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.

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.

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.  This song was later adapted to the western swing style in 1928 by the Paradise Joy Boys of Dallas, Texas. 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.

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.