Retrieval Records: Treasures Lost and Found
The University Six was a group that featured Adrian Rollini on the Bb bass saxophone. This group was a who's who comprised of members from various other groups including the Little Ramblers and the California Ramblers. Rollini wanted to steer this group towards commercial and financial success and broad popularity. A good example of the light-hearted nature of the group is Bobby Davis (clarinet) doing a fine ukelele imitation on "Give Me a Ukelele." Rollini wanted to use the group also to display his talents on various novelty instruments, like the "goofus" which was a couesnophone (similar to a melodica) and a miniture clarinet that he called his "hot fountain pen." Despite all of the humor, the cold hard truth is that Rollini is one of the most underrated musicians in the entire jazz idiom. His musical brilliance gave influence to saxophonists Harry Carney, Don Redman, and Coleman Hawkins among many others, yet little is written about him.
There's one big reason why the University Six's sides did not achieve the vast commercial success Rollini planned. At the time these sides were cut (1925-1927), the recording industry was being flooded by some of the best new soloists of the time: Louis Armstrong with Clarence Williams, Bix Beiderbecke, Red Nichols, Coleman Hawkins, Don Redman, and Jimmy Dorsey just to name a few.
The only musician in the University Six who could hang in this ultra-modern company would have been Adrian Rollini. In fact, the listener can hear how Rollini is the only one playing with this new sense of "relaxed modernism." This really sticks out like a sore thumb against the antique approach still being played by Roy Johnston (trumpet) and Bobby Davis, who were still immersed in the "hot" style of jazz: their delivery of eighth notes gives evidence to this. Listeners can hear Johnston play Bix Beiderbecke's solo note for note on "Tiger Rag." What's so amazing is that Beiderbecke's record of "Tiger Rag" had not been issued yet. Many musicians just knew how Beiderbecke played it night after night, which is quite a testimony to the sway Beiderbecke's style had over musicians at the time.
By late 1926, the University Six experienced two interesting developments. Rollini started to record on the xylophone, yet another instrument in his arsenal of expressions. Secondly, Chelsea Quealey came in for the trumpet chair. Quealey shared Rollini's enthusiasm for the new style of soloing, and the sides with him alongside Rollini are some of the most smooth and swinging on the entire disc. This vibe is infectious and spreads throughout the entire group as "Lazy Weather" shows Quealey and Davis' homage to Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer.
These recordings are only a fraction of various "rambler" combinations. So, if you like what you hear with the University Six, be sure and check out the other groups: The California Ramblers, The Little Ramblers, the Varsity Eight, The Goofus Five, the Vagabonds, or the Golden Gate Orchestra.
Standout tracks: The Camel Walk; In Your Green Hat; Tiger Rag; San; Give Me a Ukelele; She's Got "It;" Lazy Weather; Pastafazoola; Zulu Wail.
Johnny De Droit & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra / The Arcadian Serenaders
The Complete Sets: 1924-1925
This disc is divided into two sections: one part features Johnny De Droit & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (tracks 1-9) and the other is dedicated to the Arcadian Serenaders (tracks 10-23). Retrieval's liner notes for this disc start out with a bold statement saying that all jazz enthusiasts owe a debt of gratitude to the General Phonogragh Corporation (proprietors of the OKeh label) for sending teams of recording experts and talent scouts to remote areas of the United States, besides Chicago and New York. One of the places OKeh went and scored big was New Orleans, Louisiana.
While in New Orleans, the very first band that OKeh signed was that of Johnny De Droit. The reason the label signed De Droit was partly due to his unique muted trumpet stylings. The other draw was the fact that De Droit had an alto saxophone in the band, giving the lineup an overall warmer and richer sound. This led to an engagement in New York City, where it recorded "Eccentric" and "Lucky Kentucky" as well as the smash hit "When My Sugar Walks Down the Street." In fact, let the record state that De Droit either composed or arranged five of the nine tracks on this disc. After its New York stint, the band returned to New Orleans, but unfortunately never recorded again.