Decca 129 – Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra – 1934

Today, June 6, we remember the great bandleader Jimmie Lunceford on the 114th anniversary of his birth.  This record was his first to be released on Decca, swingin’ in 1934.

James Melvin Lunceford was born June 6, 1902 in Fulton, Mississippi.  Like Andy Kirk, Lunceford studied under Wilberforce Whiteman in Denver, learning to play reeds.  He went on to attend Fisk University and became a phys-ed instructor at Manassas High School in Memphis, Tennessee, where he organized a student band called the Chickasaw Syncopators.  The Chickasaw Syncopators cut two sides for Columbia in 1927, and two more for Victor in 1930.  By 1934, Lunceford’s orchestra had evolved into a hep swing band, and he landed a gig at the Cotton Club in Harlem, following in the footsteps of Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway.  By the height of the swing era, Lunceford’s was one of the leading swing bands in the nation, equal to that of Ellington or Calloway.  On July 12, 1947, after playing McElroy’s Spanish Ballroom in Portland, Oregon, Lunceford collapsed and died during an autograph session in a record store.  He had been suffering from high blood pressure, though some suggest he may have been poisoned deliberately by a restaurateur who was displeased to be serving black people, as some of his band members also fell ill after dining at said restaurant.

Decca 129 was recorded September 4 and 5, 1934 in New York, Jimmie Lunceford’s first and second sessions for Decca.  The band features Jimmie Lunceford directing Eddie Tompkins, Tommy Stevenson, and Sy Oliver on trumpets, Henry Wells and Russell Bowles on trombones, Willie Smith and Earl Carruthers on clarinet, alto sax, and baritone sax, LaForest Dent on alto sax, Joe Thomas on clarinet and tenor sax, Edwin Wilcox on piano, Al Norris on guitar, Moses Allen on string bass, and Jimmy Crawford on drums and vibraphone.

First, they play Duke Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”.

Sophisticated Lady

Sophisticated Lady, recorded September 4, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.

Next, seemingly as an answer to the previous side, they play “Unsophisticated Sue”.

Unsophisticated Sue

Unsophisticated Sue, recorded September 5, 1934 by Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra.

Champion 15714 – Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions – 1929

Recorded on this day in 1929, herein is one of my favorite discs, though the condition is rather lacking, owing to a heavily scratched surface from many years of unsleeved storage. “Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions” is a pseudonym for Zack Whyte’s Chocolate Beau Brummels, a fine Midwestern territory band.  The 78 Quarterly estimated “at least 15” copies of this record in their “Rarest 78s” article.  While it may likely not be quite that scarce (although there surely are at least fifteen copies), it’s still far from a common disc.

Zack Whyte was born in 1898 in Richmond, Kentucky, and attended Wilberforce College, where he played banjo with Horace Henderson’s Collegians. He started leading his own Cincinnati-based bands in 1923, and eventually formed the Chocolate Beau Brummels, a territory band that recorded six sides with Gennett in 1929, and helped to bring several greats including Sy Oliver and Herman Chittison to prominence. Whyte retired from music in 1939 and died in 1967.

These two superb sides of Champion 15714 were recorded in Richmond, Indiana on February 26, 1929.  This Champion issue sold around 8,000 copies.  It was also issued on Gennett 6797 and Supertone 9368 under the pseudonym “Eddie Walker and his Band.”  The Chocolate Beau Brummels consist of the star-studded lineup of Zack Whyte directing and playing banjo, Bubber Whyte (his brother?), Henry Savage, and the great Sy Oliver on trumpets, Floyd Brady on trombone, Clarence Paige, Ben “Snake” Richardson, and Earl Tribble on alto saxes, Al Sears on tenor and baritone sax, the always excellent Herman Chittison on piano, Montgomery Morrison on tuba, and William Benton on drums.

Beginning with side “A”, the Chocolate Beau Brummels play a stomping rendition of Hudson Whittaker and Thomas A. Dorsey’s (a.k.a. Tampa Red and Georgia Tom) hit “It’s Tight Like That”. I believe this is the second take, and it really gets in the groove.

It's Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

It’s Tight Like That, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

A bit worse for wear than the previous, on the flip-side they play a masterful rendition of Joe “King” Oliver’s “West End Blues”, with a beautiful piano intro by Herman Chittison and some fine banjo by the leader.  The label splits the composer’s credit between Oliver and publisher Clarence Williams.  I believe this one is the third take, but with Gennett’s lack of any identifying marks in the “dead wax”, it’s hard to be sure.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Zack Whyte and his Chocolate Beau Brummels.

West End Blues, recorded February 26, 1929 by Smoke Jackson and his Red Onions.

Updated with improved audio on April 22, 2018.