Brunswick 6074 – Cab Calloway and his Orchestra – 1931

It’s been quite a while since we’ve last heard from our old friend Cab Calloway here on Old Time Blues, but has come time to turn out attention to what may well be his greatest claim to fame—”Minnie the Moocher”.

Cab Calloway and his Orchestra in the early 1930s. Pictured in Of Minnie the Moocher & Me, photograph from Frank Driggs Collection.

With a career spanning more than half a century, it’s no stretch to say that Cab Calloway sang hundreds of songs on record, radio, stage, and screen, but no song is so indelibly identified with him as his own composition “Minnie the Moocher”.  Minnie “messed around with a bloke named Smokey” who “showed her how to kick the gong around”—a euphemism for smoking opium.  Cab wrote “Minnie” early in his career, around 1930, based heavily on “Willie the Weeper”, a popular folk tune and vaudeville favorite that originated in the early twentieth century.  He first recorded it early in 1931, and it became an instant success, spawning close to a dozen covers in the first year.  Becoming his theme song, Cab reprised “Minnie” in Fleischer Studios’ eponymous Betty Boop cartoon the following year, appearing both as himself and rotoscoped as a ghost walrus.  Such a sensation it was that sequels followed, like “Kickin’ the Gong Around”, “Minnie the Moocher’s Wedding Day”.  Cab’s original Brunswick recording was reissued all throughout the 1930s and onward, and he made new recording more than once, including an unissued Victor recording in 1933, and another for Okeh in 1942 (not to mention recordings made after the 78 era, upon which I’m not qualified to comment).

Brunswick 6074 was recorded on March 3, 1931 in New York City.  Still following the basic roster of their predecessor, the Missourians, Cab’s orchestra is made up of R.Q. Dickerson, Lammar Wright, and Reuben Reeves on trumpets, De Priest Wheeler and Harry White on trombones, Arville Harris on clarinet and alto sax, Andrew Brown on bass clarinet and tenor sax, Walter “Foots” Thomas on alto, tenor, and baritone sax and flute, Earres Prince on piano, Morris White on banjo, Jimmy Smith on string bass and tuba, and Leroy Maxey on drums.

And so now here it is, Cab Calloway’s first ever recording of his theme song, “Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song)”.  “Minnie had a heart as big as a ‘hay-wale’.”

Minnie the Moocher (The Ho-De-Ho Song), recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Unlike “Minnie”, Cab’s “Doin’ the Rumba” on the flip-side is all but forgotten.  Nonetheless, it’s still a fine song, with hot, Spanish tinged, playing from the former Missourians.

Doin’ the Rumba, recorded March 3, 1931 by Cab Calloway.

Victor 21491 – Charles Johnson’s Paradise Ten/Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra – 1928

In honor of “King” Benny Carter’s birthday, here’s an outstanding Harlem jazz record featuring one of his earliest recorded appearances, as well as a taste of his arranging talent.

Bennett Lester Carter was born in Harlem on August 8, 1907.  As a child, he was taught piano by his mother, and was later inspired to by Bubber Miley to buy a trumpet.  When he couldn’t play like Miley, he decided to take up the saxophone instead.  Growing up playing jazz with the Harlem greats, Carter first recorded in 1928 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten, and played with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1930s.  In 1931, he took over leadership of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers from Don Redman, who left to form his own orchestra, and followed in his footsteps the next year with a band of his own.  In the 1930s, he began recording with a band under the moniker of the Chocolate Dandies, which had been previously used by a number of others.  In 1935, as Louis Armstrong and a number of other jazz musicians had done previously, Carter traveled to Europe, where he played with the Ramblers, Django Reinhardt, and others before returning to the States in 1938.  After returning home, he led another band and arranged prolifically.  In 1942, Freddie Slack’s Orchestra made a hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, which Carter wrote with Gene de Paul and Don Raye, and he moved to the West Coast in 1943.  In 1973, Carter was a visiting professor at Princeton University for a semester.  He continued to play until his retirement in 1997, bringing an end to an eight decade career, and he died in 2003 at the age of 95.

Victor 21491 was recorded January 24 and 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City.  The Paradise Ten are made up of Jabbo Smith and Leonard Davis on trumpets Charlie Irvis on trombone, Benny Carter and Edgar Sampson on clarinet and alto sax, Elmer Harrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Charlie Johnson on piano, Bobby Johnson on banjo, Cyrus St. Clair on tuba, George Stafford on drums.  Lloyd Scott’s orchestra on the flip-side consists of Gus McClung and Kenneth A. Roane on trumpet, Dicky Wells on trombone John Williams and Fletcher Allen on clarinet and alto sax, Cecil Scott on clarinet, tenor sax, and baritone sax, Don Frye on piano, Hubert Mann on piano, Chester Campbell on tuba, and Lloyd Scott on drums.

Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten took their name from Small’s Paradise in Harlem, where they played.  Among their alumni were such luminaries as Jabbo Smith and Benny Carter, who made his first recordings with the band.  Their superb “Charleston is the Best Dance After All” was arranged by Benny Carter.

Charleston is the Best Dance After All

Charleston is the Best Dance After All, recorded January 24, 1928 by Charles Johnson’s Paradise Ten.

Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra was another excellent Harlem band, that featured John Williams (husband of Mary Lou Williams) and Dicky Wells.  Here they play trumpeter Kenneth A. Roane’s “Harlem Shuffle”.

Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle, recorded January 10, 1928 by Lloyd Scott’s 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.

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.

Decca 1840 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1938

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1938.

Ella Fitzgerald in the late 1930s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

In the mood for a bit of swing?  I hope so, because today we celebrate birthday of the First Lady of Song, Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia.  She moved north to Yonkers during the Great Migration.  After falling on hard times as a teenager during the Great Depression, she entered an amateur night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.  Though she originally intended to dance at the show, after feeling intimidated by another dance act, she sang instead, imitating the style of her favorite singer, Connie Boswell, and won the twenty-five dollar prize.  In 1935, Chick Webb reluctantly took her on as a vocalist in his band, which she stayed with for the remainder of the decade.  When Webb succumbed to his illness in 1939, Ella took over the band, recording under her own name.  After Webb’s band broke up, she continued to record as a solo artist, and the rest as they say, is history.  After a life of music, her health declined in the 1980s, and Ella Fitzgerald died comfortably in her home on June 15, 1996, her final words were, “I’m ready to go now.”

Decca 1840 was recorded in two sessions in May of 1938, the first on the second and the second on the third.  The band consists of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpet, George Matthews, Nat Story, and Sandy Williams on trombone, Garvin Bushell on clarinet and alto sax, Louis Jordan (yes, that Louis Jordan) on alto sax, Teddy McRae, and Wayman Carver on tenor sax, Tommy Fulford on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, Beverly Peer on string bass, and Chick Webb on drums.

Ella’s first big hit was “A-Tisket A-Tasket”, which she and Al Feldman adapted as a pop tune.  The arrangement was written by the recently departed Van Alexander.

A-Tisket A-Tasket

A-Tisket A-Tasket, recorded May 2, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

The label of the flip-side “Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away)” bears the inscription “”To a Swell Kid, Camilla.”  Unseen in the scan is “To Marilyn From Camilla Adams 1938” engraved in the run-out with some sharp instrument.

Liza (All the Clouds'll Roll Away)

Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), recorded May 3, 1938 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.