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.

Okeh 8242 – Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra – 1925

November 13, 2015 marks the 121st anniversary of the birthday of jazz great Bennie Moten, who led one of the most excellent bands in the United States in the 1920s and early 1930s, his Kansas City Orchestra.  Given that I haven’t yet featured one of Moten’s records here, I think a good place to start would be with his earliest record currently in my collection, and one of his earliest overall.

Bennie Moten was born and raised in 1894 in Kansas City, Missouri.  He formed his famous Kansas City Orchestra in the early 1920s and made his first recordings for Okeh in 1923, with whom he continued to record through 1925, before moving to Victor in 1926.  In 1929, Moten hired a number of musicians away from Walter Page’s Blue Devils, including William “Count” Basie and Oran “Hot Lips” Page.  Basie would take over Moten’s orchestra after his untimely death following a botched tonsillectomy (the same fate that befell Eddie Lang) in 1935.

Okeh 8242 was recorded May 15, 1925 in Kansas City, Missouri.  The band features the talented musicianship of Harry Cooper, and Lammar Wright on cornets, Thamon Hayes on trombone, Harlan Leonard on clarinet and alto sax, Woody Walder on clarinet and tenor sax, leader Bennie Moten on piano, LaForest Dent on banjo, Vernon Page on tuba, and Willie Hall on drums.

“18th Street Strut” starts out a bit rough and weak, but the jazz still comes through just fine for most of the record, and it certainly is a hot one!

18th Street Strut, recorded May

18th Street Strut, recorded May 15, 1925 by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.

On the reverse, they play “Things Seem So Blue to Me”, which sounds a little cleaner than the previous.

Things Seem So Blue to Me, recorded May 27, 1925 by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra.

Things Seem So Blue to Me, recorded May 15, 1925 by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra.

Updated with improved audio on June 12, 2018.