Victor 25090 – Benny Goodman and his Orch. – 1935

By many accounts, the swing era kicked off on August 21, 1935, when Benny Goodman’s band played the Palomar Ballroom in Los Angeles, California.  They say that Goodman’s boys were playing it on the sweet side, with stock arrangements and little swing, and the crowds weren’t much having it.  Amongst the yawns, Gene Krupa suggested, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing,” and so the band got out their hot Fletcher Henderson arrangements and hepped the cats to kingdom come.  Thus, the swing era was born.

Swing as a genre had emerged earlier in the decade, as the largely distinct styles of hot jazz and orchestrated dance music of the 1920s began to converge as one: jazz made for dancing.  Early exponents of the style included the orchestras of Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Cab Calloway, the Casa Loma Orchestra, and others.  Of course, there’s more to it than that, but you’ll have to ask a musician about it, ’cause I couldn’t tell you.

In a session supervised by Ed Kirkeby, Victor 25090 was recorded on July 1, 1935 at RCA Victor’s Studio 2 in New York City.  It was released on July 31, exactly four weeks prior to his date at the Palomar.  In the band are Bunny Berigan, Ralph Muzillo, and Nate Kazebier on trumpets, Sterling Ballard and Jack Lacy on trombones, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Toots Mondello and Hymie Schertzer on alto saxophones, Arthur Rollini and Dick Clark on tenor saxes, Frank Froeba on piano Allan Ruess on guitar, Harry Goodman on string bass, Gene Krupa on drums

Benny Goodman’s famous recording of Fletcher Henderson’s arrangement of Jelly Roll Morton’s “King Porter” (Stomp) received high marks from the music publications of the day, and rightly so, it’s a masterwork.  Henderson’s own band recorded variations of the arrangement at least thrice, first in 1928 for Columbia, then for Okeh in 1932 as “New King Porter Stomp”, and finally for Vocalion in 1933.  Whether or not Benny’s band played this one at the Palomar Ballroom, I really don’t know, but it seems likely.

King Porter, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.

On the reverse, they play a little less hot, but nonetheless excellent on “Sometimes I’m Happy”, from Hit the Deck—another Henderson arrangement.

Sometimes I’m Happy, recorded July 1, 1935 by Benny Goodman and his Orch.

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.

Columbia 13001-D – Bessie Smith – 1923

I often notice that there’s no balance between the jazz and the and the blues (and country) that’s posted here, unfortunately the category for blues tunes on this site is terribly barren and bereft.  What better way to remedy that than with the aid of the Empress of the Blues herself, Madam Bessie Smith.  Here Bessie sings two fine songs on one of Columbia’s first issues in their series dedicated to “race records”, pressed with their beautiful “flags” label design.

Columbia 13001-D was recorded September 26 and October 10, 1923 in New York City and was the second issue in Columbia’s first Race series which ran only from 13000-D to 13007-D in 1923 and was soon abandoned in favor of their more successful 14000-D series.  These sides are two of Bessie’s earlier sides, her twenty-fifth and thirtieth to be precise, and her first in Columbia’s specifically designated “race” series.

First, Bessie moans her way through Sid Laney’s “Cemetery Blues”, backed by Jimmy Jones on piano, and recorded on the September 26 date.  Sid Laney was apparently a pseudonym used by prolific piano roll player J. Lawrence Cook.  Does that mean this piece was written by Cook, or was there a real Laney?

Cemetery Blues

Cemetery Blues, recorded September 26, 1923 by Bessie Smith.

On the flip, Bessie sings Lovie Austin’s “Any Woman’s Blues”, accompanied on piano by the great Fletcher Henderson, recorded on the October 10 date.

Any Woman's Blues

Any Woman’s Blues, recorded October 10, 1923 by Bessie Smith.

Black Swan 2005 – Lulu Whidby – 1921

In honor of Black History Month, I present to you a Black Swan phonograph record, from the first line “race records” made by and for African American people, featuring the early sounds of vaudevillian female blues, with an early appearance by Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra.

The story of Black Swan began during the Harlem Renaissance in 1920, when few black entertainers were afforded opportunities to record for any of the major record labels.  A man by the name of Harry Herbert Pace, previously a business partner of W.C. Handy, founded the Pace Phonograph Corporation in New York, and began to produce phonographs and records.  Pace also brought in a young song plugger from Handy’s company to serve as recording director and leader of the house orchestra, Fletcher Henderson.  Early on, Pace had difficulty finding a company that would agree to press records from the masters he recorded.  Eventually, Pace was able to contract his record pressing to the Wisconsin Chair Company of Port Washington, Wisconsin, makers of Paramount records.  From 1921 to 1923, Black Swan offered records recorded by black entertainers and intended for black audiences.  Some of the top artists on Black Swan included Alberta Hunter, Ethel Waters, and W.C. Handy’s Band.  Unfortunately, the company folded at the end of 1923, and all of their assets were purchased by Paramount Records, who began their 12000 legendary race records series shortly thereafter, reissuing many recordings from Black Swan on some of the earliest releases.

Black Swan 2005 was recorded circa April 1921 in New York City by Lulu Whidby with Henderson’s Novelty Orchestra.  It was later reissued on Paramount 12127, and also appeared on Claxtonola 40055.  The early Fletcher Henderson band includes Chink Johnson or George Brashear on trombone, Edgar Campbell on clarinet, probably Cordy Williams on violin, Fletcher Henderson on piano, and possibly John Mitchell or Sam Speed on banjo; the trumpet and tuba players are unknown.  It has been suggested that Garvin Bushell played clarinet at this session, but he did not recall participating.

It has been suggested that the standard 78.26 RPM is too fast for this record, and I can agree to that.  If anyone has a suggestion as to what the correct speed may be, I’ll add new transfers with it corrected.

First, Lulu Whidby sings the classic Harry Creamer and Turner Layton song, “Strut Miss Lizzie”.

Strut Miss Lizzie

Strut Miss Lizzie, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

On the reverse, Whidby sings Irving Berlin’s “Home Again Blues”.  Henderson’s orchestra really shines on this one.

HomeAgainBlues

Home Again Blues, recorded circa April 1921 by Lulu Whidby.

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.