CDs of the Month
Our pick for December, 1999 is Sol
Ho'opi'i, Master of the Hawaiian Guitar, volume 1, Rounder Records 1024.
These recordings, made from 1926 to 1930, are an intriguing combination
of traditional Hawaiian music and contemporaneous jazz favorites. Sol Ho'opi'i
moved from Hawaii to California in 1919, where he contributed to the Hawaiian
craze sweeping the country with his tremendous skill on the ukulele and
his groundbreaking techniques on the steel guitar. Steel guitar players
ever since have based their styles on the techniques developed by Sol Ho'opi'i.
This is a good CD for getting acquainted with the unique sounds of the
traditional Hawaiian vocal style, with its distinctive falsetto yodeling.
Hawaiian instruments and Sol Ho'opi'i's techniques combine well to produce
jazz with a resfreshingly different sound. His rendition of Farewell Blues
is particularly unusual and fun. If some of these tracks sound familiar,
you may have heard something very similar in the cartoon, Betty Boop's
Bamboo Isle, which features two of Sol Ho'opi'i's pieces.
This collection of 16 songs comes with liner notes containing biographical
information, but very little information about the recordings themselves.
Our pick for January, 2000 is Lil
Hardin Armstrong and Her Swing Orchestra: 1936 - 1940; The Chronological
Classics, 564. Lil Hardin is perhaps best known as the second wife
of Louis Armstrong, whom she met when they both performed in King Oliver's
Creole Jazzband. Lil Hardin was the band's pianist. People are fond of
describing her as a mediocre pianist, but we think she deserves better.
But where she really shines and deserves far more recognition than she
gets is as a vocalist and band leader. That is what you can hear on this
CD, which includes 26 superb tracks featuring Lil as leader of her own
Swing Orchestra. She is a dynamic, high-energy vocalist somewhat resembling
Blanche Calloway, Cab's big sister. She leads a swinging jazz band featuring
some excellent musicians, including Chu Berry and Jonah Jones. She does
particularly well with dance numbers such as Doin' the Suzy-Q and Lindy
Hop, and we especially enjoy her song about the mysterious and ominous
Knock-Kneed Sal on the Mourner's Bench.
Like all CDs produced by Chronological Classics, this one comes with excellent
documentation and brief liner notes.
Our pick for February's CD is James
Reese Europe and the 369th U.S. Infantry "Hell Fighters" Band, featuring
Noble Sissle, IAJRC CD 1012. Recorded in 1919, these songs and instrumental
pieces give us a fascinating look at some of the earliest jazz ever recorded,
by one of the major contributors to early 20th century African-American
music. You will plainly hear in this music the sounds of ragtime, military
marches, old cakewalks, and Tin Pan Alley, but there is also jazz there.
The collection includes several pieces composed by James Europe, Eubie
Blake, and Noble Sissle, such as Jazz Baby, Mirandy,
Patrol in No Man's Land, and All of No Man's Land is Ours. Jazzola,
by Kendall, Robinson, and Morese, is in the same spirit. This is some of
the most singable music ever composed.
instrumentals are beautiful and hauntingly familiar. Many of the tunes
are used on old Fleischer and Warner Brothers cartoons, and many are famous
melodies such as Saint Louis Blues, Dark Town Strutter's Ball, and Arabian
The band leader himself is also a fascinating figure. Before World War
I, Jim Europe was active in New York City as an organizer of African-American
musicians, working to gain recognition (as well as employment) for the
musicians and their music. Eubie Blake described Jim Europe as "the Martin
Luther King of our music." During World War I, his regiment saw action
in France, where they fought so bravely that they earned the nickname "Hell
Fighters." They returned to the United States as heroes. Actual footage
of their triumphant march through the streets of New York City in February
1919 can be seen toward the beginning of the film Stormy Weather. (See
Video of the Month, below.) It is a great tragedy that Jim Europe was murdered
shortly after his return from the war by a deranged band member.
The CD includes 24 tracks with detailed information about each, as well
as superb liner notes by Mark Berresford.
CD for March is Cab
Calloway: Volume 1: 1929-1930; Masters of Jazz, MJCD 105, a fine collection
of Cab Calloway's earliest recordings, along with the complete recordings
of two bands closely associated with him in his early years.
Cab's first band was a group called the Alabamians. It was with this group
that Cab first discovered his talent for band-leading. He commented in
his autobiography that he was amazed at how much of a difference he could
make in the sound of a band by his method of leadership. However, Cab's
relationship with the Alabamians was uneasy; they were too conservative
for his tastes. He complained that all they wanted to play was "dipsy-doodle
music." The two tracks of the Alabamians on this CD were recorded after
Cab had left the band. The band has a very pleasant sound, with fine, eerie
harmonies, but it doesn't sound at all like Cab's style.
Cab next became the leader of the Missourians, who were quickly renamed
"Cab Calloway and His Orchestra." This CD includes 14 recordings that the
Missourians made before Cab joined the band. They have a beautiful, haunting
sound that Cab retained for some time. Some of our favorite jazz instrumentals,
such as Ozark Mountain Blues and Prohibition Blues, are included in this
The remaining eight tracks on this CD are Cab Calloway's earliest recordings
with the recently renamed Missourians. We think these are some of the finest
recordings Cab ever made. Cab is young and experimental, with a high, soaring
voice. His wild rendition of St. Louis Blues will send shivers up your
spine. The Viper's Drag, an instrumental piece composed by Fats Waller,
is unlike anything recorded by Cab ever since.
The CD includes a booklet with excellent liner notes by Daniel Nevers,
in both French and English, with photographs and a detailed discography.
Our CD for April is College
Rhythm: Hot Dance Band Classics 1927-1934, Memphis Archives MA7021.
Here are eighteen lively and hilarious songs about college life from the
Jazz Age, including three treasures by Harry Reser. One of these is a parody
of The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi, called She's the Sweetheart of
Six Other Guys! Harry Reser is a superb musician whose music
is hard to find. In addition, you get to hear some very early recordings
by Kay Kyser, George Olsen, Ted Weems, Hal Kemp, Gene Kardos, and other
fine bands from this era.
The liner notes point out that these are all white bands, and comment that
although African Americans were attending college in ever-growing numbers
during this time, they didn't produce any college songs. We know of at
least one college song produced by an African American band, and that's
recorded by Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy in 1930.
Listening to these songs reveals that the interests of college students
haven't changed much in the past 70 years, although raccoon coats have
fallen out of favor, and the guitar has replaced the ukulele as the courtship
instrument of choice.
Our CD of the month for May is
Blanche Calloway and Her Joy Boys: 1925 - 1935; Chronological Classics
783. This CD has long been one of our favorites. Blanche was Cab Calloway's
big sister. She preceded him into show business and helped him get started.
It is a pity that he didn't say more about her in his autobiography. Information
about Blanche is hard to find.
Her dynamic, energetic
style shines through in these recordings. The earliest two songs (1925),
in which she is accompanied by Louis Armstrong, are fairly standard blues
songs. The next songs on the CD were recorded in 1931, and we can hear
the change in her style; she has a much jazzier sound. These sides also
include the earliest recordings of Ben Webster on the tenor saxophone and
Cozy Cole on the drums. These are two of the many fine musicians who got
their start in Blanche Calloway's band.
tune is Growlin' Dan, a song in which Blanche does a fair bit of growling
herself. There is a reference in this song to her brother Cab's song character,
Minnie the Moocher.
The CD includes a
good many pieces composed by Blanche herself, and she also performs songs
by such notable composers as Clarence Williams, Cole Porter, W.C. Handy,
Andy Razaf, Don Redman, and Fats Waller. Many of these songs, like the
fine Johnson-Razaf song "Misery," are hard or impossible to find anywhere
else. Whether the songs are bluesy or raunchy, her singing packs a punch
and is somehow very personal. When we listen to her, we feel her presence,
her reach, more than we usually do when listening to the music of this
Vocalist Billy Massey
sings the lyrics on one song, Sugar Blues. He has a charming voice, and
one can hear more of him, and Blanche, on Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds
This CD left us hungry
for more recordings by Blanche Calloway, but sadly, very little of her
work was preserved.
Our CD of the month for June is
Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, 1927-1928; Chronological Classics 542.
This CD is the second in a series of the recordings of Duke Ellington in
chronological order, released on the Classics label. The recordings made
by the Ellington band in the 1927-1928 period are stunning. By this time,
the orchestra had achieved its own, distinctive sound quite different from
that of most of the other bands around at the time. Duke's compositions
are haunting and beautiful, and the band pulls them off with great mastery.
Ellington was born in Washington, D. C. and organized his first band in
high-school. He soon moved to New York, where he became one of the leading
artists of the Harlem renaissance. He played piano, led bands and composed,
and quickly achieved the status of one of the most highly respected jazz
artists in the world.
CD features the fine playing of such musicians as Bubber Miley, Otto Hardwick,
Sonny Greer, Joe "Tricky Sam" Nanton, Louis Metcalf, Jabbo Smith, and Harry
Carney, and the strange and fascinating vocals of Adelaide Hall. Here,
we hear some of the early examples of Duke Ellington's use of the female
vocalist as an instrument. Adelaide's clarinet-like and growling vocals
on "Creole Love Call" are haunting and eerie.
of the other particularly fine recordings featured on this CD include "Black
and Tan Fantasie," "Chicago Stomp Down," "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo," and
"Jubilee Stomp." "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" was the band's theme song and
greatest hit for many years, and rightfully so. No matter how many times
I listen to this CD, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo" still makes me stop whatever
I am doing at the time and just listen.
Our CD of the month for October is Fletcher
Henderson and His Orchestra; Chronological Classics 673. This is the
first volume of Fletcher Henderson's recordings from 1924 in the Classics
series. The recordings on this CD are playful, innovative, and a real pleasure
to listen to. By 1924, Fletcher's band was one of the hottest bands in
New York, bolstered by the strong and innovative arranging style of Fletcher's
head saxophonist, Don Redman. This CD contains some of the orchestra's
finest recordings, including the eerie "Ghost of the Blues," the gorgeous
"Driftwood," and a highly humorous arrangement of "Nobody's Sweetheart."
But for us, the highlight of this CD is "My Papa Doesn't Two-Time No Time,"
in which Don Redman sings the first recorded scat (a form of improvised
nonsense singing popularized by Louis Armstrong and mastered by Cab Calloway).
The first recorded scat is often mistakenly attributed to Louis Armstrong,
but Don beat him to it by two years. Also of historic interest on this
CD is the piece called "After the Storm," in which Don Redman plays an
oboe -- the first and one of the only instances of the use of an oboe in
jazz. A young Coleman Hawkins is also featured on this CD.
Our CD for November is Harry
Reser's Six Jumping Jacks, Volume 1, The Old Masters, mb 120. If you
love the jaunty music from old Betty Boop cartoons, you will love this
collection of novelty songs recorded in the 1920s by banjo virutoso Harry
Reser and his band. The songs come complete with sound effects depicting
barnyard animals, cars and trains, with appropriately light-hearted lyrics.
If you want to read transcriptions of some of the songs on this album,
refer to the lyrics page.
Probably the best-known song in the collection is "Where Do You Work-a,
John?," a song featured in the Betty Boop cartoon,
where it was probably performed by this same group of musicians. The vocal
is provided by Tom Stacks, described accurately as having an audible grin
by Randy Skretvedt, author of the CD's excellent liner notes. Behind the
humor of this music is a superb group of musicians, in particular the band's
leader, Harry Reser. Reser is widely recognized as being the greatest banjo
player of all time. Like Don Redman, he was a musical prodigy who could
play every instrument in the band.
Old Masters is planning on releasing a second volume of the Six Jumping
Jacks. I hope it will be soon!
CD pick for December 2000 is Lucille
Hegamin: Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order, Volume 3, Document
Records, DOCD-5421. This talented vocalist recorded both jazz and blues
pieces with style and verve, and was accompanied by a fine group of musicians
that sounds like the Henderson band. This collection contains some of the
most fun songs to have come out of the 1920's, including Hard-Hearted
Hannah (the Vamp of Savannah), Hot Tamale Molly and Here
Comes Malinda. The lead song on the CD, Chattanooga Man, is
so catchy that you won't want to take it off repeat until you've learned
it by heart! The CD also includes well-known pieces such as No Man's
Mama, Poor Papa, and Alabamy Bound. Good liner notes
by Chris Smith discuss the music and the artist's career.
CD pick for January 2001 is Ruth
Etting: Ten Cents a Dance, Living Era, Academy Sound and Vision, Ltd.,
CD AJA 5008. Ruth Etting personifies the sound of the 1920s female
crooner. She had the "tear in her voice" that was so highly prized among
sentimental singers of the era, but she could also do lively, swinging
numbers quite effectively. This CD has 20 of her recordings, spanning 1926-1930.
sound was almost certainly influenced by the style of contemporary African-American
singers, and there are times when she sounds amazingly similar to Cab Calloway's
now little-known older sister, Blanche.
The title song, "Ten Cents a Dance," was composed for Ruth Etting by the
great composers, Rogers and Hart. It is a cynical and bitter song about
the plight of women in the Depression, and Ruth sings it with great feeling.
"But I Do, You Know I Do!" is an extremely catchy number that will get
stuck in your head and torment you until you learn the words. "Mean to
Me," which ends with a clever play on words, has a beautiful melody that
may be familiar to you if you are a fan of Betty Boop Cartoons. She also
does a soulful rendition of the famous "Body and Soul" and sings a fine
version of the very 1920s "What Wouldn't I Do For That Man!"
This is a great CD, featuring some of the finest recordings from the era.
Our CD for February is Whispering
Jack Smith, Pearl Flapper, Past CD 7074. Whispering Jack Smith, also
known as Jack Smith, the Whispering Baritone, was a proto-crooner who recorded
during the 1920s. His quiet style was made possible by the invention of
the microphone, although it was said that his "whisper" did have enough
carrying power to be heard throughout the room. To modern listeners he
sounds very odd and old-fashioned, but with a playful quality that grows
on the listener. He sings songs that were old-fashioned even at the time
of the recordings, such as "Me and My Shadow," "Blue Skies," and "When
the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along." There are some wonderful
old classics on this CD, such as "Cecilia" (sure to get stuck in your head!),
"There Ain't No Maybe in My Baby's Eyes," and "Then I'll Be Happy." (The
lyrics to these three have been transcribed by us this month; see the lyrics
list above.) As a singer, he has more personality and fire than Rudy Vallee,
to whom he is sometimes compared. This is a fine sampling of early 20th
Century American popular music.
CD pick for this month is Don
Redman: Doin' What I Please, Living Era CD AJA 5100. Don Redman, a
multi-instrumentalist who could play every instrument in the band, was
known as "the Little Genius." He was a daring composer and arranger whose
successful combination of arrangement and innovation made big bands possible.
He also pioneered the use of reeds in jazz, and was the first person to
play the oboe in a jazz piece. This CD features Don's superb instrumental
arrangements, including his version of the Whiteman Stomp that was said
to be too difficult for the Whiteman band to perform! You can also hear
Don's quiet, mischievous vocals on several of the pieces included here.
Particlarly of note are his renditions of Shakin' the African and Got the
Jitters, as well as his performances of his own compositions, Gee Baby,
Ain't I Good to You and How'm I Doin'? This CD provides good coverage of
a much-neglected artist.
Find lyrics at Heptune's
Classical Jazz and Blues Lyrics Page!
Find this month's recommendation
at Heptune's Journal
of Lore and Levity!
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