100 Great Records Of The 1920s, #77.

Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra
77. Fletcher Henderson & His Orchestra, “Copenhagen”
(Charlie Davis/Walter Melrose)
Vocalion 1426B, 1924 · mp3
Fletcher Henderson’s early band was an important step not only in jazz, but in pop — in the broader sense of non-classical music —as well. A member of the same black middle class as Duke Ellington, he was a member of the pioneering black fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha and attented Columbia University before going into music about a half-decade earlier than the Duke. His band took after neither the funky, tear-em-up heat of New Orleans jazz combos, nor the sedate, highly orchestrated whiteness of New York dance bands, but a novel and subtle mixture of the two. With arrangements by Boston Conservatory-trained clarinetist Don Redman and a larger brass section than jazz was accustomed to, Henderson experimented with sonic textures in a way that would clearly inspire the young Ellington and set off a chain reaction in arranging and production that would find echoes in Nelson Riddle, Phil Spector, George Martin and Brian Wilson all the way through to the pop music of today, which makes its impact through sonic texture quite as much as, or in some genres much more than, through melody. The layering of different textural elements was a common enough idea in classical music, of course — composers like Mahler and Debussy built careers out of it — but it was a novel concept in jazz, which had previously been mostly rhythmic, or even comic, in appeal. (White bands like Paul Whiteman’s had flirted with intricate arrangements, but they mostly served to dampen the jazz, loading the tune up with strings and other non-hot sounds.) Once Redman left his band, Henderson took over the arranging himself, and proved so good at it that he’s best-known today as Benny Goodman’s big-band arranger during Goodman’s reign as the King of Swing; and of course Henderson more or less originated the big-band sound. Though this tune was first cut as a freewheeling caper by Bix Beiderbecke’s Wolverines, Henderson’s version stomps and dervishes like it means business.

100 Great Records Of The 1920s, #78.

De Ford Bailey
78. DeFord Bailey, “Pan American Blues”

(DeFord Bailey)
Vocalion 5180, 1927 · mp3
Just as country music was beginning to cohere, fitfully and irascibly as ever, into an idiom, a shared language defined against other kinds of music that weren’t country — pop, or jazz, or the blues, or grand opera — a young Tennessee polio sufferer became one of its biggest stars; and its first-ever black star. (The first, indeed of a number you can count on the fingers of one hand.) He was a harmonica player, and he played astonishingly well, imitating sounds he heard in nature: the hard breathing and galloping terrain of a fox chase, the varied noises of the farm animals his uncle worked with as he was growing up, and this. The Pan American passenger train crossed through Nashville on its nightly run between Cincinnati and New Orleans, and the WSM radio station broadcast its passing whistle every night. The young Bailey, impressing some of the right people, got a regular gig on WSM’s Barn Dance program on Saturday nights. Then one Saturday, following NBC’s stuffy Music Appreciation Hour, the station manager said, “For the past hour, we have been listening to music largely from Grand Opera, but from now on, we will present . . . .” Well, anyway, he said it just after the opening number, which was DeFord Bailey playing “The Pan American Blues,” a song — or, rather, a piece — which has nothing to do with the blues in either form or content, but simply replicates, in intimate detail, the sound of a moving train on harmonica. The idea was in the air: in a delicious irony, French composer Arthur Honegger had written a work called Pacific 231 which used an orchestra to achieve the same effect four years earlier. You could call it one of the earliest masterpieces of industrial music, if you were so inclined; you would more or less have to call it a virtuoso performance. But what makes it especially significant is that it was the first thing ever played on the Grand Ole Opry, and it was by a black man. The relationship couldn’t last, of course; by 1942 Bailey was hustling to shine shoes, cut hair, rent rooms. He’s in the Country Hall of Fame, now; but in hindsight, there’s nothing particularly Country about either the harmonica or any of Bailey’s playing. If he’d come up just two or three years later, Nashville would never have so much as glanced at him.


R.I.P. 2007

rip2007.JPG

As described elsewhere, I’ve compiled a 2xCD mix of musicians who died in the year 2007. It’s by no means definitive or complete; there are a lot of great dead musicians I wasn’t able to squeeze into the playlist. But it turned out to be a great list, with some great sequencing created by happenstance: it’s programmed in order of decease. You can download the two 120-minute mixes below, each as a single 78KB mp3. Happy listening, and here’s to 2008!

vol1

1. Alice Coltrane, “Universal Consciousness” (1971)
2. The Spaniels [vocalist Thornton “Pookie” Hudson], “Goodnight, Sweeheart, Goodnight” (1954)
3. Denny Doherty, “Gathering The Words” (1971)
4. Eric von Schmidt, “Joshua Gone Barbados” (1995)
5. Frankie Laine, “Lucky Old Sun” (1949)
6. Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, “Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)” (1972)
7. Boston, [vocalist Brad Delp], “Smokin’” (1976)
8. Betty Hutton, “Blow A Fuse” (1948)
9. Luther Ingram, “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right” (1972)
10. Dakota Staton, “The Late, Late Show” (1962)
11. Don Ho, “Tiny Bubbles” (1966)
12. Andrew Hill, “McNeil Island” (1963)
13. Mstislav Rostropovich, The “Prologue” movement of Debussy’s Sonata for Cello And Piano with Benjamin Britten (1961)
14. Carey Bell, “Carey Bell’s Blues Harp” (1969)
15. Nellie Lutcher & Her Rhythm, “Hurry On Down” (1947)
16. Enur feat. Natasja [rapper Natasja Saad], “Calabria” (2006)
17. Beverly Sills, “Gold Is A Fine Thing” from The Ballad Of Baby Doe (1959)
18. Tommy Makem, “Four Green Fields” (1968)
19. Lee Hazlewood, “My Autumn’s Done Come” (1966)
20. Max Roach, “The Drum Also Waltzes” (1965)
21. Jon Lucien, “Rashida” (1973)
22. Janis Martin, “My Boy Elvis” (1956)

vol2

1. Luciano Pavarotti, “Che Gelida Manina” from La Bohème (1990)
2. Weather Report [keyboardist Joe Zawinul], “Birdland” (1977)
3. Bobby Byrd, “I Know You Got Soul” (1971)
4. Aldemaro Romero, “Tema De La Onda” (1972)
5. Dale & Grace [vocalist Dale Houston], “I’m Leaving It All Up To You” (1963)
6. Big Moe, “Purple Stuff” (2002)
7. Lucky Dube, “Slave” (1988)
8. Porter Wagoner, “The Carroll County Accident” (1968)
9. Robert Goulet, “My Love, Forgive Me” (1965)
10. Hank Thompson, “The Wild Side Of Life” (1953)
11. Quiet Riot [vocalist Kevin Dubrow], “Metal Health” (1983)
12. Karlheinz Stockhausen, “Gesang Der Jünglinge” (1956)
13. Ike Turner, “All The Blues, All The Time” (1956)
14. Floyd Red Crow Westerman, “Wounded Knee” (1971)
15. Dan Fogelberg, “Part Of The Plan” (1975)
16. Lydia Mendoza, “Mal Hombre” (1934)
17. Oscar Peterson, “Wheatland” (1965)

200 Great Records Of The 1920s, #79.

Ted Lewis
79. Ted Lewis & His Orchestra, “Is Everybody Happy Now?”
(Maurice Rubens/Jack Osterman/Ted Lewis)
Columbia 1207D, 1927 · mp3
Ah, vaudeville. I’d argue that any real affection for the music of the 1920s is impossible without an understanding of and affection for vaudeville. Which is hard to do, of course: vaudeville is dead, has been dead for nearly eighty years, killed off by the Depression and talkies. Names that are unfamiliar today — Julian Eltinge, Blossom Seeley, Joe Frisco — were major attractions both in the sticks and on the high-class Keith-Albee circuit, names in lights, everything. We’ll be talking more about vaudeville as we head on down the list, but perhaps the best-known representation of its show-biz desperation are the Warner Brothers shorts where Daffy and Bugs try to one-up each other with increasingly impossible acts. (Daffy, having killed himself on stage to riotous applause: “Yeah, but I can only do it once” is an old vaudeville joke in itself.) Ted Lewis came up through vaudeville as a bizarre, riotous clarinet player with a line of snappy patter that included his catchphrase (everyone who was anyone on the road had a catchphrase), “Is everybody happy?” (The large-scale idolization of happiness in general during the decade is another essay in itself; but the irresponsibility of its pursuit is what made the twenties roar.) It turned out that what he was playing was jazz, or analogous to jazz anyway — nobody really looked that closely in those days — and in the 1920s he became the second-biggest white jazz act, and was plenty hotter than the biggest, Paul Whiteman, too. His light, improvisational tenor and undisciplined, birdlike clarinet remain his most attractive features, and though he was as nothing compared to real black jazz, his band made decent pop which was pushed over the edge into great pop by the force of his top-hatted, loose-limbed personality.

100 Great Records Of The 1920s, #80.

Polk Miller’s Old South Quartette
80. Polk Miller’s Old South Quartette, “Oysters And Wine At 2 A.M.”
(Traditional)
Broadway 5031, 1928 · mp3
Minstrelsy was the first American entertainment form. This ain’t exactly arguable, much as we’d like to believe otherwise. Everything else was imported; minstrelsy, in all its ugliness, imbecility, and hatefulness, is ours. Bred en bawn in de briar patch, Brer Fox, bred en bawn in de briar patch. We’re a nation that on some level is still pretending to be either Jim Crow or Zip Coon, dumb hick or flashy outlaw, red state or blue state, country or rap. Yassuh. Which isn’t to say that the whole idea isn’t intolerable: of course it is. But on those squalid, incestuous stages were born ragtime, jazz, country, vaudeville, tap dance, and the movies. (What is the Little Tramp but Chaplin’s version of blacking up, of putting on another person in order to entertain — i.e. to be more completely a performer?) One of the less-noted minstrel outfits was Polk Miller’s; a white veteran of the War of Northern Aggression, he put together a black singing quartet to perform music of the antebellum idylls. Which in its own twisted way was still kind of pioneering: they didn’t black up, and they were almost certainly the first interracial act to record. They first cut this song, an adaptation of something known as “The Laughing Song,” in 1909, and Miller died in 1913. But his Old South Quartette continued to perform and record, and even here, as the very last gasps of minstrelsy were scraping themselves onto a handful of records and guttering out, is a sound eerily unlike everything around it, a dim echo of the forced jollity of the corkburnt stage, where a black vocalist in order to escape sounding like a caricature ends up sounding oddly German, a celebration of going out with the guys and hitting little dives where they serve oysters and wine after midnight. (Don’t tell the wife.) Harmonies that predated and influenced barbershop, a waltz tempo played as though it were still a daring and risqué dance, lyrics that were cobbled together from anywhere to fit a bog-standard tune, anticipating the blues to come, and an atmosphere that recalls the roistering wifelessness of early Hearst comic strips. No, it ain’t pretty, but ain’t that America.