Madison 6002 – Cosmopolitan Dance Players/Levee Syncopators – 1930

My sincere apologies for the long delay in posting here, I was preoccupied with other matters and couldn’t find the time nor the inspiration to come up with anything good to say.  But, in the words of Douglas MacArthur, I have returned, and I will do my best to keep things moving along once again, starting with this rather obscure and mysterious jazz record.

The overwhelming bulk of material commonly seen on the Grey Gull labels (Grey Gull, Radiex, Madison, Van Dyke, etc.) consists of relatively uninteresting popular songs and old standards by singers or their own studio band, usually released under pseudonyms.  That isn’t to say they’re not good, I’m personally quite fond of the Grey Gull studio band with their wild and unusual arrangements, they’re just not terribly thrilling.  However, don’t be fooled, there are a few exceptional jazz gems to be found on those labels.  Many of these “sleeper” jazz tunes occupy the “B” side of popular songs.  We previously heard Cliff Jackson’s Krazy Kats play their unbelievably hot “Horse Feathers” on the back of an ordinary dimestore rendition of “Confessin’ (That I Love You)”.  This disc falls into the same category, featuring a hit pop song on the “A” side, and hot jazz on the reverse.

The “A” side of Madison 6002 was recorded in November of 1930, the “B” side was recorded on January 17, 1930, both in New York.  The first side features a standard Grey Gull studio band, while the flip is a little more interesting.

The “Cosmopolitan Dance Players” version of “The Little Things in Life”, featuring a vocal by Irving Kaufman, is really quite nice, certainly nothing to complain about.  A fine rendition of a fine Irving Berlin tune.

The Little Things in Life

The Little Things in Life, recorded November 1930 by the Cosmopolitan Dance Players.

On the reverse, a different hot band plays “The Rackett”.  It is generally accepted that the personnel of the “Levee Syncopators” is unknown, aside from the tune’s composer Claude Austin, who likely serves as pianist.  Brian Rust listed it as a studio group with Mike Mosiello and Andy Sannella, though the style doesn’t fit with theirs, and that hypothesis has often been dismissed.  At least one source suggests that it (along with several other hot and unknown Grey Gull bands) may have been made up of Walter Bennett on trumpet, Alberto Socarras on alto sax, Walter Edwards on clarinet and tenor sax, Austin on piano, and an unknown banjo player, similar to the lineups of Bennett’s Swamplanders and Gerald Clark’s Night Owls around the same time.  Listening to other sides featuring those musicians, it sounds plausible, but I cannot confirm one way or the other with any degree of certainty.  With Grey Gull’s ledgers presumably no longer in existence, it will likely remain shrouded in mystery.

The Rackett

The Rackett, recorded January 17, 1930 by the Levee Syncopators.

Okeh 41393 – Carl Webster and his Yale Collegians – 1930

Born on this day 128 years ago was one of the finest songwriters Tin Pan Alley has ever known, Irving Berlin.

Berlin was born Israel Isidore Baline in the Russian Empire on May 11, 1888, and emigrated to the United States when he was a young boy.  As did many immigrants in that day and age, he Americanized his name, changing it to Irving Berlin.  Like so many greats, Berlin began working as a song plugger in New York City as a young man, and before long published his first song, “Marie From Sunny Italy”.  Having never taught himself to play piano in more than one key, Berling purchased a special piano that allowed him to transpose the key at the flip of a lever.  In 1911 came Berlin’s first big hit, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”.  When the Great War came around, Berlin was drafted, and, always full of patriotic vigor, was tasked with writing songs for the war effort.  In that period, he gave us such hits as “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning!” from the all-soldier musical revue Yip Yip Yaphank.  From then on out, he had a string of popular hits, including “Blue Skies”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “God Bless America”, and too many others to list.  Berlin’s composing began to wind down after the 1940s, with the preceding decades being his most productive.  In 1989, Irving Berlin died peacefully at the age of 101.

Okeh 41393 was recorded March 1, 1930 in New York City by Carl Webster and his Yale Collegians, playing two Irving Berlin tunes from the United Artists motion picture Puttin’ on the Ritz.  Interestingly, these sides were apparently recorded on the same day the show premiered.  The Yale Collegians consist of Stew Pletcher, Seelye Vidal, and Bob Stanley on trumpets, Andy Wiswell on trombone, Louis Rappaport (who later changed his name to Barry Wood) on clarinet and alto sax, Bob Bruce on cornet, clarinet, and alto sax, Hank Palmer on alto sax, Al Thompson on tenor sax, Sidney Fine on piano, Neil Waterman on guitar, Carl Webster on tuba and string bass, and Jimmy Devlin on drums.

The Yale Collegians rendition of “Puttin’ on the Ritz” is, I believe, the only original 1930 recording that can be considered hot jazz as opposed to the popular dance band styling, and it’s one of the best there ever was, if you ask me. Stew Pletcher sings the vocal on this side.

Puttin' on the Ritz

Puttin’ on the Ritz, recorded March 1, 1930 by Carl Webster’s Yale Collegians.

“With You” is not nearly as hot as the previous side, but it’s still a fine version of this ballad by a competent band.  According to invaluable information from Mr. Paul Lindemeyer, the vocalist on this side is probably Dick Webster, Carl’s brother.  He later worked with Jimmie Grier’s band in Los Angeles.

With You

With You, recorded March 1, 1930 by Carl Webster’s Yale Collegians.

Melotone M 12828 – Joe Venuti and his Orchestra – 1933

Happy Easter (1942) from Old Time Blues to you!

A Happy Easter (1942) from Old Time Blues to you!

I spent some time carefully deliberating over an appropriate record for this Easter.  I considered a variety of rural sacred material, but nothing seemed to fit properly, before it hit me: what song could be more fitting for the occasion than Irving Berlin’s “Easter Parade”!  I don’t know how I could have initially made such an oversight.

While these sides bear the name of Joe Venuti (though it was largely just an ARC studio band that included Venuti), they’re not particularly hot music.  In fact, they’re rather run-of-the-mill Depression-era pop tunes, not bad by any means, quite good actually, but not hot jazz.  However, these sides are remarkable for at least one reason: they both feature a vocal refrain by one Dolores DeFina, using the name Dolores Reade at the behest of her agent.  Less than a year after this record was made, Dolores Reade married an emergent vaudevillian by the name of Bob Hope.  Though she had to put up with Bob’s womanizing habit, the two remained married until Hope’s death in 2003.  Dolores passed in 2011 at the age of 102.

Melotone M 12828 was recorded October 26, 1933 in New York City by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra, featuring a vocal chorus on both sides by Dolores Reade.  Both songs originate from Irving Berlin’s 1933 revue, As Thousands Cheer.  While the full personnel is not known, the band includes, besides Venuti on violin, Max Farley on clarinet and alto sax and Pat Davis or Bud Freeman on tenor sax.

In celebration of the holiday today, here’s a charming rendition of “Easter Parade”.

Easter Parade

Easter Parade, recorded October 26, 1933 by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra.

On the other side is another song from As Thousands Cheer, though it’s not as well remembered as “Easter Parade”, “Heat Wave”.

Heat Wave

Heat Wave, recorded October 26, 1933 by Joe Venuti and his Orchestra.

Updated on June 24, 2016.

A Crown Dance Band Double Feature – 3149 & 3281 – 1931/1932

This Dance Band Double Feature is dedicated to Smith Ballew, who was born on this day (January 21) in 1902.  Under his frequently used pseudonym, Buddy Blue and his Texans, Ballew and his band play four classic songs of the early 1930s recorded on the Crown label.

Smith Ballew was born Sykes Ballew in Palestine, Texas on January 20, 1902.  He had his education in Sherman, Texas before finishing college at the University of Texas in Austin.  While at UT, Ballew played banjo in James Maloney’s band, called Jimmie’s Joys at the time.  That band, with Ballew, made a few records in California for the Golden label in 1923.  By the late 1920s, he was working as a studio vocalist in New York, working for a plethora of different bands and labels.  After working steadily as a singer well into the 1930s, Smith turned to acting, appearing mostly in Westerns as a singing cowboy.  After retiring from music in 1967, Ballew worked in the aircraft industry, eventually settling in Fort Worth.  He died March 2, 1984 in Longview, Texas.

Crown 3149 was recorded in May of 1931.  On the first side, Smith Ballew sings Harry Warren’s 1931 hit, the timeless “I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store)”.

I Found a Million Dollar Baby (In a Five and Ten Cent Store), recorded May 1931 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

On the reverse, we hear “On the Beach With You”, this side claims to be a waltz, but it sounds more like a fox trot to my ear.  The vocalist on this side is allegedly Charlie Lawman, but it sounds identical to Ballew’s vocal on the flip, and I believe it’s still him.  On these 1931 recordings, the band retains much of a late 1920s sound with banjo rhythm and an accordion.

On the Beach With You, recorded May 1931 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

The second disc, Crown 3281, was recorded in January of 1932.  This record features two popular songs from Irving Berlin’s Face the Music.  Both sides feature a vocal by Ballew.  The band seems to have modernized significantly on these recordings, less than a year later, and may very well be an entirely different group.  First up, it’s one of my personal favorites: “Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee”.

Let’s Have Another Cup o’ Coffee, recorded January 1932 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

On the flip, Ballew sings the charming “Soft Lights and Sweet Music”.

Soft Lights and Sweet Music, recorded January 1932 by Buddy Blue and his Texans.

Updated on April 28, 2018.

Victor 25094 – Ray Noble and his Orchestra – 1935

On January 7, 1898, Albert Allick Bowlly, better known as Al, was born in Mozambique.  He spent his childhood in South Africa, where he found his first work as a singer with Edgar Adeler’s band, which was touring Africa.  After a falling out with Adeler in Indonesia, he sang with a number of bands in the Orient, before making his way back to the West.  In 1927, Bowlly made his recording debut, again with Adeler.  He first came to London to sing with Fred Elizalde’s Music, with whom he recorded an excellent rendition of “If I Had You” in 1929.  In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Bowlly sang with a number of British dance bands, inluding those of Roy Fox, Lew Stone, and Roy Noble, whose association with Bowlly is perhaps the best remembered today.  In 1934, Bowlly came to the United States with Noble’s orchestra before returning to England in 1937.  On April 17, 1941, Bowlly died tragically in the Blitz, not from a bomb, but from a door blown off its hinges from the explosion, which struck him in the head.

Victor 25094 was recorded June 8 and 10, 1935 in New York City, featuring Roy Noble’s Orchestra with a vocal refrain by Al Bowlly and the Freshman, singing two Irving Berlin hits from the 1935 Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers picture Top Hat.  I had the great fortune of screening Top Hat at the historic Texas Theatre in Dallas, in a special presentation put on by the local Art Deco Society, followed by a concert by Matt Tolentino’s Singapore Slingers.  Quite a fun time.

In the film, Astaire danced solo to “Top Hat” (White Tie and Tails), and Noble and Bowlly do great with the song here.

Top Hat, recorded June 8, 1935 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Al Bowlly and the Freshmen).

Top Hat, recorded June 8, 1935 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Al Bowlly & The Freshmen).

PIccolino” was probably the most publicized tune from the movie and touted as the “big hit” in 1935, though today the most remembered song is likely “Cheek to Cheek”.

Piccolino, recorded June 10, 1935 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Al Bowlly).

Piccolino, recorded June 10, 1935 by Ray Noble and his Orchestra (Vocal refrain by Al Bowlly).