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 the lyrics “it takes a rockin’ chair to rock, a rubber ball to roll,” later notably included in “Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues”.

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.

Okeh 41571 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1934

February 10th marks the anniversary of the birth of one of several men who may well have been the father of swing music—the incomparable Chick Webb.

Chick was born William Henry Webb in Baltimore, Maryland.  The year of his birth has been disputed, with 1902, 1905, 1907, and 1909 all suggested, though ’05 is the most likely candidate.  As a child, tuberculosis of the spine stunted his growth and led to his hunchbacked appearance.  His doctor suggested the young Webb take up the drums to help alleviate his condition, so he worked as a newsboy to save up enough money for a kit.  By the mid-1920s, he was leading a band in Harlem.  After one unissued side for Vocalion in ’27, Webb cut his first record for Brunswick in 1928, issued under the pseudonym “The Jungle Band” (a name usually reserved for Duke Ellington’s recordings on that label).  These two Brunswick sides, titled “Dog Bottom” and “Jungle Mama” were stomping hot jazz.  In 1931, Webb’s orchestra became the house band of the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem,  Following a ’31 date with Vocalion, Webb signed with Columbia, waxing thirteen sides in 1933 and ’34, four of which appeared on their subsidiary Okeh label.  Two months after completing his final Okeh recordings in July of 1934, Webb signed with Decca, which would last him the remainder of his career.  Not too long after beginning his contract with Decca, Webb brought on a new girl singer by the name of Ella Fitzgerald.  In a number of “battles of the bands” at the Savoy, Webb and his orchestra bested the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, though he once lost to Duke Ellington’s band.  By the end of the 1930s, however, Webb’s condition was catching up to him.  Following an operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939 in his hometown of Baltimore.

Okeh 41571 was recorded on July 6, 1934 in New York City by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.  Purportedly, matrices W 152770 and W 152772 were the last masters recorded by the Columbia Phonograph Company before its absorption into the American Record Corporation.  Webb’s Orchestra is made up of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpets, Sandy Williams and Fernando Arbello on trombones, Pete Clark and Edgar Sampson an alto saxes, Elmer Williams and Wayman Carver on tenor saxes, Joe Steele on piano, John Trueheart on banjo and guitar, John Kirby on string bass, and of course Chick Webb on drums.

First up, baritone Charles Linton delivers a wonderful vocal on Webb’s all-around magnificent rendition of the 1932 “Fats” Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf standard “If it Ain’t Love”.

If it Ain’t Love, recorded July 6, 1934 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

Next, trumpet man Taft Jordan performs a Satchmo style vocal on “True”.

True, recorded July 6, 1934 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

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.

Brunswick 6211 – Don Redman and his Orchestra – 1931

A young Don Redman in Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra around 1925.

July 29th marks the anniversary of the birth of musician and arranger extraordinaire Don Redman, whose innovative work during the Harlem Renaissance helped to usher in the era of swing jazz.

Donald Matthew Redman was born into a musical family in Piedmont, West Virginia on July 29, 1900.  He first took up the trumpet, and could play all the wind instruments before he was a teenager.  Redman first studied at Storer College in Harper’s Ferry before attending the Boston Conservatory.  After graduating, he went to New York and played with Billy Page’s Broadway Syncopators, playing primarily reed instruments, and soon began arranging.  In 1923, he joined Fletcher Henderson’s orchestra, with whom he created arrangements that would develop into swing in the next decade.  After recording extensively with Henderson, Redman was invited by Jean Goldkette to take over the reigns of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers in Detroit, a position which he held until 1931, when he started his own orchestra.  Redman kept his own band together until 1940, playing for the better part of the swing era, and appearing in a Vitaphone short in 1933.  After his orchestra disbanded, he continued to arrange prolifically for a number of bands, as he had done previously.  Redman died in 1964 at the age of 64.

Brunswick 6211 was recorded on September 24 and October 15, 1931 in New York City, the former being the first session by Don Redman’s newly formed orchestra under his own name.  The band includes Bill Coleman, replaced in the latter session by Langston Curl, Leonard Davis, and Henry “Red” Allen on trumpet, Claude Jones, Fred Robinson, and Benny Morton on trombone, Edward Inge and Rupert Cole on clarinet and alto sax, Don Redman on alto sax, Robert Carroll on tenor sax, Horace Henderson on piano, Talcott Reeves on banjo and guitar, Bob Ysaguirre on bass, and Manzie Johnson on drums.

Ted Koehler and Harold Arlen’s “Shakin’ the Africann”, recorded on the latter date, features a vocal by Redman, rejecting “sweet” music in favor of jazz played hot.

Shakin' the Africann

Shakin’ the Africann, recorded September 24, 1931 by Don Redman and his Orchestra.

Redman’s own “Song of the Weeds”, most commonly known as “Chant of the Weeds”, was also recorded for Columbia with a quite different sounding arrangement.

Song of the Weeds

Song of the Weeds, recorded September 24, 1931 by Don Redman and his Orchestra.

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.