Okeh 40843 – Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra – 1927

This time last year, following much (internal) debate, we celebrated the day of Benny Goodman’s birth.  Now, come May 30th once again, it’s time to give Mr. Frankie Trumbauer his time in the spotlight, on his 115th birthday.

Frankie Trumbauer was born of Cherokee heritage in Carbondale, Illinois on May 30, 1901, the son of musical director.  Tram took up the C-melody saxophone, and played early on with Ray Miller and Edgar Benson, and the Mound City Blue Blowers.  He later became an important member of Jean Goldkette’s orchestra around 1926, and brought Bix Beiderbecke along with him.  While working with Goldkette, and later with Paul Whiteman, Trumbauer led his own orchestra on a series of legendary jazz records for Okeh, with Bix, Eddie Lang, and other important jazzmen often in the band.  Much of the music he recorded in that period is considered a predecessor to cool jazz.  After finishing his engagement with Okeh, Trumbauer’s orchestra recorded for a number of other labels.  During World War II, Tram took leave from music to fly for North American Aviation.  After the war’s end, he continued to record sporadically, but never so much as he had before.  Frankie Trumbauer died of a heart attack in Kansas City, Missouri in 1956.

Okeh 40843 was recorded May 13, 1927 in New York City.  The band features the astounding talent of Bix Beiderbecke on cornet, Bill Rank on trombone, Frankie Trumbauer on C-melody saxophone, Don Murray on clarinet and baritone sax, Don Ryker on alto sax, Irving Riskin on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar and banjo, and Chauncey Morehouse on drums and harpophone.

Perhaps one of the most important and influential sides by Tram and Bix is “I’m Coming Virginia”, with Eddie Lang’s distinctive guitar adding a great deal to the already outstanding ensemble.

I'm Coming Virginia, recorded

I’m Coming Virginia, recorded May 13, 1927 by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra.

On the flip, the Creamer and Layton standard “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans” is given superb treatment by Tram, Bix, and the gang.  Unfortunately, this side is marred by a tight but troublesome crack that causes some few thumps and clicks.

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, recorded

Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, recorded May 13, 1927 by Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on October 14, 2017.

Brunswick 6291 – The Boswell Sisters – 1932

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

Vet Boswell in the early 1930s.

May 20 marks a most important occasion, the 105th birthday of most underappreciated of the three Boswell Sisters, Helvetia “Vet” Boswell, whose quiet disposition and propensity to avoid solos would lead to her later being remembered as (and I quote verbatim from a 1938 newspaper article) “the other sister.”

Helvetia George Boswell was born on May 20, 1911 in Birmingham, Alabama.  Vet had the misfortune of entering this world around the time her sister Connie was afflicted with the ailment that left her completely paralyzed for a period of time, and without proper use of her legs for the rest of her life.  Mother Meldania devoted most of her time in that period to Connie’s rehabilitation, and could not attend to the new (as yet unnamed) infant.  The new Boswell baby was soon named Helvetia, after the condensed milk on which she was reared.  In 1914, the Boswells moved to New Orleans, out of the cradle and into the cradle of jazz.  When she started school, Helvetia was upset that the kids had nicknamed her “Hel”. Mother Boswell would have none of that, and from then on she was “Vet”.  Later, her father came to call her “Iron Horse Vet”, and she was noted for her fondness for “pig sandwiches.”  As her sisters Martha and Connie pursued their musical ambitions with vigor, Vet was along for the ride, supporting the sister act, though she preferred other artistic endeavors such as painting and drawing.  Though she never took a solo part, she was an integral part of the harmony, and every bit as talented as her more gregarious older sisters.

After touring ’round the world and then some, Vet secretly married Texas oilman John Paul Jones in 1934. They would not make the marriage known until the next year.  Vet’s marriage, combined with Martha’s soon after, created tension within the group surrounding the sisters ability to balance their professional and married lives, which was aggravated (and potentially incited) by their manager and Connie’s soon-to-be husband Harry Leedy.  Tensions came to a head in 1936, and the group disbanded.  Taking up residence in Ontario, and later on in New York, adjustment to home life was not easy for Vet, who found her new life as a housewife lonesome compared to show business.  In 1936, she gave birth to her daughter, Vet Boswell Jones, or “Chica”.  Vet never returned to the show business, though she had one final stage reunion with her sisters in 1955.  Many years later, Vet made a celebrated homecoming to New Orleans.  She passed away at the age of 77 in 1988, the last surviving and longest lived of the Boswell Sisters.

Brunswick 6291 was recorded March 21, 1932 in New York City.  The Boswell Sisters are accompanied by the Dorsey Brothers’ Orchestra, consisting of Mannie Klein on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Babe Russin on tenor sax, Martha Boswell on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, Artie Bernstein on string bass, and Stan King on drums.

I carefully selected “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” for this occasion for one reason, it’s the only one I’m aware of that features anything resembling a solo vocal by Vet Boswell.  She can be heard singing the line “you’ve got me in between…”  If you want to hear a rare recording of Vet singing solo, I recommend picking up a copy of Their Music Goes Round and Round, featuring a rare home recording of Vet singing “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love”, available at the official Boswell Sisters Store.

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

On the flip-side, the Bozzies perform one of their classic songs, the jazz standard “There’ll Be Some Changes Made”.

There'll Be Some Changes Made

There’ll Be Some Changes Made, recorded March 21, 1932 by the Boswell Sisters.

Vocalion 15498 – Red Nichols and his Five Pennies – 1926

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

The eighth of May, 2016 marks exactly 111 years after the birth of jazz cornetist Red Nichols.  Nichols was one of the most popular and prolific jazz musicians of the roaring twenties.  I believe this disc was his first record with his famous “Five Pennies.”

Loring “Red” Nichols was born May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah.  Nichols took up the cornet, the primary “jazz” instrument of the day, and was a child prodigy.  Nichols joined a Midwestern jazz band in the early 1920s, and moved on to New York by 1923.  In New York, he met trombonist Miff Mole, with whom he played for many years.  In 1926, Nichols signed with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, and recorded prolifically with his band, the “Five Pennies,” which often consisted of some of the best white jazz musicians in New York.  Although his records were among the best-selling hot jazz records of the 1920s, musical styles began to change as the Great Depression rolled in, and Brunswick dropped Nichols in 1932.  He continued to record throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, but never saw such fame as he had known in his days of yore.  In 1959, Danny Kaye starred in The Five Pennies, a biographical picture loosely based on Nichols’ life.  At the end of his life, Red Nichols played in Las Vegas, where he died of a heart attack in 1965.

Now this here is one fine jazz record, a real classic.  Unfortunately, it has definitely seen better days.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got plenty of life left in it, but it’s seen more than its fair share of (probably worn) steel needles.  Nevertheless, I got it on the cheap, and I’m putting it up anyway.

Vocalion 15498 was recorded December 8, 1926 in New York City by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.  It was also issued on Brunswick 3407 and in the “race” series on Vocalion 1069.  The band includes Nichols on cornet, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Vic Berton on the drums.  Though many of his “Five Pennies” groups were actually much larger, this one is true to its name.

First, the Five Pennies play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Washboard Blues”, a tune we last heard sung by the lovely Connie Boswell seven years after this side was cut.  This side starts out a little rough, but never fear, it gets better a little farther on.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Nichols’ composition “That’s No Bargain” is a sizzling hot side marred only by some stressed grooves during a loud section in the middle.  Fine modernistic jazz.

That's No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

That’s No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Brunswick 6226 – Bing Crosby – 1931

Old Der Bingle, circa 1932.

Old Der Bingle, circa 1932.

May 3 marks the 113th birthday of the best selling recording star of the 20th century, and one of the biggest pop-culture icons in all of history, Bing Crosby who was born on this day in 1903.

Harry Lillis Crosby was born May 3, 1903 in Tacoma, Washington, and moved to Spokane at the age of three.  As a youngster, he acquired the nickname “Bingo from Bingville” from a neighborhood girl with whom he shared an interest for The Bingville Bugle, a weekly feature in the Spokesman-Review.  The nickname was later shortened to “Bing.”  As a boy, Crosby worked at the Spokane Auditorium, where he saw Al Jolson perform.  While attending Gonzaga University, Bing joined a band of high school students, including Alton Rinker, called the Musicaladers.  After the group disbanded, Bing and Al went south to California, making their first record with Don Clark’s orchestra in October of 1926.  Crosby and Rinker were soon discovered by Paul Whiteman and drafted into his band as the “Rhythm Boys”, with Harry Barris added to make it a trio.  The Rhythm Boys stayed with Whiteman’s troupe until 1930, when they decided to remain in California after appearing in King of Jazz.  The group broke up later in 1930, leaving Crosby as a solo act.  Appearing for a time with Gus Arnheim’s orchestra at the Cocoanut Grove, Bing had a early success with “I Surrender, Dear”, and after leaving Arnheim’s company, had his first big hit with “Out of Nowhere” for Brunswick records.  On September 2, 1931, CBS began airing 15 Minutes with Bing Crosby, which helped to further catapult Bing into his huge success.

Crooning popular ballads in the same vein as Russ Columbo, with periodic whistling and interjections of his trademark “buh-buh-buh-boo”, Bing hit his peak in the 1930s, and stayed there for about a decade.  Over the course of the decade, Crosby made numerous appearances in motion pictures.  His first starring role came in 1932 with The Big Broadcast, which also featured the Boswell Sisters, Cab Calloway, and many other great talents.  His greatest film success came in 1944 with Going My Way, his performance in which won him an Academy Award for Best Actor  In 1934, Bing followed producer Jack Kapp to the newly founded Decca records (and in the process sacrificed much of the jazz that his style had previously held).  On Christmas Day in 1941, Bing introduced Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas”, becoming the best-selling single record of all time with his May 1942 recording for Decca.  In the 1940s, Crosby pioneered the practice of pre-recording his radio programs.  Though his style of music fell from favor by the 1950s, Bing remained popular throughout the rest of his life, at the end of his life appearing in a Christmas special with David Bowie.  After a game of golf in Madrid, Bing Crosby collapsed and died from a massive heart attack on October 14, 1977.

Brunswick 6226 was recorded November 23 and December 3, 1931 in New York City.  The band, probably a studio group, as Brunswick commonly employed, may have included Mannie Klein and Jack Mollick on trumpets, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Benny Krueger on alto sax, possibly Harry Bluestone or Harry Hoffman, Walter Biederman, Walt Edelstein, Joe Baum on violins (lordy, that’s a whole lot o’ violins!), possibly Joe Meresco on piano; Eddie Lang on guitar; Hank Stern on tuba and Larry Gomar on drums.

First up is Bing’s radio theme song, “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)”.  It’s worth noting that this take, “A”, is different than the one I’ve heard on modern reissues.

Where the Blue of the Night Meets the Gold of the Day

Where the Blue of the Night—Meets the Gold of the Day, recorded November 23, 1931 by Bing Crosby.

The reverse, “I’m Sorry, Dear”, is a fairly typical of Bong’s early ’30s romantic songs, much like his classic “Just One More Chance”.

I'm Sorry, Dear

I’m Sorry, Dear, recorded December 3, 1931 by Bing Crosby.

Columbia 14427-D – Bessie Smith – 1929

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1939.

On this day, we celebrate the 122nd anniversary of the birthday of the Empress of the Blues herself, Bessie Smith.

Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, though the 1900 census reported that she was born in 1892.  Both her parents died while she was still a child, and she and Bessie and some of her siblings turned to busking to make ends meet.  Her brother left to join Moses Stoke’s troupe in 1910, and returned later to take Bessie with him.  She worked, variously, in stage shows and on the T.O.B.A. vaudeville circuit.  In 1923, Smith was in New York, and made her first records for Columbia, with whom she would remain for the rest of her career, save for a few Columbia’s subsidiary Okeh.  She became a fixture of the Harlem Renaissance, and the highest paid black performer in the United States.  In 1929, she made her only filmed appearance in St. Louis Blues.  Hard times came with the Great Depression however, she made her final recordings on Columbia in 1931, and after a hiatus, made four more in 1933 for Okeh, accompanied by Buck Washington and his band, which proved to be her last.

In the wee hours of September 26, 1937, Bessie was riding down Highway 61—”the Blues Highway”—with her lover at the wheel, when his Packard collided with a slow-moving truck ahead.  Bessie was mortally wounded.  The first to arrive at the scene was one Dr. Smith who dressed Bessie’s wounds while his fishing buddy called for an ambulance.  After some time passed with no ambulance in sight, the doctor decided to move Bessie in his own car, when another car came screaming down the road and plowed into Bessie’s Packard, which bounced off Dr. Smith’s car and landed in the ditch off the side of the road.  Finally, two ambulances arrived, one from the white hospital, and another from the black hospital.  Bessie Smith was taken to the G.T. Thomas Afro-American Hospital in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where her badly injured right arm was amputated, but she never regained consciousness, and died that morning.  (Contrary to rumors propagated by John Hammond, she did not die as a result of being brought to an all-white hospital, as she was not taken to an all-white hospital.)

Columbia 14427-D was recorded May 8, 1929 in New York City by Bessie Smith.  She is accompanied on piano by Clarence Williams and on guitar by Eddie Lang.  The DAHR shows takes “2” and “3” were issued on both sides, these are “3” and “2”, respectively.  Both sides are more than a bit on the raunchy side, so if you’re a prude, you may want to turn back here.

On the first side of this disc, Bessie sings “I’m Wild About That Thing”, probably one of her more famous tunes.

I'm Wild About That Thing

I’m Wild About That Thing, recorded May 8, 1929 by Bessie Smith.

On the reverse, Smith sings the equally racy “You’ve Got to Give Me Some”.

You've Got to Give Me Some

You’ve Got to Give Me Some, recorded May 8, 1929 by Bessie Smith.