Frank Trumbauer's Capitol recordings, 1946--were they really so bad?
by David Tenner
Here is Frank Trumbauer on his last recordings (at least last commercial recordings--he apparently made some private ones at home later), made in 1946 for Capitol. He was absolutely livid that Capitol eventually released them (it almost reminds me of Charlie Parker's rage at Ross Russell for releasing the "Lover Man" session--though Bird was angry because of his own performance, not those of his fellow musicians):
"I approached Johnny Mercer [then A & R man for Capitol] with an idea to organize a small band and re-do some of the famous records that were made in the 20s and early 30s, using the same or very similar solo passages for a matter of record, and supplying a more modern accompaniment which would make the records more or less current. Johnny thought this was a grand idea, and we set our first date for Capitol, and as this was to be an event, we naturally hired the best men available. When the record date actually started, I was the only one there. About thirty minutes later a few of the men showed up, and after another thirty minutes the remainder of the band appeared so fractured that they couldn't play even the simple passages.
"I pleaded with the Capitol representative on the date to call it off, and in desperation he said he must have something to present to the home office to substantiate payment of the date. Needless to say, I was heartsick, as a large file of explanation was to no avail, and naturally these records were so bad they couldn't possibly be released. I am positive Johnny Mercer was never aware of what happened to what we both thought was an excellent idea.
"But, lo and behold, in 1952 I picked up an album that Capitol had released titled "Sax Stylists" which included many of the "greats," and heading the list of these sax stylists was my name; and I found that they dug into their archives and pressed one of these rejects with no consideration for my reputation, and pressed a record that was extremely bad by comparison with all otherpresentations in the album..."
Phil Evans et al, *Tram: The Frank Trumbauer Story*, pp. 229-230. Evans et al continue: "George "Pee Wee" Erwin confirmed Tram's recollection in a December 1968 letter: The date you mentioned for Capitol [some] were so drunk (not Tram but others), it was a disgrace. One other musician from that session, who asked anonymity, remarked, "Not all of the guys showed up bombed, but there were several that did. It was really an insult to this great musician, and no matter how many apologies were given after the date, the damage was done. You could just see the hurt in Frank's eyes. He didn't deserve that at all !""
Now I am not going to say all the solos and ensembles are immaculate. But am I the only one to doubt that the records were really as bad as Tram remembered them to be? (I think I recall Sudhalter in Lost Chords suggesting that Tram's playing in these recordings was a forerunner of the "cool" jazz musicians of a few years later.)
The personnel is listed as FRANK TRUMBAUER ORCHESTRA: George "Pee Wee" Erwin (tpt); Jack Lacey (tbn); Frank Trumbauer (C-mel/alto); Bill Stegmeyer (clt/ten-sx); Dave Bowman (p); Carl Kress (gtr); Herman "Trigger" Alpert, Bob Haggart (st-bses); John Blowers, Jr. (dms).