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