Fascinating show!

by Mark Gabrish Conlan

O.K., so most of this is dance music of the period and even the selections with illustrious jazz names like Goodman,McPartland, Teagarden, Freeman and Berigan et al. aren't that hot. It's still a compelling program and an illustration of how hot the dance bands of the 1920's could be when their leaders and the people picking the material for them (in those days very few bandleaders had any say in what songs they recorded) let them. The first four songs are a stunning illustration of how hot the Abe Lyman band could be -- especially "Mississippi Mud," with a surprisingly Bixian trumpet solo, presumably by Fred Ferguson. (Why isn't he better known?) About the only clunker on the four Lyman sides is that dreadful vocal on "Sunday" -- I didn't think there was a version out there so wretchedly sung the Keller Sisters and Lynch would sound good by comparison! "San" I've already commented on to the Forum (though the transfer at the YouTube link I posted sounded better than yours); it's a hot side even though I could have done without that corny trombone solo at the beginning. (Where were Jack Teagarden or Miff Mole when Lyman could have used them?)

The Ben Pollack sides were nice, with bits of hot jazz here and there, mostly from McPartland and Teagarden. Despite what the discographers say, I'm convinced the clarinet solo on "Futuristic Rhythm" is NOT Benny Goodman -- the tone is too thin and shrill, the solo is too technically sloppy and the ideas aren't characteristic of Goodman. Franklyn Baur's (that's the correct spelling of his name, not "Bauer") vocal on the Pollack "Sweet Sue" is almost as atrocious as Jack Fulton's on the Whiteman "symphonic" version on which Bix soloed; Baur was one of those singers (like Billy Murray and Irving and Jack Kaufman) who had been around in the early days of recording, and he actually had a pretty decent voice on the quasi-operatic pop material he did best, but he didn't belong in the same studio as a jazz band and Pollack's own singing on "Futuristic Rhythm" is a relief -- as are the vocals by Smith Ballew on "Louise" and "Wait 'Til You See 'Ma Cherie'," even though he hardly brings Maurice Chevalier's insouciance (or, on "Louise," Bing Crosby's sheer vocal beauty) to these songs. Still, my favorite version of "Futuristic Rhythm" remains the one by "Jimmy McHugh's Bostonians" for the cheap Diva label in January 1929, made with Pollack's musicians (and the clarinet soloist on that one definitely IS Benny Goodman) and Irving Kaufman for once NOT sounding like he's trying to sing while being strangled.

The Fred Rich sides also have their points. I was struck by the similarity of the trumpet-ensemble final choruses of his and Goldkette's "Hoosier Sweetheart" even though the two records were made only four days apart (Goldkette's on January 31, 1927, Rich's on February 4). "You Took Advantage of Me" and "Baltimore" are infectious even though hardly comparable to Bix's recordings ("Advantage" with Whiteman, Tram and Bing and "Baltimore" with the Adrian Rollini Club New Yorker band, though under Tram's name), but it's nice to hear the lyrics to "Baltimore," decently sung by Arthur Humby. I'd heard the Fred Rich "The Man I Love" before because it's on the 10-CD Membran Music boxed set of George Gershwin recordings, and it's interesting that the same singer heard here, Vaughn de Leath, re-recorded the song with Whiteman a year later and that's the version Bix is on. (He doesn't solo on it, but Frank Trumbauer does, and on one of the few songs both he and Lester Young recorded -- Lester as accompanist to Billie Holiday in 1939 -- Lester's debt to Tram is in evidence big-time.)

De Leath was apparently the first singer to perform "live" on radio for Lee DeForest's experimental station in 1920, and according to her Wikipedia page DeForest warned her that her natural high soprano might shatter the delicate tubes of his radio apparatus, so she dropped her voice to the contralto register and allegedly created the singing style known as "crooning" (though the term "crooner" is more commonly applied to males). De Leath got to do a lot of performances of "The Man I Love" because she was one of the few women available who could sing it (Ira Gershwin actually wrote an alternative lyric for male singers -- "Someday she'll come along, the girl I love/Her smile will be a song, the girl I love" -- but it wasn't recorded until Michael Feinstein did it in the 1980's), and it's one of the few Gershwin songs that never survived in a musical but became a hit anyway as a stand-alone song in nightclubs, cabarets and radio.

Once again, Albert, thank you for another exciting and stimulating WBIX program. Keep up the great work!

Posted on Jul 6, 2017, 11:33 AM

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