Metronome All Stars, 1946

My favourite part of the new Coleman Hawkins Mosaic set is the little collection of 1946 recordings by the Metronome All Star Band. This particular session features Charlie Shavers, Lawrence Brown, Johnny Hodges, Coleman Hawkins, Harry Carney, Nat ‘King’ Cole, Bob Ahern, Eddie Safranksi, Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, June Christy and Sy Oliver (arranging), recording in New York on the 15th December 1946. All proceeds from the artists’ royalties were donated to charity. My two favourite songs are ‘Sweet Lorraine’ and ‘Nat Meets June’.

Esquire All Stars (featuring Frank Sinatra) – Sweet Lorraine:

Esquire All Stars (featuring Nat King Cole and June Christy) – Nat Meets June:

These Metronome all-star bands (there were a few, and they’re listed on wikipedia), were compromised of big name stars. These musicians were chosen by polling the Metronome magazine’s readership, who were asked to compile their ‘dream team’ bands. So we’re listening to a group of big name individual megastars, who’ve come together to specifically to record just these songs. You can read a bit more about them on

(cover of the 65th anniversary issue of Metronome magazine, November 1948)

Other magazines did this sort of stuff as well, including Esquire. It’s something I’ve written about quite a few times, and you can check out these posts if you’re curious.

(Herman Leonard’s 1949 photo of the Esquire All Stars featuring Charlie Parker and from the Morrison Hotel Gallery)

For more photos of this sort of jam session, you must search for ‘Gjon Mili’ in the Life Magazine collection hosted by Google.

These little Coleman Hawkins Metronome All Stars recordings are really lovely. I’m quite fond of a bit of velvety vocal and really laid back swing. Nat King Cole and June Christy are both featured on Mosaic sets (here and here respectively), but those sets aren’t in press any more. I prefer the Christy one (which also showcases Peggy Lee), but both sets are lovely and chillaxed.

[Portrait of Frank Sinatra and Axel Stordahl, Liederkrantz Hall, New York, N.Y., ca. 1947] (LOC), originally uploaded by The Library of Congress

Frank Sinatra, of course, needs no introduction, but I’m not a huge fan of his later work, particularly the crooner stuff. In fact, I really dislike it …, no I HATE it, and LOATHE dancing to it (for the most part). He did some really danceable stuff with Tommy Dorsey (including a really good version of ‘Blue Skies’), and some more palatable stuff later on, but it’s a bit harder to find. That’s one of the things I love about these 1946 Metronome recordings – he demonstrates just how orsm a vocalist and musician he was, and he shares the spotlight with other mega stars, so the vocals become just one part of the story, rather than the whole show.

I found these particular Metronome All Stars recordings on the Coleman Hawkins Mosaic set, but they’re not representative of all the material in that set (unsurprisingly – it’s an anthology of work from a twenty five year period). You can probably pick up these two songs pretty easily from other sources.

Preservation Hall Hot 4 with Duke DeJan

This is my favourite Preservation Hall Jazz Band album. It’s called Preservation Hall Hot 4
“with Duke DeJan”
and I like it because it’s a smaller group, and while they’re definitely trucking along, it’s a calmer, quieter album. Their version of ‘Dinah’ is my most favourite, probably because I used to run to it every morning, back in the olden days, when my knees could hack both lindy hop and running. Ah running, I miss you so :(:::

I should write a post about Pres Hall at some stage, but for now, the basics are: this is a band that’s been around for squillions of years, and is really the ‘house band’ for the Preservation Hall in New Orleans. The personnel have changed over the years, but the core ethos – play good music – has not. They have a jillion albums, and if you like jazz, you really should buy them all. I especially like the album with Del McCoury’s band, but you mightn’t – there’s a lot of stringy old timey action there. I also like the Preservation: An album benefitting Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Music Outreach Program album, but the Hurricane Sessions one is good too.

Dancers tend to favour their version of ‘Shake That Thing’ (from the album Shake that thing), ‘Last Chance to Dance’ and ‘Sugar Blues’ (from the Hurricane Sessions album). But I prefer this quieter, gentler album. It’s really quite a different type of jazz – less of that raucous collective improvisation. More of that quieter, listening-to-each-other stuff.

Women’s History Month: Maxine Sullivan!

Geez, these posts are becoming a real trial. I am just too busy. No, actually, I’m just too can’t be bothered to do one of these every day. I just feel as though I’m listing all the big name vocalists of the swing era. Boooring. I had intended to do lots of research and come up with interesting women. But I didn’t. I suck a bit for that, because the women’s history month 2011 posts were so exciting and inspiring. I guess the difference is that I’m a dancer first, and a music nerd second. And I’m not that much of a music nerd really.
Incorrect. I’m a massive music nerd.

Anyway, to continue this tale of woe would bore us all to tears. So here’s Maxine Sullivan. If you don’t know her, you are living in some crazy town where nothing is fun or good. She did stuff with Charlie Shavers, John Kirby and that crew, so you know her shit is hot.

This is a song from her 50s come-back album with a fucking great band: Maxine Sullivan – Massachusetts (1956). You need to buy the Tribute to Andy Razaf album that I crapped on about here.

This is a song from that 1930s Loch Lomond ~ Maxine Sullivan ~ 1937:

Women’s History Month: Mamie Smith!

The first person to record a vocal blues album, Smith was a singer, actor and performer. Her 1920 recording ‘Crazy Blues’ was important for lots of reasons. It sold 75 000 copies in its first week and fueled a popular hunger for black women blues artists, which in turn shook the recording industry and race relations of the day. The song itself, written by Perry Bradford discussed the violence and experiences of black men and women in America in the 20s. Adam Gussow has written an interesting article about ‘Crazy Blues’*, and is interviewed about it here.

Crazy Blues – Mamie Smith and her Jazz Hounds (1920):

*Gussow, Adam, ‘”Shoot Myself a Cop”: Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” as Social Text’,
Callaloo 25.1, Jazz Poetics: A Special Issue (Winter, 2002), pp. 8-44.

Women’s History Month: Sister Rosetta Tharpe!

Oh, argh. My life is making it difficult for me to find time to do proper service to these posts. And I’m a little tired of just defaulting to women singers. I’d really like to post some women record company administrators, or composers or other people in the music industry. But I guess that’s the point of this whole project: women in music have always found it hard to get into roles other than ‘songbird’ or, at the most, ‘songbird with piano’. A recent Riverwalk Jazz story ‘Not Just Another Pretty Face: ‘Girl Singers’ of the Swing Era’ almost does some solid gender talk in its discussion of women singers in the jazz age.

Incidentally, I’m sorely disappointed by Riverwalk’s only managing to do TWO shows about women in women’s history month. And after those, it’s back to the dick stuff. PLEASE, if I can manage to come up with around sixteen women musicians, surely one of the most famous, most prestigious jazz media can come up with more than two measly stories?

In researching jazz history I’ve come across some really interesting discussions of how particular instruments have been gendered. Krin Gabbard published an article in 1995 called “Signifyin(g) the Phallus: Mo’ Better Blues and Representations of the Jazz Trumpet,” (Representing Jazz, ed. Krin Gabbard. Duke U Press: Durham and London, p 104-130) which discusses the way trumpets functioned, discursively, as phallic imagery. Well, duh. This is partly why Clora Bryant is such an interesting example: woman with trumpet! OMG WIMMINZ HAS THE FALLUS!!! JAZZ IS RUINED!11

Linda Dahl goes into the gendering of musical instruments in Stormy Weather: the Music and Lives of a Century of Jazz Women (Limelight: NY, 1992). I don’t have the book right here in front of me (must buy!), but my notes remind me that she discussed the way music was ubiquitous in domestic life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that this music was ‘home made’. Playing the piano and singing were considered essential parts of a young woman’s development, and were also often positioned in faith contexts – women played the piano or organ in church. Dahl also discusses the way the music industry was very difficult for women to get into, particularly for white women instrumentalists, how the musicians’ union was obstructionist in women’s careers, and the way territory bands were more accessible than mainstream bands. None of these things should surprise us. Indy rock has seen more women musicians than the mainstream (though they seem to be relegated to drums and bass rather than having access to the ultra-phallic lead guitar), and I’m still chasing down ideas about unionism and social power.

So Sister Rosetta Tharpe is an interesting figure. She played the guitar. She mixed church music and blues (shock!), she was a composer, a singer, a solo artist, a musician in a big band (Lucky Millinder’s, most notably), she pwnd all.

I’ve talked about Rosetta Tharpe before. Once as a Thursday cat blogging post, another as a discussion of how the way her guitar tuning was marked by race, class, geography and (implicitly) gender, in Retuning for white audiences – more sister rosetta tharpe.

It’s cool to compare this pretty explicitly sexualised image of the female form (Lonesome Road, with Tharpe singing with the Lucky Millinder band in 1941):

with this video of Sister Rosetta Tharpe singing ‘Up Above My Head’ with a gospel choir, 1960s). Dang – sister is workin’ that power. Safely contained by religion? I don’t think.

(via flopearedmule)

Women’s History Month: Ella Fitzgerald!

I’ve had a bit of a rough day, so I’m going to post someone easy. Ella Fitzgerald. Because even when she was trying to sing the blues, she couldn’t help but leak joy. She was just made of it.

You can read about her here. My story about Ella is: I’d picked up Ella Fitzgerald sings the Gerome Kern Songbook by accident, and I was totally in love. I did a lot of singing at school and stuff, so I was nuts for someone who could actually sing. This led to my asking for ‘an Ella Fitzgerald CD’ for christmas, still quite a few years before I started dancing, and my dad bought me three. One was all the early stuff, which I thought sounded like rubbish. One was a mixture of bits and pieces, which I liked. It had a pink cover. I can’t remember the other one.

When I started dancing, the one song we used to dance to in class (which I can remember) was a 1945 version of ‘Paper Moon’. I still play it for new dancers today – it’s just a lovely, simple song with a really clear beat.

Ella was my gateway to Basie. It was because of her that I bought One o’Clock Jump, a verve rerelease of an Ella/Basie/Williams CD. I didn’t much like it because Joe Williams irritates me. He still does. But it gave me an idea I’d like Basie. And I do.

That reminds me of another of those nice little Verve rereleases, Ella and Basie!, which was my prize for winning in a jack and jill competition (leading) years and years ago.

My favourites of the later Ella stuff – which is where I think she really shines – are the ‘Ella and Louis’, and ‘Ella and Louis Again‘ Verve rereleases. Those Verve CDs were the perfect gateway drug for a babby swing nerd.

These days I can’t really hack a lot of her early stuff, because they’re just such rubbishy cheesy songs. My favourite is an album Doris put me onto, years and years ago, of stuff recorded with the Chick Webb band, live at the Savoy.

So, for nostalgia’s sake, Ella Fitzgerald singing Paper Moon with the Delta Rhythm Boys (who’re responsible for the best version of ‘Solid as a Rock’ with Basie in 1950):

[photo by Herman Leonard in 1949, and that’s Ray Brown kissing Ella]