Arthur Rosebery & his Band were contracted to the Parlophone record company in 1929, but like a lot of other bands they recoded for different labels under pseudonyms. This recording of “Low Down Rhythm” for the British Homophone Company issued on their Sterno label, was credited to The Florida Club Band. I don’t know if there actually was a Florida Club in London at that time, but if there was, Rosebery’s band did not play there.
This is a nice bluesy treatment of a now-forgotten song that was adaptable to the jazz idiom. The piano solo is a touch too long, but I do like the way the whole band resumes playing once it’s over. .
A short while ago, I was having a look at the Site Meter record of visitors to my blog pages and I noticed that someone had been brought here after he Googled “Louis Armstrong Wonderful World Lyrics”. In my posting about composer versions I had used all those words, though not in the order he listed them and most certainly not in the sense that he was intending. I would ever waste time or effort writing out the lyrics to that dreadful song. What A Wonderful World was just about the last thing Louis Armstrong recorded before he died in 1971, and it is a piece of crap. Such a shame it is, that he is so widely remembered for it. Now, readers of my previous postings may, if they are good at reading between the lines, have discerned that I am very, very fond of vintage jazz. It is a pity that more people aren’t. Jazz, and the ragtime that spawned it, were the first original American art forms, and as such are the heritage of everyone in this country. But if you go to just about any music store and look at the jazz section in the CD department, you will see very little from the first fifty years of the genre, and most of what is there will be unsuitable. It’s a sure fire certainty you’ll find several offerings of Glenn Miller, but folks, Moonlight Serenade isn’t jazz! Neither is Perfidia. Just run of the mill dance music. Now, Glenn Miller played with some excellent jazz bands before he led his own orchestra (Red Nichols, Ben Pollack, for example), but you’ll be lucky to find examples of those. And then there’s Louis. Probably – no, make that definitely – the best black jazz musician ever. How will he be represented? By CDs containing Wonderful World, Hello Dolly and Mac The Knife. Singing them, mind you, not playing his trumpet. This man was the supreme jazz trumpeter of all time. His West End Blues is a work of utter genius, and since the day it was first issued in 1927 it has never been unavailable – on 78, then LP, and now on CD. But probably not in stores. You have to go and hunt through the specialist labels for it now. The recordings Louis made in the 1920s and 1930s are uniformly brilliant – don’t take my word for it, have a look here for example, and take your pick – and it is a travesty that most people know him for a second rate show tune and a bit of schmaltz.
It was my wife’s idea to use thumbnail images of 78rpm record labels at the start of every blog entry, and I think it was a brilliant one. The effect is rather like an illuminated letter at the start of an ancient monastic parchment. The images I use all come from The British Dance Band Encyclopaedia, an excellent site put together by Mike Thomas, who very kindly gave me permission to plunder his section on record labels as the mood took me. There is much more to this site than labels, though, and I recommend a lengthy visit to anyone interested in the dance band days. Click this way.
My wife had not seen a 78rpm record label before this, and she was surprised at how attractive some of them are. I explained that since 78s used to be sold in grey or brown paper or cardboard sleeves, usually bearing nothing more interesting than the name of the record shop, or advertisements for other records or for phonographs, the label was always the most colourful part of the whole thing. I hope the ones I include in these postings will illustrate that point. Mind you, the attractiveness of a label did not necessarily have any correlation with the quality of the music buried in the grooves. Some of my favourite records are on Columbia and Brunswick, both of which have, IMHO, pretty dull labels. Then there’s the colourful, imaginative Dominion label. Very nice. Too bad Dominion records were of such mediocre quality. Decca had a very baroque label, with a glowering Beethoven above the name, and I have always been very fond of Broadcast Twelve, Beltona and Bluebird. The letter B is purely coincidental.
After the war, 78rpm, labels for some reason became duller and less imaginative and they were eventually superseded by LPs labels which by and large were unrelievedly dreary and boring. This was partly because of the amount of information that each label had to hold, but mainly because the real illustrative art was to be found on the sleeves, and record covers became works of art in their own right. We have, at my wife’s instigation, the framed cover of a Grateful Dead LP on our living room wall. No one has ever asked me what my favourite LP cover is, but when they do I have my answer ready. Out of sheer cussedness, I shall inform them that it is the Beatles’ White Album.
The late John Gunn said something the other day, New Year’s Eve 1981 I think it was, which has stuck in my mind ever since. I was listening to a three-hour show on Essex Radio, a one-off to celebrate the New Year, in which John Gunn, editor of the much missed Gunn Report, and Ray Pallett, editor of Memory Lane (still going strong: click here for details) and future author of Goodnight Sweetheart (if you haven’t bought a copy yet then click here) were chatting to a couple of local DJs about vintage music, their 78 collections and were playing various examples of jazz and hot dance, and a jolly time was being had by all. One record they played was one of the four numbers recorded in 1936 by Cole Porter himself, singing his own songs to his own piano accompaniment, in this case Anything Goes.
Now, Cole Porter is a personal hero if mine. I love everything he ever wrote (except Don’t Fence Me In) to varying degrees. If there were two song-writing geniuses in the 20th century, as opposed to the merely extremely talented, they were Irving Berlin and Cole Porter. While Berlin was the son of poor immigrants who dragged himself up from the gutter, Porter came from a privileged background and one thing he never had to worry about in his life was money. His life was a long social whirl (punctuated by periods of very hard work) and somehow through his witty, urbane lyrics he took us all to the party with him. I yield to no one in my admiration for his talents. But as a singer he had a strange, wavering, reedy voice. Bing Crosby and Al Bowlly certainly had nothing to worry about. Once you have heard him sing one of his own numbers, as a curiosity more than anything else, you don’t need to hear it again.
And it was after that record ended and the surface noise of the run-off groove had faded, that John Gunn said: “Very often, the composers aren’t the best interpreters of their own work.” He was being charitable in that case, when I think what he meant to say was: Cole Porter was a crap vocalist. And he would have been right.
But what of other composer version? How do they compare to other versions? Since I heard John Gunn make that comment, I have made that comparison ever time I have heard a composer version and I think that in many cases he was absolutely spot on. I offer a few examples for your consideration – agreement, disagreement, even argument, are all welcome:
Roger Wolfe Kahn’s band playing his Crazy Rhythm may be the definitive version, but I much prefer some of the others, most of all Fred Elizalde’s 1928 recording when he was in London.
Scott Joplin playing his own numbers on piano rolls (as far as I know he never recorded on disk or cylinder) sounds clean and antiseptic compared to many of the more lively, hot band versions that have been recorded since then. Bechet, Hines, Morton – just three examples.
Serenade For A Wealthy Widow by the composer Reginald Forsythe and his New Music is all very advanced and edgy, but Lew Stone and his Orchestra give us, I submit, a far better version. What’s more, they were actually the only British dance band to record it.
They were also the only British band to attempt Paul Barbarin’s The Call Of The Freaks, some four or five years after Barbarin, as drummer with King Oliver’s Band recorded it in New York. Oliver’s version is good of course, as one would expect, but Lew Stone’s is better.
Raymond Scott composed many innovative, instrumental numbers with strange titles, and recoded them all with his own band. In my opinion he doesn’t do justice to them. Maybe I am prejudiced against so much high-pitched muted trumpet. You can find many far better versions of pretty much all of his numbers by other bands. Ambrose’s versions of The Penguin, Powerhouse and War Dance Of The Wooden Indians come to mind. So do Syd Lipton’s back to back recordings of Dinner Music For A Pack Of Hungry Cannibals and Reckless Night On Board An Ocean Liner.
Dare I say something bad about a national treasure? Noël Coward wrote wonderful songs and clever lyrics, both joyful and cynical. Some of these he performs very well, when he sings solo to his own piano, but others sound far too fussy and even stilted. Give me, say, an eight inch Broadcast of Ciro’s Club Band doing Dance Little Lady any day, or a full band with a female vocalist (Phyllis Robins perhaps?) singing Mad About The Boy. Much better!
In all these cases, though he may not have been thinking about them specifically, John Gunn was right. There are probably many more that I shall think of after I have posted this, but these I offer for your consideration.
In my last posting I made reference to Nick Dellow and since I was able to write about a site he had pointed me to, I thought it only fair to mention the gentleman again and point out a couple of items he was responsible for. He has written two very interesting articles for V.J.M. in recent years. Well, very possibly more than two actually, but the ones I am referring to are his lengthy and detailed interviews with Brian Rust (click here) and the late John R.T. Davies (click here), who are both very important figures in the world of 78 collecting and reissuing. Both these articles are fascinating, and whether you are familiar with these two men or not, the information here can not help but add to your understanding of the craft collecting and enjoying vintage jazz and dance music.
Kudos to Nick! When I first met him at the Wandsworth Record Fair in 1981 and he told me with a dismissive sneer that he though that Annette Hanshaw was “okay, I suppose.” I was amazed that anyone could not feel about the lady in question the way I do, but since then I have found that we share pretty much the same tastes, and I am very happy to join the cheering section as he provides us with such interesting reading matter.
A few weeks ago my chum Nick Dellow told me about the British Pathe film archive which is now available online (click here). Pathe newsreels and short films were shown in cinemas before the main feature during those long ago pre-television days. The quality varies, but in every case, something is better than nothing. I was able to find several clips of bands from the thirties which I downloaded and have watched many times over.
I was able to find two clips of Jack Hylton’s band, apparently making recordings in the HMV studios. Also, Henry Hall & the BBC Dance Orchestra playing cricket before going into the studio, all dolled up in tuxedos, to play Here’s To The Next Time with a nice xylophone solo from Harry Robbins and a typically dire vocal (my opinion only, of course) by Val Rosing. I found not one but two clips of Al Bowlly, singing My Melancholy Baby and The Very Thought Of You accompanied by his long time friend Monia Liter on piano. Liter flubs the notes a couple of times but it doesn’t matter. Roy Fox & his Band play a comedy number, It Ain’t No Fault Of Mine, with vocal by Nat Gonella assisted by Jim Easton. I seem to remember that Denis Norden used this clip on his show Looks Familiar years ago, and after they showed it, Nat Gonella came on to join the chat. Jack Payne, in his post-BBC days, is represented with a clip of his band, much augmented I suspect, playing Tiger Rag in Paris, complete with spoken introduction in French by Payne himself. This is an excellent hot number, though for some reason they felt they had to do a lot of that business of band members standing up, sitting down, waving their instruments about as they played. Again, my opinion only, but I think the number would have been just as hot if they cut most of that out. Likewise the gymnast, who I suspect was not a regular band member!
There is also a clip, my favourite out of the ones I found, of Noble Sissle and his Band, who were visiting London at the time (1930 I think) playing at Ciro’s. There’s always a slight frisson of awkwardness these days when describing a band from this period as black or white, as though we should ignore the distinction. Well, yes, we should in most respects, but since bands then were de facto not integrated, there is a difference to their style and the way they played. Just listen to this band play Little White Lies and Happy Feet! What life! What exuberance! You can tell it is a black band. Try sitting still as you listen! Somehow they produce more music than you’d expect for the number of musicians involved. They do it again on their record of Confessin’ which I heard again a short while ago. Now, here is the original Wall Of Sound. With all due respect to Phil Spector, who from what I see in the news has more on his mind these days than any opinion I could offer, he was not the first!
If you got to the Pathe site, play about with the search box and see what you can find. If you dig up anything interesting that I haven’t mentioned here, please drop me a line.
I usually listen to Geoffrey Smith’s Jazz Record Requests (BBC Radio 3, every week) on Saturday evenings, since it is broadcast that afternoon in England and then archived for a week on the net. The show’s remit is wide, covering jazz of all genres (or, in my opinion, some jazz and a lot of other noises), but since he plays the tunes in chronological order, and the playlist is published on the show's website, I only have to listen to the start of the show to hear the kind of jazz I like, then I can safely switch off. This week, however, the show was aired at a different time from normal and I didn’t get round to hearing it until this evening. There were three numbers I liked, the first of which was My Sweet by the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, which was truly excellent. I had been a jazz fan for many years before I discovered Reinhardt and Grappelly, and now am a devoted admirer. I know there are some who detect a sameness in what the QHCF played, but I don’t see that. So I was annoyed, and as a Brit a bit embarrassed, when Geoffrey Smith pointed out that critics in the London music press before the war were very snooty about the QHCF, referring to them as the “five frantic Frenchmen” -- inaccurate as well as rude because Django Reinhardt was Belgian – because they didn’t approve of all the obvious joi de vivre. I ask you! Joi de vivre is what jazz is all about!! From Barnyard Blues to Sing Sing Sing, was there ever a medium better suited to expressing pleasure at being alive?