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.

Columbia 14593-D – Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano – 1931

Fats Waller, 1930s. Courtesy of Mills Music.

May 21 marks yet another impossible to ignore occasion, the 112th birthday of Fats Waller.  This record is Fats’ first vocal record issued under his own name, he had previously recorded a series of uncredited vocal sides with Ted Lewis and his Band the same year, and had released many piano and organ solos.

Thomas Wright Waller was born May 21, 1904 in New York City, the youngest of eleven children of Rev. Edward Martin and Adeline Locket Waller.  Instructed at first by his mother, he learned to play piano and organ as a child, playing in his father’s church, and in Harlem’s Lincoln Theater.  He later came under the tutelage of Harlem’s foremost pianist James P. Johnson, and won a contest for playing Johnson’s “Carolina Shout” in 1918.  Waller made his first recordings for Okeh in 1922, piano solos of “Muscle Shoals Blues” and “Birmingham Blues”, and his first vocal recordings for Columbia in 1931 with Ted Lewis’ Band.  By the end of the 1920s, he was one of Harlem’s leading pianists and composers, often collaborating with lyricist Andy Razaf.  In 1934, at a party thrown by George Gershwin, his playing and singing was noticed by a Victor Records bigwig, who set him up with a lucrative contract for Victor, recording as “Fats Waller and his Rhythm” (though he had, in fact, recorded for Victor a number of times prior to that).  In 1943, he appeared in the motion picture Stormy Weather, which was to be his swan song.  Fats Waller died of pneumonia on a train near Kansas City on December 15, 1943.  His ashes were scattered over Harlem.

Columbia 14593-D, issued in the race record series, was recorded March 12, 1931 in New York City.  The DAHR notes that takes “2” and “3” were issued on both sides, these are “3” and “2”, respectively.

First, Fats sings his own famous song, “I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me)”, demonstrating his unique vocal styling on this early side.  Sorry about the rough start, I cleaned it up quite a bit, but there’s only so much I’m capable of doing.

I'm Crazy 'Bout My Baby (And My Baby's Crazy 'Bout Me)

I’m Crazy ‘Bout My Baby (And My Baby’s Crazy ‘Bout Me), recorded March 13, 1931 by Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano.

On the other side, Fats sings Alex Hill’s “Draggin’ My Heart Around”.

Draggin' My Heart Around

Draggin’ My Heart Around, recorded March 13, 1931 by Thomas “Fats” Waller and His Hot Piano.

Vocalion 3150 – Bix Beiderbecke – 1927


Bix Beiderbecke, circa mid-1920s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

March 10th marks the 113th birthday of the Patron Saint of Jazz, one of the greatest musical geniuses of the twentieth century, the one and only Bix Beiderbecke.

Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (some sources claim his full middle name was Bismark, others say it was properly Bix) was born March 10, 1903 in Davenport, Iowa.  Hearing the jazz music on the riverboats that ran from New Orleans to Chicago, Bix had an affinity for music from an early age, and played with a number of bands as early as high school.  Bix was inspired to take up the cornet after his brother Burnie returned from his service in the Great War, bringing home a phonograph and some records by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, at which point Bix was hooked.  He started recording with Dick Voynow’s territory band, the Wolverine Orchestra for Gennett, and later with the Bucktown Five and his own band, the Rhythm Jugglers.  In 1926, Bix was hired by Jean Goldkette’s Orchestra in Chicago, but was fired shortly thereafter due to his inability to read music.  He was rehired soon after, having brushed up on music reading, and played with many other jazz greats in Goldkette’s band, including Frankie Trumbauer (his frequent collaborator), Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, and the Dorsey Brothers. As Goldkette’s orchestra fell on hard times, Paul Whiteman hired away many of his top men, including Bix, to play in his orchestra, the most popular dance band of the day.  All the while, Bix recorded hot (and sometimes cool) jazz tunes with Frankie Trumbauer’s and his own band for Okeh.  Bix had only two loves in his life, music and booze, and unfortunately, the latter was taking his life away.

In 1928, Bix suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by an attempt to lessen his alcohol intake, and was forced to take leave of Whiteman’s band to recover at his home in Davenport.  He returned to Whiteman’s orchestra in 1929, and traveled to Hollywood to appear with the band in King of Jazz, though he instead took the opportunity to drink with Bing Crosby, and did not appear in the picture.  He once again returned to his home, and spent some time in a sanatarium, hoping to recover from his sickness. Paul Whiteman kept his chair in the band open, hoping for Bix’s return.  After that, Bix made only a handful more recordings with an assortment of different groups.  In his final recording session, on September 15, 1930, Bix played in Hoagy Carmichael’s band for the first recording of “Georgia On My Mind”.  On a hot summer night in his apartment in Queens, Death came a-rapping for Bix Beiderbecke.  On August 6, 1931, Bix practiced his piano into the night, around 9:30, he had a fit of delirium, believing that a gang of Mexicans under his bead was trying to kill him.  His screams alerted a neighbor, who hurried across the hall to see what was wrong.  Bix told him of what he saw, and dropped dead in his arms.

Vocalion 3150 was recorded September 9 and 17, 1927 in New York City by Bix Beiderbecke.  It was originally issued on Okeh 40916, with the Vocalion 3150 reissue released around 1935, though this pressing dates to around 1938 or ’39.  If anything, this late pressing, in exquisite condition, might well offer better playback than the original 1927 issue, as those pressings tend to develop lamination cracks around the edges, often causing a background rumble in playback.

On this disc, Bix plays “In a Mist”, also sometimes known (on the British issue, for instance) as “Bixology”, the only recorded piece of his Modern Piano Suite, which also included “In the Dark”, “Candlelights”, and “Flashes” (all of which can be found on Rivermont Records’ special edition 78 RPM release played by Bryan Wright.)

In a Mist

In a Mist, recorded September 9, 1927 by Bix Beiderbecke.

On the reverse, Beiderbecke is joined by Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang to play “Wringin’ an’ Twistin'” in their three piece band, with Bix doubling on cornet and piano.

Wringin' an' Twistin'

Wringin’ an’ Twistin’, recorded September 17, 1927 by Tram – Bix and Lang.

Victor 20944 – Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra – 1927

Accompanying this record is a tale of tragedy.  After long searching far and wide for an original Victor issue of Fletcher Henderson’s “Variety Stomp”, I was thrilled when a promising copy turned up on eBay, and I was able to win for an excellent price.  When the record was finally delivered, I opened the package to discover in horror that it was woefully insufficient to protect the contents from careless postal workers, and what would have been a nice V+ record was snapped in two pieces, just about through the middle.  The seller very kindly refunded the cost, and the record sat dejectedly for months on my broken record pile.

It wasn’t doing any good just sitting there, so eventually I decided to try my hand at repairing it, and with the remains of Victor 20944 and a tube of superglue, I carefully lined up the two halves of the record, and put a dollop of glue on the outside edges, and in the runout area on both sides.  After the glue dried came the moment of truth, I brought the repaired record to my turntable and to my surprise and relief, it tracked perfectly, and played through with only two surprisingly minor background clicks.

I have since acquired Henderson’s Bluebird issue of take 2 of “Variety”, and his acoustical recording on Harmony, but my heart still yearns for a better copy of this record.  Maybe someday.

Below, you can hear the results of my efforts, straight from the turntable, with no cleaning up or modification of any sort to the audio, as well as digitally cleaned up versions attempting to remove the clicks from the crack.

Victor 20944 was recorded April 27, 1927 at the Victor studios in New York City, and released in November of ’27.  Besides Henderson on piano and directing, the all-star lineup includes Joe and Russell Smith, and possibly Tommy Ladnier on trumpet, Benny Morton and Jimmy Harrison on trombones, Buster Bailey and Don Redman on clarinet and alto sax, Coleman Hawkins playing his famous tenor sax, Charlie Dixon on banjo, and June Cole and Kaiser Marshall on tuba and drums, respectively.

On “A”, Henderson’s Orchestra plays hot on “St. Louis Shuffle” (take 2), composed by Jack Pettis and Thomas “Fats” Waller.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

St. Louis Shuffle, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

On “B”, they play one of my favorites, take 3 of “Variety Stomp”, which was only issued here, composed by Jo Trent, Ray Henderson, and Bud Green.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 in New York by Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra.

Variety Stomp, recorded April 27, 1927 by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

I don’t think it sounds too bad for a record that was broken in half, myself!

Updated on June 22, 2024.