Okeh 41571 – Chick Webb and his Orchestra – 1934

February 10th marks the anniversary of the birth of one of several men who may well have been the father of swing music—the incomparable Chick Webb.

Chick was born William Henry Webb in Baltimore, Maryland.  The year of his birth has been disputed, with 1902, 1905, 1907, and 1909 all suggested, though ’05 is the most likely candidate.  As a child, tuberculosis of the spine stunted his growth and led to his hunchbacked appearance.  His doctor suggested the young Webb take up the drums to help alleviate his condition, so he worked as a newsboy to save up enough money for a kit.  By the mid-1920s, he was leading a band in Harlem.  After one unissued side for Vocalion in ’27, Webb cut his first record for Brunswick in 1928, issued under the pseudonym “The Jungle Band” (a name usually reserved for Duke Ellington’s recordings on that label).  These two Brunswick sides, titled “Dog Bottom” and “Jungle Mama” were stomping hot jazz.  In 1931, Webb’s orchestra became the house band of the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem,  Following a ’31 date with Vocalion, Webb signed with Columbia, waxing thirteen sides in 1933 and ’34, four of which appeared on their subsidiary Okeh label.  Two months after completing his final Okeh recordings in July of 1934, Webb signed with Decca, which would last him the remainder of his career.  Not too long after beginning his contract with Decca, Webb brought on a new girl singer by the name of Ella Fitzgerald.  In a number of “battles of the bands” at the Savoy, Webb and his orchestra bested the likes of Benny Goodman and Count Basie, though he once lost to Duke Ellington’s band.  By the end of the 1930s, however, Webb’s condition was catching up to him.  Following an operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939 in his hometown of Baltimore.

Okeh 41571 was recorded on July 6, 1934 in New York City by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.  Purportedly, matrices W 152770 and W 152772 were the last masters recorded by the Columbia Phonograph Company before its absorption into the American Record Corporation.  Webb’s Orchestra is made up of Mario Bauza, Bobby Stark, and Taft Jordan on trumpets, Sandy Williams and Fernando Arbello on trombones, Pete Clark and Edgar Sampson an alto saxes, Elmer Williams and Wayman Carver on tenor saxes, Joe Steele on piano, John Trueheart on banjo and guitar, John Kirby on string bass, and of course Chick Webb on drums.

First up, baritone Charles Linton delivers a wonderful vocal on Webb’s all-around magnificent rendition of the 1932 “Fats” Waller, Don Redman, and Andy Razaf standard “If it Ain’t Love”.

If it Ain’t Love, recorded July 6, 1934 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

Next, trumpet man Taft Jordan performs a Satchmo style vocal on “True”.

True, recorded July 6, 1934 by Chick Webb and his Orchestra.

Victor 21491 – Charles Johnson’s Paradise Ten/Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra – 1928

In honor of “King” Benny Carter’s birthday, here’s an outstanding Harlem jazz record featuring one of his earliest recorded appearances, as well as a taste of his arranging talent.

Bennett Lester Carter was born in Harlem on August 8, 1907.  As a child, he was taught piano by his mother, and was later inspired to by Bubber Miley to buy a trumpet.  When he couldn’t play like Miley, he decided to take up the saxophone instead.  Growing up playing jazz with the Harlem greats, Carter first recorded in 1928 with Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten, and played with Fletcher Henderson in the early 1930s.  In 1931, he took over leadership of McKinney’s Cotton Pickers from Don Redman, who left to form his own orchestra, and followed in his footsteps the next year with a band of his own.  In the 1930s, he began recording with a band under the moniker of the Chocolate Dandies, which had been previously used by a number of others.  In 1935, as Louis Armstrong and a number of other jazz musicians had done previously, Carter traveled to Europe, where he played with the Ramblers, Django Reinhardt, and others before returning to the States in 1938.  After returning home, he led another band and arranged prolifically.  In 1942, Freddie Slack’s Orchestra made a hit with “Cow Cow Boogie”, which Carter wrote with Gene de Paul and Don Raye, and he moved to the West Coast in 1943.  In 1973, Carter was a visiting professor at Princeton University for a semester.  He continued to play until his retirement in 1997, bringing an end to an eight decade career, and he died in 2003 at the age of 95.

Victor 21491 was recorded January 24 and 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City.  The Paradise Ten are made up of Jabbo Smith and Leonard Davis on trumpets Charlie Irvis on trombone, Benny Carter and Edgar Sampson on clarinet and alto sax, Elmer Harrell on clarinet and tenor sax, Charlie Johnson on piano, Bobby Johnson on banjo, Cyrus St. Clair on tuba, George Stafford on drums.  Lloyd Scott’s orchestra on the flip-side consists of Gus McClung and Kenneth A. Roane on trumpet, Dicky Wells on trombone John Williams and Fletcher Allen on clarinet and alto sax, Cecil Scott on clarinet, tenor sax, and baritone sax, Don Frye on piano, Hubert Mann on piano, Chester Campbell on tuba, and Lloyd Scott on drums.

Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Ten took their name from Small’s Paradise in Harlem, where they played.  Among their alumni were such luminaries as Jabbo Smith and Benny Carter, who made his first recordings with the band.  Their superb “Charleston is the Best Dance After All” was arranged by Benny Carter.

Charleston is the Best Dance After All

Charleston is the Best Dance After All, recorded January 24, 1928 by Charles Johnson’s Paradise Ten.

Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra was another excellent Harlem band, that featured John Williams (husband of Mary Lou Williams) and Dicky Wells.  Here they play trumpeter Kenneth A. Roane’s “Harlem Shuffle”.

Harlem Shuffle

Harlem Shuffle, recorded January 10, 1928 by Lloyd Scott’s Orchestra.

Brunswick 3526 – The Washingtonians – 1927

We’ve got yet another birthday to celebrate today, that of the great trumpeter Bubber Miley.  Miley was a excellent player noted for his use of the plunger mute.

Duke Ellington’s Washintonians with Bubber Miley (second from right). From Jazzmen, 1939.

James Wesley Miley was born April 3, 1903 in Aiken, South Carolina, and moved to New York City at the age of six.  After serving in the Navy, Miley formed a jazz band called the Carolina Five (much in the vein of the Memphis Five or the Indiana Five, except that Miley actually was from Carolina), and played around New York and Chicago.  In Chicago, Miley was inspired by the muted trumpet of King Oliver, and developed his own muted style of playing.  In 1923, he joined Elmer Snowden’s Washingtonians, of which leadership was soon assumed by the band’s pianist, Duke Ellington, after a monetary dispute.  Miley, along with trombone player “Tricky Sam” Nanton, are credited for developing the band’s “jungle sound”.  Bubber remained with Ellington’s band until 1929, when his alcohol issues and general unreliability led to his replacement by Cootie Williams.  After leaving Ellington, Miley toured Paris in Noble Sissle’s band, and once back home played with Leo Reisman’s dance band, and a number of jazz groups (possibly including King Oliver’s Victor orchestra).  In 1930, he fronted a band billed as “Bubber Miley and his Mileage Makers” for three sessions with Victor.  Much like his contemporary, Bix Beiderbecke, Miley saw a decline in his health in the early 1930s, and died of tuberculosis at New York’s Welfare Island on May 20, 1932.  He was remembered by former band-mates as a joyful and carefree character.

Brunswick 3526 was recorded in two sessions in 1927, the first on April 7 and the second on April 30 in New York.  The band’s personnel features Bubber Miley on the first side, June Clark on the second, and Louis Metcalf on trumpet, Joe” Tricky Sam” Nanton on trombone, Edgar Sampson on alto sax, Otto Hardwicke on clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, baritone sax, and bass sax, and another unknown reed man, Duke Ellington on piano, Fred Guy on banjo, Mack Shaw on tuba, and Sonny Greer on drums.

Duke and his band recorded his famous “Black and Tan Fantasy” quite a number of times, this is the first one, and one of only two, I believe, that feature the distinctive muted trumpet of the song’s co-writer, Bubber Miley.  I would also recommend a look at Ellington’s 1929 motion picture of the same name.

Black and Tan Fantasy

Black and Tan Fantasy, recorded April 7, 1927 by the Washingtonians.

Bubber doesn’t play on the other side of the record, which contains an excellent rendition of Rube Bloom’s “Soliloquy”.


Soliloquy, recorded April 30, 1927 by the Washingtonians.