Okeh 6893 – Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band – 1933

Bessie Smith, the Empress of the Blues. From Jazzmen, 1938.

The time has come once again to honor the Empress of the Blues, Bessie Smith.  I’ve already covered her life in some detail previously, so this post is dedicated to her famous last session.

Bessie Smith’s career flourished throughout the roaring twenties, but was hampered by the onset of the Great Depression.  Bessie made her final recordings for the Columbia label—for whom she had recorded since her debut in 1923—near the end of 1931, as the economy continued to dive.  After two years spent touring, record producer John Hammond brought her back to the studio for a session with Okeh (a subsidiary of Columbia since 1926).  For this session, Smith was paid a non-royalty sum of $37.50 (equivalent to around $690 dollars today).  With an all-star band led by pianist Buck Washington (best known as half of the popular vaudeville duo Buck and Bubbles) assembled to accompany her, the four sides cut at that session helped bring her style into the burgeoning era of swing.  That lone Okeh session, however, proved to be her last.  Smith made no further recordings between then and her fatal car accident four years later, and in that period of time faded into obscurity; by 1936 she was working as a hostess in a Philadelphia club.

Okeh 6893 was recorded on November 24, 1933 in New York City.  It was originally issued on Okeh 8949, this reissue dates to 1952.  In the band accompanying Bessie is the almost legendary lineup of Frank Newton on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Chu Berry on tenor sax, Buck Washington on piano, Bobby Johnson on guitar, and Billy Taylor on string bass.  Benny Goodman was recording in an adjoining studio that day, and sat in for this session, but I’m not sure if he can be heard on these two sides.  The songs on both sides were composed by Wesley “Socks” Wilson.

First up, Bessie is at her all-time best on the legendary “Gimme a Pigfoot”.

Gimme a Pigfoot, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Next, she gives another great performance on the classic “Take Me For a Buggy Ride”.

Take Me For a Buggy Ride, recorded November 24, 1933 by Bessie Smith with Buck and his Band.

Updated with improved audio on October 20, 2017.

Okeh 41577 – The Charleston Chasers – 1931

Jack Teagarden in marching band uniform. From Jazzmen, 1938, photo by Charles Peterson.

Jack Teagarden in band uniform. From Jazzmen, 1939, photo by Charles Peterson.

August 20 marks the day that we pay homage to that great trombone man from down in Texas, Jack Teagarden, who was born on that day in 1905.  In celebration of the occasion, here is a record that holds great significance in the development of swing music.  It is credited by Benny Goodman himself as the record that really saw him come into his own element, well on his path to becoming the King of Swing.

Jack was born Weldon Leo Teagarden in the small town of Vernon, Texas.  His father was an oilfield worker who played cornet in a brass band, and his mother played ragtime piano and church organ.  Jack took up the baritone horn, soon switching to trombone, his brothers Charlie and Clois chose trumpet and drums, respectively, and sister Norma learned piano.  In 1921, Teagarden joined Peck Kelley’s band in Houston, and was offered a position in Paul Whiteman’s band when the famous bandleader was passing through, though Jack opted to remain in Texas.  He made it to New York City in 1926, where he recorded with the orchestras of Ben Pollack, Roger Wolfe Kahn, and various bands organized by impresario Irving Mills, as well as numerous jazz bands led by the likes of Eddie Condon, Red Nichols, Hoagy Carmichael, and Louis Armstrong, establishing himself as the finest jazz trombonist of the age (and perhaps of any age), and a popular blues vocalist on the side.  In the early 1930s, Teagarden played with Benny Goodman’s orchestras, helping to percolate the early inklings of swing at its best, but in 1933, he signed a contract with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra for five years, preventing him from leading his own band as the swing era kicked off soon after.  Despite having fairly little opportunity for solo work with Whiteman, Teagarden was able to get in a bit of side work during that time, and started his own band after parting ways with Whiteman in 1939.  Though his orchestra lasted until 1946, it found little in the way of success.  After World War II, Teagarden played with Louis Armstrongs All-Stars, and toured internationally more than once, remaining a mainstay in the jazz scene until his death from pneumonia in 1964.

Okeh 41577 was recorded February 9, 1931 in New York City by the Charleston Chasers, under the direction of Benny Goodman.  It is a dub of the original issue on Columbia 2415-D (why they dubbed it, instead of master pressing, I couldn’t say, but I’m sure someone could.)  The almost unbeatable band features Charlie Teagarden and Ruby Weinstein on trumpets, Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Sid Stoneburn on alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Dick McDonough on guitar, Arthur Schutt on piano, and Harry Goodman on string bass.  Jack Teagarden sings the vocals on both sides.  Unfortunately, some dumbbell thought it was a bright idea to carve an “X” into both labels.

Besides perhaps Louis Armstrong, “Basin Street Blues” is associated with no musician more than Jack Teagarden, who performed and recorded it a number of times.  It was in fact Teagarden and Glenn Miller who were responsible for adding the opening verse, “Won’t you come along with me. / To the Mississippi,” to Spencer Williams’ famous song.

Basin Street Blues

Basin Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.

Also quite associated with Teagarden is W.C. Handy’s “Beale Street Blues”, which he recorded again soon after for Vocalion with Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang’s All-Star Orchestra.

Beale Street Blues

Beale Street Blues, recorded February 9, 1931 by the Charleston Chasers.

Victor 25494 – Hoagy Carmichael and his Orchestra – 1930

This record, one I’ve been on the lookout for for quite a while, arrived just in time for Hoagy Carmichael’s 116th birthday, and I know of no better occasion to feature it here than that.

Howard Hoagland Carmichael was born November 22, 1899 in Bloomington, Indiana.  One of the most influential composers of the twentieth century, he is remembered for many enduring compositions including “Washboard Blues”, “Riverboat Shuffle”, “Star Dust”, “Rockin’ Chair”, “Georgia (On My Mind)”, “Lazy River”, and so many more.  Carmichael graduated from the Indiana University School of Law in 1926, but after playing with a student band, he soon turned to music instead. Hoagy made his first recordings for the Indiana-based Gennett Records with Curtis Hitch’s Happy Harmonists in 1925.  Over his long career, Carmichael became one of America’s foremost songwriters, and worked with such personalities as Paul Whiteman and Louis Armstrong, to name a few.  Hoagy Carmichel died in 1981 at the age of 82.

Victor 25494 is a 1936 master pressed reissue made up of sides originally from two different discs, recorded on May 21, 1930 and September 15, 1930 in New York.  Both sides feature different, but equally star studded personnel in the band.  Hoagy does the vocal on both sides, and both feature the cornet of Bix Beiderbecke, in two of his last recording sessions.

“Rockin’ Chair” was originally issued on Victor V-38139 and features the musical talent of Bix on cornet, plus Bubber Miley on trumpet, Tommy Dorsey on trombone, Benny Goodman on clarinet, Arnold Brilhart on alto sax, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Joe Venuti on violin, Eddie Lang on guitar, Irving Brodsky on piano, Hoagy on organ, Harry Goodman on tuba, and Gene Krupa on drums.

Rockin' Chair, recorded

Rockin’ Chair, recorded May 21, 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Orchestra.

On the original recording of Carmichael’s famous “Georgia (On My Mind)”, originally issued on Victor 23013, the musicians present are Bix on cornet once again, with Ray Lodwig on trumpet, Jack Teagarden and Boyce Cullen on trombone, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Jimmy Dorsey on alto sax, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Joe Venuti on violin, Eddie Lang on guitar, Irving Brodsky on piano, Min Leibrook on bass saxophone (though I honestly don’t hear a bass sax here), and Chauncey Morehouse on drums.  This was Bix’s final recording session.

Georgia (On My Mind), recorded

Georgia (On My Mind), recorded September 15, 1930 by Hoagy Carmichael and his Orchestra.

Columbia C-40 – From Austin High Comes Jazz – 1940

"From Austin High Comes Jazz" by Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. Cover art by Alex Steinweiss.

“From Austin High Comes Jazz” by Bud Freeman and his Famous Chicagoans. Cover art by Alex Steinweiss.

In the early 1920s, a group of five students from Chicago’s Austin High School got together to form a jazz band.  The original group consisted of Jimmy and Dick McPartland on cornet and banjo, respectively, Frank Teschemacher on alto saxophone and violin, Jim Lanigan on piano, and Bud Freeman, the greenhorn of the bunch, on C-melody saxophone.  Drummer Dave Tough joined in later on, and guitarist Eddie Condon recorded with the band as “McKenzie and Condon’s Chicagoans” in 1927. This group became quite popular, and, among other bands, helped to bring jazz music to the toddling town of Chicago.  Eventually, the musicians went their separate ways, off to greater success in different orchestras and bands.  Frank Teschemacher died tragically in a car accident in 1932, days away from his 26th birthday.

Nearly two decades later, Eddie Condon brought together a different group of leading jazzmen, many of whom had no real connection to Chicago, under Bud Freeman’s name to record a session at Columbia Records.  The group, which performed live under the name “Summa Cum Laude Orchestra” , included the likes of Condon and Freeman, as well as jazz greats Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and Dave Tough of the original Austin High Gang.  This 1940 session resulted in the release of an album titled From Austin High Comes Jazz, annotated by record producer John Hammond, proclaimed in the liner notes as “America’s Greatest Jazz Authority”.  The annotation notes Benny Goodman as a member of the Austin High Gang, but he was not connected to my knowledge, though he did play with some of the musicians later on.

All eight sides of Columbia C-40 were recorded July 23, 1940 and include the fine musicianship of Max Kaminsky on trumpet, Jack Teagarden on trombone, Pee Wee Russell on clarinet, Bud Freeman on tenor sax, Dave Bowman on piano, Eddie Condon on guitar, Mort Stuhlmaker on string bass, and Dave Tough on drums.

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