Various Artists: Anthology of Swing Strings (1930s-1950s): Professor Visits Harlem or Swingin (2009)
The strings go zing-zinging on Professor Visits Harlem. Quite unlike any other anthology you're likely to have run into of late, we're treated to three decades of jazz string ensembles, starting off "Two Violins One Siday," a group whose 1931 take on "Dinah" is very finah.
It was not until the '30s that the jazz swing string ensemble really took off. The earliest example here from that period is the Bay Ensemble, with an absence of any artist identification on the label. Their rendition of "Exactly Like You" has an easy crooning quality that suggests the early vocalizing of Bing Crosby. Inexact the recording information may be at times, there is no question about the continuing vibrancy of this nascent jazz.
Among the familiar names popping up throughout is bass master Milt Hinton on a 1933 rendition of "Goofus." And Ellis Larkins on "Liebestraum" no less. Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt are a part of "A Trio Violins" and at their blissfully irresistible best; I hit the repeat button twice on first hearing their version of Gershwin's "Lady Be Good." The title tune of the collection is heard in a breezily insinuating 1937 take by "Strings in Swingtime" under the direction of Vladimir Selinski. They follow it up with a delightfully kitschy "Oriental Stock Exchange."
The limits imposed by segregation are evident in what's absent in this chronological collection. Not until the '60s did black and mixed sections appear regularly and become commonplace. Although many early African-American ragtime, proto-jazz and early jazz ensembles included string sections, all too few of those found their way on to disc. Orchestral string sections such as those of James Reece Europe and Paul Whiteman are not represented for lack of space. Still there is so very much to be glad about here that carping would be ungracious. Especially when Harriet Wilson and Her Singing Strings are among the distaff groups included. Better to rave over their "Sophisticated Swing," yet another piquant pleasure that makes this "Visit" such a unique delight.
Track Listing: Dinah; Exactly Like You; Goofus; Honeysuckle Rose; Oh; Lady Be Good!; Professor Visits Harlem; Oriental Stock Exchange; Sophisticated Swing; Twilight in Turkey; Swinging the Fiddles; High Voltage; Mood in Question; La Cinquantaine; I Love Coffee (a.k.a. Java Jive); Opus III; Tiger Rag; Tempete sur les chords; Liebestraum; The Chair Song; Gymnastics; Ol' Man River; Shu-Man; That's Earl Brother; Swingin' Till the Girls Come Home; Scherzo-Phrenia; Blues in the Closet; Snappy Strings; Countrio.
Personnel: Various artists.