August 10 once again marks the birthday of one of Old Time Blues’ favorite vaudevillians, Harry Richman. Last year, we celebrated the occasion with his famous “Puttin’ on the Ritz”. This time, I offer to you Richman’s first recording ever.
Harry Richman was born Harold Reichman on August 10, 1895 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He began performing by the age of eleven, and was working the vaudeville circuits by eighteen. After striking out as an act of his own in the early 1920s, he worked his way up, appearing as the star of George White’s Scandals in 1926. In 1930, he made his motion picture debut in Puttin’ on the Ritz, in which he introduced the famous Irving Berlin song of the same name. Though his acting career failed to take off, he appeared in four more pictures from 1930 to ’38. Throughout the 1930s, Richman hosted a radio program, and made a number of popular records. He was also noted as a record setting aviator, making a famous round-trip flight across the Atlantic in 1936 with Dick Merrill. In 1938, he married former Ziegfeld girl Hazel Forbes, though they had divorced by 1942. After his career slowed down in the 1940s, Richman made a number of brief comeback appearances, largely in a nostalgic context. He published an autobiography titled A Hell of a Life in 1966, and died in 1972.
Regal 9791 was recorded January 30, 1925, most likely in New York. Unfortunately, though it appears to be in decent condition, it suffers from a very thin, quiet signal, and sounds generally lousy. In spite of that, the music is still plainly audible.
First, Harry croons “Will You Remember Me”, with guitar accompaniment adding a charming, folksy effect.
Will You Remember Me, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.
Richman seems to put on his best Jolson for “California Poppy”.
California Poppy, recorded January 30, 1925 by Harry Richman.
Columbia’s custom sleeve and label dedicated to Ted Lewis.
In addition to Jimmie Lunceford, June 6 also marks the 126th anniversary of Ted Lewis’ birth. Here’s one of his most popular records of the 1930s, as well as one of my personal favorite Ted Lewis vocal performances.
Ted Lewis was born Theodore Leopold Friedman in Circleville, Ohio on June 6, 1890. He took up playing the clarinet professionally, though some would argue that his abilities on the instrument were limited. He first recorded with Earl Fuller’s Famous Jazz Band, and soon began recording for Columbia with his own jazz band, switching to Decca in 1934. With his trademark phrase, “is everybody happy?”, his schmaltzy “talk-singing” and tendency to employ top-notch musicians made him one of the most popular musical personalities of the 1920s, and into the 1930s, alongside Paul Whiteman. However, his style faded from popularity as swing became king, and his music fell out of favor, though he continued to perform for many years. Ted Lewis died on August 25, 1971.
Columbia 2652-D was recorded March 15 and 22, 1932 in New York City. Ted Lewis’ band consists of Muggsy Spanier and Dave Klein on trumpets, George Brunies on trombone; Ted Lewis and Benny Goodman on clarinet and alto sax, Sam Shapiro and Sol Klein on violins, Jack Aaronson on piano, Tony Gerhardi on guitar, Harry Barth on string bass and tuba, and John Lucas on drums.
The quintessential Depression-era tune “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town”, introduced in the motion picture Crooner, became one of the most popular songs of 1932, both for Ted Lewsis and for other artists. In my opinion, this is one of Lewis’ best vocals.
In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town, recorded March 15, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.
On the other side, Lewis and his band do a fine job with “Sweet Sue – Just You”, featuring a great clarinet solo by Benny Goodman.
Sweet Sue – Just You, recorded March 22, 1932 by Ted Lewis and his Band.
Al Jolson, circa 1920. From “Swanee” sheet music cover.
On May 26, we celebrate the anniversary of the “World’s Greatest Entertainer”, Al Jolson’s birth. From the 1910s to the 1930s, Jolson was among America’s top entertainers. Here he is with one of the finest bands of that era, that of Isham Jones.
Jolson was born Asa Yoelson in the Russian Empire, and emigrated to the United States in 1894. His actual date of birth was never known to him, be decided to go with May 26, 1886. The young Jolson was introduced to show business in 1895, and began performing on street corner with his brother Harry. By the beginning of the 20th century, the Jolson brothers were working on stage in burlesque and vaudeville, but soon the team broke up, and Al was left working solo. Jolson made his Broadway debut in 1911 in La Belle Paree, and in 1919, he appeared in Sinbad and introduced “Swanee”, “My Mammy”, and “Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody”. Jolson also made his first records in 1911, for Victor. He switched to Columbia Records in 1913, and then to Brunswick in 1924, with whom he remained until picking up again with Decca in the 1940s.
Though he was making hits on stage for over a decade, and in fact had a theater named after him on 59th Street in New York City, his biggest fame came in 1927, when he appeared in the Warner Brothers picture The Jazz Singer, touted as the first talkie (though in fact it was only part talking, and part silent). After the immense success of The Jazz Singer, Jolson appeared in a string of successful motion pictures, from 1928’s The Singing Fool, to The Singing Kid in 1936, in which he appeared with Cab Calloway. Jolson was noted for having demanded equal treatment for Calloway, his co-star, during the production of The Singing Kid. In 1929, Jolson married the young ingenue Ruby Keeler. Jolson entertained troops overseas during World War II His career wound down a bit in the 1930s, but was revived in 1946 with the smash hit The Jolson Story, starring Larry Parks as Jolson. With that picture’s success, Jolson began recording again for Decca, making a string of popular discs Parks reprised his role in 1949 in Jolson Sings Again. When the Korean War commenced, Jolson insisted upon traveling overseas once again to entertain the troops, though his health was failing him. Exhaustion and dust inhalation plagued in in Korea, and contributed to Jolson’s death from a heart attack in 1950, his last words were reported as, “Boys, I’m going.”
Brunswick 2569 was recorded January 17, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois by Al Jolson, accompanied by Isham Jones’ orchestra. Both sides come from Jolson’s first session with Brunswick. The band likely included Louis Panico on cornet, Carroll Martin and Bud Graham on trombones, Al Mauling on alto sax, clarinet, and oboe, Isham Jones on tenor sax, Artie Vanasec on soprano sax and violin, Leo Murphy on violin, Al Eldridge on piano, Joe Miller on banjo, John Kuhn on tuba and Arthur Layfield on drums.
“I’m Goin’ South” is typical Jolson fare, hammy vaudeville about going back home to Dixie.
I’m Goin’ South, recorded January 17, 1924 by Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra.
Turn the record over, however, and you’ll find one of Jolson’s all time best, one of my favorites, “California, Here I Come”. This side also features a ukulele solo by the composer himself, Buddy DeSylva. His 1946 Decca version has got nothing on this one!
California, Here I Come, recorded January 17, 1924 by Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra.
May 25 is National Tap Dance Day. It’s also the 138th anniversary of the birth of the great tap dancer and consummate entertainer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. (The two falling on the same day is far from a coincidence.) With his characteristic dancing and charismatic persona, Robinson broke numerous color barriers in the show business, and likely introduced the word “copacetic” into the popular lexicon.
Bill Robinson was born Luther Robinson in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, at some point, he switched names with his brother and became “Bill”. Robinson began dancing in front of theaters for tips at the age of five, and was eventually offered work inside the theater. At one point, he had an act with Al Jolson. His career as an entertainer was interrupted when the Spanish-American War broke out, and he enlisted in the Army. Once out of the Army, Robinson embarked on a long and groundbreaking career in vaudeville. After Bert Williams’ death in 1922, Robinson succeeded him as the top black entertainer in the United States. Somewhere along the way, he picked up the nickname “Bojangles”. In 1928, Robinson appeared in Lew Leslies Blackbirds of 1928, and in 1939, he had a successful run in Michael Todd’s Hot Mikado. Today, Robinson is likely best remembered for his film appearances with Shirley Temple, beginning with The Little Colonel in 1935. Also in 1935, he appeared in Will Rogers’ last film, In Old Kentucky. In his own final movie, in 1943, Robinson starred in Stormy Weather, with Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Fats Waller, and the Nicholas Brothers. Bill Robinson died of heart failure on November 25, 1949.
Brunswick 4535 was recorded September 4, 1929 in New York by Bill Robinson, whose tap-dancing is accompanied by Irving Mills’ Hotsy Totsy Gang. The personnel of the band seems to be undetermined, it is most likely a white studio group possibly consisting Mannie Klein and Phil Napoleon on trumpets, Miff Mole on trombone, Pee Wee Russell, Arnold Brilhart and/or Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Larry Binyon on tenor sax, Joe Tarto on tuba, Chauncey Morehouse on drums and an unknown piano and guitar player. Some other sources however, including Robinson himself, cite it as Duke Ellington’s band. I would be inclined to believe it’s more likely the former of the two.
On the first side of this very entertaining disc, Robinson patters with his feet and with his mouth on “Doin’ the New Low Down”, a song he introduced in Blackbirds of 1928.
Doin’ the New Low Down, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.
On the reverse, Bojangles seems a little more exuberant on his performance of Fats Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin'”. “This is the way I walk when I got plenty money on Broad-way!”
Ain’t Misbehavin’, recorded September 4, 1929 by Bill Robinson Accompanied by Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang.
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, 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, recorded July 16, 1928 by Cow Cow Davenport and Ivy Smith.