, her final words were, “I’m ready to go now.”

Decca 1840 was recorded in two sessions in May of 1938, the first on the second and the second on the third.  The band consists of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpet, George Matthews, Nat Story, and Sandy Williams on trombone, Garvin Bushell on clarinet and alto sax, Louis Jordan (yes, that Louis Jordan) on alto sax, Teddy McRae, and Wayman Carver on tenor sax, Tommy Fulford on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, Beverly Peer on string bass, and Chick Webb on drums.

Ella’s first big hit was “A-Tisket A-Tasket”, which she and Al Feldman adapted as a pop tune.  The arrangement was written by the recently departed Van Alexander.

A-Tisket A-Tasket

A-Tisket A-Tasket, recorded May 2, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

The label of the flip-side “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” bears the inscription “”To a Swell Kid, Camilla.”  Unseen in the scan is “To Marilyn From Camilla Adams 1938” engraved in the run-out with some sharp instrument.

Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), recorded May 3, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

Decca 264 – Harry Reser and his Orchestra – 1934

A very Merry Christmas from me and my great-grandmother (pictured).

A very Merry Christmas from me and my great-grandmother (pictured).

On this Christmas of 2015 (’16, ’17), Old Time Blues, and myself, wish all of you readers a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!  May your days be merry and bright, and may all your Christmases be white.  Now, I ask you, wouldn’t Christmas music be a lot better with banjo?  I think so, and so does Harry Reser!

Decca 264 was recorded October 24, 1934 in New York City by Harry Reser and his Orchestra, with a vocal refrain by Tom Stacks and the Gang.

On this disc, Harry Reser’s band had the great distinction of introducing the now classic “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town”.

Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, recorded

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town, recorded October 24, 1934 by Harry Reser and his Orchestra.

On the flip side, they play a fine rendition of “Jingle Bells”, with a little bit of “Bugle Call Rag” interpolated here and there, and a few sound effects reused from their radio theme “Clicquot”.

Jingle Bells, recorded

Jingle Bells, recorded October 24, 1934 by Harry Reser and his Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on December 25, 2017.

Spotlight: The Boswell Sisters

 “I am still Crazy over those Boswell Sisters. Bless their hearts. They are from my home town, you know? Fine Girls. They think I am the Last word.”

Louis Armstrong letter to friend, 1933

From 1931 sheet music cover.

From sheet music for “Roll On, Mississippi, Roll On”, 1931.

It would seem criminal to start the Spotlight feature with anyone but trio that perhaps created the jazziest interpretations of the popular music of the 1930s, the Boswell Sisters.  Stars of record, screen, and radio, those “syncopating harmonists from New Orleans” simply could not sing a bad song (and could even make a bad song good).  With over one-hundred recorded tunes and an established career in radio from 1930 until their untimely break-up in 1936, and an inimitable style that has never been matched, they were among the greatest musical stars of the Great Depression.

Martha Meldania (born July 9, 1905), Constance Foore (born December 3, 1907), and Helvetia George “Vet” (born May 20, 1911) Boswell, born to Meldania Fooré and Alfred Clyde “A.C.” Boswell made up the Boswell Sisters.  Martha and Connie were born in Kansas City, and Vet was born in Birmingham, but the family moved to New Orleans when the children were young.  The sisters had an older brother, Clydie (born 1900), who died tragically in 1918 during an influenza outbreak.  Around the time Vet was born, young Connie was either involved in a coaster wagon accident or stricken with polio, leaving her completely immobile for a short time, and unable to walk properly for the rest of her life.

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