Victor V-38079 – Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra – 1929

A portrait of a young Ellington.  Circa late 1920s.

Last time we commemorated the anniversary of the birth of the legendary Duke Ellington, born  April 29, 1899, with his famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”; this time we celebrate with one of his classic hot jazz records of the 1920s.  Ellington’s life has already been covered in that post, so I needn’t go over it again in this one.

Duke Ellington made his motion picture debut in 1929, along with Fredi Washington of Imitation of Life fame, in the Harlem Renaissance jazz film Black and Tan (see here for an exceptional transfer of the film on YouTube).  In it, Ellington plays a down-on-his-luck bandleader, whose ailing girlfriend—played by Washington (whom he was reportedly dating in real life at the time)—finds him employment at a nightclub, where she succumbs to her illness while performing a dance routine.  Ellington and his band play such jazz classics as the titular “Black and Tan Fantasy”, “Black Beauty”, “The Duke Steps Out”, and “Cotton Club Stomp”.  Not too long after, Duke and his band traveled to Hollywood for their first “big time” movie appearance in the Amos ‘n’ Andy feature Check and Double Check.  One of only a handful of films of that type, I fully recommend viewing Black and Tan.

Victor V-38079 was recorded on May 3, 1929 in New York City.  Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra is made up of Arthur Whetsel, Cootie Williams, and Freddie Jenkins on trumpet, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.

First up, Ellington and the boys get hot on the outstanding “Cotton Club Stomp”.  This stomp is one of the pieces played by Ellington and his orchestra in Black and Tan, in which it is danced by Fredi Washington.

, Cotton Club Stomp, recorded May 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

Next, they play a late oriental fox trot, “Arabian Lover”, from the Cotton Club Revue.

Arabian Lover, recorded may 3, 1929 by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

Brunswick 4535 – Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang – 1929

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado.

Bill Robinson in the Hot Mikado (1939).

May 25 is National Tap Dance Day.  It’s also the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great tap dancer and consummate entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson.  (The two falling on the same day is far from a coincidence.)  With his characteristic dancing and charismatic persona, Robinson broke numerous color barriers in the show business, and likely introduced the word “copacetic” into the popular lexicon.

Bill Robinson was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, at some point, he switched names with his brother and became “Bill”.  Robinson began dancing in front of theaters for tips at the age of five, and was eventually offered work inside the theater.  At one point, he had an act with Al Jolson.  His career as an entertainer was interrupted when the Spanish-American War broke out, and he enlisted in the Army.  Once out of the Army, Robinson embarked on a long and groundbreaking career in vaudeville.  After Bert Williams’ death in 1922, Robinson succeeded him as the top black entertainer in the United States.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Bojangles”.  In 1928, Robinson appeared in Lew Leslies Blackbirds of 1928, and in 1939, he had a successful run in Michael Todd’s Hot Mikado.  Today, Robinson is likely best remembered for his film appearances with Shirley Temple, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935.  Also in 1935, he appeared in Will Rogers’ last film, In Old Kentucky.  In his own final movie, in 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers.  Bill Robinson died of heart failure on November 25, 1949.

Brunswick 4535 was recorded September 4, 1929 in New York by Bill Robinson, whose tap-dancing is accompanied by Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang.  The personnel of the band seems to be undetermined, it is most likely a white studio group possibly consisting Mannie Klein and Phil Napoleon on trumpets, Miff Mole on trombone, Pee Wee Russell, Arnold Brilhart and/or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Joe Tarto on tuba, Chauncey Morehouse on drums and an unknown piano and guitar player.  Some other sources however, including Robinson himself, cite it as Duke Ellington’s band.  I would be inclined to believe it’s more likely the former of the two.

On the first side of this very entertaining disc, Robinson patters with his feet and with his mouth on “Doin’ the New Low Down”, a song he introduced in Blackbirds of 1928.

Doin' the New Low Down

Doin’ the New Low Down, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

On the reverse, Bojangles seems a little more exuberant on his performance of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.  “This is the way I walk when I got plenty money on Broad-way!”

Ain't Misbehavin'

Ain’t Misbehavin’, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.

Brunswick 6265 – Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra – 1932

Today we celebrate the birthday of Duke Ellington, who was born on this day 117 years ago.  Music as his mistress, he was the man that truly made a lady out of jazz.

Duke Ellington with his orchestra at the Cotton Club sometime in the 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Duke Ellington with his orchestra at the Cotton Club sometime in the 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

Edward Kennedy Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. to two piano playing parents.  As a youngster, he came to be called Duke for his refined manners and dapper style of dress.  While working as a soda jerk at the Poodle Dog Café in 1914, Duke composed his first song, the “Soda Fountain Rag” (a.k.a. the “Poodle Dog Rag”), which he played in a variety of styles.  Working as a sign painter in the latter part of the 1910s, Ellington put together small bands for various affairs.  He put his first orchestra together in 1917, included as its early members were his childhood friend Otto Hardwick, Arthur Whetsel, Elmer Snowden, and Sonny Greer.  Eventually, the band moved to Harlem, following drummer Sonny Greer, who was invited to play with Wilbur Sweatman’s band.  In 1924, the band made its first records on the Blu Disc label, which were sold only at the cigar counter of a New York theater.  As the Washingtonians, led by Elmer Snowden, the band played at Harlem’s Kentucky Club.  Snowden was later kicked out of the band over a financial dispute and full leadership was assumed by Ellington.

In 1926, Ellington signed Irving Mills as his band’s agent, a move that brought his success to new heights.  Later, in 1927, King Oliver had foolishly decided to hold out for more money on the prestigious Cotton Club gig, and Ellington took the job, his orchestra becoming the house band of the famous club, replacing the recently deceased Andy Preer.  He held the position until Cab Calloway brought Preer’s band (as the Missourians) back to the Cotton Club.  Duke was brought to greater fame when his orchestra appeared in the 1930 Amos ‘n’ Andy picture Check and Double Check.  Ellington toured across the United States in the early 1930s, and, like many American artists, made a European tour in 1933.  Throughout the years, Ellington featured many great musicians and introduced many famous pieces.  He appeared in a number of films and continued to enjoy immense success as one of the world’s foremost musical forces until his death in 1974.

Brunswick 6265 was recorded February 2 and 11, 1932 in New York City.  Ellington’s Famous Orchestra features Arthur Whetsel, Freddie Jenkins, and Cootie Williams on trumpets, Joe Nanton and Juan Tizol on trombones, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Johnny Hodges on clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, alto sax and baritone sax, Duke on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.

First up, it’s Ellington’s famous “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing)”, named after the credo of former band-mate Bubber Miley, who was ailing at the time.  Ivie Anderson provides the famous vocal.

It Don't Mean a Thing (If it Ain't Got That Swing)

It Don’t Mean a Thing (If it Ain’t Got That Swing), recorded February 2, 1932 by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchesstra.

On the reverse, Ellington’s Famous Orchestra plays the old standard, “Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland)”.

Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland)

Rose Room (In Sunny Roseland), recorded February 11, 1932 by Duke Ellington and his Famous Orchestra.

Brunswick 3526 – The Washingtonians – 1927

We’ve got yet another birthday to celebrate today, that of the great trumpeter Bubber Miley.  Miley was a excellent player noted for his use of the plunger mute.

Duke Ellington’s Washintonians with Bubber Miley (second from right). From Jazzmen, 1939.

James Wesley Miley was born April 3, 1903 in Aiken, South Carolina, and moved to New York City at the age of six.  After serving in the Navy, Miley formed a jazz band called the Carolina Five (much in the vein of the Memphis Five or the Indiana Five, except that Miley actually was from Carolina), and played around New York and Chicago.  In Chicago, Miley was inspired by the muted trumpet of King Oliver, and developed his own muted style of playing.  In 1923, he joined Elmer Snowden’s Washingtonians, of which leadership was soon assumed by the band’s pianist, Duke Ellington, after a monetary dispute.  Miley, along with trombone player “Tricky Sam” Nanton, are credited for developing the band’s “jungle sound”.  Bubber remained with Ellington’s band until 1929, when his alcohol issues and general unreliability led to his replacement by Cootie Williams.  After leaving Ellington, Miley toured Paris in Noble Sissle’s band, and once back home played with Leo Reisman’s dance band, and a number of jazz groups (possibly including King Oliver’s Victor orchestra).  In 1930, he fronted a band billed as “Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers” for three sessions with Victor.  Much like his contemporary, Bix Beiderbecke, Miley saw a decline in his health in the early 1930s, and died of tuberculosis at New York’s Welfare Island on May 20, 1932.  He was remembered by former band-mates as a joyful and carefree character.

Brunswick 3526 was recorded in two sessions in 1927, the first on April 7 and the second on April 30 in New York.  The band’s personnel features Bubber Miley on the first side, June Clark on the second, and Louis Metcalf on trumpet, Joe” Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Edgar Sampson on alto sax, Otto Hardwicke on clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, baritone sax, and bass sax, and another unknown reed man, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Mack Shaw on tuba, and Sonny Greer on drums.

Duke and his band recorded his famous “Black and Tan Fantasy” quite a number of times, this is the first one, and one of only two, I believe, that feature the distinctive muted trumpet of the song’s co-writer, Bubber Miley.  I would also recommend a look at Ellington’s 1929 motion picture of the same name.

Black and Tan Fantasy

Black and Tan Fantasy, recorded April 7, 1927 by the Washingtonians.

Bubber doesn’t play on the other side of the record, which contains an excellent rendition of Rube Bloom’s “Soliloquy”.

Soliloquy

Soliloquy, recorded April 30, 1927 by the Washingtonians.

Bluebird B-6415 – Duke Ellington and his Orchestra – 1927/1928

In celebration of fifty “likes” on our Facebook page, we’ll have a jubilee here at Old Time Blues, and what better way to than with the hot jazz of Duke Ellington’s Cotton Club Orchestra on two of their hottest for Victor records.

Bluebird B-6415 was recorded on two separate occasions, the first side on March 26, 1928 and the second on December 19, 1927, both in New York City.  The “A” side was originally issued on Victor 21580 and “B” on Victor 21490 and again on 22985.

Given the two record dates, the two sides feature different personnel in the band.  The first includes Arthur Whetsel, Bubber Miley, and Louis Metcalf in the trumpet section, “Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Barney Bigard on clarinet and tenor sax, Otto Hardwicke on clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, baritone sax, and bass sax, Harry Carney on clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, and baritone sax, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Wellman Braud on string bass, and Sonny Greer on drums.  The second features  Miley and Metcalf on trumpets, Tricky Sam on trombone, Rudy Jackson on clarinet and alto sax, Otto Hardwicke and Harry Carney on all the same reeds as the first side, and Ellington, Guy, Braud, and Greer in the same positions as the previous.

One of Ellington’s best, “Jubilee Stomp” was played in 2011’s The Artist, albeit on a disgustingly inaccurate phonograph.

Jubilee Stomp

Jubilee Stomp, recorded March 26, 1928 by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.

On “Blue Bubbles”, Ellington shares composer credit with Bubber Miley, and the piece bares some stylistic resemblance to another of Miley’s works, “Black and Tan Fantasy”.

Blue Bubbles

Blue Bubbles, recorded December 19, 1927 by Duke Ellington and his Orchestra.