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Old 09-18-2013, 03:31 PM   #31 (permalink)
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But jazz was everywhere in America because its disciples traveled around spreading the jazz gospel. Kid Ory went to San Francisco. Morton, Armstrong, Oliver, Keppard and others went to Chicago. Earl Fuller, James Reese Europe and Fletcher Henderson kicked off a vibrant jazz scene in New York City. W. C. Handy was playing around Memphis having spent a good deal of time in New Orleans recruiting musicians for his band. Don Redman in Detroit/QUOTE]

One detail about the original spread of Jazz: Those we would call the originators of this new music called jazz didn't exactly pack up of their things and leave New Orleans out of the mere goodness of their hearts to "spread the gospel of jazz". This might be what is written in history textbooks but the truth isn't quite as rosy.
No, it isn't written in the history books that way. The Storyville crackdown is pretty well-known and covered extensively by Ken Burns. I left it out because I'm posting a "concise" history which means a lot of stuff will not be included. I leave those details to other posters to mention if they believe I am remiss in omitting it, which is fine with me. Fill in whatever details you feel should be covered and--viola!--they are now covered!

The truth is that on November 12, 1917, Secretary of War Newton D. Baker issued and order forbidding open prostitution within five miles of an army cantonment, this essentially outlawed New Orleans red-light district which honestly was the source of most jazz musicians business at the time. These musicians were forced to travel up the Mississippi and look for work elsewhere, and it's no surprise they ended up in other urban areas along the river: Chicago, New York and Kansas City.
It was basically the Navy the did the cracking down. Too many sailors getting rolled. The city accepted their help because it was free.
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Old 09-20-2013, 04:36 AM   #32 (permalink)
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Well, great work so far! Keep going! I can't wait till you get to my favorite era: Bebop
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Old 09-22-2013, 06:16 PM   #33 (permalink)
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Impressive and informative, thanks
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Old 11-01-2013, 03:07 PM   #34 (permalink)
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Part II

The start of swing as we now identify with it occurred in Kansas City in the thirties. Like New York, the jazz of KC was not homegrown but soon took on a character of its own. KC had long been a ragtime stronghold since it sat squarely in the region where most of the ragtime innovation was occurring—namely Missouri. Scott Joplin composed the majority of his rags in Sedalia, Missouri. The great ragtime composer Percy Wenrich was known as “the Joplin Kid” because he hailed from Joplin, Missouri. Another great ragtime composer, James Scott, hailed from Neosho, Missouri. Wilbur Sweatman, who was a pivotal figure in the transition of ragtime to jass was born in Brunswick, Missouri. Kansas City as well as St. Louis and Chicago were very attractive venues for the ragtimers. Kansas City had its own ragtime scene centered at 18th and Vine which could boast being the home of great ragtime composers as Charles L. Johnson and Irene Cozad.

As some of the surrounding towns as Sedalia had their ragtime culture destroyed by overzealous teetotaling Christians who got into office and promptly began outlawing and shutting down the clubs that catered to the ragtime crowds by 1909, the musicians and publishers packed up and moved onto places as KC who readily took them in.

Kansas City was the watering hole of the U.S. Anybody traveling cross-country was bound to stop there to recharge their batteries. Hence, places of entertainment were needed. Bars, saloons and clubs of every kind sprang up and they all needed some kind of live entertainment to draw patrons in. By the twenties, when ragtime fell out of favor and jazz reared its head, 18th and Vine began to attract jazz musicians without missing a beat. When Prohibition was put into effect in 1922, the juice flowed unabated in KC thanks to mob boss Tom Pendergast. He kept the clubs open long past sundown and on into sunup and the juice flowed the whole time turning KC into a different kind of watering hole. Prohibition was not enforced in Kansas City. Big Boss Pendergast made sure of it by buying off the cops.

Big Tom Pendergast. Despite being a big mob boss, the biggest in Kansas City, which he essentially owned, he was generally well-liked by the club owners and musicians. He enjoyed jazz and a good party and kept the lights on, the music playing and the booze flowing all night long all through the Depression. Life would have been much tougher for a lot of jazz musicians if not for Tom Pendergast who changed the face of jazz. If the cops raided a club and arrested people, Big Tom had a lawyer waiting at the police station where the arrestees would sign out and head straight back to the clubs to carry on until dawn. The Boss of the Blues—Big Joe Turner—remembered Big Tom quite fondly.

The two biggest bosses in Missouri—Tom Pendergast and Harry Truman. Without Big Tom’s backing, Truman might never have become a senator much less president. Despite Pendergast’s undeniable mob connections, Truman never apologized for their relationship. Whether they were close friends or secret political partners has been the subject of much speculation. Probably a bit of both.

But KC hit its stride with the onset of the Depression. So many vibrant but small jazz scenes closed down not from legislation but from lack of money and work. The musicians needed to find gigs and badly. Word went out: Go to Kansas City! So they went. With a City Hall under the thumb of Tom Pendergast no vice was off limits. If you couldn’t get it at home, come to Kansas City and you’ll get it there for sure provided, of course, you could pay for it. At a typical KC club, the bar and the brothel were in the same building. Downstairs, you could get beer, booze and wine. The clubs also openly sold marijuana cigarettes (usually three joints for two bits). Like to gamble? Come to Kansas City and gamble your night and your money away! Before there was a Vegas, KC hauled in $100 million a year in gambling revenues—huge money in those days. Adding in drug and prostitution revenues (at least a million dollars each per year) and there was little doubt that without the underground economy, Kansas City would have been little more than a back road town struggling to survive.

With more and more jazz scenes shutting down due to the Depression, the talent flocked to KC. By the mid-30s, Kansas City boasted at least as much jazz talent as New York or Chicago. The jazz scene of KC simply took over 18th and Vine from the ragtimers. In fact, one of the earliest jazzmen to play there was the native Bennie Moten who was taught piano by two of Scott Joplin’s former-pupils. In fact, we can watch the evolution of jazz just by watching Moten. From a ragtimer to a traditional jass band, Moten’s band would eventually trade tuba for double bass and banjo for guitar, the ensemble expanded and within the space of a decade was a full-fledged big band that could rival any other in the country. The difference between the two clips below show how much the band changed in only seven years.

Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra - Kater Street Rag (1925) - YouTube

Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra - "Moten Swing" (1932) - YouTube
One of the final recordings of the Moten band—pure swing.

One reason Moten’s band was so versatile was the presence of Walter Page. Page started off in Kansas City in 1923 as part of Billy King’s Road Show. Two years later, they were Oklahoma City ready to break up when Page stepped forward to lead the band. He added for more musicians to the original nine and renamed the band Walter Page’s Blue Devils. Walter Sylvester Page was born in Gallatin, Missouri February 9, 1900 to Edward and Blanche Page. At 10, Walter, already playing music, moved to Kansas City with his mother. Page got involved in marching bands playing bass drum and tuba because he was a big kid. In fact, as an adult he weighed in a 250 lbs and was nicknamed “Big ‘Un.”

When Page went to see John Wycliffe’s orchestra play at his high school, he saw Wellman Braud playing double bass. Braud, who started off in New Orleans in the early days of jazz and also did a stint with Ellington, impressed Page. “When Braud got ahold of that bass, he hit those tones like hammers and made them jump right out of the box!” Page decided “that’s for me.” Page later attended the University of Kansas at Lawrence as a music student where he became an excellent sight-reader learning both bass and sax. He completed a three-year music program in one year and so filled his extra time by taking classes on gas engines.

Page joined the Moten orchestra in 1918 playing double bass, bass saxophone and tuba. He stayed with Moten until starting his gig with Billy King. When King’s band mutated into the Blue Devils, there were a territory band covering the area from Oklahoma City to Wichita. When the Blue Devils hit their prime, they were a premier hot swing band. Page knew he had the best band in the territory and wanted to go up against his former boss, Bennie Moten, to crack KC wide open. Page claimed it never happened but others say it did and that the Blue Devils won hands down. Whether true or not, Moten certainly recognized the Blue Devils as his more serious competition in Kansas City. So Moten simply began buying off the band members of the Blue Devils by offering them higher salaries. The Blue Devils contained such notables as Count Basie, Eddie Durham, Jimmy Rushing, Lester Young, Buster Smith and Oran “Hot Lips” Page. In 1929, Durham and Basie left the Blue Devils for Moten. The following year, Hot Lips and Rushing left Big ‘Un for Moten. Unable to keep his band intact, Page himself rejoined with Moten in 1931. According to Basie: “Big ‘Un in there on bass made things a lot different in the rhythm section, and naturally that changed the whole band and made it even more like the Blue Devils.” Hence the big change in the band’s sound. Page stayed with Moten only a short time before leaving to play with the Jeter-Pillars Plantation Orchestra in St. Louis.

Walter Page's Blue Devils - Blue Devil Blues (1929) - YouTube

Walter Page's Blue Devils - Squabblin' - YouTube

In the above clips, both recorded in November of 1929, Page plays tuba in the first and double bass in the second except for a part where he sets it down to play a baritone sax solo and then goes back to the bass again. The solos by Buster Smith and Hot Lips Page are already outstanding even though both were just 21 at the time. The guitar and drums round out the rhythm in a way that feels like swing even though both numbers are in 2/4 time.
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Old 11-01-2013, 03:10 PM   #35 (permalink)
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When Moten and band went to New York in 1928, he did not bring his jumpy sweet band sound with him, instead he went for the sophisticated sounds of Henderson and Redman and began incorporating their arranging style into his own. Many Southwestern bands followed suit. This was aided in part by the fact that many of Southwestern bands were landing gigs at venues populated by white patrons who were not well versed in the blues tradition to begin with so the swingier arrangements were fine with them.

The white attitude towards the more traditional jazz styles is summed up in the August 1926 edition of The Etude Music Magazine:

“Why have the words Jazz and Jagg the same meaning?” asks the humorist.

“Because they are both an irregular, jerky movement from bar to bar,” chortles the joker.

The world has been passing through a kind of musical jamboree. Jazz, with all its symptoms, was literally a species of musical intoxication. Starting in America, it spread over all the globe. Out of the mēlée came a few minds which had been trained in the better schools of music. With great ingenuity, Whiteman, Gershwin, Lopez, Lange, and others, modified and beautified the Jazz orchestra until the results were often surprisingly interesting. Thus we believe that Jazz, like new wine, is purifying itself.

That it will unquestioningly have a bearing upon American music of the future is generally conceded. How could it be otherwise? The ears of our children have been filled to the brim with these inebriating rhythms, for years. When maturity and training of the right kind is given to these youngsters the “pep” of Jazz will still remain in their subconscious minds. Like the voice of an epoch it will appear in its proper way and in its proper place and at the proper time.

The old Jazz of the screeching Jazzomaniac will not torture victims much longer. Our sympathies go out to the old gentleman on the cover of this month’s issue. He is merely one of the thousands of parents who have invested in a musical education for daughters only to hear as a result the abominations of Jazz. Now that fashion for Jazz is passing and better music is taking its place, we may look forward to a time when our aural tympani will not be shattered by a pandemonium of horrible noises.

The primal rhythms and beats of the jazz that jumped up out of New Orleans and socked the world in the jaw were being toned down and refined for more orchestral settings and whites related to that quite naturally as did the wealthier blacks and this was as true for the Southwest as it was for New York or Chicago and Moten recognized that this change had come. Some may argue that the above quoted passage refers to bands like Whiteman’s rather than swing which is likely true enough but The Etude was really a classical music periodical and the average white person being less highbrow felt about swing the way that the staff of The Etude felt about Whiteman-type sweet jazz—that it was more cosmopolitan and accessible than the old jass.

In 1935, Moten fell ill while the band was touring through Denver. Doctors examined him and said he needed surgery immediately and began operating but Moten would not survive and died on the operating table at the age of 40. Afterwards, Basie was elected by the other members to take over the band. Walter Page rejoined the band that year and played with them until 1942.

Unlike the others, Basie was not born in Missouri or Kansas but New Jersey on August 21, 1904. Basie grew up hearing different style of music and especially liked the stride piano that came out of Harlem from the likes of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Willie “the Lion” Smith. He began playing both drums and piano. He was largely self-taught and so was not a sight-reader but still displayed considerable skill. He was hired at the local movie theatre doing chores until the manager trusted him enough to run the projector. When the house pianist was absent, young Basie was already good enough to fill in for him. He made only a little money, his payment consisting of getting to see all the movies for free. Basie loved all the faraway places seen in the films and wanted to visit them. “I just wanted to be on the road with a show so much that I would have gone along just to be a water boy for the elephants if I could,” he said.

Basie played with a few bands around town mainly as a drummer. Basie’s best friend was Sonny Greer who was also a drummer. When Basie saw the proficiency of Greer’s drumming compared to his own, he decided to shelve his drumming career and devote himself to piano. Greer, as we know, went on to play drums for Ellington pretty much for the entire life of the band.

Basie eventually went to New York, unable to resist the allure of the Harlem music scene. There he met Johnson, Smith and Waller. Waller, in particular, took an interest in Basie and let him occasionally play the house organ at the Lincoln Theatre in Harlem where Waller had a steady gig (movies were silent at that time and required musical accompaniment sometimes provided by a hired musician or by a nickelodeon of the player-piano type). Waller then helped Basie land a job in vaudeville with a burlesque show. Basie also ran into his old buddy, Sonny Greer, who was, by now, playing drums for Ellington.

When Basie’s show reached Kansas City, Basie encountered blues piano which he had not paid much attention to earlier and he began incorporating blues into his sparse stride style. Blues offered Basie and, through him, the entire jazz world, a new vocabulary. This was due mainly to the fact that many of the KC bands started as sextets in the Southwest. Upon coming to KC, they expanded to ten pieces. Because it is harder to let 10 players improvise around each other, they worked from charts and lead sheets that were based on blues vocal traditions. Kansas City jazz was largely blues-based even if less so after 1928 but blues was favored in the KC jazz scene largely because of the success of Basie.

After being stranded in Oklahoma in 1927 when his touring show fell apart, Basie ended up in a cheap hotel room in Tulsa without much to do. He would wile away the hours in the local bars. One night, he went back to his room rather inebriated and collapsed in his bed. He awoke late the next morning to the sounds of Louis Armstrong until he realized the impossibility and came fully awake now wondering where the jazz music was coming from—it was beautiful! He staggered downstairs, hung over, and saw the Blue Devils in the back of a truck playing for all they were worth to a crowd that had gathered to hear them.

Basie stated: “I just stood there listening and looking because I had never heard anything like that band in my life.” Basie felt compelled to join them saying, “…hearing them that day was probably the most important turning point in my musical career.” So Basie joined the Blue Devils as pianist and his career as a premier jazzman had begun. Basie was among the first bandleaders in the Southwest to abandon the tuba for the double bass which had the effect of converting jazz from 2/4 to 4/4 time. 4/4 time is an essential ingredient for swing because swing relies on a walking bass line which walks in 4/4 time.

By 1936, Basie moved his band out of Kansas City and into Chicago for an extended gig at the Grand Terrace Ballroom under the name of the Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm. Basie began innovating with his orchestral setup. He hired two tenor saxes instead of one—Herschel Evans and Lester Young. Young thought Evans played with too much vibrato so Basie separated them by having them flank the alto sax man, Earle Warren. This introduced an interesting tension between Evans and Young that often resulting in cutting contests between the two men. Audiences loved it and soon other big bands were featuring two tenor saxes.

When Basie moved the band to New York in 1937, he began using a variety of singers to front the band. The first was Billie Holiday to supplement the band’s longtime male singer, Jimmy Rushing. She never recorded with Basie because her voice was such a jazz instrument of itself that producers were afraid its nuances would be lost in a large orchestra so she always recorded with small combos. But in live performances, Billie was as happy to sing with a big band as not and her work with Basie is said to be legendary. It may have been at this time that Billie and Lester Young began their long affair.

They first played the Woodside Hotel, then the Roseland (Fletcher Henderson’s main haunt) and then the Savoy in 1938, home of the lindy-hop, where Chick Webb’s band ruled and a battle of the bands was planned. This battle has taken on legendary proportions but the general consensus is that Basie’s band won. Webb’s band, fronted by Ella Fitzgerald, played forcefully and aggressively but Basie’s band, fronted by Billie, responded with finesse. The battle really put Basie on the map. Major gigs and recording contracts flowed Basie’s way and he soon became world-renowned.

Count Basie and His Orchestra: One O' Clock Jump (Basie) - November 3, 1937 - YouTube
Basie’s signature song recorded in New York.

Chick Webb - STOMPIN' AT THE SAVOY - YouTube
Chick Webb’s signature song written by the band’s saxophonist, Edgar Sampson. Chick Webb’s orchestra played hardcore flag-wavers, even more so than Lunceford’s. The remarkable thing about Chick Webb was that he was crippled. He could stand on his own but could not walk without help yet he had no trouble operating the foot pedals of his drum kit.

But even before Moten’s band was playing in the white hotels, Alphonso Trent had already started this in 1924 with is gig at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas. This led to other gigs and then to broadcasts. By 1928, the band was recording and became nationally known. Despite recording only four sides, their arrangements were complex and rivaled anything by Fletcher Henderson or Ellington.

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Old 11-01-2013, 03:17 PM   #36 (permalink)
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In 1925, Terence Holder left Trent’s outfit to form his Dark Clouds of Joy. In January of 1929, Holder left to start a new band and the Dark Clouds were taken over by Andy Kirk. Raised in Denver, Kirk came out of the music program there under the tutelage of the Paul Whiteman’s father. The band became Andy Kirk & His Twelve Clouds of Joy. Kirk recruited a saxophonist named John Williams who headed a band called the Synco Jazzers.

Williams came over to Oklahoma City from Memphis leaving his wife, Mary, a 19-year-old pianist, in charge of the band to fulfill contractual obligations. She joined him eventually in Oklahoma City but the band then relocated to Tulsa. Mary did not play with the band at this time but instead drove a hearse. Kirk’s band then landed a gig in Kansas City and so they all went. By now, Mary began writing arrangements and occasionally sitting in with the band.

The band recorded in Kansas City, Chicago and New York. Between 1929 and 1930. While in Chicago, Mary recorded two solo sides on piano for the Brunswick label. The label was so wowed by the performances that the decided to distribute them and Jack Kapp of Brunswick (and founder of Decca and whose brother, Dave, founded Kapp Records formerly “American Decca”) suggested to Mary that she use the stage name of Mary Lou and so the single (“Drag ‘Em / Nightlife”) was issued by Brunswick under the name Mary Lou Williams in 1930. It sold very well and Mary Lou Williams became famous almost overnight. People often came to see the band because Mary Lou was in it and so Kirk gave her most of the piano duties so that she was sitting up front on the stage where everyone could see her. Through the forties, she had her own piano workshop radio program.

Mary Lou Williams - Night Life - YouTube
Mary Lou Williams “Nightlife” (1930)

Born in Atlanta in 1910, Mary Lou grew up in Pittsburg. She showed a very unusual talent for music from a very young age and taught herself to play piano so well that she was performing publicly by age six. In 1924 at the age of 14, Mary Lou was already playing for Ellington’s early combo, the Washingtonians. By 15, she was playing for McKinney’s Cotton Pickers at Harlem’s Rhythm Club. Louis Armstrong came in and watched her play for a while and was so pleased that she picked her up from the piano stool and kissed her. And now, six years later, she was the toast of the jazz world.

Mary Lou Williams was beautiful besides being extremely talented and intelligent. Trombonist Jack Teagarden was in love with her and they supposedly had an on-again off-again affair. He proposed to her several times but she always turned him down, not interested in dealing with the fallout of being a black woman married to a white man back in those days.

Mary Lou plays cards in her apartment with Tadd Dameron (left) and Dizzy Gillespie (right).

A couple of Andy Kirk numbers arranged (and the latter one also written) by Mary:

Andy Kirk and his twelve clouds of joy - Little Joe from Chicago - YouTube

Andy Kirk - Mary's idea - YouTube

We would be incorrect to call Mary Lou Williams a swing jazz musician and arranger. She was far too complex to be pigeonholed that easily. Williams was a virtual blank canvas that could be painted on in any style. She would jump from one emerging style to the next never to return to an earlier style. Swing was only one of the stepping-stones of jazz styles that she experimented with. She moved from swing to bop without the slightest hiccup and never looked back. Indeed, she had no reason to look back. Once she exhausted a certain style, she had no reason to continue dickering with it and simply left it behind to find new modes of expression. She is often remembered for her 1945 work, Zodiac Suite, which was a mixture of styles as bop, classical and swing performed usually with no more than a trio of piano, bass and drums. Like a restless butterfly, Williams could not settle on any flower for very long. Even late in her career, when artists of the Swing Era were rehashing their old material for a new audience, Williams was still pushing the envelope of her creativity as with her stunning 1963 release Black Christ of the Andes which bears the stamp of her conversion to Catholicism. What we hear is the evolution of her own spirit in her music not just a repertoire. Indeed, Mary Lou Williams was the very spirit of jazz. Two selections from Black Christ of the Andes:

Mary Lou Williams - It Ain't Necessarily So - YouTube
It Ain’t Necessarily So

Mary Lou Williams - St Martin De Porres - YouTube
St. Martin de Porres
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Old 11-01-2013, 03:21 PM   #37 (permalink)
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By the time the Kansas City jazz scene died with the imprisonment of Big Tom Pendergast in 1940, it had made indelible changes not only to jazz but to American music as a whole. One duo that left KC and went to New York in the early fifties were KC native and singer Big Joe Turner and pianist Pete Johnson who started playing together at the Sunset Club and then picked up regular gigs at the Kingfish and the Back-Biters’ Club. These clubs were owned by The Pineys—Walter “Little Piney” Brown and his older brother, Thomas Jefferson “Big Piney” Brown—who are responsible for getting Big Joe’s career going.

When Joe and Pete signed to Atlantic Records, they recorded a slew of numbers that were of the most defining sounds of rock and roll. Basically, it combined blues with boogie-woogie and backed with a KC-style band with large sax section. These songs include classics as “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” “Roll ‘Em Pete” (originally recorded in 1938), “The Chicken and the Hawk,” “Flip, Flop and Fly,” “Honey Hush,” and “Boogie Woogie Country Girl.” All rock and roll classics.

Big Joe Turner - Shake, Rattle & Roll - YouTube
In this clip, Joe is backed by the great Detroit band of Paul Williams whose own million-seller “The Hucklebuck” (1949) is considered one of the first rock and roll songs. It was based on a bop number called “Now’s the Time” by another KC native, Charlie “Bird” Parker. Turner wasn’t called “Big Joe” for nothing. His voice was so loud, when he sang at Carnegie Hall, he did not use a microphone. This clip demonstrates how deeply rock and roll’s roots are embedded in Kansas City jazz.

Pete Johnson - Rocket Boogie - YouTube
Pete Johnson was quite famous in his day but has been largely forgotten now. He and Joe recorded together for many years but also recorded their own material separately (Pete even recorded as a backup singer). Pete’s “Rocket Boogie” served as the basis for “Rocket 88” by Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm who recorded the number at Sun Studios in 1952 (Sam Phillips, for some reason, renamed them Jackie Brenston & the Delta Cats). This is often cited as the first true song of rock and roll (Ike Turner dismissed this notion contemptuously throughout his career). Ike Turner’s piano intro on the number was lifted and played note-for-note by Little Richard in “Good Golly Miss Molly.” So, again, we see how the legacy of Kansas City jazz was passed on in the early days of rock and roll.

Big Joe Turner at Sportree’s Bar on Hastings Street in Detroit. He is in the center of the photo with the dark suit next to King Porter whose band played hard-hitting R&B. Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams was an alumnus of this band. The great singer, Alberta Adams, is seen on the left with the dark-collar on her coat.

Joe played with everybody who was anybody in the jazz and blues scenes. Here, he uses the great King Kolax ensemble as backup. The Kolax band was another of the great KC jazz bands and Kolax himself (playing the trumpet) is another of the forgotten great jazzmen.

Joe also jammed with the greatest KC jazzman of them all

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Old 04-19-2014, 08:45 PM   #38 (permalink)
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After the marriage of Thomas Francis Dorsey and Theresa Langton early in the 20th century, they lived in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania and had four children although we are only concerned with the two oldest—James or Jimmy (born in 1904) as he was known and Thomas Francis, Jr. or Tommy (born 1905). The elder Thomas was a coal miner who played the trumpet and eventually became a bandleader and music teacher. He taught both his sons to play the trumpet which both did quite well. In 1913, Jimmy was playing trumpet in J. Carson McGhee’s King Trumpeters. By 1915, he started learning sax and then clarinet after that.

Tommy, on the other hand, also started learning the trombone. At 15, Jimmy got Tommy a gig in a territorial band called the Scranton Sirens which he also belonged to. But after a while, the Dorsey brothers decided to form their own band—Dorsey’s Novelty Six—with Tommy usually on trombone and Jimmy usually on clarinet or sax but neither of them gave up the trumpet and continued to play and record with it throughout their careers.

The Rhythm Jugglers from 1925. Tommy Dorsey stands at far right. The man with his arm around him is the great Bix Beiderbecke.

In 1928, the Dorseys started their own band on the Okeh label simply called the Dorsey Brothers. Although personnel changed over time, the band contained some of the top-notch white New York jazzmen such as Jack Teagarden on trombone, Eddie Lang on guitar, Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Joe Venuti on violin, Frank Shoemacher on sax, Stan King on drums, Artie Bernstein on bass, Joe Tarto on brass bass, Arthur Schutt on piano and vocalists as Mildred Bailey, Johnny Mercer, Bing Crosby and Bob Crosby. Also a guy named Glenn Miller played trombone for them. They were a studio band and did not tour but were quite popular.

The Dorsey Brothers from 1934. The female vocalist is Kay Weber. To the left of her is Tommy Dorsey. Jimmy stands to the right and Glenn Miller is next to him.

Over the years, the Dorsey Brothers changed labels going to Melotone in 1931, then Columbia that same year and then Brunswick in 1932. They stayed with Brunswick through 1934 until the brothers split up in 1935 and each went their separate ways. They simply were not agreeing on musical direction. Jimmy loved fast-paced, hot swing numbers whereas Tommy wanted to slow things down. The fights were horrible with each brother screaming at the other and smashing their instruments against walls and floor causing crucial rehearsals to be called off. But, in 1935, the band’s last released recordings contained two #1 hits: “Lullaby of Broadway” featuring Bob Crosby on vocals and “Chasing Shadows.”

As solo artists, Tommy would rack up 17 hits while Jimmy would get 11. They would not play together again for a decade when they finally made a V-disc together in 1945. V-discs were recordings made specifically for armed forces fighting overseas. They combined their orchestras for the live sessions. They played together again in 1947 for the movie called “The Fabulous Dorseys.” With their differences ironed out, Tommy and Jimmy wanted to start collaborating again and the public was anxious to see it happen.

Their popularity was such that they were given their own television variety program, Stage Show (created by Jackie Gleason), in the early to mid-50s. There was no other bandstand show on television at that time so the show had high exposure and was extremely popular. They had many musical guests from jazz and from the new-fangled rock and roll including Elvis Presley who debuted on national television on the Dorsey program in 1956. The sky seemed to be the limit for the brothers when Tommy suddenly died that year by choking to death in his sleep. Tommy had trouble sleeping and started using tranquilizers but was so sedated this time that he didn’t awaken when saliva collected in his throat and he simply choked to death. Jimmy was heartbroken and died the following year of cancer. Jimmy’s last recording, released in 1957 posthumously on the Fraternity label, was appropriately titled “So Rare” as it was a rock and roll recording and very different from anything he had done before! He certainly plays with the fire that had always spurred him on. It sold 500,000 copies earning him a gold record and a #2 slot on the charts. It’s quite good:

Jimmy Dorsey - "So Rare" - YouTube

Tommy Dorsey - I'm Getting Sentimental Over You - YouTube
“Getting Sentimental Over You” is considered Tommy Dorsey’s signature song which demonstrates his skill and substitutes a flatted fifth for the normally flatted seventh which adds a deeper dimension of emotion that is bolstered by his amazing fluidity in the upper register normally only achievable by the trumpet. The harmonies of the reed section are beautiful. The song enjoyed a bit of a rebirth in the early 60s when it was used in an episode of “The Twilight Zone” called “Static” about a bitter, aging man who finds his old radio in the basement and tunes into a live broadcast of Dorsey’s band. When informed that the station had long ago shut down and that Dorsey had died some years before, the man eventually finds himself transported back in time where he has a chance not the let the opportunities go by that he had missed before. I saw this episode as a young boy in the 60s—the first time I had ever heard of Tommy Dorsey and I never forgot him. For years afterward, whenever I heard anybody’s version of “Sentimental” I would feel a little shiver.

The Dorsey band continued on after the deaths of its founders first led by Warren Covington who garnered a #1 hit in 1958—“Tea for Two Cha-Cha.” Sam Donahue took over leadership in 1961 for quite a number of years and then it was taken over by Buddy Morrow who ran the band until his death in 2010. I do not know if the orchestra is still going.

The impact of the Dorseys on jazz cannot be underestimated. Tommy’s trombone playing possessed an impressive pure tone, a marvelous vibrato and could burn through the upper register of an instrument that normally plays baritone. He could play long phrases never losing that pure tone. Virtually anyone who takes up trombone is required to study the playing of Tommy Dorsey.

Jimmy Dorsey picked up a great deal of skill going from Jean Goldkette’s band to Red Nichols and then to Ted Lewis (himself a marvelous clarinetist). He was certainly Goodman’s closest rival on the clarinet and Jimmy deserves a place among the sax greats as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young and had an even greater impact on be-bop than the other two. Charlie Parker talked about how much he loved to listen to Jimmy play extremely fast staccatos of notes, each precise and clean and musically related and not just filler. This is exactly what inspired Bird to play in his style that would revolutionize the genre.

We should not go so far as to proclaim Dorsey a bopper, he was not. He was a big band man—that was his bread and butter, that was his audience and he certainly knew that a new jazz audience would not likely accept him but Dorsey also knew how to update his sound with intelligence and taste to avoid sounding stale and dated. Jimmy’s band doing a flag-waver from 1944:

SUNSET STRIP ~ Jimmy Dorsey & His Orchestra 1944 - YouTube

While Jimmy was more forward-looking than his brother, we should not write Tommy off as a lightweight. I have seen old 50s footage of Tommy playing with some of the bop greats and, while he does not appear completely at ease (he was staunchly old school) he was certainly not lost and fumbling either.

The Dorseys certainly had something that set them apart from other great white jazzmen who started at the same time but who could not last far into the 30s such as Red Nichols and Miff Mole (but who nevertheless left behind a good body of recorded work). The Dorseys not only hung on for three decades but died at the height of fame. That kind of longevity does not happen without the approval of layman and musician alike.

In 1996, the U.S. Postal Service released a Dorsey Brothers commemorative stamp:

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 04-19-2014 at 09:00 PM.
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Old 05-16-2014, 05:45 PM   #39 (permalink)
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Women like Mary Lou Williams awakened or at least reminded the world of the fact that women weren’t merely singers but superb musicians, writers and arrangers. World War II wrought immense changes in America. All the changes were so radical that one is hard pressed to guess which was the most important. First of all, conscription began to empty out the swing orchestras and big bands. Bandleaders found themselves with a strange irony—they had to hire lesser musicians to take the place of their top-notch players and yet had to pay these novices more! Increasingly, the jazz orchestras started recruiting female musicians. Because so many traditionally male bands refused to recruit female musicians (even though a great many had female singers fronting for them), the all-girl band became a rising phenomenon during the war. There were all-girl bands before then and probably always had been but certainly not in swing. These all-girl bands were also more likely to be integrated simply because of the dearth of experienced female jazz musicians. If a trumpet-player from an all-black female band got pregnant or sick and had to take time off, the band had to find another female trumpeter quickly and nearest one was as likely to be white as black and she was likely to be in need of a gig so the band would offer her the gig and she would accept.

The newspapers during World War II were full of female musicians looking for work or all-female bands looking for female musicians. Often these bands could get hired entertaining troops. With so many men in uniform away from their wives and girlfriends and stuck in situations were they had little opportunities to even see women much less meet them, all-female swing groups were in great demand much to the chagrin of the all-male swing bands in need of gigs. Female jazz musicians saw an opportunity and made the most of it. For instance, the August 1, 1944 edition of Down Beat Magazine carried the following classifieds amidst ten other ads by or for male musicians:


Not that these “girl” musicians were new to performing in jazz bands, they were not. Most had cut their teeth performing in the many all-female jazz and dance band ensembles that paraded through the vaudeville venues in city after city for a couple of decades now.

So women had long established themselves in the American popular music scene. Many were veteran performers who played in every kind of situation paying their dues and honing their skills no differently then their male counterparts. Many played just as well if not better. In the following clip, the ladies display their multi-talented musical skills:

The Ingenues from 1928:

The Ingenues - Band Beautiful (1928) - YouTube
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Old 05-16-2014, 05:48 PM   #40 (permalink)
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No differently than the male musicians, the female swing and jazz artists took an early interest in music and began playing an instrument or two (or three or four) usually while still in elementary school. Many came from musical families and so grew up playing in ensembles. By high school, most had either started their own bands or were playing in someone else’s. Sometimes they played in ensembles with males but were often excluded and so formed all-female bands. One of these was Joy Cayler who was dubbed the Queen of the Trumpet.

Cayler formed her first band at age 16 in Denver in 1940. By 1943, she was already taking her band on the road having signed with a booking agency. At 19, Cayler wrote the band’s arrangements, laid down and enforced the rules, did all the hiring and firing and had the added burden of protecting her girls from unscrupulous men and unwanted pregnancies. Since most of her girls were no older than her, she had to promise their apprehensive parents that she would keep their daughters out of trouble on the road.

Female musicians in orchestras faced ridiculous criticisms and stereotypes that male musicians never had to worry about. For example, if two women in a band were tight with each other and liked to go out together to hit the town, they had to be careful not to do this too much or the rumors would start flying that they were lesbians. While this may not be a big deal nowadays, such innuendos could and did ruin careers back in the Swing Era. While male musicians on the road left a lot of illegitimate children behind, the female musicians had to be careful not to get pregnant. Unwed pregnant women were highly stigmatized in American society up until the 1970s. Abortions were out of the question. If a girl got pregnant, she had to go live somewhere out of sight until she had her baby which would then be put up for adoption. In some cases, the girl’s mother would tell people the baby was hers and the girl would take on the roll of older sister to her own child. In an all-girl swing band, the members had to appear to the public as “good girls” and if any got pregnant, there was an abortion doctor or midwife in Europe that she would be secretly sent to see whose name was well known among the female musicians.

Sometimes, though, the ladies made things work in their favor. Cayler recalled that train travel during the war was exceedingly difficult for bands—especially black bands and all-girl bands. Train cars were always reserved for servicemen first, then people in wheelchairs, then pregnant women. Needing desperately to get her band to their gigs, Cayler would have some of the girls grab whatever wheelchairs they could find and get in them while other band members posed as their caretakers. Still other girls wadded up their clothes and put them under their jackets and posed as pregnant women. The ruse worked every time. Another time, two of her girls were stranded and to get them to the next gig, Cayler used her feminine wiles on a Parcel Post driver to go get them and bring them to town for the gig and he did.

Joy Cayler:

The sexualization of female musicians and singers has always gone on. Cayler claimed her publicity shots “make me look like a stripper…but that that was the mode of the day.” Here she wears a gown with a fully open bosom and holds her instrument as though she was merely posing with it rather than being able to play it. Female musicians had to contend with costume changes even more than their instruments. Many sax players complained that the strap of the instrument cut into their skin while they wore the low-cut dresses. Also standing for long periods in heels was debilitating and female bassists bore the brunt of that as did female drummers who found working the kick drum and high hat pedals quite a challenge. Some drummers changed to flat shoes after sitting behind the traps but some actually played with their heels on—no one knows how. Why did they do this? Because they had to look feminine—that was of the utmost importance even more than the music. This was the reality for female musicians in a society that “looks first and listens second.”
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