In some part a sampling of 1920s American popular musicsublime, quaint, occasionally ridiculous, livelier than mass market roaring Twenties pastichesthis set of unissued recordings from a quality label abandoned seventy years back includes one big footnote to jazz scholarship. That footnote's not in the stock 1920 (Vincent) Lopez performance of ragtime with military band echoes, or Genevieve Jordan's title. Ledgers say she was signed as a "negress," presumably to sing the newly fashionable blues. They'd seen her, but she sings no blues.
A twelve-inch disc does let the Original Memphis Five, white New Yorkers, impress: Phil Napoleon's muted cornet; Frank Signorelli's suggestions that he was maybe an all-around jazz pianist, unlike the non-Italian Porter Grainger, who plods dutifully behind his wife Ethel Finnie's faintly vaudeville ballad, in the same genre essayed by Sissle and Blake here. Andy Razaf's "Hot Tamale Baby" isn't in jazz discographies. Too right! His falsetto scat-singing was something else, don't ask what. Josie Miles was a well-recorded 1920s singer and Bob Fuller's clarinet "laughs" in a way which might interest klezmer historians.
Wilbur Sweatman, a pre-jazz bandleader who grew into real jazz, does nice jazz things on bass clarinet. Fuller's again impressive on the underrated Helen Gross's "Undertaker's Blues," the historical footnote. The arrangement was presumably by its trumpeter, Bubber Miley, an African-American parallel to Bix Beiderbecke. The same arrangement reappeared a couple of years later with additions from Duke Ellington when the Ellington band (including Miley) recorded "Black and Tan Fantasy." The Chopin death march quote was apparently Miley's initiative. The composer credit remains Ellington and Miley. Presumably Ellington's references to a debt to Miley aren't mere politesse.
When the ancient trombonist Abe Lincoln heard dubs of unissued recordings which ledgers confirmed were by his trumpeter brother Bud's Philadelphia band, why did he deny the attribution? They sounded different after the seventy years the recordings had remained unissued? While Abe claimed that Bud's early death snuffed out a potentially major early jazzman, and there are two good solos, they're on trombone and alto sax; the trumpet here plays only a straight lead.
The rhythm's a shade square, the usual at the time, as with Winegar's Penn Boys (a sometime alumni band which turned pro and had commercial success). The Georgia Melodians were also rhythmically stiff, but surprisingly, they were an actual working bandand from Georgia. Their records sold. Since the band had broken up in dissension before "I Found a New Baby" was recorded, did they scowl at each other as they played?
Jelly James solos on trombone with more assurance in a Clarence Williams studio band with Eva Taylor, sounding rhythmically better. But Mal Hallett was white; his "Wang Wang Blues" romps with at least a bounce in the bass, and it swings. Record company executives around 1930 preferred sentimental dance tunes to jazz: Jean Goldkette's legendary (white) band's jazz arrangements and performance impressed everybody else, but the Victor company gave them mostly dance-band scores to sight read. Same factors presumably buried the Hallett unissued. It's survived! Another historical footnote!
Personnel: Lopez & Hamilton; Genevieve Gordon; Original Memphis Five; Ethel Finney; Andy Razaf;
Marjorie Royer; Josie Miles; Wilbur Sweatman; Helen Gross; Viola McCoy; Rosa Henderson;
Noble Sissle & Eubie Blake; Elsie Clark; Bud Lincoln & His Orchestra; Georgia Melodians;
Winegar's Penn Boys; Clarence Williams; Mal Hallett & His Orchestra.