Brunswick 2569 – Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra – 1924

Al Jolson, circa 1920. From "Swanee" sheet music cover.

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

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

California, Here I Come, recorded January 17, 1924 by Al Jolson with Isham Jones Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on May 26, 2017.

Victor 22146 – The High Hatters – 1929

Leonard W. Joy, director of the High Hatters. From 1930 Victor catalog.

Leonard W. Joy, director of the High Hatters. From 1930 Victor catalog.

This is not a tremendously remarkable record.  It’s not particularly uncommon, and there’s no really fascinating story behind it.  What is remarkable is the quality of the music recorded on it.  Played by the High Hatters, it is in my opinion one of the best dance band records of the 1920s.

The High Hatters were a Victor studio orchestra directed by Leonard Joy, an employee of Victor, much like Nat Shilkret.  Joy directed a great number of bands for the company, including the Southerners, his All String Orchestra, and many uncredited bands backing musicians, but his most notable orchestra was certainly the High Hatters.  The High Hatters are quite often cited as one of the finest dance bands of the late 1920s and early 1930s, a period that could arguably be considered as having the greatest dance bands overall.  Please note that there were a number of other bands that also used the name “High Hatters”, such as Webster Moore’s High Hatters on the Columbia budget labels or Phil Hughes’ High Hatters on Perfect, but only the instances found on the Victor label are the band heard here, and even then, some from the 1930s were under a different director than Leonard Joy.

Victor 22146 was recorded October 9, 1929 in New York by the High Hatters conducted by Leonard Joy.  The versatile Frank Luther sings the vocal on both sides, which feature a pair of DeSylva, Brown, and Henderson songs from the 1929 musical film Sunny Side Up, starring Janet Gaynor and Charles Farrell.

I can’t remember exactly where I first heard this superb version of “I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?”, I think it was part of a demonstration of a Victor Credenza Victrola, but I do remember that I was instantly entranced by its excellent arrangement, and you can imagine my pleasure when I turned up a copy of the disc at a store in Round Rock, Texas.

I'm a Dreamer Aren't We All, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

I’m a Dreamer, Aren’t We All?, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

On the reverse, they play “You’ve Got Me Pickin’ the Petals Off of Daisies”, another fine tune from Sunny Side Up, with a really nice banjo solo added to the mix.

You've Got Me Pickin' Petals Off of Daisies, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.

You’ve Got Me Pickin’ Petals Off of Daisies, recorded October 9, 1929 by the High Hatters.