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Retrieval Records: Treasures Lost and Found

By Published: October 13, 2010
Stanley "Fess" Williams was not a great jazz clarinetist and saxophonist in his own right, he was smart enough to hire some of the best jazz players to play with him and support his personality on stage. He fell more in the "entertainer" category than the "virtuoso" category. Although his group remained virtually the same, Williams' career can be divided into three distinct periods: recording for Gennett and OKeh in 1925-26 with his small band, recording for Vocalion in 1927 with a slightly larger band, and recording for Victor Records in 1929-30.

Strangely enough, Williams received the nickname "Fess" from actually teaching music and athletics for 4 years. When he returned to the music business, he moved to Chicago for a job that never materialized. Looking for any work, he landed a few gigs playing "breakfast dances" (which typically lasted from 3am—8am), working alongside players like Freddie Keppard and King Oliver.

In 1923, Williams was in Richmond, Indiana and witnessed King Oliver make his classic sides for the Gennett label. Williams also co-led a band with trumpet great Tommy Ladnier
Tommy Ladnier
b.1900
at the Radio Inn. The year 1925 saw Williams in Brooklyn accepting residence at the Rosemont Ballroom until February 1926. It was also in 1925 that Gennett asked Williams to record for the label. Williams' personality and enthusiasm is evident from his earliest records, and this was one of the reasons he was asked to play at the grand opening of the Savoy Ballroom. Staying at the Savoy for almost two years, Williams shared the bill with many great musicians including King Oliver, Chick Webb
Chick Webb
Chick Webb
1905 - 1939
drums
, and the Savoy Bearcats.

When Williams started recording for Vocalion, he sounded as if he had acquired a fuller tone and a rounder sound. This was partly due to Vocalion finally agreeing to pay Western Electric their fees. Western electric had a technical system superior to anyone other of the time. The result was a night and day difference in Williams' tone. He no longer had a dry, thin, distorted tone to his clarinet. He sounded as he should have all done along.

By 1927, Williams finally added a tuba for some lower bass foundation, along with another saxophone and another trumpet. This enhanced the fullness of the band, and the best track to hear this difference on is "White Ghost Shivers." By the time Williams records "Gambler's Blues" (aka St. James Infirmary), he had a trombone, four saxophones, piano and tuba. Yet by the time he recorded his next release, he had added enough musicians to start using some of Don Redman's arrangements. Although Williams may not have been a virtuoso, he was good enough to play Redman arrangements and learn enough from them to settle into his own style of arranging, giving the band their own personal sound. As 1929 came around, Williams returned to the Savoy Ballroom and started recording popular sides for Victor Records.

In 1930, Williams turned over all his booking management to NBC (National Broadcasting Company). While NBC found Williams some work, he was growing tired of empty promises and little notoriety. NBC had told him that it was working on having him star in a motion picture that featured radio stars Amos & Andy. For some reason, production of the film was held back, and Williams had had enough, claiming that NBC was using this as a stalling ploy. He demanded to be released, and NBC let him go. Two months later, Check and Double Check went into production with a young bandleader named Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
piano
in Williams' place.

The remainder of the 1930s found Williams playing with James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson
James P. Johnson
1894 - 1955
piano
. During World War II, Williams decided to abandon full-time music and went into real estate. Later on, he would find himself working for the American Federation of Musicians Local 802 office in New York, doing so until he retired in 1964.

Standout tracks: Wimmin---Aah!, Messin Around; High Fever; White Ghost Shivers; Gambler's Blues; Alligator Crawl; Razor Edge.

Spike Hughes Spike Hughes and His Negro Orchestra—The Complete Set: 1933

Spike Hughes
Spike Hughes
b.1908
was a British composer and music critic with a classical music background who became extremely interested in jazz. In 1928, he started recording small sessions for the British Decca label. Hughes started writing original compositions, and his style demonstrated an extremely heavy Duke Ellington influence.

Hughes decided he wanted to spearhead an all-star group to record a few sides including some of his originals. This group would consist of some of the absolute best jazz musicians of the day: Benny Carter
Benny Carter
Benny Carter
1907 - 2003
sax, alto
, Dicky Wells
Dicky Wells
1907 - 1985
trombone
, Wilbur DeParis, Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
, Big Sid Catlett, Henry "Red" Allen, Luis Russell
Luis Russell
b.1902
composer/conductor
, Chu Berry
Chu Berry
Chu Berry
1910 - 1941
sax, tenor
, J.C. Higginbotham and Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson
Teddy Wilson
1912 - 1986
piano
.


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