Brunswick 6543 – Art Tatum – 1933

Art Tatum in the 1940s. Pictured in the 1944 Esquire Jazz Book.

One of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz music was Art Tatum, whose virtuosity on the piano was perhaps unparalleled.  He was a favorite of almost all fellow jazz musicians, as well as such classical greats as Sergei Rachmaninoff and Leopold Stokowski.

Arthur Tatum, Jr., was born on October 13, 1909 in Toledo, Ohio, the son of a guitar playing father and piano playing mother.  As a baby, he was afflicted with cataracts, which left him mostly blind for the rest of his life, in spite of surgical intervention.  As a child prodigy with perfect pitch, Tatum learned to play the piano play by ear.  He attended blind school in the 1920s, and later studied music.  Tatum began playing on the radio in 1927, known as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist”, and soon began playing at the local Waiters & Bellman’s Club, where he was a favorite of jazz greats by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Andy Kirk, and Fletcher Henderson.  In 1932, Tatum was noticed by the singer Adelaide Hall, who invited him to tour with her.  He accompanied her back to New York, where he made his first recordings as a member of her backing orchestra.  Not long after, he had his first solo recording session for Brunswick records, cutting the first versions of his famous arrangements of “Tea for Two” and “Tiger Rag”, among others.  His subsequent recordings were made for Decca.  Tatum remained in New York until the end of 1934, then went back west to the Midwest, and to Los Angeles, appearing on Rudy Vallée’s Fleischmann Hour in 1935.  He returned to New York in 1937, and then embarked on the Queen Mary for a tour of England.  After returning to the States, Tatum was a hit on 52nd Street throughout the 1940s, and toured around the country frequently.  He also participated in concerts and sessions organized by jazz impresario Norman Granz, and was one of Esquire’s 1944 Jazz All-Stars.  A chronic alcoholic, Art Tatum suffered kidney failure and died on November 5, 1956.

Brunswick 6543 was recorded in New York City on March 21, 1933.  It is Art Tatum’s first issued solo record, and his second and third recorded solo sides.  Both are modernistic stride improvisations on old standards.

First up is one of Art Tatum’s most famous performances, his frenetic arrangement of Nick La Rocca’s “Tiger Rag”.

Tiger Rag, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

Next up is Tatum’s interpretation of W.C. Handy’s famous “St. Louis Blues”.  Brian Rust notes two issued takes of this side, this is “A”.

St. Louis Blues, recorded on March 21, 1933 by Art Tatum.

Blue Note 2 – Albert Ammons – 1939

Albert Ammons and Meade "Lux" Lewis. From Jazzmen, 1939.

Albert Ammons and Meade “Lux” Lewis. From Jazzmen, 1939.

On September 23, 1907, 109 years to the day before this posting, the boogie woogie piano great Albert Ammons was born.

Ammons was born in Chicago to piano playing parents, who passed on the art to him at a young age.  He developed his barrelhouse style with his close friend Meade “Lux” Lewis, taking notes from Hersal Thomas and Jimmy Yancey.  In the 1920s, both he and Lewis were working as taxicab drivers, and began playing together as a duo.  Ammons started a band in 1935, and recorded for Decca with his Rhythm Kings in 1936.  On December 23, 1938, Ammons appeared in John Hammond’s concert, From Spirituals to Swing at Carnegie Hall, celebrating the history of jazz from spirituals to swing.  The event featured Count Basie’s orchestra with Hot Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing, the Golden Gate Quartet, bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy and Sonny Terry, and fellow boogie woogie pianists Pete Johnson, and Meade “Lux” Lewis, to name a few.  The concert created a surge in the popularity of boogie woogie, with Ammons at the forefront, and he worked quite extensively throughout the following decade, culminating with his performance at Harry S. Truman’s inauguration in 1949.  After a period of illness, Ammons died on December 2, 1949.

Blue Note 2 was recorded on January 6, 1939 in New York by Albert Ammons.  It was Blue Note’s second release, from the new record label’s first recording session, held in a rented studio.

Ammons recorded his famous “Boogie Woogie Stomp” previously in 1936 for Decca with his Rhythm Kings, but that version, in my opinion, lacked the same kind of driving energy that characterizes this solo recording.  A truncated version of the piece (which Ammons recorded for the Solo-Art label) was used in Norman McLaren’s 1940 animation Boogie Doodle.

Boogie Woogie Stomp

Boogie Woogie Stomp, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.

On the other side, Ammons improvises “Boogie Woogie Blues”, demonstrating his formidable ability as a pianist.

Boogie Woogie Blues

Boogie Woogie Blues, recorded January 6, 1939 by Albert Ammons.

Vocalion 1198 – Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith – 1928

Cow Cow Davenport, circa 1940s.

Cow Cow Davenport, circa 1940s.  Magazine clipping from “The Jazz Record”.

April 23 marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of the Man that Gave America Boogie Woogie, Charles “Cow Cow” Davenport.  Since it also marks my own birthday, that makes it a very special occasion, and thusly, I hope to offer a very special presentation.

Charles Edward Davenport was born in Anniston, Alabama on April 23, 1894.  He took up the piano at the age of twelve.  Davenport’s father was a pastor, and opposed his son’s musical interests, sending him away to a seminary to continue in his father’s work.  The young Charles was kicked out the the seminary for playing ragtime.  He began his professional career playing boogie woogie piano in medicine shows and touring the TOBA vaudeville circuit.  In 1924, Davenport made his debut recordings as an accompanist for his vaudeville partner Dora Carr for Okeh Records, recording his trademark composition, “Cow Cow Blues”, one of the earliest instances of boogie woogie piano on record, from which he got his nickname.  After Okeh, Cow Cow several records for Paramount, and recorded fairly prolifically, solo and as an accompanist.  By the later 1920s, he was working with a new partner, Ivy Smith, and recording for Vocalion records, with whom he made a larger number of sides.  He also worked as a talent scout for Vocalion, bringing in such talent as Clarence “Pine Top” Smith. Composed by Davenport were such classics as “Mama Don’t Allow It” and supposedly “You Rascal You”, which he claimed to have sold to Sam Theard.  In the early 1930s, he took up in Cleveland, Ohio, which remained his home for the rest of his life.  In 1938, Davenport suffered a stroke that caused minor paralysis in his right hand that forced him to temporarily retire from music and take menial jobs, and impeded his playing for the rest of his life.  Nevertheless, he continued to perform and record.  In 1942, his name was put up in lights when Freddie Slack’s Orchestra had a smash hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, no doubt taking its name from the aging piano man.  His final years plagued by ill health, Cow Cow Davenport died of heart failure on December 12, 1955 in Cleveland.

Vocalion 1198 was recorded in Chicago on July 16, 1928 featuring Cow Cow Davenport on piano assisted by his vaudeville partner, Ivy Smith on one side.  Two known takes of each side were recorded that day, and both are presented here.  Takes “A” come from the original issue, and takes “B” are from the 1943 reissue on Brunswick 80022.

Davenport first plays solo on his eponymous song “Cow Cow Blues”, deriving its name from the cowcatchers mounted on the front of old steam engines.

Cow Cow Blues

Cow Cow Blues, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport.

On the reverse, Davenport is joined by the vocals of his stage partner Ivy Smith on “State Street Jive”.  “What kinda piano player is this?” Smith asks on take “B” of this tune.

State Street Jive

State Street Jive, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith.

Vocalion 3150 – Bix Beiderbecke – 1927

Bix

Bix Beiderbecke, circa mid-1920s. From Jazzmen, 1939.

March 10th marks the 113th birthday of the Patron Saint of Jazz, one of the greatest musical geniuses of the twentieth century, the one and only Bix Beiderbecke.

Leon “Bix” Beiderbecke (some sources claim his full middle name was Bismark, others say it was properly Bix) was born March 10, 1903 in Davenport, Iowa.  Hearing the jazz music on the riverboats than ran from New Orleans to Chicago, Bix had an affinity for music from an early age, and played with a number of bands as early as high school.  Bix was inspired to take up the cornet after his brother Burnie returned from his service in the Great War, bringing home a phonograph and some records by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, at which point Bix was hooked.  He started recording with Dick Voynow’s territory band, the Wolverine Orchestra for Gennett, and later with the Bucktown Five and his own band, the Rhythm Jugglers.  In 1926, Bix was hired by Jean Goldkette’s Orchestra in Chicago, but was fired shortly thereafter due to his inability to read music.  He was rehired soon after, having brushed up on music reading, and played with many other jazz greats in Goldkette’s band, including Frankie Trumbauer (his frequent collaborator), Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti, and the Dorsey Brothers. As Goldkette’s orchestra fell on hard times, Paul Whiteman hired away many of his top men, including Bix, to play in his orchestra, the most popular dance band of the day.  All the while, Bix recorded hot (and sometimes cool) jazz tunes with Frankie Trumbauer’s and his own band for Okeh.  Bix had only two loves in his life, music and booze, and unfortunately, the latter was taking his life away.

In 1928, Bix suffered a nervous breakdown, brought on by an attempt to lessen his alcohol intake, and was forced to take leave of Whiteman’s band to recover at his home in Davenport.  He returned to Whiteman’s orchestra in 1929, and traveled to Hollywood to appear with the band in King of Jazz, though he instead took the opportunity to drink with Bing Crosby, and did not appear in the picture.  He once again returned to his home, and spent some time in a sanatarium, hoping to recover from his sickness. Paul Whiteman kept his chair in the band open, hoping for Bix’s return.  After that, Bix made only a handful more recordings with an assortment of different groups.  In his final recording session, on September 15, 1930, Bix played in Hoagy Carmichael’s band for the first recording of “Georgia On My Mind”.  On a hot summer night in his apartment in Queens, Death came a-rapping for Bix Beiderbecke.  On August 6, 1931, Bix practiced his piano into the night, around 9:30, he had a fit of delirium, believing that a gang of Mexicans under his bead was trying to kill him.  His screams alerted a neighbor, who hurried across the hall to see what was wrong.  Bix told him of what he saw, and dropped dead in his arms.

Vocalion 3150 was recorded September 9 and 17, 1927 in New York City by Bix Beiderbecke.  It was originally issued on Okeh 40916, with the Vocalion 3150 reissue released around 1935, though this pressing dates to around 1938 or ’39.  If anything, this late pressing, in exquisite condition, might well offer better playback than the original 1927 issue, as those pressings tend to develop lamination cracks around the edges, often causing a background rumble in playback.

On this disc, Bix plays “In a Mist”, also sometimes known (on the British issue, for instance) as “Bixology”, the only recorded piece of his Modern Piano Suite, which also included “In the Dark”, “Candlelights”, and “Flashes” (all of which can be found on Rivermont Records’ special edition 78 RPM release played by Bryan Wright.)

In a Mist

In a Mist, recorded September 9, 1927 by Bix Beiderbecke.

On the reverse, Beiderbecke is joined by Frankie Trumbauer and Eddie Lang to play “Wringin’ an’ Twistin'” in their three piece band, with Bix doubling on cornet and piano.

Wringin' an' Twistin'

Wringin’ an’ Twistin’, recorded September 17, 1927 by Tram – Bix and Lang.

Wilcox-Gay Recordio – Unknown Artist – c.1950

UPDATE:  Diligent experts have identified these tunes as “Down Yonder” (first side), and “The Waltz You Saved For Me” (second side).  Thank you, for your great assistance, Messrs. Chalfen, Johnston, and Bosch!

Here’s another home recording that I found along with that old time fiddle one, it features two very familiar sounding, and quite enjoyable piano solos whose names I cannot seem to place.  I’m hoping someone out there can help me identify the names of the pieces being played.  If any of you treasured readers out there can put a name with them, I’ll update the article with special thanks.

This Wilcox-Gay Recordio home recording disc is completely unmarked, making it impossible for me to offer any information on its artist or date.  The copyright date of 1950 would likely place it in that vicinity as far as dating goes.  As is often the case with these home recordings, sound quality is on the low end, and there is quite a bit of noise, but these aren’t too bad, all things considered.

This side sounds especially familiar to me, but I just can’t put my finger on the title.  At first I though it was “Waiting on the Robert E. Lee”, but it doesn’t seem to quite fit that tune.

Thanks to a reader’s identification, this tune seems to be L. Wolfe Gilbert’s 1921 composition “Down Yonder”.

Unidentified

Down Yonder, recorded ? by unknown pianist.

This little ditty, too, sounds quite familiar, but again, I just can’t quite think of the title, if I ever knew what is was called.  Some talking can be heard in the background of this one at one point.

Unidentified

The Waltz You Saved for Me, recorded ? by unknown pianist.