Love Is Just Around The Chorus
In Lost Chords (Oxford University Press, 1999), Richard M. Sudhalter describes a humorous but powerful image of the working class jazz musician circa 1933:
That most broadcast work was surely, in [Artie Shaw's] words, "boring, mind- numbing garbage" is more than substantiated by a photograph recently unearthed by the Institute of Jazz Studies, at Rutgers University. It shows an orchestra led by veteran saxophonist Bennie Krueger...it's the brass, in the back row that catch the eye. Trumpeters Charlie Margulis and Manny Klein and trombonist Jack Jenney are playing their horns backward, left-handed and perfectly deadpan, while Krueger, none the wise stands in front, his back to them. The message comes across loud and clear.
This little practical joke speaks to a huge divide between passion and a paycheck. Even the most innovative, exciting soloist has bills, and opportunities to earn a living from the music you enjoyed were even fewer and far between in jazz's formative years. Technology and a post-Coltrane universe have spoiled contemporary listeners into expecting dozens of choruses (recorded in pristine digital sound, no less) from their favorite musicians. Yet even the moldiest of figs accepts that "hot" didn't always equate with "paid" or "recorded."
Most early jazz pioneers earned their daily bread in commercial bands, where jazz was usually reconciled to an eight bar solo or half chorus. The juxtaposition of these individual asides with the ensemble whole illuminates what made jazz such a revolution in American music. Collectors and aficionados happily wade through trite vocals, quacking brass and saccharine strings just to hear the band's "hot man" play his way into the future. The infrequency of these moments makes them all the more magical.
As a public service from All About Jazz, we'll save you some time and spotlight just some of these incredible moments. The source material isn't as sophisticated, but whether its Bachian fugues or Indian ragas, jazz has never been afraid to set up shop in different locales. In some cases the visit is little more than a few seconds. Occasionally someone in the recording booth fell asleep long enough to really let the band cut loose. Regardless of setting or duration, the musicians clearly relished breaking away whenever they could.
"Go Long Mule," Fletcher Henderson and His Club Alabam Orchestra
By 1924, Fletcher Henderson's band was already influencing big band architecture, but Louis Armstrong immediately became the band's Howard Roark. On this old-fashioned cakewalk, dated even by twenties standards, Louis sneaks out of a jerky ensemble and skips along a slashing backbeat. His trumpet is relaxed yet rhythmically incisive, inserting a torrential break that any instrumentalist would be eager to copy. In just one chorus Louis forecasts not just the future but also the very definition of jazz.
"She's A Great, Great Girl," Roger Wolfe Khan and His Orchestra
The good-natured bounce that starts this tune makes a nice compliment for some lady, but Jack Teagarden's solo elevates things to full blown seduction. The pioneering trombonist's impeccable slide work, smooth delivery and blues-inflected lines are cool as a cucumber and twice as refreshing next to the Khan band's more straight-laced melody statements. Joe Venuti's smirking violin and the forceful lead trumpet during the last chorus are an added bonus, but this side will always be Big Tea's show.
"I'll Fly to Hawaii," Gowan's Rhapsody Makers
Maybe the early jazz equivalent of "Louie, Louie." We'll never know why Brad Gowans' Boston-based band was so eager to get to Hawaii, but the rump shaking underneath gives some clues. Booting tuba, tap-dancing woodblocks, slashing cymbals and a pugilistic trumpet turn this otherwise dated pop ditty into a work of pure rhythmic indulgence.
"In My Merry Oldsmobile," Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra
The wild collective shout that closes this orchestrated advertisement reveals a band eager to steal the car and go out for a joyride. Witnesses describe Jean Goldkette's band as one of the hottest jazz bands of the twenties, and forty seconds provides plenty of aural evidence. After enduring a square arrangement and radio jingle lyrics, Frank Trumbauer bursts in with a shining sax lead while Don Murray's clarinet weaves in and out of the ensemble. Bix Beiderbecke's spare, scooping phrases land perfectly but pick up steam just in time for the needle to stop spinning.