45: “Thou Swell”/”Mad About the Boy” b/w “Gong Rock”/”Lope City” by Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson. Bethlehem Records. BEP-115. Recorded January 26th + 27th, 1955, in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

J.J. Johnson (not to be confused with MTV VJ J.J. Jackson) was born in Indianapolis in 1924. He learned to play piano at the age of nine, and then picked up the trombone at 14. By the age of 18 he was playing with Benny Carter’s band and by the age of 21 he was playing with Count Basie. So he knew how to play big band music, no problem. But what about the then-ascendant bebop school of jazz? In the mid-1940’s it was commonly thought there was no place for trombone in bebop, simply because the instrument lacked the keys that allowed trumpeters and saxophonist to be so nimble. Big notes on “Sing, Sing Sing!,” no problem. Trying to keep up with Charlie Parker on “Koko,” there’s a problem. But no less a bebop authority than Dizzy Gillespie heard Johnson’s playing and told him, “I’ve always known that the trombone could be played different, that somebody’d catch on one of these days. Man, you’re elected.”

Kai Winding was born in Aarhus Denmark in 1922. His family came to the United States when he was 12 years old and settled in New York City, where Kai attended Stuyvesant High School. He started playing trombone professionally as soon as he’d finished school but had to put it on hold to do his duty in the Coast Guard. After the war, Kai played with first Benny Goodman’s and then Stan Kenton’s orchestras. Clearly, he also knew how to play big band music.

Both trombonists were tapped to play on the sessions that would become Miles Davis’s Birth of the Cool. The album was recorded over the course of three sessions in 1949 and 1950, and employed a nonet. A nine member band was clearly more ambitious than the quartets that typified bebop, but this was an ambitious group, sprung from the musical discussions at salons hosted by Gil Evans. Those discussions would eventually lead to the creation of cool jazz, a sound that would come to be more associated with West Coast artists like Chet Baker. Kai played on the four songs from the first session—here he is with “Godchild.” Note the tasteful solo at the 2:35 mark.

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“I Like My Lovin’ Overtime” b/w “You’re Right” by Helen Carter. Okeh 18023. Recorded May 18, 1953 in Nashville, TN

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Helen Carter was born in Poor Valley (now Maces Spring) Virginia on September 19, 1927. That was a big year for the Carters. Six weeks before they welcomed their first child into the world, they travelled 30 miles to Bristol to audition for record producer Ralph Peer. He liked what he heard and offered them $50 a song plus half a cent royalty on each copy sold. Peer was smart enough to realize that there was a market for this music of the Appalachian hills, and he was rightly impressed with Maybelle Carter’s guitar technique—she was adept at playing the melody with her thumb on the lower strings while strumming the rhythm with her other fingers. On this song from the now-legendary Bristol sessions—a 10 day stretch that also saw Jimmie Rodgers recording his first songs—you can hear the “Carter scratch” in action, particularly when Maybelle takes a solo at the 1:10 mark.

Not only were those sessions the genesis of recorded country music, but Maybelle also managed to introduce the guitar as a lead instrument to the non-blues-listening public. The Carter Family—which also included Maybelle’s cousin Sara and her brother-in-law A.P., continued to record and tour until the group’s dissolution in 1943. Along the way, Helen was joined by sisters Anita and June, and was expected to hold down the fort while her Mom was on the road. She was also expected, just as her sisters were, to carry the musical torch. Helen had a natural affinity for music, learning the guitar, autoharp, mandolin and accordion with ease. Her father, Ezra, encouraged Helen to learn classical piano as well. When Maybelle decided to keep the music going , her daughters were ready to sing and play with her. By 1950 they were making regular appearances on The Grand Old Opry radio show, and soon after, its television show.  Here they are performing a song Helen wrote, called “Sweet Talking Man.”

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45: “The Ballad of Jimi” b/w “Gloomy Monday” by Curtis Knight and Jimi Hendrix. EMI/Stateside C006-91963. Recorded 8/8/67 and 1970 in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Curtis Knight’s Wikipedia page claims that he was born in 1945, but one has to wonder if he gave a later birthdate at some point in his life to seem younger. He was part of a late 1950’s Harlem Doo Wop group called The Titans—that act was featured in the 1957 Hollywood Rock and Roll cash-in Bob Girl Goes Calypso. Here’s “So Hard to Love, So Easy to Cry.”

Very, very solid work. That was Charles Wright singing lead, with Curtis Knight as second tenor. Now, it was a common thing for Doo Wop groups to have teenaged members, but it’s hard to believe that anyone in this group is twelve years old. Whatever his age, Curtis wasn’t about to let the eventual decline of Doo Wop’s popularity hold him back. Here he is as a solo artist in 1961, with the moody “Voodoo Woman.”

A little more sophisticated than the typical Top 40 number, what with the additions of the glockenspiel and the gong. Things got interesting for Knight by the end of 1964, when he saw a young guitarist playing in Greenwich Village and was blown away. He’ was young, but had already toured  with the likes of Wilson Picket and Little Richard. Here he is backing up Buddy and Stacey, who had opened for Little Richard on that particular tour.

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78: “No Wine, No Women” b/w “Rough and Rocky Road” by Mr. Google-Eyes. Okeh 6820. Recorded in New Orleans, 11/21/49.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Joe “Mr. Google Eyes” August was born on September 13, 1931, in New Orleans. He cut his musical teeth as a member of the First Emmanuel Baptist Church choir, but it was the blues that really called to him. As a teenager, Joe worked as a delivery boy for Dooky Chase’s restaurant.  According to Dr. John’s autobiography, Under a Hoodoo Moon: The Life of The Night Tripper, “…he loved to eye the ladies; one night a waiter called him “the googlest-eyed motherfucker” he’d ever seen, and the name stuck.” Mr. Google Eyes it was.

Joe would sometimes sit in with bands that played at Dooky Chase’s, and he used the money he earned to buy his own P.A. system, which proved to be a great way to get seasoned vets to give him a shot.  He soon got a steady gig at the Downbeat Club, playing with Roy Brown, who proved to be an influence on his vocal style. August made his debut for the black-owned Coleman Records with 1946’s “Poppa Stoppa’s Be-Bop Blues,” a song paying homage to New Orleans DJ Poppa Stoppa, aka Vernon Winslow. Louisiana wouldn’t allow black DJ’s on the air at that time, so it was Vernon’s job to teach the white DJ’s how to sound more hip; it must have worked, because three different white DJ’s at the same station would use the name Poppa Stoppa over the years. Also: apparently, Poppa Stoppa was a slang term for condoms. Makes sense to me.

He sounds a lot older than fifteen years old here, doesn’t he? Coleman capitalized on the novelty of Joe’s youth by proclaiming him “Mr. Google Eyes — the world’s youngest blues singer.”  Continue reading

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78: “Are You Hep to the Jive?” b/w “Sunset” by Cab Calloway and His Orchestra. Okeh 5804. Recorded in New York City, 08/05/40

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Cab Calloway was born in 1907, in my hometown of Rochester, NY. We also gave the world Lou Gramm, Wendy O. Williams and Lydia Lunch. You’re welcome, world.

Cab’s mother was a teacher and his father a lawyer. They relocated to Baltimore in 1918, and it was there that Cab’s interest in music began. His parents encouraged this interest, though they weren’t thrilled with the idea of their son playing jazz. Blanche, Cab’s older sister, was also musically inclined and was the first woman to lead an all-male orchestra. She was a big influence on her little brother, and even got him his first break with the show Plantation Days, in 1925. While attending college, Cab went out to hear and perform music as much as he could. Supposedly Louis Armstrong taught him how to scat at one of those early shows.

By 1930, Cab had put together an orchestra and was gaining such prominence in New York City that his group became one of two house bands at The Cotton Club. The other group? Duke Ellington’s band. Calloway’s reputation for putting on dazzling, flamboyant shows might have been seen as a commercially viable way to balance Duke’s more ambitious sophistication. When one group was on tour, the other stayed home; apparently Cab adopted Duke’s plan to get past racist Jim Crow laws when traveling: just buy a railroad car for the whole band.

Calloway’s biggest hit was also his first: 1931’s “Minnie the Moocher.” The song told the  comically grandiose tale of a good-time girl doing what she could to keep living the high life. And I do mean high—the song made reference to “kick(ing) the gong around,” slang for smoking opium. Most listeners had no idea.

Minnie is being saved for the big finish. In the meantime, here is one of three Betty Boop cartoons Cab made with the Fleischer brothers. This one features three songs, and like the other two cartoons, has a character whose motion is provided by Cab himself, via the magic of rotoscoping. Here he is, as “The Old Man of the Mountain.”

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45: “Gloomy Sunday,” “Am I Blue” b/w “Body and Soul,” “Long Gone Blues” by Billie Holiday and her Orchestra. Columbia B-2534. Recorded 08/07/41, 05/09/41, 02/29/40, and 03/21/39 in New York City.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

When I find a 45 from an obscure Dutch progressive rock band, it isn’t that difficult to pick five or six songs that give a good sense of that band’s career arc. For other artists, that simply can’t be done—their influence is too strong, their lives too compelling, or their catalog simply runs too deep to attempt such an abbreviated presentation of their work. All of those conditions are met by Billie Holiday. So I’m going to include the songs on this 45 EP, and a couple of others of note, but as any fan of Billie’s will tell you, I’ll only be scratching the surface.

A little background. Billie was born Eleanora Fagan, in 1915, and raised by distant relatives in Philadelphia while her mother worked as a server on passenger trains. Her absent father was most likely Clarence Holiday, a musician who played with Fletcher Henderson’s band—Billie and Clarence would reconnect later in her life. She was in reform school for truancy at the age of 10, raped by a neighbor at the age of 11, and, after moving with her mother to Harlem, forced to join her as a prostitute at the age of 14. A childhood spent listening to Louis Armstrong and King Oliver gave her the confidence to develop a singing style that allowed for non-traditional phrasing and intonation, as if her voice was a cornet. She recorded songs for 26 years and sold out Carnegie Hall multiple times, but was hampered by addiction, racism and bad management. Her rendition of “Strange Fruit” is a stark cry against lynching and was one of the very first popular protest songs. She died in New York City in 1959 of cirrhosis of the liver, with police guarding her room in hopes of trying her for narcotics possession if she got better. She was an early example of the romantic doomed-addict-musician-whose-light-burned-too-bright-to-last notion, an idea which, ultimately, gets in the way of appreciating exactly how good she was as a singer and how painful her life must have actually been.

Here’s her very first single, “Your Mother’s Son-in-Law.” It was recorded with Benny Goodman and his orchestra for Columbia on November 27, 1933. Note how she had yet to settle into the higher register that would later become her trademark.

Fun, jaunty stuff. Continue reading

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78: “Hambone” b/w “Boot ‘Em Up” by Red Saunders and His Orchestra with Dolores Hawkins and the Hambone Kids/Red Saunders and His Orchestra. Okeh 6862. Recorded 1/18/52 and 8/24/51 in Chicago.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Theodore “Red” Saunders was born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1912. His mother died in 1913, so his sister brought him up to Chicago to live with her. At the age of 13, Red took his first drum lesson while attending school at St. Benedict’s. Three years later he’d get his first gig, playing with Stomp King. A few years later he was drumming for Ira Coffey’s Walkathonians. What’s a Walkathonian? Why, that’s a musician who plays for walkathons, which in the thirties was not a way to raise money for charities, but rather a contest in which the last couple standing won a prize after walking a loop ad nauseum. The events used to draw big crowds, believe it or not. A 1933 gig in Atlantic City was disrupted by the all-white Musicians Union local, who did not want a black orchestra supporting white walkers. Red found a gig with Curtis Mosby’s Harlem Scandals revue and did not look back.

Red continued to tour with different acts for the next couple of years, until he found himself back home and in the orchestra for the Delisa Club, a happening venue that billed itself as “The Harlem of Chicago.” By July, the leader had left and Red filled the vacancy. With the exception of a couple of short periods away, he stayed there until the club closed in 1958.

Red recorded with a number of labels and acts throughout the 1940’s, including many sides with his own orchestra. These are pretty hard to track down online, but one of his early songs on Okeh was available, and it’s a hoot. Here’s “Boot ‘Em Up.”

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45: Moods, Vol. 5. “Lullaby In Rhythm,” “There’ll Never Be Another You” b/w “All the Things You Are,” “Moonlight In Vermont” by Marian McPartland. Savoy XP 8108. Recorded in New York City, 12/22/52 (Side B) and 4/27/53 (Side A).

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in a small town in Southeastern England in 1918, Marian McPartland started playing piano at the age of three. She was encouraged to learn the violin at the age of eight—perhaps because her parents weren’t thrilled about her love of Jazz and they hadn’t heard of jazz violinist Joe Venuti—but she continued to spend all of her free time at the keys. Marian studied classical music at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but quit in 1938 to join a four piano vaudeville act run by Billy Mayerl.

The piano quartet was a hit and continued to perform over the course of the war, entertaining both British and American troops, courtesy of the USO. She met her husband, cornetist Jimmy McPartland, in a show in Belgium in 1944. They were soon wed, and moved to Jimmy’s native Chicago. Marion continued to play, and the couple’s move to New York City in 1949 would soon prove to be a good career choice. Jimmy encouraged Marian to form her own trio, which played at clubs like The Embers and Hickory House. A recording contract with Savoy Records came in 1951.

This extended play 45 shows Marian at a bit of a crossroads, at least in terms of personnel. “Moonlight In Vermont” features the rhythm section of Eddie Safranski (bass) and Don Lamond (drums).  Continue reading

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78: “At the Jazz Band Ball” b/w “The Jazz Me Blues” by Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang. Okeh 40923. Recorded in New York City, October 5, 1927.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Born in 1903 to a well-off German American couple in Davenport, Iowa, Leon Bismark Biederbecke was the youngest of three children. He was playing the piano by ear at the age of three; according to his sister, he would play it standing up with his arms up over his head to reach the keys. His ability to mimic almost any melody he heard was noted in the local paper when he was just seven years old, and he would often go to the cinema as a child not to enjoy the films, but rather to dash home afterwards to see if he could accurately play what he had just heard from the silent films’ piano accompaniment. His older brother had returned home from military service in 1918 with a Victrola in tow, thus giving Leon—now known by all by his nickname “Bix”—the opportunity to hear his first jazz records. Supposedly, he taught himself to play Cornet by copying The Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s recordings of “Tiger Rag” and “Skeleton Jangle.”

Bix was not the best student, and his parents sent him off to the Lake Forest Academy in hopes that he would be taught discipline and direction. They didn’t account for the fact that the Academy was a short train ride away from Chicago, where Bix would escape to listen to bands like the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. For reasons both academic and alcoholic, Bix was expelled from the academy. He returned to Davenport to work for his father in 1923, but soon enough jumped at the opportunity to join The Wolverine Orchestra. Here he is with his recording debut, playing cornet on a beautifully restored recording of “Fidgety Feet.”

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45: “Try It Baby” b/w “If My Heart Could Sing” by Marvin Gaye. Tamla 54095. Recorded in Detroit, May 21,1964.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

 

Marvin Gay Jr. was born in Washington, D.C. His father was a minister in the House of God branch of the Pentecostal church. It was a faith that demanded strict obedience to the Bible and conservative behavior at all times. Unfortunately, Marvin Sr. took this to mean that he had the right to beat his children—but Marvin in particular—as often as he saw fit. Without music (and a compassionate mother) to get him through, Marvin said, he might have committed suicide as a youth. Fortunately, for him and for us, he left home as soon as he could, doing a brief stint in the Air Force and then returning to D.C. to join a four man vocal group called The Marquees. They drew the attention of Moonglows co-founder Harvey Fuqua, who took them on as his backing vocalists. Now called Harvey and the Moonglows, the group let Marvin take his first recorded lead vocal in 1959 with “Mama Loocie.”

The Moonglows broke up in 1960, and Harvey and Marvin relocated to Detroit, where they did some session work. Berry Gordy first heard Marvin sing at a Christmas party he was hosting. He was impressed, and signed Marvin to Motown subsidiary Tamla. The two labels were, for all intents and purposes, one company. But having two names meant D.J.’s wouldn’t be accused of playing too many songs from the same label; if they did, payola accusations would mean trouble for everyone. Continue reading

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