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, Frankie 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. "You Took Advantage Of Me," Paul Whiteman and his Orchestra
Bix Beiderbecke could have been the lead in a reality TV show about creative musicians getting swallowed up into imposing professional bands. Historians and scholars can debate how fair or unfair Paul Whiteman
was to the fragile genius, but this arrangement lets Beiderbecke and his musical alter ego, Frank Trumbauer, stretch out awhile. Beiderbecke's chattering cornet and Trumbauer's ultra-chill saxophone punch out playful dialog, finishing each others' phrases and at times parodying one another's technique. Even if the Whiteman band's massive textures and imposing rhythmic arches speak to your nostalgic side, the Bix/Tram effect is a perennially hip event all to itself. "Dreaming the Hours Away," Clarence Williams' Jazz KingsClarence Williams
was a New Orleans born musical multi-tasker (pianist, bandleader, vocalist, publisher and impresario), who kept the airy, carefree textures of his hometown no matter how commercial the musical setting. Between passages that sound cribbed from an arrangement for a much larger orchestra, Buster Bailey
's clarinet flurries make you want to scream "take a breath!" and Ed Allen's muted cornet is genteel and bluesy all at once. Coleman Hawkins makes an appearance in his sweaty, agitated late twenties style. Only the faintest line is left between good-natured dance number and heated jazz performance. "Wherever There's A Will There's A Way" McKinney's Cotton Pickers
Dated and disgusting name aside, this band was widely admired among musicians for its precision, sophisticated arrangements and quality soloists. They plays this cute pop confection with a lighthearted strut, and Sidney DeParis
's supple trumpet cuts an exciting path, but Coleman Hawkins' solo, right after Don Redman
's tongue-in- cheek vocal, must be heard to be believed. Barging in on a relentlessly spiraling hook, Hawkins flexes across an intense display that shows he's not here to play. This is a pensive artist, with technique to burn, here to work. "My Pretty Girl," Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra
Beiderbecke again, this time leading the horn section in a battle cry meant to blow the doors off this souped-up stock arrangement. Turning an otherwise unremarkable pop song and into a no-holds barred stomp is a tribute to jazz's ability to make diamonds out of coal. Spiegle Wilcox's earnest trombone parodies how more vanilla bands might have handled this tune, with playful clarinet obbligato nipping at his heels. A sax break signals the end of the joke, and Steve Brown
's slap bass whips the whole band into an orgiastic cry. Records where the band gets to wail from start to end are all too rare the further back you go, but the existence of cuts like this one keep fans looking.