Even though there are moments of pleasurable big–band swing in these reissues from 1937–46 by Woody Herman’s First Herd, singer Ina Ray Hutton’s (all–male) orchestra, and Bob Crosby and the Bobcats, they should be of greatest interest to avid record collectors and completists. While Soundcraft has done a respectable job of cleaning the original acetate (and in one case, aluminum) sources, they sound nonetheless precisely like what they were — radio air–checks broadcast more than half a century ago. Those of us who remember dance bands on radio may close our eyes and be transported back to those magical and gone–forever times; others will simply have to use their imagination.
The Herman broadcasts, from September–October 1946, were presented shortly before the First Herd was disbanded (to be succeeded within a year by the celebrated Second Herd of “Four Brothers” fame). This Herd boasted some well–known names of its own including trumpeters Sonny Berman, Conrad Gozzo, Shorty Rogers and Pete Candoli; saxophonists Flip Phillips and John LaPorta, trombonist Bill Harris, vibraphonist Red Norvo, guitarist Chuck Wayne, pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist Joe Mondragon, drummer Don Lamond and of course, Woody himself on alto sax, clarinet and vocals. The highlights from these ABC network broadcasts include two versions of Ralph Burns’ “Northwest Passage,” an early composition by Rogers (“Steps”) and Berman’s “They Went That–a–Way.” A fast–paced version of “Red Top” opens in the middle of Wayne’s guitar solo. Woody talks only sparingly but manages to insert a plug for Bing Crosby’s weekly radio program, also on ABC.
Hutton’s band, whose personnel is unlisted, was another competent outfit that spent many evenings entertaining troops during World War II (these “Victory Parade of Spotlight Bands” broadasts from 1943–44 were recorded at Fort Monroe, VA; the Naval Air Station in Miami, FL; the Maritime Training Center in St. Petersburg, FL; and Doehler Die Casting in Batavia, NY). Hutton shares vocal time with baritone Stuart Foster and a trio of Chinese–American Andrews Sisters wannabes, the Kim Loo Sisters (“In My Arms”). The band swings easily (for an example, check out Ellington’s “Ring Dem Bells”), and sound quality is marginally better than on the Herman broadcasts, although the playing time (52:02) is about ten minutes shorter.
There was no war going on (at least, none involving U.S. servicemen or women) when Bob Crosby and the Bob Cat Orchestra was caught in these broadcasts from 1937–40 (at the Congress Hotel and Blackhawk Restaurant in Chicago, sandwiched around two numbers from a 1938 film short). The band’s appearance at the Congress, part of a three–hour–long tribute to pianist Joe Sullivan who was suffering from tuberculosis, opens with a lengthy description by the emcee of the nature of swing (something that may have been necessary in 1937). Crosby, of course, was more trad– and Dixie–oriented than either Herman or Hutton, and the concerts include such staples of the genre as “South Rampart Street Parade,” “Wolverine Blues,” “Sugar Foot Stomp” and “Jazz Me Blues.” Again, the sidemen aren’t named, but a number of them are singled out in the liner notes and spoken introductions including bassist Bob Haggart, drummer Ray Bauduc, pianists Bob Zurke and Jess Stacy, clarinetist Matty Matlock, trumpeter Yank Lawson, trombonist Warren Smith and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller. Sound is best on the film short, but even there it’s nothing to get excited about. Surprisingly, Crosby croons only once, on “Howdja Like to Love Me.” Bing’s baby brother led a pretty good trad–style band for its time, which is apparent on these broadcasts, even though the low–grade source material reduces considerably its presumable impact.
Contact: Soundcraft, P. O. Box 840705, Hollywood, FL 33084.