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Cover

Various Artists

Vocals & Instrumentals 1927 - 1934 | Unissued on 78s

  • Type CD
  • Label Retrieval
  • UPC 0608917459029
  • Catalog number RTR 79078
  • Release date 14 August 2015
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About the album

Before the Second World War, commercial recordings were invariably made using wax masters. Under this recording regime, there were no opportunities to go back and correct a mistake on the same master; it was only when recordings were mastered onto magnetic tape that such a notion could become a practical reality, and this only became possible in the 1950s.

As a result, artists recording in the 1920s and 1930s were required to make two or three takes (sometimes more), thus giving the recording company the opportunity to choose the best version for subsequent issue. Often, the rejected masters were simply destroyed, but sometimes they were held for possible future issue - and luckily for us, some of these have survived to the present day. As a collector of 78s, there are few experiences more satisfying than hearing for the first time an unissued version of a favourite recording - and there is a plethora of these rejected “takes” on this eclectic selection.

There were usually valid reasons for why a particular take was rejected. Maybe a clarinet reed squeaked, a singer hit a bad note or there were technical defects on the master itself. Occasionally though, unissued takes reveal a performance that equals or even exceeds the artistry of the issued side, and with such cases one is left pondering why these “alternative” takes were not selected in the first place! In cases where all of the takes were rejected, then test pressings taken from the original metal parts (masters, mothers and stampers) are sometimes all we have to judge the skills of performers whose work might otherwise have been totally forgotten.

It should be noted that Victor - more than most of its rivals - tended to retain masters (both issued and unissued) in its vaults for long periods, though the company was by no means consistent. With the coming of the LP era and the subsequent rapid demise of the market for 78s, few companies saw the need to retain bulky metal masters and associated mothers and stampers from previous decades: Columbia was fairly systematic in its approach and by the 1960s many of its original metal parts had been destroyed. RCA-Victor had also consigned a number of its original 78 rpm masters to the scrap heap by this stage, though in many instances shellac or vinyl test pressings of the unissued takes survive.

Edna Winston recorded eight sides for Victor, split between a session on November 23, 1926 and one on February 16, 1927, with backing by a five-piece band led by cornetist Thomas Morris. Her voice blends earthy blues with the prevalent vaudeville style of singing. Unfortunately, little is known about Winston and these recordings help to save her from almost complete obscurity.

Genevieve Davis - another blues singer about whom little is known - made three recordings for Victor in New Orleans on March 5th, 1927, two of which were issued on 78 (Victor 20648); what we hear here are the unissued alternate takes of the issued sides. She is accompanied by a band of New Orleans musicians led by trumpeter Louis Dumaine. Victor recorded Dumaine’s band – his Jazzola Eight – on its own two days after these records were waxed. The resulting four numbers made by the band - including Pretty Audrey and To- Wa-Bac-A-Wa - are far better known than these recordings.

On the same day that Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight made its leap into jazz immortality via Victor’s portable recording equipment, March 7th, 1927, a smaller contingent from Dumaine’s band provided the accompaniment for Ann Cook. Again, little is known about this blues singer, apart from the fact that she was born in 1903 and died in 1962 and was apparently a popular vocalist in New Orleans. In her later years, Cook stated that she was paid $100 by Victor for this recording session, which - as with Genevieve Davis - resulted in only one issued 78 (Victor 20579).

These New Orleans Victor recordings are the result of a so-called “field trip”. In the 1920s, leading recording companies - spearheaded by OKeh and Victor - made several such field trips, taking portable recording equipment to areas of the USA (and beyond) where permanent recording facilities were not yet established, recording all manner of performers as a result. Victor may have assumed that the appetite for jazz and blues was such that the regional popularity of Genevieve Davis, Ann Cook and other such artists justified the expense of recording them, but in fact sales of these territory recordings sometimes did not meet the financial expense of the expeditions. Still, we are indeed fortunate that such trips took place, for they allow us to hear many excellent blues singers and jazz musicians 1111 who otherwise would not have been preserved on wax.

Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang’s Doin’ Things - in this instance, the unissued take 1 - is both geographically and stylistically far removed from the New Orleans blues-infused playing that the previous three tracks represent. This is the epitome of the small band New York chamber jazz style, a superbly crafted vignette full of delightful and subtle interplay. Venuti and Lang were at the vanguard of this school of playing, which lost favour amongst critics in the 1930s as the more visceral and emotive sounds of black soloists and bands came to the fore. Both Venuti and Lang remained highly respected jazz artists despite the shifting critical emphasis, and though Lang’s career was tragically cut short by his untimely death in 1933 he is still universally considered to be the father of jazz guitar. When Mamie Smith recorded Crazy Blues for OKeh on 10th August 1920, she began the ‘blues craze’ that in turn led to the establishment of what became known as ‘Race’ records. But by 1928 - when the recording heard here was made - her recording career was drawing to its end. Gone were the glory days when sales of her records reflected her fame, and indeed this master remained unissued, untitled and unidentified until now; it was British collector and researcher Mark Berresford who identified Smith as the singer. OKeh had already recorded and issued a version of this song by Butterbeans and Susie some months before and probably did not feel the necessity for another release of the same title. The song features a typical slightly risqué Andy Razaf lyric.....and Mamie makes the most of it!

Jean Goldkette was known as the Paul Whiteman of the West, but by the time his so-called “Victor Recording Band” made the little known “I’m Refer’n Just To Her ‘N Me” his own glory days were coming to an end. The famous Goldkette outfit that had played at Detroit’s Graystone Ballroom, and which included Bix Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer, had dissolved in September 1927 amid financial troubles; money issues continued to dog Goldkette until the mid 1930s, when he was declared bankrupt. The band heard here was under the direction of Harold Stokes and played nightly in Chicago as the official house band of station WGN, owned by the Chicago Tribune newspaper, as well as recording fairly regularly for Victor. It’s easy to understand why I’m Refer’n Just To Her ‘N Me was rejected. The band swing into the number but fail to maintain the tempo, slowing down quite dramatically! Nice solos by Bix devotee Stirling Bose and the underrated clarinettist Volly de Faut (who had previously recorded with Jelly Roll Morton) make this a side worthy of inclusion though.

Like Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, Arthur Schutt was another member of the elite coterie of New York dance band and jazz musicians who were called upon by recording companies on an almost daily basis in the 1920s and early 1930s. Like his fellow compatriots Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Leo McConville, Joe Tarto and Stan King - who are also on this side - Schutt could turn his hands to any popular music genre, from out and out jazz to sedate waltzes. These dance band musicians were 100% dependable, able to read any chart placed in front of them, and they could also improvise if required. Though this unissued recording is listed in the files under Schutt’s name, in reality this was another studio session date, with Schutt acting as nominal leader. The open trumpet work here sounds like Leo McConville, but the growling muted trumpet is by someone else, possibly Manny Klein.

In the 1940s and 1950s, Leon Rene scored several hits as a composer of rhythm and blues numbers, helping to shape the West Coast R ‘n’ B sound in the process. I’m Mr African reveals Rene’s vaudevillian roots and reflects the impact that Cab Calloway had amongst black artists across America in the early 1930s.

Adelaide Hall’s singing personified style and sophistication while always retaining the emotive heart that jazz must beat to. Her approach was one that Duke Ellington understood and it is perhaps no coincidence that it was through Ellington that Hall first came to prominence: her growling scat singing on Ellington’s Creole Love Call provided an empathetic voice to Ellington’s music. Her voice also added an urbane note to black revues in the 1920s, including Chocolate Kiddies, Tan Town Topics and, most memorably, Blackbirds of 1928. The latter became one of the most successful all-black show ever staged on Broadway and made Hall and co-star Bill “Bojangles” Robinson famous. Both I Must Have That Man and Baby are from the show. Adelaide recorded both titles in 1928 accompanied by Lew Leslie’s Blackbirds Orchestra, though these unissued masters, with the Ellington band providing the backing, date from 1932.

A couple of years later, Adelaide recorded with the Mills Blue Rhythm Band, one title being Duke Ellington’s Drop Me Off In Harlem. Why these fine sides were never issued at the time remains a mystery.

The lovely Lee Wiley was still at the early stages of her distinguished career as one of the great singers of the 20th Century when she recorded this fine unissued version of You’ve Got Me Crying Again, swinging in a manner that bears comparison with Connie Boswell or Mildred Bailey at the same period.

Eva Taylor, on the other hand, was already a veteran of many sessions, invariably organised by her husband Clarence Williams, an A&R director at OKeh and other recording companies. I Like To Go Back In The Evening was a popular song of the period and this unissued test pressing shows off Taylor’s rich, mellow voice to advantage.

In the late 1920s, Frank Trumbauer was at the cutting edge of modernistic movements in jazz: many of his OKeh studio band sides of 1927-1928 feature timeless solos by Bix Beiderbecke framed in beautifully crafted arrangements that allied syncopated music and jazz with European classicism. However, by the early 1930s, Trumbauer’s style had changed noticeably, driven by ever greater commercial considerations. Both Break It Down and China Boy emphasise solos and tight section work in the popular Casa Loma Orchestra style, sounding a clarion call to the swing era just over the horizon.

One-armed New Orleans trumpeter Wingy Manone’s No Calling Card is a well known record, but the version presented here is an alternative take. At times, Wingy sounds similar in tone and approach to that of fellow New Orleans trumpeter Louis Prima, and like Prima he was also a frequent visitor to the recording studios.

Duke Ellington’s band provides the backing for Mae West’s vampish interpretations of W. C. Handy’s classic Memphis Blues and the beautiful My Old Flame, written by Arthur Johnston with music by Sam Coslow. West introduced My Old Flame in the 1934 movie Belle of the Nineties and both tracks heard here are from a promotional record for the Paramount film, with the music copied from the sound track. West’s voice was forged by the hard knocks school of New York vaudeville, but despite the tragedian aspects and the innuendo, there are also elements of pathos in her voice that one finds in the best blues singers; indeed, comparison with Ethel Waters makes for interesting listening. West’s interpretation is helped enormously by Ellington’s superb backing, with the voicings for the clarinets being particularly noteworthy.

Bassist Candy Candido and guitarist Leo Dunham formed an act called Candy and Coco and recorded a handful of sides for Vocalion in Los Angles in 1934. The driving force behind them was Gene Austin, one of the most popular singing stars of the 1920s and into the 1930s. Here he is a more than competent pianist and the trio also receive useful assistance from the New Orleans veteran cornetist and drummer Mark Hazel. These delightfully loose and easy swinging sides fall between genres - being neither out and out jazz nor the sort of earthy blues guitar sides that collectors nowadays pay a small fortune for. Perhaps it is for this reason that these recordings have been somewhat neglected, unfairly so in the writer’s opinion. This is happy music, played with deceptive ease. As Fats Waller might say, swing it lightly and politely!

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