Vocalion 3401 – Don Albert and his Orchestra – 1936

In their heyday, Don Albert’s orchestra was called “America’s Greatest Swing Band”, a title which they perhaps deserved.  Today, however, their renown, however great it may have been in the 1930s, has faded.

Don Albert was born Albert Anité Dominique in New Orleans on August 5, 1908.  He was the nephew of trumpeter Natty Dominique, and also reportedly a relative of Barney Bigard.  Albert took up the trumpet to join in on the Crescent City’s famous brass bands, and was instructed on the instrument by Milford Piron, brother of the renowned bandleader Armand J. Piron.  Sometime in the middle part of the 1920s, Albert relocated to Dallas, where he joined Alphonso Trent’s orchestra at the Adolphus Hotel (later the Gunter Hotel), with whom he toured across the southwestern United States.  After departing from Trent, Albert joined Troy Floyd’s orchestra of the Plaza Hotel in San Antonio, with whom he remained until forming his own band in 1929.  Initially calling themselves “Don Albert and his Ten Pals”, Albert’s new band played the Texas State Fair in 1929, and supplanted Floyd’s band at the Shadowland speakeasy in San Antonio.  In the 1930s, Albert’s orchestra toured across twenty-four of these United States, and billed themselves as “America’s Greatest Swing Band”, but only recorded eight titles in one San Antonio session for the American Record Corporation.  In the 1940s, Albert opened an integrated club, Don’s Keyhole, in San Antonio, which closed in 1948, at which point he returned to New Orleans for a short period.  Once back in San Antonio, Albert opened another club, and following harassment from authorities, filed a restraining order against the city, taking his case all the way to the Texas Supreme Court and winning.  Aside from his musical work, Albert was also employed as a civil servant at Fort Sam Houston from the late forties or early fifties until retiring in 1974.  Don Albert retired from performance in the late 1950s, but continued to play sporadically for the rest of his life.  He died in San Antonio on March 4, 1980.

Vocalion 3401 was recorded on November 18, 1936 in San Antonio, Texas.  Don Albert directing Billy Douglas, Alvin Alcorn, and Hiram Harding on trumpets, James “Geechy” Robinson and Frank Jacquet on trombones, Herbert Hall on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Gus Patterson and Harold “Dink” Taylor on alto sax, Louis Cottrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Lloyd Glenn on piano, Ferdinand Dejan on guitar, James Johnson on string bass, and Albert Martin on drums.

The “big” sound of Albert’s “Rockin’ and Swingin'” exemplifies that of Texas jazz in the 1930s (compare to Boots and his Buddies’ “Rose Room”).

Rockin' and Swingin'

Rockin’ and Swingin’, recorded November 18, 1936 by Don Albert and his Orchestra.

On the other side, Merle Turner sings the vocal on this band’s swinging version of the seven year old (at the time of recording, that is) popular song from The Dance of Life, “True Blue Lou”.

True Blue Lou

True Blue Lou, recorded November 18, 1936 by Don Albert and his Orchestra.

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. In the 1930s, one of Floyd’s band members, New Orleans born trumpeter Don Albert, later started his own Texas-based swing band, 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.

Shadowland Blues (Part 1) and (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Shadowland Blues (Part 1) and (Part 2), recorded March 14, 1928 by Troy Floyd and his Plaza Hotel Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on July 9, 2017.