Saturday, February 20, 2010

Volume Two: Sing, Sing, Sing – The Depression and the Rise of Swing

25. Bing Crosby: Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?
(E.Y. "Yip" Harburg-Jay Gorney) 1932

26. Fletcher Henderson and his Orchestra: Shanghai Shuffle.
(Gene Rodemich-Larry Conley) 1934

27. Hoagy Carmichael and his Orchestra and Bix Beiderbecke: Georgia on My Mind
(Hoagy Carmichael-Stuart Gorrell) 1930

28. Bessie Smith: Gimme a Pigfoot
(Wesley Wilson) 1933

29. Albert Ammons and his Rhythm Kings: Boogie Woogie Stomp
(Albert Ammons) 1938

30. Robert Johnson: Walkin’ Blues
(Robert Johnson) 1936

31. Lead Belly: In the Pines
(Huddie Ledbetter) 1944

32. Memphis Minnie: Night Watchman Blues
(Memphis Minnie McCoy) 1949

33. Bunny Berigan and his Boys: I Can’t Get Started
(Ira Gershwin-Vernon Duke) 1937

34. Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of the Hot Club of France: Minor Swing
(Django Reinhardt-Stephane Grappelli) 1937

35. Cab Calloway and his Orchestra: Minnie the Moocher
(Cab Calloway-Irving Mills) 1931

36. Jimmie Lunceford and his Orchestra: For Dancers Only
(Don Raye-Vic Schoen-Sy Oliver) 1937

37. Jimmy Dorsey and his Orchestra: Stompin’ at the Savoy
(Edgar Sampson-Benny Goodman-Chick Webb-Andy Razaf) 1936

38. Tommy Dorsey and his Orchestra: Well, Git It!
(Sy Oliver) 1942

39. Artie Shaw and his Orchestra: Frenesi
(Alberto Dominguez) 1940

40. Benny Goodman and his Orchestra: Sing, Sing, Sing (with a Swing) [live]
(Louis Prima) 1938

41. Charlie Christian: Blues in B
(Benny Goodman) 1941

42. Coleman Hawkins and his Orchestra: Body and Soul
(Edward Heyman-Robert Sour-Frank Eyton-Johnny Green) 1939

43. Harry James and his Orchestra: Ciribiribin
(Alberto Pestalozza) 1939

44. Lionel Hampton and his Orchestra, featuring Illinois Jacquet: Flying Home
(Benny Goodman-Eddie DeLange-Lionel Hampton) 1942

45. The Ink Spots: If I Didn’t Care
(Jack Lawrence) 1939

46. The Mills Brothers: You Always Hurt the One You Love
(Allan Roberts-Doris Fisher) 1944


“'Swing' is an adjective or a verb, not a noun. All jazz musicians should swing. There is no such thing as a 'swing band' in music.”

-- Artie Shaw

During the latter half of the nineteen-twenties, “sweet bands” dominated record sales and concert attendance. Also called (somewhat erroneously) “society bands” (because their highest-profile gigs were at the behest of East Coast socialites), these bands (the orchestras of Paul Whiteman and Lester Lanin are the best-remembered; Lanin played Presidential Inaugurals from Eisenhower to Carter) predicated their music on making jazz simpler and more danceable. That is to say, they often simplified arrangements of (black) jazz and subdued its backbeat. Their greatest legacy to modern ears is the use of the term orchestra, even for bands of fewer than ten members. This appeal to a sort of late-Gilded-Age respectability continued into the Swing Era and is responsible for the ubiquity of “and his Orchestra” among this volume’s selections.

Now commonly seen as the anthem of the Great Depression, Bing Crosby’s version of “Yip” Harburg’s “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” is a vaguely Socialist and terribly sentimental (yet, still affecting) ballad that directly addresses, with startling frankness, the changing nature of American identity engendered by the aftermath of the Stock Market Crash of 1929 : “Once in khaki suits; gee we looked swell / Full of that Yankee Doodly Dum, / Half a million boots went slogging through Hell, / And I was the kid with the drum!” The popular music of the Depression is often shocking in its political, sexual, and social realism (Bessie Smith's "Gimme a Pigfoot" and Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher" are rife with explicit drug references, for instance) that was mirrored in the oft-exploitive films of pre-Hays Code-Hollywood, revealing a struggle with the perceived failure of the American Dream and a reassessment of the ideals of American identity.

This questioning and reconstructing of identities was frequently balanced with blatant sentimentality, a trend prevalent in all the American arts of the decade. Crosby’s Louis Armstrong-influenced vocal inflection (and that of Hoagy Carmichael) reflect the influence of African-American jazz on the larger white culture; Crosby and Carmichael were both veterans of Paul Whiteman’s orchestra, but their early solo work has more in common with Armstrong’s than Whiteman’s, emphasizing rhythmically and vocally challenging solo lines. As the lines between black and white pop and jazz blurred in the thirties, Armstrong and Cab Calloway (whose “Minnie the Moocher” remains iconic – he performed it in 1980 in The Blues Brothers) became stars who ‘crossed over’ racial divides.

At the same time, serious attempts (chiefly those of A&R man John Hammond) were made to lift country blues from the world of marginalized ‘race records’ (as they were promoted and marketed) to acceptance within "cultured" circles. Hammond recorded Bessie Smith (heard here in her last session) in a jazz-blues context (with, among others, Benny Goodman, accompanying her) and promoted first the integrated band of Goodman and later the all-star Spirituals-to-Swing concert in shows at Carnegie Hall, long the ultimate signifier of American cultural success in music. Among those Hammond invited to play the latter show was Robert Johnson (who had, in fact) died months before the show. Johnson is justly acclaimed as one of, if not the, major figure in the blues; his “Walkin’ Blues” expands Son House’s “My Black Mama” in intensity, stylistic vocabulary, and focus, in the process inspiring generations of blues guitarists and singers.

The thirties saw the expansion and gradual domination of swing, a music born of the necessity of jazz bands to make a living during the Depression; sweet bands dominated radio play and earned their paychecks playing venues that promoted dancing. Every band was expected to play the very ‘white’ sweet music for slow dancing, but many also played hot; that is to say that the music the musicians themselves wanted to play was closer in spirit and technique to Dixieland and Traditional Jazz, involving improvisation and a backbeat. Of this compromise was born swing; “hot” soloists being incorporated into “sweet” arrangements that were danceable. Fletcher Henderson’s arrangements on early thirties recordings became the standard for ‘the big band sound’ when clarinetist Benny Goodman began using them for his own (integrated) band; the basic idea of Henderson’s arrangements being that individual soloists could improvise between full-section (brass or reeds) playing of the song’s melody, all done to a "swinging" beat. From this idea emerges a revolutionary American aural variant on Mikhail Bakhtin’s idea of heteroglossia: multiple voices/visions within a communal/ shared structure – and you can dance to it.

By the late thirties, Goodman was pronounced “The King of Swing”; his volcanic “Sing Sing Sing” still sounds extraordinary, with intense soloing from Goodman himself, trumpeter Harry James (who would later employ Frank Sinatra in his own band), pianist Jess Stacy, and drummer Gene Krupa (whose influence is heard in the playing of Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, and John Bonham, and, thus, in the drumming of nearly every hard rock and metal band to follow).

Swing would be the dominant American popular musical style from the late thirties to the mid-forties, with the most popular bands balancing sweet songs (often with vocalists) with hot songs featuring pure jazz soloing. Within the swing framework were many attempts to broaden the palate and appeal of jazz: Artie Shaw incorporated European classical (chiefly Romantic) motifs on “Frenesi” (as did Harry James, less successfully, on “Ciribiribin”), swing reached Europe with the Quintet of the Hot Club of France (featuring Django Reinhardt and Stefan Grappelli), and many credit Illinois Jacquet, tenor saxophonist on Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home” with the first honking rock and roll sax solo. At the same time, Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Christian (while still a member of the Goodman band) were laying the groundwork for bebop, improvising melodies to the chord changes of jazz standards and seldom playing the written melody at all.

By the early forties, a kind of truce between blues singing, sweet bands, and swing was reached by the black vocal groups The Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers, both of whom became incredibly popular singing sentimental pop tunes with tight blues (and gospel) influenced harmonies. Sentimentality would dominate pop music as America entered the War, but the structural developments made in jazz and pop during the thirties continue to be heard in pop music today: ensemble playing alternating with intense, abstract, often-improvised solos: aural heteroglossia.


Monday, February 15, 2010

Volume One: Tiger Rag - Dixieland and Country Blues

1. The Original Dixieland Jazz Band: Tiger Rag
(Eddie Edwards-Nick La Rocca-Henry Ragas-Tony Sbarbaro-Larry Shields-Harry Da Costa) 1917

2. James P. Johnson: Keep Off the Grass
(James P. Johnson) 1921

3. King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band: Snake Rag
(King Oliver) 1923

4. Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke: Lonely Melody
(Sam Coslow-Benny Meroff-Hal Dyson) 1928

5. Frankie Trumbauer and his Orchestra featuring Bix Beiderbecke: Clarinet Marmalade
(Henry Ragas-Larry Shields) 1927

6. Louis Armstrong: Dinah
(Harry Akst- Sam M. Lewis-Joe Young) 1930

7. Sidney Bechet: Summertime
(George Gershwin-Ira Gershwin-DuBose Hayward) 1939

8. Jelly Roll Morton and his Red Hot Peppers: Dead Man Blues
(Ferdinand Morton-Anita Gonzales) 1926

9. Walter Page's Blue Devils featuring Jimmy Rushing: Blue Devil Blues
(Don Stoval) 1929

10. Ma Rainey and her Georgia Jazz Band: Jealous Hearted Blues
(Lovie Austin) 1925

11. Charlie Poole with the North Carolina Ramblers: White House Blues
(Traditional, Arr. Charlie Poole) 1926

12. Clarence Ashley: The Coo Coo Bird
(Traditional, Arr. Clarence Ashley) 1929

13. Dock Boggs: Country Blues
(Traditional, Arr. Dock Boggs) 1928

14. The Carter Family: Wildwood Flower
(Traditional-A.P. Carter) 1928

15. Jimmie Rodgers: Blue Yodel #10
(Jimmie Rodgers) 1932

16. Charley Patton: High Water Everywhere Part 1
(Charley Patton) 1929

17. Blind Willie McTell: Statesboro Blues
(Blind Willie McTell) 1928

18. Blind Lemon Jefferson: See That My Grave Is Kept Clean
(Blind Lemon Jefferson) 1927

19. Blind Willie Johnson: John the Revelator
(Traditional, Arr. Blind Willie Johnson) 1930

20. Skip James: Devil Got My Woman
(Skip James) 1931

21. Son House: My Black Mama (Part 1)
(Son House) 1930

22. Ishman Bracey featuring Rosie Mae Moore: Stranger Blues
(Rosie Mae Moore) 1928

23. Tommy Johnson: Cool Drink of Water Blues
(Tommy Johnson) 1928

24. Bukka White: Shake ‘Em on Down
(Bukka White) 1937

“Anyone can learn what Louis Armstrong knows about music in a few weeks. Nobody could learn to play like him in a thousand years.”

—Benny Green

The music of the first two decades of recorded jazz and blues is today sorely neglected; what is revealed in these twenty-four songs recorded between 1917 (“Tiger Rag” by the Original Jazz (or “Jass”) Band) and 1939 (“Summertime" by Sidney Bechet, the pioneering saxophonist of the Dixieland era rediscovered at the dawn of the Swing era) is a time brimming with creative energy that both looks back on the America of the nineteenth century and anticipates the full-blown dominance of a uniquely American identity in music in the latter half of the twentieth century.

“Dixieland”, itself a term of controversy, or, “traditional jazz”, now seems to be seen, at best, as the scratchy soundtrack of dimmed and out-of-synch early nineteen-thirties cartoons or, at worst, as the last refuge of aging misanthropes from their tired (and tiring) visions of irredeemable humanity (think Woody Allen or R. Crumb).

This association with the comic and the misanthropic is not accidental, however; the break-neck doubled lines of King Oliver and Louis Armstrong on the former’s “Snake Rag” or of the other great trumpeter of the period, Bix Beiderbecke’s ebullient soloing on tracks with both Frankie Trumbauer and Paul Whiteman (the oft-disputed “King of Jazz”) create comedy out of the chaos of the period. In the urban melting pots of New Orleans, New York, and Chicago, traditional jazz gave voice to the collision of European and African traditions playing out in every big city neighborhood and in every juke joint, vaudeville show, and silent film - emotions and attitudes hustle one another for dominance and all exist simultaneously in uneasy alliance in this world. In his brilliant study Hip: A History, John Leland sees the “hipness” of the burgeoning American hipster (Armstrong and Bugs Bunny are given roughly equal play as trickster figures) as performative representation of the similarly elastic, liminal American identity of the period: comedy and tragedy exist side-by-side and the audience is never entirely sure which is which.

As the twenties drew to a close, jazz transitioned from a form of group improvisation to a soloist’s art. In Ken Burns’ Jazz, Stanley Crouch convincingly argues that Louis Armstrong is the single figure most responsible for this change: his version of “Dinah”, with Armstrong contorting the melody both vocally and instrumentally to shade increments of emotion and meaning shows clearly Armstrong’s singularity in the realm of jazz. What Crouch doesn’t point out, however, is how much Armstrong echoes the flipside of the urban jazz that now signifies the “Roaring Twenties” – the “Old Weird America” as Greil Marcus terms it, the America heard on the rural folk-blues and country records of the period.

On Harry Smith’s landmark 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, scholar, “magus”, and all-around beatific crank Smith gathered together pre-War folk, blues, gospel, and country records that shared a singular vision of an America that didn’t need the Depression to make it collapse: it had already collapsed – under the weight of poverty, racism, the still-present aftermath of the Civil War, but its artists exhibited the sort of rugged individuality Armstrong had to bring to jazz - a strength in their otherness that is startling in its intensity. The artists who follow Armstrong, whether black or white, ostensibly ‘country’ or ostensibly ‘blues’ sound simultaneously ancient and very modern. Blind Willie Johnson’s “John the Revelator” is terrifying, hopeful and vindictive and holy, mapping a stylistic locale populated not only by Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf , but by Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. The songs of the Mississippi Delta and the songs of the Appalachians encompass black and white traditions side-by-side: to listen to the blues inflections in Jimmie Rodgers’s “Blue Yodel #10” and the Carter Family’s “Wildwood Flower” and the proto-bluegrass strumming in Blind Lemon Jefferson’s stark “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” is to hear the whole of rock and roll tradition in miniature. And that is, in its way, majestically comic.