Irving Milfred Mole, a.k.a Miff Mole, was born in Roosevelt, NY, in 1898. He studied violin and piano as a child but switched to the trombone at the age of fifteen. The early 1920’s were spent playing with bands lead by Gus Sharpe and Jimmy Durante, and later with the Original Memphis Five. In 1923, Miff met cornet player Red Nichols, and they soon realized that they could make better music together than they could as bit players in other people’s bands. For the rest of the Twenties, these two played in each other’s bands, alternating between Miff as leader (Miff Mole and His Little Molers, Sophie Tucker and Miff Mole’s Molers) or Red as leader (Red Nichols and His Red Pennies, The Red Heads, The Charleston Chasers). It often depended on which label they were recording with; all of the Okeh records were under the name of Miff Mole and His Little Molers, or just Miff Mole and His Molers.
On “You Took Advantage of Me,” it isn’t immediately clear why Miff was so influential in the world of jazz trombone. Listen closely at 0:33, though, and you’ll get a hint of the kind of melodic sensibility that most trombonists were not encouraged to express. The coda that the band employs at 3:01 also shows a level of sophistication that was pretty high for its time.
In the opening of “Crazy Rhythm,” Miff offers able support to Red’s cornet and Jimmy Dorsey’s clarinet and then takes a lengthy, droll solo for himself at the 0:50 mark.
1929’s “After You’re Gone” has a stronger, foot-stompin’ pulse to it, due in no small part to a 20 year old Gene Krupa on drums. Hot stuff.
A very different version was recorded by Miff and his Molers when they backed up Sophie Tucker in 1927. That’s Eddie Lang on guitar at the 1:25 mark. Tasty stuff.
“Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble” is probably one of the most playful song titles of all time, and the tune is a hoot. There are a lot of different versions of this song, but the person in charge of the soundtrack to Cinderella Man chose Miff’s. Smart! But that same person decided to truncate it to less than half of it’s length. Dumb. Frustrating stuff.
Here’s a very hot version of the tune from McKinney’s Cotton Pickers, for those of you who are feeling cheated by the inexplicable truncation.
Red Nichols would record his own version of “Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble” in 1930, but by then he and Miff had parted ways. Miff started doing radio and theater work, and eventually joined up with Paul Whiteman’s orchestra (1938-1940) and then Benny Goodman’s orchestra (1942-1943). He then went on to lead a number of Dixieland bands through 1954. From then on, he played only every so often due to his failing health. Miff Mole died in 1961; a benefit concert had been scheduled to raise money for his health care costs but, unfortunately, it came too late. Still, reports that he was buried in a pauper’s grave are apparently erroneous; he is actually buried in his family plot in Hempstead, N.Y., his grave simply inscribed “Miff.”