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". . . a superior introduction to 
that pivotal jazz decade." 

Louis Armstrong 
Earl "Fatha" Hines * Bix Beiderbecke 
Fletcher Henderson James P. Johnson 

* JackTeagarden Bessie Smith Eddie Lang. 

Don Redman Fats Waller The Chicagoans 

These are the jazz greats presented, ". . . not just personally and his- 
torically, but with careful attention to the music itself . . ."Ebony 
"Human qualities are examined with warmth and clarity, as is the 
socio-musical background of each musician ... an honest and sensi- 
tive approach . . ." The New York Post 

The 1920s witnessed a spirit of comradeship among jazz musicians, 
a powerful spirit that overcame the barriers of public apathy toward 
honest jazz, callousness in the music business, racial prejudice, and 
two economic depressions. Richard Hadlock examines the individual 
recordings of each important jazz musician of the time, giving us 
sensible analyses of style, devoid of the usual myths, cliches, and 
oversenti mentality. Out-of-print books and collector's records are 
listed for those who would like to dig deeper into what is I 
"the Jazz Age." The Jazz I 

aminer and a 




Martin Williams, General Editor 







./ I // MASTERS 


by Richard Hadlock 


A Diuiston of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. 



Excerpt from Jazt: Its Evolution and Essence by Andre Hodeir, Trans- 
lated by David Noakes, copyright 1956 by the Grove Press, Used by 

Excerpt from Redly the Blues by Mezz Mezzrow and Bernard Wolfe, copy- 
right 1946 by Random House, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the 
Harold Matson Company. 

Exceipt from Tom Davin's "Conversation with James P, Johnson" in Jazz 
Panorama, edited by Martin Williams, copyright 1964, The Macmfllau 

"Jail House Blues" by Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams, copyright 
MXMXXIH by Pickwick Music Corporation, New York, N.Y. Copyright 
renewed MCML and assigned to Pickwick Music Corporation, 322 West 
48th Street, New York, New York. Used by permission, All rights reserved. 

Excerpts from Jazz; Hot and Hybrid by Winthrop Sargeant (E, P. Dutton, 
1946}. Used by permission of the author, 

Copyright 2985 by Richard Hadlock 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may 
be reproduced or transmitted \n any form or by 
any means, electronic or mechanical, including 
photocopying, recording or by any information 
storage and retrieval system, without permission 
in writing from the Publisher. 

Macmiftm Vvblishing Co., Inc. 

866 Third Avenue, New Yorfc, W,Y. 10022 

Library of Congress Catakg Card Number: 

Jazz Masters of the Twenties is published in a 
hardcover edition by Uacmilkn fublishing 
Co., Inc 

First Collier Books Edition 1974 


Introduction 9 












A FEW WOBDS are in order on what this book is and what it is not, 
along with some general remarks about jazz in the twenties. 

Ihe book deals with the music of a select group of gifted jazz 
musicians who played in the twenties. It is not a treatise on the 
social, economic, or psychological conditions surrounding jazz at 
the time, although there are fleeting glimpses of some of these 
outside pressures. Many books already describe in detail the non- 
musical vagaries of the twenties, and I have elected to bypass 
those aspects of the period in an attempt to trace the musical 
changes this decade brought to jazz in America. 

It should be remembered, however, that the musicians dealt 
with here were subjected variously to many stresses and inequities 
brought about by Prohibition, avarice and callousness in the 
music business, race prejudice, two economic depressions, and 
public apathy toward honest jazz. Few of these men were able to 
earn livings as jazzmen exclusively during the twenties, although 
their gifts for improvisation were frequently exploited by leaders 
and promoters. 

Despite public indifference to its aims, jazz underwent exten- 
sive change and development between 1920 and 1930. At the be- 
ginning of the decade, the handful of jazz records produced was 
devoted largely to an agitated novelty music, dominated by vau- 
devillians, trick-effect artists, and musicians looking for profitable 
trends. Except for the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (and even 
this group relied partly on musical eccentricity for its success), 
virtually no significant jazzmen recorded until 1923. (An obscure 
1922 Kid Dry date is of little importance in the larger picture.) 
But by 1929, most of the period's major contributors, embracing a 
wide variety of artistically valid styles, were making records, not- 
withstanding the fact that much of their product had to be mar- 
keted as dance, novelty, or 'race" music. 

In the twenties, most of those who listened at all regarded jazz 
as merely an energetic background for dancers; the few who 
sought more profound values in the music tended to accept Paul 


Whiteman's concert productions (Rhapsody in Blue, etc.) as the 
only jazz worth taking seriously. Again, magazines ran long pieces 
on jazz without having much idea what it was all about. One, 
called The Dance, bubbled over the music with articles such as 
"Beyond Jazz" and "Blame It on Jazz" around 1927, but the writ- 
ers turned out to be concerned only with the Charleston and the 
fox trot, not with the musical worth of individual improvisations. 
In reviewing current "dance" records, the same magazine lumped 
together releases by Sam Lanin, Miff Mole, Fred Waring, Jelly 
Roll Morton, Ben Bemie, and the Dixieland Jug Blowers, without 
much regard for purpose, originality, or profundity. 

This mass misunderstanding, occurring in even large segments 
of the music and entertainment worlds, resulted in the develop- 
ment of a spirit of "underground" comradeship among jazz musi- 
cians. It was a spirit that permitted a free exchange of ideas across 
traditionally forbidding economic, racial, musical, and geographic 
barriers, but it also bred clannishness and the tendency to set up a 
closed society-within-a-society. Some musicians never recovered 
from this period of disengagement from the world around them. 
Six Beiderbecke is the classic example. Beiderbecke was actually 
not widely known outside musician circles in his own lifetime. 
Paul Whiteman's most celebrated soloist in 1928 was not Bix, but 
nonjazz trumpeter Henry Busse, who drew $350 a week, or $150 
more than Beiderbecke. Most jazz musicians, including many who 
were to achieve international fame a few years later, despaired of 
finding recognition in the twenties. 

When immersed in the story of these jazzmen, then, it is useful 
to remember that their world occupied an almost unacknowl- 
edged corner of the entertainment industry throughout the 
so-called Jazz Age. -Much of the best jazz of the decade was doubt- 
less played in private sessions after regular jobs. That any worth- 
while jazz at all was recorded and preserved is a wonder, owing in 
part to the dedication and determination of the musicians and in 
part to the help of a few recording executives sympathetic to jazz. 
The choice of musicians to represent the decade is basically my 
own. However, it will be noted that some important names are 
conspicuously absent: Coleman Hawkins, Duke Ellington, King 
Oliver, Baby Dodds, and Sidney Bechet are examples. The reason 
for these omissions is that additional volumes in the series of 


which this book is a part will cover New Orleans jazzmen and 
jazzmen important during the thirties, some of whom happened 
to be active and influential also in the twenties. I have, however, 
made numerous references to several of these men throughout the 

I have regarded each man's music in two ways. First, I've 
looked at the individual's work for its own value how the music 
grew, at what point it reached its apex, and, if necessary, why it 
declined. Second, a good deal of emphasis is placed upon each 
subject's historical function as a bridge from what came before 
him to what grew in part out of his own ideas. Indeed, the jazz 
masters described in this book were selected to some extent on the 
basis of their influence over other musicians, 

In the nine chapters, then, will be found more than just the bi- 
ographies of nine key jazz figures of the twenties. The chapter 
about Bessie Smith, for example, also touches on the valuable con- 
tributions of Ma Rainey and Ethel Waters. The story of Fletcher 
Henderson cannot be divorced from the early career of Don Red- 
man. To understand the positions of Jack Teagarden and Fats 
Waller in jazz history, it is desirable to know something of Miff 
Mole and James P. Johnson, 

The Chicagoans almost always have been treated as a group, 
and it struck me as logical to do so again. The story revolves 
around those whom I felt to be the most creative in their ap- 
proach to jazz. These eight individualists (Goodman, Stacy, Sulli- 
van, Teschemacher, Freeman, Krapa, Tough, and, though not a 
true Chicagoan, Russell) had a land of collective effect on jazz, 
but it was a significant effect nonetheless. (Goodman, of course, 
exerted a wide personal influence over several areas of jazz as 
well, but his largest contributions were made in the thirties. ) 

The book is not comprehensive in its coverage of all these play- 
ers. The Armstrong chapter, for example, picks up the trumpet 
player upon his departure from King Oliver's band and leaves him 
in the early thirties. So long and all-pervasive is this man's career 
that distinct segments of it turn up in separate volumes of the 

Most of these biographies carry through the entire lives of the 
subjects, although the focus is always on the twenties. This leads 
to at least one unfortunate implication. It may seem that, say, the 


Chicagoans were at their individual creative peaks in the twen- 
ties. Actually, they were at their best in the thirties and forties, 
although their initial (and most important) collective impact was 
made in the twenties. For that reason, their recorded music (ex- 
cepting Goodman's) is followed down to recent times. The ap- 
proach is similar for Earl Hines, Jack Teagarden, and Fats Waller, 
but I have given in less detail the events after 1930. 

This is not a set of bio-discographies, It happens, though, that 
records are the only real evidence of just what any musician was 
playing at a given time, Therefore, I have relied largely upon re- 
corded performances in describing and judging each subject's 
music, It should be remembered that records are only a guide and 
may not always present a complete picture of jazz at a particular 
period, This is especially true of the twenties, a decade that was 
not really very interested in jazz for its own sake. 

The lists of books and LP records following each chapter are 
not meant to be complete biblio-discographies. They are, in the 
main, currently available reference material, but I have also in- 
cluded a number of out-of-print books and hard-to-find records 
for those who would like to dig deeper into the subject through 
libraries or stores dealing in collectors' records. 

I am indebted to the following persons, who gave time and/or 
material assistance to me in connection with this book: Jimmy 
Archey, Louis Armstrong, Charles Beiderbecke, Hany Brooks, 
Paul A. Brown, Garvin Bushell, Ralph Collins, Edd Dickerman 
Eddie Duran, Roy Eldridge, Phil Elwood, Phil Evans, Pops Fos- 
ter, Bud Freeman, Russell Glynn, Marty Grosz, Ruth Hadlock, 
Tony Hagert, Al Hall, Jim Hall, Horace Henderson, Earl Hines, 
Virginia Hodes, Darnell Howard, Lonnie Johnson, Peck Kelley' 
Charles Undsley, Jackie Mabley, Paul Miller, Grover Mitchell,' 
Red Nichols, Jerome Pasquall, Norman Pierce, Leon Radsliff, 
Kenneth Rexroth, Rocky Rockenstein, Joe Rushton, Pee Wee Rus- 
sell, Arflmr Schutt, George Shearing, Muggsy Spanier John 
Steiner, Jack Stratford, Joe Sullivan, Ralph Sutton, Jack Teagar- 
d^ Norma Teagarden, Joe Venuti, Martin Williams, Mary Lou 
Williams, and EstellaYancey. 

FROM 1924 TO 1931 

JULIAN "CANNONBALL" ADDERLEY, an outstanding jazz saxophonist 
yet unborn when Louis Armstrong was beginning to receive inter- 
national acclaim in the twenties, once asked an older musician 
friend for the real facts about Armstrong. "I know Louis was good 
and got all the fame," began Adderley, "but who was really the 
tap man on trumpet in the old days?" 

The answer was swift and unequivocal: "Louis Armstrong was 
head and shoulders above them all." 

To a young musician of the late fifties like Adderley, Armstrong 
the pacesetting trumpeter seemed more legend than fact, for 
Louis had long since settled into a routinized presentation of his 
talents that offered only fleeting hints of his earlier creative 

The physical aspects of Armstrong's playing equipment have, 
however, withstood the years remarkably well. It was his good 
fortune to be bom with an almost perfect physiological trumpet- 
playing mechanism, and it was mostly in the twenties that Louis 
put it to best use. From the beginning, the trumpeter enjoyed the 
physical assets of ideal lip size, extraordinarily relaxed and open 
throat muscles, a broad and powerful diaphragm, good strong 
teeth, and a robust, sinewy frame. Large lips allowed him maxi- 
mum compression for high notes without losing the use of soft 
flesh for tone quality. Louis* open throat and loose vocal cords 
were in his favor because the increased tension of high-note play- 
ing did not constrict these passages, and as a result, his tone re- 
mained full and clear in the highest register. His diaphragm fur- 
nished the push for the air that produced the Armstrong trumpet 
sound, and his fine physical condition accounted for the remark- 
able Armstrong stamina that continues to amaze his colleagues to 
this day. In short, Louis Armstrong was (and is) a natural trum- 
pet player in every physical way. Happily, he also possessed a fine 
musical mind. 


This was tie man whom Joe Oliver sent "down home* for in 
1922. Louis, already considered the best trumpeter in New Or- 
leans, had timorously turned down an offer from Fletcher Hen- 
derson the year before, but Oliver was an old friend and mentor 
who played the familiar New Orleans style. Louis felt secure 
enough to accept, and he promptly left for Chicago. He spent two 
important years with King Oliver s popular band making rec- 
ords, touring, playing shows, and learning a great deal about 
music and life in the world outside New Orleans. 

Actually, Armstrong had traveled away from home before, in 
Mississippi riverboat orchestras. These bands, though, were made 
up largely of New Orleans musicians, and the effect was that of 
working in a floating New Orleans ballroom. Armstrong learned 
more reading on the boats than he had in previous hometown 
jobs, which had consisted largely in playing for picnics, marching 
in parades, and entertaining in noisy cabarets or second-class 
dance halls. The trumpeter had worked often for Kid Ory, sitting 
in the trumpet chair held by Joe Oliver until 1918. Louis was more 
than content to follow in Olivers footsteps and, of course, felt 
honored when he received the call from Chicago. 

"I guess Joe decided to have two [cornets] because he figured I 
could blend with him, because he liked me and wanted me to be 
with him," Louis recalled in 1950. "He probably wouldn't have 
sent for anyone else. ... He must have remembered the way I 
played, the things we'd talked about. I must have proved it to him 
some way before he left [New Orleans] in 1918." 

Armstrong, fresh out of the waifs' home at 14, had met Oliver 
and had spent nearly four years studying his style. On the basis of 
this experience, Oliver decided he could use the youngster in 
1922. Joe got more than he had bargained for. 

The young second trumpeter developed a quick ear for har- 
mony in the semi-improvising Oliver ensemble. He learned, too 
the value of discretion and restraint in an organization dedicated 
to building a Itand sound rather than a showcase for individual 
soloists. From Oliver himself, Louis picked up valuable secrets of 
rhythmic phrasing, of good blues playing, and of establishing a 
sure, driving lead melody line. 

*He s the one that stopped me playin' all those variations what 
they caH bebop today," Louis recalled in 1949. - 7ou get yourself 


a lead [melody] and you stick to it/ Papa Joe told me, and I al- 
ways do." 

The Oliver band was an ideal school of higher learning for the 
already advanced Armstrong, as it provided for him a logical 
bridge from the conservative New Orleans outlook to the more 
advanced musical ideas of the bustling entertainment world of 
Chicago. By the time Louis left Oliver in the summer of 1924, he 
had married pianist Lil Hardin, a non-New Orleanian and per- 
haps the most sophisticated member of Oliver's band, and had 
begun to lose his provincial New Orleans ways, 

As the old New Orleans gang (clarinetist Johnny Dodds, drum- 
mer Baby Dodds, trombonist Honore Dutrey) departed from the 
Oliver band, to be replaced by more-schooled players, such as 
clarinetist Buster Bailey, Louis began to broaden his interests, 
musical and otherwise, He developed his range, tone, articulation, 
and reading ability to new levels. Shortly after leaving Oliver, he 
studied embouchure with a German teacher in Chicago. (Other 
New Orleans jazzmen, such as Jimmy Noone and Tommy Lad- 
nier, also studied with Chicago teachers in an attempt to refine 
their "down home" playing styles, ) 

Lil Armstrong was as aggressive as her husband was conserva- 
tive, and it was largely her prodding that finally forced Louis to 
seek a more suitable setting for his rapidly expanding abilities. He 
was more than ready for a job playing first trumpet. 

T[ never did try to overblow Joe at any time when I played with 
him," Armstrong recalled many years after. "It wasn't any show- 
off thing Lie a youngster probably would do today. He still 
played whatever part he had played, and I always played pretty* 
under him. Until I left Joe, I never did tear out. Finally, I thought 
it was about time to move along, and he thought so, too. He 
couldn't keep me any longer. But things were always very good 
between us that never did cease." 

One of Armstrong's last recordings with the Oliver band, 
Krooked Blues, demonstrates how ready for independence Louis 
was, even in late 1923. Under the leader's attractive muted lead 
can be heard a distant, full-toned cornet playing a "pretty" coun- 
termelody. The second cornetist seems to be attempting ideas of 
more interest than those of Oliver himself. 

After an unsuccessful application to join- Sammy Stewart's 


Iiighly rated band, Louis went with ODie Powers at the Dream- 
land 35 a first trumpet player. It was a significant initial step in the 
right direction. With Lil supplying encouragement, Louis gained 
confidence and a sense of showmanship quickly. He stayed with 
Powers about three months, until September, 1924, when Fletcher 
Henderson offered him the third chair in his new three-man trum- 
pet section. Henderson's was considered by many to be the best 
band in the country at that time, and Louis, who had not yet 
gained full confidence, accepted somewhat diffidently. He re- 
ceived only $55 a week $20 less than he had earned with Oliver 
a few months before but this was to be an important final phase 
of Louis' basic training. In Henderson's eleven-man organization, 
he found high ensemble discipline and contact with a wide va- 
riety of musical materials that extended well beyond even the am- 
bitious arrangements Louis had played in riverboat orchestras 
several years earlier. 

The 24-year-old trumpeter was uncomfortable at first, but he 
unwound within a couple of weeks, especially after his old friend 
from the Oliver band, Buster Bailey, joined the reed section. (It 
was Armstrong who had recommended Bailey to Henderson.) 
Fletcher began to feature Louis as a soloist and vocalist after only 
three weeks. It was a demanding job always working on new ar- 
rangements; playing opposite leading dance orchestras of the 
period, such as Vincent Lopez and Sam Lanin; and keeping up 
with other superior instrumentalists in the band, such as tenor 
saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, trombonist Charlie Green, and 
alto saxophonist Don Redman but Louis saw it through and 
emerged a much improved musician for his experience. 

Henderson was headquartered in New York, and this meant ex- 
posure to a wholly new set of influences for Armstrong. Chicago 
had imported so many New Orleans jazzmen that it was almost 
like home for them, but New York had its own traditions and its 
own jazz stars. As Louis exchanged information with instrumen- 
talists like Red Nichols and Miff Mole, he was as impressed by 
their technical command and polish as they were by his extraor- 
dinary power and blues feeling. Armstrong also admired the 
straight section work of trumpeters who played in opposing bands 
at New York's Roseland Ballroom. 

"Vincent Lopez came in there as guest one time," Louis has 


recalled. "B. A. Rolfe was with him, and he would play a tune 
called Shadowland an octave higher than it was written. I ob- 
served that, and it inspired me to make When You're Smiling. 
[Louis recorded this tune in 1929.] The way I look at it, that's 
tiie way a trumpet should play. If something's supposed to be 
phyed high, you play it that way, or you play it in whatever 
register it should be. But I don't dig that skating around a note 
just because it's high." 

Louis had further praise for Vic D'Ippolito, first trumpeter with 
Sam Lanin's dance band, who "just naturally didn't play as high 
as B. A. Rolfe, but when it was time to hit the high notes, he hit 

Henderson allowed Louis' natural showmanship to blossom at 
this time as well. Thursday nights at the Roseland were set aside 
for visiting acts, and Louis joined the parade of singers and 
dancers with his raw-throated vocals and showstopping trumpet 
solos. A great favorite on such occasions was Everybody Loves 
My Baby, which Henderson soon recorded, complete with "scat" 
(meaningless syllables) vocal breaks by Louis. It was his first re- 
cording as a singer, but it went largely unnoticed at the time. 

Armstrong was still not known outside a small circle of musi- 
cians in 1925, but he was always successful with patrons as an en- 
tertainer who could sing, mug, dance, and play incredibly good 
cornet. On one occasion, he appeared as a special guest at Har- 
lem's Savoy Ballroom and brought the house down. It was dra- 
matic evidence to the still-humble New Orleans youth that he had 
something of real value as an entertainer and that people re- 
sponded to him alone, regardless of what setting he worked 

Louis' musical position at this juncture can be ascertained by 
the Henderson recordings on which he soloed. Fletcher's arrange- 
ments of Words, Copenhagen, Shanghai Shuffle, When You Do 
What You Do, How Come You Do Me Like You Do?, Why 
Couldn't It Be Poor Little MeP, and Mandy, Make Up Your Mind 
are superior period pieces but period pieces nonetheless that 
suddenly become transformed into stirring jazz vehicles when 
Armstrong solos. Even the exceptional tenor saxophone solos by 
young Coleman Hawkins sound stilted and bloodless alongside 
Armstrong's authoritative statements. 


There were several factors leading to Louis' preeminence in the 
Henderson band. One was his deep identification with the blues, 
which allowed him to turn the most cloying popular tune into a 
heartfelt and moving musical declaration. Another was his sing- 
ing approach to the horn, stemming from common New Orleans 
musical practices and his own vocal experiences. Regardless of 
tempo, Louis always completed each phrase and carried each sus- 
tained tone out to its fullest value, creating the illusion of unhur- 
ried ease even in the most turbulent arrangement. New York mu- 
sicians aimed for just the opposite effect; they clipped their notes 
short and skipped from one choppy phrase to another in an at- 
tempt to play ever "hotter" solos. Ironically, it is Louis who still 
sounds *hot w on these vintage recordings, while most of the New 
York jazzmen appear painfully dated and about as hot as yester- 
day s dishwater. 

Still another factor that set Armstrong apart from his Hender- 
son colleagues was his superb sense of time and syncopation. On 
ShanghaiShuffle, for example, he plays eight bars of his solo on 
one note, but there is no sense of repetition or boredom; rather, 
this one note becomes a vibrant thematic unit because Louis se- 
lected the ideal spots to place it for maximum rhythmic impact. It 
was a deceptively simple-sounding device that the trumpeter was 
to use to good effect many times in later years. 

Finally, Louis stood out because he possessed the already men- 
tioned physical attributes for playing more trumpet than anyone 
eke in jazz had been able to before. These attributes, combined 
with his New Orleans spirit, were regarded as natural phenomena 
by other musicians. In addition, he was a competent third-chair 
section man who could handle difficult Henderson parts ("After 
he made one mistake," said Henderson drummer Kaiser Marshall 
years later, Tie didn't make it again") and a reliable sideman who 
took his music seriously, was easy to get along with, appeared on 
time, and saved his money. Henderson was thoroughly pleased 
with young Armstrong. 

While working in New York in 1924 and 1925, Louis collabo- 
rated with pianist Clarence Williams and clarinetist-saxophonist 
Sidney Bechet on a set of remarkable recordings in the New Or- 
leans small-band style. Bechet, a fellow New Orleanian, was 
probably the only jazzman in New York at the time who could 


match Armstrong's brilliance in every way. When the two men 
improvised together, each prodding the other to more daring 
flights, they usually finished in a dead heat. The best of the series 
is Cake Walkirf Babies, recorded for the Okeh label in early 1925. 
Like many of Louis' recordings of the period, this one documents 
his large debt to Joe Oliver, particularly in the passages where 
Louis leads the collectively improvising ensemble. 

Despite Armstrong's authority and inventiveness on most of 
the Clarence Williams dates, it was the more experienced Bechet 
who initially set the pace and tone of each performance. A re- 
cording hie Tm a Little Blackbird is virtually Sidney's show. Yet 
Armstrong was the perfect foil for the amazing Bechet talent, for 
Sidney responded positively to Louis' proper New Orleans ensem- 
ble manners. Looking back on these sessions and an unsuccessful 
1940 re-creation of them, Bechet commented in his book Treat It 

That's why anyone who knows about jazz music can feel those 
[1940] records weren't what they should have been. You can have 
every tub on its own bottom all right, but that don't make real music. 
What I know is, those other records we'd made back in the 'twenties 
were talked about much more than those we made at this session in 
'forty. The 2:19 "Blues, we'd put that out again, and Down in Horiky 
Tonk Town. But there was nothing missing from those first ones; 
they were something you could listen to and not have to do any 
waiting for the music to arrive, because it was arriving. They had 
that feeling right there. In the old days there wasn't no one so anx- 
ious to take someone else's run. We were working together. Each per- 
son, he was the other person's music: You, could feel that really 
running through the band, making itself up and coming out so new 
and strong. We played as a group then. 

Louis Armstrong was far removed from the lessons of Joe Oliver 
by 1940. 

Other classic performances recorded by Bechet and Armstrong 
in the mid-twenties were Nobody Knows the Way I Feel This 
Mornin, Mandy, Make Up Jour Mind, Coal Cart Blues, Texas 
Moaner Blues, Papa De-Da-Da, Santa Glaus Blues, and another 
version of Cake Walkin' Babies for the Gennett label. It is inter- 
esting to note that the first session in this Clarence Williams series 
was recorded at the time Louis joined Henderson and the last 


just before he left to return to Chicago. On the final Bechet-Arm- 
strong date in October, 1925, the soprano saxophonist was no 
longer able to determine the musical direction of each perform- 
ance, for Louis had increased his stature in the preceding year 
and was now the dominant force in the group. 

He had begun, too, to move away from Oliver and to reach into 
his own bag of ideas. Less -and less did he utilize the plunger 
mute, an old Oliver trademark. Louis' breaks were now more in- 
volved, and his ensemble lead lines were becoming distinctly 
his own rather than those of "Papa Joe." On one occasion, Louis 
even played in a New York "Dixieland" framework not unlike that 
of the Memphis Five on Terrible Blues and Santa Claus Blues, 
recorded with Buster Bailey and Lil Armstrong under the name of 
the Red Onion Jazz Babies. 

If Louis proved musically and commercially successful under 
the widely differing circumstances of the Henderson and Williams 
recording sessions, he demonstrated an even more moving and 
salable side of his musical personality in a series of New York re- 
cordings with leading blues singers of the day. A solid market for 
urban female blues shouters had recently grown to large propor- 
tions, and Louis, as an associate of pianist Henderson (a veteran 
blues accompanist), found his earthy blues playing much in de- 
mand. Some dates included Henderson and members of his band, 
while others were handled by Clarence Williams, but what made 
most of these sessions special events were Armstrong's moving 
countermelodies melodies much like those he had often played 
beneath Joe Oliver's singing lead comet a year before. 

Louis* blues performances seemed to vary with his mood and 
the spirit of the individual singer with whom he worked. On 
Trixie Smith's Railroad Blues, he returns to an almost pure Joe 
Oliver style, but The Worlds Jazz Crazy, recorded the same day, 
finds Armstrong playing Armstrong, if on an elemental level. 
Again, behind Ma Rainey's great dark voice, Louis reverts to 
Oliver and the plunger mute on Countin' the Blues but matches 
tie stately singer in a more personal way on See, See Rider. (A 
small Henderson group, including clarinetist Bailey, worked this 
date with Rainey and Armstrong, but their abortive attempts to 
play convincing blues serves only to underline the superiority of 
Louis' contributions.) 


The most dramatic matching of talents on record during this 
period was that of Armstrong and Bessie Smith, whose monu- 
mental voice reduced all ordinary players on her recordings to 
mere background kibitzers. Bessie's mixed training in Southern 
country blues singing and Northern showmanship paralleled 
Louis' own experience, and the musical exchanges between these 
two major performers are of considerable interest. The first date, 
held only a few months after Armstrong's arrival in New York, 
was marked by a good deal of straightforward Oliver-like comet 
playing. Cold in Hand Blues, Reckless Blues, and You've Been a 
Good Old Wagon features fundamental understated plunger- 
muted cornet counterstatements that might easily have been the 
work of Oliver at his best complete to wa-wa-mute effects. On 
Good Old Wagon, Armstrong even attempts the highly personal 
Oliver "cry," although the result is not especially convincing, and 
Louis seldom, if ever, attempted this again. (Incidentally, Clyde 
McCoy's Oliver-inspired Sugar Blues might demonstrate how far 
this "crying" device can be carried in unmusical directions.) In 
Bessie's version of St. Louis Blues, Louis seems more inclined to 
play his own way, with mixed results. His own expansive style sets 
up a highly competitive force that tends to intrude upon rather 
than complement the whole vocal performance. The cometist 
obeys the rules, all right (play when the singer breathes, answer 
her statements with logical phrases, provide a provocative lead-in 
note as a springboard for the singer's next statement); the prob- 
lem is simply that Armstrong commands so much attention him- 
self that the listener might momentarily lose touch with the conti- 
nuity of the blues song as interpreted by Bessie Smith. 

Bessie undoubtedly noted this tendency herself, for she seldom 
used Armstrong after that Two more dates in May, 1925, produc- 
ing four titles, ended their association on records. On this occa- 
sion, Louis had left Oliver still further behind and was operating 
more completely within his own style. He is very much the solo- 
ist on Careless Love Blues, even to running notes into Bessie's 
words and attempting ideas not necessarily related to the song 
material as Bessie understood it. The final title may have ex- 
pressed Bessie's feeling about the collaboration I Ain't Gonna 
Pky No Second Fiddle. 
While in New York, Louis also recorded with singers Clara 


Smith, Sippie WaDace, Alberta Hunter, Maggie Jones, and others. 
On Maggie Jones's Screamin the Blues and Good Time Flat 
Blues, he again demonstrates his ambiguous musical posture of 
the time. The first title shows Louis in a highly cooperative blues- 
accompanist frame of mind, while the second, Good Time Flat, 
serves only as a stepping-off place for Armstrong the virtuoso 
cornetist. In this instance, his backing is busy, self-contained, and 
more musically advanced than the setting calls for. However, the 
recording is of value precisely because it is a fine example of early 
Armstrong bravura playing, and Miss Jones indeed is playing 
'"second fiddle." 

Louis spent the summer of 1925 touring with Henderson, who 
had lined up a long string of one-night engagements in New Eng- 
land and Pennsylvania. This tour brought the sound of Arm- 
strongs horn to many musicians in small cities who had never 
heard him before, beginning the spiral of influence that eventually 
affected every jazz trumpeter in the country and beyond. Hender- 
son frequently met other reputable bands in music "battles," and 
these contests again did much to bring Louis to the attention of 
musicians and, naturally, of the dancing public as well. It was 
during this period, too, that Louis discovered the commercial 
value of his natural broad range on the horn. He began catering 
to demands for higher notes by performing stunts, such as blow- 
ing more than 250 high C's in a row and topping them off with a 

Lil Armstrong felt that her husband belonged with her in Chi- 
cago, so she talked the owner of the Dreamland, Bill Bottoms, 
into offering Louis $75 a week to play for him. At the same time, 
Okeh Records offered a recording contract for a series of small- 
band dates to be conducted in the older New Orleans style. Chi- 
cago had the men Louis wanted for these dates, and the job with 
Lil was secure, so Louis gave his notice to Henderson. Young 
Rex Stewart of Elmer Snowden's band was selected as Louis' re- 
placement, but Rex balked at even attempting to fill his idol's 
chair. It was several months before he finally worked up the cour- 
age to join Fletcher. 

By the time Louis left Henderson, the band had become the 
finest "hof band in the country, and Fletcher's arrangements, 
deeply influenced by Armstrong's phrasing, were moving rapidly 


toward a modern four-to-the-bar swing idiom. The ensemble 
performances were no longer stilted and static, but rather free- 
flowing and as impelling as the improvised solos. A special 
attraction was Sugar Foot Stomp, which Fletcher borrowed from 
Oliver (who called it Dippermouth Blues) and used as a show- 
case for Armstrong. Louis' recording of Sugar Foot Stomp with 
the Henderson band makes it clear that his break with Oliver was 
now complete. Though his melodic lines adhere to the classic 
Oliver version, Louis discarded the plunger mute and swung into 
his solo with a distinctly modern 4/4 manner of phrasing. 

A couple of final New York recording sessions left no doubt that 
Louis was fully prepared for his own important upcoming Okeh 
dates. With singer Eva Taylor, he made You Cant Shush Katie, 
contributing a magnificent solo that briefly changes the musical 
level of the recording from dull to inspired. Days before leaving 
New York, Louis recorded with James P. Johnson, Don Redman, 
and others in a session that included another I Ain't Gonna Play 
No Second Fiddle. This appears to be Armstrong's first recorded 
effort on the trumpet, for in place of his characteristic rounded 
cornet tone, there is the penetrating, edgy sound of the longer in- 
strument. If it is indeed a new and different horn, it seems admi- 
rably suited to Armstrong; his playing on these casual November, 
1925, recordings ranks with his finest early work and perhaps 
due to the incisive trumpet tone is enhanced by an even more 
authoritative air than had prevailed on earlier recordings. 

Immediately upon his return to Chicago, Louis plunged into an 
around-the-clock schedule of record dates and club work, Veteran 
New Orleans trombonist Kid Ory had come in from California (at 
Louis' request) to make records and to work with the Armstrongs 
at the Dreamland. Soon Erskine Tate, a popular orchestra con- 
ductor who specialized in movie theater work, convinced Louis he 
could play for him and still have time to handle the Dreamland 
job later in the evening. Working (on trumpet) with Tate 
brought a new audience to Armstrong an audience of young 
people, conservative middle-class fans, and musicians who 
couldn't afford the Prohibition prices of after-hours nightclubs. 

Okeh Records knew it had a valuable property in this amazing 
young trumpeter and put Armstrong to work again as a blues ac- 
companist. In the first year of his contract with the label, Louis 


recorded more sides with blues singers than with his own Hot 
Five. The blues sessions were deliberately earthy and calculated 
to appeal essentially to Southern migrants living in the North. A 
few of the blues songs had genuine folk roots, but many were 
hastily contrived pieces designed to delight listeners who craved 
uninhibited lyrics. To Louis, it was all blues, and his performances 
rode on his own creative moods rather than on the quality of the 
song materials. On Chippie Hill's Trouble in Mind, for example, 
Louis seems to lose interest somewhere along the way and even 
misses a couple of obvious cues. But Chippie s Pratt City Blues, 
recorded later in 1926, has superb mature Armstrong. On Pratt 
City, Louis accompanies tastefully and works in his own modern 
ideas as well, making full use of his speed and range rather than 
hewing to simple, folksy counterstatements. By this time, he 
seemed virtually unable to be other than what he really was a 
blossoming virtuoso trumpet player. Louis' best-selling blues rec- 
ords were turned out with singers Hociel Thomas, Sippie Wallace, 
and, of course, Bertha "Chippie" Hill. 

In the course of his stint at the Dreamland, Louis put the finish- 
ing touches on his musicianship, his creative outlook, and his rep- 
utation as the best jazz trumpet player in the land. The declining 
though still friendly Joe "King" Oliver knew better than to chal- 
lenge Armstrong, but others tried it from time to time. Freddy 
Keppard, once top trumpeter in New Orleans, attempted to cut 
down the younger lion, without success. Johnny Dunn, an East- 
erner, also met defeat in a contest at the Dreamland. Louis' de- 
scription of the encounter reveals something, too, about the land 
of thoroughgoing musician he had become: 

"I was playing an act at the Dreamland in Chicago one time, 
and I was playing something in seven sharps for the act so help 
mel Well, Johnny Dunn was the big thing in New York then, with 
that five he was playing. He was tearing up New York, playing the 
Palace and everything. (Of course, a lot of those people who went 
for him, they hadn't even heard of Joe Oliver.) He came out to 
Chicago with one of those big shows, and he came up on the band- 
stand where I was playing and says, 'Give me some of that/ I gave 
him that trumpet, and every valve he touched was wrong. Those 
sharps just about ate him up. So he gave me back my horn, di- 
rectly, and finally when I looked around, he done just eased away." 


The first recordings by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five were 
cut for Okeh in November, 1925, a few days after Louis' return 
to Chicago. Lil and trombonist Ory, who shared the Dreamland 
bandstand with Louis, had no trouble fitting into the group. Clar- 
inetist Johnny Dodds and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr were fellow 
Oliver alumni and New Orleanians who understood exactly what 
the musical situation demanded. There were almost no adjust- 
ments to be made and not even much need for rehearsals. Each 
member of the group contributed ideas or melodies a few days or 
hours before each session, then simply walked into the studio and 
played. Drawing on a common fund of experience and attitudes, 
these five musicians, who never operated as a going group outside 
the Okeh studios, turned out a series of records of remarkable 
consistency and high average musical quality. 

Although the Hot Five recordings do not present an accurate 
picture of Armstrong's musical activities between late 1925 and 
late 1927, they do reflect his musical growth during that period. 
There are many Louis Armstrongs on the various Hot Five ses- 
sions, almost all of them worth attention. 

Despite the appeal of the rather dated New Orleans Dixieland 
format (Louis at first bowed to tradition and played cornet on 
these occasions), the winning blues styles of the individual play- 
ers, and Armstrong's own brilliant horn, it was probably the lead- 
er's gruff vocals that accounted for the commercial success of 
these records. Okeh furnished dealers with pictures of the coraet- 
ist to be given away with the records, and this, too, helped sales. 
It also helped Armstrong's reputation. 

Louis was little more than a "novelty" singer in 1926, but his 
public loved his shouts and garbled lyrics. Only later did he be- 
come a sensitive jazz singer and a significant influence over others 
in this field. The introduction of the electric microphone around 
1926 helped to bring Louis' voice down to a decibel rating suit- 
able for good music, but it was some time before the important 
quality of tenderness came into his vocal work. 

The group's first date was a rewarding one. The initial tune, My 
Heart, is Lil's, and it is a thoroughly charming melodic-harmonic 
vehicle. Louis seems in a sunny mood and plays with an easy kind 
of swing rather rarely heard on records in 1925. On the second 
tide, Yes, Tm in the Barrel, the 25-year-old cornetist pays another 


tribute to Joe Oliver with some traditional plunger work. The 
third selection, Gut Bucket Blues, is a common blues, with sales 
appeal added by way of spoken introductions of the individual 

In February, 1926, the Hot Five turned out seven outstanding 
recordings, one of which Heebie Jeebiesiput Louis in the best- 
seller category. The novel touch that sold the performance was an 
apparently impromptu scat vocal by Armstrong. It is unlikely 
that, as the story goes, this event took place without plan because 
Armstrong happened to drop his copy of the song's lyric. It occurs 
in the second vocal chorus; had Louis planned a straight reading, 
there would have been no reason to do it twice. Scat singing was 
not new, but Heebies Jeebies became a hit 

The other six titles recorded that month were: Georgia Grind, 
an entertaining minor performance; Oriental Strut, a St. Cyr tune 
that Louis carries almost single-handedly; Muskat Rambk, an old 
theme credited to Ory and featuring splendid New Orleans lead 
cornet; LiTs Jour Next, carrying intimations of the majestic style 
Armstrong developed more fully later; Cornet Chop Suey, a tour 
de force exposition of Louis' ever-expanding musical imagination. 

Cornet Chop Suey was the first of many recordings that were to 
be Armstrong showpieces from start to finish. The supporting 
players are of little importance; they seem merely to be along for 
the ride as Louis introduces his composition, states the verse, then 
tears into the principal tiheme and its variations. Constructing his 
solo (and his entire performance is really one long solo) with 
seemingly simple eighth- and quarter-note patterns, the cornetist 
dispkys a superb sense of melodic balance and restraint. Each 
note falls into place with almost discomforting rightness and in- 
evitability, yet with a bubbling spontaneity that could come only 
from on-the-spot improvisation. Cornet Chop Suey combines die 
finest expression of the simple New Orleans outlook with the most 
advanced 1925 concepts of swing phrasing, many of which 
stemmed from Armstrong himself, of course. In addition to its im- 
portance as a piece of music, it was a triumph for Louis as a tacti- 
cal solution to his Hot Five dilemma: how to remain a true New 
Orleans musician while upholding his position in the advance 
guard of young trumpet players. 

New Orleans jazzmen have always been sensitive to ensemble 


effects, and it is likely that Ory and Dodds, while in awe of Arm- 
strong's abilities, were not always pleased with his soaring di- 
gressions. One need but listen to the stirring ensemble passages of 
the New Orleans Wanderers and Bootblacks, recording groups al- 
most identical to Armstrong's, save for George Mitchell playing a 
"proper" New Orleans-style lead cornet, to discover how much of 
the all-out New Orleans ensemble spirit was missing from the Hot 
Five dates. Interestingly, the Wanderers-Bootblacks sessions took 
place at the time of the Hot Five's greatest popularity. 

The Hot Five ensemble work was good enough for most listen- 
ers, however, and Louis gained still more prestige in the world of 
show business. He became the prime drawing card in the Tate 
orchestra at the Vendome Theater. After the inevitable overture, 
the trumpeter would jump out of the pit and onto the stage to per- 
form a special number such as Heebie Jeebies, recreating his scat 
vocal through a megaphone. Some patrons attended the theater 
to hear Armstrong and left without even finding out what film 
was being shown. 

Early in 1926, Lil and her group decided to demand more 
money from the Dreamland. It was refused, and the band quit. 
Louis' problem was not one of finding work (he continued to play 
with Tate), but rather of which offers to accept. He considered 
rejoining Oliver, who now fronted an enlarged band with three 
saxophones, but that would have meant going back to the second 
cornet chair and to the built-in restrictions of Oliver's modified 
New Orleans style. Kid Ory, for whom Oliver had once worked in 
New Orleans, had no reservations about joining Joe's band, but he 
represented the older generation of Louisiana jazzmen. Finally, 
partly owing to the urging of Earl Hines to "come over to us 
young guys," Louis joined Carroll Dickerson's Sunset Cafe or- 
chestra. There he worked with well-trained musicians like pianist 
Hines, saxophonist Stump Evans, bassist Pete Briggs, and trum- 
peter Shirley Clay. To lend a touch of home, there were also New 
Orleanians Honor6 Dutrey on trombone and Tubby Hall at the 

The Sunset was one of Chicago's most popular clubs, and in 
the course of his year-and-a-half stay there, Louis made secure his 
position as the world's leading jazz trumpeter. His records were 
selling briskly, tourists paid well to see him perform, and musi- 


cians flocked to the Sunset to study his style. Like other Chicago 
clubs, the Sunset served then illegal liquors openly and was never 
raided. A floor show, complete with dancers and a chorus fine, 
was the main attraction, Armstrong, of course, was regarded as an 
entertainer as well as a sideman in tibe band. Young jazzmen like 
Jess Stacy, Joe Sullivan, Frank Teschemacher, and Bud Freeman, 
whom proprietor Joe Glaser permitted to skip the door charge, es- 
pecially enjoyed the moments of pure music that came with the 
dancing between shows or in occasional Armstrong features. 

Eventually Glaser, whose eye was on the dollar, saw Armstrong 
as a potentially more successful leader than Dickerson and offered 
Louis the job. The trumpeter accepted and turned over responsi- 
bility for the band to Earl Hines. (Armstrong, in fact, has man- 
aged to avoid such duties throughout his career, preferring to dele- 
gate them to better organizers so that he might concentrate on his 
own playing.) As Louis Armstrong and His Stompers, the band 
(Dickerson sidemen Briggs, Dutrey, and Hall also stayed on) be- 
came a front-rank Chicago attraction during 1927. 

"Besides the band, we had twelve chorus girls, twelve show 
girls, and big-name acts," Glaser has recalled. "The place sat 
about six hundred people, and we had a high-class trade not like 
some of the other joints the best people. There were lines for 
every show, and, mind you, we charged admission just to get in 
from a dollar twenty to two-fifty or so, depending on how busi- 
ness was." 

Fronting a show band, playing eight or nine hours a night, at- 
tempting to juggle a failing marriage and a budding romance, 
Louis somehow continued to find time for varied recording 
assignments. He had used the trumpet more often on records the 
year before, most impressively on a pair of titles by the Erskine 
Tate orchestra. With this highly disciplined unit, Louis adopted a 
fast, showy style quite unlike his Hot Five comet approach. Tate's 
Stomp Off, Let's Go and Static Strut are wild, virtuoso perform- 
ances that probably came closer to the Armstrong theater and 
dub patrons knew than all the rest of Louis' recorded work in 
1926. It does not follow, however, that the Hot Five sessions were 
musically invalid. On tie contrary, the rigid rules of New Orleans 
playing probably put a useful brake on Armstrong's natural incli- 


nation to exploit his abilities exhibitionistically. Although he had 
begun to sound almost ill at ease with the less brilliant-sounding 
cornet (there were many poorly articulated notes on the Hot Five 
sessions), he worked creatively within the offhand gutbucket at- 
mosphere of the Hot Five dates. 

In 1926, the quintet turned out more than a dozen sides, A few 
are marred by roughhewn commercialism (Don't Forget to Mess 
Around, Tm Gonna Gitcha, Droppin Shucks, Big Fat Ma), but 
most are enormously appealing compounds of magnificent cornet 
solos, New Orleans playing, competent collective improvisation, 
and a pinch of country hokum. King of the Zulus is, like Cornet 
Chop Suey, an extended Armstrong solo of striking emotional 
depth that leaves Louis' colleagues far behind. Who's It? features 
a novel slide-whistle chorus by Armstrong, some fumbling Johnny 
Dodds (the clarinetist tried to turn every tune into a blues), and a 
superb, flamboyant cornet finale. Sweet Little Papa, which seems 
to borrow from the melodic structure of Cornet Chop Suey, intro- 
duced several arranged passages to tie independent phrases to- 
gether, a practice that became more usual with each successive 

Records like Jazz Lips reveal that by late 1926, Louis had com- 
pletely outgrown his old New Orleans friends, Only Johnny 
Dodds stood a chance of coming close to Louis' sheer drive and 
power, but even he was a poor second. Jazz Lips is, like most of 
the Hot Five performances, marked by simplicity and restraint; 
yet there is a flippant ease coupled with, paradoxically, an in- 
creased degree of tension that represents a new phase for Louis. 
To a few New Orleans old-timers, it may have stood for a further 
departure from the mother style, but to young jazzmen, Jazz Lips 
carried exciting implications of a new kind of improvisatory 

Louis was in top form the day he made Jazz Lips, and the same 
session produced some outstanding ensemble playing in Sunset 
Caf6 Stomp, an elegant blues called Skid-Dat-De-Dat, in which 
the trumpeter makes bad notes into good ones by way of some 
very agile thinking, and a catchy tune named Big Butter and Egg 
Man from the West, which features one of Armstrong's very best 
solos of this period. The Big Butter and Egg Man chorus, which 


was widely copied by other musicians in subsequent years, is ec- 
statically described by critic Andre Hodeir in Jazz: Its Evolution 
and Essence: 

In this record, Armstrong manages to transfigure completely a 
theme whose vulgarity might well have overwhelmed him; and yet 
his chorus is only a paraphrase. The theme is not forgotten for a 
moment; it can always be found there, just as it was originally con- 
ceived by its little-known composer, Venable. Taking off melodically 
from the principal note of the first phrase, the soloist begins with 
a triple call that disguises, behind its apparent symmetry, subtle 
differences in rhythm and expressive intensity. This entry by itself 
is a masterpiece; it is impossible to imagine anything more sober 
and balanced. During the next eight bars, the paraphrase spreads 
out, becoming freer and livelier. ^Armstrong continues to cling to 
the essential notes of the theme, 'but he leaves more of its contour 
to the imagination. At times he gives it an inner animation by 
means of intelligent syncopated repetitions, as in the case of the 
first note of the bridge. From measures 20 to 23, the melody bends 
in a chromatic descent that converges toward the theme while at 
the same time giving a felicitous interpretation of the underlying 
harmonic progression. This brings us to the culminating point of the 
work. Striding over the traditional pause of measures 24-25, 
Armstrong connects the bridge to the final section by using a short, 
admirably inventive phrase. Its rhythmic construction of dotted 
eighths and sixteenths forms a contrast with the more static context 
in which it is placed, and in both conception and execution it is a 
miracle of swing. During this brief moment, Louis seems to have 
foreseen what modem conceptions of rhythm would be like. In 
phrasing, accentuation, and the way the short note is increasingly 
curtailed until finally it is merely suggested (measure 25), how 
far removed all this is from New Orleans rhythm! 

A few days later, the Hot Five recorded two more titles. Irish 
Black Bottom is a weak commercial song damaged by Dry's 
wrong notes, LiTs unbending keyboard style, and an uninspired 
Armstrong vocal; You Made Me Love You (not the later popular 
song) is, on the other hand, a brilliant performance featuring 
Dodds at his slashing, bluesy best and Armstrong in peak form. 
Although the Hot Five made more recordings in later months, 
Jou Made Me Love Yow signaled the end of this period for Arm- 
strong; hereafter, his full-blown improvised masterworks were to 


set a blistering pace for those who ventured to accompany him, 
relegating almost all of his associates, including Dodds, to posi- 
tions as mere pawns in Armstrong's musical games. 

In April, 1927, Louis recorded a batch of tunes for the compet- 
ing Vocalion label. Four were unusual quartet sessions with wash- 
board player Jimmy Bertrand in which Armstrong attempted to 
hold back his command, power, and inventiveness. This was 
probably done to avoid detection by the Okeh people, but it also 
served to prove that Louis was a highly flexible player and could, 
if he wished to, still play a simple New Orleans lead. 

More stimulating was a series made with Johnny Dodds and, in 
his initial appearance on records with Louis, Earl Hines. Again 
the New Orleans spirit prevailed, despite the time given over to 
solo playing. Louis' thirty-two-bar solo on Wild Man Blues, 
though subdued, is nonetheless a fine example of sustained me- 
lodic improvisation at slow tempo. Using a fundamental embel- 
lishment approach to the melody, the trumpeter maintains con- 
tinuity and holds the listener's interest with notes and phrases 
that cross bar lines, as well as with anticipations up to two beats 
ahead of upcoming melodic statements. Melrose Brothers, pub- 
lishers of Wild Man Blues, transcribed the solo and published it 
as part of their commercial orchestration of the tune. To make 
matters easier for average dance-band trumpeters, Louis' single 
excursion into the upper register ( above concert F on the top line 
of the staff) was lowered a full octave in the stock arrangement. 

Because Armstrong and Hines were kept under wraps, the 
Dodds recordings only suggested the possibilities that could grow 
out of this association. It was to be more than a year before the 
pianist and trumpeter could record some of their specialities 

The full sound of seven men on the Dodds session may have 
jogged Okeh into permitting Armstrong to use a similar instru- 
mentation. However it came about, Louis turned out eleven 
classic recordings in less than a month after his date with Dodds. 
He used the regular Hot Five plus tuba player Pete Briggs of the 
Dickerson band and his old New Orleans friend, drummer Baby 
Dodds, Not surprisingly, the group cut a new Wild Man Blues on 
the very first day. The other ten tunes are not, in themselves, es- 
pecially distinguished; two had been featured on the prior Dodds 


session (Melancholy, Weary Blues}, and the rest were blueslike 
Armstrong originals (Keyhole Blues, That's When Til Come Back 
to You, Potato Head Blues, S.O.L, Blues, and Gully Low Blues) 
or simple structures already familiar to the participants (Twelfth 
Street Rag, Willie the Weeper, Alligator Crawl). 

With a full rhythm section driving him, Armstrong now pulled 
out most of the stops, although his essentially New Orleans band 
continued to exert a slightly sobering influence over him. The sec- 
ond Wild Man Blues is, of course, a more expansive affair, full of 
fast runs and high-note ornamentations, but the basic approach is 
not unlike the earlier version. (Superior electrical recording qual- 
ity on these Okeh records made all of Louis' work sound much 
better than it had before, incidentally.) On the second Melan- 
choly, Armstrong improves the attractive written melody without 
really changing it very much. Twelfth Street Bag, a difficult com- 
position to pky seriously, emerges as a slow stomp, which Johnny 
Dodds characteristically plays as a blues and which Louis finally 
transforms into a moving concerto. 

S.O.L. Blues and Gully Low Blues are the same tune with al- 
tered lyrics. It is of interest to observe here that Armstrong's solo 
improvisations are improved in the latter version. The first four 
bars of each solo are identical, suggesting a carefully worked out 
advance sketch, but Gully Low makes more intelligent use of dra- 
matic pauses, allowing deeper penetration into the lower register 
for contrast to the sustained high A-flat that introduces each two- 
bar phrase. Incidentally, S.O.L. Blues, recorded the day before, 
was not issued until collectors became interested in it many years 

Keyhok Blues is a superb blues with a charming scat vocal by 
Armstrong and some deeply felt trumpet playing. As in many of 
his best recordings, Louis jumps into improvised situations here 
iiat require great skill and inventiveness to resolve gracefully. 
This penchant for trying the impossible and somehow escaping 
with honor fascinated other jazzmen as much as did the technical 
aspects of Louis* playing. After Armstrong, there was much more 
individual experimentation of this land in jazz. 

The Hot Seven sessions were one more step removed from New 
Orleans jazz than the Hot Five records had been, Drummer Baby 
Dodds, a conservative New Orleanian, once recalled the impres- 


sion these dates made upon him: "With Louis' recording outfit, 
we used four beats to the measure. That was different from the 
older days in New Orleans, when we always used two. King Oli- 
ver used two also. And Louis used a tuba instead of a string bass. 
I had started playing with a bass viol and always felt closer to it 
than to a tuba." 

One of Armstrong's enduringly classic solos in his Hot Seven 
series is Potato Head Blues. Using basic phrases made of simple 
eighth- and quarter-note patterns, a few dotted eighths, and 
some triplets, Louis organizes his musical thoughts in a truly re- 
markable way. His solo is a triumph of subtle syncopation and 
rhythmic enlightenment; strong accents on weak beats and whole 
phrases placed against rather than on the pulse create delightful 
tension. This tension is then suddenly released with an incisive on- 
the-beat figure, which in rum leads into more tension-building 
devices. Thus does Armstrong build the emotional pitch of the 
solo over a full chorus. 

While listening to such well-conceived musical essays, one has 
the feeling that Louis might have gone on building for several 
more choruses had he not been restricted by the three-minute 
limit on recorded performances at that time. The trumpeter un- 
doubtedly played longer solos in his nightclub and ballroom ap- 
pearances, and he did, indeed, frequently record logical solos of 
two or more choruses a couple of years after making Potato Head 

With this new lot of electrically recorded Armstrong perform- 
ances, the attention of jazzmen everywhere was directed to Chi- 
cago and the next Okeh releases. Bix Beiderbecke was turning out 
his finest recorded work for the same label at the same time, and 
there were en(Jless discussions as to who was the greater hornman. 
One musician who was active in both Chicago and New York 
about this time, saxophonist Jerome Pasquall, put it this way in a 
taped interview: 

"Bix was at the Roseland while I was with Smack [Fletcher 
Henderson]. He was a wonderful cornetist with a marvelous ear 
and had many, many followers. There was a big dispute around 
then whether Bix or Louis was greater. Well, nowadays [1953] 
almost everybody agrees that Louis is tops, though I imagine there 
are still a lot of diehards who say Bix is King. When Bix played, it 


was almost perfect, everything dean and neat, as though he didnt 
want to make any mistakes; whereas Louis was playing so much 
that he would occasionally drop a blue note, but, my Lord, the 
things he was doing, Bix wouldn't even have attempted." 

There was, of course, one large difference between the two 
heroes after 1927: Bix began to disintegrate, while Louis grew bet- 
ter and betterby 1931, Beiderbecke was dead, Armstrong at the 
peak of his powers. 

Not only records and in-person appearances were responsible 
for the spread of Armstrong's influence in 1927; Melrose Brothers, 
a jazz-minded music-publishing house, added to the cumulative 
impact by incorporating more of Louis' ideas in its orchestrations. 
The publishers also issued a book of 50 Hot Choruses for Cornet 
by Louis that sold widely throughout the country. These choruses 
were recorded by Melrose, transcribed, and published in such a 
way as to permit any horn player to insert an Armstrong solo in his 
part of an orchestratioa It's anybody's guess how many fledgling 
jazzmen struggled through Louis' beautifully conceived thirty- 
two-bar solo on Someday Sweetheart, with its dramatic climax on 
trumpet high D, or what number of competent sidemen fell apart 
in the middle of Louis' superb version of Some of These Days (in 
concert G), but it may be assumed that many musicians learned 
from this remarkable collection. From it, too, comes the realiza- 
tion that Louis Armstrong drew from a seemingly bottomless well 
of ideas; on or off records, the trumpeter played at a remarkably 
consistent creative level. Few of his fifty solos recorded for Mel- 
rose were less than excellent, and several ranked with his very 
best work Unfortunately, the recordings from which they were 
transcribed have vanished 

Of special interest is a single recording made between two Hot 
Seven sessions in May, 1927. It is Chicago Breakdown (a Melrose 
property also included in 50 Hot Choruses), the only surviving re- 
corded document of the Sunset Cafe band. Included on this date 
were Boyd Atkins and Stump Evans (saxes), Honore Dutrey, and 
Earl Hines. The ten-piece band suited Louis' big tone very well, 
and in Hines there was a player who could parry and thrust on 
Armstrong s own musical level. It was a stimulating session and a 
harbinger of recordings to come, but this single side was not 
issued at the time. 


In the summer of 1927, Louis' band met Fletcher Henderson's 
in a contest at the Sunset Cafe. Fletcher tried, without success, to 
hire Armstrong back, but by this time the trumpeter was earning 
more money and fame than even Henderson could offer. Iron- 
ically, at the end of summer, Joe Glaser decided it was time to 
change his show, and the Stompers were out. Armstrong had 
switched his theater work from Tate at the Vendome to Clarence 
Jones at the Metropolitan, but it was not enough for him to play 
only a few hours in a pit band each night. He thrived on playing in 
nightclub shows. 

Louis, Earl, Ldl, and drummer Zutty Singleton (an old New Or- 
leans friend who had been playing at the Cafe de Paris during the 
summer) hatched a scheme to present their own show in their 
own club. Lil rented a ballroom called Warwick Hall, and ihc 
new partners called their room the Usonia. They planned a 
Thanksgiving opening, but the new and elaborate Savoy Ball- 
room opened nearby at the same time, and the Usonia went al- 
most unnoticed By December, the Hot Six (Armstrong, Hines, 
Singleton, George Jones, Charlie Lawson, and William Hall) were 
without work and unsure of the future, despite their leader's enor- 
mous popularity. Louis, Earl, and Zutty were close companions 
and frequently attended parties or jam sessions together during 
this slack period. They continued to be much in demand at in- 
formal social and musical gatherings. 

Carroll Dickerson, by now fronting the band at the new Savoy 
Ballroom, invited Louis and Zutty to join him, and in April, 1928, 
the two jazzmen became part of the show that had, a few months 
earlier, put them out of business. Hines went his own way, join- 
ing Jimmy Noone about the same time. The three friends main- 
tained tibeir close ties, however, as can be heard in a series of su- 
perlative Okeh recordings made under Armstrong's name late 
that year. 

Show business is intrinsically a risky, up-and-down life, and m 
looking back at Armstrong's high tide of success in 1927, it seems 
likely that his popularity at the Sunset was of the ephemeral va- 
riety so common to musical revues. During tibis peak, the trum- 
peter's Hot Seven recordings reflected his own will to a greater 
extent than any he had made before. With the collapse of tie 
Sunset engagement, Louis returned to (or possibly was told to re- 


turn to) the Hot Five formula. By this time, however, the old rou- 
tines had become anachronistic and less suitable than ever for 
Louis' sweeping improvisations. The banjo-piano combination, 
good enough for the limited range of preelectrical recordings, now 
seems pitifully thin and inadequate as an Armstrong rhythm sec- 
tioa Cry s antique dut-dut style and Dodds's lack of harmonic 
sophistication also seem to be holding Louis back. Armstrong him- 
self, who has long believed in playing his very best regardless of 
surrounding circumstances, is as brilliant as ever on these Hot Five 
records, from the quaint, New Orleans-style Or ys Creole Trom- 
bone to the highly informal Put "Em Down Blues, fee breaks 
through the conservative barriers on The Last Time and even has 
Dodds abandoning his traditional ensemble parts on Got No Blues, 
recorded at a later session. Struttin' with Some Barbecue, recorded 
in December, is a radiant experiment in the construction of long 
lines without sacrifice of melodic simplicity and rhythmic momen- 
tum. Dodds's subdued solo here and the arranged ending of Bar- 
becue suggest that even the New Orleans gang was now begin- 
ning to sense the decline of the Dixieland approach. 

On December 10 and 13, 1927, the Hot Five held its last record- 
ing sessions, with guitarist Lonnie Johnson added to fill out the 
undernourished rhythm section. The New Orleans ensemble pat- 
tern was weakened still further. On these records, Dodds and 
Ory fifl out the background harmony unobtrusively and join 
Armstrong in elemental riff patterns along lines fairly typical of 
the period. The result of these shifts of emphasis is a more in- 
spired Armstrong than ever. Four titles were made, all containing 
good examples of Louis near the apex of his musical career. 

Once in a White, notable for its dazzling cornet solo set against 
a syncopated stop-time backdrop, is otherwise rendered the 
New Orleans manner, but Savoy Blues is a low-key blues carried 
out with riffs and an easy tempo that give Louis lots of room to try 
his more advanced ideas, fm Not Rough is a curious mixture of 
country blues and an apparent attempt to capitalize on the dou- 
bfe-tae device that was helping to sell a ample 

raauer ana saoe My Best Gal Turned Me Down by 
5cke). Hotter Than That, closely related to Tiger Roe 
K a fitting tour de force climax to the extended Hot 


Five series of recordings. It contains many of Louis' most com- 
monly used phrases, even to a string of repeated high Cs, but it is 
an outstanding accomplishment as an ordered progression of lively 
ideas that seem to form but a single musical thought. Only the 
necessity for breathing appears to have prevented Armstrong, in 
performances like Hotter Than That, from executing whole 
choruses at a time as long, unbroken single statements. 

In mid-iQsS, Louis, Earl Hines, and Zutty Singleton finally got 
together on records. They recorded nine selections as Louis Arm- 
strong and His Hot Five (actually, it was a sextet; clarinetist 
Jimmy Strong, guitarist-banjoist Mancy Cara, and trombonist 
Fred Robinson, all from the Carroll Dickerson band, were the 
other members). But from the very first note, it was obvious that 
this was a group totally unlike the old Hot Five. Now Louis was 
permitted to make records in his own name that accurately re- 
flected the sort of music he had been playing for a living for some 
two years. Armstrong and Hines, dipping into their recent experi- 
ences at the Sunset for material and ideas, established new stand- 
ards for jazzmen everywhere with these nine performances. 

The series began, fittingly, with a piece called Fireworks, a dis- 
play number pieced together from Dickerson specialties and 
Tiger Rag. It is, like many of the Hines-Armstrong sessions, a kind 
of miniature big-band arrangement, complete with pyramid 
chords, rapid-fire exchanges among the participants, and complex 
ensemble maneuvers. In a tune called Skip the Gutter, Louis and 
Earl challenge each other's imagination and agility in "chase" pas- 
sages of pure whimsy and antithematic improvisation. Double- 
time effects such as had been used on Tm Not Rough had now 
become commonplace, and the new Hot Five made the most of 
them. Two Deuces is another excursion in advanced jazz playing 
that bristles with harmonic alterations, double-time routines, and 
all-out improvisations. Don't Jive Me, probably taken from show 
material used in Sunset or Savoy productions, tests Armstrong's 
musicianship as well as his ability to think fast in a musical game 
of high order. The trumpeter and pianist constantly challenge 
themselves by starting phrases that cannot possibly fit the ar- 
rangement, then squirming out of them just in time to save the 
performance. It was breathtafcingly daring music that set a terri- 
fying pace for young jazzmen. 


There was another, more far-reaching aspect of Armstrong's 
playing that emerged on records at this time. It came as a synthe- 
sis of his earlier restrained melodic invention and the advanced 
technical displays just described. Now, in 1928, Armstrong was 
able to put the best features of both styles to work for him and 
evolve a modern melodic approach that would serve as the foun- 
dation for jazz trumpet developments in the thirties and forties. 
The new Armstrong outlook can be heard on three titles made 
with the revised Hot Five Squeeze Me, A Monday Date, and 
West End Blues. 

Squeeze Me was the first of many Fats Waller balladlike songs 
recorded by Louis. It is a thoroughly "modern" performance that 
includes a vocal without instrumental support and a high-tension 
trumpet break incorporating a fragment of High Society. (This 
phrase was later worn thin by modern jazzmen of the forties and 
fifties.) It is in Louis* solo phrasing, however, that something then 
new and different happens. With solid four-to-the-bar backing, 
the trumpeter somehow creates the impression of more space be- 
tween pulses and improvises accordingly. His ideas come faster 
and in more tightly packed bundles now; rather than conceiving 
his solos as single chorus-length ideas, he begins constructing a 
chain of four-bar and even two-bar thematic units, each a minia- 
ture chorus unto itself but an essential link to the next unit and a 
logical part of the whole solo as well. It was a startling effect, even 
in its early stages. 

Monday Date is a good example of the rhythmic freedom that 
came with the addition of a good drummer like Zutty. No longer 
required to establish the beat as well as the melody, Louis seems 
to float over the tune. His use of quarter-note triplets here was 
doubtless rekted to this new rhythmic independence. Again there 
is the "unit" rather than the chorus method of solo construction. 

West End Blues, perhaps Armstrong's finest recorded perform- 
ance of his career, also came from this mid-ig28 Okeh session. It 
has everything: big-toned bravura trumpet playing; effective con- 
trast of expressive simplicity and instrumental complexity; logical 
development of mood and theme from beginning to end; a heart- 
wanning, tender scat vocal refrain; a perfect balance of all histori- 
cal aspects of the Armstrong musical personality. West End was 


written by Joe Oliver and Clarence Williams, both of whom were 
connected with Armstrong's earlier development. 

West End begins with a magnificent trumpet cadenza in 2/4 
that builds in intensity as it moves from quarter notes to eighth- 
note triplets to sixteenths to sixteenth-note triplets over twelve 
bars of brilliant unaccompanied playing. The two blues choruses 
Armstrong plays after this (and they are not consecutive) are put 
together in exactly the same way as the overturelike cadenza. The 
first chorus moves from initial simplicity to a set of ingenious tri- 
plet figures. The final chorus picks up the thread again and moves 
into dramatic sixteenth-note passages and sixteenth-note triplets 
that correspond exactly to the final part of the opening cadenza. 
Furthermore, throughout this astonishing set of improvisations, 
Louis plays a deeply moving blues that never flags in emotional 
pitch. West End Blues, an intuitive improvised composition- 
performance created by a zy-year-old trumpet player from New 
Orleans, is a milestone in the history of jazz. 

In December, 1928, ten more excellent sides were recorded by 
Armstrong and Hines. Louis' success at the Savoy prompted Okeh 
officials to release these under the name Louis Armstrong and His 
Savoy Ballroom Five. The same men participated, but saxophon- 
ist-arranger Don Redman was brought in to give die group a big- 
ger orchestral sound. It was obviously time for Louis to record 
with a big band, but Okeh seemed reluctant to take the step. 

The December sessions were, on the whole, even more ad- 
vanced than those held six months before. Drummer Singleton 
was much improved, and the addition of Redman hastened the 
complete departure from the old Hot Five sound. Louis* trumpet 
solos, freer than ever, are marked by swift legato passages, thirty- 
second-note runs, and audacious ideas that only pianist Hines 
comes close to matching. On selections like No One Else But Yo 
and Beau Koo Jack, there seems to be no limit to Armstrong's 
imagination or to his ability to play as fast as he can think. Again, 
the trumpeter was building logically upon his own past, for the 
support provided by Redman's arrangements was a natural link to 
Louis' experience in Henderson's band, of which Redman was 
also a member. 

Weather Bird Rag, a tune Louis had played with Joe Oliver, is 


a monumental duet performance by Hines and Armstrong It is, 
too a symbol of the trumpeter's complete abandonment of the Ol- 
iver style, for this display piece is improvisation for improvisa- 
tion s sake, and the New Orleans old guard had little use for that 
outlook Still, with all its wild volleying of modern ideas, Weather 
Bird retains a strand of melodic continuity and thematic unity. 
With his solid New Orleans training, Louis seemed virtually inca- 
pable of losing a melody entirely. 

Save It, Pretty Mama and Hear Me Talkin 9 to Ja are touched 
with a distinct Eastern flavor, due to Redman's arrangements and 
Trumbauer-like alto saxophone playing. Louis seems to have 
picked up the idea; his work on Hear Me Talkin is as close to Bix 
Beiderbecke as Armstrong ever came. Muggks is a fascinating 
essay on rhythm, much of it built around a single tonic note, in 
which the trumpeter displays his extraordinary sense of time. In 
the course of thirty-six bars, Louis explores some thirty different 
ways of rhythmically phrasing a single measure of music. Despite 
its outward simplicity, Muggks was a new kind of Armstrong 

Basin Street Blues is an extension of the exceptionally free me- 
lodic style noted in Squeeze Me. St. James Infirmary left no 
doubts about the desirability of the smooth, even 4/4 rhythm that 
was then sweeping Chicago as it already had New York. Finally, 
there is a colossal trumpet solo called Tight Like This, which is 
actually little more than a series of double-time arpeggiolike em- 
bellishments on a minor blues theme. Here is a fine demonstration 
of another important facet of the Armstrong talent his sense of 
drama. Tight Like This is intelligently built up over sixty-four 
measures (four choruses) so gradually and smoothly that the lis- 
tener is scarcely aware of the increase in tension and excitement 
until the final bars are reached. 

In each period of Armstrong's career, there has been a recorded 
clue to his next venture, With Oliver, his rare solos were hints of 
the virtuoso performer featured with Henderson; from bis New 
York stint came the Red Onion Jazz Babies sessions with Lil that 
were the forerunners of later Hot Five recordings; and during the 
period just discussed, a single Carroll Dickerson record pointed 
the way Louis was to go within a year's time. Though Dickerson 
appears to have been a competent leader, his full band was not in 


demand on recordings, and his only record was not even issued, 
except in Argentina. It is, however, valuable for the glimpse it 
affords of the band in which Louis played at the Savoy in 1928. 
The titles are Symphonic Raps and Savoyager's Stomp. Raps is a 
forward-looking arrangement studded with unusual harmonies, 
whole-tone devices, and bustling solos. One can hear, too, the in- 
fluence of Jean Goldkette and Paul Whiteman scores in this ambi- 
tious display piece. It is also related to Fireworks (and, indirectly, 
Tiger Rag), which Armstrong's small group recorded only- a few 
days before. The big band seemed to have a salutary effect on 
Armstrong, whose ear picked up the involved harmonies of Sym- 
phonic Raps as easily as it had die more elemental changes of old 
New Orleans numbers. Louis' fleet and authoritative solo on this 
recording was at least ten years ahead of itself. Savoyager's 
Stomp, a dressed-up version of Muskat Ramble, underscored 
again how ready Louis was to record with a big (ten-piece) band. 

By late 1928, Louis had built his reputation to a new peak He 
was earning $200 a week with Dickerson and picking up extra 
money from record dates and casual appearances. Melrose Broth- 
ers had added Louis Armstrong's 125 Jazz Breaks for Cornet to 
their catalog some time earlier, and trumpeters in every city of the 
country were attempting to copy his phrases. The Savoy was mak- 
ing regular broadcasts that were heacd for hundreds of miles 
around Chicago. 

Louis was already big time, but he had yet to take on the 
toughest and most important show business town of all New 
York. The prospects had been good when he appeared there with 
Henderson, but that was four years before. What would it be like 
now? When the Savoy attendance began to drop a bit and the 
club professed a shortage of funds for paying the band, Louis and 
the Dickerson band made a collective decision to strike out for 
New York. As Armstrong was the drawing card and had some 
connections in the East, he would front the band. Dickerson 
would remain as musical director. It sounded like a good arrange- 
ment, and they started out for New York in the dead of the winter 
of 1928-1929. 

Over the years, Armstrong's luck has been almost as phenom- 
enal as his trumpet playing. Of course, his position as one of the 
great figures in jazz and as a gifted entertainer has brought many 


opportunities his way, but his reception in New York can be 
considered only sheer plunger's luck. After a few odd jobs such as 
one at the Audubon Theater, where the group substituted for 
Duke Ellington, the Armstrong-Dickerson band landed in Con- 
nie s Inn, one of the three biggest nightclubs in town. The club's 
regular band (Leroy Smith's) was hired for an upcoming Broad- 
way stage show called Connie's Hot Chocolates, leaving a va- 
cancy that Louis and his friends simply walked into. 

Connies Inn was even larger and more impressive than the 
Savoy in Chicago. The show began at midnight, drawing an after- 
theater crowd, and evening clothes were required. A conservative 
couple would have had trouble spending less than $40 in a single 
night at Connies. Despite the Great Depression, customers 
poured in to hear Louis and his audience-proven routines. 

Another stroke of luck came with an offer for Louis to join the 
Sat Chocolates cast on Broadway. Through the spring of 1930, 
the trumpeter-singer-entertainer stopped each show with his ver- 
sion of the revue's hit number, Ain't Misbehavin', Within a year of 
arriving in the big city, Armstrong was established as a leading 
name in show business. Okeh Records responded by giving him 
more musical latitude and a larger share of the talent budget. Al- 
though Louis* recordings from this point on were almost entirely 
big-band dates, there were a couple of small-group sessions. One 
was a dismal *Hot Five" affair the last in the line with singer 
Victoria Spivey. The other was a fine casual jam session with Joe 
Sullivan, Zutty, Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, and others, on 
which Louis played a splendid blues solo. Pianist Sullivan has re- 
called that Louis tossed off this chorus while "standing against the 
wall with his eyes closed." 

The first New York date produced Mahogany Hatt Stomp, a 
big-band New Orleans-style performance of charming simplicity, 
and, more importantly, I Can't Give You Anything But Love, 
which presented Armstrong for the first time on records as a supe- 
rior, sensitive ballad singer. The wide-voiced instrumental backing 
by Luis Russell, created solely for the purpose of supporting Arm- 
strong, invited Louis to reach out for new melodic and harmonic 
ideas on his horn as well. ( He was already familiar with this tune, 
incidentally, for he had recorded it with singer Lillie Delk Chris- 
tian in Chicago a few months earlier.) 


From the moment he landed in New York, Louis also became 
an object of adoration for all New York jazzmen. Some admired 
him primarily for his finesse, others for his power and range, still 
others for the emotional depth of his work. No one argued any 
more about his supremacy. The Dorsey brothers arranged for him 
to play on a couple of their recording dates, with generally good 
results (an exception is a curious version of To Be in Love, on 
which Louis seems to attempt an imitation of Bix Beiderbecke, 
without success). 

A gifted trumpeter named Jabbo Smith was in and out of New 
York about this time, and some competition-minded jazzmen 
began to regard Smith as a possible contender for Armstrong's 
crown. Cornetist Red Nichols remembers a night when the two 

*Jabbo had a wide range, but his high notes were more falsetto, 
not full-blown like Louis'," recalls Nichols. "He played a lot of 
notes, but some of them were just faking, while Louis maintained 
a high musical level at all times. When they played together, there 
just wasn't any comparison." 

(Smith did, however, point out the possibilities of an even more 
advanced style than Armstrong's. With his impish, many-noted 
flights and his harmonic daring, he foreshadowed the later styles 
of Red Allen, Charlie Shavers, and Roy Eldridge, although these 
trumpeters were primarily inspired by Armstrong. ) 

Between July, 1929 and early 1932, Louis reached the height of 
his creative and physical powers as a trumpet player. This period 
is thoroughly documented by a prodigious outpouring of magnifi- 
cent recordings. Of some sixty titles cut in less than two years, 
nearly every one has remained the classic, definitive version by 
which jazz trumpeters (including Armstrong) ever since have had 
to measure their own work. Recording the best popular tunes of 
the time, Louis was responsible for many of these songs becoming 
jazz standards. His were the first recorded jazz interpretations of 
Ain't Misbehaving Black and Blue (both from Hot Chocolates), 
Rockin* Chair, Body and Soul, Memories of Yo, and dozens of 
others. The usual format was trumpet solo (muted) -vocal- 
trumpet solo (open), which allowed plenty of room for Louis to 
build his ideas. As it turned out, it was also a sound commercial 
formula; Armstrong records began to be heard on jukeboxes and 


to move briskly in stores. Louis' good luck was holding up as well 
as was his celebrated embouchure. 

In September, 1929, he recorded Some of These Days, a su- 
perlative example of the art of logical construction in an extended 
solo. In this case, the vocal becomes part of Louis' overall melodic 
blueprint, serving as a natural bridge from the low-key, insinuat- 
ing opening to the jubilant concluding chorus. A final, inevitable 
sustained high note finishes off one of the earliest ( and still one of 
the best) extended solos in the annals of recorded jazz. Only a 
few jazzmen (Lester Young, Jess Stacy, Sidney Bechet, and Sonny 
Rollins come to mind) have demonstrated a comparable ability to 
increase the dramatic pitch of a long solo without losing either 
melodic control or thematic unity in the course of their own crea- 

Judging from his records, Louis' tone acquired still more body 
and strength at this time. Sometimes he played with almost no vi- 
brato, yet bis sound was warm and intimate. More and more, he 
employed a legato manner of phrasing, leaving behind the heavy- 
tongued "punching" style so characteristic of hornmen in the 
twenties. On almost straight readings of tunes like When You're 
Smiting and Song of the Islands, Louis underscores the quality of 
majesty in his work with trumpet phrases that seem lifted from 
the Golden Era of opera singing, Indeed, on a piano-trumpet duet 
recording of Dear Old Southland, Louis gives a veritable trumpet 
recital, quite unlike the musical cat-and-mouse game he indulged 
in with Earl Hines less than two years before. 

In early 1930, Connie's Hot Chocolates wound up its successful 
season, Leroy Smith returned to Connie's Inn, and the Dickerson 
band, without immediate prospects for work, broke up. In June, 
Louis opened at Frank Sebastian's New Cotton Club in Culver 
City, California, with Les Rite's orchestra. This was a good band 
(trombonist Lawrence Brown and drummer Lionel Hampton 
were members), one that could do justice to Armstrong on a se- 
ries of records that caught him at the summit of his musical life. 
Together they sailed through great performances like Ding Dong 
Daddy, a beautifully conceived set of improvisations as logical as 
the earlier Some of These Days and as thrilling as Tight Like This. 
By now, Louis was playing fast, compressed figures, held together 
by inner discipline and outward assurance, that were radically ad- 


vanced for 1930. The same characteristics turn up in his remark- 
able ballad performances with Hite f m in the Market for You, 
Confessing If I Could Be with You, Memories of You, and Body 
and Soul Sometimes embellishing the straight melody, sometimes 
creating new themes of his own, Louis established with these bal- 
lads a lush, unsentimental, "singing trumpet" approach that 
affected every trumpeter of the thirties and is still widely used 
today. By selecting the most harmonically sophisticated songs of 
the period (Star Dust, Body and Soul, You're Lucky to Me, Youre 
Driving Me Crazy, etc.), Armstrong also set up new criteria for 
future jazzmen to apply in their search for challenging raw 

The culmination of Louis' development as a trumpet player and 
jazzman can hardly be pinned down to a specific date, but with 
his October, 1930, recording of Sweethearts on Parade Armstrong 
took his music about as far as it could go. Here all. the elements of 
Louis' extraordinary style seem to come together technique, 
taste, tone, advanced harmonic ideas, understatement, rhythmic 
enlightenment, bravura declarations, drama, melodic sureness, 
balanced construction, and humor. Historically, Sweethearts on 
Parade ranks with Ding Dong Daddy and the later (1931) Star 
Dust as a preview of the style that brought fame to Roy Eldridge 
and set the stage for further explorations by Dizzy GiDespie. (It 
should be noted that not all observers share this view. Critic 
Charles Edward Smith once wrote in Down Beat that Louis' 
Sweethearts on Parade is an example of "Low Jive, synonymous 
with plain kidding.") 

Following his run at the New Cotton Club, where the trum- 
peter had again enjoyed the benefits of regular radio broadcasts, 
Louis? went to Chicago in early 1931 to at last form his own band. 
He picked up some old friends trombonist Preston Jackson, 
drummer Tubby Hall, and New Orleans bassist John Lindsay 
and opened at the Showboat Cabaret. From this point on, Louis 
spent most of his time on the road. He is still traveling in the 
sixties, and he has toured many countries, beginning with his first 
European trip in 1932. 

Even as his own band took shape, a new emphasis crept into 
Armstrong's recorded work. With a few gratifying exceptions, the 
new releases stressed his role as entertainer and singer. Gradually, 


the quality of his song materials declined, and there were more 
frequent lapses of taste and musical judgment. There was stiH 
much wonderful trumpet playing, but the humor became forced 
and the band incredibly sloppy. (The band problem was eventu- 
ally solved by Louis' turning over the entire matter to Luis 

In 1931, Louis and Lil separated, although their divorce was 
not final until 1938, At 31, the trumpeter was still a robust young 
man of infinite good will who attracted more friends than he 
could handle. The Depression had not harmed him very much, 
and he was beginning to realize just how important a musi- 
cian he was the serious enthusiasm of European fans and critics 
for his work was soon to make a deep impression on Armstrong. 
With this solid foundation of contentment, he settled into a rela- 
tively predictable groove, where he has remained to this day. Not 
that Louis was lazy far from it; he simply could not push beyond 
his 1930 level. Eventually, he dropped below it, but he has never 
permitted himself to play less than first-rate trumpet. 

Armstrong's influence on other jazzmen has been greater than 
that of any other single trumpeter in the short history of the 
music. The roster of Armstrong-inspired performers reads like an 
all-star poll. Even some of those who had been, counted at one 
time or another as Bix Beiderbecke disciples Bill Davison, 
Bobby Hackett, Rex Stewart, and others cite Armstrong as their 
main influence. Trumpet men like Buck Clayton, Muggsy Spanier, 
lips Page, Joe Thomas, Wingy Mannone, Red Allen, Taft Jordan, 
Bunny Berigan, Joe Newman, Harry James, Billy Butterfield, 
Ruby Braff, Cootie Williams, and Roy Eldridge have left no 
doubts about their deep regard for Louis. So multifaceted was 
Armstrong's huge talent that most of these trumpeters have cre- 
ated their own musical identities around but one or two character- 
istics of the master's style. Spanier concentrated on Armstrong's 
early Oliver-like drive and pure tone; Thomas went after his gift 
of understatement and melodic symmetry; James struck out for 
Louis' range and technical powers; Williams, when not saddled 
with the task of re-creating Bubber Miley solos for Duke Elling- 
ton, achieved something like Armstrong's majesty of phrase; Beri- 
gan came startlingly close to Louis' emotional warmth and dra- 


matic eloquence; Eldridge and Allen used Armstrong's most 
complex melodic and rythmic figurations as points of departure; 
Page came close to Louis' intense blues style, vocally and instru- 

Not only trumpet men were deeply affected by Armstrong; 
There is recorded evidence of his changing the outlooks of count- 
less others arranger Fletcher Henderson, saxophonists Coleman 
Hawkins and Bud Freeman, trombonists Jack Teagarden and 
Lawrence Brown, pianists Earl Hines and Joe Sullivan, and even 
vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, to name a few. 

In a more general way, Louis brought the art of the jazz solo to 
a new creative peak and to an unprecedented prominence before 
the listening public. His extended choruses caused jazz musicians 
everywhere to direct their thinking along similar lines. Ensemble 
playing skills did not decay with this new emphasis upon solo 
playing, although collective improvisation by several horns, on its 
way out anyway, all but disappeared. On the contrary, the soloists 
led the way to more interesting part writing by arrangers and su- 
perior ensemble playing by jazz performers. Armstrong's natural 
swing and exceptional methods of utilizing syncopation made a 
deep impression on, arrangers of the twenties such as Henderson, 
Don Redman, Bill Chain's, and Tiny Parham. 

Louis took the ballad style that found its earliest expression in 
Bix Beiderbecke, imbued it with oratoriolike dignity, and founded 
an elegant method of paraphrasing popular songs that has en- 
dured. Echoes of Armstrong's finest ballad performances of his 
1929-1931 period can be traced in the work of Charlie Parker and 
Dizzy Gillespie, as well as in that of many of their contempo- 

After 1929, Louis' voice became a fine musical instrument that 
affected countless singers, jazz and otherwise. His "jive" vocals led 
directly to the styles of many minor (though commercially suc- 
cessful) artists, such as Cab Galloway, Louis Prima, the Boswell 
Sisters, the Mills Brothers, and Wingy Mannone. His ballad sing- 
ing deeply affected a number of superior singers, such as Bing 
Crosby, Ethel Waters, Mildred Bailey, Lee Wiley, and Billie Hot 
day. Without Armstrong, the story of jazz singing, up to and in- 
cluding Ray Charles, might have been quite different 


The substance of Louis' music cannot be explained, in the final 
analysis, by his remarkable physical equipment, his showmanship, 
or even his skill with the trumpet. It is the man's mind that has 
produced this vast body of marvelous music. Armstrong has al- 
ways been utterly serious about his trumpet playing, even in the 
frivolous years of the twenties, when many jazzmen assumed their 
music couldn't last and proceeded to blow themselves out at an 
early age. 

*To play it right," Louis stated when he was 50, "you've got to 
make music a business and I'm not talking just about the money 
now. A lot of cats get in the money, and then, when you look 
around, they're not playing anything, they can't play. ... My 
band doesn't play for any hour before I get on the stand. When 
that band hits the first note, it's Sleepytime, and I'm playing it 
And that's the way it's always been. I've watched all that glam- 
orous this-that-and-the-other among the musicians, and I've al- 
ways said, 'Go ahead, have your ball,' but now it's simmered 
down, and only the fittest can survive." 

Louis Armstrong has entertained royalty, been called his coun- 
try's most effective ambassador, changed the course of America's 
music, and become a wealthy man in a wealthy land. For all that, 
he remains an inner-directed musician of rare humility and 

His words, like his magic, are worth pondering: "It's my conso- 
lation, too, to hit that note the way I like to hear it. I've got to 
hear my own honi, and it's got to please me, don't forget that. 
That's what a whole lot of youngsters don't seem to pick up on." 

Recommended Reading 

Armstrong, Louis: Swing That Music, Longmans, New York (1936). 
Hodeir, Andre: Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence, Grove New York 


McCarthy, Albert: Louis Armstrong, Barnes, New York (1961). 
Ramsey, Frederic, and Charles Edward Smith: Jazzmen, Harcourt, 

Brace, New York (1939). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : Hear Me Tdkin' to Y0, Rine- 

hart, New York (1955). 


Recommended Listening 

Young Louis Armstrong, RIVERSIDE 12-101. 

The Perry Bradford Story (one track), CRISPUS-ATTUCKS PB-ioi. 

The Fletcher Henderson Story, COLUMBIA C^-ig. 

The Bessie Smith Story, VoLi, COLUMBIA CL-855- 

The Louis Armstrong Story, Vols. i, 2, 3, 4, COLUMBIA CL-851, CL- 

852, CL-853, CL-854- 

Jazz Odyssey: The Sound of Chicago, COLUMBIA C$L-32. 
Jazz Odyssey: The Sound of New Orleans, COLUMBIA C3L-30. 


No MUSICIAN has exerted more influence over the course of piano 
jazz history than has Earl Hines. With Hines, the last ties to rag- 
time fell away and a whole new concept of keyboard improvisa- 
tion took shape. Earl accomplished all this while operating almost 
entirely outside New York City, and no major American pianist, 
jazz or otherwise, had done that before, either. 

He was bora Earl Kenneth Hines in Duquesne, a small town 
now part of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His father, a crane foreman 
on the coal docks, maintained a comfortable home, and Earl grew 
up amid the usual middle-class trappings of the early twentieth 
century, including a parlor organ that his mother played fre- 
quently. The instrument intrigued Earl, and occasionally he pre- 
tended to accompany his mother on a newspaper "keyboard" 
spread out on a chair. The family noted his interest without much 
surprise, for Earl's father was a fair trumpet player and his uncle, 
Bill Phillips, played all the brass instruments. Earl experimented 
briefly with the trumpet, but it didn't take, although he learned to 
play a few tunes before giving it up. It was about 1914, when Earl 
was 9, that Mrs. Hines traded in the organ for a piano so that her 
son could begin serious keyboard studies. His first teacher was 
Emma D. Young of McKeesport. 

Making swift progress, Earl moved on to other teachers and 
more advanced lesson books. He read from Czerny and acquired 
a liking for Chopin and Debussy. For six years, Earl was inten- 
sively trained in traditional piano techniques, most of which came 
quickly and easily to him. Dividing his time between sports and 
music, young Hines was. rapidly acquiring the two assets that 
were to make him one of the most durable and flexible jazzmen of 
all time brimming good health and a thoroughgoing command 
of the keyboard. 

Hines has often protested that he went into jazz only because 
he could make more money faster than in other music. However, 
he was exposed to all lands of music during his formative years. 
There were his f ather s brass band, the piano rolls of Zez Confry 



and James P, Johnson, traveling show bands, and, of course, the 
classics. Aunt Nellie Phillips, with whom Earl lived in the city, 
favored light classics and frequently took her nephew to good 
shows or revues at local theaters, including Lew Leslie's Black- 
fads and the Noble Sissle-Eubie Blake hit Shuffle Along. These 
events were Earl's first contacts with first-rate "rhythm" music, 
with which he was completely delighted. 

While attending Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, the 
pianist formed a trio with a couple of friends who played drums 
and banjo. Together they worked out popular songs of the day, 
probably in the novelty-ragtime style that flourished just after 
World War I. When music jobs at night began to turn up, Earl 
accepted them without concern about how the hours might affect 
his schoolwork. After two years at Schenley, he dropped out for 
good and turned to music on a full-time basis. 

A singer from Springfield, Ohio, named Lois B. Deppe was ap- 
pearing at the Liederhouse in Pittsburgh about that time and had 
become dissatisfied with his accompanying pianist, who could not 
read. Earl took the job, bringing his own drummer with him as 
part of the contract. Deppe paid his new pianist $15 a week and 
board. They remained at the Liederhouse for about a year, 
adding instruments to the orchestra as business improved. By the 
time Lois B. Deppe and His Serenaders began touring Ohio and 
Pennsylvania in the early twenties, Earl found himself in a big 
band, struggling to be heard over a row of horn players. He dis- 
covered a time-honored way to make the piano stand out in a 
large group, simply by playing melody notes as octaves in the 
upper range of the keyboard, Allowing the natural ring of the oc- 
tave interval to work for him, Earl was able to hold his own with- 
out losing the fast, light touch he had cultivated. This move alone 
set him apart from many "stomp" pianists, who relied more upon 
brute strength than finesse in their efforts to penetrate orchestral 
walls of sound. 

The unique Hines style was beginning to take shape now. 
There were many influences along the way; some came from a 
pair of impressive local pianists, Johnny Waters of Toledo and a 
big-band pianist named Jim Fellman. 

"Very few pianists were using right-hand tenths then," Hines 
recalls, "but Johnny Waters could reach twelfths and thirteenths 


and play melodies with the inside three fingers at the same time! I 
tried for Johnny with my right and for Jim Fellrnan, who had a 
great left, with my other hand." 

Pianists like James P. Johnson and Luckey Roberts passed 
through Pittsburgh with shows, and Earl was quick to hear the 
New York style and to pick up what he could use from it. In work- 
ing out his octave style, too, Earl discovered that he could com- 
pensate for the inevitable loss of speed by borrowing some ideas 
from the dramatic syncopated phrasing of good trumpet players. 
He was particularly fond of trumpeters Joe Smith (who toured 
with Sissle and Blake) and, a little later, Gus Aiken (who toured 
with Ethel Waters and James P. Johnson). By 1922, records by 
singers Ethel Waters and Mamie Smith, along with their jazz ac- 
companiments, were influencing young musicians like Hines all 
over the country. Playing for singers was one of Earl's specialties. 

Deppe made a few records for Gennett at Richmond, Indiana, 
in the winter of 1923-1924, and Earl, who had joined the musi- 
cians' union a few months before, was included on the dates. They 
are among the rarest items on the collectors' market. Of the four 
band sides, one Congaineis a Hines composition. These re- 
cordings helped to promote the Deppe orchestra and its piano 
player as well. The entire group even appeared on radio (KDKA) 
at that time. Earl sometimes worked casual engagements booked 
by Deppe and occasionally put groups of his own together. His 
baritone saxophone player on one such occasion was Benny 

The owner of Pittsburgh's Collins Inn, where Earl had worked 
frequently, operated another club, called Elite #2, in Chicago 
near Thirty-fifth and State, the heart of the South Side entertain- 
ment belt He was unhappy with his local Chicago band and sent 
for violinist Vernie Robinson's quartet, complete with drummer, 
bassist, and Earl Hines, who happened to be in the group at the 
time. Earl arrived at the Elite #2 in 1924 and, after playing a 
month for Robinson, took over leadership of the band and stayed 
for a year. 

There were several good pianists in and around Chicago at that 
time, including Jelly Roll Morton and Glover Compton, but the 
best of them for Earl^at any rate was Teddy Weatherford, 
who had a fast, flamboyant style and an adventurous left hand! 


Like a well-trained young boxer, Hines studied Weatherford's 
tricks, drew from them what he wanted, and finally conquered the 
established pianist in his own territory. Earl's essentially Eastern 
approach, rooted in a light but firm touch and impressive tech- 
nical command of his instrument, was too much for the Chicago 
keyboard men, and the competition melted away. Teddy Weath- 
erford left town in 1926 and never returned ( and, his talent spent, 
died in India about twenty years later ) , 

Earl moved to the larger and more celebrated Entertainer's 
Cafe in 1925, playing opposite Carroll Dickerson's excellent big 
band. Within a short time, he joined Dickerson's group, then 
began a series of Pantages vaudeville appearances that eventually 
took Earl and the band to California and back. They were on the 
road for forty-two straight weeks. 

The Dickerson band was a carefully drilled outfit that special- 
ized in flashy ensemble work and clean musicianship, goals wholly 
consistent with Earl's own. "Hot" solos were featured, of course, 
by jazzmen like trumpeter Natty Dominique, trombonist Honor6 
Dutrey, and saxophonist Cecil Irwin. 

When the band landed back in Chicago, Louis Armstrong, 
home again after a stint with Fletcher Henderson, was the man 
every bandleader wanted. Ersldne Tate had him at that moment, 
but Dickerson and King Oliver, his former mentor, were making 
offers anyway. Louis was considering rejoining Oliver, but Hines 
and his friends argued that he should "go with the young guys" 
and not fall back with the "old" New Orleans men. As it turned 
out, Hines and Armstrong joined each other's bands and played 
two jobs for a while, dashing off after an evening with Tate 
to finish out the night with Dickerson. Tate's specialty was movie 
theaters, and the work called for a fast, versatile pianist. Teddy 
Weatherford had achieved much of his local fame in Tate's or- 
ganization at the Vendome Theater, and Earl, too, became more 
widely known there. Musicians, though, were more interested in 
the sound of the Dickerson band at the Sunset Cafe, for there 
Armstrong was featured prominently and the sidemen drummer 
Tubby Hall, violinist-reedman Darnell Howard, and Hines were a 
few seemed more in tune with the brand of jazz Louis was 

As the popularity of Armstrong grew throughout 1926, Hines 


found his own star rising as well. The Sunset's proprietor, Joe 
Glaser, decided that Louis was his real drawing card and ar- 
ranged to edge Dickerson out altogether. In 1927, the band be- 
came Louis Armstrong and His Stompers, and Hines was ap- 
pointed musical director. It was about this time, too, that Earl 
made his first recordings in Chicago. 

In a set of four selections recorded with a group of old-guard 
New Orleans stylists and Armstrong, Earl seems somewhat ill at 
ease at the piano. Clarinetist Johnny Dodds, making his ini- 
tial appearance on records as a leader, establishes such nerv- 
ously fast tempos that even Armstrong sounds uncomfortable. 
Earls solo contributions are brief and perfunctory, revealing a 
conservative left hand, which was either not completely devel- 
oped yet or simply inhibited by an attempt to match the mood of 
the session, and an equally uninspired right hand, concerned 
largely with dashing off simple on-tte-beat melodic fragments in 
octaves. Melancholy has the best Hines of the four Dodds titles; 
Earl's solo is marked by right-hand tremolos, a Jelly Roll Morton- 
like glissando or two, and a positive, declarative keyboard touch. 
But if this was a fair representation of Hines in April, 1927, the 
pianist must have made some major discoveries in the month that 
followed; for in May, Earl recorded Chicago Breakdown, proba- 
bly the first good example of his unique artistry to be caught on 
wax. (Strangely, the recording was not issued until George Avak- 
ian discovered it in Columbia's vaults many years later. ) 

Chicago Breakdown is of considerable interest on several 
counts. The choice of a Jelly Roll Morton composition hints that 
Hines and Armstrong might have been more intrigued by the 
music and arrangements of Morton (whose finest recordings im- 
mediately preceded the Chicago Breakdown date) than is com- 
monly supposed. The recording is valuable, too, as an only clue to 
the sound of the Dickerson-Armstrong band of 1927 and to the 
mutual benefits Earl and Louis derived from playing together 
regularly. It is unfortunate that Okeh chose to record Armstrong 
mostly with his old New Orleans friends in 1927, for the decision 
deprived us of hearing the more modern Sunset Cafe band and its 
two star performers during a highly creative period in their pro- 
fessional lives. 


Earl's brief solo on Chicago Breakdown is a trifle stiff and 
stodgy, but many of the now familiar trademarks were already 
there the sudden break in the regular bass rhythm; the crisp, 
clean treble-octave voicing; and the short, hornlike melodic 
phrases. In the ensemble portions, too, Hines cuts through the 
band sound in characteristic fashion, although he had not asserted 
himself in this way on the more traditional Dodds session a month 

Musicians and sophisticated patrons flocked to the Sunset to 
hear Armstrong and Hines in 1927, but only Louis landed the rec- 
ord dates, which were aimed at a market of displaced South- 
erners in lower-income brackets. As an entertainer and a highly 
sophisticated modern musician, Hines had no place in these 
*down home" recording sessions. Furthermore, the New York 
pianists had pretty well cornered the solo recording field, so Earl 
failed to record again until May, 1928, several months after he 
had left Armstrong as a regular sideman. 

The Sunset job finally ran out in the fall of 1927, but Earl and 
Louis, together with their closest friend, drummer Zutty Single- 
ton, were full of confidence and enthusiasm. The three were regu- 
lar visitors to after-hours clubs, open jam sessions, and private 
parties, where they always wound up playing and entertaining as 
a kind of miniature show. They decided to stick together as long 
as possible. The trio worked short jobs together in theater bands 
such as Clarence Jones's and occasionally sponsored dances of 
their own. In November, Lil Armstrong rented a ballroom called 
Warwick Hall and turned it over to the three musicians, who tried 
producing an original revue there. The new Savoy Ballroom 
opened at the same time just around the corner and wiped them 
out. It became painfully clear that outstanding musicianship, even 
combined with showmanship, would not automatically draw cus- 
tomers. Despite a devoted clan of followers (mostly of the non- 
spending variety), the triumvirate was soon at liberty again. 

Earl made an exploratory trip to New York about this time, but 
nothing came of it When Hines returned to Chicago in early 
1928, Louis and Zutty had grown tired of the uncertain life and 
joined Carroll Dickerson, who now led the band at the successful 
Savoy. Earl, somewhat depressed, looked about for a secure job 


for himself and found a spot, just vacated by Glover Compton, 
with Jimmy Noone s five-piece band at the Apex Club. He spent 
most of the year there. 

The Apex was a favorite hangout for musicians, and in the 
course of Earl's stint with Noone, young pianists Joe Sullivan, Jess 
Stacy, Casino Simpson, and many others were deeply affected by 
his now mature style. Noone was a New Orleans clarinetist and a 
bit on the conservative side, but, unlike Johnny Dodds, he was a 
master craftsman as weH as a jazz artist, and Jimmy appreciated 
the advanced musical ideas put forth by Earl. Happily, Hines's 
work at this time has been preserved on records, permitting a clear 
picture of the pianist's progress through early 1928. 

In May, the Noone quintet (alto saxophonist Joe Poston, ban- 
joist Bud Scott, and drummer Johnny Wells were the other mem- 
bers) recorded four good performances that effectively combined 
elements of New Orleans jazz, popular music of the day, honest 
entertainment, and brilliant musicianship into a highly personal 
band style. Earl was not yet in the proper setting for his talents, 
but the small group gave him a good deal of freedom, notwith- 
standing the jailing clang of Bud Scott's banjo. Indeed, on some 
selections, one might think it was Hines himself who led the band, 
for Earl moves right into the foreground alongside the alto and 

I Know That You Know, a display piece for Noone, suggests 
that Earl was not entirely comfortable with the breakneck pace 
established by the leader. The piano solo is neither inspired nor 
unusual by Hines standards, although Earl never lags behind 
Every Evening is a stylized stomp played in the New Orleans 
manner, and heavy-handed stomps were never Earl's forte. How- 
ever, his solo breaks away enough to show flashes of the arresting 
scuttling bass lines for which he was soon to become famous and 
a glimpse of the jagged-right-hand flights which were beginning to 
fall into place at this time. More satisfying is Sweet Sue, in which 
Earl embellishes the slow, straight melodic lead with a back- 
ground chorus that is the high point of the recording. The impact 
of this passage comes largely from Hines's trumpetlike phrasing, 
complete with "vibrato" at die end of each phrase (achieved by 
right-hand tremolos) and natural "breath points" inserted just as 
they might be in a trumpet solo. The use of treble octaves is again 

EABL fflNES 57 

important here, for it gives to Earl's short phrases the brassy au- 
thority needed to make them completely convincing. Four or Five 
Times has stomp overtones again, but Earl works independently 
of the idiom most of the way. There is, however, a slight heavi- 
ness in the piano bass line despite efforts by Hines to get under 
and lift the performance with his right hand. 

Following an additional pair of Noone sides in June and a date 
with a dreary new singer named Lillie Delk Christian (Armstrong 
and Noone also participated in this one), Earl began a historic 
series of Okeh sessions with Louis and members of the Carroll 
Dickerson Savoy orchestra. In two hot June days, the old trio 
Louis, Earl, and Zutty reunited and, with trombonist Fred Rob- 
inson, clarinetist Jimmy Strong, and guitarist Mancy Cara added, 
finally recorded the kind of music that had been convulsing other 
musicians in Chicago for many months. Armstrong's was the over- 
riding voice, but Hines placed such a high second that his name 
began to be mentioned along with Louis' whenever musicians got 

Many of the musical devices and tricks on these recordings 
probably came from the Dickerson band, particularly on pieces 
like the elaborate Fireworks, which concludes with choruses bor- 
rowed from the perennial showstopper Tiger Rag. The ensemble 
effect is more that of a small orchestra than of a New Orleans 
band, reflecting the influence of arrangers Bill Challis, Don 
Redman, and Fletcher Henderson, among others. For Hines, who 
never had much use for old-time jazzmen or "back-room musi- 
cians" (as he once called Jelly Roll Morton), these were ideal 
small-band settings in which to stretch out and try some of the 
ideas he had been developing. One of the best demonstrations of 
Hines successfully matching wits with Armstrong occurs on Skip 
the Gutter, a relaxed traditional vehicle, where the two musicians 
trade two-bar and four-bar ideas without interference from the 
rest of the group. It is really a two-man affair all the way, as each 
tempts the other to extend himself a little further on successive 
breaks. Both handle double-time ideas with an easy, sure sense of 
pulse, and the match finishes a draw. 

On Sugar Foot Strut, Earl plays with full solo force behind 
Louis' vocal instead of filling in with an ordinary accompaniment 
part. As in Noone's band, the pianist constantly pushed himself 


toward the front line, only reluctantly dropping back into the 
rhythm section when absolutely required to. This tendency can 
also be heard on Squeeze Me and on Hines's composition Monday 
Date. Now and then, as in Armstrong's monumental West End 
Blues, Earl retires to a more conventional supportive role, boost- 
ing the trumpet player with rolling bass tremolos and provocative 
treble harmonies, but it was not his nature to hang back for long. 
Hines was and is a large, aggressive man who enjoyed the 
musical challenge of working with the gifted Armstrong but, like 
many Eastern-style pianists who came up in a world of ragtime, 
elaborate stage shows, and cabaret entertainers, lacked the deep 
identification with the blues that marked the work of the best 
New Orleans players. When inspired by Armstrong, the pianist 
occasionally came close to the idiom, but his later work was al- 
most entirely devoid of the earthy, relaxed spirit so fundamental 
to successful blues playing. It does not follow, however, that the 
blues played no part in the Hines style, for he was perceptive 
enough to realize that good jazz phrasing must borrow something 
from the blues if it is to avoid academicism. 

Now established as a leading pianist, Earl was asked to sit in on 
a July, 1928, Carroll Dickerson recording. The result is of special 
interest because it is the only recorded document of the excellent 
Savoy orchestra of that period. The two selections, Symphonic 
Raps and Savoyager's Stomp, are remarkably like big-band exten- 
sions of the Hines-Armstrong recordings full of potential har- 
monic pitfalls, advanced scoring techniques, and dazzling solos. 
Although the current of influence must have flowed in both direc- 
tions, these recordings underline the suggestion that part of 
Hines's unorthodox bravura style may have stemmed from the ar- 
ranged music he played with the Dickerson orchestra. 

Earl continued to work with Noone throughout the summer 
months of the year. The group's first batch of records had sold 
well, and they returned to the studios in August to try six more 
selections. Again Hines reverted to a more conservative style than 
he had shown on the Armstrong sessions. His attempts at under- 
statement (Apex Blues) seem awkward and unnatural, while his 
more usual arabesques (Sweet Lorraine) are closer in spirit to 
Jelly Roll Morton than to Armstrong. Another Monday Date was 
recorded, and, unlike the Armstrong version of two months be- 


fore, this one has Earl in an almost frenzied mood. Oddly, this 
solo suffers from an overabundance of zeal. 

A splendid Hines solo in this final Noone series occurs on King 
Joe. Except for some barely audible timekeeping by the drummer, 
the rhythm section drops out for Earl's solo, and this simple de- 
vice provides the pianist with exactly the kind of freedom he 
needs for his extraordinary rhythmic explorations. 

In the fall of 1928, Earl began rehearsing with a group of 
friends and, apparently with no specific plans for making public 
appearances, building a small library of arrangements that all en- 
joyed playing. It was a natural thing for Earl to do, for his experi- 
ence with Deppe and Armstrong, which had put him in direct 
command of two very different big bands, had left the pianist 
without much enthusiasm for serving as a sideman. He finally left 
Noone and was replaced by Alex Hill and, later, Zinky Cohen, 
two qualified Chicago pianists much affected by the Hines style. 

By December, Earl had hit his full musical stride. In this single 
remarkable month, the pianist from Pittsburgh recorded fourteen 
tides with Louis Armstrong, cut twelve piano solos, and, on his 
twenty-third birthday, launched his own ten-piece orchestra at a 
leading Chicago ballroom. 

Of the Armstrong dates, ten are enduring expositions of Louis 
and Earl at their creative peak as a team. There could be no un- 
certainty now about the status of Hines; each performance 
affirmed and reaffirmed that a spectacular and influential stylist 
had been developed in South Side Chicago, 

On tunes like Beau Koo Jack, Earl approaches his solo as if it 
were an extended break, with the rest of the band (again Dicker- 
son men, with altoist Don Redman added) obligingly suspending 
all other sounds for that moment. In this happy environment, Earl 
demonstrated some new ideas. The octave melody phrases were 
now frequently replaced by streaking single-note lines, sometimes 
arching gracefully over four or eight bars in a continuous pattern 
bearing Httle or no resemblance to the pianist's famous "trumpet* 
style. In the tradition of all good Eastern pianists, Earl's bass fig- 
ures were masterpieces of eccentric design and spontaneous wit 
It was this feature of his style that made his rhythm men readily 
agree to drop out during the piano solos; a bass player, for exam- 
ple, courted disaster if he tried to follow Earl's rhythmic peregri- 


nations. Hines, however, never lost die pulse, even when it was 
completely out of sight, and this remarkable ability had much to 
do with the success of his music. Broken rhythms were, of course, 
older than ragtime, but no pianist before Bail Hines not even 
James P, Johnson ever took so many chances in the heat of spon- 
taneous improvisation without experiencing many failures. Hines 
seemed never to miss. 

Fast countennelodies, long lines of sixteenths, thirty-seconds, 
and sixteenth-note triplets (many suggesting ideas that were to 
come much later with Lester Young and Charlie Parker), har- 
monic adventures sometimes actually over Armstrong's head, bril- 
liant use of double-time figures to increase tension, intelligent 
spacing of pauses for dramatic impact, and a mature sense of mu- 
sical architectonics were some of the characteristics of Earl's 
work in late 1928 that amounted to a milestone in the annals of 
keyboard jazz. Other notable Hines-Armstrong titles are Save It, 
Pretty Mama, No, Muggles, Tight Like This, Hear Me Talkin' to 
Yfl, and St. James Infirmary. On Basin Street Blues, Earl plays 
celeste with his usual positive air. 

Hines's ambition to be heard as a front-line instrument was 
given free play in one other Armstrong recording. It is a duet 
transformation of an old King Oliver tune called Weatherbird Rag, 
and the two jazzmen obviously had a merry time testing each 
other's strength without the normal restrictions imposed by a con- 
ventional jazz band. One need only to contrast this extraordinary 
collaboration with a rather hidebound Jelly Roll Morton-King Ol- 
iver duet recording of some four years earlier to understand how 
far Hines and Armstrong had helped to bring jazz in that short 

Earl's solo recordings in 1928 present a curious contradiction: 
though even more impressive in strictly pianistic terms than his 
Armstrong work, they occasionally suggest a man to whom music 
is a kind of advanced game of wits and perhaps little more. 
"Music is like baseball," Hines has said. 'The reason we didn't go 
for back-room musicians much was that it didn't take anything to 
figure it out. If it's not a challenge, there's no fun in it." 

Many jazzmen would agree, but perhaps not so many would 
want the kind of compliment that a Hines sideman once offered, 

EABL fflNES 6l 

quite sincerely: "Earl is just like a machine but a machine that 

There were moments of tenderness, real or posed, for the "ma- 
chine that swings," though. His Blues in Thirds is a charming 
mood piece, if not a true blues in its depth of emotional expres- 
sion. It was recorded first in Chicago as Caution Blues, but Earl's 
QRS version, made in New York a couple of weeks later, is the 
more sensitive rendition. 

When QRS, ordinarily a piano-roll company, asked Hines to 
make phonograph records in December, he went immediately to 
New York for the date. Entering the studio without music or even 
very much idea of what he would do, Earl sat down and played 
eight tunes: Blues in Thirds, Panther Rag (obviously Tiger Bag, 
already recorded in part as 57 Varieties}, Monday Date, two 
other blues, and three originals titled Chicago High Life, Stow- 
away, and Just Too Soon. Beneath the elaborate superstructures, 
these last three compositions are made up largely of stock pro- 
gressions borrowed from songs like Sister Kate, Big Butter and 
Egg Man, and other good jam-session favorites. 

That Earl hoped to make an impression in his New York record- 
ing debut may be deduced from these recordings in two ways: 
his tempos are exhibitionistically fast; and in several instances 
(Monday Date is one), he paraded his command of the Harlem 
"stride" style, perhaps added for the benefit of critical local pian- 
ists like Johnson and Waller, 

The QRS solos (and those recorded in Chicago as well) are 
unique virtuoso performances. Though the Armstrong stamp still 
appears on some of Earl's ideas, this group of records marks his 
break with the trumpeter as a co-musician and as a continuing in- 
fluence. From here 0% eacfe man went his own way. 

Actually, too much has been made of the impact of Louis on 
EarL It is likely that the trumpeter's manner of phrasing encour- 
aged Hines to develop his hornlike treble lines more convincingly, 
but there is little evidence of wholesale Borrowing of musical con- 
cepts. Armstrong was a master builder, one who constructed a 
solo from the ground up; Hines tended, at this time, to think in 
four-bar or eight-bar fragments, each a unit unto itself. Louis 
moved with the rhythm section, often relaxing just behind the 


pulse; Hines pushed the beat, creating the illusion of accelerating 
while keeping perfect time. Most importantly, Armstrong thought 
in essentially vocal terms; Hines improvised primarily in abstract 
instrumental fashion. 

It was while he was in New York that Earl heard from Lucky 
Millinder, a sort of middleman between the Chicago underworld 
and the local music business, who was looking for a known musi- 
cian to head up a band at the Grand Terrace Ballroom. Hines 
thought of his rehearsal group, assured Millinder that he was 
ready to go, and took the next train for home. 

It was a good choice by Millinder, for Earl's knowledge of 
showmanship, staging, and musical directing put the fast-moving 
Grand Terrace show on a par with the revues at the Sunset and 
the Savoy. The band was a good one, if a little rough at first, and 
included top men like trumpeters George Mitchell and Shirley 
Clay, a Miff Mole-inspired trombonist named William Franklin, 
ex-Dickerson saxophonist Cecil Irwin, and Lester Boone, a good 
jazz tenor saxophone player. For a couple of months, trumpeter 
Jabbo Smith also worked with this band. Franklin, Alvis, and Ir- 
win contributed original arrangements to the band's book, which 
was already expanding rapidly. By early 1929, the Hines band 
offered a respectable sound of its own that seemed to lie some- 
where between the loose swing of Bennie Moten's Kansas City 
band and the advanced ensemble precision of William McKin- 
ney's Cotton Pickers. There were, too, overtones of smaller stomp 
bands in arrangements like Beau Koo Jack and of the strutting 
Harlem style in numbers like Everybody Loves My Baby. These 
and several other titles were recorded for Victor in February, 
1929, barely two months after the band opened at the Grand 

During these early band years, Earl expanded his harmonic 
scope, partly through the influence of Cecil Irwin, whose arrange- 
ments for the band reflected the saxophonist's formal studies of 
harmony and increased interest in "modern" voicing. Ninths, elev- 
enths, sixths, and minor sevenths began to appear more frequently 
in Hines s piano improvisations, adding new dimensions to his al- 
ready complex style. An intriguing example of this new turn is 
contained in a February, 1929, solo recording of Glad Bag DoU. 
Two separate versions, takes from the same recording session, 


have been issued that offer some clues to Earl's transitional posi- 
tion at that time. Take i is a straightforward compound of Mor- 
ton, Johnson, Waller, and Hines, full of strutting Harlem devices, 
that concludes on a major chord with the sixth added for interest 
The second take is slower and more thoughtful, ending with a 
tense flatted fifth a modern touch, indeed, for 1929, Throughout, 
Hines's affection for Waller's frothy stride manner is evident. 
Earl's bass lines, alternating chromatic tenths with harmonically 
sophisticated oom-pah figures, are a mixture of Waller and his 
own ideas as originally developed from Jim Fellman in Pitts- 

As he continued to work with a large band, Hines began to rely 
more upon his supporting musicians, causing the full semiorches- 
tral sound of his piano to undergo subtle changes. The rhythm 
section took over many of the functions of the pianist's left hand, 
leaving Earl free to experiment further with running-bass coun- 
termelodies. Right-hand octaves were still useful in many in- 
stances, but more and more single-note improvisations were ap- 
pearing in the pianist's solos. (By now, the widespread use of 
electric microphones had encouraged pianists everywhere to play 
with a faster, lighter touch.) Finally, Earl no longer had to prove 
his ability to other jazzmen, for he was acclaimed by musicians 
throughout the country and, as a bandleader, could send his 
music in any direction he wished without having to force the issue 
from the keyboard. This, too, had its effect upon his playing, now 
becoming less frantic and more contemplative but no less 
venturesome with each passing month. 

By 1932, Earl had enlarged his band to twelve men. Cecil 
Irwin, Darnell Howard, and Omer Simeon made up the sax sec- 
tion; trumpeter Walter Fuller, who also arranged for and sang 
with the band, was a major asset; guitarist Lawrence Dixon, 
trumpeter-saxophonist George Dixon, bassist Quinn Wilson, trom- 
bonist Louis Taylor, and saxophonist Irwin all contributed origi- 
nal tunes and arrangements. British composer and arranger Regi- 
nald Foresythe formed a close friendship with Hines at this time 
and wrote a theme song, Deep Forest, for him. Foresythe's ad- 
vanced harmonic concepts again affected the pianist's personal 
musical outlook. The Grand Terrace landed a network radio wire 
about that time, and regular broadcasts of the band from Chicago 


began to be heard across the nation. It was a happy period for 
Earl despite the raging Depression that was crippling most of the 
American economy at the time. There was security, little travel, 
musical satisfaction, personal celebrity, and the excitement of 
planning musical shows around performers such as Ethel Waters 
and Bill Robinson. Young players like Teddy Wilson were coming 
around to leam from him, and visiting jazzmen from out of town 
frequently asked to sit in. For a green bandleader of 27, Earl 
Hines was doing rather well. 

At this time, Earl turned out a pair of recorded solos, Love Me< 
Tonight and Down Among the Sheltering Palms. The second is 
an especially notable performance, for it reveals a new level of 
maturity in its orderly progression from simple melodic statement 
to conservative embellishments to an agitated climax of broken 
rhythms and fuguelike cross-melodies. The solo, in short, is built 
to stand as a single spiral of variations on a theme, and it repre- 
sents an advance from Hines's earlier montage methods. 

The band took on a more positive identity in 1933, when 
arranger-saxophonist Jimmy Mundy joined up. With Mundy ar- 
rangements like Cavernism and Madhouse, the reputation of the 
band soared, and musicians began comparing the Hines band 
with Fletcher Henderson's superb organization. In this setting, 
Earl's playing took on a new warmth that had only occasionally 
been revealed before. 

Hines continued to strengthen his band from 1933 to 1935. 
Trrnnmy Young, a modern trombonist and an entertaining singer, 
joined the brass section. Singer Herb Jeffries became a prime at- 
traction with recordings like Blue. The best addition of all, how- 
ever, was tenor saxophonist Budd Johnson, replacing Cecil Irwin, 
who was killed in a car accident. Johnson was a first-class soloist 
and a highly skilled, forward-looking arranger. He was also a 
good organizer and eventually took over many of Earl's personnel 

In 1934, the band started recording for Decca, a new company 
that took over many of the old Brunswick label's established art- 
ists, including Hines. Someone at Decca had the singular notion 
that the band ought to turn out a string of modernized Dixieland 
tunes, so Earl recorded Sweet Georgia Brown, Thafs a Plenty, 
Angn/, Mapk Leaf Rag, Copenhagen, and Wolverine Blues. The 


balance of the Decca output of 1934 and 1935 was made up of 
new versions of old hits: Cavernim, Ro&etta (Hines's best-known 
composition), Blue, Bubbling Over, and Julia. The material was 
not really suited to a band as good as this one was, but Earl tossed 
off a number of impressive solos, particularly those on Copen- 
hagen and Wolverine Blues. 

The best of the Grand Terrace era was over by 1936. From the 
time the Hines band commenced broadcasting some five years be- 
fore, more and more months of each year had been devoted to 
traveling. Now the band was away from home more often than 
not In 1936, Benny Goodman lured arranger Jimmy Mundy 
away from Hines, and Fletcher Henderson became the darling of 
the Grand Terrace operators. Earl was, in fact, lucky to get even 
six weeks at the ballroom between Henderson runs. And there 
was no arguing with the Capone-trained backers of the Terrace 
it wouldn't have been good for the "health," as contemporary 
movie villains were wont to say. The Decca contract lapsed, and 
no one bothered to record the band at all that year. Hines stayed 
on the road. 

Most of the trouble, of course, came from Earl himself. He was 
not a good businessman and always seemed to make the right 
move at the wrong time. He also was, it must be added, neither 
popular among musicians nor skilled in public relations. 

Though its .fortunes rose and fell on the waves of mismanage- 
ment, the Hines band was still a musically rewarding outfit to 
hear. In 1937 ^^ 1 93^> a few more records were released. By 
now, Earl had updated his playing again, featuring light, airy 
solos over buoyant swing-band arrangements. The crisp, almost 
metallic, and very authoritative keyboard touch was still there, as 
were the broken rhythms and double-time figures, but a fresh, 
graceful quality that hadn't been noticeable before appeared in 
some of his work now. The melodic lines were longer and smoother, 
with fewer stops and starts, and seemed to ride easily over the 
band rather than welling up from within it. The Morton-Johnson 
dicta, which held that a good pianist must imitate a full orchestra, 
were almost completely put aside. The new piano hero of the pe- 
riod was Teddy Wilson, and it is quite possible that Earl borrowed 
an idea or two from the fleet and precise Wilson, just as Teddy 
had once learned much from him. It is likely, too, that Hines's 


deep regard for the clarinet style of Benny Goodman caused some 
modification of his old Armstrong-like "trumpet" lines. Much of 
the pianist's work from this time on was closer to clarinet- 
saxophone conception than to trumpet ideas. Good examples of 
this new phase of Earl's development are Pianology, Rhythm 
Sundae, and Fkny Doodle Swing. Honeysuckle Rose, a concur- 
rent quartet performance featuring clarinetist Simeon and tenor 
saxophonist Johnson, was a happy affair in which Hines and John- 
son explored some outside harmonies while remaining inside the 
familiar Fats Waller composition. 

From 1938 to 1940, Earl's band continued its downward slide. 
Though still bound by a one-sided contract with Ed Fox of the 
Grand Terrace, most of Hines's time was spent on tour. Budd 
Johnson returned to the group after a year or so with Gus 
Arnheim, but at one point about half the band, including Walter 
Fuller, quit altogether. Earl switched booking offices, but it didn't 
seem to help. In an era of successful big bands and unprecedented 
public enthusiasm for jazz, the Hines unit, though offering good 
music, might as well not have existed. Metronome magazine's 
1938 annual readers' poll, in which swing fans voted for the "Best 
of All Bands," listed Earl Hines and company in seventy-ninth 
place. There wasn't much cause for rejoicing, either, when the 
magazine's 1939 poll pulled the band up to the sixty-first spot. 

Walter Fuller's departure in 1940 was another blow. (The pop- 
ular singer-trumpeter took his own band into the Grand Terrace 
but was pulled out by the union some months later when manager 
Fox failed to meet the payroll.) Budd Johnson was in and out for 
a while, but he finally returned to help Earl shajte a totally new 
land of band. The old contract with Fox had been adjudged 
worthless by the musicians* union, and Hines decided to give the 
band business a fresh try. He already had a new record contract 
with Bluebird, a hit record shaping up in Boogie Woogie on the 
St. Louis Blues (a commercial and uncharacteristic piano spe- 
cialty), another new booking agency, a fresh band put together 
by Johnson, and he was soon to have a new singer named Billy 
Eckstine. When Billy recorded Jelly Jelly for Earl in December, 
1940, the upward swing had already begun, but it was Eckstine 
who finally brought Hines the success he had been unable to find 


Just as he was beginning his term with Bluebird, Earl recorded 
two long solos for the very young Blue Note label, The Fathers 
Getaway ("Father," often pronounced "fatha," being a nickname 
Hones had acquired from a radio announcer in the Grand Terrace 
days) and Reminiscing at Blue Note. They were his first recorded 
unaccompanied solos in seven years. The first is an explosive burst 
of energy and ideas into which Earl seems to be trying to cram 
everything he had ever learned. There is a segment of pure James 
P. Johnson, a sustained tremolo suggesting his Boogie Woogie on 
the St. Louis Blues routine, a series of wild rhythmic gyrations 
and some melodic broken-field running that seem on the verge of 
getting out of hand but never do, and an incredible tangle of 
block chords, suspensions, and breaks within breaks. The result is 
a kind of amalgam of new and old Hines in a display of virtuosity 
that no pianist of 1939, save one, could have matched. (The one, 
of course, would be Art Tatum, who himself began as a Hines- 
Waller disciple.) Reminiscing at Blue Note is a curious hodge- 
podge, full of references to boogie-woogie, pseudomodern har- 
monies of the twenties, Harlem piano, and smatterings of Hines 
favorites like 7ou Can Depend on Me. 

Three solos for Bluebird recorded in 1939 and early 1940 deserve 
mention. One is the inevitable Rosetta, which begins conserva- 
tively enough but eventually winds up as a tightly compressed 
knot of ideas, concluding, it seems, just before the snapping 
point. Body and Soul reminds the listener that Earl was still, 
though a more modem musician than before, a little too much the 
hard-boiled pianist to lose himself completely in a sensitive bal- 
lad performance. Child of a Disordered Brain is essentially a solo 
in the style of Fats Waller, upon which is superimposed a dizzy- 
ing succession of out-of-time breaks and other familiar Hines 

The development of the Hines band from 1941 to 1943 is an 
important early chapter in the story of modern jazz and is better 
told elsewhere. Suffice it to point out that Budd Johnson gathered 
the best modern players he could find, helped to build a distinc- 
tive library of advanced arrangements, and acted as a valuable 
liaison between Hines and his men; that during this period the 
band included outstanding performers like Dizzy Gillespie, Char- 
lie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Scoops Carry, Freddy Webster, and 


Benny Green; and that Eckstine's departure to form his own band 
in 1943 sent Earl's rating down to the bottom of the polls again. 

During this period of intimate contact with modern jazz, Earl's 
own style moved ahead somewhat on his band recordings but ap- 
peared to stand still on solo records. On the Sunny Side of the Street 
and Melancholy Baby, for example, are 1941 solos that actually 
seem to go back to the stomping and romping of Morton and 
Waller, although Hines flourishes are present, too, Yet Earl's short 
solo on his 1941 band recording of Yow Dont Know What Love Is 
is built on a hard, firm line that was thoroughly modern for its 
time. The exploratory urge and the fondness for musical puzzles 
that distinguished the musical character of the budding jazzmen 
in the early forties were exactly the drives that propelled Hines. It 
is unfortunate that the sound of Earl's greatest band ( 1943) wa 
never preserved, owing to a recording ban called during that year 
by the musicians* union. 

Earl's next venture grew out of an anomalous ambition he had 
nurtured a long time: to front a huge stage orchestra built along 
Paul Whiteman lines, complete with a string section. (Strings 
with dance bands were in vogue again by the early forties.) He 
added a covey of draftproof female violinists and some French 
horns to his new seventeen-piece band and featured concert ar- 
rangements of selections from Showboat and other old war- 
horses. Hie experiment lasted a few troubled months, after which 
the strings and horns suddenly vanished. By mid- 1944, Earl was 
back to seventeen men, including reedman Scoops Carry, trum- 
peter Willie Cook, and tenor saxophonist Wardell Gray. 

The recording ban Was over in 1944, ^^ Earl recorded some 
twelve-inch sides for Keynote, featured with groups led by Cozy 
Cole and Charlie Shavers. Amazingly, they were the first records 
Earl had made since 1928 with a group of jazzmen who were not 
only reasonably modern in outlook but also near Hines's own mu- 
sical level in ability. The Cole releases are especially satisfying, for 
Hines was matched with Coleman Hawkins, and both men 
seemed to enjoy the experience enormously. Each had passed 
through much the same learning processes in the preceding two 
decades, and each stood on the threshold of modern jazz in 1944. 
Earl was uncommonly relaxed for the date, employing a light but 
authoritative touch and even trying his hand at some uncharacter- 


istic bits of understatement. The four excellent performances are 
Blue Moon, Just One More Chance, Father Cooperates, and a re- 
worked Honeysuckle Rose called Through for the Night. With 
trumpeter Shavers, Earl recorded another Rosetta, an uncom- 
monly slow version of Star Dust, and two other on-the-spot com- 
positions. Again one man on the date matched Earl's skill and 
artistry drummer Jo Jones. With Jones assisting, Earl's back- 
ground chording for front-line soloists is decidedly modern, 
totally unlike his work behind Armstrong in 1928. 

A session for Apollo during this period found Earl once more in 
the company of his peers, in this instance altoist Johnny Hodges, 
bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Sidney Catlett. Of six titles, 
Life with Father is the best example of Hine's 1944 style. 

A set of four 1944 recordings with a trio that again included 
bassist Pettiford points up even more clearly what was happening 
to Earl at this time. Many of the arresting left-hand figures had 
fallen away in favor of light chromatic accents and occasional 
harmonic punctuations. The advent of bold, modern string-bass 
lines had made this move by Earl not only possible but musically 
desirable. In addition, Earl had long been hinting at a more soft 
and gentle approach, although his own best work never seemed to 
lean very much in that direction, and the modern rhythm section 
encouraged him to bring out that side of his musical personality. 

*In the twenties," Earl recalls, "much of the music was loud, 
two-beat gutbucket stuff. It was like shouting all the time. I pre- 
ferred musicians who played soft and beautiful things men like 
cometist Joe Smith, who used to stop the crowds cold using a co- 
conut shell for a mute. Trombonist Tyree Glenn has some of that 
quality today." 

Earl once selected Tommy Dorsey as his favorite trombonist, 
because Dorsey had "technique, good taste, experience, and a real 
knack for organization and selecting song material." These, it 
seems, were the qualities Hines now tried to stress in his own 
work. It was a more feasible proposition from 1944 on, when the 
prerequisites for jazzmen that prevailed in the twenties and early 
thirties volume, powerful attack, heavy rhythmic emphasis, and 
a "down home" blues feeling had been superseded by a new set 
of values harmonic research, long melodic lines, rapid-fire artic- 
ulation, and rhythmic experimentation. The only drawback was 


that Hines at 39 was not in a position to build an entirely new 
style on the principles of bop, and his middle-of-the-road ap- 
proach, while perfectly sound musically, led nowhere commer- 
cially. Not wishing to play Dixieland or early forms of swing, but 
unable to participate fully in the modern movement of the mid- 
forties, Earl relied instead upon his new, softer, less aggressive 
mode of expression and entered what might be called his <c bland" 
period. He has never entirely emerged from it since. 

In 1945, the Hines band was still a rocking one, with jazzmen 
like Wardell Gray, Benny Green, and tenor saxophonist Kermit 
Scott featured, but Earl kept his own solos to a bare minimum. 
When the piano was spotlighted, the result too often amounted to 
an undistinguished porridge of pseudo-boogie-woogie and me- 
lodic cliches. This strange phase is documented by a handful of 
recordings including still another Rosetta on the AHA label. 

Earl's last sustained fling at big-band jazz was in 1947. He had 
just recovered from a serious automobile accident, his second in 
ten years, that had left him temporarily without sight The eco- 
nomic picture grew darker, and he finally gave up, after nineteen 
stormy years as a leader, and accepted Louis Armstrong's offer to 
join his new All-Star sextet. It was not a good musical solution to 
Earl's dilemma, but the pay was good and the headaches few. He 
stayed nearly four years. 

Two decades had brought many changes, and the Hines- 
Armstrong team was no longer the formidable musical GestaU it 
had been in 1928. Louis had, if anything, retreated from his once- 
modern position and arrived at a kind of theatrical New Orleans 
style, while Earl had moved on from his early modern approach 
to a musical posture consistent with later developments in the 
forties. Furthermore, Hines had long since grown accustomed to 
the limelight and could not be content as a sideman even an All- 
Star sideman. 

Not surprisingly, Earl's best recordings during these Armstrong 
years were made with others. A number of dates in 1948 and 1949, 
some with trumpeter Buck Clayton and clarinetist Barney Bigard 
(also an All-Star), found Earl in good form and occasionally up to 
his old creative level. One called Keyboard Kapers is first-rate 
Hines from beginning to end. Another mixed batch recorded 
without Armstrong while on tour in Paris is less impressive, but 


Earl repeatedly breaks through the prevailing air of indifference 
to offer some bracing ideas. 

A set of solos for Columbia in 1950 features mainly the bland 
side of Hines's contradictory musical personality, but there are 
absorbing moments when Earl reveals what he could still do 
when the mood struck him. In his new Rosetta, for example, he 
constructs, over simple bass patterns, a long, single-note melodic 
line that could easily be the work of a modern horn player. Hines 
was still, when the spirit moved him, a unique and impressive 

The inevitable departure from Armstrong in late 1951 triggered 
some uncharacteristically hostile remarks from the trumpeter (re- 
ported in Down Beat at the time): "Hines and his ego, ego, egol 
If he wanted to go, the hell with him. He's good, sure, but we 
don't need him. . . . Earl Hines and his big ideas. Well, we can 
get along without Mr. Hines.* 

Earl lost no time in putting an excellent semimodern band to- 
gether, but he soon found himself a victim of his own poor busi- 
ness methods again. Leonard Feather, reviewing the group in 
Down Beat, sensed the problem: "It's not surprising that Fatha 
Hines has one of the brightest little bands in the country. The 
only surprise is that he's been working so sporadically and that so 
few people seem to know about the group. (One possible reason: 
D'Oro Records keeps his releases top secret.)" 

Featuring versatile jazzmen like trumpeter Jonah Jones, former 
sideman Benny Green, bassist Tommy Potter, drummer Art 
Blakey (later replaced by Osie Johnson), and reedman Aaron 
Sachs, this little band represented Earl's last bid for a place in the 
contemporary music scene. When it failed, the pianist seemed 
ready to try anything to earn his living, He worked for a while 
with a small unit featuring Dickie Wells, but that petered out as 
well. In September, 1955, Earl turned up at the Hangover Club in 
San Francisco with a pickup Dixieland band that included his old 
Chicago colleague Darnell Howard and New York trombonist 
Jimmy Archey. He learned an approprate list of traditional tunes, 
discovered how to hold back improper "modern" chords to an 
even greater extent than had been necessary in Armstrong's AH- 
Stars, and settled down to a long, if musically unrewarding, sojourn 
at the Western saloon. 


For several years, the pianist covered up his Dixieland activities 
by recording and traveling with more modern trios and quartets, 
but in 1960 he finally went on the road with his traditional band 
and immediately found wide acceptance in Eastern nightclubs. 
Weary of resisting the unavoidable, Earl began rehearsing his lit- 
tle traditional band so that at least some part of each performance 
would reflect his penchant for organization and showmanship, 
Hines remained, as he must, very much the leader of his own 

Shortly after settling in the West, Earl recorded two albums for 
Fantasy, one devoted to Fats Waller specialties and another con- 
taining twelve unaccompanied solos. The second set suggests that 
Hines's powers were undiminished; he soars effortlessly through a 
superb version of Piano Man, a blues named for the late Art 
Tatum, some new thoughts on Monday Date, and others. How- 
ever, the records did not sell well, favorable reviews notwith- 

Along with a couple of uneventful sessions, including one con- 
ducted during a 1957 Paris visit, Earl recorded at least one out- 
standing performance during the next couple of years. This was 
Brussels 9 Hustle, a blues put together by Hines and some San 
Francisco musician friends for a Felsted recording. It is a hearty 
and imaginative affair, not at all like his playing in a Dixieland 
context Brussels 9 Hustle reassured those who cared that Earl was 
still vitally concerned with musicand rather modern music at 
that when he wanted to be, 

A 1958 Benny Carter-Hines collaboration, with bassist Leroy 
Vinnegar and Shelly Manne added, should have provided the 
ideal showcase for Earl's finest work, and indeed there are many 
good moments in the twelve performances they recorded, but 
Carter's unbending alto and Hines's cool piano failed to inspire 
each other. It was, however, a noble experiment (by Contem- 
porary Records) and a rare instance of intelligent handling of die 
enormous Hines talent 

Earl's next trip to the studios occurred a year later, when MGM 
tried once more to sell the natural and timeless Hines style rooted 
in the music of the mid-forties. An engagingly handsome quartet 
treatment of Willow Weep for Me and a happy SteaUn' Apples 


place this date among Earl's best later efforts, but it was followed 
by a long silence a silence broken only in 1961 by a new re- 
corded collection of Earl's Dixieland band numbers: from his 
1927 recordings with Johnny Dodds, Earl had traveled nearly full 

In early 1963, Hines dismissed his traditional group and for a 
while tried operating his own nightclub in Oakland, California. 
From time to time, he toyed with a big band, worked with a semi- 
commercial swing sextet, and even experimented with a trio con- 
sisting of piano, organ, and tenor saxophone, Though reluctant to 
leave his well-appointed middle-class home and family in Oak- 
land, he found his greatest success on trips to the East. A long 
overdue jazz piano recital at New York's Little Theater in 1964 
enthralled critics and led to new record dates, as well as to an 
engagement at Birdland, a club generally reserved for modern 
musicians. In strapping health and still a persuasive improviser, 
Hines appears ready to carry on his search for musical and finan- 
cial fulfillment for many more years. 

Hines's influence over other pianists has been so extensive that 
it is difficult to assess it clearly. Broken-bass rhythms, treble 
octaves, frequent use of tenths in both hands, and even trumpet- 
like melodic ideas were not new or original with Hines; it was 
how he combined them into a refreshing new style that made such 
a deep impression on other pianists. Unlike most of the barrel- 
house keyboard men before him, Earl captured the spirit and 
substance of jazz without sacrificing classical finesse. He used, for 
example, all the foot pedals for shading, tone control, and height- 
ening the dramatic value of certain passages. His arched fingers, 
long enough to cover a tenth but seldom more than that, struck 
the keys in the crisp, forceful manner of a concert pianist. Earl's 
tremolos were never the sloppy affairs that one heard from blues 
and boogie-woogie specialists; each note sounded strong, clear, 
and evenly spaced. And there were no phony diatonic runs or 
other shortcuts to flashiness; Earl conceived and pkyed every 

Hines's solos differed from those of, say, Jelly Roll Morton in 
one fundamental way: Morton and other early pianists attempted 
to emulate the sound of an orchestra; Earl wanted to achieve the 


sound of a horn soloist over supporting rhythmic and harmonic 
figures. The older view Mowed logically from ragtime and New 
Orleans preferences for ensemble playing. (King Oliver once 
scolded pianist Lai Hardin for making fancy runs by reminding 
her that "we have a clarinetist in the band.") Earl's attitude made 
perfect sense in the h'ght of new trends toward solo exposition 
ushered in largely by Louis Armstrong. 

It was the Hines theory that appealed to young pianists in the 
late twenties and early thirties. Jess Stacy rejected the violent 
broken-bass figures, but he made extensive use of Earl's hornlike 
treble phrasing in octaves. Joe Sullivan elaborated on the power- 
ful on-the-beat attack that marked much of Earl's work and bor- 
rowed some of his jagged-bass-line concepts as well. Teddy Wil- 
son arrived at his own influential style by way of Hines's octave 
work in the right hand, his handling of chromatic tenths in the 
bass, and his advanced harmonic inversions and alterations. Art 
Tatum picked up and extended some of Earl's most spectacular 
tricks overlapping counterrhythms, breathtaking suspensions, 
fiery double-time figures, and startling changes of pace and direc- 
tion. Hundreds of others learned from Hines, many of whom tried 
to copy his style outright 

Though Earl's playing was agitated and "hot* (in the best 
sense), it was seldom earthy, Stacy and Sullivan avoided this trap 
by combining the blues message with their Hines-derived styles; 
Wilson and Tatum, like Hines, evinced little interest in the blues 
and remained "cool," though highly effective, jazzmen. Through 
these two channels, Earl affected virtually every jazz pianist who 
came after him until the arrival of Bud Powell and Thelonious 
Monk in the f orties, 

Because Hines is still an outstanding pianist and a robust, rest- 
less man, those who admire his music are hopeful that he will yet 
achieve rightful recognition for just what he is an unclassifiable 
improviser, a primary contributor to the art of jazz piano playing, 
and a performer still capable of sustaining intensity and excite- 
ment as few jazzmen can. Only in Europe, especially in England 
(where Earl appeared with Jack Teagarden in 1957), has Hines 
found widespread enthusiasm for his work. It is a pity the country 
that pknted the flower will not permit it to reach full bloom in its 
own soil 


Recommended Reading 

Feather, Leonard: Inside Be-Bop, Robbins, New York (1949)- 
Gleason, Ralph J. (ed.): Jam Session, Putnam's, New York (1958). 
McCarthy, Albert, and Max Jones (eds.): Piano Jazz #2, Jazz Music 

Books, London (i945)- 
Ramsey, Frederic, and Charles Edward Smith: Jazzmen, Harcourt, 

Brace, New York (1939)- 
Shapiro, Nat and Nat Hentoff (eds.): The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958)- 

Recommended Listening 

The Louis Armstrong Story, Vol. 2 (one track), COLUMBIA CL-852. 

The Louis Armstrong Story, Vol. 3, COLUMBIA CL-853. 

Earl Nines: QRS Sobs, ATLANTIC LP 120. 

The Art of Jazz Piano (three tracks), EPIC 3295. 

Guide to Jazz (one track), RCA VICTOR LPM-1393- 

Great Jazz Pianists (one track), CAMDEN 328. 

Earl Hines: Oh, Father!, EPIC 3223. 

Earl Hines, Mercury MG 25018. 

Earl Hines: Plays Fats Waller, FANTASY 3217. 

Earl Hines: Solos, FANTASY 3238. 

Earl Hines: Eatfs Pearls, MGM E 3832. 

Earls Back Room, FELSTED 7002. 

Earl Hines: A Monday Date, RIVERSIDE 398. 

The Grand Terrace Band: Earl Hines, RCA VICTOR LPV-512. 


Bix BEIDEBBECKE seemed born to play jazz. Possessed of a spirit of 
quiet rebellion, endowed with a sharp sense of humor as well as a 
fantastic musical ear, he was psychologically constituted to seek 
the handiest medium of self-expression as early in Me as possible 
and he discovered jazz as naturally as a baby discovers its 
mother. In his 28 years, Bix burned up most of his energies trying 
to satisfy his urge to make music and spent much of his adult life 
attempting to reconcile his musical individualism with the de- 
mands of America's entertainment industry in the twenties. He 
was doing pretty well on both counts until his physical stamina 
gave out in late 1928. 

Apparently, health was no problem during Bix s childhood in 
Davenport, Iowa, for he is remembered as a solid and active little 
boy who enjoyed sports almost as much as music. His extraordi- 
nary musical ear was something of a local natural wonder, re- 
membered by those who knew him long after he had left Tyler 
Elementary School. Alice Robinson, Bix's kindergarten teacher 
around 1908, never forgot the boy with the big brown eyes who 
could go to the piano after singing with the class and, with one 
finger, pick out the same tunes on the keyboard. 

"Bix loved to stand by the piano," reminisced Miss Robinson in 
1953, "and play with the class pianist, imitating on the high notes 
whatever she was playing. He was a dreamy little fellow and was 
happy finding his own niche rather than joining the larger group." 

Bix's older brother, Charles, recalls hearing the piano almost 
continuously in the years that followed. When the family had all 
they could stand, Mrs. Beiderbecke, a pianist herself, sent Bix out 
to play. He played hard, too, at baseball, ice skating, and espe- 
cially tennis, but music was always first. 

In a sense, Bix was practicing jazz before he knew what it was. 
Mildred Colby, his sixth-grade teacher at Tyler, observed that 
young Beiderbecke participated in classroom part singing in a 
rather special way, adding second or third parts by ear even when 
no written parts were furnished. 



It was his remarkable ear, in fact, that ultimately led to serious 
problems for Bix. Piano lessons never worked out very well, for he 
easily memorized the lessons instead of reading them, thereby dis- 
rupting the conservative teaching plan of his instructor. Today 
there might be teachers who would know how to handle such a 
gifted student. Because music came to him without effort, Bix ap- 
parently developed an early indifference, to formal studies that 
eventually harmed him in his prof essional life. He also revealed a 
tendency toward laziness and frequently traveled whatever path 
offered the least resistance. In school, he customarily ignored his 
studies until exams came around, barely scraping through at the 
last moment The pattern did not change appreciably in later 
years: Bix got by on a vast natural talent for music and a quick, 
searching mind, adding to these assets as little hard work as 

It was while he was in high school that Bix acquired a cornet 
and, at about the same time, heard the Original Dixieland Jazz 
Band on records. Both events were major ,steps toward the crea- 
tion of a musical personality that was to have far-reaching effects 
on jazz. Bix never lost his fondness for the tunes associated with 
the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, and he kayed with the comet 
to the end, although most cornetists switched to the sharper- 
edged sound of the trumpet in the middle and late twenties. In- 
deed, there was something rather inflexible about this man a 
land of unconscious perverseness that had both positive and 
negative sides. There was a single-minded dedication to perfect- 
ing his own concept of jazz but, working against him, a defiance 
of authority and accepted behavior that finally prevented Bix 
from attaining the artistic satisfaction that should have been his. 
(It has been suggested by some that Bixs strong ties to his 
mother, combined with the sternness of his father, were revealing 
clues here, but that is a separate subject.) 

Bix's high-school days were full of music, spirited horseplay, 
and bad grades, and here he set the adolescent way of life he was 
to follow for the next decade. There were lots of jam sessions, sit- 
ting in with bands of every persuasion, and endless hours of listen- 
ing. Bix was sent to Lake Forest Academy, near Chicago, in an 
effort to salvage his sagging high-school career. There he was put 
back a year, given an opportunity to play more often, and, finally, 


dismissed from the school in 1922 for failing to meet academic re- 
quirements before ending his spring term. 

During his stay at Lake Forest, Bix and a drummer named Cy 
Welge formed the Cy-Bix Orchestra, accepting engagements in 
nearby towns as well as playing for school functions. The young 
cornetist was already a popular and influential figure among stu- 
dents and a widening circle of musical friends from Milwaukee to 
Chicago. He made himself known, too, to the New Orleans 
Rhythm Kings at Chicago's Friar's Inn. Much has been written 
and many arguments kindled about individual influences on Bix 
Beiderbecke's style, but the New Orleans Rhythm Kings seem to 
have had a kind of collective effect on his musical thinking. The 
group that Bix and some fellow NORK admirers formed in late 
1923 borrowed in many ways from the New Orleans unit. Other 
bands and individuals had left their mark, too, including local 
Davenport groups (and possibly the fleeting example of an ob- 
scure itinerant New Orleans cornetist named Emmet Hardy), 
assorted bands on the Mississippi boats that visited the Tri-Cities 
(Rock Island, Moline, and Davenport), King Oliver s band (with 
Louis Armstrong), maybe Louis Panico, and, of course, the Origi- 
nal Dixieland Jazz Band, particularly its clarinetist, Larry Shields. 
Most jazzmen learn from many musicians, jazz or otherwise, but a 
style as distinctive as Beiderbecke's is the creative product of one 
man's musical mind rather than a montage of borrowed character- 
istics. In any event, the question of influence, while intriguing, is 
not of primary interest What matters most about Bix Beiderbecke 
is his own music and, secondarily, how his music affected those 
who came after him. 

After Lake Forest, Bix gained experience and confidence in a 
wide variety of short engagements, including one that took him to 
New York (where he heard the by now dated Original Dixieland 
Jazz Band in person), and a lake-boat job working for one Bill 
Grimm. The most musically satisfying of these seems to have been 
a series of fraternity jobs with several friends who shared his en- 
thusiasm for the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. Whatever Bix had 
to offer at that point, the college lads, including a worshipful 
young Hoagy Cannichael, loved it. This group evolved into the 
Wolverines in late 1923, by way of a couple of good regular jobs 
in Cincinnati. Ohio. The men who worked with Bix in the Wolver- 


ines were George Johnson (tenor sax), Jimmy HartweD (clari- 
net), Dick Voynow (piano), Bob Gillette (banjo), Min Leibrook 

(tuba), Vic Moore (drums), and, for a while, Al Gandee 

It wasn't an all-star band, but the Wolverine Orchestra had a 
total impact as impressive as the New Orleans Rhythm Kings 
themselves. The group strived for an ensemble blend, and the 
brilliance of Beiderbecke's lead cornet gave the entire unit a sip- 
prising amount of class, as well as rhythmic force and melodic 
content. Success in the Midwest led to an opportunity to record 
for a Midwestern record firm, Gennett, in Richmond, Indiana, 
The first date, in February, 1924, was used up recording four 
tunes from the Original Dixieland Jazz Band repertory: Fidgety 
Feet, Lazy Daddy, Sensation Rag, and Jazz Me Blues. Two were 
rejected, and the first and last were released on a single record, 
thereby launching Bix Beiderbecke on six and a half prolific years 
of recording work that now stands as the only reliable evidence of 
his enormous talent. The endless anecdotes, the volumes of misin- 
formation (even today, professional jazz writers sometimes refer 
to Bix as Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke, although he was christened 
Leon Bix), the fuzzy fantasies dealing with his idiosyncrasies all 
these grow rather tiresome with the passing years, cherished 
mainly by the diminishing body of aging men to whom Bix was a 
living, breathing man with a magic touch on the cornet and piano, 
Whatever the "real" Bix was, he lives today, for most listeners, 
only through his recordings, which begin with Fidgety Feet and 
Jazz Me Blues on the 1924 Gennett record. 

As near as we can tell from the crudely recorded sounds of 
Fidgety Feet, Bix had already, on his very first record, eclipsed his 
early hero, Original Dixieland Jazz Band cornetist Nick La Rocca. 
The Wolverine performance is relaxed, in the manner of the New 
Orleans Rhythm Kings, and the pulse is in 4/4 time rather than in 
the jerky 2/4 "cut" time that mars the ODJB recordings. Bix's 
rhythmic sense is sure, but his tone is undeveloped (he was not 
quite 21 at the time of this recording), his vibrato tense, and his 
melodic inventiveness only suggested. Jazz Me Blues, however, 
has Bix in better form, contributing an ordered solo that seems 
more inspired by clarinetists Larry Shields of the ODJB and Leon 
Roppolo of the NORK than by other trumpet players. Bix's early 


interest in harmonic alterations in melodic lines, undoubtedly 
stemming from his passion for keyboard improvisations, suggests 
that clarinetists, weaving inner harmonic-melodic parts, may have 
held more fascination for him than cornetists, many of whom, 
like La Rocca, were limited to simple rhythmic variations on 
straight melodies. In any event, Jazz Me Blues is the first of many 
recorded performances in which Bix moves with the fleetness, 
grace, subtlety, and harmonic sophistication that had previously 
been heard in some reedmen but seldom in brass players. (New 
Orleans trumpeter Bunk Johnson had a similar outlook, but there 
is no evidence of Bix and Bunk coming in contact with each 

With recordings, other musicians suddenly became very aware 
of the gifted cornetist with the Wolverines, Red Nichols, a skilled 
cornetist with a fair reputation of his own at the time, recorded 
Six's Jazz Me Blues solo note for note in a commercial dance-band 
arrangement. The Benson Orchestra of Chicago, recording for the 
Victor label, picked up material from the Wolverines. Bix was be- 
coming a local sensation and a nationally known "hot" player^ at 
least within the jazz fraternity. 

College students, too, were impressed by the band's first rec- 
ords, and, with the help of Hoagy Carmichael, the Wolverines 
pulled out of Cincinnati and went back to weekend campus work, 
filling out the balance of each week in an Indianapolis nightclub, 
Trombonist Gandee stayed in Ohio and was not replaced. During 
August, 1924, the band played in Gary, Indiana, on a job booked 
by drummer Vic Berton, who split rhythm-section duties with Vic 

Berton's kid brother Ralph, who spent that August in ecstatic 
worshiping range of Bix, wrote thirty-four years later (Harper's, 
November, 1958) of the moonshine, marijuana, and music that 
seem to be part of every Beiderbecke story, but also remembered 
the celebrated comet sound, Tike shooting bullets at a bell," and 
Bix s dissatisfaction with his own recordings, which did not do 
him justice. Other writers have tried to describe Beiderbecke's 
sound with varying degrees of success. Eddie Condon, an early 
admirer and colleague of Bix, claimed it was Tike a girl saying 
yes,* and Hoagy Carmichael talked of a mallet hitting a chime. 


was as "sharp as a rifle crack." Berton was probably right; the rec- 
ords suggest a firm attack and a fine round tone, but hardly the 
sound these musicians talk about 

In May and June, seven more selections were successfully re- 
corded, including Carmichaers Riverboat Shuffle; two from the 
ODJB and NORK books, Tiger Rag and Royal Garden Blues; a 
new tune furnished by bandleader Charley Davis, Copenhagen; 
and three ordinary songs called Oh, Baby, Susie, and I Need 
Some Pettin. Throughout, Bix shows sharp improvement in his 
playing and confidence over the February session and reveals a 
predilection for blues phrasing that may have been a result of his 
enthusiasm at that time for King Oliver's band. (According to one 
observer, Bix was one of the few musicians welcome to sit in with 
Oliver's band at any time.) Riverboat Shuffle and Copenhagen, 
both of which have Gillette playing guitar instead of banjo, are 
excellent examples of how well Bix could incorporate blues 
phrases into nonblues material. I Need Some Pettin' may be the 
closest Bix ever came to the spirit of King Oliver and Louis Arm- 
strong. Again the blues is there in his performance, and there are 
broken-chord figures that tell much of Bix's regard for Armstrong, 
Though some of the figures in Tiger Rag sound like reworked 
NORK ideas, the group's rhythmic drive, loose-jointed abandon, 
and astonishing modernity are best represented by this recording. 
Bix plays tricks with the lead, darting in and out of strict time, 
insinuating other compositions as yet unwritten, and prods the en- 
tire band from start to finish. His solo is full of brilliant bursts that 
foreshadow the music he was to produce in later years. While re- 
maining close to a forceful simplicity of style, Bix now begins to 
utilize short scale passages, unusual neighboring tones (a raised 
ninth here, a flatted fifth there) as strong melodic rather than 
passing notes, and intriguing rhythmic accents, causing unsynco- 
pated passages to sound syncopated. 

Royal Garden Blues is again a strong blues-based performance 
(this time the structure matches the mood), and the configuration 
of Bixs solo bears a striking resemblance to his work on Tiger 
Rag, which was recorded the same day. As before, Bix seemed to 
be thinking along saxophone-clarinet lines rather than in brass 
terms. His long, lazy phrases are not unlike Roppolo's. 
Some idea of how it felt to play alongside Bix at this point in his 


career can be had by way of Mezz Mezzrow: "Playing with Bix 
was one of the great experiences in my Kf e. The minute he started 
to blow, I jumped . . . into the harmony pattern like I was born 
to it, and never left the track for a moment. It was like slipping 
into a suit made to order for you by a fine tailor, silk-lined all 

The Wolverines were on the periphery of the big time now. 
Their next engagement, following the happy summer in Gary, was 
as relief band at the Cinderella Ballroom in the heart of Manhat- 
tan. This was, though they could hardly have known it at the time, 
the beginning it the end of the Wolverines. Bix was the inspira- 
tion of the band, but he was becoming too good to stay with 
them. Within a month of his arrival in New York, he gave his no- 
tice and prepared to return to the Midwest, where he probably 
felt more at home. New York, then as now, could be a highly in- 
different city, full of hustle and offering little sympathy to 
"dreamy little fellows." It must have been clear even to the other 
Wolverines that Bix was ready to graduate. He" did, however, 
record again with the group in New York, turning out four more 
titles for Gennett Sensation, Lazy Daddy, Tia Juana, and Big 

The first two selections were remakes of the rejects from the 
band's initial recording session in February. George Brunis, a for- 
mer New Orleans Rhythm King, enlarged the ensemble and con- 
tributed some humorous kazoo work, but the date was not a strik- 
ing success. The New York studios give us a better representation 
of the Beiderbecke tone, however, which shows steady improve- 
ment but as yet is not die perfectly controlled, finely polished 
sound that can be heard on later recordings. Sensation has pro- 
vocative moments in which Bix dabbles with thirteenths, ninths, 
and unusual passing tones and anticipates chord changes (that 
amazing ear at work again), but the larger part of his contribu- 
tion here is pedestrian Beiderbecke. Lazy Daddy, available in 
two takes, is full of whimsy and strange passages in which Bix 
sounds aggressive and bashful at the same time, but it is not a 
significant Wolverine recording. 

Tia Juana does not seem as bad as tenor saxophonist Johnson 
implied in later years ("the less said the better ') and, indeed, re- 
veals Johnson as one of the few early tenor men to produce a good 


sound on his instrument. Bix again sounds much like Armstrong in 
places, shows more command and power than before, and ends 
Tfa ]wna with a characteristic cornet break that implies one of 
his favorite devices from this time on the whole-tone scale. 

Big Boy is notable for several reasons: it is the final Wolverine 
recording, a new level of maturity in Bixs comet playing is 
reached, and there is a glimpse of the Beiderbecke piano. Tales of 
Bix's private piano improvisations are frequently superlative- 
laden written accounts or smug I-heard-the-truth narrations sug- 
gestive of religious experiences. This brief solo is hardly of that 
order. Working within the framework of a popular tune and an 
ordinary rhythm section, Bix appears to have been a limited pian- 
ist (the modulation in Big Boy, from E-flat to the easier key of F 
before the piano solo, was obviously for his benefit) witih a clumsy 
left hand. It is difficult to tell which of Bix's left-hand chord clus- 
ters are "advanced" harmonic thinking and which are mistakes, 
but one can understand the discomfort that some listeners felt 
while listening to the restless probing of Bix at the piano. Judging 
from this recording, the substance in Bix's keyboard improvisa- 
tions would seem to be in his effective use of harmonic dis- 
sonances in the right hand. 

Ralph Berton is one of several who have attempted to describe 
the effect of Bix's piano: 

I can say only that it more than once moved this listener to baf- 
fled tears, that its subtlety and variety were seemingly infinite, that 
the way it modulated between Debussy-esque nuance and the 
dirtiest cathouse stomp had an impact I had never experienced be- 
fore and never have since. 

The reason why none of this was ever captured on records is 
simple enough. Bix was unhappy even about recording on trumpet 
[cornet, of course]; on piano, he found it impossible, On trumpet, 
though he was perpetually dissatisfied, he did at least consider him- 
self a professional justified in accepting wages for work done; on 
piano he regarded himself as such a wretched fumbler that it was 
only rarely that he would play at all except in private. As far as I 
know, the few piano recordings of Bix that exist he was more or less 
trapped into. 

Bix's keyboard work in Big Boy is, at least, forceful and rhyth- 
mically true, but it is of less melodic interest than his cornet play- 


ing on the same recording. And he had now achieved the authori- 
tative Beiderbecke ring that dazzled musicians wherever he went 

There was another Gennett date in New York before Bix 
headed West. Three of the Wolverines Beiderbecke, Moore, and 
Leibrook Joined trombonist Miff Mole, pianist Rube Bloom, and 
C-melody saxophonist Frank Trumbauer to record Flock o' Blues 
and Tm Glad. Both performances are in the rather subdued and 
precise jazz style that was probably characteristic of several New 
York bands in 1924. (The three non-Wolverines were from Ray 
Millers semi- ft hot" orchestra of that time.) The prevailing musical 
outlook on the date seemed to be away from die blues (despite 
Bloom's title on the first side) and toward a calculated series of 
musical tricks within a jazz setting. Bix does not appear to be as 
involved as he was in the Wolverine recordings. 

Bk Beiderbecke has seldom been painted as an intellectual 
man, but perhaps the portraits are not really accurate. His father, 
a successful Iowa businessman, and his mother, who had received 
musical awards in her childhood, were typical of die American 
middle class that turns out most of die country's college students. 
Bix, too lazy and too caught up in music to attempt serious higher 
studies, nevertheless belonged with die college crowd. His rela- 
tionship with Hoagy Carmichael and, for a brief period, with 
Hoagy's intellectual friend Bill Moenkhaus may have been as 
close as Bix came to revealing himself to anyone. ("Nobody could 
get close to Bix," said pianist Joe Sullivan recently.) Moenkhaus 
decided to try Bix one day by reading his typical piece of sopho- 
moric surrealism called *The Wheatena Test": 

1. Spell Wheatena in four different directions. 

2. "What horse when it rained. 

3. Define freight luner, and amelia, 

4. Tell all you know about vetter. 

5. Tell afl you know about the defeat of New Mexico. 

6. Write a short diary about skates. Leave out page three. 

According to Carmichael, Bix thought it over and replied 
simply, ~l ain not a swan." His friends were delighted. Most of the 
professional musicians that Bk knew, except the college-trained 
Wolverines, were either pranksters (Joe Venuti, Wingy Mannone, 
Don Murray) or confirmed anti-intellectual types who saw music 


primarily as emotional release (Mezzrow, Art Hodes, Condon). 
Probably none of them would have understood Moenkhaus, as Bix 
did instantly. Those who could talk from all sides ( drummer Dave 
Tough was one) were rare, and this may have been part of the 
reason for Bix's loneliness. 

While Moenkhaus and Bix hit it off immediately, some fellow 
musicians, such as Wingy Mannone, never did penetrate the pro- 
tective fog that Bix kept around him. TBix was a genius, and we 
just didn't understand him, I guess," remembers Mannone. "He 
was always talking music, telling us, Xet's play this chord/ or 
Xet's figure out some three-way harmony for the trumpets after 
die job tonight' It seemed to us he didn't want us to enjoy our 

Eddie Condon tells of an unexpected conversation with Bix that 
took place during a time when Condon was brushing up on his 
schooling: tt< By die way/ I said, 'who is Proust? 5 He hit a chord, 
listened to it, and then said, casually, *A French writer who lived 
in a cork-lined room. His stuff is no good in translation/ 1 leaned 
over the piano. *How the hell did you find that out?* I demanded 
He gave me the seven-veils look. 1 get around/ he said." 

Other acquaintances have commented on Bix's ability to com- 
municate verbally when the setting was right. TBix had a great 
brain," recalled Trumbauer a few years ago. THe could talk about 
any subject, not just music." 

His stay in New York seems to have increased Bix's interest in 
formal music, too. His fondness for impressionistic composers and 
orchestrators exerted a large influence on his harmonic concepts in 
jazz until his death. Joe Sullivan, who had a good deal of classical 
training himself, remembers Bix introducing him to the work of 
Eastwood Lane, and others have spoken of his love of Stravinsky, 
Debussy, and Edward MacDowell. The harmonic devices em- 
ployed by these composers, although old stuff to classical 
musicians and even to advanced ragtimers like Scott Joplin 
were strange and new to most jazzmen. Beiderbecke, who could 
play the blues and the "modern" harmonies, was a real phe- 

As 1925 came in, Bix must have had mixed feelings about his 
lif e. He was too advanced for the Wolverines but not yet a skilled 
enough reader for bandleaders like Charlie Straight (who fired 


him after four weeks) and Jean Goldkette. (Bix cut a test record 
for Goldkette in late 1924 that was not considered acceptable.) 
Playing jazz had come to him without work or even much formal 
practice, but composition and orchestration were not that simple. 
He was both an artist and a speakeasy entertainer, both a middle- 
class mama's boy and a nomadic bum, both a star performer and a 
jobless horn player. 

Goldkette furnished some work for Bix around Detroit with 
jazz groups made up of his key "hot" men Tommy Dorsey, clari- 
netist Don Murray, banjoist Howdy Quicksell, and others. Some of 
these men accompanied Bix to Richmond for a January record 
date, and one of the selections turned out that day, Toddlin* 
Blues, another Original Dixieland Jazz Band number, sounds 
dated and is of no special interest, save for Bix's flowing clarinet- 
like style. Davenport Blues is another matter. In this, Bix's first 
known composition, many of the best and most characteristic 
Beiderbecke flourishes can be heard throughout some one hun- 
dred measures of brilliant improvising. There is the ingenious use 
of accents, in one instance placed on every fourth note in a 
twelve-note figure made up of four triplets. There is the whole- 
tone scale ascending from the flatted fifth of the underlying chord 
There are the wide interval slaps, in which almost any harmonic 
alteration may occur, such as in the figure where Bix attacks an F 
diminished chord and comes out with something resembling a G- 
Airteenth with a flatted ninth. But all these delightful events 
occur with no disruption in the smooth, orderly flow of melody 
and with no slackening of rhythmic thrust. With this record, Bix 
left his formative period as a jazzman, requiring now only a fi- 
nal polishing to reach his creative apex. 

In February, 1925, Bix attended the University of Iowa in an 
effort to bring his formal training in music up to his intuitive grasp 
of improvisation, but he was unable to cope with college regula- 
tions and departed eighteen days after enrolling. Had he lived 
thirty years later, there would have been schools to accommodate 
his desire for an all-music curriculum. Stopping briefly in Daven- 
port for piano lessons ( again to no avail ) , Bix returned to Chicago 
and spent the spring and summer playing odd jobs and short en- 
gagements, including a couple of weeks with Ollie Powers at the 
Paradise Inn, a week with Frank Quartel at the Riviera Theater, 


and doubtless occasional single nights with Goldkette groups in 
and around Detroit. 

In the fall, Bix joined a major Goldkette unit (there were many, 
from small ones with Mezz Mezzrow to large and elegant bands 
like McKinne/s Cotton Pickers) stationed in St. Louis under the 
leadership of Frank Trumbauer. Nourished by his compatible 
group of players, coddled by Trumbauer's almost paternal inter- 
est in his music, and never too far from home should the going get 
rough, Bix thrived and grew into a much improved musician. 
Trumbauer, probably learning from Bix at the same time, 
nudged the cornetist along until he was able to handle a section 
part with a fair degree of confidence, During this period, too, Bix 
played a great deal of piano and took a still deeper interest in 
pieces like Lane's Adirondack Sketches. It was a good winter for 
Bix, playing in a band with men like Pee Wee Russell and Trum- 
bauer, participating in jam sessions, experimenting at the piano, 
and sitting in with members of Charlie Creath's excellent orches- 
tra. Creath's bassist, Pops Foster, who recalls playing casual jobs 
as well as jam sessions with Bix in St. Louis, regarded Beiderbecke 
as a better pianist than cornetist. 

Obviously, a kind of workshop atmosphere marked the stay in 
St Louis and led to some interesting results, but unfortunately 
this organization never recorded. The ban9's pianist, Louis Feld- 
man, has been quoted (in Bugles for Beiderbecke) to the effect 
that Bix and Pee Wee were so far ahead of their time that even 
some of the musicians in the band didn't appreciate what they 
were doing. 

Russell himself has confirmed this in Hear Me TaUdn 9 to Jo: 
*We used to have little head arrangements, written by some of the 
men in the band. We would do little things once in a while so 
drastic, or rather so musically advanced, that when we had a 
damn nice thing going the manager would come up and say, 
What in God's name are you doing?* I remember on I Ain't Got 
Nobody we had an arrangement with five-part harmony for the 
three saxes and the two brass. And the writing went down 
chromatically on a whole-tone-scale basis. It was unheard of in 
those days. Bix was instrumental in things like that." 

In the summer of 1926, Trumbauer took a slightly different 
Goldkette unit to Hudson Lake, Indiana, and Bix and Pee Wee 


went along. From all reports, everyone had a marvelous time and 
the music was good. By fall, Bix and Trumbauer were ready to 
join and tour with the first-string Goldkette band, which was by 
now seething with jazzmen ready to blow at the slightest provoca- 
tion. Ray Ludwig and Fuzzy Farrar (who is supposed to have in- 
structed Bix somewhat) were the other trumpeters; trombonist 
Bill Rank, reedmen Don Murray and Trumbauer, bassist Steve 
Brown, and Bix were the principal "hot" men. There was another 
important member of the troupe, too, named Bill Challis. His ar- 
rangements for Jean Goldkette were often as advanced and jazz- 
oriented as were the contemporary scores of Don Redman, 
Fletcher Henderson, and Duke Ellington. His and Bix Beider- 
becke's talents appeared together on record for the first time in 
October, 1926, with a tune called Idolizing. 

After his 1924 recording failure with Goldkette, Bix seemed to 
be taking a cautious stand in his initial appearance on the Victor 
label. The band was clearly a superior one, sparked by Steve 
Brown's booming bass and Eddie Lang's incisive guitar. (Lang 
and violinst Joe Venuti were frequently added to the orchestra for 
recording purposes.) Challis contributed a clean, balanced ar- 
rangement calling for 4/4 rhythm rather than the jittery 2/4 of so 
many popular orchestras of the day. The band began to swing. 

In all, only a dozen or so Goldkette titles were released that 
could interest an admirer of Bix Beiderbecke, but among them are 
some superb examples of the now fully matured cornetist. Hap- 
pily, these were electrically recorded, permitting us to really hear 
Bix's exquisite tone for the first time. 

That Challis was enchanted by Bix's work was evident from the 
start Time and again he wrote out trumpet section parts based 
on Beiderbecke phrases and assigned Bix to a loose lead, leaving 
space for a bit of improvisation. Except for the collaboration of 
Miles Davis and Gil Evans thirty years later and the constant ex- 
ample of Duke Ellington, it is doubtful that any skilled arranger 
has ever taken more care in writing for a single jazz instrumental- 
ist than Bill Challis displayed in his best work for Goldkette and, 
later, for Paul Whiteman. 

Bix can be heard leading his section and, in fact, lending his 
character to the entire band on Sunday, Hoosier Sweetheart, and 
M y Pretty Girl In other instances, Bix was allowed to improvise 


in and around the entire arrangement, filling holes, amplifying the 
brass or the reeds at will, and inventing countermelodies as the 
band moved toward the final measure. It was a remarkable as- 
signment, one that probably no other cornetist could have han- 
dled properly. Examples of this can be heard on I'm Looking 
Over a Four Leaf Clover, Fm Gonna Meet My Sweetie Now, 
Slow River, In My Merry Oldsmobile, and Clementine, 

The only Goldkette recording that really offered Bix a solid solo 
was Clementine. On this, his last appearance on record with the 
band, Bix makes relatively simple but powerful musical state- 
ments over rich sustained chords that were presumably worked 
out between Chain's and Beiderbecke. 

By far the most valuable legacy left as a result of Bix's two years 
with Jean Goldkette bands is a set of sparkling performances re- 
corded with Trumbauer in February and May, 1927, representing 
Bix at the peak of his creative powers. The groundwork for 
these successful Okeh records was laid in St. Louis during the 
many hours Bix and Trumbauer spent together working out head 
arrangements and unusual harmonic progressions. 

For his first date, Trumbauer came up with a pair of classic per- 
formances. Singin 9 the Blues left an impression on virtually every 
saxophone and trumpet player and, with the exception of Louis 
Armstrong's West End Blues, has probably been more widely 
copied than any jazz performance recorded in the twenties. With 
this record, a legitimate jazz ballad style was announced a 
method whereby attractive songs could be played sweetly without 
losing authentic jazz feeling and without sacrificing virility. Prior 
to Singin 9 the Blues, "pretty" tunes were either cloyingly senti- 
mental or cranked up to an awkward jogging pace. Jazzmen gen- 
erally played the blues or blues songs when slow tunes were 
called for. Bix Beiderbecke, with the help of the electric micro- 
phone (which permitted an intimate performance by singers and 
instrumentalists, on the stage or in the recording studio, for the 
first time), changed the pattern almost single-handedly. Trum- 
bauer, who at best was a bright reflection of Beiderbecke, contrib- 
uted substantially by proving that the ballad idea wasn't a one- 
man phenomenon but a workable way for anyone to play certain 
song material. 
It is reasonable to assume that Bix s concept of playing a ballad 


in moderate 4/4 tempo came, at least in part, from his passion for 
romantic and impressionistic melodies in formal music. His ear for 
harmony, too, meant that Bix could hear enough alternate chords 
within each measure of a popular song to sustain his improvisa- 
tions at a slow pace. Singin* the Blues may not seem very slow by 
today's ballad standards, but in 1927 it was about as slow as any- 
one dared to be without strings and "sweet" arrangements. 

As usual in his finest work, Bix's solo on Smgin' the Blues is 
architectonically sound and as ordered as a written composition. 
It was, in fact, included in later orchestrations as originally 
played, and at least two cornetists, Rex Stewart and Bobby Hack- 
ett, recorded the Beiderbecke solo in later years, Bennie Moten's 
1929 recording of Rite Tite is also full of references to Trum- 
bauef s Singin' the Blues solo. 

Clarinet Marmalade, in an arrangement sketched by Bill 
Challis, reached back once more to the Original Dixieland Jazz 
Band library. It is played at a fast clip and is one of Bix's very best 
recordings. It showed him to be, too, one of the most agile horn 
players on the scene in 1927. Few men could execute clean, precise, 
fully formed notes while improvising at this pace, and probably 
only one or two (Armstrong and Jabbo Smith come to mind) 
would have been able to conceive original ideas rather than 
cliches while carrying it off. Bix's Clarinet Marmalade is, too, a 
triumph in terms of logical overall structure, melodic symmetry, 
and rhythmic drive, a most extraordinary jazz recording. 

The performance, which builds in intensity with each phrase, 
puts to work many of the personal devices that Bix had been toy- 
ing with for some time. An emphasis on sevenths, ninths, and thir- 
teenths in the melodic line lends color and surprise to the work 
There are several examples of Bix's interest in scales as substitutes 
for arpeggios, a notion that was about three decades ahead of 
1927. Using the diatonic scale freely, Bix suggests harmonic exten- 
sions reaching into the eleventh and thirteenth intervals of the 
tonic tone, and this practice, like the use of the whole-tone scale, 
implies a movement away from tonality and conventional chord 
playing. Bix's melodic inventions in this work are all the more in- 
triguing because he places each note into his patterns with intui- 
tive care. His use of scales, for example, is not simply an easy way 


to sound flashy, as witb lesser players, but a purposeful musical 

The roots of Bix's Clarinet Marmalade, incidentally, can be dis- 
cerned quite plainly in two earlier recordings of the tune, one by 
the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and another by the New Or- 
leans Rythm Kings. For all his advanced concepts, Bix's playing 
here is a kind of atavistic compendium of the work of cornetists 
La Rocca and Mares and clarinetists Shields and Roppolo. 

The second and third Trumbauer recording dates are of equal 
interest. On these occasions, Ostrich Walk (another nod to the 
ODJB), Riverboat Shuffle, Tm Comiri Virginia, Way Down Yon- 
der in New Orkans, and For No Reason at AU in C were 

Ostrich Walk, like Clarinet Marmalade, has Bix in full stride, 
combining, in his paradoxical way, ten-year-old material with 
prophetic intimations of music to come after his own lifetime. 
Bop, or modern jazz, was also built on time-tested popular song 
patterns. It may be unrealistic to expect a revolution in both jazz 
instrumental procedure and underlying harmonic structures simul- 
taneously. By employing already familiar materials, Bix, for one, 
was able to become more adventurous in his comet improvisa- 
tions. (He did, however, seek new structural forms through his 
keyboard experiments.) 

With the help again of Bill Chaflis, Ostrich Walk moved swiftly 
and effortlessly through some breathtaking ensemble playing to a 
brilliant cornet passage in concert A-flat and into a driving final 
chorus in E-flat. The entire performance sparkles with wit and 
whimsy and is one of Bix s happiest records. However, there is 
also a mildly disturbing element in Ostrich Walk. Creeping into 
Six's work was a slightly stilted manner, a trifle too much empha- 
sis on staccato articulation, suggesting that he might have been in 
need of a few weeks of playing the blues, at this point, to recover 
his former balance of expressive techniques. (For historical per- 
spective, we might remember that Louis Armstrong recorded his 
classic Potato Head Blues in the same month that these Trum- 
bauer sessions were held. ) 

Tm Comiri Virginia displays Bix in his best ballad form and, in 
this instance, somewhat more in touch with the blues, with a 


chorus that is perfectly formed and shows no lapses in taste or 
imagination. On Way Down Yonder in New Orleans, Bix con- 
tributes a restrained but appealing ballad chorus. There is a hint 
of awkwardness, though, and one has the feeling that Bix may 
have been taking the easy way out again by playing figures al- 
ready worked out and pretested for effectiveness. 

Riverboat Shuffle provides an interesting contrast with the Wol- 
verine version three years earlier. There is no doubt about Bix's 
growth and increased authority. He easily gallops away from 
Trumbauer here, working up to a final flare on cornet high C that 
he probably could not have brought off in earlier times. But amid 
the excitement and invention, there is a trace of the self-caricatur- 
ization that was to -damage his work in the months to come. 

For No Reason at All in C is a trio performance with Trum- 
bauer, guitarist Eddie Lang, and Bix on piano. The tide supports 
those acquaintances (Jack Teagarden, for one) who remember 
Beiderbecke as a pianist who was comfortable only when he was 
playing in C and F. Bix seems less clumsy at the keyboard here 
than he did on Big Boy, if more conventional in his approach. The 
touch is firm and the sound pleasing, but there is no evidence here 
of a pianist to be even remotely compared with the outstanding 
keyboard men of the day Fats Waller and Earl Hines, for 

In August, 1927, Bix and Trumbauer turned out a pair of re- 
cordings based on Three Blind Mice (with a Challis arrange- 
ment) and Blue River. The former is full of tricks, and the ar- 
rangement becomes the focal point rather than the improvised 
solos. Bix discloses one of his mechanical problems on this one. In 
his desire to achieve an uninterrupted flow of ideas, he waits too 
long and is unable to finish his phrase, for lack of breath. This is 
worth mentioning only because it points up a weakness in Bix's 
concept of melody as applied to a wind instrument. Bix did not 
sing his choruses, he composed them. Armstrong, whose work of 
the period remains even less dated than Bix's, accomplished both 
at once, which is an important factor in his greatness. 

Blue River tells us the same thing in a different way. Bix plays 
well behind the vocal but shows no regard for the singer's breath 
points. (It must be admitted that the singer, Seger Ellis, hardly 
deserved serious attention.) Instead, he simply "solos" in the 


background, in marked contrast to the sensitive blues accompani- 
ments played by King Oliver and Louis Armstrong in the mid- 

In a Mist, Bix's best-known composition, was released about 
this time. It is solo piano, well played, and reveals as much about 
Bixs aspirations as any single record he made. Having started 
work on this piece several years earlier, Bix was constantly mak- 
ing changes or adding to it as new ideas came to him, The very 
act of recording it probably helped to freeze some of its features 
into place, but the ultimate printed version, put together by Bill 
Chain's, is not the same as the recorded example. One can easily 
guess another of the paradoxes in Bix's life the dilemma of want- 
ing to compose pieces that would endure, despite a lack of the 
technical equipment needed to compose on paper and notwith- 
standing a natural inclination to improvise something new each 
time he sat at the piano. In a Mist is a charming piece, full of 
characteristic broken chords, provocative passing tones, whole- 
tone tidbits, and romantic but not sentimental melodic fragments. 
As in previous piano solos by Bix, the left hand remains at an ele- 
mental level, filling in with parallel fifths and tonic chords while 
the right hand does most of the work. The four-bar coda sounds 
derived from the codas that Challis and others wrote for Gold- 
kette and Whiteman. 

ChalKs wrote down three other piano compositions before Bix 
died: Candlelights, Flashes, and In the Dark. The first is a kind of 
extension of In a Mist; "Flashes, the weakest of the group, is an 
exercise in broken chords ranging over nearly five octaves of the 
keyboard- In the Dark is a simple melodic piece of considerable 
charm, featuring long eighth-note lines reminiscent of Bix's cornet 
improvisations. All four are in C and are quite properly presented 
by their publisher, Bobbins Music, as Bix Beiderbecke's Modern 
Piano Suite. 

Bix's final piano recording was Wnngin' and Ttoistin', cut in 
September, 1927, with Trumbauer and Lang. It would be interest- 
ing to hear Bix's piano with some other rhythmic support, which 
might have freed him from the task of keeping time, as he must 
here; but the way it stands, this record is litde more than a pleas- 
ant curiosity. 
Two other "modern" recordings are worth mentioning. One is 


Humpfy Dumpty, written by the talented airanger Fud Living- 
ston, which contains an eight-bar gem by Bix in which the cornet- 
ist relates to the tonic scale of the composition rather than to the 
chord underlying his figures. The implications of this tactic are 
significant and extraordinary for 1927. The other experimental 
number is Krazy Rat, utilizing fast and uncommon chord changes 
that Bix rides over with confidence and aplomb. His sixteen-bar 
solo stresses once more the reliability of that remarkable ear, 
which allowed him to anticipate an upcoming chord and, before 
reaching the harmonic root that would resolve his phrase, be off 
on an anticipation of the next chord. It is this practice that creates 
in much of Bix's work a sense of floating and searching, in lines 
that almost seem to begin and end in some other song. Fortu- 
nately, Bix's unerring good taste brings him back to solid har- 
monic ground often enough and long enough for the listener to 
maintain his bearings and to prepare for the next flight. 

The Greystone Ballroom in Detroit was home base for Gold- 
kette. It featured his own bands and groups in his stables, such as 
McKinney's Cotton Pickers. It is said that Bix and trumpeter John 
Nesbitt of the Cotton Pickers occasionally swapped chairs, and 
the two bands probably borrowed a number of musical ideas from 
each other. Matching Goldkette's Chain's was the Cotton Pickers* 
arranger, Don Redman, who also directed and rehearsed the 
band. Thus surrounded by top musicians, good arrangers, and 
close friends, leading a life of record dates, dances, musical exper- 
imentation, and jam sessions, earning both good money and a 
wide reputation, Bix was enjoying what must have been the most 
rewarding months of his lif e. True, he was a spoiled child, the pet 
of the band, but he was getting better and better at reading his 
parts in the section and was earning his keep as a widely known 
and most extraordinary jazzman. 

By this time, Bix had become, at 24, firmly set in a mode of life 
that was decidedly unwholesome. He had a musical protector in 
Trumbauer, but no one bothered to steer Bix into desirable social 
patterns, and it is not likely lhat he would have responded had 
anyone attempted it Irregular hours, random diet, and too much 
alcohol were beginning to tear him down. Conventional relation- 
ships with the opposite sex were, as far as one can tell, not impor- 
tant enough to occupy Bix's thoughts for very long at a time. 


Here was a special girl named Vera Cox back in Davenport, but 
she had become tired of waiting and married someone else. He 
was, like many intelligent men who are preoccupied with their 
life's work, absentminded and .sometimes removed from all that 
went on about him. Even among jazz musicians, a notoriously in- 
dividualistic lot, Bix was regarded as a rather odd duck. 

Goldkette's band finally collapsed in September, 1927, under 
the weight of an inflated payroll and poor prospects for the com- 
ing year, but Paul Whiteman stepped in to rescue Trumbauer, 
ChaDis, Steve Brown, and Bix by offering them permanent posi- 
tions in his lumbering organization of thirty-odd performers. Ac- 
tually, there was an interim period of several weeks with Adrian 
Roflini at the New Yorker Club, but this band (which made a 
single record for Okeh) was not a success. 

Just before joining Whiteman that fall, Bix recorded six selec- 
tions under his own name (Bix and His Gang) for Okeh. The first 
three titles, once again connected with the records of the Original 
Dixieland Jazz Band, were A* the Jazz Band Ball, Royal Garden 
Blues, and Jazz Me Blues. The second three, more in keeping with 
Bix's current musical world, were Goose Pimples, Sorry, and Since 
My Best Gal Turned Me Down. The men appearing with Bix on 
these records were selected from Rollini's short-lived band, which 
in turn was made up largely of Goldkette alumni: trombonist Bill 
Rank, clarinetist Don Murray, drummer Chauncy Morehouse, pi- 
anist Frank Signorelli, and Rollini himself on bass saxophone. The 
musical results were new testimony to Bix's old paradoxical atti- 
tude toward jazz. While other jazzmen of consequence in the 
twenties were moving away from the Dixieland idea, Bix, whose 
instincts placed him musically ahead of almost all his contempo- 
raries, chose to play in just that outmoded idiom for his own rec- 
ord dates. By so doing, however, he established the basic princi- 
ples for playing Dixieland in a new way that have endured to this 
day. Drawing upon standard ODJB-NORK repertory and popu- 
lar songs of the day, adding sophisticated harmonies and the 4/4 
rhythm of swing, featuring a relaxed, even whimsical, cornet lead, 
and highlighting each member of the ensemble in solo passages, 
these Beiderbecke recordings served as prototypes for hundreds 
of Dixieland bands some good and some not to follow in the 
next thirty years. 


Jazz Me Blues and Royal Garden Blues, both previously re- 
corded by Bix with the Wolverines, are indices of the extent of the 
cometist's development, Bix was even more his own man. Jazz Me 
Blues has the same relaxed air as the 1924 performance, but there 
are new ideas, new harmonies, and greatly increased authority. 
Then, too, there is the constant probing of upper harmonic inter- 
vals that marks all of Bix's best work and yet is so unobtrusive 
that it is more felt than heard. Jazz Band Ball, for example, 
sounds like an uninvolved, hard-hitting selection, but the cornet 
line is bristling with accented sixths, ninths, thirteenths, ingenious 
scalelike figures, and unusual passing tones. 

Bix's own recordings have an abandon and freedom that Trum- 
bauer s do not; and for many, these six 1927 selections represent 
Bix at his very best. Sorry is a superb performance all the way, full 
of most of tie typical Beiderbecke touches already discussed. 
Goose Pimpks, a rhythmically disguised blues, offers some of the 
most relaxed and forceful (these two qualities do go together) Bix 
on record. Since My Best Gal Turned Me Down is impressive, too, 
but the f eeling that Bix has typecast himself begins to grow with 
this recording, his last before joining Whiteman. The clipped 
eighth notes, the triplet runs, the high-note flare all are effective 
enough, but suddenly they begin to resemble a proved formula 
rather than spontaneous excitement. The same cloud hangs over 
the otherwise excellent Trumbauer-Beiderbecke record cut that 
day, Cryin All Day and A Good Man Is Hard to Find ( both obvi- 
ous attempts to re-create the success of Singin the Blues). 

Rollini deserves special credit for his work throughout these 
sessions. His ability to swing on the cumbersome bass saxophone 
is in itself noteworthy, but he was also a jazzman of exceptional 
ability and taste and probably came closer than any other man 
except Pee Wee Russell to understanding, absorbing, and playing 
the Beiderbecke way without loss of his own identity. 

Whiteman paid high wages to obtain the men he wanted. In 
the case of Bix Beiderbecke, he was buying a useful commodity, a 
man who could improvise on any given piece of music and lend 
an authentically "hot" sound to the band whenever the effect was 
called for. The price to Whiteman was $200 a week, plus putting 
up with occasional unexplained lapses and tolerating a third chair 
man who couldn't read very well. For Bix, it was lots of money, an 


opportunity to improve his reading, and intimate contact with 
light concert music, which had always interested him. It seemed a 
fair exchange. There would still be recording sessions under his 
and Trumbauer's names on which to let off steam. 

But, as it turned out, Bix stopped growing as a jazzman as of 
the time he joined Whiteman. It wasn't especially Whiteman's 
fault; Bix had played in commercial bands before, and this was a 
good one. A factor may have been Trumbauer's change of direc- 
tion into more commercial recordings at that same time. Probably 
the largest reason, though, was Bix himself. He was drinking more 
(who ever heard of a drinking man consuming less with each 
passing year?), and it was becoming an effort simply to stay at his 
own high level, let alone worry about further development. 
Whiteman's music, too, was demanding and required attention to 
more than merely one's ability to improvise. The job was Bixs se- 
verest test as a real professional musician, and he was, as in 
childhood, earning barely passing grades. Concerts and, later, 
radio shows, unlike records or fraternity dances, demanded accu- 
racy on the first try. It is a little amazing, in retrospect, that Bix 
lasted as long as he did almost two years with the orchestra. 
Bix was still, after joining Whiteman, a superb jazz cornetist. 
Perhaps his failure to develop further in jazz was simply because 
he had already reached his highest plateau and, as all jazzmen 
must sooner or later do, leveled off at or near that point. It is more 
likely, though, that Bix would have entered a significant new crea- 
tive phase after 1927 if more time and health had been his. 

The first Whiteman release on which Bix could be heard was 
encouraging, although it had little real jazz to offer. It was a 
twelve-inch record (Bix always wanted to make longer records), 
friend Hoagy Carmichael was featured, singing his own Bix-like 
Washboard Blues, the arrangement was by Chaffis, and there was 
a brief explosion of Beiderbecke between vocal passages. Best of 
all, the whole performance had a sense of humor, one of the pre- 
requisites of a jazz band. Other Whiteman items of the period 
have Bix in varying quantities, from four to sixteen bars at a time. 
Some have been made available in alternate takes, affording fasci- 
nating glimpses into the Beiderbecke musical mind at work. Be- 
cause the arrangements surrounding Bixs solos remained the 
same, it is of special interest to observe how the cometist varied 


his ideas with each successive take. Changes, for example, has a 
good but relatively conservative sixteen-bar solo on the second 
master, or take. But on the third master, the one that was chosen 
for issue in 1927, Bix reaches into the harmonic entrails of 
Changes and develops a splendid short solo that alternates be- 
tween melodic statements suspended on sixth, ninth, and eleventh 
intervals and simple but colorful blueslike exclamations, 

On Mary, Bix again plays reservedly for the first take but works 
up to a highly expressive eight-bar solo by the time take 4 comes 
around. His lead work in the section also puts a fine veneer on an 
otherwise uninteresting Matty Malneck arrangement. Lonely 
Melody has Bix in better form on take 3 than take i, especially in 
his manipulation of rhythmic accents and syncopation. Interest- 
ingly, the two solos are the same in general structure, differing 
mainly in terms of internal detail. (Both Whiteman and pianist 
Irving Riskin have since pointed out in Metronome, November, 
1938 that Bix would often develop a solo until he had what he 
wanted and thereafter play it essentially the same way each 

The arrangement of San was an attempt to capture the essence 
of small-band Bix in written form. Challis did an impressive job 
for his time, but Bix does not solo, and the whole performance 
has dark implications, reminding one of Mezz Mezzrow's feelings 
about the effect that formal music was having on Bix: 

"Once, back in Chicago, a bunch of us went over to the Wurlit- 
zer store, and there in the window we saw our whole philosophy 
on display ... a kind of animated-doll symphony orchestra set up 
there, run by some hidden electrical clockwork. 'Wonderful!' Dave 
Tough said when he caught sight of that window exhibit. There it 
is that' s the answer/ We all laughed like hell. But when we tried 
to tell Bix about it later, our story only got a feeble grin out of him. 
There had always been a touch of the militaristic, the highly dis- 
ciplined and always-under-control, in his horn technique, and it was 
showing up stronger in his attitude toward music all the time, till 
he couldn't see what was so funny in that puppet orchestra with its 
mechanical-doll conductor." 

Bix was still very much of and for jazz, however, and his im- 
provisations of this period, unlike Mezzrow's, have endured as 
some of the best jazz produced in the twenties. Despite pompous 


scores, all was not mechanical recitation of cliches in Whiteman's 
orchestra. There are lighthearted recorded moments when Bix, 
Trumbauer, and Bing Crosby virtually take command of the en- 
tire performance, as in There Ain't No Sweet Man That's Worth 
the Salt of My Tears, and transform Whiteman's musical 
leviathan into a rollicking jazz band for several minutes. At times, 
it seems almost as if it were Bix's band, as in the long opening solo 
in from Monday On particularly in the fourth take, which Bix 
lifts right off the ground by charging in on a sustained, shouting 

But these were the occasional high points. Sometimes Bix's aims 
were blocked by the elephantine stirrings behind him. On Sugar, 
for example, he attempts a kind of shuffle rhythm, in the manner 
of clarinetist Frank Teschemacher (who had recorded the same 
tune a couple of months earlier), but there is no response or sup- 
port from the unwieldy rhythm section, and the solo does not 
really come off. On some tunes (Lovable is one), Bix seems to give 
up> merely tossing out a smooth and uneventful solo in the pleas- 
ing manner of Red Nichols. 

Though he may have wished for more opportunities to play 
jazz, Bix was gaining on his reading problem as the months went 
by with Whiteman. Jack Teagarden remembers Bix telling him 
that he enjoyed the big orchestra because it represented valuable 
experience to him, especially in sight reading. That he managed to 
survive at all without a thorough grounding in legitimate tech- 
niques is further testimony to the efficacy of the remarkable 
Beiderbecke ear. TBix would hear something once" recalls Tea- 
garden, "and he had it. It beats me how he could pick up intricate 
modulations and tricky arrangements on just one hearing." 

Trumbauer s recordings after the switch to Whiteman are 
mostly dismal commercial affairs. At first (There'll Come a Time 
and Mississippi Mud, cut in January, 1928)3 Bix was permitted to 
romp with some freedom, but the jazz content dropped sharply 
after that, and soon Trumbauer was recording inferior stuff like 
Our Bungalow of Dreams and Dusky Stevedore. On these rec- 
ords, as well as Whiteman's of the period, Bix frequently plays a 
muted horn, despite his long-standing preference for the un- 
muffled sound of the open cornet. When he played into a metal 
derby, the resulting timbre was much like a saxophone. This prob- 


ably pleased Bix, for he had, as we have seen, frequently bor- 
rowed from reedmen in putting together his personal style. (A 
number of reed players, in turn, were deeply affected by Bix, in- 
cluding Pee Wee Russell, Frank Teschemacher, Adrian Rollini, 
and Benny Goodman. Listen to Goodman's alto on his 1928 re- 
cording of Blue.) Good examples of Bixs "saxophone" approach 
with Whiteman s band are Louisiana and a pair of 1929 record- 
ings, Sweet Sue and China Boy. 

In mid-1928 Whiteman had two of the best first and second 
trumpet men around in Charlie Margulis and Harry Goldfield, 
and Bix must have felt the pressure of playing third to such musi- 
cians. Yet when a comet soloist was called for in the Whiteman 
recording of George Gershwin's Concerto in F, Bix was assigned 
the part. His moody, muted opening statement, sounding curi- 
ously like Miles Davis in the late fifties, comes off without hitch or 

Bix recorded several more titles on his own, including Thou 
Swell, Somebody Stole My Gal, Of Man River, Wa-Da-Da, 
Rhythm King, and Louisiana, but they are not up to the level of 
his earlier sessions with Adrian Rollini. The leader tries desper- 
ately to swing his Whiteman colleagues (Whiteman apparently 
saw to it that he recorded only with them), but they remain rigid 
and uninspired. Even Bix plays stiffly and without real enthusiasm 
on these dates. Ironically, his short solos with the full Whiteman 
orchestra sound less contrived than his contributions to his own 
final small-band recordings made at the same time. 

When Bix's health faltered in late 1928, Paul Whiteman sent 
him on leave (with pay) to pull himself together. He came back 
in better shape in February, 1929, but by now the pace was even 
faster regular radio broadcasts had been added to the busy 
schedule and Bix was not taking care of himself any better than 
he ever had. 

During this difficult period with Whiteman, though, Bix turned 
out at least one first-class recorded solo. In May, the band cut 
China Boy, an old favorite of most jazzmen at that time, and in 
sixteen bars Bix steps in from his private musical world, creates an 
engaging new melody, makes use of sixths, ninths, and augmented 
chords that were never there in the first place, changes the mood 
and quality of the entire arrangement for the better, and quickly 


vanishes into the musical ferment that follows. It is a cool, modern 
solo, a little like the way Lester Young played ten years later. 

But these flashes were rare now. Bix finally left the band in Oc- 
tober and went home to Davenport to spend the winter. And even 
at home he could not escape the thoughtless friends who wanted 
to promote and be part of the already forming Beiderbecke 
legend. In a sense," said Pee Wee Russell years later (Hear Me 
Talkin to Y0), "Bix was killed by his friends. Bix couldn't say no 
to anybody." 

It was nearly over now, although Bix kept going well into 1931. 
By curious coincidence, the American economy collapsed at the 
same moment in history that Bix did, and the nation was in no 
mood to spend large amounts of money on music any more. Bix 
was something of a celebrity in Davenport (characteristically, he 
sat in with every last local band whenever he visited his home- 
town, in order to avoid hurting any feelings), but when he got 
back to New York in 1930, he was just one of the many jobless 
jazzmen set adrift by a wave of economy moves among top band- 
leaders. There was no place now, with Whiteman or anyone else, 
for a Bix Beiderbecke. 

A couple of record sessions with Hoagy Carmichael were 
thrown together, but Bix was no more than a specter of his old 
self. Although he had returned from Davenport in fairly good 
physical condition, the long rest probably did temporary damage 
to his embouchure, which had never been considered very strong 
anyway, and that may have been part of the trouble at the Car* 
michael date. 

Bix even recorded three titles under his own name for Victor, 
but that same inability to say no resulted in abortive commercial 
products, complete to glandless vocal refrains. One suspects, too, 
that the magic was gone from the Beiderbecke tone, for Bix 
played almost entirely with mutes on his last recordings, possibly 
hoping to prevent the decay from showing too much. As if to put 
an exclamation point at the end of his recording career, though, 
Bix's final burst on Carmichaers Bessie Couldn't Help It is wide 
open (the tone is worse) and, though far below his peak of three 
years before, is full of enthusiasm and hope for the future. He 
was, after all, still a young man of 27. 

Once again, Bix went home to Davenport and strug 


through another winter of odd jobs, heavy drinking, and poor 
health. He returned to New York in 1931 and found some radio 
work, but he was unable to stay in good enough condition to per- 
form well after a few months. He tried to join the Casa Loma 
band, but that didn't work out either. Now he was reduced to cas- 
ual work, a night here with the Dorsey Brothers (sometimes sit- 
ting next to young Bunny Berigan), a night there with Benny 
Goodman or someone else. 

Even in his last confused days, Bix stuck to his music. He 
played piano, worked with Challis to get his compositions printed 
and published, and talked music with friends at Plunkett's speak- 
easy. (Bassist Joe Tarto preserved an unusual six-measure coda, 
concluding on an unresolved major seventh, that Bix composed at 
the bar one day. ) He had dreams of taking a jazz band to Europe, 
recording jazz with a concert orchestra, and perhaps even of 
going on the wagon someday. 

The end came in August, when Bix developed "lobar pneumo- 
nia" (according to his New York death certificate) and had no 
strength left to fight it off. 

Beiderbecke's contributions to jazz were major in four distinct 
ways. For one, he was the first real modernist in jazz, both in his 
attitude toward music and in the way he went about playing. In- 
troducing the use of flatted fifths, sixths, ninths, elevenths, thir- 
teenths, whole-tone scales, and augmented chord harmonies in 
improvised single-note melodic lines, Bix opened the way for all 
innovators who came after him. An entire body of music, largely 
inspired by his improvisations, sprang up around men like Red 
Nichols, Miff Mole, Eddie Lang, Vic Berton, and Fud Livingston, 
and this music in turn had considerable effect on players like 
Teddy Wilson (who recalls the Nichols records as his favorites in 
the late twenties), baritone saxophonist Harry Carney (strongly 
influenced by Adrian Rollinfs bass saxophone work), Benny 
Goodman, Jack Teagarden, and countless others. Through Frank 
Trumbauer and Pee Wee Russell, Bix's music reached jazzmen of 
the thirties such as Lester Young and Bobby Hackett. According 
to the pioneer modern trumpeter Benny Harris, Teddy Wilson 
was an important early influence on modern jazzmen because of 
his tasteful and precise use of unusual extended harmonies, and 


cornetist Hackett was also much admired by Dizzy Gillespie and 
by Harris himself for his easy command of ninths, elevenths, thir- 
teenths, and so on, in his -solo lines. Tenor saxophonist Young, who 
cited Trumbauer as an early influence, is, of course, generally ac- 
knowledged as a key figure in the early development of modern 

Bix's imaginative use of rhythmic accents on weak beats, while 
not original with him, was also influential. Finally, the Beider- 
becke piano pieces, which still sound fresh today, have been re- 
discovered by jazzmen every decade or so for the past thirty 

The second major contribution Bix made was his method of 
playing in what is best described as a "ballad" style. The whimsi- 
cal, probing ballad playing of Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett, 
Bud Freeman, Bunny Berigan, probably Lester Young, and many 
others (Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, and Miles Davis are con- 
temporary extensions of this tradition) grows directly out of the 
easy, contemplative approach of Bix and Trumbauer. The melodic 
and harmonic flavor found in a number of Hoagy Carmichael 
compositions, too, undoubtedly stems from the songwriter's long 
association with Bix. 

Bix helped to revitalize the dying art of Dixieland playing, 
which had, by the mid-twenties, reached an impasse in sterile 
groups like the Memphis Five, the Indiana Five, and so on. The 
young Chicagoans of the period turned to Louis Armstrong and 
Bix and evolved a virile Dixieland-swing style that continued to 
be vigorous and exciting for more than fifteen years. Some of 
these players were Eddie Condon, Joe Sullivan, Frank Tesche- 
macher, Bud Freeman, Rod Cless, Dave Tough, Jess Stacy, 
George Wettling, Jimmy McPartland, and Pee Wee Russell. Fol- 
lowing Bix's example, they carried on material from the Original 
Dixieland Jazz Band library (Jazz Band Ball, Jazz Me Blues, Sen- 
sation, Tiger Rag, Clarinet Marmalade, fidgety feet, etc.) as 
well as many tunes associated with Bix (Rwerboat Shuffle, Co- 
penhagen, You Took Advantage of Me, Singirf the Blues, Tm 
Comin Virginia, etc.). The New Orleans Rhythm Kings and King 
Oliver s band were other sources of inspiration for this group, but 
Bix was a kind of personal hero to most of the Chicagoans. The 


early Commodore recordings of the late thirties, directed by Con- 
don and featuring many of the men mentioned above, are full of 
Six's music. 

Finally, there is the less important matter of direct stylistic in- 
fluence. It has been said that in the late twenties, most trumpet 
players sounded like either Bix or Armstrong. Many, like Bill 
Davison, went through a Beiderbecke and an Armstrong phase 
before arriving at their own styles. Some tried to combine both 
from the start. The obvious examples of direct Bix leanings are 
Red Nichols, Jimmy McPartland, Andy Secrest (who replaced Bix 
in Whiteman's band), Doc Evans, and Bobby Hackett (with 
much Armstrong added). Less obvious are the styles of jazzmen 
Pee Wee Russell, Brad Cowans, Joe Rushton, Rex Stewart, Yank 
Lawson, and Bud Freeman. 

The saga of Bix Beiderbecke is not any more tragic, in personal 
terms, than the stories of -dozens of jazzmen who lived through 
the twenties. Romance aside, Bix died mostly from pneumonia. 
Of course, pneumonia caught him when it did partly because 
Bix's consuming passion for music blinded him to the essentials of 
a healthful life. And there we see the basic ingredients for real 

Recommended Reading 

Carmichael, Hoagland Howard: The Stardust Road, Rinehart, New 
York (1946). 

Condon, Albert Edwin, and Thomas Sugrue: We Called It Music, 
Holt, New York (1947). 

Condon, Albert Edwin, and Richard Gehman: Eddie Condon's Treas- 
ury of Jazz, Dial, New York (1956). 

De Toledano, Ralph (ei): Frontiers of Jazz, Durrell, New York 

Evans, Phil, and William Myatt: A Bio-Discography of Bix Beider- 

becke, scheduled for future publication. 
Green, Benny: The Reluctant Art, Horizon (1963). 
James, Burnett: Kings of Jazz: Bix Beiderbecke, Barnes, New York 

Mannone, Wingy, and Paul Vandervoort: Trumpet on the Wing, 

Doubleday, New York (1948). 


Mezzrow, Milton, and Bernard Wolfe: Redly the Elites, Randoa 

House, New York (i94 6 )- 
Ramsey, Frederic, and Charles Edward Smith: Jazzmen, Harcourt, 

Brace, New York (1939). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : Hear Me Talkin' to Y0, Rine- 

hart, New York (1955)- 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958). 
Venables, R. G. V., and Clifford Jones: Bix, Clifford Jones, WiUesden, 

England (1945). 
Wareing, Charles H., and George Garlick: Bugles for Beiderbecke, 

Sidgwick & Jackson, London (1958). 

Recommended Listening 

Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines, RTVEESIDE RLP 12-123. 

On the Road Jazz, RIVERSIDE RLP 12-127. 

Jean Goldkette and His Orchestra, "X" LVA-soi/ (deleted). 

The Bix Beiderbecke Story, Vols. i, 2, 3, COLTJMBIA. CL-844, CL-845, 

Thesaurus of Classic Jazz (four records), COLTJMBIA. C4L-i8. . 

Paul Whitemans Orchestra, "X" LVA-3040 (deleted*). 

The Bix Beiderbecke Legend, RCA VICTOR LPM-2323. 

Hoagy Carmichael: Old Rockin' Chair, RCA VICTOR LPT-3072 (de- 

Ealph Sutton: Bix Beiderbecke Suite, COMMODORE FL 30,001. 

Bud Freeman: Wolverine Jazz, DECCA DL-5213 (deleted). 


THE CHICAGO STORY is, if one wants it to be, part of the na- 
tion's romantic image of the Roaring Twenties, complete with 
nip flasks, illicit gin mills, Midwestern provincialism, dynamic 
migration patterns, organized crime, and some new rumblings 
of social protest Though these aspects of the decade may lurk 
in the background, the history of the Chicagoans has to do 
with their music and how it grew, and that's quite a story by itself. 

There were many Chicagoans in jazz, but they are usually dis- 
cussed as a group, for most of Chicago's young jazzmen of the 
twenties who became important were part of a loosely knit single 
gang, the core of which was an almost fanatic, exclusive inner 
clique. These men listened, practiced, worked, recorded, drank, 
and finally found fame together. They regarded themselves as a 
land of musical family devoted to the task of nurturing in each 
member a valid form of personal expression, a family bound to- 
gether by an overwhelming mutual desire to make music just as 
exciting, but not the same as, that which the men from New Or- 
leans played. Some were highly successful, a few gave up the 
quest, and others were simply not endowed with enough talent; 
but their average level of achievement was high and had an influ- 
ence on later jazz developments. 

Any man with a horn who stopped in Chicago for a while was 
eligible to be a "Chicagoan" if he listened to the right bands and 
really believed in jazz as a way of life. There was a nomadic, one- 
handed trumpeter from New Orleans called Wingy Mannone and 
there was a well-trained clarinetist from Arkansas named Volly de 
Faut A good clarinet player from Iowa whose name was Rod 
Gess became accepted as a "Chicagoan," as did a first-rate pianist 
from Missouri named Jess Stacy. Even after the hard-core Chica- 
goans Lad moved to New York in the late twenties, they went on 
Tecmiting new members for the club, some of whom had seldom 
been west of New Jersey. 

The first wave of well-known Chicago jazzmen included 
drummer Earl Wiley, who worked the Mississippi riverboats and 



traveled to New Orleans prior to 1920, and Ben Pollack, a highly 
skilled drummer who landed a job with a direct-from-the-source 
band, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, and in turn became an im- 
portant influence on Chicagoans only slightly younger than Pol- 
lack himself. Mezz Mezzrow, a kind of combination jazz preacher, 
clarinetist, and, later, marijuana dealer, was another enthusiast- 
musician who discovered New Orleans jazz in Chicago through 
performers like Tony Jackson, Freddie Keppard, and Sidney 
Bechet during and just after World War I. 

By 1920, a 14-year-old boy named Muggsy Spanier was per- 
mitted to sit in the shadows of the Dreamland Cafe's balcony to 
listen to cornetist King Oliver's New Orleans band. When Spanier 
began to play creditable cornet a little later, it was Oliver's force- 
ful, bluesy style he went after and came close to capturing. About 
that time, cornetist Paul Mares came up from New Orleans and 
put together the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, who played the 
same sort of music with perhaps less drive than the Oliver band 
and the new group became another model for the Chicagoans. 
Other kids were finding out about the South Side dance halls 
and coming to listen. Those who couldn't arrange to get in free 
usually sat outside, catching whatever sounds drifted out the win- 
dows and doors. By 1923, when Louis Armstrong was appearing 
with Oliver at the Lincoln Gardens, there would be fifty or more 
young musicians down front trying to remember every note the 
two cornetists played. Among the most avid listeners were young 
apprentice jazzmen like drummers Dave Tough and George Wett- 
ling, who were there mostly to learn about Baby Dodds. Every 
college musician in the area knew about and visited the places 
where the New Orleans Rhythm Kings and King Oliver played, 
and commercial band leaders frequently dropped in looking for 
musical novelties to add to their boob. 

Some students at Chicago's Austin High School, most of whom 
had had some musical training, heard a few recordings by the 
New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1922 and decided to form a band 
around that style. They had listened to the latest records by 
popular musicians like Isham Jones, Paul Whiteman, Paul Biese, 
Ted Lewis, and even the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, but it was 
the Rhythm Kings who finally struck the right chord. Their activi- 
ties centered about the home of Jimmy and Dick McPartland, 


who wound up taking over tibe cornet and banjo functions in the 
new band. Frank Teschemacher had played a little violin, so he 
eventually became the clarinetist. Bud Freeman, who had at- 
tended Austin briefly and quit to take a job at Sears Roebuck, ob- 
tained a tenor saxophone after an early bout with the C-melody 
saxophone (an instrument now passe). Other friends filled out 
the initial unit. Drummer Tough, from the well-heeled Oak Park 
district, joined the gang and eventually brought a trombonist, 
Floyd O'Brien, into the fold. 

Other teen-age players were popping up around Chicago. Pian- 
ist Joe Sullivan, who at 17 had had twelve years of classical key- 
board training, began to play popular music in a nonunion gang- 
ster hangout in the bohemian sector. It turned out that the club 
had also hired an authentic jug band from the South, and the 
group was for Sullivan whose listening experience had been 
confined to theater pianists and records by Art Hickman or Paul 
Whiteman a first contact with something resembling honest 

In 1922, a precocious West Side boy of 13 named Benny Good- 
man was playing clarinet remarkably weH after only three years 
of instruction. His sources of inspiration were shifting and improv- 
ing rapidly, from Ted Lewis and Bailey's Lucky Seven (a New 
York recording band) to Leon Roppolo (clarinetist with the New 
Orleans Rhythm Kings) and Jimmy Noone. Goodman studied 
alongside Buster Bailey (an experienced Memphis jazzman seven 
years Benny's senior) under Franz Schoepp, an outstanding 
teacher and symphony man who at one time counted Jimmy 
Noone among his pupils. 

The inner circle at Austin High, including bassist Jim Lannigan 
(then courting the McPartiand boys' sister, Ethel) and pianist 
Dave North, were rehearsing tirelessly to achieve the sound of the 
New Orleans Rhythm Kings. The McPardands, as sons of a music 
teacher, had a slight advantage and led the way. Teschemacher 
was also learning fast, but Freeman, without earlier musical train- 
ing, lagged behind. The Austinites, whose ages in 1923 ranged 
from 16 (Jimmy McPardand) to 21 (Lannigan), were something 
less than men of the world at this point. '"We were too young to 
get into Friar's Inn, so the only way we could hear the Rhythm 
Kings was to go down and stand in the doorway and listen," Mo 


Pardand has recalled. ""It was great when someone opened the 
door and we could hear it louder." Dave Tough knew his way 
around Chicago, however, and had come in contact with other 
young musicians who were finding their way into the New Or- 
leans style clarinetist Don Murray, cornetist Six Beiderbecke, 
pianist Dick Voynow, and drummer Bob Conselman were a few. 
More resourceful than his Austin pals, Dave imposed upon 
slightly older musicians like Volly de Faut to accompany him to 
South Side clubs where he could hear Baby Dodds, King Oliver, 
and Louis Armstrong. Through Tough, the Austin crowd began to 
open its ears to more than just the sounds of the New Orleans 
Rhythm Kings. 

1923 and 1924 were eventful years for the Chicagoans. A new 
band grew out of a series of Northwestern University fraternity 
jobs involving clarinetist Jimmy Hartwell, drummer Vic Moore, 
and saxophonist George Johnson. Pianist Voynow and cornetist 
Beiderbecke brought a touch of class to the group, and they 
called themselves the Wolverines. They decided to stick together, 
made some records, and the sound of Beiderbecke's cornet be- 
came a new major influence on the kids back in Chicago. At the 
same time, King Oliver's band began turning out recordings on 
which Louis Armstrong and clarinetist Johnny Dodds could be 
heard The McPartland-Freeman-Teschemacher-Tough axis was 
making fine progress as the Blue Friars (named for the Friar's 
Inn, of course) and began to be talked about by musicians on the 
South Side. Professionals called them the "wild West Side mob," 
but alert listeners could tell they were coming into a worthwhile 
style of their own. Teschemacher was still playing violin a lot of 
the time, especially when talented guests like Benny Goodman sat 

Goodman played off and on with the "wild West Side mob" at 
high-school gym dances or in sessions at public park recreation 
areas and worked an amusement park job in the summer of 1923 
with Jimmy McPartiand, but he found that he could make better 
money with real professional bands. He joined the union the same 
day that Dave Tough did. 

T got along better than they [the Austin gang] did because I 
could read right from the start and played correct clarinet," Benny 
remembered some years later. That word "correct" is the key to a 


philosophical dichotomy that set Goodman and some others on a 
course quite different from that traveled by the West Side mob, 
although their final musical goals were not entirely dissimilar. 
Goodman, like his fellow music student Buster Bailey, was pri- 
marily a clarinetist, and jazz was his favorite mode of expression. 
For Teschemacher and Freeman, and to a lesser extent their com- 
rades, becoming a jazzman was the important point, and the in- 
strument was simply whatever chance had dropped into their 
hands. It was a distinction that became more subtle as the per- 
formers improved, but it was still there. Curiously enough, Good- 
man's attitude toward his instrument was much closer to the out- 
look of the New Orleans clarinetists and several older Chicagoans 
who came under their direct influence than it was to the West 
Side gang's musical position. Chicagoans Darnell Howard and 
Omer Simeon, for example, picked up the clear-toned, flowing 
New Orleans style, without leaving home, from Lorenzo Tio, Jr. 
(Simeon was born in New Orleans but began playing in Chi- 
cago.) The Tios (junior and senior) had already taught New Or- 
leans reedmen Jimmy Noone, Albert Nicholas, and Barney 
Bigard Most of these Tio-trained musicians later regarded 
Goodman as, at the very least, their equal. It was a judgment not 
so readily bestowed upon Teschemacher and others in the young 
Chicago gang. 

Chicagoans like Teschemacher, Freeman, Tough, Mezzrow, 
and Sullivan were probably the first self-conscious students of jazz 
to appear. For them, the music was not merely a functional aspect 
of the entertainment world but a challenging art that required 
deep thought and study. They tried to weed out what they re- 
garded as trivial or tasteless (die side of King Oliver that involved 
imitations of a baby crying or Clifford King's barnyard squeals on 
the clarinet) and to listen instead to the musicians who were 
totally involved with the art of jazz (Beiderbecke, Earl Hines, 

About this time Tough was also participating in poetry and jazz 
sessions at a Chicago bohemian hangout called the Green Mask. 
Among his intellectual friends there were poets Kenneth Rexroth, 
Langston Hughes, and Maxwell Bodenheim, as well as an odd as- 
sortment of musicians, entertainers (comic Joe Frisco was one), 
and artists. A few other Chicago jazzmen may have shared 


Tough's enthusiasm for such gathering places, but most of the 
Austin High gang was not concerned with much of anything out- 
side music in those early days of discovery. 

It was about 1924 when 20-year-old pianist Jess Stacy hit 
town, after a long apprenticeship on Mississippi riverboats with 
Tony Catalano's band, Stacy had come under the New Orleans 
jazz spell in much the same way the Chicagoans had, except that 
Jess worked more from first hand experience than from record- 
ings. He had spent the winter months in ballrooms along the river, 
such as the Coliseum in Davenport, where he was charmed by the 
playing of Bix Beiderbecke. He had heard Louis Armstrong and 
Baby Dodds on the boats when they put in at Cape Girardeau, 
Missouri, where Jess was born. Like Bud Freeman, he had started 
out wanting to play drums; and like Joe Sullivan, he had put in 
long years of formal study and classical training. Like Muggsy 
Spanier, but unlike the West Side mob, Stacy was in 1924 a thor- 
oughgoing professional. As soon as he arrived in Chicago, he 

Chicago was a vital music center in the mid-twenties, and al- 
most any musician who could carry a tune and go through the 
motions of "getting hot" found work of some kind. For the young 
players, nearby summer resorts were a favorite outlet. Youthful 
patrons, informal surroundings, and an impudent spirit that came 
from constant defiance of Prohibition laws added up to a good 
setting for a troupe of iconoclastic kid musicians. The Blue Friars 
found work at Lost Lake. Benny Goodman picked up odds and 
ends, including a lake-boat job with Bix Beiderbecke, an engage- 
ment at Waverly Beach in Neenah, Wisconsin, and other casuals 
in and out of Chicago. Joe Sullivan worked the lakes in Wisconsin 
or Indiana, sometimes with drummer George Wettiing, and was 
beginning to move away from popular novelty tunes (Get Out 
and Get Under, San, Abba Dabba Honeymoon, etc.) toward jazz- 
based material ( Panama, Farewell Blues, etc. ) . 

By 1924, most of the Chicagoans had left school (the law then 
allowed one to quit at 14) and had begun playing music in ear- 
nest. Goodman, whom Tough had talked into attending Lewis In- 
stitute because classes began at 11:30 A.M., dropped out to take a 
steady job at Guyon's Paradise with Jules Herbeveaux. Joe Sulli- 
van had played a few dances at Lewis Institute with some of the 


boys, but continued at Lakeview High School, finally leaving 
after his second year there. The Blue Friars couldn't have cared 
less about school, for they were beginning to attract attention as 
an organized unit. 

Here were several important people to know in Chicago at 
that time. They were the men who operated booking offices and 
found work for individual musicians or entire bands. Charlie 
"Murphy" Podolsky was a prominent figure in this field, through 
whom the Chicagoans obtained many of their jobs and thereby 
met men of similar musical interests from other quarters of the 

In fete 1924, Jimmy McPartland was called to replace Bix 
Beiderbecke with the Wolverines in New York, leaving the Blue 
Friars leaderless and somewhat adrift for about a year. They 
spent much of that time listening, theorizing, discussing, and 
arguing about jazz. Tough, the youngest, was die intellectual in 
the gang and was constantly turning over, questioning, and evalu- 
ating everything he heard. Teschemacher had improved so rap- 
idly that the others often looked to him as their musical leader 
and guide. Freeman was still attempting to catch up to the rest, 
hampered by a lack of fundamental training and the inherent 
problems of trying to produce an acceptable tone on a saxophone 
and mouthpiece manufactured before instrument companies 
learned how to make them very well. Eddie Condon, a one-eared 
banjo player and promoter who ran into the gang about this time, 
remembers that Freeman's horn appeared green with corrosion 
and sounded the way it looked. 

A South Side youngster of about 15 heard the gang in a movie 
theater job about this time. He was Gene Krupa, an intense fellow 
who had taken up saxophone briefly but had finally settled on 
drums, and he admired Dave Tough's Dodds-inspired playing. 
Krupa had worked summer jobs, too, including one at Wisconsin 
Beach with a group called the Frivolians. In 1924, he was prepar- 
ing for priesthood, but it never worked out. Like most of the Chi- 
cagoans, he became utterly and hopelessly fascinated with play- 
ing jazz and with the endless struggle to master his chosen 

Discounting records by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (a hy- 
brid group of Chicagoans and New Orleanians), the first Chi- 


cagoan jazz recordings of any consequence were turned out by 
the Bucktown Five in early 1924. Muggsy Spanier sparked this 
session with a jumping, biting cornet lead that was right out of 
Oliver; Volly de Faut, who followed Roppolo on clarinet with the 
Rhythm Kings and later recorded with Jelly Roll Morton, demon- 
strated why his graceful, flowing style was highly respected in the 
Midwest Spanier went beyond Paul Mares (also an Oliver man) 
to demonstrate that the lead voice, as he felt it, should be neither 
behind nor in front of the beat but right on top of it. The result 
was electric, something like running downhill and trying to keep 
up with yourself. The Spanier thrust, although seldom enhanced 
by a flow of original' ideas, was a significant factor in the forma- 
tion of an independent Chicago style. 

The Bucktown Five records were, however, all but eclipsed 
within a couple of months by a brace of Wolverine recordings, 
featuring the brilliant ensemble and solo work of Bix Beiderbecke. 
The Wolverines were, of course, a going band rather than a studio 
pickup group, and their records showed it Everywhere musicians 
began copying Bix s solos and the original riffs of the group. It 
was, in fact, McPartiand's note-for-note knowlege of these records 
that landed him the job as Beiderbecke's replacement later in 
1924. Cornetist Bill Davison, who recorded with the Chubb-Stein- 
berg orchestra in the same year, also borrowed much from Bix. 
As the Wolverines struggled along after Beiderbecke's depar- 
ture, McPartland gradually replaced each member with one of his 
old Austin friends. Now reunited, the gang found work through 
booking agent Husk O'Hare, who even put them on radio station 
WHT as O'Hare's Red Dragons. 

A couple of new reed players appeared on the scene in this 
1925-1926 period. One was Rod Cless, whom the gang met on a 
job in Des Moines, Iowa. The other was Pee Wee Russell, an ex- 
perienced clarinetist-saxophonist whose musical views have 
caused many to regard him a front-rank Chicagoan, although he 
was not noticed much in jazz circles in the city before 1925 and 
never did put in a lot of time there. 

Russell was brought up in Oklahoma, heard and liked clarinet- 
ist Larry Shields on Original Dixieland Jazz Band records, and 
was attracted to in-person performances by New Orleans clarinet- 
ist "Yellow" Nunez. He studied violin, piano, and drums before 


getting to the clarinet. Russell played on an Arkansas River pleas- 
ure boat and with the band at Western Military Academy in 1920 
and 1921 at Alton, Illinois, not far from the St. Louis area where 
he was born. For a while, Pee Wee attended the University of 
Missouri, but he spent most of his time listening to jazz on the 
Mississippi boats, admiring the band of Charlie Creath (a good 
cornetist with a haunting, aged-in-wood tone), and hanging out 
with the small but eager jazz gang around St Louis. There he met 
New Orleans players like Armstrong, Baby Dodds, bassist Pops 
Foster, and drummer Zutty Singleton. Saxophonist Frank Trum- 
bauer, playing with Ted Jansen's band, was already a local hero, 
and youngsters like trombonists Vernon Brown and Sonny Lee, 
bassist Bob Casey, and clarinetist Artie Gruner were to St Louis 
what the Austin gang and their friends were to Chicago. From 
time to time, wandering jazzmen like Wingy Mannone and Fud 
Livingston turned up in St. Louis, too. 

Russell, unlike the Chicagoans, was a loner. By 1922, he was 
knocking about the Southwestern states, playing jobs in Phoe- 
nix, Arizona, El Paso, Texas, across the line in Mexico, and in 
Houston, where there was a stint with the celebrated band of pi- 
anist Peck Kelley, which, in 1924, included clarinetist Leon Rop- 
polo and trombonist Jack Teagarden. Russell returned to St. 
Louis and Herb Berger's band. Later, in 1926, the clarinetist 
played in another celebrated but unrecorded group, a Jean Gold- 
kerte unit fronted by Trumbauer at the Arcadia Ballroom in St. 
Louis. It is said that Pee Wee was so enthused about working 
alongside Bix Beiderbecke in this band that he refused to be fired 
and continued to play without pay after receiving his notice. He 
also tried, without success, to get Peck Kelley into the St. Louis 
orchestra. Russell absorbed all he heard and played as he pleased, 
working out the details of style by himself rather than through the 
group-therapy approach favored by the Austin boys, Happily, 
both methods worked out rather well for the men involved. 

Back in Chicago, the well-schooled players were finding good 
jobs in 1924 and 1925, and the seat-of-the-pants improvisers were 
taking what was left. Benny Goodman played the Midway Gar- 
dens with pianist Elmer Schoebel (another former New Orleans 
Rhythm King who had never been to New Orleans). Then Art 
Kassel took over the band, which included, in addition to Good- 


man and Schoebel, former Rhythm King Steve Brown (who was 
from New Orleans) on bass, Danny Polo on reeds, and a Mares- 
Oliver cornet disciple (who sounded something like Spanier) 
named Murphy Steinberg. 

Spanier and de Faut, the Bucktown fivers, were at the White 
City Ballroom with Sig Meyers, and Joe Sullivan was grinding 
out vaudeville assignments with Elmo Mack and his Purple Derby 
Orchestra. Trumpeter Al Turk and saxophonist Wayne King were 
working steadily, Jess Stacy was playing with Joe Kayser at the 
Arcadia Ballroom. The Teschemacher-Freeman-Tough entente 
had become, in 1925, Husk O'Hare's Wolverines, In 1926, they 
had a couple of good jobs at the White City Ballroom, about a 
block from the Midway Gardens, and drew admiration from 
Beiderbecke, Armstrong, and drummer Zutty Singleton (who had 
recently arrived from St Louis). This kind of praise was, of 
course, highly valued. 

The Chicagoans were, by and large, a cocky and self-impressed 
group. Teschemacher was moody and serious, McPartland brash 
and outgoing, Tough cynical and questioning, Freeman impulsive 
and ingenuous, but all were convinced that they had something 
no one else had, and each member of the gang bristled with en- 
thusiasm. It was, however, inevitable that die band would break 
up. Each man needed a wider exposure to varying musical cli- 
mates and a chance to develop his own identity. Whether it was 
the result of a conscious recognition of this need or not, the first 
move was made by Teschemacher, who joined Floyd Towne's 
band, first at the Triangle Cafe and then at the Midway Gardens 
in 1926, This group was an outgrowth of Sig Meyers* band and 
included trombonist Floyd O'Brien, George Wettling, Danny Al- 
tier on alto, Towne on tenor, Muggsy Spanier, and eventually Jess 
Stacy on piano. It wasn't too far from musical home for Tesche- 
macher, after all. 

Benny Goodman found a promising spot in August, 1925, when 
he answered Ben Pollack's call to join his new band in California. 
Pollack had hopes of building a first-class jazz band that could 
also present modern, cleanly executed arrangements instead of 
mere jamming on a select list of "jazz" tunes all night He hired 
Glenn Miller, a skilled trombonist and arranger, and Joseph "Fud" 
Livingston, an imaginative arranger, composer, and reedman. 


Fud had been around Detroit and Chicago for about a year, 
working with Jean Goldkette units and broadening his knowledge 
of jazz. Although he was born in South Carolina, Livingston fit 
the Chicago pattern a deep love for jazz, an aggressive and op- 
timistic instrumental style, an interest in widening the expressive 
scope of jazz through unusual harmonies (his interest in whole- 
tone scales may have come in part from Beiderbecke, who was 
jobbing with Goldkette about the same time Fud was), and, one 
might add, a colossal thirst for alcohol. 

Pollack's idea was a kind of sophisticated extension of the 
King Oliver band approach; over a steady, swinging rhythmic 
foundation, make the music sound impromptu, but base the 
improvisations on a real structure, with interesting scored passages 
worked out in advance. The Pollack unit would not be as free as 
the unique Oliver band, but it might go beyond it in other re- 
spects because its members were good readers as well as skilled 
improvisers. It would also borrow a little from the outlook of the 
best Goldkette bands. The idea looked good and sounded good, 
but Pollack had to make concessions to commercial demands and 
finally watered the band down with a couple of violins in order to 
keep working. And then, too, Glenn Miller, as arranger, was less 
aware of New Orleans music than Pollack and leaned toward the 
more salable Roger Wolfe Kahn sound. 

Goodman's first released record was a Pollack date in Decem- 
ber, 1926, when Benny was 17. His solo on an ordinary popu- 
lar tune, He's the Last Word, bubbles with vitality and confi- 
dence and contains an explosive staccato burst that may be the 
first such Chicagoan musical device on record. Livingston's tenor 
also reveals a feeling for the tense "shuffle" style (sharply ac- 
cented dotted eighth notes followed by weak sixteenth notes) 
that has often been identified with Chicago musicians and prob- 
ably came from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Bix, Jimmy 
Noone, and Johnny Dodds. 

The Austinites didn't approve of the Pollack compromise and 
said so. They held out for the all-improvised sound of the smaller 
band, although most of them had been working off and on with 
bands just as commercial and usually not as good as Pollack's. 

The Wolverines, under McPartland, secured one more good 
engagement before breaking up. Art Kassel took them, with Bud 


Jacobson in Teschemacher's place, to the Greystone Ballroom in 
Detroit (another lively jazz center in the twenties), where they 
were delighted to find themselves playing opposite Fletcher Hen- 
derson's excellent 1926 band. Freeman was the one most affected 
by this circumstance, for it was his first encounter with Coleman 
Hawkins, who had already lapped all competition on the tenor 
saxophone. It can be assumed that a different Bud Freeman came 
away from Detroit after the Greystone job. Even a decade or so 
later, Bud remembered the stomping, on-the-beat approach of the 
Henderson saxophonist in 1926-1927 as his favorite of several 
phases of the Hawkins style that had evolved over the years. 

Dave Tough left the group next, then McPartland and Lan- 
nigan joined Bill Paley's band, and the others were left to dig up 
whatever they could find. Mezz Mezzrow had been sitting in with 
the gang now and then and occasionally had enlarged the sax sec- 
tion to three men for special jobs. He cut quite a father figure 
among the Austin gang, for Mezzrow was seven or eight years 
older and seemed very worldly, indeed. He was acquainted with 
most of the South Side musicians, with several gangsters, with a 
connection for obtaining quality marijuana, with booking agents, 
and with the insides of several jails. Teschemacher, Freeman, Sul- 
livan, and Gene Krupa were impressed, but Tough, though 
friendly, could see through the bluster. Mezzrow favored all-out 
emulation of the New Orleans players, and gradually the gang 
lined up against him, stressing instead the development of their 
own group style. When Eddie Condon moved into the inner cir- 
cle, he, too, was unconvinced by Mezzrow's arguments, and the 
Chicagoans ventured further away from New Orleans jazz. 

As a matter of fact, the New Orleans men themselves were 
breaking up their bands and the old improvised marching style. 
Armstrong had left Oliver, the Dodds brothers (clarinetist Johnny 
and drummer Baby) were playing a more intimate kind of jazz at 
Kelly's Stables, Jimmy Noone had a two-reeds-plus-rhythm-sec- 
tion group, and Oliver himself had hired a saxophone section. 
Only Jelly Roll Morton continued to cling to the earlier fonns. 
Mezzrow's attempts to convince Sullivan of the virtues of playing 
the Morton style were again unsuccessful, for Sullivan had heard 
the young and very modern Earl Hines, who was clearly the man 
of the hour among Chicago pianists in 1926-1927. Tough and 


Krupa still regarded Baby Dodds with enormous respect and af- 
fection, but now Zutty Singleton seemed more in step with their 
musical thinking. 

Bix was at nearby Hudson Lake with Pee Wee Russell in 1926, 
and most of the Chicagoans made pilgrimages to the resort to 
hear the band, play records, discuss music, and drink. Mezzrow 
went, too, but he had begun to feel left out when the gang dis- 
cussed nonjazz works by composers like Stravinsky and Eastwood 
Lane. Even purist Muggsy Spanier had become interested in for- 
mal music, and, of course, Sullivan had had plenty of it in his 
background to begin with. Mezz just wanted to play the blues and 
was unhappy about this new digression. 

Teschemacher was especially fond of Beiderbecke and began 
to show it in his playing. Like Russell, who had been deeply 
affected by Bix's melodic and harmonic concepts, Tesch intro- 
duced a hard, rasping quality into his tone that brought it closer 
to the brassy bite of the cornet and carried it away from the more 
liquid sound of the conventionally played clarinet. Benny Good- 
man and Fud Livingston had also found this an effective means of 
adding punch and excitement to their solos. Beyond this charac- 
teristic (which Goodman eventually dropped), these four clari- 
netists also shared an admiration for Jimmy Noone, who had 
changed during the twenties from a delicate contrapuntal ensem- 
ble style to a powerful cornet-like lead with graceful embellish- 
ments. Thus was created what many call "Chicago style" clarinet. 

Rhythm came first for the Chicagoans. They leaned heavily 
upon the skills of Tough, Krupa, and Wettling in establishing the 
fundamental pulse. Stacy and Sullivan picked up pointers from 
various Chicago blues pianists, as well as from Hines, and pushed 
the band either by hammering out steady four-beat chords or by 
adding an eight-to-the-bar pattern borrowed from the popular 
boogie-woogie specialists on Chicago's South Side. The banjo 
player was encouraged to maintain a steady four beats to the 
measure and refrain from the fancy flourishes common in earlier 
jazz bands. The drummer was allowed to fill in empty spaces, and 
it required taste and understanding to carry this responsibility. 
Tough was the ideal man for the job, but Krupa and Wettling 
were quite acceptable. 

As for the bass, it was pretty much up to the individual player, 


but no one argued with the Steve Brown approach that Lannigan 
used, which alternated from a two-to-the-bar pattern to contra- 
puntal triplets and clever off-the-beat accents. 

All horns played on the beat or even slightly in front of it. Me- 
lodic ideas were important, but they usually came in rhythmic 
bursts and clusters. How the player pounced on a note was as im- 
portant to the Chicagoans as the pitch of the note itself. Emo- 
tional impact was everything. No group of jazzmen had ever at- 
tacked music with more vigor and bravado than did this eager 

Russell and Stacy, who had formed their musical habits inde- 
pendently of the Chicagoans, were not quite so ferociously in- 
clined. They had each investigated the subtle art of understate- 
ment in their solo work and had come up with excellent results. 
Pee Wee's unusual sensitivity at a time when the entire country, 
including its jazz musicians, seemed caught up in a "get hot" com- 
plex, can be heard on a mid-iga/ Red Nichols recording of Ida. 
Here Russell explores the harmonic pockets of the song's structure 
in a restrained, almost recalcitrant manner, borrowing from Bix's 
ballad approach and adding the unique Russell sense of whimsy 
that marks all his best work. His solo created a bit of a stir among 
some musicians at the time, but most of the Chicagoans were not 
ready for "pretty" jazz yet. They didn't care for cornetist Nichols 
either, whom they regarded as a mere Bix imitator and not a very 
convincing "hot" player. 

Early Stacy on record is rare, but a glimpse of his 1928 style can 
be had on a recording by Danny Altier's orchestra, which in- 
cluded Spanier, Wettiing, clarinetist Maurie Bercov (who played 
much like Teschemacher), and guitarist Ray Biondi. Jess, at 24, 
had already formed the mature style for which he became widely 
known years later with Benny Goodman's orchestra. His right- 
hand figures were more linear than those of Hones or Sullivan, but 
the Chicago rolling bass line was there and so were the hornlike 
melodic statements so characteristic of the best Chicago pianists 
of the period. There was, though, no hammering on the key- 
board; Stacy displays superb control and an advanced sense of 
dynamics throughout his solo on My Gal Sal and behind the dis- 
mal vocal on Fm Sorry Sally. 
While most of the Chicago gang wrestled with all these prob- 


lems, Benny Goodman, now back home, was continuing to play 
with Pollack whenever there was work or to accept casual engage- 
ments whenever the band's luck ran out, which was often. In 
1927, he recorded a couple of trio performances with Chicagoans 
Bob Conselman on drums and Mel Stitzel on piano (That's a 
Plenty and Clarinetitis) that reveal him as a gifted young clarinet- 
ist at that time, with an already recognizable style, but a style yet 
rooted in the same Dodds-Noone-Beiderbecke idiom within 
which Teschemacher worked, The vibrato, phrasing, attack, and 
general ebullience were quite similar to Teschemacher's later 
work, but the tone was cleaner and clearly Goodman's own. 

A favorite hangout for Chicagoans in 1927 was the Three 
Deuces, where Sullivan, Freeman, Tough, Krupa, Teschemacher, 
Condon, Wettling, and Mezzrow were regulars at frequent jam 
sessions held in the dank basement 

Goodman, Beiderbecke, and others dropped in whenever possi- 
ble and helped to establish the saloon as a kind of recreation cen- 
ter and clubhouse for local and visiting jazzmen. The sessions held 
there, some still remembered by the participants, marked the ar- 
rival of the Chicagoans as jazzmen with their own following of 
musicians, tyros who were now attracted to them just as they had 
been attracted to New Orleans jazz groups in the first place. 

About this time, Dave Tough picked up his drums and went to 
France with clarinetist Danny Polo. Dave was a restless man, 
unhappy with his environment (Mezzrow recalled in later years 
how Tough read the American Mercury from cover to cover, 
"especially the section called 'Americana,' where all the blue- 
noses, bigots, and two-faced killjoys in this land of the free got a 
going over they never forgot") It seemed logical to Tough to go 
where other creative Americans were gathering. 

Gene Krupa had met most of the Chicagoans through the Ben- 
son booking office, and Mezzrow was already preaching Baby 
Dodds to the i8-year-old drummer and helping him to fit into the 
spot vacated by Tough. Gene's enthusiasm was boundless, and by 
late 1927 he was, after Wettling, the Chicagoans' favorite avail- 
able drummer. That fall, practically everyone in the gang got a 
chance to make records, partly as a result of a selling job by 
singer-promoter-comb player Red McKenzie, who had now set- 


fled in Chicago and usurped Mezzrow's big brother role among 
the Austinites, 

The first date was for Charles Pierce, a local butcher and some- 
time alto saxophonist who admired the Chicago jazz gang and 
often hired them for his band. Spanier and Teschemacher were 
the bright lights of the session, which produced China Boy, the 
familiar Chicago war-horse, and a real blues called Bull Frog 
Blues. China Boy was arranged for two cornets and three reeds 
and is of interest chiefly for Teschemacher's agitated, explosive 
solo, which overcomes a series of clinkers (usually a result of 
Tesche's pinching and straining in the upper register, causing a 
higher note than intended to come out) and ignites an otherwise 
rather stodgy band performance. Spanier blows a disappointing 
stock chorus on Bull Frog Blues, but Tesche grasps the blues idea 
quite well and is close to the Jimmy Noone sound throughout. The 
arrangement was probably based on Jelly Roll Morton's Jungle 
Blues, recorded three or four months before Bull Frog. 

The next record, made the following month, is more satisfac- 
tory. Again a straightforward blues was included, called Friars 
Point Shuffle, as well as a popular song, then about a decade old, 
Darktown Strutters' Ball. The personnel was mostly first-string 
Chicagoans: Spanier, Teschemacher, Mezzrow (tenor sax), Sulli- 
van, Condon, Lannigan (tuba), Wettling, and Red McKenzie 
(vocals). Spanier seems happier on this one, plays a good enough 
blues solo, and Tesch sounds even deeper into Noone, except for 
a wider vibrato and a nervous, almost frenzied, quality that the 
more assured Noone never displayed. Sullivan solos with charac- 
teristic vitality, featuring a rolling left-hand bass line and closely 
grouped, powerful chord clusters in the right. Lannigan manages 
to establish an oscillating rhythm with his tuba by playing a 
stream of dotted-eighth- and sixteenth-note patterns. The record 
is, in all, a good representation of what was going on among the 
more talented Chicagoans in 1927. 

Benny Goodman defected from the struggling Pollack band for 
a while to play with Isham Jones in 1927, but he soon returned, 
and at approximately the same time, Jimmy McPartland joined 
the Pollack crew. They got out another record in late 1927, 
Waitin for Katie and Memphis Blues. Oddly enough, the blues 


side was poor and Katie was, in the final passages, an excellent 
band performance, with almost fully mature Goodman (he was 
18} and advanced saxophone section work. On this number, Pol- 
lack comes close to the best of Jean Goldkette, a very high level 
for 1927, indeed. His ace soloist was Goodman, whose ears and 
fingers were ahead of most of his contempories, including the 
slightly older Austin gang. "The boys that hung out at the Three 
Deuces were terrifically talented guys," Benny wrote in his au- 
tobiography, "but most of them didn't read, and we thought 
their playing was rough. We didn't pay them much mind, al- 
though we liked to jam with them.* 

McPartland, who has never shed the Beiderbecke mantle he ac- 
quired so early, quite naturally showed great improvement in 
1927 over his 1924 Wolverine level (which can be heard on a sin- 
gle record cut at that time), though he was never to be more than 
a pleasant utility cometist. He participated in another Wolverine 
recording session in 1927 with a group that included Maurie 
Bercov and Dick Voynow, but nothing much came of it. 

Prior to his first record date in late 1927, Krupa worked all over 
the Chicago area with bandleaders like Joe Kayser, Leo Shukin, 
and Thelma Terry. He studied, at one time or another, with Al 
Silverman, Ed Straight (from whom Tough learned his rudi- 
ments), and Roy Knapp, striving to become a thoroughly trained 
and highly flexible drummer. At the same time, Freeman played 
with Herb Carlin's band, followed up casuals through the booking 
offices, and worked a movie theater job with Tough and Condon 
in a band fronted by Jack Gardner, a good Chicago pianist. Free- 
man and Tough were close friends, and when Dave left for 
France, Bud let Mezzrow talk him into striking out for Holly- 
wood, presumably to make a fortune as an actor. They got as far 
as Colorado, then turned around and ran for home. 

Joe Sullivan was busy with dance bands like Sig Meyers' or 
Louis Panico's and did occasional radio work. And Tesche- 
macher, according to Condon, was dropping into the Apex Club 
to hear Jimmy Noone at least five times a week. He also continued 
to work in Floyd Towne's band at the Midway Gardens with 
Spanier, Stacy, Wettling, and trombonist Floyd O'Brien. 

More than twenty years later, Artie Shaw, who visited Chicago 
with Irving Aaronsons orchestra about 1928, described (in his 


book The Trouble with Cinderella) his reactions to O'Brien and 

I remember one night or morning, rather, for it started around 
four A.M. when a bunch of us, who had decided to have ourselves 
a little session, wound up in some dance hall where they were 
holding one of the Marathon Dance contests that were always tak- 
ing place in those days. Different musicians floated in and out, sat 
in for a while, played a few choruses, and then got up to let some 
other guy blow. There was a piano player named Jess Stacy, and 
another named Joe Sullivan. There was one trombone player, Floyd 
O'Brien, who had one of the most peculiar, lazy, deliberately mis- 
taken-sounding styles I've ever heard. He would almost, but not 
quite, crack a note into little pieces, and each time you thought he 
was about to fall apart he'd recover and make something out of 
what started out to sound like a fluff till after a while you began 
to get the idea that this guy not only wasn't making any mistakes at 
all, but had complete control over his horn. He would come so 
damn dose to mistakes that you couldn't see how he was going to 
get away with it; but he always recovered somehow and this 
trick of almost, but never quite, making the mistake, and each 
time recovering so that the things he played went off in altogether 
unexpected and sometimes quite humorous directions, was what 
made his style so peculiar to start with although it's impossible to 
give the flavor of it in language. ... I sat next to him [Tesche- 
macher] and watched him while he played. We were all slightly 
drunk on bad bootleg gin, but it didn't seem to affect his playing 
any. He too had this odd style of playing, but in an altogether dif- 
ferent way from O'Brien's. Even while he'd be reaching out for 
something in his deliberately fumbling way, some phrase you 
couldn't quite see the beginning or end of (or, for that matter, the 
reason for it in the first place) , there was an assurance about every- 
thing he did that made you see that he himself knew where he was 
going all the time; and by the time he got there you began to see 
it yourself, for in its own grotesque way it made a kind of musical 
sense, but something extremely personal and intimate to himself, 
something so subtle that it could never possibly have had great com- 
municative meaning to anyone but another musician and even then 
only to a jazz musician who happened to be pretty damn hep to 
what was going on. 

A recording session for the Okeh company in December, 1927, 
was arranged by Red McKenzie, whose valuable contacts with 


that firm were left over from his earlier commercial successes with 
the group he called the Mound City Blue Blowers. As McKenzie 
and Condon's Chicagoans, McPartland, Freeman, Teschemacher, 
Krupa, Sullivan, Lannigan, and Condon cut four sides that ob- 
tained wide distribution throughout the country and made a 
favorable impression on Eastern jazzmen, most of whom had not 
realized how much the Chicagoans had improved. The biggest 
surprise was Krupa, an unknown, whose well-recorded drum 
work on these sessions rocked the New York jazz cliques, and 
ultimately unseated Vic Berton as their chief percussionist. 
Krupa's intense study of Dodds, Singleton, and Tough, along with 
his vast natural energy and superb sense of time, placed him, as 
of the last days of 1927, in the front rank of jazz drummers. 

The tunes recorded were Sugar, China Boy, Nobody's Sweet- 
heart, and Liza (not Gershwin's), all in F, which must have been 
the gang's favorite key signature. Tesch wrote out a few con- 
necting passages to give the ensemble fabric more strength, but 
most of the music was freely improvised in a small-band style that 
stemmed from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, various Beider- 
becke recording groups, the Dodds brothers' combination, Jimmy 
Noone, and, inevitably, a number of semicommercial units around 
Chicago in which the gang had played over the years. Tesche- 
macher's scored interludes were borrowed in part from such 
standard dance-band sources, and the clarinetist frequently 
sought similar straight parallel-harmony parts in the improvised 
ensemble passages rather than a weaving New Orleans contra- 
puntal line, as advocated by Mezzrow. He also devised an unusual 
introduction to Liza, in 6/4 time. 

Freeman, nervous on his first recording, demonstrated that, 
while his tone was still rough, he had ideas and a rapidly develop- 
ing command of his horn. Sullivan, after Krupa, emerged as the 
steadiest and most arresting performer in the group. His powerful 
left hand and Hines-like right tied the rhythm section together 
and provided much of the lift for which these records are famous. 

Teschemacher was in better form for this date than he had been 
on earlier recordings, but he was still an uneven player. His solos 
ranged from breathtakingly inventive melodic paroxysms, with 
notes flying off in unexpected directions like so many fireballs 
(China Boy), to stilted, groping phrases that amounted to little 


more than rough caricatures of Jimmy Noone ( Sugar ) . For all his 
faults, though, Tesch had achieved a personal, identifiable, and 
highly stimulating mode of expression that soon rubbed off on 
dozens of other clarinetists around the country. 

Two Chicagoan ensemble devices that intrigued Eastern jazz- 
men can be heard on these records. Mezzrow described them 
some years later (in his autobiography Really the Blues) as the 
"explosion," a sudden flare preceding each repetition of the initial 
melodic statement in a conventional song structure, and the al- 
ready mentioned *shuffle rhythm," a staccato, heavily accented 
eighth-note pattern usually applied to the bridge, or release, of a 
song. These and other simple but effective methods of increasing 
and releasing tensions came largely from the mind of Dave 
Tough, who, more than any other single musician, translated New 
Orleans musical ideas into the jazz language of the Chicagoans. 
Had he been in town for the occasion, Tough would doubtless 
have been the hero of the McKenzie-Condon recordings. 

The Chicagoans knew they had left their mark when Red Nich- 
ols recorded Nobody's Sweetheart a couple of months later, com- 
plete with shuffle rhythms, explosions, and a Chicago-like clarinet 
solo by Fud Livingston. 

For a few months after the Okeh sessions, there was little 
change in the Chicagoans* job situations. Krupa played for Ben- 
son orchestras, in Eddie Neibauer s Seattle Harmony Kings, and, 
for three months or so, with Mezzrow (Milton Mesirow and His 
Purple Crackle Orchestra); Tesch and Jess Stacy were still with 
Floyd Towne; Sullivan continued with Louis Panico; Tough was 
still seeking culture in France. Benny Goodman, encouraged by 
the success of the McKenzie-Condon recordings that featured 
his old friend and fellow Pollack sideman McPartland, secured a 
one-session Vocalion date using the same instrumentation, Bob 
Conselman played drums, but the others were drawn from the 
Pollack fold. The titles were A Jazz Holiday and Wolverine Blues, 
and the performances were more directly derived from Bix Bei- 
derbecke's small-band records of the preceding year than from 
either the New Orleans bands or the Austin gang. The session 
pointed up a split among the Chicagoans that had been widening 
for some time and could now be heard in their music, McPart- 
land, Goodman, Freeman, Wettling, and Teschemacher were 


drifting away from New Orleans patterns toward a more sophisti- 
cated, lighter music that emphasized clean execution, advanced 
harmonies, and melodic wit. Their guiding light was the modern 
work of Beiderbeclce. Sullivan, Mezzrow, and Spanier were pri- 
marily Armstrong-blues men. As Sullivan once expressed it, "I 
love Bix like I love my right arm, but I go by way of Louis." 

Not that Freeman et al didn't have a deep admiration for Louis 
(*Too much Armstrong," Teschemacher once admonished Bud 
after one of his tenor solos ); nor did Spanier and the others fail to 
appreciate Bix. Each side still indulged in a good deal of hero 
worship in both directions, but the split was there. 

McKenzie and Condon, figuring they had a winning combina- 
tion, landed two more record dates. One record, under the head- 
ing of McKenzie and Condon's Boys, was not issued, but the 
other, by the Chicago Rhythm Kings, was successfully released in 
April, 1928. Three sides, There II Be Some Changes Made, Tve 
Found a New Baby, and Baby, Won't You 'Please Come Home? 
(the last not issued at the time), feature Teschemacher, Spanier, 
Mezzrow, Sullivan, Condon, Lannigan, and Krupa. Mezzrow was 
included because Freeman had gone to New York to join Pollack, 
who had been impressed by Bud's first records. 

The reproduction quality and studio balance of these record- 
ings are superior to the December sessions for Okeh, and Spanier 
furnishes a solid Armstrong-inspired lead. Krupa, who can be 
heard clearly this time, is again the lion of the date. Although 
Gene was not the first to use the then difficult-to-record bass 
drum on records (Baby Dodds, for one, preceded him), he makes 
daringly prominent use of it here, filling out the rhythm section in 
a way that had never before been caught on wax. His tom-tom ac- 
cents and explosions were, too, unusual and very exciting in 1928, 
when electrical recording methods, permitting a more extensive 
use of deep-tone drums, were only about two years old. Also to 
Krupa's credit was his ability to hold a firm tempo behind Span- 
ier's pushing lead, which caused many weaker drummers to ac- 
celerate in a misguided attempt to catch up with the cornetist 
Spanier has trouble with drummers on this point to this day. 

Teschemacher seems more contemplative here than on previous 
recordings and is even closer to trumpet phrasing. The effect of 
the tenor-clarinet-cornet Chicago front line is, in fact, that of 


three tightly knit parallel melody voices and a distinct depar- 
ture from the old New Orleans Dixieland format, which calls for a 
trombone bass line, a simple cornet lead, and contrapuntal clari- 
net figures. Tesch explored this new idea even further at this 
time by working out a fourth tune, Jazz Me Blues, for three reeds 
and rhythm. It is, interestingly, the best side of the date, and 
Tesch seems more comfortable playing lead over the saxophones 
of Mezzrow and Rod Cless than he had before in his wandering 
ensemble lines above Spanier's horn. Tesch's Jazz Me Blues is 
rather close, too, to the ensemble approach of the trumpetless 
band Jimmy Noone fronted at that time. 

Fve Found a New Baby and There'll Be Some Changes Made 
settled any question that might have remained about the emer- 
gence of a new crop of talent from Chicago. These men had cre- 
ated a fine, workable method of small-band collective improvisa- 
tion that accommodated the newer trends in jazz (solo virtuosity, 
a steady four-to-the-bar swing, harmonic explorations beyond 
simple triads with added sevenths, an enlarged set of responsi- 
bilities for the drummer) while retaining some of the good things 
in New Orleans jazz (the blues, a "vocal" approach to personal 
expression, unified collective spirit, a driving on-the-beat momen- 
tum, intelligent use of understatement). For some Chicagoans, 
this formula for small-band swing, with the addition of a relaxed 
balkd style, served well for a lifetime; others continued to search 
elsewhere for musical fulfillment 

The summer of 1928 found many of the Chicagoans in New 
York, McKenzie, a natural salesman (he had also arranged for 
Jimmy Noone to record his Apex band in Chicago the previous 
month), now went to work lining up New York dates for his 
brood. There was supposed to be an attractive job with Bee 
Palmer, but for various reasons it fell through. The gang spent a 
hard summer in a strange city. They found a brief moment of 
glory backing a dance team at the Palace, but it vanished when a 
Variety reviewer described the gang as the "poorest /-piece or- 
chestra on earth," even though a writer for The Billboard sug- 
gested that the band was "commendable." 

Teschemacher found a temporary job substituting for Gil 
Rodin in Ben Pollack's sax section for about three weeks. Then the 
Pollack band itself was laid off, leaving McPartland with the curi- 


ous distinction of being out of work with two bands at the same 
time. Goodman had no trouble picking up dates with commercial 
bands like those of Sam Lanin, Meyer Davis, and Nat Shilkret, 
but the other Chicagoans had to share a single hotel room and 
tighten their belts. A quartet recording date with Teschemacher, 
Condon, Sullivan, and Krupa helped pay the hotel bill. The titles 
were Indiana and Oh, Baby, again in the key of F. Tesch is 
heard on alto and clarinet, flailing his way through the two sides 
without accomplishing very much. His stiff reeds and raucous, 
forced tone prove unsuitable in this case. Krapa's druinrning is 
overbearing and overrecorded, for he whacks energetically on his 
tom-toms, crash cymbal, and bass drum as though a full band 
were present. Sullivan, however, reveals steady improvement and 
a sensitive touch that could not be heard on previous records. 

Freeman, who had turned out a couple of commercial records 
with Pollack in April, became disillusioned and sailed away to join 
Dave Tough in France. By September, Bud was back in Chicago 
again. Tough, too, had not profited very much by his stay in Eu- 
rope. Most of the work there was decidedly nonjazz in character, 
and by 1928 Dave was working in ships' bands on the Atlantic. 
He left one disciple in Paris, though, in Maurice Chaillon, who 
replaced Tough in Danny Polo's band. Another French musician 
who had heard and been influenced by the McKenzie-Condon re- 
cordings was trumpeter Philippe Brun. It was, nevertheless, a 
poor environment for a young drummer of Tough's ability; de- 
spite the flow of good legal liquor and the "cultured" environ- 
ment, he headed for home in early 1929. (Mezzrow, on his way to 
see Tough in Paris at that time, passed the drummer going the 
other way in mid-ocean. ) 

New Yorkers Red Nichols and Miff Mole were interested in the 
Chicagoans, especially Krupa and Sullivan, and a recording ses- 
sion was set up that would combine their talents. McKenzie had 
been talking up Jimmy Noone and Chicago music to Nichols, who 
seemed ready to give it a try, as long as the date was in Mole's 
name anyway. The initial attempt was Shim-Me-Sha-Wabbk and 
One Step to Heaven, and the result was one of Nichols* best rec- 
ords. With no bassist, Sullivan and Krupa set the pace. Tesch, as 
usual, plays flimsy ensemble parts, challenging rather than com- 
plementing the cornet lead, but there can be little doubt that he 














and the other Chicagoans lit a fire under Nichols and Mole. Nich- 
ols was a top jazzman in New York, and this recording amounted 
to a musical test for the newcomers. They outdid themselves and 
qualified with room to spare. 

Krupa, Sullivan, and Goodman, along with a new friend, Jack 
Teagarden, spent\much time in Harlem listening to pianists and 
big bands. Earl Mines had suggested they look up Fats Waller, 
who was but one of several outstanding pianists in New York. The 
music they heard in Harlem deeply affected the Chicagoans, par- 
ticularly Sullivan, who absorbed the buoyant, strutting Harlem 
piano approach (the eighth-note left-hand "stride* technique fit 
nicely into the Chicagoan "shuffle" idea) and combined it with 
his blues-cwm-Hines style. The smooth, even swing and the so- 
phisticated arrangements of the New Yorkers were a logical next 
step for the still rough Chicago gang, and they began the learning 
process all over again. Most of them were, after all, in their early 
twenties and still quite flexible. 

Goodman, who was finally finding some security with Pollack at 
the Park Central Hotel, was especially impressed by Duke Elling- 
ton's band and in the summer of 1928 recorded a "Harlem" ar- 
rangement, complete with Bubber Miley effects by McPartland, 
of Jelly Roll Morton's Jungles Blues. At the same session, Benny 
made a rare appearance on alto saxophone, playing a charming 
Beiderbecke-like solo on Blue, and turned out a thoroughly 
Chicago-style performance with Room 1421, the last enhanced by 
Pollack's skillful drumming. Pollack was one of the first drummers 
to play four beats to the measure on the bass drum and was actu- 
ally in a class with Tough and Krupa at this time, but he was too 
busy as a bandleader to participate in many all-jazz recordings. 
The Chicago style had been all but swallowed up in the main- 
stream of jazz developments by late 1928, and Bud Freeman, back 
in the hometown, demonstrated some of the new things he had 
learned in New York on a single interesting Okeh record. Krupa, 
who had also returned to Chicago because his mother was ill, 
joined Freeman, Floyd O'Brien, clarinetist Bud Jacobson, and 
several other friends, mostly from the band working at the Golden 
Pumpkin with Thelma Terry, to make Craze-ology and Can't 
Help Lovin' That Man in December. Freeman's tone was by now 
lighter and more graceful, his fingers fast and sure, and his con- 


ception quite mature for a saxophonist of 22, Craze-okgy reflects 
his New York impressions, for there are "jungle" effects, a kind of 
big-band arrangement (even to a saxophone lead) scaled down to 
three horns and rhythm, and evidence of an interest on Free- 
man's part in the land of tour de force saxophone playing that 
Jimmy Dorsey, Coleman Hawkins, and Frankie Trumbauer had 
popularized in the East. 

Krupa, too, had changed while in New York. He now played 
crisp rim shots in place of Dodds-like tom-tom thumps, used 
sudden explosions more sparingly, and concentrated on achieving 
a more even flow of 4/4 rhythm. About this time, too, he became 
interested in the work of a Cuba Austin, drummer with Me- 
Kinney's Cotton Pickers. 

Can't Help Loviri That Man is a ballad performance, high- 
lighted by a good straight vocal by Red McKenzie (who later be- 
came a direct influence on a number of singers, including Woody 
Herman) and a Freeman solo that is almost pure Beiderbecke- 
Pee Wee Russell and represents Bud's first of many recorded solos 
in that vein. It is interesting to note, incidentally, that the final 
ensemble flare, which formerly would have been Krupa's signal to 
open fire with tom-toms, found him accenting with afterbeat 
cymbals but otherwise maintaining a regular pulse. 

By 1929, most of the gang was in New York to stay, except for 
Teschemacher, Stacy, and Wetding, who continued to play for 
bands like Louis Panico's and Gene Fosdick's in Chicago, Spanier 
went with Ray Miller and Ted Lewis, and Goodman was still with 
Pollack, but New York had become home base. Max Kaminsky, a 
Boston trumpeter who had worked both Beiderbecke and Aim- 
strong into his style, settled in Manhattan, as did Pee Wee Russell, 
who kept alive playing for bandleaders like Paul Specht and Cass 
Hagen. Condon, Sullivan, Mezzrow, and Teagarden spent much 
time listening to bands and forming new friendships in Harlem. 
In the fall of 1928, they had recorded Makin' Friends, a 
fine blues performance featuring Teagarden that again drama- 
tized the new spirit of the Chicagoans. Most of them were be- 
coming firmly committed to the even rhythm of Ellington, 
Henderson, and other good New York bands. The effect this 
rhythmic change four uncluttered, evenly accented pulses to 


each measure- had on the soloists was of considerable impor- 
tance. The men had grown up when two-to-the-bar was in general 
use but was interpreted as four by horn players. It amounted to 
kying out eight beats in a measure by this new system. Creative 
use of syncopation and daring double-time phrases were now 
easier to bring about, and more involved harmonies came naturally 
as rhythm men broke the monotony of hitting the same chord four 
times in succession by thinking of new inversions, alterations, and 
passing chords. The 4/4 revolution or rather evolution, for the 
Chicagoans and many others had been leading up to it for a long 
time was the first giant step toward the higher creative level at 
which average jazzmen of the thirties performed. 

Dave Tough was back in New York in 1929, but his slight frame 
and intemperate outlook had led him to illness and irresponsi- 
bility. He recorded some fair sides with Red Nichols and even 
toured in an all-Chicago band fronted by the popular cornetist, 
but he was not his old self. He eventually returned to Chicago andl 
worked on and off there for the next several years, sometimes sub- 
stituting for Wettling in Joe Kayser s band and even, at one point, 
playing for the Capitol Dancing School. Freeman, who was in and 
out of Chicago during the severest Depression years, remained 
close to Tough and worked with him whenever possible in places 
like Carlin's Ballroom. 

One group of 1929 Nichols recordings deserves attention, for 
they include Sullivan, Freeman, Tough, Russell, and Teagarden 
(a land of honorary member of the Chicago gang, because he, 
Eke Russell, fit comfortably into their musical philosophy). The 
tunes selected were That Da Da Strain, Basin Street Blues, and a 
blues called Last Cent. It was a top-heavy session with four horns 
and two rhythm, the more so because Teagarden, Russell, and 
Freeman behaved in typical Chicago fashion, ignoring the tra- 
ditional functions of their instruments in a Dixieland setting, to 
improvise around the melody. The recordings do show the partici- 
pants to be close to musical maturity, however, and, for better or 
worse, typecast in the roles each had to live down over the years 
Russell the poignant clown, Teagarden the blues expert, Free- 
man the bumptious buffoon, Sullivan the muscular stomper, and 
Tough the forgotten drummer. It was a raw, undisciplined ses- 


sion, perhaps partly in open defiance of the meticulous Nichols, 
who always remained an opportunistic outsider to the Chi- 

Sullivan had by this time adopted the Harlem left-hand "stride" 
device and was developing into one of the best pianists in New 
York. With Teagarden, Mezzrow, Condon, and a couple of men 
from Charlie Johnson's big band, he had made a pair of excellent 
recordings in early 1929, and there was one very special date at 
about the same time that featured Joe, Teagarden, Eddie Lang, 
and Louis Armstrong -no doubt a satisfying experience for a 
young man like Sullivan, who had looked to Armstrong for inspi- 
ration from an early age. 

Goodman, too, was in demand for recordings, jazz and other- 
wise. Leaving Pollack in the fall of 1929, Benny quickly became 
part of the New York jazz-studio-recording-free-lance gang that 
included the Dorseys, Eddie Lang, Miff Mole, and Glenn Miller. 
These men, who usually gathered at a speakeasy on West Fifty- 
third Street called Plunketts', fared unusually well during the De- 
pression years of 1930 to 1932 because they could read well and 
perform according to instruction without delay or fuss. Goodman 
appeared on countless recordings during this period, but his best 
jazz solos were those he played on several Red Nichols dates. One 
of these, China Boy, recorded in 1930, is of special interest be- 
cause it also features Sullivan and Krupa, and it is the same tune 
that helped bring them into prominence. Goodman, at 21, was 
now fully formed as a leading jazzman and was becoming a major 
influence on other clarinetists. His rhythmic figurations, impres- 
sive technical equipment, and unfailing ear earned for him re- 
spect from all quarters studio men, dance-band musicians, the 
jazz clique, and "legitimate" players alike. 

Sullivan and Krupa were boiling with enthusiasm for this 
Nichols date, and they demonstrated that their McKenzie-Condon 
phase nearly three years earlier was but a rough draft of what 
they were to become, Krupa, who had made his first recordings 
with Goodman for Nichols more than a year before (Indiana and 
Dinah), seemed to stimulate Benny. It was these and later Nich- 
ols sessions that led to the profitable association of Krupa and 
Goodman in the mid-thirties. 

For all the brilliance of Goodman, Sullivan, and Krupa, it was 


Teagarden who stole the show on China Boy and its companion 
selections, Peg o* My Heart, and The Sheik of Araby. Curiously, 
on Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble, an old Chicago favorite, Krupa's mem- 
ories of Mezzrow's sermons seemed to be revived, as he plays 
in a "busy" style somewhat in the manner of Baby Dodds. 

For Teschemacher and Stacy, there was fairly steady work in 
Chicago, but the exciting days of discovery in that city were 
pretty much over. Most of Tesch's remaining recordings, made in 
a fourteen-month period from late 1928 to early 1930, found him 
in the company of second-rate jazzmen, except for his final date 
with Bud Freeman and George Wettling. (The clarinetist's last 
New York recording in 1928 was with the Dorsey brothers and 
Don Redman, on which Teschemacher played a brief, awkward 
tenor saxophone solo.) In December, 1928, Tesch recorded Try- 
ing to Stop My Crying with Wingy Mannone and Art Hodes (a 
talented blues-oriented Chicago pianist), but the chief point of in- 
terest is a tag lifted from Stravinsky's Petrouchka that Spanier and 
Teschemacher had used from time to time. 

An Elmer Schoebel recording of October, 1929, reveals Tesch 
and a group of Chicago friends completely caught up in Beider- 
becke, even to selecting tunes from the old Wolverine book 
Copenhagen and Prince of Wails. By this time, Tesch had cleaned 
up his tone, improved his intonation and control, and settled 
into a very attractive style that held to a middle road some- 
where between Goodman and Russell. Considering this and the 
notable improvement Teschemacher displayed a few weeks later 
in a recording session with a Chicago group called the Cellar 
Boys, particularly on the stirring Wailin' Blues, it might be rea- 
sonable to assume that the clarinetist could have developed into 
a major jazzman of the thirties, alongside Goodman and Russell. 
As it turned out, this was his last appearance in a recording studio. 
Teschemacher s final two years, during which he even took up vio- 
lin again, were spent mostly in commercial bands like those of 
Jan Garber and Benny Meroff, although there was a brief job 
with Jess Stacy in a group named Stacy's Aces. The 26-year-old ex- 
Austinite was killed in an automobile accident in 1932. 

Stacy kept playing around Chicago during the lean years, along 
with those Chicagoans who had decided not to try New York yet 
Freeman and Sullivan turned up on Chicago jobs occasionally, 


but the hometown boys were now mostly second stringers or 
younger men like Bob Zurke and the Marsala brothers (trumpeter 
Marty and clarinetist Joe). Jess worked with Paul Mares's jazz 
band at the Century of Progress Exposition in 1934 and at a club 
called the Subway in 1935, at which point Goodman sent for him 
to join his big band. 

Dave Tough was around, too, sitting in and picking up occa- 
sional work in places like the Liberty Inn, but his drinking prob- 
lem had become quite serious. Finally, he made an all-out effort to 
redeem himself and, after a fling in Ray Noble's American band, 
secured a steady job with Tommy Dorsey in late 1935. 

Krupa spent the antijazz years of the Depression in a Red Nich- 
ols theater band with Goodman and Sullivan as well as in the or- 
chestras of Irving Aaronson, Russ Colombo (again with Goodman 
and Sullivan, for Benny put the band together), Mai Hallet, 
and Buddy Rogers. It was no surprise when Goodman asked 
Krupa to join his new big band in early 1935. 

Sullivan passed the years of the early thirties with a succession 
of odd jobs, from an engagement at New York's Stork Club with 
Red McKenzie's revised Mound City Blue Blowers to a road trip 
with Roger Wolfe Kahn. In 1933, he opened as a single on New 
York's Fifty-second Street at the Onyx Club, a kind of pioneer es- 
tablishment that led to a mushrooming of many more jazz saloons 
along the same strip after the repeal of Prohibition. It was at this 
time that Sullivan first recorded two of his most famous solos, Gin 
Mill Blues and Little Rock Getaway (a theme going back to a 
piece from King Oliver's book called Buddy's Habit). After work- 
ing with Bing Crosby and serving on staff at KHJ in Los Angeles, 
Sullivan joined Bob Crosby's big band in 1936. 

Bud Freeman ended the on-again, off-again years of the early 
thirties (the Dorsey Brothers, Zez Confry, Joe Venuti, Roger 
Wolfe Kahn) by joining Ray Noble's American band in 1935. 
Dave Tough was there, too, and, indeed, the two Chicagoans 
seemed virtually inseparable throughout the decade. Shortly after 
Tough joined Tommy Dorsey, Freeman became a member of the 
band's sax section. When Tough went with Benny Goodman in 
1938, Freeman followed. One month after Goodman fired Tough 
for missing a Waldorf Astoria opening, Freeman left, too. 

Tough's recordings with Dorsey's band indicate the powerful 


influence this little man held over his fellow musicians. His drum- 
ming, now a kind of mixture of advanced Baby Dodds and con- 
temporary Chick Webb, determined the whole character of the 
band and lent a dignity to performances that didn't always de- 
serve it. His sensitivity, subtlety, and humor formed the perfect 
foil for Freeman's whimsical solo work, but he could also provide 
a properly stirring backdrop for the majestic trumpeting of Bunny 
Berigan, Dorsey's best soloist. Excepting Sid Catlett and Count 
Basie's Jo Jones, Tough was without equal on the crash and high- 
hat cymbals. 

Krupa took a different path. A drummer of drive and profi- 
ciency, he began to be carried away with his role as a featured 
member of the Goodman orchestra and to play to the crowds 
rather than to the music. Never bashful, Krupa carried the showy 
Chick Webb approach to its extreme and sometimes turned Good- 
man's simple swing style into a montage of frenzied drum solos 
with orchestral accompaniment 

With Count Basic's Jo Jones setting the big-band pace in 1937- 
1938, it became painfully clear that Krupa was damaging the 
Goodman ensemble sound. The matter came to a head at Benny's 
Carnegie Hall concert in January, 1938. Krupa and Stacy were 
featured on Sing, Sing, Sing, a piece almost guaranteed to bring 
the audience to the edge of hysteria. Stacy turned in one of the 
best solos of his career characteristically subtle, perfectly bal- 
anced, reflective, and carefully shaded for maximum aesthetic im- 
pact. Krupa, on the other hand, was all clamor and gongs. After 
the concert, members of the band went to the Savoy Ballroom to 
hear Count Basic's band triumph in a battle with Chick Webb, 
the first time Webb had been cut down at the Savoy. It was a 
fitting way to mark the new direction in which jazz was turning. 
Within two months, Krupa left Goodman, and Tough (with 
Bud Freeman in tow) took over the job of putting the rhythm 
section back into proper perspective. Dave had by now dropped 
most of the New Orleans tricks that could still be heard behind 
the Dorsey band and was concentrating on a personal variation of 
the Jo Jones approach, which suited Goodman just fine. 

The day after Goodman's January concert, the Commodore 
Music Shop made its first records with Stacy (continuing and 
probing some of the ideas set forth in Sing, Sing, Stng the night 


before), Freeman, Wetding, Pee Wee Russell, Bobby Hackett 
(who had re-created a Beiderbecke cornet solo for Goodman's 
concert), George Brunis (original trombonist with the New Or- 
leans Rhythm Kings), Condon, and bassist Artie Shapiro. It was 
Chicago all over again, but with a difference. The Chicagoans 
were now established musicians of 1938, no longer dependent 
upon Bix, Noone, and Armstrong for ideas. They still used the 
collective-improvisation ensemble system, but it came out valid 
contemporary music, not a recreation of early forms. 

The Commodore recordings brought wider recognition to the 
old gang, and they went back to make more. Stacy cut several 
solos, Freeman tried some trio pieces, Jack Teagarden sat in on a 
few, and a number of friends got into the act Max Kaminsky, 
valve trombonist Brad Gowans, Marty and Joe Marsala, Fats 
Waller, Miff Mole, and Muggsy Spanier. The joy they felt in play- 
ing jazz together again after the long dry spell could be heard on 
each release, and the records began to sell quite well 

The Chicagoans made many small-band records together after 
that Freeman, hopeful with this turn of events, launched an ex- 
cellent eight-man band of his own called the Summa Cum Laude 
Orchestra. Tough was traveling with Jack Teagarden's big band 
in 1939, but he joined the Freeman band shortly before it broke 
up in 1940. Russell and Gowans brought some of the flavor and 
ideas of the slightly more commercial band Bobby Hackett had 
fronted a few months earlier. Freeman's unit developed into one 
of the most cohesive small bands of its time. 

Spanier, too, put an outstanding small band together during 
this period. More tradition-bound than Freeman's, Muggsy's 
band combined a contemporary rhythm section with ideas bor- 
rowed from Oliver, Armstrong, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, 
and the Midway Gardens band Trombonist Brunis, clarinetist 
Cless, and pianist Joe Bushkin were Spanier's principal soloists. 

The two groups stood as final friendly arguments for each side 
of the Beiderbecke-Armstrong division that had occurred some 
ten years before. Spanier played Dippermouth Blues and Big But- 
ter and Egg Man along Armstrong lines; Freeman worked up a 
library of Wolverine tunes. 

After 1940, most of the Chicagoans played in small bands, usu- 
ally built on a Dixieland pattern, for no one had yet invented a 


better method of collective improvisation for seven or eight jazz 
musicians than this basic system of modified counterpoint. Usu- 
ally, though, the solo passages were of more interest than the en- 
semble performances, and on the many recordings made by this 
group of musicians after 1938 can be heard some of each individ- 
ual's very best work. Russell's melodic and harmonic extensions of 
Beiderbecke are especially noteworthy and appear on a large 
share of the Commodore releases. Freeman's explorations along 
similar lines have been preserved on many recordings, including 
his provocative trio dates of 1938 and a superb set of 1940 per- 
formances featuring Teagarden and Tough. Stacy, too, appears on 
some of these as well as on many non-Chicagoan dates. His en- 
gaging melodic inventions were featured often with the Goodman 
band and in recording sessions with Lionel Hampton, Ziggy 
Elman, and Harry James. 

Sullivan formed an outstanding swing band about the same 
time that Spanier and Freeman were fronting their own units. His 
combination, though it included Chicagoan Danny Polo and New 
Orleans clarinetist Ed Hall, was a nearly complete break with 
Chicago. It was a versatile band, one that could do a proper job 
on the blues (Sullivan worked with blues singer Joe Turner) or 
slip effortlessly into the contemporary idiom represented by Billie 
Holiday, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Carter, all 
of whom Sullivan recorded with at this time. 

Krupa formed his own big band after leaving Goodman and 
found a fair measure of success, except for a couple of war years, 
until 1951. He has seldom appeared with the old Chicago gang, 
preferring to work with players whose styles are rooted in the 
music of the early and mid-forties. Krupa has returned to a less 
flamboyant style in recent years. He continues to influence young 
drummers through his teaching as well, 

Goodman, the most gifted of the Chicagoans, ceased to be a 
creative force in jazz in the early forties and a few years later 
seemed to be all but burned out as a jazzman. The story of his 
contribution to the music from 1931 (when his recording of Basin 
Street Blues and Beak Street Blues stood as a first definition of 
the big-band style Benny was seeking) to 1941 is a separate study 
beyond the scope of this chapter. 
Dave Tough worked with a variety of groups during World 


War II, including Artie Shaw's Navy crew, but he began a 
whole new musical life upon joining Woody Herman s remark- 
able big band in 1944. At this point, Tough began listening to a 
modern young drummer named Max Roach and altered his musi- 
cal outlook once more (some recordings with Flip Phillips docu- 
ment this change). But his old problem returned, and by 1946 he 
was back with the Chicagoans, playing in Eddie Condon's New 
York nightclub. Sullivan had returned to the gang, too, and some- 
times Freeman dropped by to sit in with his old friends. Bud, like 
Tough, had served in the armed forces and had come out of the 
war with a few contemporary touches added to his old style. 

The Tough-Freeman alliance produced a few more records 
about that time, but ended abruptly in 1948, when Dave slipped 
in the snow, hit his head, and died. He was 41. 

Tough, who always wanted to be a writer, unwittingly com- 
posed his own epitaph in this lighthearted passage from one of 
his 1937 Metronome drum columns: 

Oh, the joy of the wine when it is red! Those lovely summer 
nights in the Bois with the swift, inner up-take of the Pernod. It 
turning milky in your glass and the taste of the wine, hard, clean, 
and tannic, in your mouth, volatile all through you and you 
would go to the Birch Tops in tibe Rue Pigalle and hear her sing The 
Boy in the Boat, and hope you don't meet Ernest. Those dear, dead 
days! With us almost dead too! 

A New Vork steak house called Nick's was home for many of 
the Chicagoans and their Eastern friends in the forties. They set- 
tled in and, with varying combinations, remained for a decade. 
(At one point, the band at Nick's used a rotation system in order 
to be assured of a trumpet player. Of several leading hornmen, he 
who was sober enough to get through all seven sets had the job 
that night.) 

As the years went by, the Dixieland form had started to wear 
tTiin P and Freeman, for one, looked for other possibilities. He stud- 
ied with Lennie Tristano and began working with more modem 
rhythm sections. Russell, whose health disintegrated in the early 
fifties, experienced a musical renaissance after his physical come- 
back and in recent years has been experimenting with some mod- 
ern jazz ideas. Sullivan and Stacy work sporadically on the West 


Coast, struggling to maintain their former high standards. Good- 
man is in a semiretirement, occasionally emerging to offer a few 
thin echoes of his old robust style. Of the other Chicagoans, some 
are still playing regularly (Hodes, McPartland, Mezzrow, Wet- 
tlfng, Spanier), but age and too many years of corrosive speak- 
easy gin are making it difficult for others to carry on. Many are 
already gone. 

Every few years, some eager recording executive attempts to 
revive the Chicago style by gathering some of its surviving found- 
ers together again. In 1961, an NBC television show was built 
around such a reunion, and a recording session was organized by 
the Verve label that included Freeman, McPartland, Condon, 
Krupa, Sullivan, Russell, and Jack Teagarden. Once more, the old 
friends ran down China Boy, Sugar, and others, but most of the 
collective magic had long since vanished It was just an assem- 
blage of soloists, each with better thMgs on his mind than turning 
back time. Russell and Freeman had already grown so weary of 
Condon's brand of Dixieland that both regarded this date as 
something of a personal affront The musicians merely plodded 
through the accepted routines, signed for their money, and fled. 
The influence of the Chicagoans on the course of jazz has been 
strong and direct in some ways, incidental and roundabout in 
others, No jazz clarinetist of the thirties and forties could escape 
the Goodman influence, but Benny offered something more than a 
new level of technical achievement on his instrument. He was one 
of the first jazzmen to improvise on fairly complex song structures 
at rapid tempos without f ailing into a series of cliches or resorting 
to unmusical tricks. Because Goodman was a superb craftsman al- 
most from the beginning, he was able to develop clean musical 
ideas and long phrases even at a blistering pace, and his example 
helped to open the way for other jazzmen. For players like Teddy 
Wilson, Roy Eldridge, Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton, Chu Berry, 
Charlie Christian, and, ultimately, Charlie Parker, Goodman was 
not so much a direct influence as perhaps a breaker of new 
ground that they were nearly ready to sow. 

It is an often overlooked fact that Bud Freeman was a major 
tenor saxophone stylist who once represented the "other" way 
for those who would not or could not follow the example of 
Coleman Hawkins. Freeman's dry tone, often resembling a C- 


melody more than a tenor saxophone, was antirhapsodic and un- 
sentimental, and it appealed to budding jazzmen, such as Lester 
Young, who could not identify with the heavier, darker sound of 
Hawkins. However, with the emergence of Young himself as a 
primary jazz voice, beginning around 1937, Freeman's influence 
faded rapidly. 

Krupa's eminence was not entirely undeserved, although his 
boyish good looks and stage manner were large factors in the pub- 
lic acclaim for him. Like Goodman, he caused his contemporaries 
to pause and consider their own technical equipment. Krupa was 
fast, accurate, and, when he wished to be, a master of dynamics 
and tonal shading. He also brought to his instrument an unprece- 
dented celebrity. For better or worse, the extended drum solo in 
jazz grew out of Krupa's display pieces in the Goodman band. 
The number of drummers, good and bad, Krupa has influenced 
probably runs into the thousands. 

Dave Tough, despite an erratic sense of responsibility and a de- 
termination to avoid grandstand tactics of the Krupa variety, was 
a popular figure and rated high among the best drummers of the 
thirties. His was an unspectacular influence, for he simply played 
in the most supportive and tasteful way possible at all times. 
Tough was a model of restraint combined with positive drive, of 
steadiness coupled with spontaneous wit. Only Sid Catlett, Jo 
Jones, and Chick Webb could surpass him in all these qualities. A 
number of thoughtful modern drummers Mel Lewis, Shelly 
Manne, and Ed Shaughnessy are threelearned much from 

Jess Stacy was perhaps the most underrated Chicagoan of all. 
An unassuming and gentle man, Jess looked on from the wings as 
Teddy Wilson gathered most of the honors quite justifiably- 
through all the most productive Goodman years. But many pian- 
ists were listening carefully to both men. Stacy brought a new 
kind of warmth to jazz piano, quite different from the "hot," iron- 
fisted fury of Sullivan, the cool precision of Wilson, or the awe- 
some improvisations of Earl Hines. Like Beiderbecke, Russell, 
and trombonist O'Brien, Stacy's gift nestled in the realm of the 
artfully understated melodic phrase and the painstakingly meas- 
ured tincture of inevitability and surprise. 


was contributed to The New Republic by Otis Ferguson in 1937. 
Ferguson first discusses the pianist as a bandsman: 

"What I try to do " Jess says. "Look, I try to meU with the 
band.* It is a simple word, but all the meanings are there in it: 
nuance, mood, touch, attack, phrasing, harmonic direction, what 
not Because it is still in the unspoiled charm of its youth, this 
jazz music has never troubled to build a complicated breastwork of 
definitions. Jess and the rest have an active knowledge of how a 
tune may run, of how the value of a chord may be shifted by its 
place in the general pattern (where it rises from and leads to) , by 
its attack, duration, the color of its key and measure of its contrast, 
the sonority dependent on which of its notes are uppermost. 

Ferguson goes on to discuss Jess as a soloist on a 1936 Gene 
Krupa-Benny Goodman recording: 

From the deep background of the blues and from his own f eeling, 
mind and hand, Jess made twelve bars of piano on a record that 
John Hammond supervised for English Parfophone, The Blues of 
Israel That one is a sport all through, but after a few playings the 
piano stands out as much as anything. It has so completely that 
old-time pensive mood in the treble, the slurred second and the 
dose three-finger chord hanging a mood of nostalgia around such a 
simple progression as sol, fa, mi, re: it is given so thorough a support 
in tibe constant working bass, whose left hand mingles intimately 
with what the right is doing. The song hangs on a trill, doubles the 
time for a swinging phrase, and slows to an ending of sustained 
chords, beautifully voiced. The analysis is simple, but the effect 
runs over into those complexities of the musical spirit that cannot be 
rightly described. 

Pee Wee Russell, who replaced Teschemacher in the affections 
of many Chicagoans after Tesch's death, has always remained 
something of a musical entity unto himself. The impact of Beider- 
becke can be traced in his work, but beyond that Pee Wee is 
unlike any musician who ever lived. His spidery, almost fragile, 
melodic inventions are full of unexpected turns and starts that 
sometimes leave the listener spent from prolonged anticipation of 
disaster. As Russell once explained his adventurous style to jazz 
writer Charles Edward Smith, Tf you miss, you miss. If you get 
lucky, you get lucky but you take a chance. You've got to get lost 
once in a while * 


Because Russell plays to the music rather than to the house, 
some of his staunchest fans are other musicians. His presence in 
a jazz band can often be determined by what the men around him 
play. If boisterous trombonist George Brunis suddenly becomes 
reflective and introspective or if Max Kaminsky launches a solo 
that sounds like whimsical Beiderbecke, Russell is probably there. 
Even on earlier recordings, such as the 1929 One Hour by the 
Mound City Blue Blowers or Condon s 1933 Tennessee Twilight, 
it was often Pee Wee who established the mood and the musical 
tone of the moment. Bud Freeman, for one, has often played solos 
that are undiluted Russell (Condons 1933 Home Cooking is an 
example), and when it has happened, Pee Wee has usually been 

A number of modern jazzmen have expressed an interest in 
Russell, but with the possible exceptions of trombonist Bob 
Broolcmeyer and soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, there has been 
no notable Russell influence on younger players in modern jazz. 
Pee Wee made a deep impression on Bobby Hackett, however, 
whose influential ballad style, distinguished by explorations into 
the upper harmonic reaches of each chord, is admired by musi- 
cians of all persuasions. 

There can never be another group like the Chicagoans, for they 
represent the coming together of two provincial forces the New 
Orleans musical fraternity and the Chicago jazz gang and the 
sturdy music that resulted from this meeting. While ingrown 
cliques will always be with us, it is no longer possible for one self- 
contained group of jazzmen to find direct inspiration in the work 
of another self-contained group imported nearly intact from a 
different part of the country. Today the patterns of change and 
influence are national and international in scope, a situation that 
was only forecast before the twenties with the first traveling jazz- 
men and the first commercial jazz recording. It is a loss, in a way, 
because the Chicagoans accomplished what they did by playing 
and listening together. The weak members were not rejected but 
encouraged, prodded, and helped along until they could stand 
alone. On the other hand, this very feature of the Chicago attitude 
may be a clue to the vein of melancholy that runs beneath the 
blithe music of these men. They were a kind of adolescent gang, 


and some of them never grew up. There is, after all, something 
fundamentally sad about an adolescent who is pushing 60. As the 
swing era, during which each of the Chicagoans reached the apex 
of his creative powers, came to a close, members of the old gang 
either withdrew from the competitive arena or huddled 
together for protection again this time against the shift to mod- 
em jazz. Goodman, Krupa, and Freeman explored the new music 
but failed to become part of it Only Tough could have done 
that, and he drank himself into the grave without finishing the 

So the music of the Chicagoans came and went Their records 
tell us how good it was while it lasted. 

Recommended Reading 

Anderson, Ernest (ed.) : Esquires 1947 Jazz Book, Smith & Dnirell, 
New York (1947). 

Condon, Albert Edwin, and Thomas Sugrue: We CaUed It Music, 
Holt, New York (1947). 

Condon, Albert Edwin, and Richard Gehman: Eddie Condons Treas- 
ury of Jazz, Dial, New York (1956). 

De Toledano, Ralph (ed.): Frontiers of Jazz, Durrell, New York 

Feather, Leonard: The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Horizon, New York 


Goodman, Benny, and Irving Kolodin: The Kingdom of Swing, Stack- 
pole, Harrisburg, Pa. (1939). 
Mannone, Wingy, and Paul Vandervoort: Trumpet on the Wing, 

Doubleday, New York (1948). 
Mezzrow, Milton, and Bernard Wolfe: Really the Blues, Random 

House, New York ( 1946) . 
Miller, Paul Eduard (ed.): Esquires 1946 Jazz Book, Barnes, New 

York (1946). 
Ramsey, Frederic, and Charles Edward Smith: Jazzmen, Harcourt, 

Brace, New York (1939). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : Hear Me Talhn' to Y<z, Rine- 

hart, New York (1955). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958). 


Recommended Listening 

Chicago Style Jazz, COLUMBIA CL 632 

Chicago Jazz Album, DECCA 8029. 

Chicago Jazz, RIVERSIDE 12-107. 

Jam Sessions at Commodore, COMMODORE FL 30,006. 

Gems of Jazz, Vol. 5, DECCA 8043, 

Jazz, Vol. 6, FOLKWAYS FP 65. 

Jazz, Vol. 7, FOLKWAYS FP 67. 

Jazz, Vol. 9, FOLKWAYS FP 71. 

Great Jazz Reeds, CAMDEN 339. 

A String of Swingin' Pearls, RCA VICTOR LPM 1373. 

The Art of Jazz Piano, EPIC 3295. 

Jess Stacy and Others: Chairmen of the Board, MAINSTREAM 56008. 

Jess Stacy: Piano Soks, BRUNSWICK 54017. 

Joe SuJUvan: New Soks by an Old Master, RIVERSIDE 158, 

Benny Goodman, ^27-1934, BRUNSWICK 54010. 

The Vintage Goodman, COLUMBIA CL 821. 

Benny Goodman: Carnegie Hall Concert, COLUMBIA OSL 160, 

Portrait of Pee Wee, COUNTERPOINT CPST 562 (stereo). 

Pee Wee Russett Pkys, Dor DLP 3253. 

Swingin with Pee Wee, PRESTIGE-SWINGVILLE 2008. 

Pee Wee Russell and Coleman Hawkins, CANDID 8020. 

Pee Wee Russell: A Legend, MAINSTREAM 56026. 

Pee Wee Russell: New Groove, COLUMBIA 01-1985. 

Bud Freeman: Wolverine Jazz, DECCA DL 5213. 

Bud Freeman and His All-Star Jazz, HARMONY HL 7046. 

Bud Freeman and His Summa Cum Laude Trio, DOT DLP 3166. 

The Bud Freeman All-Stars, PRESTIGE-SWINGVILLE 2012. 

Bud Freeman: Something Tender, UNITED ARTISTS 14033. 

Swingin' with Krupa, CAMDEN 340. 

Eddie Condon: Ivy League Jazz, DECCA 8282. 

Eddie Condon: A Legend, MAINSTREAM 56024. 

Max Kaminsky and His Jazz Band, COMMODORE FL 30,013. 

Wild Bill Davison; MUd and Wild, COMMODORE FL 30,009. 

The Hackett Horn, EPIC 3106. 

Muggsy Spanier: The Great 16!, RCA VICTOR LPM 1295. 

Dixieland-New Orleans, MAINSTREAM 56003. 

Chicago and AIL That Jazz, VERVE V-8441. 

The Sound of Chicago, COLUMBIA C3L-32, 


WHILE THE REST of the country was just beginning to develop its 
regional attitudes toward and approaches to jazz during and after 
World War I, New York pianists were putting the finishing 
touches on a complex and valid jazz language all their own. Key- 
board artists like Luckey Roberts, Richard "Abba Labba" Mc- 
Lean, and Bob Hawkins had already built a buoyant "shout* style 
by adding blues melodies and country dance rhythms to an ur- 
bane ragtime bass. New York was the final proving ground for the 
best pianists, and top players from other music centers Eubie 
Blake of Baltimore was one sooner or later settled there. Most of 
these men were also composers, and New York, the hub of Ameri- 
ca's music-publishing industry, attracted them for that reason as 
well. It was a hotly competitive arena that made no room for mu- 
sical weaklings. 

To understand how Thomas *Fats w Waller fit into this picture, 
it is necessary to turn first to the man who had much to do with 
the formation of Waller's approach to playing jazz piano James 
P. Johnson. Johnson had arrived in New York in 1908 as a fledg- 
ling pianist of 14 with a wide variety of musical tastes. In New 
Jersey, he had heard country set or square dances, church hymns, 
marches, stomps, blues, popular tunes, folk songs, and barrel- 
house ballads. Once in the big city, James also absorbed the 
sounds of classic rags performed by front-rank pkyers and the in- 
dividual creations of New York's best party pianists. He also lis- 
tened attentively to symphonic concert music, superior cabaret 
show music, and grand opera. He heard, too, New Orleans pianist 
Jelly Roll Morton, who played at Barren Wilkins' in Harlem about 
1911. All these sounds went into Johnson's music. 

By 1912, when he was 18, James was good enough to pky pro- 
fessionally in bars and movie houses as well as for parties, where 
the fees were usually paid in food and drink He played popular 
songs, showpieces like The Dream (alternately credited to New 



York pianists Jack The Bear" and Jess Pickett and later recorded 
by Waller as The Digah's Stomp), Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag, 
hits from current musicals, and some numbers of his own. Johnson 
aimed at becoming a first-class "tickler," and he was rapidly 
acquiring impressive credentials, even by New York standards. 
However, unlike some classical-minded ragtimers of the period, 
James did not turn away from folk blues material and dance 
music. In a series of remarkable interviews with writer Tom 
Davin many years later (published by The Jazz Review in 1959), 
Johnson described one of his regular jobs around 1913: 

The people who came to The Jungles Casino were mostly from 
around Charleston, South Carolina, and other places in the South. 
Most of them worked for tibe Ward Line as longshoremen or on 
ships that called at southern coast ports. There were even some 
Gullahs among them. 

They picked their partners with care to show off their best steps 
and put sets, cotillions and cakewaDcs that would give them a 
chance to get off. 

The Charleston, which became a popular dance step on its own, 
was just a regulation cotillion step without a name. It had many 
variations all danced to the rhythm that everybody knows now. 
One regular at the Casino, named Dan White, was the best dancer 
in the crowd and he introduced the Charleston step as we know it 
But there were dozens of other steps used, too. 

It was while playing for these southern dancers that I composed 
a number of Charlestons eight in all all with the same rhythm. 
One of these later became my famous Charleston when it hit Broad- 

My Carolina Shout was another type of ragtime arrangement of 
a set dance of this period. In fact, a lot of famous jazz compositions 
grew out of cotillion musicsuch as The Wildcat Blues. Jelly Roll 
Morton told me that his King Porter Stomp and High Society were 
taken from cotillion music. 

The dances they did at The Jungles Casino were wild and 
comicalr-the more pose and the more breaks, the better. These 
Charleston people and the other southerners had just come to New 
York. They were country people and they felt homesick. When they 
got tired of two-steps and schottisches (which they danced with a 
lot of spieling), they'd yell: "Let's go back home!" . . . "Let's do 
a set!" . . . or "Now, put us in the alley!" I did my Mule Wdk or 
Girt Stomp for these country dances. 


Breakdown music was the best for such sets, the more solid and 
groovy the better. They'd dance, hollering and screaming until they 
were cooked. The dances ran from fifteen to thirty minutes, but 
they kept up all night long or until their shoes wore out most of 
them after a heavy day's work on the docks. 

By 1916, Johnson had taken his place alongside the most ac- 
complished jazz and ragtime pianists in the city. His own later ac- 
count of his playing at about that time reveals many of the ele- 
ments that went into young Tom Waller s style shortly after; 

I was starting to develop a good technique. I was born with 
absolute pitch and could catch a key that a player was using and 
copy it, even Luckey's, I played rags very accurately and bril- 
liantly running chromatic octaves and glissandos up and down 
with both hands. It made a terrific effect. 

I did double glissandos straight and backhand, glissandos in 
sixths and double tremolos. These would run other ticklers out of 
the place at cutting sessions. They wouldn't play after me. I would 
put these tricks in on the breaks and I could think of a trick a min- 
ute. I was playing a lot of piano then, traveling around and listen- 
ing to every good player I could. I'd steal their breaks and style 
and practice them until I had them perfect 

From listening to classical piano records and concerts, from 
friends of Ernest Green such as Mme. Garret, who was a fine 
classical pianist, I would learn concert effects and build them into 
blues and rags. 

Sometimes I would pky basses a little lighter than the melody 
and change harmonies. When playing a heavy stomp, I'd soften 
it right down then, I'd make an abrupt change like I heard 
Beethoven do in a sonata. 

Some people thought it was cheap, but it was effective and 
dramatic. With a solid bass Lice a metronome, Yd use chords with 
half and quarter changes. Once I used Liszt's Rigoletto Concert 
Paraphrase as an introduction to a stomp. Another time, I'd use 
pianissimo effects in the groove and let the dancers' feet be heard 
scraping on the floor. 

During this period, James learned and borrowed from every pi- 
anist he admired Eubie Blake, Willie "The Lion" Smith, Sam 
Gordon ("a great technician who played an arabesque style that 
Art Tatum made famous later"), Fred Bryant (" . . he invented 
the backward tenth. I used it and passed it on to Fats Waller 


later. It was the keynote of our style"), Fats Harris ("who looked 
Eke Waller did later"), and many others. 

By 1917, the 23-year-old pianist was something of a local celeb- 
rity. He married and settled into a reasonably prosperous life of 
cafe jobs, songwriting, making piano rolls, Broadway stage work, 
vaudeville tours on the TOBA (Theater Owners' Booking 
Agency) circuit, and, eventually, coaching promising youngsters 
like Thomas Wright Waller. 

Waller was only 13 in 1917, but he already had seven or eight 
years of keyboard training and experience behind him. His father, 
who was working his way up to becoming pastor of Harlem's 
Abyssinian Baptist Church, approved of Tom's interest in organ 
literature and the classics but took a dim view of ragtime. He tried 
the boy at the church organ and even at a folding organ in street 
sermons but was unable to stop him from "ragging" his hymns, 
although Tom had written a hymn of his own called Everything 
Thafs Not of Jesus ShaU Go Down. Waller's mother, however, a 
pianist and organist herself, encouraged her son's interest in 
music, ragtime or no ragtime. In 1915, his father took him to hear 
pianist Ignace Paderewski at Carnegie Hall. The boy was deeply 
impressed and renewed his efforts to improve his own piano pky- 
ing. He studied technique and composition while continuing to 
play and perform (he was a natural entertainer) at school or any- 
place that had a keyboard instrument By 1918, when he was 14, 
Waller quit school and worked at odd jobs outside of music while 
waiting for something to turn up. 

Tom was lucky. He had been spending much of his time at the 
Lincoln Theater, where an organist and a small group led by a 
pianist were hired to play during film showings. Because he was 
allowed to sit in regularly and to become familiar with the re- 
quirements of movie work, the young musician was prepared to 
step into either keyboard job as soon as a vacancy occurred. At 15, 
Waller became the official organist for the Lincoln Theater. From 
that time on, the best New York ticklers, including James P. John- 
son, began to notice him. 

Harlem was growing fast as a center of musical activities just 
after the war. Pianists found work in dozens of small cellars and 
dubs from 125th Street to 140th Street. James P. Johnson has told 
of pianists gathering at a place called The Rock for cheerful cut- 


ting sessions. Willie "The Lion" Smith and others engaged in 
piano battles at Leroy's. From 1920 on, Waller was a member of 
the inner circle of pianists who gathered and worked in these 
places. His experience at the organ had, however, left him with a 
weak left hand. As Johnson was the reigning tickler at the time, 
Fats (who had by now eaten his way into the nickname) went to 
him for help. 

Tats would bang on our piano till all hours of the night,* John- 
son s wife has recalled. "Sometimes to two, three, four o'clock in 
the morning. I would say to him, *Now, go on home/ or Haven't 
you got a home? 9 But he'd come every day, and my husband 
would teach." 

Many pianists had learned indirectly from Johnson by way of 
his piano rolls, but Waller, a native New Yorker, had the advan- 
tage of private tutelage and the prerogative of playing alongside 
James in public places and private sessions. He carried the John- 
son imprint on his music for the rest of his life. 

In 1920, Tom's mother died, leaving her devoted son disconso- 
late for many months. He plunged into an unwise marriage that 
broke up after a short time and eventually caused him endless 
trouble over alimony payments. His second marriage, to Anita 
Rutherford, turned out well and lasted until Waller's death in 
1943. Though still in his teens, Fats had become a favorite enter- 
tainer and performer around Harlem by the early twenties. His 
natural broad humor and easy disposition delighted even those 
observers who couldn't appreciate the qualify of his music. Fats's 
ability to amuse people finally became his most valuable com- 
mercial asset; without it, he might have ended a "musician's musi- 
cian" (usually a synonym for an unrecognized musician), as did 
his friend and teacher James P. Johnson, 

Fats worked at Leroy's for a while and then went on the road 
with vaudeville shows for a couple of seasons. On one rainy night 
in Boston (clarinetist Garvin Bushell, who was with Waller at the 
time, believes it was New Year's night in 1923), the pianist tried 
out some variations on an old song called Boy in the Boat and 
named the results Squeeze Me. With words added by Spencer 
Williams, it became the first of many successful songs for Fats. 
His gift for turning out tunes by the dozen was Waller's second 
most valuable commercial asset, although he often sold composi- 


tions outright for only a few dollars. His take from songs like Ain't 
Misbehaving Honeysuckle Rose, Keepin Out of Mischief Now, 
Blue Turning Gray Over You, and Tm Crazy 'Bout My Baby 
helped cover the alimony payments. They also obscured the 
image of Waller the organist and pianist Not that Fats objected 
to his songwriting role; indeed, he frequently expressed the desire 
to spend more time composing. In jazz terms, however, it is 
Waller as a keyboard improviser who commands attention. 

Because he had a special affection for the organ, Fats returned 
to his Lincoln Theater job as often as possible. He learned how to 
pky the blues on the giant instrument, for the Lincoln crowd 
wanted the old familiar material rather than the modern Tin Pan 
Alley songs. Sophisticated musicians called the theater the "Tem- 
ple of Ignorance," but its emphasis on earthiness was probably 
good for Waller, who lacked James P. Johnson's early contacts 
with folk blues. One of his staunchest admirers at the theater was 
Bill Basie, a young pianist just Fats's age who yearned to learn 
more about die pipe organ. (Basie remains fond of the organ 
today and plays one whenever the opportunity arises. ) After com- 
ing off the road with Liza and Her Shufflin' Six ("Liza" was Katie 
Crippen) one season, Waller sent his friend Basie out as a re- 
placement. It was Count's first tour. 

The Lincoln was sold about 1923, and Fats moved to the Lafa- 
yette, again in charge of the organ. His rhythmic digressions, 
sometimes far from the spirit of what was showing on the screen, 
were generally enjoyed by Harlem audiences, and no one seemed 
to mind his including his own compositions, such as Squeeze Me 
and Wild Cat Blues. It was in 1923, too, that Fats made his first 
radio broadcast, from the Fox Terminal Theater in Newark, New 

James P. Johnson, who had been cutting piano rolls for some six 
years by 1922, recommended Fats to the QRS company. Johnson's 
good word resulted in new prestige and more than $2,000 for 
Waller, who made eighteen or nineteen rolls at $100 each and lent 
his name to still others performed by J. Laurence Cook. Some of 
these rolls have been transferred to records in recent years, allow- 
ing historians to better evaluate Waller's development in the early 
twenties. To give further perspective, there was also a series of 
record dates in late 1922, when Fats was 18, 


Of the recorded solos, one, Muscle Shoals Blues, is of special 
interest on several counts. It was Fats's first record, and the form 
is a blues (Waller recorded relatively few blues); also, a piano 
roll of the same selection by James P. Johnson, cut earlier that 
year, provides an interesting point of contrast to the recorded ver- 
sion. The song itself is not unusual (apparently patterned after 
Hand/s Memphis Blues), but there is ample evidence in Fats's 
performance that he was a skilled young pianist, if still well below 
Johnson's level. A striking deficiency in the solo is its lack of 
rhythmic thrust or even jazzlike syncopation, It is a rather formal 
performance, not at all in the warm blues idiom that character- 
ized the work of Southern jazz instrumentalists at the time. John- 
son s piano-roll rendition of the tune is no closer to a true blues 
feeling, but this may be due in part to the absence of nuance usu- 
ally encountered in mechanical rolls, Despite the similarity of 
styles and faults, Waller s recording and Johnson's roll differ in a 
fundamental way. Fats had already begun to use single-note 
treble lines against his conventional bass figures; Johnson was still 
tied to the use-all-ten-fingers philosophy of the ragtimers. Of the 
two approaches, Johnson's was the more impressive pianistically, 
but Waller's held more promise of new ideas to come. 

There were more recorded performances in 1922 Birmingham 
Blues, 'Taint Nobody's Bizness If I Do, and several others with 
blues singer Sara Martin. Although they show Waller to be a con- 
fident pianist with an awareness of the blues, most of these rec- 
ords did not provide opportunities for him to demonstrate the en- 
tire range of his skills at that time. 

The piano rolls were something else again. Though limited by 
the mechanical medium, Fats was allowed more latitude to ad- 
vance pianistic ideas for their own sake. The pyrotechnical out- 
burst in Your Time Now, the complex set of variations in triplets 
in 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness (a much better version than the re- 
cording, by the way), the smooth trills and clean double-time de- 
vices in Mama's Got the Blues, the harmonically full sound of Last 
Man Blues, the intimations of a perfectly smooth 4/4 rhythmic 
foundation in Snake Hips ail these things that had begun to 
make up the Waller-out-of- Johnson style can be heard on Fats's 
1923 piano rolls. One roll, Johnson's tune If I Could Be with You 
One Hour Tonight, features both Fats and James in a duet per- 


f ormance. Johnson was still the better player, but Fats was begin- 
ning to exhibit the more cheerful rhythmic outlook later identified 
with him and, indeed, seemed slightly more of the jazz world than 
his teacher or, to put it another way, Waller seemed less the rag- 
timer of the two. 

With records and piano rolls spreading his name, Fats became a 
key figure in the Harlem jazz scene. Other musicians began to re- 
cord his compositions, especially Clarence Williams, who had a 
publisher's interest in such material. Arranger Don Redman be- 
came a close friend, as did Fletcher Henderson, whose band was 
beginning to gain national recognition. Despite the intensity of 
Harlem's keyboard cutting contests, New York pianists helped 
each other along. Williams, Johnson, Waller, Eubie Blake, Hen- 
derson, Duke Ellington (who arrived in New York in the twenties 
partly as a result of Fats's urgings), Stephen "The Beetle" Hen- 
derson, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and even George Gershwin, 
though all of them were busy with composing, publishing, record- 
ing, touring, writing for shows, or just playing better piano than 
the next man, helped promote one another's songs and spoke up 
for those who tended to be overlooked. Johnson and Blake not 
only were top pianists, but also scored songs for successful shows 
like Dudleys Smart Set, Shuffle Along, Runnin' Wild, and Planta- 
tion Days (which toured Europe with James as musical director), 
and their accomplishments served as goals for younger pianist- 
composers, particularly Fats Waller. 

Fats wrote more songs than ever in 1924. He collaborated with 
publisher Clarence Williams on a number of ordinary ditties de- 
signed to make a quick dollar. This partnership is documented on 
an obscure recording by the Jamaican Jazzers, for which Williams 
performed outrageously on a kazoo and Waller contributed a 
pleasant mixture of rippling swing and lukewarm blues. 

In 1925, when Fats was 21, there were still more record dates 
(mostly with mediocre singers), piano rolls, and new songs (even 
a waltz, called The Heart That Once Beknged to Me). Waller's 
studies with Carl Bohm at JuIIiard and his other contacts with 
modern formal composition may have affected his playing as well 
as his writing by this time. His lessons with Leopold Godow- 
sfcy, too, left their mark. It was while working a Chicago theater 
job (probably on organ) in 1925 that Fats concentrated on Bach 


under Godowsky. They went through the toccatas and the two- 
and three-part inventions together. Fats referred to this period in 
an interview for Metronome magazine ten years later, when he 
was asked about modern (1935) pianists: "Formerly the right 
hand was given all the work and the other left to shift for itself, 
thumping out a plain octave or common chord foundation. There 
was no attempt at figuration. But that is all in the past. Now it's 
more evenly divided and the left has to know its stuff, its chords 
and its figuration, just as well as the right. I consider the thorough 
bass foundation I got in the study of Bach the best part of my 

Apparently, when Fats used the word "training," he meant 
training for playing jazz. For all his interest in classical literature, 
he regarded himself quite seriously as a jazz musician, and that 
by itself sets Waller apart from the many jazzmen who scorned 
their own music in the twenties. And Waller used European 
music in jazz terms rather than dressing up his improvisations 
with superficial classical effects. "Whenever you get stuck for a 
two-bar harmonic device," Fats explained, "you can always go 
back to Liszt or Chopin. Even so, it's all in knowing what to put 
on the right beat." 

Even in Waller's 1925 accompaniment records, the use of full 
tenths in the left hand lent a distinctly "modern" sound to the 
piano parts. Tenths were not a new idea, but Johnson himself 
could not handle them with Waller's aplomb. Fats had enormous 
hands (blind pianist George Shearing once described the experi- 
ence of shaking hands with Waller as Tike grabbing a bunch of 
bananas"), and tenths were for him what octaves were to the or- 
dinary piano player. He frequently exercised his left hand, in fact, 
by running up and down the keyboard in tenths. 

Fats wrote some numbers for Fletcher Henderson in 1926, and 
the by now celebrated leader asked Waller to sit in on a couple of 
recording sessions. One of these dates included The Chant ( a Mel 
Stitzel tune), Fats's first pipe-organ recording. More impressive, 
however, are the piano solos and ensemble parts in The Hender- 
son Stomp and Whiteman Stomp, both Waller compositions with 
Redman arrangements. Fats seems to stimulate the entire band 
with his enthusiasm and rhythmic propulsion; his solo ideas here 
are more absorbing and individualistically mature than before. 


Whiteman Stomp must have been a particularly challenging piece 
for pianist and orchestra alike, but Waller sails through it easily. 
Most important of all, rhythmically Fats was now really swinging. 
Waller's exposure to Louis Armstrong in 1925, both in New York 
and in Chicago, may have accounted for some of the improve- 
ment in this area over his 1922 recordings, but much of it was un- 
doubtedly due to the musical maturation of Waller and of jazz 
generally during the early twenties. 

Beginning in late 1926, Victor launched a series of recordings of 
Fats at the pipe organ, his favorite instrument. It was a remark- 
able undertaking for the conservative Victor company, for no one 
had ever recorded real jazz on the great instrument before. As it 
turned out, these are some of the finest recordings of Waller's ca- 
reer. His ability to swing on several keyboards and a set of foot 
pedals while creatively manipulating the various stops and con- 
trols has never been surpassed. At jazz organ, Fats Waller was 
supreme. Moreover, he was deeply serious (but not without 
humor!) whenever seated at the organ, and his 1926-1927 solos 
are refreshingly free of the entertaining but superficial distrac- 
tions that mar many of Waller s later recordings. 

After an initial fling at St. Louis Blues, Fats (he was still billed 
as Thomas on record labels) settled into a series of superb origi- 
nals. Lenox Avenue Blues is a fine light piece in which Waller 
demonstrates his remarkable control of dynamics; Soothin Syrup 
Stomp, Stompin the Bug, and Hog Maw Stomp are extraordinary 
sets of variations in the Harlem piano tradition; The Rusty Pail is 
a superior jazz performance by any measure and a definitive essay 
on the jazz potential of the pipe organ. In short, Waller created a 
new body of instrumental music within the jazz language that has 
stood untarnished for more than three decades. Fats's organ work 
was, as anyone who follows the witless fancies of the listening 
public might expect, both the least commercial and the most pro- 
found of his many musical assets. 

What made these organ solos so special was Waller's intimate 
knowledge of the capabilities of the instrument as a unique mode 
of jazz expression rather than merely as a piano with extra attach- 
ments. The musical style was identifiably Waller s, but his tech- 
niques were not the same as those he used at the piano. Fats never 
succumbed, either, to the temptation to overdramatize his music 


with trite organ voicings or unnecessary flamboyance. He was es- 
pecially skilled at drawing the lightest, daintiest sounds from the 
awesome instrument, always avoiding the obvious and rejecting 
the sentimental. 

The next batch of organ records seems to have been an experi- 
ment by Victor. Each of three selections (Sugar, Beak Street 
Blues, and Tm Coin to See My Ma] was recorded twice, first as 
an instrumental solo, then as a vocal (Alberta Hunter) with organ 
accompaniment. The solos are excellent, but the vocals probably 
sold more records, for Victor chose to issue very few pipe-organ 
solos by Waller after that Among those pieces recorded by Fats 
but never issued are two Bach fugues and some light classical ma- 
terial, which the organist played first in a straightforward manner 
and then as jazz. 

The Harlem piano sessions continued throughout the twenties, 
sometimes at so-called parlor socials (rent parties), other times at 
favorite clubs and meeting places, such as the Clef Club or the 
Rhythm Club. The old ticklers, though still highly respected, were 
gradually being replaced now by young jazzmen like Waller and, 
out in Chicago, Earl Hines. Johnson and Willie Smith were able 
to keep up with the shift in rhythm and phrasing, but many of 
the older men remained rooted in ragtime. Of the new crop of 
pianists in New York, Waller was the most impressive. His wide- 
ranging left hand had become, by 1927, a model of metrical accu- 
racy and buoyant swing combined with harmonic daring and tre- 
mendous rhythmic power. His right usually delineated delicate 
but authoritative melodic variations built on rhythmic patterns 
similar to those used by horn players of the day. Many jazzmen 
preferred Waller's piano to, say, Willie Smith's because Fats 
worked better as a member of a jazz band, while Smith seemed to 
be playing bravura exercises for his own amazement 

Fats stopped touring for a while in 1926 and 1927 to concen- 
trate on developing his contacts in New York more fully. He took 
on a manager, made downtown appearances in places like the 
Kentucky Club, and set to work on the music for a new show, to 
be called Keep Shufflin. He turned out tunes faster than his 
friends could use them, but Clarence Williams published many, 
such as Long, Deep, and Wide, Midnight Stomp, and Old Folks 
Shuffle. With Thomas Morris, he recorded Please Take Me Out of 


Jail (a title said to refer to further alimony difficulties in Waller's 
life) and Fats Waller Stomp in a pseudo-New Orleans style. 
Fletcher Henderson recorded St. Louis Shuffle and Variety 
Stomp, which Fats sold to him for $10 apiece. 

Waller worked with lyricist Andy Razaf on Keep Shuffliri. Fats 
and James P. Johnson were both hired to play in the pit as well as 
to compose music for the show. Although the most popular songs 
from the show were How Jazz Was Born and My Little Chocolate 
Bar, the only Razaf-Waller tune of that score to survive the years 
since is Wilkw Tree. The show opened in 1927 and went on the 
road in 1928, taking Waller, Johnson, and orchestra with it. 

In early 1928, Fats, James, and two more members of the Keep 
Shuffliri orchestra, reedman Garvin Bushell and trumpeter Jabbo 
Smith, traveled to Camden, New Jersey, to record one of the 
strangest sessions of all time. The four men went to the huge old 
church that Victor had taken over for a studio. At one end was 
Waller at the pipe organ, and at the other were Johnson, Smith, 
and Bushell, who remembers the distance from himself to Fats as 
*about a city block." Despite these precautions, the pipe organ all 
but drowned out Johnson's piano. They recorded four tunes, in- 
cluding James's 'Sippi and Fats's Willow Tree. Aside from Smith's 
beguiling trumpet and BushelTs unusual effects on bassoon, the 
center of interest here is the combined sound of Waller and John- 
son. James plays cleanly and engagingly but does not show the 
drive and exuberance that Waller had by this time already dem- 
onstrated on both piano and organ. The teacher was losing 
ground to his star pupil. 

The success of Keep Shuffliri encouraged Connie and George 
Immennan, owners of Harlem's Connie's Inn, to underwrite a 
show of their own for the 1928-1929 season. Fats, Razaf, and 
Harry Brooks were to handle the scores. Brooks, who helped on 
both music and lyrics and is a good pianist himself, remembers 
how he and his partners put together their hit song for Connie's 
Hot Chocolates Airit Misbehaving *It was an attempt to copy 
the successful formula Gershwin used for The Man I Love" de- 
clared Brooks. "We imitated the opening phrase that began just 
after the first beat and the minor part of the bridge, too." 

Airit Misbehaviri became so popular that it swept its 
composers and Louis Armstrong, one of the stars of the show 


into the top echelon of American show business personalities. Less 
noticed perhaps, but equally attractive was Black and Blue, the 
revue's second hit. (Razaf helped Eubie Blake steal phrases from 
BUck and Blue for Memories of 'You a year later, which must be 
some kind of private system of poetic justice.) Fats now had his 
hands full writing songs for nightclub floor shows, tossing off 
originals for friends like Fletcher Henderson or Don Redman, and 
preparing for another show, to be called Load of Coal He also 
recorded some superb piano solos in 1929. 

Handful of Keys and Numb Fumblin represented a new level 
of attainment for Waller the pianist, at least on records. Both 
were waxed casually by Fats, along with a pair of loose band per- 
formances, after a long night of serious drinking and a morning of 
hasty mental sketching of material for the date. From all reports, 
it was a typical Fats Waller recording session, complete with bot- 
tles, last-minute decisions, and gratifying musical results. Numb 
FwnbUn' is a splendid blues piece, full of crisp trills, thick har- 
monies resembling the sound of an entire orchestra, long thirry- 
second-note runs in the best tradition of Harlem bravura playing, 
and flawless articulation, Handful of Keys is a scintillating "shout" 
in the James P. Johnson manner, far from profound but a rhyth- 
mic delight The band sides, The Minor Drag and Harlem Fuss, 
are marked by Waller's characteristic disregard for ensemble pre- 
cision but are rescued by a rhythmic ebullience generated almost 
entirely by Fats himself. (The only other rhythm man, banjoist 
Eddie Condon, didn't bother anyone. ) Other piano solos followed 
a few months later. Ain't Misbehavin 9 ancli Sweet Savannah Sue, 
from Hot Chocolates, are, oddly, rather uneventful performances. 
fve Got a Feeling Tm Falling, one of Waller s finest songs, seems 
more an exposition of the tune than a true piano solo. Love Me or 
Leave Me, Ghdyse, and Valentine Stomp are more interesting, 
with Fats transfiguring ragtime ideas by the use of current Har-i 
lem "stride" effects and lots of full-bodied chords. 

Several solos recorded a few weeks later, in late August, 1929, 
seemed to wipe out the last vestiges of the old, stilted Eastern 
phrasing, which Fats had been gradually eliminating over ffae 
years. (The jagged staccato phrase, New York style, can stiD be 
heard in some older Eastern jazzmen today: Jimmy Archey, Harry 
Goodwin, the deParis brothers, Hank Duncan, and Garvin 


Bushell are examples.) Coin About and My Feelin's Are Hurt 
brought out Waller's own musical personality, by now quite obvi- 
ously different from James P. Johnson's, more than any of his pre- 
vious piano recordings. 

1929 was a good year for Fats, notwithstanding the Wall Street 
disaster that fall. His songs were bringing him fame, if less than 
an equitable share of the publisher's profits, for Waller still had 
the unfortunate habit of talcing the short-term view and selling 
many of his compositions outright for absurdly small sums. Load 
of Coal became another Hot Chocoktes revue, and the new 
Waller-Razaf pieces included Honeysuckle Rose, Zonky, and My 
Fate Is in Your Hands. At one point, Fats was featured at Con- 
nie s playing a huge white organ. The effect must have been simi- 
lar to that described by the late Tom Fletcher in 100 Years of the 
Negro in Show Business: "One of the greatest performances he 
[Waller] ever gave was the night in the latter part of the 1920*3 at 
Carnegie Hall when he was on a late spot on the bill. When he 
was introduced some of the audience had started to leave, but 
when he began playing that immense organ everybody who had 
started out rushed back to seats and the applause was so tremen- 
dous that he was compelled to give many encores." Fletcher prob- 
ably was referring to one of the Clef Club Carnegie concerts that 
had been given since at least as early as 1919. 

From 1929 to 1932, Fats was one of the most sought-after pian- 
ists for recordings and private jam sessions in New York. The 
Chicagoans (Joe Sullivan, Eddie Condon, Bud Freeman et al.) 
had found him to be just their kind of musician always swinging 
right on the beat, iconoclastic, talented, hard-drinking, whimsical, 
and basically dead serious about jazz. Jack Teagarden, Coleman 
Hawkins, and others also spent as much time with Waller as pos- 
sible, for his good nature and musical creativity always seemed to 
rub off on those around him. Joe Sullivan, who was deeply influ- 
enced by Waller's musical outlook at this time, smilingly recalls 
the gregarious pianist: 

"When Fats had just sold a tune, he would call me and shout, 
'Mother! Come on down, I just made a strike!' and this meant the 
drinks were on him. Still, he was completely serious when it came 
to playing- particularly when in a cutting contest with someone 
like The Lion. 


There were several sides of Fats that most people didn't know 
about I heard him play background music for a stag movie once, 
and he did some things that even Hines and Tatum couldn't cut 
at least on that night! Some nights he and I would go to a Harlem 
theater after hours the cleaning ladies all knew him and Fats 
would play the organ until six or seven in the morning. He liked to 
play original compositions and serious classical things. It was beau- 
tiful music. w 

Mezz Mezzrow, who was usually on hand because he supplied 
Fats and other jazzmen with marijuana, tells in Redly the Blues 
of one of the piano contests he attended about the same time: 

Fats was a wonderful guy, one of the most jovial persons I have 
ever met, always bubbling with jokes so it was impossible to feel 
brought down in his company. He stood about six foot tall and 
weighed well over two hundred pounds and his feet, that were a 
stylish size fifteen, he referred to as his "pedal extremities." . . . 
He'd sit at the piano all night long, and sometimes part of the next 
day, without even getting up to see that man about that canine. 
We'd set up quart after quart of bathtub gin for him one on top 
of the piano, so when he was playing treble he could reach up with 
his left hand, and another at his foot, so while he beat out the bass 
he could reach down and grab the jug with his right hand. . . , 
Well, this morning out came several quarts of liquor, and it was on. 
Corky [Williams] sat down and started to play Tea for Two, a 
number that Willie The Lion could give a fit. All of a sudden Willie 
jumped up and said to Corky, "Git up from there you no-piano- 
playin* son of a bitch, I got it," and with that he sat down next to 
Corky. As Corky slid over, Willie started to play just the treble, 
while Corky still kept up the bass, and then he picked up with his 
left hand too, the tempo not even wavering and without missing a 
beat Willie played for a while and then Fats took over, sliding 
into the seat the same way Willie had done. He played for a while, 
looking up at Willie and signifying every time he made a new or 
tricky passage. It went on like that, the music more and more 
frantic, that piano not resting for even a fraction of a second, 
until finally Fats said Tin goin' to settle this argument good." He 
went into a huddle with his chauffeur, who-left and returned about 
an hour later, but not alone. Fats had telephoned to Jamaica, Long 
Island, and woke up James P. Johnson out of his bed. When the 
chauffeur brought Jimmy in he was still rubbing his eyes, but as 
soon as he sat down at the piano that was all He played so much 


piano you didn't have to yell, "Put out all the lights and call the 
law," because the law came up by request of the neighbors. "We 
been sittin' downstairs enjoying this music," the cops told us, "when 
we got a call from the station house to see who was disturbing 
the peace around here. Some people ain't got no appreciation for 
music at all Fats, just close them windows and pour us a drink, 
and take up where you left off." So for the rest of the morning the 
contest went on, with these two coppers lolling around drinking our 
liquor and listening to our fine music. It was great. 

During this period, Fats recorded with members of Fletcher 
Hendersons band (called the Little Chocolate Dandies), McKin- 
ney's Cotton Pickers, popular singer Gene Austin, James P. John- 
son (King Oliver was on the same date), Jack Teagarden, Ted 
Lewis, and Billy Banks. In each case, his all-pervading lan and 
authoritative sense of time seemed to lift the other performers' 
spirits and playing levels. It was virtually impossible to avoid 
swinging with Waller in tie band. 

There were also some band recordings featuring Fats and some 
of his friends (Tats Waller and His Buddies" is the way Victor 
billed them). These are rather commercial affairs, but jazzmen 
like Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Jack Teagarden, Gene Krupa, 
Albert Nicholas, and Pops Foster can be heard on them. Waller, 
as usual, buoys up the whole band and drives the soloists. 

Waller cut his first recorded vocals in 1931 with, enigmatically, 
Ted Lewis. His facetious, whining shout is prominently featured 
on Dallas Blues, Royal Garden Blues, and his own Tm Crazy 
'Bout My Baby, setting the pattern for hundreds of vocal 
performances from mock tender to coarsely inanein the suc- 
ceeding twelve years. A few days after the Ted Lewis affair, Fats 
made his own Columbia vocal record (Victor apparently lost 
interest in Waller around 1930, a nasty year for the record indus- 
try), Tm Crazy 'Bout My Baby and Draggin My Heart Around. 
With these recordings, the die was cast; Thomas Waller, organist 
and pianist extraordinary, was destined to play a subordinate role 
to Fats Waller, entertainer and buffoon. Yet by way of his easy 
humor, Fats brought jazz to many people who might otherwise 
have turned away from it. At least one critic, Hugues Panassie of 
France, has suggested that Waller's extramusical antics were sim- 
ply part of his total musical personality and to be accepted in the 


spirit of fun that pervaded much of his playing. "Here was one of 
those rare people whom one could not misunderstand without 
misunderstanding the music of jazz itself," declares Panassie in 
Douze Annees de Jazz. 

Joe Sullivan takes a different view: "Many musicians didn't un- 
derstand Fats's artistry. They thought he was just a good-time 
Charlie, but he was much more. Fats was such a sweet guy, he 
tried never to let anybody down his publishers, his friends, and 
his public although he was often dragged by all of them. The 
piano meant as much to him as it does to me." 

Waller, like many jazzmen, found radio one of the few pros- 
perous media left for entertainers during the Depression. His 
boisterous singing and lilting playing were perfect for radio, and 
he worked several shows between 1930 and 1934, including his 
popular "Fats Waller's Rhythm Club." In 1932, he and songwriter 
Spencer Williams spent a short time in Paris, where Fats enjoyed 
the wine as well as the affection of French musicians and fans. It 
is said that Williams and Waller ground out dozens of songs in a 
few days to make enough money for their steamship fare to Eu- 
rope. Williams, who had been in Europe before, stayed on, but 
Fats quickly returned to New York and to his radio work. There 
was a successful network stint at WLW in Cincinnati, and later, 
through a discussion with CBS Radio's William Paley at a George 
Gershwin party, Fats took his "Rhythm Club" program to WABC 
in New York. Waller's career was on the upswing again. 

The radio-show package even went on the road for a while, 
appearing in theaters. Big offers, including one from Paul White- 
man, came Waller's way now, but Fats had a new manager, a 
string of invitations to make guest radio appearances, and, best of 
all, a new contract with Victor Records. It was 1934, and he had 
visited the recording studios only three times once with Jack 
Teagarden, again with Billy Banks, and for a single side with the 
Blue Rhythm Band since his vocal performances for Columbia 
in 1931. (There has been some speculation that Waller may have 
spent part of those three years in jail, for he was still inclined to 
neglect his alimony payments. ) 

The first Victor session was characteristically Waller-like and 
pretty much Eke the rest of Fats's prodigious output for the same 
company over the next eight years. A few names within the group 


changed now and then, but the basic formula a loose six-piece 
band jamming around Waller's tongue-in-cheek vocals remained 
unchanged. It was almost as if Fats had picked up where The 
Minor Drag and Harlem Fuss had left off back in 1929. It was 
typical of Waller, too, to begin his first session in 1934 with a song 
written by two of his closest friends, James P. Johnson and Andy 
Razaf s A Porters Love-Song to a Chambermaid. A few months 
afterward, he even put Mezz Mezzrow to work on one date and 
greater loyalty than that has no man. 

Amazingly, of more than four hundred Victor titles recorded for 
commercial distribution between 1934 and 1942, only fourteen are 
piano solos. There are, of course, many outstanding examples of 
Waller's own playing in the Rhythm series, but it is his rare solo 
performances that provide a more accurate measure of Fats's mu- 
sical growth. 

In November, 1934, the pianist recorded four original composi- 
tions, three of which are piano masterpieces. (The fourth, Alliga- 
tor Crawl, is good but not extraordinary.) Viper's Drag, a logi- 
cally constructed showpiece (in three themes, ABCA), sets a high 
standard of excellence. As written, Vipers Drag is a sixteen-bar 
minor blues followed by a twelve-bar minor blues, a four-bar 
modulation and a thirty-two-bar major "shout" section that finally 
returns to the blues pattern again. As he plays, Fats improvises on 
the structure as well as on the melodic units of the work Thus his 
1934 version moves from the initial sixteen-bar blues to an eight- 
bar section that forms a bridge to an eight-bar restatement of the 
opening blues theme. In short, he plays his opening thirty-two-bar 
minor blues section in a remarkably free manner, fitting four-bar, 
eight-bar, and sixteen-bar units into whatever order struck his 
fancy. (On a 1935 version, originally recorded for Muzak, Fats 
jumps from his first sixteen-bar blues directly to a modulation into 
the "shout" chorus, leaving out twelve bars of development alto- 

Ckthes Line BaUet is a virtual three-minute suite in a simple 
ABA form. The B strain, however, is far from the conventional 
ragtime-march trio, for it is a charming Romberg-like thirty-two- 
bar melody in F, contrasting with the opening twenty-four-bar 
theme in A-flat. Clothes Line Ballet, as performed by its com- 
poser, is a romantic piece, full of delicate pedal work and f ascinat- 


ing harmonies. Fats was highly skilled in the art of the gentle dis- 
sonance. He could make a left-hand tenth against a treble ninth 
sound wholly innocent. 

African Ripples is a curious combination of rag and song. It is a 
good demonstration, too, of how much Waller had learned from 
Bach, in his unusual figured bass lines and in small details such as 
his avoidance of parallel fifths (not to be confused with the paral- 
lel quarts about which Mezzrow wrote). The left-hand work in 
African Ripples is a far cry from the "stride* oom~pah bass line 
many fans associate with Fats Waller. 

The second group of piano solos, recorded in June, 1937, was of 
an entirely different nature. These performances are variations on 
standard songs Star Dust, Tea for Two, Spencer Williams' Basin 
Street Blues and I Ain't Got Nobody, and Fats's own Keepin' Out 
of Mischief Now. Hie best is I Ain't Got Nobody (one of Fats's 
favorites), which sparkles with wit (rather than comedy), musi- 
cal thought, whimsicality, and real tenderness. Fats's control of 
dynamics throughout is exemplary. Close behind is Basin Street, 
ennobled by intelligent understatement and discreet harmonic al- 
terations. Tea for Two, a tune popular with jazz pianists from 
Willie Smith to Thelonious Monk is accorded a common New 
York treatment rhapsodic opening followed by an increasingly 
taut set of variations. Star Dust is a trifle florid, perhaps, but well 
developed and slightly suggestive of Waller s organ style. A prin- 
cipal point of interest in Keepin 9 Out of Mischief Now is Fat's use 
of an unusually long concluding line, a scalar line not unlike those 
sometimes used many years later by saxophonist John Coltrane. 

There is some evidence to support the notion that Waller did 
not regard many of his own popular songs very favorably. He 
was, of course, expected to perform them; but when the choice 
was his own, he frequently selected superior songs by other writ- 
ers and only the very best of his own. Panassie was surprised to 
discover, upon requesting Waller to play Sweet Savannah Sue in 
1932, that tie pianist had completely forgotten it. Fats could write 
such songs as fast as he could notate, then promptly forget them; 
he had less trouble remembering his more complex and better 
pieces, such as Vipers Drag and Clothes Line Ballet. 

Waller recorded a number of interesting solos for Muzak (the 
company that supplies recorded music to restaurants, etc.) in 


1935 that were not issued until some twenty years later. As usual, 
the solos were dashed off without preparation, but several catch 
an aspect of Fats seldom preserved on records. Hallelujah, for ex- 
ample, is a fast romp in the most advanced jazz language of the 
time. Here one can glimpse the virtuosity and depth of mu- 
sicianship only touched upon in Waller's ordinary commercial 
releases. The same qualities burst through in a later (1939) tran- 
scription record for radio use. The solo is built around Poor 
Butterfly in a dazzling rococo manner comparable to that of Ait 

Tats was really a truly great artist," Gene Sedric, who played 
saxophone with him on most of the hundreds of Victor titles, has 
said. "Only his very personal friends knew how much he could 
play. He could play all styles from modern on down. What is gen- 
erally called the Waller style is more or less the style he became 
known by commercially. He had a much wider range than most 
people realize." 

The ndw Victor small-band series was highly successful com- 
mercially, and Fats took to the road again with his piano, "jive" 
vocals, and a full orchestra directed by bass player Charlie 
Turner. From Turner's band, Fats selected the men who usually 
appeared on records with him Al Casey ( guitar), Herman Autry 
(trumpet), Gene Sedric (tenor saxophone and clarinet), Slick 
Jones ( drums ), and Turner himself. Later, Fats traveled with Don 
Donaldson's orchestra, frequently using trumpeter John Hamilton 
and bassist Cedric Wallace for his six-piece recording band. All 
were competent players, and trumpeter Autry a notch better than 
that, but most of the action came from Waller himself. Without 
frim 3 it is doubtful that his spirited but wobbly little group would 
have held together at all 

The Ehythm recordings often glitter with gemlike piano solos, 
however. Do Me a Favor, Oodhl Looka There Ain't She Pretty?, 
Fm Crazy 'Bout My Baby, Fractious Fingering, Honeysuckle 
Rose, Blue Turning Gray Over You, 'Taint Nobody's Bizness If 1 
Do (a third version from 1940), and many others contain first-rate 
Waller, but the burden is upon the listener to sort them out from 
dozens of run-of-the-mill variations on pointless transient tunes, 

Waller appeared in his first of several films in 1935 and cli- 
maxed this side of his career with some winning footage in Stormy 


Weather, released in 1943. In 1938, he traveled to Britain and Eu- 
rope, this time' as a working musician at a good price. The idea 
came from Ed Kirkeby, who had recently been assigned by RCA 
Victor and the National Broadcasting Company to take over 
Fate's confused business affairs. 

"Our first venture together was a flop," recalls Kirkeby. "It was 
when Fats tried fronting a big band on a Southern tour. I tried 
looking around for a new territory. Why not Europe? Fats s rec- 
ords had already made him famous there. We asked twenty-five 
hundred a week for an eight-week tour big money in those days. 
But we came to London on those terms and, as you know, opened 
the Palladium in 1938." 

It was in England that Fate must have decided he could use 
the organ again without jeopardizing his commercial position. He 
recorded in London on the Compton organ, performing both pop- 
ular tunes and straight spirituals. On his first recording session 
back in the States that fall, Fate used the Hammond organ on two 
titles, Til Never Forgive Myself and Yacht Club Swing. (The lat- 
ter was a reference to the Fifty-second Street saloon where Waller 
worked for several months. ) Though less satisfying than the pipe 
organ, the electric organ had the advantage of portability, and 
Fate became one of the Hammond firm's most effective traveling 

In 1939, Fate's economic position was still not what he and 
manager Kirkeby wished it to be. The RCA Victor company had 
shunted the pianist to their cheaper Bluebird label after his return 
from Europe, and this represented some loss of prestige as well. 
Again Fate and his manager went abroad, this time to Scandi- 
navia and to England, only weeks before Great Britain went to 

While in London in 1939, Fate improvised a set of six pieces 
called The London Suite. Each part was made up on the spot as 
Kirkeby described various sectors of the city Piccadilly, Chel- 
sea, Soho, Bond Street, Limehouse, and Whitechapel Interest- 
ingly, only Piccadilly is in the Harlem "shout" tradition; the others 
are essentially reflective, low-key improvisations, superior as 
spontaneous motifs (the entire suite was completed within a 
single hour) but not up to what Waller might have done with this 
idea. The most original of the sk is Chelsea, a charming, whimsi- 


cal melody. London Suite was the second group of related pieces 
that Fats had attempted to write. His first, Harlem Living Room 
Suite, was composed in 1935 and consisted of Functioniziri, Corn 
Whiskey Cocktail, and Scrimmage. Only Functionizin' was re- 
corded, and it was issued only in England. 

The songs RCA Victor encouraged Fats to record became worse 
and worse. In 1940, he tackled incredibly insipid pieces like Eeep, 
Ipe, Wanna Piece of Pie, Little Curley Hair in a High Chair, My 
Mommte Sent Me to the Store, and Abercrombie Had a Zombie. 
Whenever possible, Waller jeered and joshed his way into a 
bumptious burlesque of popular music, but too often the laughs 
were empty and the enthusiasm forced. One serious piano solo 
session in 1941 was all that Fats was allowed, and he made the 
best of it. Again Waller the artist came forth, demonstrating what 
he had accomplished since that last session back in 1937. The ma- 
terial consisted of two Hoagy Carmichael songs, Georgia on My 
Mind and Rockirf Chair, Duke Ellington's Ring Dem Bells, James 
P. Johnson's Carolina Shout, and Waller's Honeysuckle Rose. 
Carolina Shout is a faithful reading in the old Harlem tradition, 
but the other selections suggest that Fats, at 37, was evolving a 
sound and timeless piano style, only incidentally of Harlem an- 
cestry, that would take its historical place alongside the finished 
accomplishments of Earl Hines, Teddy Wilson, Art Tatum, and 
Thelonious Monk. It was a sensitive and serious style, though 
laced with wit and fancy, and a logical outgrowth of Waller's own 
musical experience, from hymns, blues, and stomps to show tunes, 
baflads, and suites. It was, too, the style of a creative, two-fisted 
pianist, as much concerned with invention in the left as in the 
right hand. 

If Waller s new contemplative solo style for the piano ever com- 
pletely crystallized, it was not his good fortune to preserve it on 
records. That which he did leave behind, of course, was sufficient 
to assure his status as a major jazz figure, but to this day there 
hangs over his recorded work the uneasy air of the unfulfilled 

Fats maintained his strenuous schedule of touring, entertaining, 
composing, film assignments, and recording (now earning for him 
about $70,000 a year) well into 1942. His weight and physical ir- 
responsibility, which had brought dire predictions from his doc- 
tors as early as 1940, were rapidly gaining on him, however, and 


he began to think about disbanding his group and settling into a 
calmer life of composing and playing as he pleased. In early 1942, 
he had presented a disastrous concert at Carnegie Hall that may 
have reminded the pianist how late it really was. Dave Dexter re- 
viewed the affair in Down Beat: 

His fingers, throughout most of the concert, were shaky and 
unsure, and bad notes were too common. Several times, Waller 
started a melody, elaborated upon it, and then lost the original 
theme completely. And instead of dishing out such Waller gems as 
Numb Fumblin', Alligator Crawl, Handful of Keys, Black and Blue 
and other revered Waller recorded classics, the Carnegie Hall 
Waller instead chose to mess with Gershwin and, incongruously 
enough, variations on a Tchaikovsky theme. That was the weakest 
portion of the entire program ... his playing was unnatural. It 
wasn't the Fats Waller of Jazz. . . . His musical artistry was sub- 
ordinated throughout. 

So "unnatural" was Fats's behavior by this time that he even 
forgot to invite his old friend and teacher, James P. Johnson, to 
attend what was intended to be a high point in his musical Me. 

In the spring of 1943, wi^ 1 a musicians' union recording ban 
halting one aspect of his career, Fats broke up his band and went 
to work on the score of a new musical, Early to Bed. He hadn't 
lost the ability to throw melodies together easily, as he had shown 
a few months earlier with Jitterbug Waltz. (Waller's son, Mau- 
rice, remembers his father writing that one in about ten minutes 
flat.) However, his new tunesSZigfe% Less Than Wonderful, 
There's a Gal in My Life, Martinique, This Is So Nice It Must Be 
Illegal were rather ordinary, and one, Martinique, was merely a 
rehash of an earlier Waller piece called Mamacita. Nevertheless, 
Early to Bed was a success and undoubtedly a tonic for Fats in 
the final year of his life. 

The end came on a train bearing Waller from Los Angeles to 
New York in December, 1943. Fats was suffering from influenza, 
and his remarkable constitution simply colkpsed. He died in his 
sleep before a doctor could reach him. 

It is rare for a brilliant jazz musician of conservative good taste 
to win public acclaim in America; when the artist happens to be, 
paradoxically, a riotous popular entertainer, as was Fats Waller, 
his musical gifts often are all but ignored. Despite this outgoing 
manner, Waller's best work was frequently delicate and tender. 


The internal structures of his solos were the work of a contempla- 
tive, not a frivolous, musical mind. Andre Hodeir has commented 
(in Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence) on the depth of thought re- 
siding beneath Waller's casual veneer: 

Keepin' Out [of Mischief Now] is an excellent example of clear, 
well-directed thought serving a marvelously felicitous melodic 
simplicity. It has heen said that thfc melodic continuity of this solo 
comes from the fact that Fats doesn't get very far away from the 
theme. This opinion won't stand up under analysis. Fats may make 
frequent allusions to the original melody of Keepin' Out, but most 
of the time he remains completely independent of it, treating what 
he is doing as, successively, an exposition-paraphrase, a paraphrase- 
chorus, and a free variation. On the other hand, the endless con- 
trasts he uses are not merely an easy way to avoid monotony. They 
are not arbitrary; they not only are joined to the creative musical 
thought, but are part of it. It would scarcely be paradoxical to write 
that continuity here springs from contrast 

Wallers own recommendations to aspiring jazz pianists, made 
when he was 31, bear out Hodeir's view: 

First get a thorough bass. Make it more rhythmic than flashy, a 
pulsating bass. Know how to play first without pedals and then 
always use tihe pedals sparingly. Study harmony so you will know 
the chords. Play clean both in the right and left hand. This is one 
of the marks of the modem pianist, he plays much cleaner than 
the old school. There is also much more expression to modern play- 
ing, and it is necessary to know how to build climaxes, how to raise 
up and let down, to show sudden contrasts. Keep the right hand 
always subservient to the melody. Trying to do too much always 
detracts from the tune. 

Lyricist Andy Razaf remembered Fats as something of an intel- 
lectual, despite his lack of schooling, who absorbed and discussed 
Beethoven, Shakespeare, and Plato. It is not an untenable image, 
for the finest Waller solos reflect musical planning and aesthetic 
judgment as well as joyful spontaneity. Along with this concern 
for content, however, went a deep regard for communicative 
warmth, the quality that Immediately set Fats's piano work apart 
from that of his imitators. James P. Johnson himself could not 
match his former pupil in sheer human expressiveness. 


In reply to the perennial question, "What is swing?" Fats once 
said, "It's two-thirds rhythm and one-third soul." Then he added, 
touching his heart and holding up his outsize hands, "It's got to be 
in here first and then come out here." 

Waller's influence over other pianists was more oblique than di- 
rect in most instances. His powerful but measured attack and per- 
fect sense of time served as models for individual pianists such as 
Art Tatum, Joe Sullivan, Hank Duncan (who learned from Fats 
while traveling with him in the thirties), Billy Kyle, Count Basie, 
and even Teddy Wilson, who began as an Earl Hines disciple. His 
influence bounced back, too, on older men such as Eubie Blake, 
Willie The Lion" Smith, Duke Ellington, and James P. Johnson, 
all jazzmen who kept in touch with new developments. (Johnson, 
in 1947, was one of the few old-timers to praise Dizzy Gillespie, 
and Blake went to school to study the modern Schillinger system 
of composition when he was 66! ) A few younger pianists Johnny 
Guarnieri, Ralph Sutton, Bobby Henderson, Dick Wellstood, 
Martha Davis, and Don Ewell are prime examples have at one 
time or another borrowed the Waller style intact and made it their 
own. And occasional flashes of pure Waller can be heard in the 
work of Oscar Peterson, Nat Cole, Errofl Gamer, George Shear- 
ing, and Dave Brubeck. 

One of the reasons for the wide appeal of Fats's style to pianists 
was its appositeness to the physical layout of the keyboard. 
Waller could reach thirteenths, but he seldom exceeded the tenth; 
his harmonic voicings were calculated to draw the most sound 
from the fewest notes; Fats's left hand covered the entire bass 
range rather than operating solely within the middle register as 
did many others; similarly, the highest treble tones were used to 
good effect; his trills and tremolos, like his "stride" bass patterns, 
were executed flawlessly with hands straight and fingers close to 
the keys. These and other features of Waller's playing still cause 
pianists, novice and veteran, to listen to and learn from his re- 
corded contributions. 

The history of the jazz pipe organ virtually began and ended 
with Fats Waller. When he played the electric Hammond, it was 
not the same, although Fats was one of the first to explore the jazz 
potential of that instrument as well. Had he been permitted to re- 
cord noncommercial ideas on the pipe organ in his later years, 


Waller might well have left an impressive body of new and un- 
usual music. 

Thomas Waller's 39 years were crowded with good times, pros- 
perity, and rewarding friendships; yet the frustation he experi- 
enced in his musical life must have weighed heavily upon him. 
Fats s son, Maurice, has told how his father played and composed, 
in the privacy of his home, ambitious works that no one but the 
family ever heard A handful of serious solo recordings, so 
dwarfed by the mountain of recorded trivia that made Waller a 
"success" in the thirties, remains as an indictment of an unenlight- 
ened people who allowed a great talent to slip through its fingers, 
just for a laugh. 

Recommended Reading 

Bfesh, Rudi, and Harriet Janis: They Att Played Ragtime, Knopf, 

New York (1950). 
Condon, Albert Edwin, and Richard Gehman: Eddie Condon's 

Treasury of Jazz, Dial, New York (1956). 
Davies, John R. T.: The Music of Thomas "Fats" Waller, "Friends of 

Fats," London (1953). 

Fox, Charles: Fats Waller, Barnes, New York (1961). 
Hodeir, Andr6: Jazz; Its Evolution and Essence, Grove, New York 

McCarthy, Albert (ed.): The PL Yearbook of Jazz, Editions Poetry, 

London (1947). 
Mezzrow, Mezz, and Bernard Wolfe: Really the Blues, Random 

House, New York (1946). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat HentotT (eds.): Hear Me Talkin f to Y<z, 

Rinehart, New York (1955). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.): The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958). 
Smith, Willie, and George Hoefer: Music on My Mind, Doubleday, 

New York (1964). 

Recommended Listening 

James P. Johnson: Rare Solos (piano rolls), RIVERSIDE RLP 12-105. 
James ?. Johnson: 'Backwater Blues (piano rolls), RIVERSIDE RLP-151. 
Luckey Roberts and WUMe "The Lion" Smith, GOOD-TIME-JAZZ 
M 12035. 


Piano Roll Discoveries (Waller and Johnson, one track each), RCA 


Early and Rare (Waller, one track), RIVERSIDE RLP 12-134. 
Young Fats Waller (piano rolls), RIVERSIDE 12-103. 
Young Fats Waller, "X" LVA-soss (deleted). 
"Fats" RCA VICTOR LPT-6ooi (deleted). 
The Sound of Harlem, COLUMBIA CsL-33. 
James P. Johnson: Father of the Stride Piano, COLUMBIA CL-i78o. 
James P. Johnson: Yamekraw, FOLKWAYS FJ-2842. 
Willie "The Lion" Smith: A Legend, MAINSTREAM 56027. 
A String of Swingin' Pearls (Waller, two tracks), RCA VICTOR LPM- 


Fats Waller: Handful of Keys, RCA VICTOR LPM-15O2. 
Fats Waller: One Never Knows, Do One?, RCA VICTOR LPM-1503. 
Fats Waller: Aint Misbehaving RCA VICTOR LPM-1246. 
The Real Fats Waller, CAMDEN CAL-473. 
Fats Waller in London, CAPITOL 1-10258. 
The Amazing Mr. Waller, RIVERSIDE 12-109. 
The Art of the Jazz Piano, EPIC 3295. 


JACK TEAGABDEN, who had a great deal to do with how the jazz 
trombone was played after 1930, made his basic contributions 
during the twenties. Trombonists have been trying to measure 
up to his accomplishments ever since, but surprisingly few have 
succeeded, for Jack had a running head start. 

Around Veraon, Texas, in 1905, he was known as Weldon, first- 
born son of Helen and Charles Teagarden. Helen was a trained 
pianist and Charles a persistent, if less than gifted, trumpet player, 
Before Weldon reached school age, he was playing a horn him- 
self and making blunt remarks about his father's musicianship. 

*We had an old brass baritone horn around the house when I 
was about five years old," the trombonist once recalled. 1 used to 
watch my dad practice the trumpet he had a tin ear and he 
used to make so many mistakes on this, every morning before he'd 
go to the cotton-oil company, well, I used to tell him which finger 
to push on the trumpet, because I had already discovered it on the 
baritone. And he used to get real hacked at me. He figured kids 
should be seen and not heard." 

After a couple of years at the baritone horn, Weldon was given 
a trombone. It was a sensible choice, for the slide trombone is the 
most perfect brass instrument, permitting a sensitive player to 
differentiate between, say, C-sharp and D-flat. Young Teagarden, 
already exhibiting an almost painfully acute sense of perfect pitch 
("Jack could call off the overtones of a thunderclap," sister Norma 
insists), was doubtless happy to graduate from his tempered bari- 
tone horn. He progressed rapidly enough to take a chair in the 
Vernon City Band while still too small to reach beyond the fourth 
slide position. 

It was, in fact, Weldon's short reach that brought about some of 
his technical grace and flexibility. In the process of learning how 
to hit all the notes without using the outer positions, he developed 
a highly plastic embouchure and a fast, close-to-the-chest right 
arm. The town's bandsmen, who tried to kugh off the boy as a 
mere mascot, must have had some uncomfortable moments. T 



used to irk those fellows, I guess, a little bit because I knew the 
fingers [for valve horns] and I knew both clefs and everything," 
Jack remembered many years later. 

Helen Teagarden had started teaching piano by this time, and 
her son picked up valuable keyboard training along the way. (In 
later years, Teagarden carried piano-tuning equipment on jobs to 
prevent outrages on his delicate ear.) In 1914, Weldon, now 9, 
was taken to a trombone teacher in nearby Wichita Falls and told 
that he was playing wrong but getting fine results. The teacher 
prudently refused to interfere. 

It was a strange and rather melancholy childhood for a robust 
Western kid. Weldon's friendships were few, and most of his 
waking hours had something to do with music, if only by way of 
observing his mother's students or his father's quiet musical frus- 
trations. He played hymns for three years in church with his 
mother and was drafted into the Vernon High School band as a 
trombonist and drummer while still in the grades. He listened 
with interest to the gospel songs coming from revivalist tent meet- 
ings held near his home. 

In 1918, Charles succumbed to influenza, and Helen, now with 
a brood of four, was faced with working out the family's economic 
problems alone. She joined her mother in Oklahoma City for a 
while, then moved on to ChappeU, Nebraska. There she found 
work in a local movie house, where Weldon operated the projec- 
tor (things mechanical had always run a close second to music in 
Teagarden's life ) and sat in with his mother on the weekends. The 
going was difficult, however, and the Teagardens drifted back to 
Oklahoma City. At this point, Weldon decided he might best help 
his family's problem by leaving town, making one less mouth to 
feed It was faulty adolescent reasoning the family would have 
preferred his earning a little money at home but the move 
served to make him an independent professional musician at 15. 

After a discouraging turn accompanying his Uncle Joe's out-of- 
tune country fiddle in San Angelo, Texas, the young trombonist 
joined Cotton Bailey's band at the Horn Palace in San Antonio. 
There he met pianist Terry Shand and clarinetist George Hill, 
who represented what may have been his first enduring friend- 
ships. About this time, too, he arbitrarily selected the name Jack 
to replace the long-resented Weldon. 


In the summer of 1921, Jack worked at the Youree Hotel in 
Shreveport, Louisiana, with a trio that included Shand. This was 
the hotel for which New Orleans musicians Tom and Vic Gaspard 
had organized the Maple Leaf Orchestra a year or two before. 
Whether in 1921 or at a later time (it could have been as late as 
1925, when Jack played the Youree with Johnny Youngberg's or- 
chestra), Teagarden filled in some gaps in his musical education 
under Vic Gaspard, one of New Orleans' finest reading trombon- 
ists and an associate of the highly regarded Tios, Pirons, Bigards 
et al Eddie Sommers, another New Orleans trombonist just Tea- 
garden's age, remembers taking lessons from Gaspard at the time 
Teagarden did. In any event, New Orleans music was enormously 
appealing to Teagarden, and engagements in neighboring Shreve- 
port, Galveston, or Biloxi, Mississippi, put him in touch with many 
Crescent City musicians. On one trip to New Orleans, he heard 
Louis Armstrong play the cornet, an experience that left a deep 
and lasting impression on the novice from Texas. 

That fall, Jack met and went to work for pianist Peck Kelley. 
Kelley, seven years Teagarden's senior and already a prominent 
musician around Houston, was to Jack a kind of combination fa- 
ther figure, musical hero, instructor, and understanding friend- 
then, as later, the trombonist's ego needed frequent shoring up. It 
was largely through Kelley that Teagarden acquired a deep re- 
gard for the blues and came in contact, if only through recordings 
at first, with blues performers like Bessie Smith. He stayed with 
Peck almost two years, well into 1923, and during this period de- 
veloped most of the fundamentals of his strikingly unique style. 
Most of the band's engagements were in the Houston-San 
Antonio area, including an intriguing date at the Houston City 
Auditorium in late 1922 called, according to Teagarden chronicler 
Howard Waters (in Jack Teagarden s Music), the Musicians Jazz 
Festivalalmost certainly the first jazz festival on the books. 

Jack worked again with Kelley in 1924 at Sylvan Beach Park, 
near Houston, on a summer job that included Pee Wee Russell 
and New Orleans clarinetist Leon Roppolo. The Sylvan Beach 
band was, from all reports, one of the best jazz combinations of 
the period, but it was not recorded. Those who were there re- 
member Teagarden's fleet trombone solos above all else, even the 
advanced playing of Kelley himself. 


Russell has recalled his initial impression of the music Kelley 
and Teagarden were playing in 1924: 

"When I first went from St. Louis to join Peck in Houston, I 
felt I was a big shot arriving in a hick town. Texas was like another 
country, and nobody down there had done any recording, as we* 
had in St. Louis. 

"I met Peck, listened to him play, and got scared. I had heard 
good musicians around home Fate Marable, Charlie Creath, Pops 
Foster, Zutty Singleton but this was a different thing. Peck not 
only played an awful lot of piano, he played so positive and clean. 
He had a 'this is mine' style, with plenty of authority. And he wasn't 
like other fast pianists up North, who didn't know the blues. Peck 
played real blues. He and I spent a lot of time that summer listening 
to Bessie Smith records. It was our way of going to church. 

"Anyway, then Teagarden walked in, took his horn off a hook on 
the wall, and joined Kelley. That was it. 'Look,* I said, Tm a nice 
guy a thousand miles from home, and I'm out of my class. Just send 
me back to St. Louis in two weeks/ 

"It worked out all right, though. Leon Roppolo was in the band, 
and I had at least heard him before. But why, I wondered, hadn't 
I ever heard about these other guys?" 

Jack and Peck went separate ways after 1924, but until Teagar- 
den's death remained almost mystically bound to each other. At- 
tempts by Teagarden and others to lure the brilliant but diffident 
pianist into the limelight always failed. Kelley explained his posi- 
tion to a Down Beat reporter in 1940: "... the main reason I 
don't want to go with the big guys is because I couldn't live the 
way I want to. If I was working with a top band it would be re- 
hearse, record, broadcast, play, rush, hurry, with no time to my- 
self. I like to practice two or three hours every day; I like to read 
an hour or so; I like to be able to do what I want to, when I want 
to do it, and that's how I'm going to live if I can." Kelley never 
changed his mind. 

After a short interval out of music (working in the oil fields), 
Jack became a featured attraction with R, J, Marin's Southern 
Trumpeters in 1923. Marin billed Teagarden as The South's 
Greatest Sensational Trombone Wonder" and traveled through 
Texas (with occasional radio broadcasts), into Oklahoma, and fi- 
nally to Mexico City, where the band broke up. Jack, at 18, was 


regarded with something like awe by other members of tie band, 
most of whom could not read. He doubled on euphonium (and at 
times on musical saw) and had begun to sing with a mellow bari- 
tone drawl as well. 

Word of Jack's abilities had spread across the Southwest, and 
he was seldom out of work. After the Southern Trumpeters dis- 
solved in 1924, he enjoyed a string of jobs under colorful banners 
such as Will Robison's Deep River Orchestra (Kansas City), Doc 
Ross and His Jazz Bandits (or Ranger Ross and His Cowboys, de- 
pending upon the location), the Youngberg-Marin Peacocks, Joe 
Mannone and His Mocking Birds, and the New Orleans Rhythm 
Masters. The area covered by these groups was a wide one, from 
Missouri to Mexico and from Mississippi to California. While in 
Los Angeles, Jack became aware of a still wider variety of band 
styles, including that of the newly organized Ben Pollack outfit, 
featuring Benny Goodman on clarinet. 

By October, 1927, Jack had become a seasoned bandsman and a 
major, though not yet nationally known, jazz trombonist. His love 
for the music of Louis Armstrong had grown with each record re- 
leased by the Hot Five, and he had worked many tmmpetlike 
ideas into his trombone style. He had, too, learned to play and 
sing the blues with real conviction and authority. It was time, he 
rightly believed, to play for bigger stakes, In November, Teagar- 
den, Doc Ross, and a few other members of the foundering Ross 
band piled into two cars and drove from Houston to New York 

Teagarden came closer to taking New York by storm than he 
could have dared dream, Although essentially a noncompetitive 
sort of man, Jack was far from reluctant to demonstrate what he 
could do with his unorthodox approach to the horn. He was an 
inveterate jam-session player, sitting in at any hour with any com- 
bination of instruments. As soon as he arrived in the big city, Jack 
contacted old friends Joe "Wingy" Mannone and Pee Wee Russell, 
both of whom had direct access to the innermost circle of favored 
New York jazzmen. Red Nichols, Glenn Miller, the Dorsey broth- 
ers, Vic Berton, Eddie Lang, and others were bowled over by 
their initial encounter with the young Texan. So was Miff Mole, 
the hitherto undisputed monarch of New York jazz trombonists. 
To understand the impact Teagarden made on this rather smug 


little community of jazzmen, we might review Mole's large contri- 
butions in the preceding years. 

Mole, a native New Yorker, was born in 1898 and started on the 
violin at 11. When barely into his teens, he had also become 
skilled enough on the piano to play in local movie houses. He be- 
gan teaching himself how to play the trombone around 1914, 
eventually transferring his improvising style on the violin over to 
the brass instrument. Like Teagarden, who strove for an approxi- 
mation of the clean lines of the baritone horn, Mole thus evolved 
a fast, accurate, and unusual trombone technique quite unlike the 
bawdy glissando vernacular associated with most early jazz trom- 
bonists. Again, like Teagarden, he drew upon the sounds of New 
Orleans jazz (the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in particular) for 
inspiration. He was a co-founder of a successful small group, pat- 
terned after the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, called the Original 
Memphis Five. Many musicians bought Memphis Five records in 
the mid-twenties just to hear the clean, fleet trombone parts. 
(Saxophonist Joe Rushton recalled recently that "Miffs ensemble 
and solo lines were like compositions" and that, though the phras- 
ing had become outmoded, "they were still musically sound cre- 
ations, full of unusual passing tones and fills.") 

Mole traveled to Chicago during this period and sat in with 
King Oliver s band, an event that enlarged his debt to New Or- 
leans jazz. After trying California for a year or so, Miff returned to 
New York, where he became the most sought-after trombonist in 
town. He worked with Sam Lanin, Ray Miller, and Ross Gorman 
on records, in radio studios, and under stage lights. From 1925 on, 
he played and recorded extensively with Red Nichols, frequently 
matching the cornetist's rapid-fire outbursts note-for-note. Mole's 
was a modern, complex, technical style that, although somewhat 
lacking in expressive warmth, was the dominant influence over 
Eastern trombonists prior to 1928. (Tommy Dorsey, it is said, was 
one of many who wrote out and studied Miffs solos. ) He was an 
excellent reader, and in late 1927, when Teagarden reached New 
York, Miff was the leading "hot" man in Roger Wolfe Kahn's 
highly rated orchestra. 

Within a month of his arrival, Jack landed a record date with 
Johnny Johnson's orchestra. A little later, he recorded with his 
old boss, Willard Robison, who needed no convincing about 


Teagarden's abilities. In March, 1928, came what must have been 
a most satisfying assignment for Jack a record date with Roger 
Wolfe Kahn, substituting for Miff Mole. His full-chorus solo on 
She's a Great, Great Girl, though suggestive of Mole's approach 
and less positive than later Teagarden solos, is unmistakably the 
work of a mature jazz trombonist with ideas well in advance of 
those of most of his contemporaries. Furthermore, he sets forth 
these ideas in the warm blues dialect of the South rather than in 
the more stilted ragtime-based phraseology of the Northeast. The 
effect is stunning. 

Another significant feature of Teagarden's style caused other 
trombonists even the best of them to despair of ever catching 
up to him. His use of the lip, rather than die slide, to play fast 
triplets and sixteenth-note clusters opened the way for a whole 
new set of possibilities in improvising. This basic device permitted 
a true legato line to be played as cleanly as if it were articulated 
by a valve instrument, obviating the necessity for tonguing each 
note, however lightly, (Obviously, an attempt to play conven- 
tional legato phrases without tonguing on die slide trombone 
would result in a single confused conglomeration of glissandi.) 
Combining this freedom from the tongue with his extraordinary 
command of false positions, Teagarden could execute rapidly 
without sacrificing lie relaxed manner so important to good jazz 
playing. After Teagarden, Mole's rapid single-tongue ideas, 
though still impressive, seemed slightly stiff-jointed and stodgy. 
New York trombonists went to work on lip flexibility after 1927. 
And, although lip triplets are now commonplace, no trombonist 
has yet matched the crackling immaculacy of Teagarden's triplet 

Jack quickly became the darling of the jazz fraternity and 
everyone's personal discovery. The Chicagoans admired his virile 
blues playing, the NichoLs-Miller-Dorsey gang respected his musi- 
cianship, the Harlem insiders welcomed his outgoing modern 
musical ideas, and Paul Whitemans top jazz players (Beider- 
becke, Trumbauer et al.) looked for ways to draft the 22-year-old 
"wonder" into their company. But the man who acted first was 
saxophonist Gil Rodin, the organizing mind behind Ben Pollack. 
Rodin told about it in Down Beat ten years later: 


Bud [Freeman], Jimmy [McPardand] and I lived together in New 
York and at this point, the great "Mr. T." came into my life. Bud, 
Jimmy and I went to the Louisiana Apartments on 47th St. to hear 
a "session." We had been told about a fellow from Texas, a trombone 
player by the name of Teagarden who would be there. . . . The 
session was under way when we arrived. Jack started playing and 
listening to him provided me with one of my biggest musical thrills. 
He played some hot tunes, then some beautiful melodic phrasing on 
things like Diane, the like of which I had never heard on a trom- 
bone, and finished off with a demonstration of his astounding con- 
ception and talent with his "glass and half trombone" [Teagarden's 
device of obtaining a muted effect by removing the bell of his hom 
and playing the tubing into a water glass] on some blues. His play- 
ing that night was the first taste I had of real, genuine hot trom- 
bone, and we all went home talking to ourselves. . . . 

I told Bennie Pollack all about him, in fact, I'm afraid I probably 
became a little incoherent in trying to tell him how greatly Jack 
impressed me. As a result, when the band left for Atlantic City 
[July, 1928], and Glenn Miller decided to remain in New York, I 
suggested that Jack be brought into the band. Jack agreed and 
joined soon after. His rise in music was inevitable and the swing 
world should be thankful that he came to New York when he did. 

One of the most important New York trombonists to be affected 
by Teagarden was Jimmy Harrison, At the time of Jack's arrival, 
Harrison was also attempting to develop an individual trumpet- 
like approach while working with Fletcher Henderson's band. His 
rhythmic single-tongue ideas were widely admired, and after 
meeting Teagarden, Harrison reached his full maturity as an out- 
standing soloist. The coming together of these two superior trom- 
bonists has been charmingly recounted by saxophonist Coleman 
Hawkins (on the record Coleman Hawkins: A Documentary}: 

Jimmy [Harrison], I thought, was quite a trombone player. He was 
on the ... order of Jack Teagarden though, I think. . . . The 
first time we ever heard Jack Teagarden was in Roseland [Ball- 
room]. This other band played the first set, so I went upstairs. . . . 
I'd heard about this Teagarden. . . . Jimmy and all the rest of 
them were downstairs, or I don't even know if they were in yet. I 
heard him playin', so I went downstairs to get Jimmy and the fel- 
lows to start kidding about it. 


I says, "Man, there's a boy upstairs that plays an awful lot of 

"Yeah, who's that, Hawk?" 

I says, "He's a boy from New Orleans or Texas or somethin'. I 
don't know. What do they call him? Jack Teagarden or somethin'. 
Jimmy, you know him?" 

"No, I'm not gonna know him . . . trombone player, ain't he? 
Plays like the rest of the trombones, that's all. I don't see no trom- 
bones. I say the trombone is a brass instrument; it should have 
that sound just like a trumpet. I don't want to hear trombone sound 
like a trombone. I can't see it." 

I said, "Jimmy, he doesn't sound like those trombones. He plays 
up high; sounds a lot like a trumpet, too." 

He says, "Oh, man, I ain't payin* that no mind/' 

Jimmy and Jack got to be the tightest of friends. 

After this first night, I couldn't separate Jimmy and Jack Tea- 
garden. So we used to come up to my house practically every night 
... I don't know how they made it, because we'd sit up there and 
fool around 'til two, three, four o'clock in the afternoon no sleep. 
And we were working every night. We used to sit there and drink 
all night and eat these cold cuts, cheese and crackers and stuff, and 
we'd do this and play playin' all night. Jimmy and Jack both jivin' 
each other . . . trying to figure out what he lacks that he can get 
from the other one . . . and I dug what was going on. ... I had 
the piano, and they could play all night. It didn't disturb anybody 
or nothin*. The house was all well draped and carpeted. . . . Both 
of them got their trombones, and I played piano for them. This 
used to go on all night long, listening to records and eating and 
talking and back to playing again every night. 

You couldn't keep Jack out of Harlem. ... He made every 
house rent party. . . . Jack made himself right at home. And al- 
ways had that horn. He must have never slept, playing horn night 
and day. 

But that was a funny experience when Jack came up, 'cause 
Jimmy never heard anyone play trombone like that. 

Teagarden began recording prolifically in late 1928, lending a 
touch of the real blues to dozens of performances by Ben Pollack's 
band and studio groups. For two years or more, the records 
rolled out under pseudonyms like the Big Aces, the Broadway 
Broadcasters, the Whoopee Makers, the Hotsy Totsy Gang, the 
Lumberjacks, the Dixie Daisies, Sunny Clapp and His Band o* 


Sunshine, Mills' Musical Clowns, the Cotton Pickers, Louisville 
Rhythm Kings, Jimmy Bracken's Toe Ticklers, the Kentucky 
Grasshoppers, Southern Night Hawks, Ten Black Berries, the 
Dixie Jazz Band, Louisiana Rhythm Kings, the Knickerbockers, 
the Badgers, the New Orleans Ramblers, and the Columbia Photo 
Pkyers. Most of these mysterious groups were actually Ben 
Pollack's men, circumventing contractual obligations, and their 
confusing outpouring of discs has caused jazz record collectors 
endless problems ever since. 

There are, in effect, three Jack Teagardens on these early 
recordingsthe perfunctory "hot" soloist, the earthy blues singer- 
instrumentalist, and the creative melodist. As a valuable impro- 
vising sideman with Pollack and various recording groups basi- 
cally concerned with turning out commercial Tut" material, Jack 
maintained an extraordinarily high level of musical integrity and 
sincerity. Tunes like Buy, Buy for Baby and In a Great Big Way 
are hardly inspiring vehicles, but Teagarden makes the best of 
them with brief energetic improvisations of real quality. 

As an interpreter of the blues, particularly the minor blues, 
Teagarden had few equals in New York in 1928. (Louis Arm- 
strong was still in Chicago. ) His specialty, as Rodin pointed out, 
was playing with only the slide and a water glass, with which he 
achieved a plaintive, edgy, "vocal" sound rather like that of a 
magnificent singer humming through a kazoo. He used this arrest- 
ing technique with excellent results on Whoopee Stomp, Tailspin 
Blues, Digga Digga Do, St. James Infirmary, and his celebrated 
Makin' Friends (also called Dirty Dog), a fine traditional blues 
close to the spirit of the rural South. Jack's blues performances, 
though frequently embellished with dazzling breaks and grup- 
petti, are fundamentally very simple statements, delivered 
straight from the stomach without the slightest hint of condescen- 

Teagarden was more than a technical innovator and blues 
player, however. He was also a foremost improviser, with an ear 
for melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic subtleties that few jazzmen 
could match. Like Bix Beiderbecke (whom Jack claimed he helped 
with the writing of the piano piece In the Dark, incidentally), 
Miff Mole, and Coleman Hawkins, he was able to demonstrate his 
harmonic ideas on the piano. (Most of die leading developers of 


modern jazz more than a decade later worked out their concepts 
at the keyboard first, and it is a curious fact that Teagarden, Mole, 
and Hawkins were among the most accepting of the older men 
when bebop broke through in the forties. ) Perhaps the best exam- 
ples of Teagarden's melodic inventiveness during his Pollack pe- 
riod appear on some of the recordings he turned out for Red 
Nichols in 1929 and 1930. 

Indiana, which Jack recorded in April, 1929, with Nichols, 
Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, and others, reveals Teagarden as 
the propelling force and musical paterfamilias of the date. Two 
takes were issued, showing clearly the seaching creativity of the 
24-year-old trombonist at that time. On the first turn, each soloist, 
Jack included, experiments with the simple harmonic patterns of 
the rune. Teagarden characteristically plays a blues game, altering 
his opening G chord to a G minor and introducing flowing blues- 
like phrases. On the second take, Jack retains his minor blues feel- 
ing but goes into the upper harmonic reaches for his melody 
notes. Building a melodic line with sixths and diminished, major, 
and minor sevenths and ninths, young Teagarden suggests some 
of the notions propounded by Charlie Parker and others ten to 
fifteen years later. Only a few other jazzmen (Beiderbecke, 
Hawkins, Russell, and Freeman were leading examples) could 
have attempted this and succeeded in 1929. Mole and Nichols 
were aware of the possibilities of these harmonic explorations, but 
most of their attempts along such lines were self-conscious experi- 
ments that failed to grow naturally out of the heat of spontaneous 
improvisation. Teagarden, like Charlie Parker in later years, 
played rhythmically propulsive, blues-touched, emotionally satis- 
fying jazz first, then added the melodic and harmonic interest, 

Teagarden's natural tendency to transform popular songs into 
the blues worked better on some tunes than on others. By insert- 
ing ambiguous diminished chqrds and substituting minor for 
major chords, he could change the character of most tunes, but he 
appeared to be more comfortable working with chord structures 
that lent themselves to his designs. Thus Tm Just Wild About 
Harry, with its built-in ninths (even in the melody) and minor 
harmonies, was ideal raw material for his trombone, as was 
Dinah, on which Jack toys provocatively with minor seventh and 
augmented chords without losing the blues idea. 


Other Nichols recordings are equally impressive. Tea for Two, 
After You've Gone, China Boy, Peg o* My Heart, and The Sheik of 
Araby all feature extraordinary solos marked by harmonic bold- 
ness, thematic unity, melodic charm, and rhythmic excitement. I 
Want to Be Happy, in addition to offering a highly unified state- 
ment punctuated by sixteenth-note triplets, contains a good exam- 
ple of Jack's use of the trumpethlce "shout," which also appears in 
On Revival Day. One of Teagarden s very best contributions is on 
Rose of Washington Square, performed by a Nichols group that 
includes Chicagoans Bud Freeman, Joe Sullivan, and Dave 
Tough, as well as Pee Wee Russell. Here is Jack in his freest form, 
piling swirling chromatic triplet figures on top of powerful me- 
lodic declarations with taste, intelligence, and supreme finesse. 
Teagarden always performed best when supported sympatheti- 
cally by his musical equals, and Rose of Washington Square was 
one of the all too rare occasions when close to ideal conditions 

Jack made more than one hundred recordings in 1929, Some 
feature him with handpicked groups of friends, such as the Eddie 
Condon Hot Shots date with Leonard Davis on trumpet, the 
Louis Armstrong session with Eddie Lang and Joe Sullivan, and 
a couple of Fats Waller thes dansants that include jazzmen Gene 
Krupa, Albert Nicholas, Pops Foster, Red Allen, and Kaiser Mar- 
shall, among others. On these, Teagarden's playing is at a consist- 
ently high level. The larger portion of his studio time that year, 
however, was logged as a Ben Pollack sideman. The Pollack rec- 
ords cover a wide musical range, from a kicking small-band Bugle 
Call Rag and a bluesy full-orchestra My Kinda Love to a cloying 
popular trifle such as Fd Like to Be a Gypsy and a bit of transient 
nonsense like Keep Yowr Undershirt On. Considering the nature 
of much of the material, Teagarden performs very well indeed. 
By 1930, record companies were feeling the economic pinch, 
but Jack continued recording, frequently on a free-lance basis, 
through most of 1931. He showed up on dates contracted by 
Hoagy Carmichael, Red Nichols, Ted Lewis, Ozzie Nelson, Joe 
Venuti, Sam Lanin, and, of course, Ben Pollack. He also saw his 
name appear on a label for the first time, but it turned out to be a 
mere cover-up for the usual Pollack fare, which had by now 
grown rather tepid. A few months later, in January, 1931, the 


Crown company used Jack's name again, this time a little more 
appropriately, on Rockin Chair and Loveless Love, but both per- 
formances are disappointing. 

More important to Jack was a "Gil Rodin" (again the Pollack 
gang) date that produced Beak Street Blues and If I Could Be 
with You. As these were good songs for Teagarden to sing and 
play, he took over the whole show, and Beak Street became one 
of his staples in later years. A few months later, he recorded Beak 
Street with Benny Goodman; a month afterward, he cut the tune 
a third time, with Ben Pollack; then again in 1931, with Joe 
Venuti and Eddie Lang. Each has been considered a classic per- 
formance (although not on the high order of Jack's work with 
Nichols), and all four helped to carry the Teagarden name to lis- 
teners beyond the uncommercial world in which jazz musicians 
lived. Similarly, Basin Street Blues, included in the 1931 Good- 
man date, became associated with Teagarden over the years. By 
the sixties, he had made more than a dozen recordings of Basin 
Street and probably had grown very weary of playing it, on or off 

From all his recording dates, radio remotes, pit-band assign- 
ments, and engagements with Pollack, Teagarden was earning 
up to $500 a week in the best days of 1928 and 1929. He had 
no concern for the future and, except for music, gave little 
thought to the present. He was already on his way to a breakup of 
his second marriage and to the doubtful distinction of possessing 
perhaps the greatest capacity for liquor of any major musician in 
the East, Fats Waller excepted. After 1930, however, Me became 
somewhat less prosperous. PoDack's men experienced long layoffs, 
and extended hotel engagements, once common, became rare 
events. There simply wasn't as much money around, although the 
band was still working fairly regularly. At one point, though, Jack 
returned to Oklahoma City to spend a couple of layoff months 
with his family. During this time, he also played with the orches- 
tras of Clarence Tackett and Paul Christensen and sat in with top 
territory bands like Bennie Moten's and Andy Kirk's. 

Jack made no records at all in 1932. Most of that depressed year 
was spent out on the road or playing in Midwestern ballrooms 
and nightclubs. The Pollack band had by now become a camp of 
musical dissension and unrest. Only Gil Rodin had weathered all 


the storms from the beginning, while stars like Benny Goodman, 
Glenn Miller, Bud Freeman, and Charlie Teagarden (Jack's tal- 
ented, trumpet-playing younger brother) had come and gone. 
The 1932-1933 band was a good one, with jazzmen like Sterling 
Bose (trumpet), Eddie Miller and Matty Matlock (reeds), 
Nappy Lamare (guitar), and Ray Bauduc (drums), but Pollack's 
commercial policies caused constant friction. Finally, in mid- 1933, 
Jack and Sterling Bose broke away from the band to take a job at 
the Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago. 

The new job didn't even last the season. After a short summer 
at the Exposition, Teagarden joined Mai Hallett's orchestra back 
East. It was a good outfit for 1933, with Tiot" men like Gene 
Krupa, trumpeter Lee Castle, and saxophonist Toots Mondello 
featured from time to time. This one ksted until December, 1933. 

Before leaving Chicago, Teagarden recorded four sides under 
his own name. One, Tve Got "It" is of interest because it indicates 
a new direction the trombonist had taken since his last trip to the 
studios. His solo lines are less tmmpetlike here and closer in con- 
struction to the agile clarinet figures of Benny Goodman. It was a 
remarkable turn for a trombonist to take, and only a musician of 
Teagarden's skill could have attempted it. With this development 
went an appropriate softening of tone and almost total abandon- 
ment of the "shout" device. The effect is a solo style that seems 
"cool* rather than "hot," yet remains virile and rooted in the 
blues. A cogent description by Otis Ferguson of Teagarden's low- 
key post-1933 style appeared a few years later in The New Re- 

He will hit fuzzy ones sometimes, sometimes crowd his horn too 
much and often bring back the same variation for a supposedly dif- 
ferent theme, but taken at his best he has that dear construction in 
melodic lines, that insistent suggestion through complexity of the 
simple prime beat. And in both tonal and rhythmic attack there is 
that constant hint of conquest over an imposed resistance which is 
peculiar to jazz and therefore undefinable in other terms. Something 
like the difference between driving a spike cleanly into a solid oak 
block and the hollow victory of sinking it in lath and plaster. 

The new lithe Teagarden style also encompassed a superb bal- 
kd approach that had been shaping up for a long time. It came 


out in a series of late 1933 recordings made in New York during 
Jack's Mai Hallett stint. One session was Teagarden's own, and 
the sophisticated songs he selected to sing and play Love Me, 
Blue River, A Hundred Years from Today, and I Just Couldn't 
Take It Baby were vastly superior to much of the material he 
had endured for five years as a Pollack sideman and were typically 

Better known are those dates on which Benny Goodman, now 
on the brink of the most successful period of his career, was in 
command of sidemen like the Teagarden brothers, Joe Sullivan, 
and Gene Krupa. Again Jack responded to the happy, if semicom- 
mercial, setting with fine solos on I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues, 
Aint-cha Glad?, Dr. Heckle and Mr. Jibe, a blues called Texas 
Tea Party, Love Me or Leave Me, Why Couldn't It Be Poor Littk 
Me?, Keep On Doin What You're Doin', and a couple of numbers 
featuring vocals by i8-year-old Billie Holiday. 

As these recordings, which held so much promise for the years 
to come, were being made, Jack signed a five-year contract with 
Paul Whiteman. It was one of the most unfortunate decisions of 
his professonal life, but there was no way he could have known 
it then. Within two years, jazz made a dramatic comeback. Good- 
man struck pay dirt with his swing band, and the old Pollack 
gang was lining up a bright future as a cooperative unit under 
singer Bob Crosby. Both groups wanted Jack Teagarden. Noth- 
ing could be done about it, however, and Jack settled down in the 
brass section of the hippopotamic orchestra to serve out his five 
years. During 1934, there was a rewarding Columbia date with 
Goodman and Teddy Wilson, a pleasant engagement with Adrian 
Rollini for the new Decca company, and a good session, organ- 
ized by Jack for the Brunswick label, in which brother Charlie, 
Goodman, pianist Terry Shand, and jazz harpist Casper Reardon 
participated, but the four years that followed these high spots 
were long and dreary. Between June, 1936, and February, 1938, 
peak years for the big swing bands fronted by his old friends, 
Teagarden recorded exactly one solo eight bars of crisp jazz 
somewhere in a forest of thirty instrumentalists toiling over Shall 
We Dance? 

In 1937, Otis Ferguson took note of Jack's plight in The New 
Republic: "Though still a fine musician, he seems tired and cyni* 


cal, his creation a bit shopwornwhich knowing gentlemen have 
not hesitated to remark or less knowing gentlemen to echo, which 
in itself is enough to embitter a fellow and make him listless." 

The situation improved somewhat in 1938, Whiteman, finally 
unable to resist the swing tide, allowed Jack a few moments in the 
light with a "swing wing" of the orchestra and permitted several 
outside dates that helped to relieve the monotony of warmed- 
over Gershwin and pompous Roy Bargy "concert'* arrangements. 
Most gratifying was a reunion with friends Bud Freeman, Pee 
Wee Russell, Jess Stacy, Eddie Condon, George Wettling, and 
Bobby Hackett in the studios of the new Commodore company. 
Jack sang and played the blues (Serenade to a Shylock), revived 
the tune with which he had impressed New York jazzmen so 
much ten years before (Diane), demonstrated his current ballad 
manner (Embraceable You), and jumped into a rousing ensemble 
romp, Chicago style (Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland). It was 
good therapy as well as good music; Jack began to gain back his 
confidence and his ability to think while playing. 

Within weeks of his release from Whiteman in December, 
1938, Teagarden formed his own orchestra and plunged into a 
full schedule of ballroom jobs, hotel engagements, recordings, 
motion picture work, and broadcasting. On the surface, all looked 
well, but by 1939 the swing craze was waning, and it required 
both good management and a natural business sense to survive. 
Jack had neither. Like other disillusioned soloists-turned-leaders 
(pianist Bob Zurke, trumpeter Bunny Berigan, trombonist Jack 
Jenny, and trumpeter Bobby Hackett were a few), he discovered 
that the band business in 1939 was a dangerous jungle of avarice, 
dishonesty, crass commercialism, and bone-racking travel condi- 
tions. Teagarden's ingenuous affability and lifelong disregard for 
the harsher realities of life (one example: through sheer neglect, 
Teagarden lost all his teeth before he was 40) did not equip him 
to deal effectively even with personal problems, let alone with a 
bandleader's tribulations. Within a year, h$ filed a voluntary peti- 
tion of bankruptcy. 

Later in 1940, the trombcajist was back in business again, this 
time with a less expensive and less jazz-oriented band. The group 
went over well at college dances and landed a few good location 
jobs with radio hookups. Its recorded output is without much in* 


terest, except for an occasional trombone specialty like The Blues. 
a masterpiece of sustained upper-register virtuosity, More com- 
mon are bubbles like I Hear Bluebirds or Fatima's Drummer Boy. 
In 1941, Jack boosted the band's popularity with his appearance 
in the film Birth of the Blues, took on arranger Phil Moore, and 
secured a new contract with Decca Records. He had just begun to 
turn out some fairly good performances for Decca when the war 
and a musicians' union ban on recording interfered. The Teagar- 
den orchestra was not asked to make regular records again, except 
for a couple of full-orchestra performances released in 1946 on a 
label called Teagarden Presents. 

From 1940 to 1947, however, the trombonist took part in a 
number of successful small-band recordings. One of the most sat- 
isfying is a 1940 Bud Freeman album of eight tunes associated 
with the Chicagoans. Teagarden is in optimum form, especially 
on the blues Jack Hits the Road and on the curiously modem- 
sounding Prince of Wails. Drummer Dave Tough is the driving 
force of this session. In December, 1940, Jack recorded with 
Tough, pianist Billy Kyle, and bassist Billy Taylor, along with 
Duke Ellington sidemen Barney Bigard, Ben Webster, and Rex 
Stewart (Oddly, Teagarden was quoted by Leonard Feather 
seven years later as follows: "I never did like anything Ellington 
ever did. He never had a band all in tune, always had a bad tone 
quality and bad blend.") Though these performances carry some 
of the external trappings of 1940 swing (or, as it has come to be 
called, "mainstream" Jazz), they are, ironically, not as advanced 
for the period as the so-called Dixieland recordings of Bud Free- 
man earlier in the year. 

Jack's other New York recordings made at this time usually 
find him with old friends a date with George Wettling that in- 
cludes pianist Herman Chittison and Coleman Hawkins or a 
Commodore blowout with sister Norma on piano and Max Ka- 
minsky on trumpet Some of the most relaxed moments can be 
heard on a couple of Eddie Condon gatherings for Decca in 1944 
and 1947 that feature members of the clan such as Pee Wee Rus- 
sell, Ernie Caceres, Bobby Hackett, and singer Lee Wiley. On 
these, Jack blows with more conviction and thought than he dis- 
played in front of his own orchestra during the same period. 

Throughout the war years, Jack struggled to keep his organiza- 


tion together in the face of selective service, travel restrictions, 
lack of promotion or good management or recording contracts, 
and the general decline of big bands in America. To add to his 
woes, a third wife was collecting alimony and Jack's fourth mar- 
riage^seemed to be sinking. The trombonist had many interesting 
ideas for improving his band hiring pianist Art Tatum was one 
yet they never seemed to work out. His last orchestra (1946) 
was a potentially good one that featured modern arrangements 
like Jerry Redmond's Martian Madness, but Jack's health finally 
started to crack late in that year, and the group broke up for good. 

"Jack was a good musical leader," remembers Leon Radsliff, 
saxophonist and arranger with the last Teagarden band, "but he 
was no businessman. He seemed to be more interested in steam 
engines than publicity, and his managers played him for a sucker. 
But we had a hell of a band for a while ten brass, including a 
French horn, and five reeds. And we had some interesting ar- 
rangements. Jack invented a slide-rule method of writing, and he 
scored some far-out brass-choir things," Radsliff recalls. "We used 
to sit up at night and play Tatum records, then slow them down 
to catch what was happening. Jack was completely open-minded 
about modern jazz and admired the really good players like Gil- 
lespie and Parker." 

Teagarden elected to remain in the unclassifiable niche he had 
carved for himself; the proper foundation for exploring modern 
jazz was there, but Teagarden's approach was already as "mod- 
ern" as it was traditional, and there was little reason for him to 
change it. As Teagarden biographer Jay Smith wrote: "Woe be to 
the critic who dares approach the maverick with branding iron in 

After 1946, Jack, now broke, drew into the protective noncom- 
petitive shell he had kept handy for such emergencies since his 
boyhood in Texas. He worked in California with a small group 
for a couple of months, wandered to the East Coast, and picked 
up a sextet in New York for a run on Fifty-second Street. Some 
nights he sat behind the piano, with only his fast-moving slide 
visible to the audience. With old friends Dave Tough, Max Ka- 
minsky, and others, Jack explored a few of the contemporary 
ideas that were being played along the Street in the mid-forties 
and built up his confidence again. (This phase is best docu- 


merited by a 1947 RCA Victor recording called Jam Session at 

A few weeks later, Teagarden joined Louis Armstrong's All- 
Stars (the trumpeter had had his big-band problems, too), a high- 
tension packet of jazz talent (Earl Hines, Barney Bigard, Sidney 
Catlett, etc.) that somehow never quite amounted to very much 
as a going band. Still, it was a chance to play jazz with a longtime 
hero and to make good money as well He stayed with Armstrong 
for four years. 

It was about 1952 that Jack Teagarden finally took full com- 
mand of his personal lif e. Now 47, he quit drinking, salvaged his 
fourth marriage, assessed and assumed his responsibility toward a 
newborn son, relegated business affairs to his wife, and took to the 
road again with a sextet. Good things began to happen at last, and 
the group met with modest but firm success in the mid-fifties. In 
1958, the American State Department sent Teagarden and his 
band on a tour of Asia that brought the trombonist's chronically 
drooping self-esteem to an unprecedented height. 

Teagarden's Dixieland-oriented group, featuring trumpeter 
Don Goldie, carried on into the sixties, playing clubs and festivals 
and turning out records. The trombonist nearly always played 
flawlessly, though seldom with the drive and daring of his early 
days, Only occasionally was a Teagarden sextet performance 
memorable, as in a Roulette recording of Tm Getting Sentimental 
Over You. Yet, even when Teagarden was coasting, he tossed off 
casual trombone passages that could send novices running back to 
their woodsheds. 

Teagarden's horn and voice never lost their singular charm and 
warmth. One of his last recording sessions features a set of songs 
written by former employer and longtime friend Willard Robison. 
They are the sort of offbeat songs modern jazz-based singers en- 
joy, and in doing them, Teagarden again proved himself an un- 
dated, front-rank jazz ballad singer. 

In late 1963, the trombonist was presented at the Monterey Jazz 
Festival in California, along with his family (pianist Nonna, 
trumpeter Charlie, and Jack's mother, still active as a piano 
teacher) and old comrade Pee Wee Russell. It was a happy re- 
union, but the aging trombonist was ill, overweight, and no longer 
on the wagon. Following another separation from his wife-man- 


ager, he had pared his regular band down to an economical quar- 
tet (sparked by pianist Don Ewell); yet, there were still those un- 
pleasant leader chores to perform. Teagarden was looking for his 
old shell to pull into again when, during a New Orleans engage- 
ment in early 1964, his heart suddenly stopped. 

Seldom has the influence of a single jazzman been so demon- 
strably clear as was Jack Teagarden's. After the shock of his 1927 
charge on New York wore off, most Eastern trombonists set about 
the task of reorganizing their concepts of what could be done with 
the horn. Jimmy Harrison's pre-Teagarden ideas were not exactly 
like those he played later; Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, enor- 
mously impressed, simply bowed to Jack's preeminence and be- 
came "sweet" players; young Benny Morton came close to Tea- 
gardens clean, flowing, high-register style; Brad Gowans used a 
valve trombone to capture some of Jack's agility and lightness; 
Jack Jenny elaborated upon the Texan's elegiac ballad style, 
clearing a path for Bill Hairis and Urbie Green; Fred Beckett, 
whose work inspired J. J. Johnson, demonstrated a kind of lip 
flexibility that could only have developed through Teagarden; 
Keg Johnson and J. C. Higgenbotham, possessors of fine original 
styles in the early thirties, were indebted to Teagarden for their 
flexibility and trumpetKke melodic lines, And, of course, there 
were literally hundreds of players who simply worked out of Jack's 
style from the start: Lou McGarity, Joe Harris, Ted Vesely, Abe 
Lincoln, and others. 

It may be that the jazz trombone would have evolved along 
similar lines without Teagarden, There were, to be sure, trombon- 
ists like Jimmy Harrison and Lawrence Brown about to discover 
some of the same principles of post-tailgate playing. It is un- 
likely, though, that all aspects of Teagarden's style could have 
been worked out by others in less than ten years, if at all. Ad- 
vances come more quickly after a single man has proved their 

Because Teagarden retained a superb command of the trom- 
bone until his death, there is a still-glowing awareness of his skills 
among younger performers. Trombonists Bob Brookmeyer, Bill 
Russo, and Urbie Green, saxophonists Stan Getz, Al Cohn, and 
Johnny Dankworth, and pianists George Wallington and John 
Mehegan are some who have praised Teagarden highly. Although 


his general musical outlook was, by the late forties, no longer 
shared by the new generation, Jack's ability to execute phrases 
that no one could duplicate preserved something of the image of 
invincibility he first created in the twenties. Teagarden's accom- 
plishments, well documented by recordings, will probably con- 
tinue to be used by jazz trombonists as a measure of their, own 
abilities for many years to come. 

Recommended Reading 

Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds,): Hear Me Talkin' to Ya, Rine- 

hart, New York (1955)- 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds,): The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958). 
Smith, Jay D. and Len Guttridge: Jack Teagarden, Cassell, London 

Waters, Howard J., Jr.: Jack Teagardens Music, Walter C. Allen, 

Stanhope, NJ. (1960). 

Recommended Listening 

Jazz, Vols. 7 and 8, FOLKWAYS FJ-28o7, FJ-28o8. 

The Red Nichols Story, BRUNSWICK BL-54oo8, BL-54047. 

A String of Stvingin Pearls (four tracks), RCA VICTOR LPM-1373- 

The Louis Armstrong Story, Vol. 4 (one track), COLUMBIA. CL-854. 

Chicago Style Jazz (one track), COLUMBIA CL-632. 

Benny Goodman from 1927 to 1934, BRUNSWICK BL-54010. 

Great Jazz Brass (two tracks), CAMDEN CAL-383. 

The Vintage Goodman, COLUMBIA CL-821. 

The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. 2, COLUMBIA CL-SsG. 

The Big U T Plays the Blues, ULTRAPHONIC 1656. 

Jack Teagardens Big Eight, RIVERSIDE RLP-141. 

Bud Freeman: All-Star Jazz, HARMONY HL-7046. 

The Jazz Greats (three tracks), EMARCY MG-s6o53. 

Eddie Condon: Ivy League Jazz, DECCA DL-82&2. 

A Night at Eddie Condon's, DECCA DL-828i. 

Town Hall Concert Plus, RCA VICTOR LPM-1443. 

Satchmo* at Symphony Hatt, Vols. i and 2, DECCA DL-8037, 8038. 

Satchmo' in Pasadena, DECCA DL-8o4i. 

Big Ts Jazz, DECCA 01-8304. 

This is Teagarden, CAPITOL 1-721. 


Bobby Eackett: Coast Concert, CAPITOL T-6g2. 

Bobby Eackett: Jazz Ultimate, CAPITOL 1-933. 

Jack Teagarden: Shades of Night, CAPITOL 1-1143. 

Jack Teagarden: Misry and the Blues, VERVE 8416. 

Jack Teagarden: Think Well of Me, VERVE 8465. 

Jack Teagarden: King of the Blues Trombone, EPIC SN-6044. 

The Golden Horn of Jack Teagarden, DECCA DL-4540. 

Tribute to Teagarden, CAPITOL 1-2076. 

A Portrait of Mr. T, ROULETTE 11-25243. 


FEW MEN in the annals of jazz have given rise to as disorderly a 
lot of historical misconceptions as has Fletcher Henderson. Hen- 
derson was an accomplished pianist but an undistinguished jazz 
instrumentaHst; he was a gifted arranger, but he began writing in 
earnest only after the best years of his own orchestra were past; 
he was not a particularly good businessman, yet in the twenties he 
built his band into a top attraction. These and other ambiguities 
in his history have left behind a blurred picture of triumphs and 
failures that, over the years, have tended to cancel one another 
and all but wipe Fletcher Henderson right off the books of some 
jazz historians. 

The problem of finding Fletcher's rightful place in jazz can best 
be approached, perhaps, by regarding him as the focal point in a 
musical movement that involved a number of important allied 
contributors. Henderson's was the role of musical catalyst, 
patriarch, straight man, and sometime fall guy in the story of the 
evolution of big-band jazz. 

Fletcher was born in 1898 at Cuthbert, Georgia, where his fa- 
ther taught school and governed his family with an iron hand. 
Henderson senior was a pianist, as was Fletcher's mother, who 
taught music. Inevitably, each Henderson child was encouraged 
to begin keyboard studies at an early age. Fletcher started at 6 
and was forced to continue, like it or not, for seven years. Younger 
brother Horace recalls occasions when Fletcher was locked in a 
room and not released until his practicing was done. All three 
Henderson children (two boys and a girl, Irma) finally developed 
absolute pitch, the ability to read difficult music at sight, and a 
well-rounded education in harmony and piano technique. 
Fletcher did well by his demanding father, performing in small 
classical recitals and avoiding the "undesirable" influence of the 
blues. By 1912, however, he had begun to be exposed to a variety 
of musical styles through piano rolls. 



Young Henderson did not plan a career in music. In 1916, he 
entered Atlanta University, where he majored in mathematics and 
chemistry. There he occasionally worked piano jobs but devoted 
most of his energies to science and sports. It was about this time 
that his baseball batting average, along with a singular manner of 
smacking his lips, earned for Fletcher the nickname "Smack," an 
appellation that stayed with him the rest of his Me. 

In 1920, Henderson traveled north to New York City, where he 
hoped to continue studying chemistry and to start earning money 
in his chosen field. He soon discovered that the prospects were 
poor for him as a fledgling chemist and that he could earn more as 
a skilled pianist He took a job with the Pace and Handy publish- 
ing house, demonstrating and promoting songs like Aunt Eager* s 
Children and Long Gone. W.C. Handy specialized in blues songs, 
but he was more concerned with "proper" readings of them than 
with earthy interpretations. Fletcher met the firm's requirements 

Shortly after Fletcher entered music on a full-time basis, Mamie 
Smith's record of Crazy Blues, a big commercial hit, launched a 
torrent of blues songs and suggested an enormous untapped mar- 
ket for blues recordings. Harry Pace saw the possibilities and 
started a record company called Black Swan, appointing Fletcher 
Henderson as musical director. The new firm signed up Ethel 
Waters and, in the fall of 1921, made big money with her Down 
Home Blues. The accompaniment, furnished by Cordy Wil- 
liams' Jazz Masters, was unbending and leaden, in the then ac- 
cepted style of many of New York's top "jazz" bands. 

Clarinetist Garvin Bushell, who toured with Ethel Waters 
and Fletcher Henderson in 1922, has described (in the book Jazz 
'Panorama] the better big bands, some of them fifty men strong, 
around New York at the time: 

They played dance music at places like the New Star Casino oa 
lo/th Street and Lexington and at the Manhattan Casino, now 
Rockland Palace. There were sometimes 20 men playing bandolins, 
a combination of the banjo and violin that was plucked. Among the 
leading conductors were John C. Smith, Allie Ross (who later con- 
ducted Blackbirds), Happy Rhone, and Ford Dabney, who had 
been in it from the beginning and was much bigger than Jim Europe. 
They pkyed pop and show tunes. The saxophone was not very 


prominent as a solo instrument, but the trumpet, clarinet and trom- 
bone were. The soloists, especially the trumpet players, improved, 
and those trumpet players used a whole series of buckets and cus- 
pidors for effects. The bands played foxtrot rhythm and still adhered 
to the two-beat rhythmic feel . . . New York "jazz" then was 
nearer the ragtime style and had less blues. There wasn't an Eastern 
performer who could really play the blues. We later absorbed how 
from the Southern musicians we heard, but it wasn't original with 
us. We didn't put that quarter-tone pitch in the music the way the 
Southerners did. Up North we leaned to ragtime conception a 
lot of notes. 

Henderson "leaned to ragtime conception," too, but his jobs 
with Pace and Handy and Black Swan had put him in touch with 
those New York musicians closest to the blues idiom. Bushell 
himself, for example, had been exposed to the New Orleans style 
of clarinetist Larry Shields in New York and had studied various 
regional jazz styles while on the road with Mamie Smith in 1921. 
When asked to put a group together to accompany Ethel Waters 
on tour, Fletcher selected Bushell and the Aikens brothers, trum- 
peter Gus and trombonist Buddy, to create as "hot" an impression 
as possible. (The Aikens were but two of many fine brass players 
who graduated from the widely known Jenkins Orphanage band 
in South Carolina.) Ethel herself encouraged Fletcher to acquire 
a more positive jazz feeling in his piano work, suggesting that he 
listen carefully to James P. Johnsoa The troupe appeared in au- 
ditoriums and large theaters during the winter months of 1922- 
1923, then returned to New York and disbanded. Ethel resumed 
recording for Black Swan, this time with Fletcher Henderson 
participating directly in the sessions. 

Cornetist Joe Smith was the favorite horn player of many blues 
singers in the twenties, and a number of Ethel's records now car- 
ried the name Joe Smith's Jazz Masters as well as the singer's own. 
The task of organizing and controlling the small band usually fell 
to Henderson, however. 

"Fletcher didn't write out anything for Ethel's record dates," 
Bushell told writer Nat Hentoff in 1958. ""You didn't have written 
music to back singers in those days. The piano player did have 
music, and the trumpet player would take the melody of! the 
piano sheet We couldn't use a bass drum, although sometimes we 


used the snare drum or a wood block. Also we didn't use a bass, 
Therefore, when there was no drum at all, the rhythm tended to 
get ragged. Then too we'd be in awkward positions and scattered 
all over the place, which would also make it hard to keep the 
rhythm together. We'd spend the greater part of the day making 
two numbers." 

Henderson's recorded performances of this period were an im- 
provement over Cordy Williams' efforts, but his band's music was 
still hampered by stiff blues playing and stilted, staccato phrasing 
only one step removed from orchestral ragtime. By 1923, the rec- 
ords of King Oliver, the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, the Original 
Dixieland Jazz Band (and its New York imitator, the Original 
Memphis Five), Jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, Clarence Williams 
(with Sidney Bechet), and Doc Cook (with Freddie Keppard 
and Jimmy Noone) had already helped to spread the New Or- 
leans approach across the nation. Because Louisiana jazzmen 
seemed to possess a special feeling for the blues, alert musicians 
everywhere with the possible exception of Harlem pianists, who 
had their own tradition to build upon attempted to master this 
stimulating and now quite profitable musical outlook. Those who 
were most successful in New York usually found themselves, at 
one time or another, in a recording studio with Fletcher Hen- 

By mid-1923 Fletcher had become one of the busiest recording 
artists in New York. He accompanied Bessie Smith on the Colum- 
bia label and was turning out some piano solos for Black Swan 
and performing with a band on Paramount and Edison records. 
The band he used in the recording studios was basically the one 
violinist "Shrimp" Jones directed at Harlem's Club Bamville, a 
group that was soon to form the nucleus of Fletcher's own orches- 
tra. Included in Jones's crew were trumpeter Howard Scott, 
bassist Bob Escudero, saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, pianist 
Leroy Tibbs, and drummer Kaiser Marshall. Eliminating Tibbs 
and adding trombonists Teddy Nixon or Charlie Green, trumpeter 
Elmer Chambers, banjoist Charlie Dixon, and reedman Don Red- 
man, Henderson threw together his first regular band for a six- 
month engagement at New York's Club Alabam in early 1924. 
Allie Ross, formerly violinist and arranger for Ford Dabney, di- 
rected and trained the Club Alabam orchestra until Henderson 


was fully ready to take over himself. Most of the men had played 
together for a couple of years or more, if only in Henderson re- 
cording sessions, and the group shaped up quickly into one of the 
finest bands in the city. 

Fletcher's recordings of 1923 and early 1924 reveal that he had 
borrowed from several sources to achieve his distinctive band 
sound. The influence of New Orleans jazz could be heard in the 
band's use of riffs ( an old New Orleans device that Chicago bands 
had already been using for some time by 1923), in the Ring Oli- 
ver-like instrumentation (Hawkins frequently played bass sax, 
leaving a front line of two trumpets, clarinet, and trombone), and 
in the unrelenting four-to-the-bar pulse established by the rhythm 

"New Orleans drummers kept a steady beat," recalls Jerome 
Pasquall, a Henderson sideman of a later era. They played 2/4 
and 4/4, but steady. Before that, drummers were a show. They 
threw their sticks up and often lost the time.* 

There were other influences as well Art Hickman and Paul 
Whiteman had helped establish the use of the saxophone section 
in a dance band Whiteman, whose early band had little to offer 
in the way of jazz, had by 1922 developed a rigid but syncopated 
jazzlike manner of section phrasing, including arranged "call and 
response" devices. These and other ideas of the day were incorpo- 
rated into the Henderson book, largely through the efforts of ar- 
ranger Don Redman. From 1923 to 1927, Fletcher relied upon 
Redman for most of his arrangements, and it is to this diminutive 
saxophonist from West Virginia that much of the credit must go 
for the initial success of the Henderson orchestra. 

Redman, two years younger than Henderson, had been reared 
as a musical prodigy by musical parents. He had played cornet at 
3, joined his father's marching band at 6, started piano lessons at 
8, taken up trombone at 15, and dabbled with violin before com- 
pleting high school. At Storer College in West Virginia, Redman 
studied theory, harmony, counterpoint, and orchestration. He was 
graduated about the same time that Fletcher Henderson was leav- 
ing Atlanta University, then joined a small band in Ohio. He 
picked up the alto saxophone in 1921, traveled to New York with 
Billy Paige's Broadway Syncopators (under the auspices of band- 
leader Paul Specht), and within a few weeks was working record 


dates with Henderson. Redman's rich background of musical ex- 
perience and training was unusual in the popular field, even in 
New York, and he was soon scoring for Fletchers nine-piece 
group as well as playing creditable clarinet along lines lying 
somewhere between the styles of Ted Lewis and Larry Shields. 
Henderson's early band recordings were often mere elabora- 
tions on the Eastern Dixieland style as played by the Memphis 
Five and others around 1923. ( When You Walked Out is one ex- 
ample of this approach.) Coleman Hawkins, still in his teens, 
demonstrated obvious skill with the tenor and bass saxophones, 
but at that time his slap-tongue phrasing was unattractive and his 
rhythmic ideas were still rooted in monotonous dotted-eighth- and 
sixteenth-note patterns. He had already achieved a big sound, 
however, as his recording of Do Doodle Oom proves. Hawkins 
may have picked up some ideas from Sidney Bechet at the time, 
for the two men demonstrated a comparable degree of urgency 
and authority in their playing styles, although Bechet was by far 
the more mature improviser during this period. 

On numbers like Potomac River Blues, there seems to be a seri- 
ous absence of blues feeling in the band, but one can almost sense 
that these young men were working on that problem, too. Some 
blueslike mannerisms of Fletcher's band were doubtless acquired 
from the popular New York trumpeter Johnny Dunn. Dunn 
played a powerful, sometimes downright nasty, horn, and many 
trumpeters followed his example until Louis Armstrong arrived 
in New York. (A prime example of the influence of Dunn's 
plunger style can be heard on Henderson s Janurary, 1924, record- 
ing of Lots o' Mama.) 

Henderson and Redman were searching for more than a mere 
assemblage of good improvisers; they wanted a crack reading 
band capable of taking on untried written ideas as well as han- 
dling straight jazz and conventional orchestrations of the day. 
That they did not allow the improvised portions of their arrange- 
ments to wither away in the face of bigger and better scored pas- 
sages is the key to the importance of their contributions to the 
evolution of big-band jazz. Had Henderson followed Whiteman's 
example, there would have been precious little space left for jazz- 
men to play in the band. 'The day of the improvising jazzers is 
over," announced a Whiteman publicist in 1925, "and members of 


Mr. Whiteman's orchestra deport themselves as do the members 
of any musical organization, playing from scores which are mar- 
vels of part writing and tonal contrast." 

Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman proved Mr. Whiteman 
and his press agents wrong by combining imaginative arrange- 
ments with improvised jazz so adroitly that written and ad-lib 
passages flowed together without a break in musical manner of 
expression or intensity of mood. As the playing of each Henderson 
soloist matured and took on new harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic 
interest, so, too, did Redman's arrangements. Redman set out to 
enlarge upon and consign to paper what King Oliver and Louis 
Armstrong had already proved could be created by ear thematic 
variations performed by two or more horns in close harmony 
without loss of rhythmic freedom, the sensation of spontaneity, or 
the satisfaction of the creative urge within each player. With Red- 
man's arrangements, musicians could enjoy it both ways: impro- 
vised solos became integral parts of the whole score, and the score 
itself was challenging and provocative as a point of departure for 
the soloist. 

The compelling sounds that came from his Club Alabam or- 
chestra, on records and radio as well as across the dance floor, 
earned Fletcher a better job at New York's Roseland Ballroom in 
1924. He played there at least several months of each year until 
1931. The group had improved steadily in the early months of 
1924, particularly when cornetist Joe Smith joined, swelling the 
trumpet section to three. Redman widened his scores accordingly 
and took note of Smith's sublime tone a tone that retained its 
seductive purity even when a plunger mute was held over the 
bell. Just as Coleman Hawkins* dexterity on his horn invited fast 
saxophone-section figures, so Smith's passionate cornet suggested 
lyrical possibilities to Redman. Arrangements designed to set off 
Smith's tone resulted (those for Mobile Blues and Meanest Kind 
of Blues, for example). There were others that emphasized 
Smith's "hot* side, derived largely from Johnny Dunn's style. The 
Gouge of Armour Avenue (double-time introduction a la Dunn; 
trumpet solo backed by riffs, New Orleans style); My Papa 
Doesn't Two Time No Time (Smith sounding like a cross between 
Dunn and Beiderbecke; this record is also notable for a genial, 
raggy Henderson piano solo and a scat vocal, possibly the first on 


record); War Horse Mama (wa-wa plunger mute, in the Dunn- 
King Oliver tradition); Muscle Shoals Blues (more Dunn-like 
double-time effects). 

The Wolverines, with Bix Beiderbecke, arrived in New York in 
late 1924, about the same time Louis Armstrong replaced Joe 
Smith in Henderson's brass section. Now there was simply no 
avoiding the influence of the New Orleans outlook. The Wolver- 
ines, who borrowed many of their tricks from the Original Dixie- 
land Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, were playing 
modern riffs, brief repeated rhythmic phrases (their Tiger Rag is 
the best recorded example), with more ease and rhythmic thrust 
than Henderson or Redman had yet been able to bring to their 
performances. Best of all, of course, Armstrong himself, whom 
Fletcher had been hoping to hire for more than two years, was on 
hand every night to show the New Yorkers just how it was done* 
Most of them learned fast. 

With Armstrong came a new phase of development in the Hen- 
derson band Hawkins' slap-tongue solos and Redman's whim- 
pering alto passages began to drop away. The reed section was 
enlarged to three with the addition of ex-King Oliver clarinetist 
Buster Bailey, New Orleans trombonist Charlie Green was 
brought in, creating in the four brass a still more powerful, ensem- 
ble sound. Most important, Redman's arrangements were begin- 
ning to swing more comfortably and convincingly. On Go 'Long 
Mule, the band seems to respond to Armstrong's lesson in the art 
of sustaining end-of-phrase tones rather than chopping them short 
in the old New York tradition. Redman furnished appropriate sus- 
tained saxophone "organ" chords under Louis on pieces like 
Words. Copenhagen has much of the bite and momentum of the 
Wolverine recorded version of a few months before as well as the 
broad impact of an eleven-man band under full steam. Naughty 
Man, recorded in November, 1924, demonstrates how quickly 
Redman had whipped the three saxophones into an integrated, re- 
laxed section quite unlike the agitated saxophone duo on earlier 
Henderson recordings. The clarinet trio, too, was a favorite Red- 
man touch and begins to appear on records made about this time, 
most impressively on Alabamy Bound. By January, 1925, the band 
had swung almost all the way over to Armstrong, even to provid- 
ing New Orleans-like riffs and afterbeat cymbal explosions as 


extra support for soloists. (Money Blues contains good examples 
of these devices.) Sugar Foot Stomp, a reworking of the Oliver- 
Armstrong specialty Dippermouth Blues, represents the culmina- 
tion of Henderson's early period and the completion of the task of 
catching up to the New Orleans-dominated bands in Chicago, 
Biffs, "organ" chords, a good grasp of the blues idiom, loose- 
jointed but precise ensemble playing, and first-rate solo power all 
come together in this performance to place the Fletcher Hender- 
son band and its chief arranger, Don Redman ahead of all its 

While finding success at the Roseland Ballroom, Fletcher con- 
tinued to keep his hand in studio recording work. The combina- 
tion of his own experience as an accompanist and his ready access 
to a fund of talented instrumentaKsts (including sought-after cor- 
netist Joe Smith, who returned to the fold in 1925) meant that a 
singer could be sure of superior backing whenever Fletcher was in 
charge. The combinations were endless: Henderson and Coleman 
Hawkins; Henderson and Joe Smith; Henderson, Smith, and Bus- 
ter Bailey; Henderson, Smith, and Charlie Green; Hendersons 
Hot Six. The singers' styles were nearly as varied; Fletcher 
worked with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, Alberta 
Hunter, Maggie Jones, Clara Smith, Trixie Smith, Ida Cox, and a 
dozen others between 1924 and 1926. Some of the best of these 
are Bessie Smith classics such as Cake WaUdn' Babies, on which a 
seven-man contingent from the orchestra improvises in the New- 
Orleans collective manner with grace and zeal Henderson's own 
piano contributions to these sessions are generally simple, correct, 
and undistinguished, 

In 1925, Fletcher married Leora Meoux, a professional trumpet 
player who occasionally filled in for lead trumpeter Russell Smith 
in the Henderson band. Smith, cometist Joe's brother, had for- 
merly been married to Leora, in fact, and the social structure of 
the band began to resemble that of a large family. (At one point, 
a third Smith brother, Luke, joined Joe and Russell in the trumpet 
section for a brief stay.) Fletcher's father occasionally visited 
Roseland to point with pride, although his pointing had to be 
done from the side of the bandstand, since that was the only spot 
in the ballroom where Negroes were allowed. (Many years later, 


ballroom stopped hiring Negro musicians. ) Another frequent visi- 
tor was brother Horace, who was organizing a band of his own at 
Wilberforce University in the mid-twenties. 

By 1926, the Henderson organization had become a permanent 
fixture at Roseland, except for three or four summer months spent 
on the road each year. The personnel was relatively stabilized 
with Russell and Joe Smith and the New Orleans trumpeter 
Tommy Ladnier, as good a substitute for the departed Armstrong 
as one could hope for. Redman was turning out splendid arrange- 
ments now, and Fats Waller (who had become the main influence 
on Henderson's own piano style) contributed a number of origi- 
nal compositions for Don to work on. Impressive electrical re- 
cordings like The Stampede, Henderson Stomp, and Hot Mus- 
tard, released at this time, give evidence of steady improvement 
in the band and its soloists. Section parts are even more challeng- 
ing in these, but Redman's complex melodic figurations never led 
Henderson's men away from natural jazz-oriented readings. It 
was largely the ensemble playing of this orchestra that caused 
jazzmen to evolve a reading method all their own. Eighth notes 
became dotted eighths, sixteenths became thirty-seconds. Section 
members learned to think in terms of rhythmic and melodic pat- 
terns rather than in separate measures. This system of interpreta- 
tive reading was the key to Henderson's unique style, a style that 
magnified and intensified the spirit of the small jazz band. From 
1926 on, every major big band that featured any "hot" tunes at all 
followed Henderson's example. 

Fletcher was beginning to experience difficulties as a band- 
leader about this time. His men were loyal to him and his musical 
philosophy, but he was not a strong leader, either as an instru- 
mentalist or as a personality. When Fats Waller sat in on piano on 
several 1926 record dates, the entire orchestra responded with 
noticeable extra enthusiasm to the new authority that came from 
the piano. "Fats played with us every now and then," Coleman 
Hawkins has recalled. 1 didn't think Fletcher was taking advan- 
tage of it like he should have. If it had been me, I'd have hired 
Fats. Fletcher could have done it." 

Other possibilities were overlooked and neglected as well. De- 
spite the group's musicianship and elan, its recordings were often 
allowed to pass with sloppy section work and faulty dynamics, 


while competing bands took great care with execution and shad- 
ing. As the decade wore on, Henderson made fewer and fewer 
recordings, while the orchestras of Duke Ellington and Paul 
Whiteman increased their recorded output. Radio had also he- 
come important, and Fletcher's chronic bad starts were not desir- 
able in broadcast work. ""[Fletcher] would be starting off, and 
half the band would be looking for their music," Hawkins remem- 
bers. "That used to happen regularly. All kinds of things like 
that . . . The band was a bit like they didn't care sloppy but 
it had something else. It had a good sound, a good beat. It lacked 
a lot of precision. I think that's why the records were like they 
were. Where in Duke's band it was loaded with precision, they 
couldn't give you that good in-person sound," Hawkins recalls. 
"Maybe sometimes you can get too precise, and maybe you lose 
something when you get like that. You certainly don't on rec- 
ords. A good record has to be precise." But, as Hawkins put it, 
"when it got down to the core of the music, when it was supposed 
to be sounding good, everybody was together and everybody was 
playing like mad." 

Redman continued exploring new scoring ideas in 1927. He was 
still fond of clarinet trios, but he also featured "pyramid" (arpeg- 
giolike) chords, sectional counterpoint, advanced harmonies 
(Redman had been writing flatted fifths, for example, into his 
scores since early 1924), and sudden shifts in rhythm and key sig- 
nature. One of his most involved works is Whiteman Stomp, 
which both Henderson and Whiteman recorded. Despite White- 
man's more exact reading, with Jimmy Dorsey's excellent alto sax- 
ophone playing, Henderson's is the more appealing version. Red- 
man's skill in dealing with riffs is apparent in his outstanding 
treatment of Hop Off, recorded in November, 1927. For this, he 
scored a variety of riffs to build to a natural climax, avoiding the 
monotonous excesses that detracted from the worth of many 
swing bands a decade later. Hop Off also features the vigorous, 
churning sound of reeds in countermovement to brass, an ad- 
vanced idea that arranger Bill Challis used often in Jean Gold- 
kette's orchestra at the time. 

Like Challis, Redman discovered that some of his writing, 
though a delight to musicians, was not always within the public's 
grasp. A 1927 issue of Orchestra World magazine, for example, 


complains that the Henderson band played too much "modern 


Redman received $25 an arrangement from Henderson, in addi- 
tion to his regular pay of about $80 a week as lead alto saxophon- 
ist In mid- 1927, he accepted an offer there had been many 
before to take over the musical direction of McKinney's Cotton 
Pickers in Detroit, one of several bands handled by Jean Gold- 
kette's office. It was potentially a good group and had grown out 
of a band called the Synco Septette, originally fronted by ex- 
circus drummer William McKinney. McKinney had hired the sur- 
vivors of a Springfield, Ohio, outfit called Scott's Symphonic Syn- 
copators, which had broken up in 1924. From that original 
Springfield group came trombonist Ckude Jones, pianist Todd 
Rhodes, saxophonist Milton Senior, and banjoist Dave Wilborn. 
Before 1927, McKinney had turned over the drums to the talented 
Cuba Austin and had hired saxophonist-vocalist George Thomas 
and trumpeter-arranger John Nesbitt. 

With Nesbitt's help, Redman built the McKinney band's book 
into one of the finest in the country. He added his own alto saxo- 
phone to those of Senior, Thomas, and Prince Robinson (a long- 
underrated tenor saxophonist) to form a four-man reed section. 
Together with the change to three brass (from Hendersons five), 
this new balance in instrumentation resulted in a fresh Redman 
sound, quite unlike his previous efforts. Don drilled his men and 
even gave them lessons in reading and interpretation. By mid- 
1928, he had created a first-class orchestra rivaling Henderson's. 
Redman's saxophone section was without equal, and Don took 
advantage of all four voices, writing bravura passages that at- 
tracted wide attention from other arrangers. Nesbitt, whose jazz 
outlook was deeply affected by the work of cornetist Bix Beider- 
becke and arranger Bill Challis, also began to contribute superior 
scores to the band's library. With records like Stop Kidding, 
Uilenberg Joys, Shim-Me-Sha-Wabble, and Cherry, McKinney's 
Cotton Pickers was quickly established in 1928 as a leading dance 
orchestra and an important modern "hot" band. Redman settled 
into Detroit's Greystone Ballroom for a long and profitable stay. 
Henderson never completely filled the enormous gap left by 
Redman's departure. Jerome Pasquall, who moved into the lead 
alto chair at this time, recalls that the band was full of "flaws" and 


lacked the rhythmic freedom of Fletcher's 1936 band, of which 
Pasquall was also a member. One problem may have been the ab- 
sence of bassist Bob Escudero, who was now with Redman in Me- 
Kinney's Cotton Pickers. Another was the old matter, grown even 
more serious without Redman, of lack of discipline. Still another, 
of course, was the loss of a highly skilled arranger within the band 
to write material suited to its individual soloists. With Redman, 
too, went some of the earthy quality that had characterized much 
Df the band's work until 1927. 

"[Fletcher] was exchanging arrangements with other bands," 
Coleman Hawkins has observed of this period. "He kept on and 
on, and finally the band, to me, got to the place where it sounded 
just like other bands, which is no good. We used to play numbers 
that sounded just like the Casa Loma band at times, because we 
had gangs of their arrangements. You see, what it was, for one 
thing, in the earlier band when he had Don Redman, Don used to 
do ... some very good gutbucket arrangements." 

For some time, the band got by on borrowed scores (some 
came from Goldkette s orchestra, others from Mel Stitzel, a few 
from Ellington, and some even from John Nesbitt), loose pieces 
tied together by Henderson himself (D Natural Blues, Oh Baby), 
"head" arrangements comprising riffs and fills elaborated by side- 
men in the orchestra (King Porter Stomp), and old Redman spe- 
cialties like Hop Off. Recording dates were rather rare events 
now, although the band was still an excellent one. Only about 
two dozen selections were turned out in the more than three years 
between October, 1927, and February, 1931, and a number of 
those carried the pseudonym Dixie Stompers in place of Hender- 
son's own name. 

During this slack recording period, Fletcher's soloists were ex- 
panding their abilities and reputations to new levels. By 1928, 
trombonist Jimmy Harrison, who had joined the year before, was 
heavily featured at Roseland, as was Hawkins, who now had no 
peers on the tenor saxophone. (Two good examples of his drive 
and technique are the 1928 recordings Oh Baby and Tm Feelin 
Devilish. ) Joe Smith, always a personal favorite of Fletcher's, had 
been in and out of the trumpet section again by the summer of 
1928, Rex Stewart and the brilliant Bobby Stark were now the 
jazz soloists, while Russell Smith continued to handle most of the 


lead work. Then Fletcher hired altoist-arranger Benny Carter, for- 
merly a member of Horace Henderson's Wilberforce band, who 
came closer to filling Don Redman's spot than anyone before or 
after him. Carter had a superb alto style original, though 
touched by Frank Trumbauer and wrote particularly handsome 
section figures for saxophones. The group responded to his com- 
mand of modern voicings with spirited readings of Come On, 
Baby, Easy Money, Blazin, and Wang Wang Blues. (The last 
features trumpeter Cootie Williams, who spent a brief period with 
Henderson in 1929 before joining Duke Ellington.) 

While Redman worked out the principles of the four-man saxo- 
phone section in Detroit, Henderson was establishing the use of 
five brass three trumpets, two trombones in the East. To- 
gether, their respective orchestras anticipated the classic propor- 
tions of the thirteen-piece swing band in the thirties five brass, 
four reeds, four rhythm. 

From the spring of 1929 to the fall of 1930, the Henderson or- 
chestra did not cut a single record. Fletcher played more one- 
night engagements than ever now, although Roseland was still 
home. "Every April we would pile into our assorted Packards, 
Buicks, and Caddies and hit the coalfields of Pennsylvania until 
September," Rex Stewart has recalled, *and each year we went 
further afield.'* 

The rise of show bands and novelty attractions had left wholly 
musical organizations like Fletcher's behind. Henderson's main 
commercial card was trombonist Jimmy Harrison, who contrib- 
uted comedy turns, Bert Williams impressions, and "preacher" 
routines. Ellington had his "jungle" style plus a visually effective, 
sleek presentation of his wares. Armstrong was an unbeatable 
showman who swept up his audiences in staged displays of high- 
note virtuosity and frivolity. Cab Galloway featured his own 
frenzied singing and band to match. The public was, in short, 
buying a show; that the music was often superior had significance 
mainly to other musicians and a very small portion of the listening 

Redman appraised the situation and laced many of his arrange- 
ments with moody themes suitable to the early Depression days 
(Blues Sure Have Got Me) and clever vocal routines, carried out 
by himself, saxophonist George Thomas, and banjoist Dave Wil- 


bom (If I Could Be with You One Hour, Rocky Road, Just a 
Shade Corn). Most important, he dropped some of his more am- 
bitious ideas and began to write simple, spare, melodic section 
lines that held appeal for musicians and nondiscerning listeners 
alike (Baby Wont You Please Come Home?, Travellin' AH 
Alone). Together with a number of very commercial pieces, these 
generally excellent records brought unprecedented success to Me- 
Kinne/s Cotton Pickers. While Henderson's recording work 
dropped off, Redman's increased substantially in 1929 and 1930. 
Fletcher's morale might well have hit bottom when cornetist Joe 
Smith joined Redman, then returned East with Don to help select 
Henderson's best men for McKinney's Cotton Pickers recording 
dates. (The results, featuring Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter 
and Kaiser Marshall, can be heard on Plain Dirt, Gee Aint I 
Good to You?, Td Love It, The Way 1 Feel Today, Miss Hannah, 
Peggy, and Wherever There's a Will, Baby.) 

In 1931, Fletcher and his band, for some reason, became ac- 
tive in the recording studios again. (Henderson's slow recovery 
from a severe automobile accident in the late twenties might well 
have been a factor in the erratic course of his career about this 
time.) Their performances, now sparked by magnificent bravura 
flights of Hawkins and mature trombone statements of Jimmy 
Harrison, were better than ever. The impressive trombonist 
Claude Jones had by now come over to Henderson from Redman, 
and the rhythm section had profited by the arrivals of drummer 
Walter Johnson, banjoist-guitarist Clarence Holiday (Billie Holi- 
day's father), and bassist John Kirby. The change, not yet com- 
plete, from banjo and tuba to guitar and bass was a significant 
one; a light but firm four-to-the-bar beat was now possible, open- 
ing the way for more supple, intelligently modulated arrange- 
ments. It meant, for example, that Coleman Hawkins could 
rhapsodize breathily on a slow ballad without fear of a flagging, 
top-heavy rhythm section and without losing the more subtle 
flourishes in his solos. This light, airy rhythm was also the perfect 
backdrop against which to play simple, insinuating riffs of the sort 
Don Redman had been writing for the Cotton Pickers. 

Fletcher continued to pick up arrangements wherever he could. 
John Nesbitt contributed Chinatown, My Chinatown, Nat Leslie 
scored Radio Rhythm, and Benny Carter continued to turn out 


effective pieces like Somebody Loves Me and Sweet and Hot. 
The band used publishers' stock arrangements as well, often doc- 
tored here and there to permit more freedom for soloists. ( My Gal 
Sal is a good lesson in the art of swinging a stock orchestration.) 
Others came from the old Jean Goldkette book (My Pretty Girl), 
publishing-house arranger Archie Bleyer (Business in F), Casa 
Loma's Gene Gifford (Casa Loma Stomp), and young Horace 
Henderson, who had by 1931 blossomed into a promising if not 
yet original arranger and a good jazz pianist. Horace's Hot and 
Anxious and Comirf and Goin have themes borrowed from El- 
lington and others, but they point up the new soft saxophone 
blend that was replacing the old shouting, gutbucket sound at this 
time. The rhythmic figures thus played seem, to melt into the 
rhythm section itself, creating a unified ensemble effect at once 
easygoing and surging with potential power. 

In this leashed energy lay much of the appeal of this approach 
to big-band jazz. Arrangers, section men, and soloists all took part 
in the game of building, holding back, and releasing tensions, and 
this technique was proving to be more electrifying than the all-out 
stomp tactics of a few years before. Duke Ellington was probably 
the first major bandleader to make intelligent use of this more 
subtle method of big-band playing. 

It was about this time 1931 that Fletcher himself took a 
greater interest in writing arrangements for the band At first, he 
simply exercised his sharp ear by transcribing passages from old 
jazz records and scoring them for a full orchestra. Thus the Bix 
Beiderbecke-Frank Trumbauer 1927 versions of Clarinet Mar- 
malade and Singin the Blues became part of Henderson s library 
four years later. Fletcher's Just Blues suggests that he still had a 
good deal of catching up to do, for the arrangement itself, calling 
for a return to old banjo-tuba figures, has its roots in the King Oli- 
ver style of four or five years before. 

Gradually, Henderson came out of this experimental phase as 
he grew more familiar with arranging techniques. His 1932 scores 
of Honeysuckle Rose and Blue Moments reveal considerable 
progress and a new understanding of tonal colors not unlike El- 
lington's. Honeysuckle Rose even carries implications of an origi- 
nal Henderson style, which the band needed badly if it was to 
survive the competition of many highly stylized orchestras in the 


popular-music field Built on a resourceful manipulation of tune- 
ful riffs in the Redman tradition, this style was soon to establish a 
whole new identity for the troubled 34-year-old bandleader. 

Henderson learned from his own sidemen as well. It was indeed 
a remarkable band, not merely as a gathering of outstanding solo- 
ists but as a musical unit possessed of a rare and unique collective 
spirit Some of Henderson's best numbers King Porter Stomp is 
one were head arrangements worked out by the players them- 
selves. Made possible by the riff approach to ensemble playing, 
head arrangements were to be a significant but often overlooked 
characteristic of big-band music in die thirties. The process of de- 
veloping a head arrangement often appears, like the collective 
creations *of New Orleans bands, to be an easy matter. It requires, 
however, sensitive and experienced musicians to bring it off prop- 
erly. A single sideman thinks of a new idea, plays it, and suddenly 
all his section mates join him with their appropriate harmonic 
parts. A player in a different part of the orchestra thinks of a logi- 
cal answering phrase and is joined by his section. The third horn 
section adds its part in the same manner, and the entire orchestra 
is under way. The rhythm players add to the total effect by sup- 
porting the specific rhythmic figures devised by each section. 
When one set of riffs begin to wear thin, the entire process may 
repeat itself with new ideas, usually marked by an increase in 

Many excellent swing arrangements came from this practice, 
which found its finest expression in the Fletcher Henderson band 
Fletcher's 1933 organization, which included saxophonists Haw- 
kins and Hilton Jefferson, trombonist Dickie Wells, and trumpeter 
Red Men, was particularly skilled in creating head arrange- 

Despite the quality of its work, the band continued to suffer 
from Fletcher's failure to establish a code of discipline. Several 
men drank too much, missed rehearsals (even fell off the stand 
occasionally), and sometimes had trouble keeping up with the 
music. Although Fletcher's arrangements often sounded elemen- 
tary enough, many were written in unusual keys. Clarinetist Dar- 
nell Howard, who once substituted for Buster Bailey, remembers 
facing the task of sight-reading a score in the key of E ( concert). 
When Howard suggested to Henderson that it might be a bit 


rough the first time around, Fletcher snapped, "You have a union 
card, don't you?" 

"Everybody got juiced up when they wanted to, w trombonist J. 
G Higginboftam, who put in better than a year with the band in 
1931 and 1932, has recalled. '"You had a lot of fun." 

Coleman Hawkins, the star performer and an important com- 
mercial asset to the band, finally departed in 1934, just as Fletch- 
er s arranging talents had reached maturity. Hawkins had been 
heavily featured on a number of 1933 recordings (Queer Notions, 
Its the Talk of the Town, Tve Got to Sing a Torch Song) made 
for release in England. The brilliant tenor saxophonist followed 
his fame to England and Europe, remaining there about five 
years. By the fall, Fletcher had found Ben Webster as a replace- 
ment and at last added a fourth saxophone to form still another 
first-rate band. In addition to arrangements by Benny Carter and 
Horace Henderson, Fletcher's own were now an important part of 
his book. 

A new Decca contract in 1934 provided needed encouragement, 
and in two memorable sessions during September, Fletcher re- 
corded his Wrappin 9 It Up, Down South Camp Meeting, Shang- 
hai Shuffle, and the excellent Big John Special Each piece is a 
masterpiece of intelligent, jazz-based writing. The four saxo- 
phones are blended to sound light yet muscular; despite challeng- 
ing double-time figures and treacherous syncopations, ensemble 
passages appear to float effortlessly over the light but firm rhythm; 
each arrangement seems to swing virtually by itself, requiring 
only a few good soloists here and there to make up a completely 
satisfying performance, in jazz terms, from first measure to last 
With these recordings, Fletcher set the high standards to which 
most other big bands aspired for the next five or six years. He also 
demonstrated in no uncertain terms that his creative strength now 
ky in arranging rather than piano playing or even leading a 

As good as they were, the records did not save the Henderson 
band. Writing in Swing magazine in 1940, Duke Ellington re- 
called how and why the group broke up: 

Smack's band was beginning to find the going a little tough around 
'32 and '33. Work was scarce, but the band was so fine, and the 
guys so attached to it, that nobody had the heart to quit. It was 


exceptional the way everybody stuck, hoping for a break. Almost 
each individual musician had money coming to him and yet nothing 
ever happened. Finally when they couldn't hold out any longer, 
the whole band got together, and everybody turned in their notice 
at the same time. That was the break-up of the Fletcher Henderson 
band. Maybe it was an appropriate finale for one of the greatest 
dance bands anybody ever heard. 

That was in 1934 and the men in the band were: Pops Smith, 
Red Allen, and Mouse Randolph, Claude Jones, and Keg Johnson, 
Benny Webster (Hawk had already left for Europe), Procope, and 
Jeff, Walter Johnson, Lucie, Kirby, and Horace. Things had been so 
bad with Smack, the boys were working one-nighters for $50 a 
week. And yet some of them like Claude Jones, who had $400 
coming to him, were refusing offers from Galloway and others, to 
stick till the end. 

Incidentally, that was probably one of the partyingest bands that 
ever was. They used to travel on the road in cars, instead of buses. 
As soon as they'd arrive at their destination they'd start in having a 
ball When they got through at night, they'd pick up where they 
left off. They'd wait till the last possible moment before leaving 
for the next town, and they'd have to hold a steady seventy on the 
road to arrive on schedule (which half of them never did). 

In early 1935, temporarily without a band at all for the first 
time in a dozen years, Fletcher became chief arranger for Benny 
Goodman, who now stood on the threshold of unparalleled suc- 
cess in the band business. The enthusiasm of Goodman and his 
players for Henderson's arrangements had much to do with this 
success. Goodman himself told of this period in his book, The 
Kingdom of Swing: 

It was then that we made one of the most important discoveries of 
all that Fletcher Henderson, in addition to writing big arrange- 
ments such as the ones I have just mentioned [King Porter Stomp, 
etc.], could also do a wonderful job on melodic tunes such as Can't 
We Be Friends?, Skepy Time Down South, Blue Skies, I Can't 
Give You Anything But Love and above all Sometimes fm Happy. 
He had to be convinced of it himself, but once he started he did 
marvelous work These were the things, with their wonderful easy 
style and great background figures, that really set the style of the 


Up to that time the only kind of arrangements that the puhlic 
had paid much attention to, so far as knowing who was responsible 
for them was concerned, were the elaborate ones such as Ferde 
Grofe's for Whiteman. But the art of making an arrangement a band 
can play with swing and I am convinced it is an art one that 
really helps a solo player to get off, and gives him the right back- 
ground to work against that's something that very few musicians 
can do. 

The whole idea is that the ensemble passages, where the whole 
band is playing together or one section has the lead, have to be 
written in more or less the same style that a soloist would use if he 
were improvising. That is, what Fletcher really could do so wonder- 
fully was to take a tune like Sometimes Tm Happy and really 
improvise on it himself, with the exception of certain parts of the 
various choruses which would be marked solo trumpet or solo tenor 
or solo clarinet. Even here the background for the rest of the band 
would be in the same consistent vein, so that the whole thing really 
hung together and sounded unified. Then, too, the arranger's choice 
of the different key changes is very important, and the order in 
which the solos are placed, so that the arrangement works up to a 
climax. In all these respects, Fletcher's ideas were far ahead of 
anybody else's at the time, partly because of afl the experience he 
had with the great soloists in his different bands, and partly because 
he was such an outstanding musician himself. Without Fletcher I 
probably would have had a pretty good band, but it would have 
been something quite different from what it eventually turned out 
to be. 

British writer G. F. Gray Clarke unwittingly added an appro- 
priate footnote to Goodman's remarks in an essay titled "Deep 

I have heard a band of good stout Nazis in Berlin playing one of 
those Henderson-Goodman arrangements and, in spite of them- 
selves, producing lift, drive and guttiness: you can't go terribly far 
wrong by just reading accurately whatever Henderson happens to 
write. The internal evidence of his scores is that he knows what a 
man can play on a man-made instrument, and never tries to guess 
what an archangel with musical leanings might produce in a mo- 
ment of inspirational ecstasy from Jehovah's own silver trumpets. 
Too many modern orchestrators, both straight and jazz, make these 
impossible demands of flesh, blood and brass. . . . 


Some of the dozens of arrangements that Fletcher wrote for 
Goodman in the next fifteen years line up almost like a capsule 
history of Benny's bands: When Buddha Smiles, Get Happy, 
Christopher Columbus, Star Dust, Sugar Foot Stomp, Stealin* 
Appks, Beyond the Moon, Opus Local 802, Crazy Rhythm, Chi- 
cago, South of the Border, and Wolverine Blues. 

Don Redman had had his share of hard times by the mid- 
thirties, too. In 1931, he had taken over Horace Henderson's or- 
chestra and made an impressive start as a leader with records like 
I Heard and Chant of the Weed. However, he soon ran into prob- 
lems of poor management and lack of public acceptance, except 
for the vocals of Harlan Lattimore. In 1936, Don fronted a differ- 
ent and still excellent orchestra that included clarinetist-arranger 
Ed Inge, trombonist Benny Morton, and a trumpet section com- 
posed of Renauld Jones, Shirley Clay, and Sidney deParis, but the 
cards seemed stacked against him. He struggled on until 1940, 
then disbanded and took up a more predictable life as a busy free- 
lance arranger. His scores found their way into groups as diverse 
as those of Harry James, Ella Fitzgerald, Jimmy Dorsey, Jimmy 
Lunceford, Charlie Barnet, Fred Waring, and Count Basie. Ex- 
cept for brief flings as a leader or musical consultant (including a 
stint directing Jay McShann's 1942 band), Redman has remained 
an independent arranger ever since and has often worked with 
singer-comedienne Pearl Bailey in recent years. 

McKinney's Cotton Pickers lasted a couple of years after Red- 
man left but reached the end of the rocky road in 1934. When last 
heard from, William McKinney himself was working as a bellhop 
in a Detroit hotel 

Fletcher, encouraged by public support of his Goodman scores, 
was back in the band business in 1936, again with a crack outfit. 
Buster Bailey returned, as did John Kirby. Joe Thomas, Dick 
Vance, and Roy Eldridge were die trumpeters. Jerome PasquaH 
and Chu Berry graced the saxophone section. Sid Catlett joined 
on drums for a while, then was replaced by Walter Johnson. The 
band's first record, Christopher Columbus, was a hit (musicians 
still speak of "Smack's Christopher Columbus band") and landed 
Fletcher in top locations again, notably the Grand Terrace in Chi- 
cago. The glory was relatively short-lived, however, and Hender- 
son's failure to produce another hit started the downward slide 


once more. In 1938, he placed twenty-fifth in a music-magazine 
poll of favorite swing bands. (Mai Hallett, Jan Savitt, Skeets Tol- 
bert, and Dean Hudson were among the names ahead of Fletch- 
er si) The battle-weary Henderson began to realize that the 
"swing craze" of the late thirties was little more than another man- 
if estation of the public demand for novelty and not at all a musi- 
cal awakening. 

Whether or not the current tremendous public interest in Jazz 
wiH die out and be replaced by a new popular idea [Fletcher wrote 
in the 1939 Yearbook of Swing] need not concern either intelligent 
musicians or honest admirers. It is encouraging to find that among a 
few persons a genuine understanding of jazz has at last flourished 
and promises to stimulate a wider interest and appreciation on the 
part of others who are able, through a knowledge of music gener- 
ally, to interpret the aims and efforts of composers long neglected 
The demand for old recordings of music in the hot style is persist- 
ent. If the small group, which really finds in this music an element 
of art to which it feels a definite response, can be looked to for moral 
support, then we can anticipate the evolution of an even finer 
jazz, brought about by composers, arrangers, and musicans fired 
with a new ambition. 

The outstanding drawback to the development of jazz, as every- 
one knows, is the unfortunate commercialism which always turns a 
deaf ear to unconventional progress [obviously, a reference to his 
own plight]. Worthy organizations and individuals find it difficult 
to reconcile their art with their daily sustenance, and huge booking 
agencies have little regard for artistic sensibilities. Public reaction is 
always uppermost in importance, and many a worthy musician must 
suffer furious, if silent, indignation at the nature of 'request num- 
bers" from patrons, The average popular song is anathema to the 
musical taste of the orchestra characterized by talent and originality. 
It not only offends the taste, but, what is far more important, dulls 
the creative spirit and demoralizes real jazz music far more than 
jazz will ever even with the assistance of professional reformers 
demoralize the youth of this great nation. 

In 1939, Henderson dropped his bandleading career a second 
time and joined Goodman's orchestra for a few months, playing 
piano and turning out more arrangements. After an abortive third 
try at maintaining a big band in 1941, he finally gave up the idea 
altogether, except for specific jobs that came up occasionally dur- 


ing the next few years. (A fifteen-month run at the DeLisa in Chi- 
cago around 1945 was the best of these.) In the late forties, he 
toured as arranger and pianist with Ethel Waters, much as he had 
done a quarter century before, 

Fletcher's health began to fail in 1949, but in 1950 he was back 
at work in New York's Cafe Society with a sextet. The job was cut 
short by a paralyzing stroke in December. The famed arranger 
lost heart, retired for a while to his birthplace in Cuthbert, Geor- 
gia, then returned to New York City to await death. It came a few 
days after his fifty-fourth birthday, in December, 1952. 

Without Fletcher Henderson, it is likely that big-band jazz 
would have developed differently. A big-band style, if it had come 
at all, might well have been dominated by pompous extensions of 
the Paul Whiteman-Ferde Grofe idea. It was largely through 
Henderson's outlook and Redman's talent that the free-swinging, 
blues-oriented music of New Orleans was combined successfully 
with the sophisticated harmonies and ambitious arrangements of 
the popular dance band. The basic rules of big-band jazz (and 
Fletcher saw to it that his remained primarily a jazz band) were 
first set up, carried out, and refined to a fine art in Henderson's 

By way of Henderson and Redman came the fundamental in- 
strumentation of big bands in the thirties three trumpets, two 
trombones, four saxophones, and four rhythm. Although these 
components were enlarged in later years, the relationship of each 
section to the other three has not changed to this day. 

To the men in Fletcher's bands, as well as to Redman, must go 
much of the credit for the system of interpreting conventional 
music notation that has made possible the rise of hundreds of jazz- 
grounded orchestras in the last four decades. It was this departure 
from legitimate'' reading techniques that won for big bands the 
sort of relaxed swing found almost exclusively in small improvis- 
ing combinations before Henderson. 

Without Henderson, it is questionable whether head arrange- 
ments could have developed to any significant extent. The true 
head arrangement, seldom caught in full cry on records, is a mar- 
vel of collective improvisation and a logical extension of the best 
contrapuntal efforts of small New Orleans jazz bands. Among the 


post-Henderson orchestras, those of Count Basie, Cab Galloway, 
Woody Herman (c. 1945), and, of course, Duke Ellington made 
extensive and impressive use of this method of creating new or- 
chestral literature. 

Henderson deserves special credit, too, for helping to build the 
skills and reputations of his sidemen, Louis Armstrong, Joe Smith, 
Coleman Hawkins, Jimmy Harrison, Don Redman, and many 
others were featured in specialty numbers that drew attention to 
their individual talents as artists, not merely as entertainers. 
Fletcher himself benefitted from this when he was with Benny 
Goodman, who, following Henderson's example, felt that sidemen 
and arrangers should receive proper recognition, even on record 
labels. For all its faults, the star system has been essential to the 
rapid growth and broad acceptance of jazz around the world 
since 1930. 

Finally, there is the influence of Henderson the arranger. Had 
he made no other contribution, Fletcher's place in jazz would be 
assured by his role in the spread of jazz through Benny Good- 
man's orchestra. That it was not Fletcher's own organization that 
caught the brass ring is a strange piece of irony that would re- 
quire a volume of psychological, sociological, and economic essays 
to explain. Goodman happened to be the symbol of the age, but 
this came about, at least in large part, as a result of the artistry 
and craftmanship, bora of twelve hard years of musical experi- 
ence, that Fletcher Henderson brought to him at just the right 
moment in history. 

Recommended Reading 

Feather, Leonard: The Encyclopedia of Jazz, Horizon, New York 

Goodman, Benny, and Irving Kolodin: The Kingdom of Swing, Stack- 
pole, Harrisburg, Pa. (1939). 

Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.): Hear Me TdW to ?a, Bine- 
hart, New York (1955). 

Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.): The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 
York (1958). 


Recommended Listening 

The Birth of Big Band Jazz, RIVERSIDE RLP 12-129. 

The 'Fletcher Henderson Story, COLUMBIA C^ig. 

Young Louis Armstrong (one track), RIVERSIDE RLP 12-101. 

The Bessie Smith Story, Vol. 3, COLUMBIA CL-85/. 

Jazz: Big Bands ( 1924-1934) > Vol. 8, FOLKWAYS FP 69. 

Guide to Jazz (one track), RCA VICTOR LPM-1393. 

The Encyclopedia of Jazz on Records, VoL 2 (one track), DECCA DL 


This Is Benny Goodman, RCA VICTOR LPM-1239. 

The Golden Age of Swing, RCA VICTOR LPT-e/os. 

Benny Goodman Presents Fletcher Henderson Arrangements, COLUM- 
BIA CL-524. 

Swing with Benny Goodman, HARMONY HL 7190. 


ONLY ONE WOMAN contributed significantly to the development of 
jazz in the twenties. She was an aggressive singer from Chat- 
tanooga. Tennessee, christened, unprepossessingly, Elizabeth 
Smith. Eveiyone called her Bessie. 

It is not known just when Bessie was born, but most educated 
guessers place the time around 1898. She was one of five children 
Tinnie, Viola, Lulu, and Clarence were the others. A natural en- 
tertainer, Bessie appeared in school pkys and even earned $8 for 
a single appearance in a Chattanooga theater when she was only 
9. There was a period, too, when she sang in a choir that gave 
performances in other parts of Tennessee. Her early experience in 
church groups must have made a lasting impression, for, as vet- 
eran promoter Perry Bradford has observed, Bessie's vocal style 
had "that spiritual touch" throughout her career. As she grew into 
a tall young woman, Bessie gradually assumed a bearing that has 
frequently been described as regal, to match her increasingly pow- 
erful and authoritative voice. 

When she was about 14, Bessie met Gertrude "Ma* Rainey, a 
splendid blues singer from Columbus, Georgia, whose big som- 
ber voice was already well known throughout the South. Ma, 
some twelve years Bessie's senior, and Ma's husband, Will, heard 
the youngster sing and took her as a kind of protege into their 
traveling troupe, called the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. During the 
next critical couple of years, Bessie learned all about show busi- 
ness as practiced in the big tents up, down, and across the Deep 
South. She learned to project her impressive voice over spirited 
gatherings without a megaphone (there were, of course, no elec- 
tric microphones at that time); she discovered how to take advan- 
tage of her outgoing personality and handsome features; most im- 
portant, she came to know the ways of a wide segment of the 
Southern public, particularly its boundless affection for the blues, 

The word "blues" as an expression of melancholy had been in 
common use throughout the country even as far north as 
Vermont for many years. But by the end of the nineteenth ceo- 



toy, a definite musical and vocal form by that name had found 
its way into the realm of Southern folk and popular music. It is a 
simple form, its lyrics usually comprising two identical four-bar 
statements and a third four-bar "punch line" to conclude the 
For example: 

Don't the moon look lonesome rising through the pine? 
Don't the moon look lonesome rising through the pine? 
Don't a woman look lonesome when her man leaves her behind? 

Blues songs, however, were not always sung in twelve-bar cycles; 
formal eight-bar and sixteen-bar patterns were common, and self- 
accompanied folk singers often stretched or compressed these 
songs to unusual dimensions. Bessie, like Ma Rainey, drew largely 
upon the vast reservoir of anonymously created blues melodies 
and verses that were public domain, adding a few notions of her 
own as she went along. Possessed of a more flexible and vibrant 
voice than her mentor, Bessie eventually became the better all- 
around singer of the two, but neither she nor anyone else ever 
sang a blues more convincingly than Ma Rainey. 

By about 1914, Bessie had left the Rainey tent show to try her 
luck in theaters as a singer and a dancer. Perry Bradford saw her 
in Atlanta at this time; "She was playing at the Dixie Theater, and 
I was playing at Charlie Baileys Theater [the "81"] on Decatur 
Street. But she was doing an act at the time with a partner, 
Buzzin' Burton, and they were featuring a dance called Buzzin 
Around. [She was] a whopping good flat-foot dancer." 

In succeeding years, Bessie worked countless jobs in theaters, 
tents, dance halls, and cabarets throughout most of the South- 
eastern states, returning frequently to die TOBA (Theater Own- 
ers' Booking Agency) circuit, which included Atlanta's well- 
known "81." There was a minstrel show called the Florida Cotton 
Blossoms, trio acts, dance routines, comedy in short, any kind of 
entertainment that would pay. All this time, Bessie was becoming 
a blues singer of extraordinary musical quality and unsurpassed 
communicative power. "When you went to see Bessie and she 
came out, that was it," New Orleans guitarist Danny Barker re- 
called years later. *lf you had any church background, like people 
who came from the South as I did, you would recognize a similar- 


ity between what she was doing and what those preachers and 
evangelists from there did, and how they moved people. . . . 
Bessie did the same thing onstage,** 

She had built a fairly good reputation in clubs and theaters by 
1919, Northern musicians visiting Atlanta heard her there in 
places like the "91" (just up the street from the "8i w ) ? where she 
worked with two other entertainers in an act called the Liberty 
Belles. The money was good $75 a week plus tips. In 1920, an 
offer came to join the revue at the Paradise in Atlantic City. 

Frankie "Half Pint" Jaxon, a popular entertainer-producer-man- 
about-show-business (and a former partner of the aforemen- 
tioned Buzzin' Burton), also worked the Paradise that season. Jax- 
on's description (in Australian Jazz Qwrtely #3) of a typical 
Paradise show, probably much like the one in which Bessie par- 
ticipated, reveals the level at which even gifted performers had to 
operate if they were to keep working in the twenties: 

Then the finale. Afl who had been on came out on the big wide 
floor. The band struck up a tune called *1 Ain't Gonna Give You 
None of My Jelly Roll." Each had an imitation of a real Jelly RoH 
They'd do a walk all around inside of the floor, showing their Jelly 
Roll, with their costumes as dresses made to look like grass skirts, 
and short, holding the skirts up to thighs and stomachs. Then I'd 
come out from and thru the band stand, strutting around each 
female, while the band played a vamp. Fd pick up and start sing- 
ing the tune, pointing my finger at each gaL The band kept the 
tune going on. I went to the right of the girls all around the ring. 
The band kept the tune going all the time. I stopped, and called 
the first girl. (They were all different shapes, you know, each typed 
by the type of tune that she sang.) I did the pantomime of holding 
a conversation with her, she still shaking and twirling her body 
every way. I stood still and just looked at her shake and twirl. Then, 
when she'd put on a heck of a shake and stand shimmying her body, 
my eyes would go here and there around her body, but Fd make 
believe I was touching her, and I'd lean close to her and whisper in 
her ear. She'd step back and shake her head, and Fd signal as if 
asking how much she wanted. She put up 5 fingers. I looked, and 
put up 2 of my fingers. She shook her head, and put up 7 fingers. 
I shook my head, put tip 3 fingers. She made a quick twirl, stood 
before me just turning every muscle in her body; I was twirling and 
looking in every one of my pockets, searching for my money. When 


I found it, I stepped back and made a long slide into her. She tried 
to keep going on in a pretending manner. I put my arms around 
her hips, she put hers around my neck. She tried not to faint, but I 
gave a high bounce up in the air, and danced in front of her. She 
held me again, and I made a twirl. She jerked from me, and as I 
twirled and twirled 3 or 4 times, 2 girls walked out of the lines and 
caught her behind the back parts of her shoulders and dragged her 
off the floor, as I am supposed to have made her faint. 

The music kept the tune going, but loud, and the customers just 
fainted and shouted laughing, and most everybody wanted to pour 
water on her. The waitresses did. 

While Bessie was appearing in Atlantic City, a singer named 
Mamie Smith (no relation) opened the door to a vast market for 
blues recordings with her hit Crazy Blues. It was now but a mat- 
ter of time until someone "discovered" Bessie Smith. 

Following an engagement at a theater in Detroit, probably in 
early 1921, Bessie was guided by Perry Bradford to Emerson Rec- 
ords in New York, where she made a test. Curiously, the com- 
pany failed to follow up this opportunity (Bradford claims it had 
to do with his prior managerial commitments to Mamie Smith and 
the Okeh company), and Bessie went off to a successful Philadel- 
phia engagement and a swing through the South again. 

During a stay in Washington, D. G, Bessie met saxophonist Sid- 
ney Bechet at the home of blues singer Virginia Listen. Bechet 
helped secure a part for Bessie in the show How Come, and their 
friendship deepened into a fitful romance as they toured together. 
The two cut a test record for Okeh, but that firm already had as 
many blues singers as it could handle, and Bessie remained un- 
signed. It was, in fact, the third company to turn her down, for 
Black Swan Records had judged her too rough for their taste. 

"Bessie was a hell of a fine woman [Bechet recalled in his last years]. 
A fine farmer, too; she had a place of her own in New Jersey and 
was doing well growing things. Another thing about Bessie, she 
could be plenty tough; she could really handle her own. She always 
drank plenty, and she could hold it, but sometimes, after she'd been 
drinking a while, she'd get like there was no pleasing her. There 
were times you had to know just how to handle her right. 

"She had this trouble in her, this thing that wouldn't let her rest 
sometimes, a meanness that came and took her over. But what she 


had was alive; she'd been through the whole book. And you can 
say that one way and you can say it another. If you understand it, 
it's there, and if you don't understand it, it's not for you, Bessie, 
she was great. She was the greatest" 

Frank Walker of Columbia Records, who had heard Bessie sing 
several years before, finally sent for her, and in February, 1923, 
the first of many successful sessions for that label took place. 
Down Hearted Blues and Gulf Coast Blues were instant hits, 
launching one of the most profitable careers in the history of the 
recording industry. She was billed as a "comedienne," but South- 
ern listeners, including many who had resettled in tie North, 
knew that Bessie was the real article a woman steeped in au- 
thentic blues lore who sang the familiar old words as if she really 
meant them. Over the next six years, Bessie's admirers purchased 
about six million of her records, and about two million of them 
were sold in the first ten months of her Columbia contract 

Some "respectable" families winced at the popularity of the 
earthy songs Bessie sang. Singer Juanita Hall, who has come 
about as close to re-creating the Smith style as anyone, remembers 
the effect Bessie's first record had upon her: "111 never forget it I 
was on my way home one day, and out of this house came the 
sound of a record playing, and I heard Bessie Smith singing Down 
Hearted Blues. Well, I went home singing it at the top of my 
voice, and my grandmother said to me, ^Wherever did you hear a 
tiling like that? You should know that is very, very bad music!* 
But I never forgot the tune it was one of her greatest ever." 

Bessie's winning style, made beautiful by a sonorous, deep- 
chested, but perfectly controlled voice, came straight from Ma 
Rainey, Like Ma, she worked around strong "center tones" in an 
ingenious variety of ways. Bessie s most powerful, ringing tones 
were F, F-sharp (or G-flat), G, A-flat, and A. Within this interval 
of a third, she invariably selected a single note to serve as her 
center tone, working this note into her rendition as often as possi- 
ble. When singing in C, as in Down Hearted Blues, she usually 
built her melody around G, the fifth of the tonic chord. Upon 
changing to the inevitable F chord, she was only a step away 
from a strong root note, while the customary G-seventh change 
could be accommodated with either the F or the G, Thus, it was 
actually possible to sing an entire twelve-bar blues song on only 


two notes, although Bessie never carried the idea quite that far, 
Her constant return to, elongation of, and emphasis upon these 
strong center tones tended to create the illusion of a kind of mod- 
ern plainsong with almost spiritual intimations. Under this attack, 
the most trite popular song could be transformed into a fine blues 
as Bessie reshaped its melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic configu- 
rations to match her simple but moving style. 

In Bessie s case, this center-tone approach, probably born of the 
necessity for projecting the voice, without benefit of microphone, 
to the last row in tents and theaters, did not lead to monotony. On 
the contrary, it was an effective means of finding new harmonic 
possibilities in old materials merely by changing key, which auto- 
matically changed the relationship of Bessie's strongest notes to 
the tonic tone. Thus 'Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I do, sung in D, 
has an F-sharp center tone, or the third, while Graveyard Dream 
Blues, in B-flat, emphasizes F, or the fifth. On Cemetery Blues, 
she achieves a more somber mood by dwelling upon the minor 
third (G-flat) in the key of E-flat When skilled pianists such as 
Fletcher Henderson or James P. Johnson were on hand to ac- 
company, Bessie tried more adventurous keys that might have 
confounded most instrumental groups. Any Woman's Blues, for 
eacample, is in B, and the singer's center tone here is the fifth, or 
F-sharp. Occasionally, too, she selected unusual harmonic posi- 
tions from which to work, as in Yettow Dog Blues, where A-flat 
(the fourth to the root) becomes the center tone. In Nashville 
Woman's Blues, sung in B-flat, she uses her strong notes F and G 
(the fifth and sixth, respectively) with almost equal emphasis to 
create a slightly different effect A singer with less imagination or 
skill in bending and stretching notes to fit her expressive needs 
might have run into trouble with this system. 

Bessie had a good range, nearly two octaves, from low F to high 
E, but worked most creatively within the single octave in which 
her strong middle F was just about dead center. On Ticket Agent, 
Ease Your Window Down, Cold in Hand Blues, and You've Been 
a Good Old Wagon, she even manages to perform convincingly 
while staying almost entirely within the range of a fifth. Like the 
best instrumentalists, Bessie could fashion a compelling solo from 
an absolute minimnyn of musical raw material and, again like 
most jazzmen, was frequently forced to do just that 


Many of Bessie's songs were "composed* by her accompanists, 
notably Clarence Williams and Fletcher Henderson, or by New 
York songwriters looking for a fast dollar. These men usually 
tacked together a series of familiar public-domain lines, tossed in 
a few Tin Pan Alley cliches, and fit the result to a stock twelve- 
bar or sixteen-bar melody pattern. Lyrics were mined from seem- 
ingly inexhaustible folk sources as fast as Bessie and dozens of 
other blues singers could record them. This would have been an 
acceptable procedure if the songs always told a logical story, but 
often they did not 

Clarence Williams* Jail House Blues, for example, goes like this: 

Thirty days in jail with my back turned to the wall, 
Thirty days in jail with my back turned to the wall 
Look here, Mr. Jailkeeper, put another gal in my stall. 

I don't mind being in jail, but I've got to stay there so long; 
I don't mind being in jail, but I've got to stay there so long, 
When every friend I have is done shook hands and gone. 

You better stop your man from tickling me under my chin, 
You better stop your man from tickling me under my chin, 
Because if he keeps on tickling, I'm sure gonna take him on in. 

Good mornin*, blues; blues, how do you do? 

Good mornin', blues; blues, how do you do? 

Say, I just came here to have a few words with you. 

Jail House Blues is a good example of Williams' disregard for the 
meaning of the blues. His first stanza and opening lines of the sec- 
ond stanza are pure folk blues, close to the final lines of I Don't 
Mind Beirf in Jail, collected in the Southeast by Odum and 

I laid in jail, back turned to the wafl; 
Told the jailer to put new man in my stafl. 
I don't mind bein* in jail, 
If I didn't have to stay so long. 

Ite third stanza seems jarringly inappropriate and may be the 
work of Williams himself. It is totally out of place and detracts 
from the song. The final stanza is a powerful folk blues declara- 
tion but somehow fails to conclude die thoughts put forth at the 
beginning of the song. 


Despite these flaws, Bessie sings each stanza with authority 
and conviction, revealing her skill as a seasoned performer as 
well as her ability as a singer, At that, Jail House Blues was one 
of the better blues handed to her and rates as one of her finest 
recordings. Curiously, the pianist for this date was not Clarence 
Williams but Irving Johns. 

Many of Bessie's recordings were not blues at all, but cabaret 
favorites, torch songs, and robust vaudeville tunes: among Co- 
lumbia's early Smith releases are Baby, Won't You Please Come 
Home?, Beale Street Mama, Oh Daddy Blues, Modeling Blues, If 
You Don't, I Know Who Will, St. Louis Gal, and Aggravatiri 
Papa. She sometimes recorded blues or blues songs written by 
other singers as well, including Down Hearted Blues, by Alberta 
Hunter; Graveyard Dream Blues, by Ida Cox; and Moonshine 
Blues, by Ma Rainey. 

Bessie's 1924 version of Boweavil Blues, a piece which was first 
recorded by Ma Rainey in 1923, points up a fault in the younger 
woman's work that usually went unnoticed behind the awesome 
strength of her voice and the wonder of her dramatic delivery. 
Though she made the most of the lyrics as she sang them, her 
poetic sense was less acute than Ma Rainey's, Compare her two 
final stanzas of Boweavil Blues with Ma's kter recording New 
Boweavil Blues: 

Bessie Smith: 

I went downtown, I bought myself a hat 
I brought it back home, I laid it on the shelf. 
I looked in my bed, I'm tired sleepin* by myself. 
I'm tired sleepin' by myself. 

Ma Rainey: 

Lord, I went downtown and bought me a hat, 
I brought it back home and laid it on the shelf. 
Looked at my bed Tm gettin' tired 
Sleepin' by myself. 

Ma Rainey's artfully paced stanza leads gracefully and inevi- 
tably to her final stark summation of loneliness "sleepin' by my- 
self." Bessie, barely avoiding disaster from excessive use of the 
same personal pronoun, throws her finish line away on a weak 


phrase and can finally do no more than repeat the words to fill the 
remaining time. 

Yet Bessie's very determination to do things her own way was 
the real basis for her influence over many jazzmen. In her work, 
instrumentalists recognized the sort of individuality they sought to 
express on their own horns and strings. Jazzmen heard, too, a 
thoughtful blend of precomposed song structures and Southern 
blues feeling, a blend close to their own ideas about how good 
jazz should sound. Pure folk blues, as in the music of Blind Lemon 
Jefferson, was once removed from jazz: it lacked the urbane so- 
phistication that had marked jazz music from its earliest New Or- 
leans days. Bessie Smith bridged the gap; she was both from 
country blues and of big-city ways at the same time. Unlike Ma 
Rainey, she repeatedly demonstrated her desire to become a 
musician-singer as well as merely an interpreter of the blues. 

Composer-arranger Don Redman once declared that he and 
many other musicians around New York learned much from 
Bessie Smith. Because she and her records were in New York at 
least eighteen months before the arrival of Louis Armstrong, 
Bessie functioned as a first contact with full-blown blues expres- 
sion for countless Easterners. Like Annstrong, she drew out each 
tone to its fullest value, projecting strength and excitement over a 
deep foundation of inner repose. The effect was electric, causing 
jazzmen like Redman to ponder the less profound aspects of their 
own "hot" styles, many of which were rooted in mere agitation 
rather than in human expressiveness. 

In 1924, Bessie began to use leading jazz musicians for her ac- 
companying band, often those associated with Fletcher Hender- 
son's young orchestra. Her favorite was trumpeter Joe Smith (no 
relation), whose poignant tone and simple ideas contrasted per- 
fectly with Bessie's effusive style. From this time to the end of 
1926, the popular singer hit the peak of her popularity and her 
highest consistent performing level. Record after record proved 
to be an enduring classic, a definitive lesson in the art of blues 
singing. Weeping Willow Blues, Bessie's first recording with Joe 
Smith, is one such performance, described enthusiastically by 
writer Abbe Niles twenty-five years afterward (in A Treasury of 
the Blues): 


[Weeping Willow Blues] had never been published, and on com- 
paring the original manuscript with Bessie's record, it became evi- 
dent that, starting out with a good tune and idea, she and her 
accompanists had done a most extraordinary job of interpretation 
and embellishment in the best New Orleans jazz vein. 

The instrumental lead, in general, is the trumpet's; the trombone 
[Charlie Green] coming in with occasional baleful growls, and the 
piano [Fletcher Henderson], in its typical subordinate New Orleans 
role, following lazily along with this finger and that but in this 
record the timing, the touch and the feeling, in every instance, were 
about perfect. (Not that the accompaniment is emotional the poor 
girls tale of woe is, to these musicians, no more than a pleasant path 
along which to trifle, observing meanwhile the flowers and the 
birds.) Keep in mind that the trio played slowly, quietly, in ex- 
quisite time and, in the "riff* accompaniment to the patter, with 
the spring and light-footedness of a cat on hot rocks. 

In this recording, without doubt, the entire introduction, accom- 
paniment, and the two interludes were wholly improvised as are 
some of the words and much of tihe vocal line. 

It is open to question whether Weeping-Willow was wholly im- 
provised or not (the rifis, the repeated instrumental figures, were 
probably worked out carefully in advance by Henderson), but 
Niles was quite right about the emotional detachment of the mu- 
sicians. Bessie had good reason to prefer it that way; it was her 
date and her voice occupying the center stage, not the improvisa- 
tions of the musicians. In this light, it is reasonable to assume that 
Bessie was not altogether pleased by Louis Armstrong's highly 
charged cornet playing on a couple of 1925 recording sessions, 
despite her own fine work on those occasions. For one thing, 
Armstrong already knew the fine points of blues expression, as 
most New York musicians did not, and his matching of Bessie's 
lowered or raised pitch for a given melody note tended to destroy 
the shock value of her alteration as it collided with the legiti- 
mate" pitch. 

Ironically, however, Bessie's recordings with Armstrong are 
among her very best Perhaps she was attempting to outperform 
Armstrong by leaning a bit harder into her "blue** minor thirds 
and sevenths; whatever the motivation, Bessie came out of these 
sessions victorious. 


Referring to these Smith-Armstrong sessions, Winthrop Sar- 
geant has written (in Jazz: Hot and Hybrid) : 

Her treatment of conventional tunes is exceedingly free, in the 
sense that she pays very little attention to the notes, or even the 
words, of the printed version. As in the case of all true "hot" soloists, 
the rigid conventional lines of the standard tune on which her im- 
provisation is based often become almost unrecognizable in what 
she produces. Her freedom of treatment, however, is not the freedom 
of elaboration. She does not add florid elements to the original tune. 
She rather subtracts its superfluous elements, pruning it down and 
simplifying its phraseology; making it, in fact, more truly "primi- 

Most of her songs are based on a single tetrachordal grouping, 
either the upper or lower, and strayings beyond the four-note limits 
of this grouping are infrequent. 

Sargeant regarded the "cool freedom with which European 
conceptions of melody are disregarded" by Bessie "both amazing 
and refreshing": 

Where You've Been a Good Old Wagon occupies exclusively the 
lower tetrachordal grouping of tones, the Cold in Hand Blues is 
sung entirely in the grouping associated with the upper tetrachord. 
Whether the singer herself was conscious of this change of orienta- 
tion in relation to the tonic may be questioned, although she uses 
her scalar material somewhat differently in the new surroundings. 
The actual pitches of her tones may, of course, be the same in both 
recordings, and the change may be brought about by a shift in the 
key of the accompaniment. 

Though he underestimated the fairly wide range of Bessie's 
voice, Sargeant was intrigued by the singer's ability to flatten out 
the contours of written melodies to suit her blues style. (This sim- 
plifying process was a function of the center-tone approach, dis- 
cussed above, although Sargeant did not carry his analysis 
through to that conclusion. ) The critic went on to describe Bes- 
sie's treatment of St. Louis Blues: 

Bessie Smith's version of the famous St. Louis Blues is governed 
more by complicated harmonic considerations than either of the 
above mentioned recordings. Handy's composition contains a section 


in the minor scalean unusual feature in the simpler type of 
blues and there are other factors of a chordic nature that tend to 
force the singer into more sophisticated scalar treatment. Neverthe- 
less it is interesting to note that the vocal interpretation tends 
always to simplify rather than to complicate Handy's original 

In so doing, Bessie followed the same pattern used by preach- 
ers and rural blues singers all over the South. Small wonder that 
her music had more meaning for Southern audiences than for 
sophisticated Northerners. 

"When I was a little girl," singer Mahalia Jackson remembers, 
"I felt she [Bessie] was having troubles like me. That's why it was 
such a comfort for the people of the South to hear her. She ex- 
pressed something they couldn't put into words. 

"All you could hear was Bessie. The houses were thin; the 
phonographs were loud. You could hear her for blocks." 

The theaters were generally packed on Bessie's Southern tours. 
Her Columbia records had become so identified with the singer 
that, for a time, part of her act was devoted to re-creating a studio 
recording session. Plenty of money was coming in, but Bessie had 
other problems. She had purchased a home in Philadelphia for 
herself and her husband, a policeman named Jack Gee, whom 
Sidney Bechet once summed up as "a mean man, really a mean 
man." With money came a horde of new opportunistic friends 
and parasites, most of them unconcerned with her growing drink- 
ing problem. And by 1926, whether Bessie sensed it or not, the 
rage for elemental blues had begun to wane. A new era of popu- 
lar music, shaped in part by the introduction of the electric mi- 
crophone, was just around the corner. 

The microphone, along with improved radio broadcasting, put 
the shouters and the crooners on an equal footing, the size of the 
hall notwithstanding. Established popular singers Irving Kauf- 
man, say suddenly finding themselves shouting unnecessarily 
into the sensitive new instruments, changed to a softer, more inti- 
mate style. For Bessie, whose singing style was as natural as 
breathing to her, it was not so simple. Her blues depended on a 
full-bodied voice. And hadn't her fans made it clear that that was 
exactly what they wanted? 


But a new record market was growing for the sort of singers 
long favored in small urban cabarets, singers such as Ethel 
Waters. Tor years they had been used to Bessie Smith and Ma 
Rainey," Ethel wrote in her autobiography. "They loved them and 
all the other shouters. I could always riff and jam and growl, but I 
never had that loud approach." 

Ethel had had considerable success in clubs and on records, 
particularly her Black Swan recordings of 1921-1923, but with 
electrical recording methods, she became still more popular. To 
make matters more uncomfortable for Bessie, Ethel began re- 
cording for Columbia in 1925, often with the same accompanying 
musicians Bessie used. This was tough competition, and it became 
more difficult for Bessie to ignore than the run-of-the-mill releases 
of blues shouters such as Clara Smith, Chippie Hill, Sara Martin, 
and Bessie Tucker. (There were, incidentally, about a dozen sing- 
ing Smith girls, none related to Bessie.) 

The momentum of Bessie's enormous popularity carried her 
easily into 1927, but in her soberest moments she must have no- 
ticed that as her recorded output was going down, Ethel Waters' 
career was on the upswing. Having already experimented with 
the Tin Pan Alley type of song in 1925 ( At the Christmas Ball) 
and 1926 (her own composition Baby Doll), Bessie tackled more 
such non-blues material in 1927, including After You've Gone, 
There'll Be a Hot Time in Old Town Tonight, Muddy Water, Al- 
exanders Ragtime Band, Lock and Key, A Good Man Is Hard to 
Find, and Them's Graveyard Words. Her attempts at big-city so- 
phistication in diction and delivery probably succeeded only in 
cutting off some of her remaining Southern support without win- 
ning over wise urbanites at all. She was soon back to the blues 
format again, singing magnificently on numbers like Mean Old 
Bed Bug Blues, Foolish Man Blues, and Dyin by the Hour. 
About this time, she recorded her superb Back Water Blues and 
the even better Preachin the Blues, with James P, Johnson pro- 
viding the most virile piano accompaniment Bessie had ever had 

Throughout 1927, the still popular singer kept busy with shows 
and revues, including her own Harkm Frolics, with a company 
of forty dancing girls. She toured the South as usual, but also 
found a receptive audience in Chicago, where many Southerners 
had settled since the war. With her visits to Chicago from 1924 to 


1928, Bessie left a solid impression on a whole generation of ap- 
prentice jazzmen there. 

"There she is," pianist Art Hodes reminisced in his magazine 
Jazz Record. "Resplendent is the word, the only one that can de- 
scribe her. Of course, she ain't beautiful, although she is to me. A 
white, shimmering evening gown, a great big woman and she 
completely dominates the stage and the whole house when she 
sings the Yellow Dog Blues. Ah! I don't know, she just reaches 
out and grabs and holds me. There's no explainin' her singing, her 
voice. She don't need a mike; she don't use one. I ain't sure if 
them damn nuisances had put in their appearance in that year. 
Everybody can hear her." Hodes noted, "As she sings she walks 
slowly around the stage. Her head, sort of bowed. From where 
I'm sittin' I'm not sure whether she even has her eyes open. On 
and on, number after number, the same hush, the great perform- 
ance, the deafening applause. We won't let her stop. What a 

"Every note that woman wailed vibrated on the tight strings of 
my nervous system," Mezz Mezzrow wrote many years later. 
"Every word she sang answered a question I was asking." 

"... the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, who planted the seed, 
and then Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Bix, Jimmy Noone . . . 
and Bessie Smith," said Bud Freeman. "Our style, 'Chicago style/ 
came from all of that." 

"That spring Bessie Smith also came to town," remembers 
Eddie Condon. "We went to hear her at the Paradise, a battered 
joint with the buttons off at Thirty-fifth and Calumet. The first 
night Bix turned his pockets inside out and put all his dough on 
the table to keep her singing. We had been raised on her records; 
we knew she was the greatest of all the blues singers; but she was 
better than any of us could possibly have anticipated." 

In 1928, Bessie broke with her manager, Frank Walker, who 
had long taken a sincere interest in the singer's welfare. She still 
made trips to the Columbia recording studios, although some of 
the singing seemed mechanical and the material she worked with 
was frequently inferior. The voice was still full and strong, but the 
words were often contrived, sometimes bordering on the porno- 
graphic, and Bessie seemed more caught up in theatrical Northern 
ways (the popular ways of Ethel Waters and of the recently de- 


ceased Florence Mills) than she ever had been. Nevertheless, she 
could still knock out a deep blues at will, as she did on Wash- 
woman's Blues, recorded in August, 1928, Her last recording that 
year the next session was not to be until more than eight months 
later was, appropriately, Me and My Gin. 

It was mostly downhill now. Bessie flopped at New York's Con- 
nie's Inn, a key location on the sophisticated nightclub circuit 
The few recordings she turned out in 1929 are dominated by 
trashy songs like Tm Wild About That Thing, I Got What It 
Takes, and Youve Got to Give Me Some. Most of these are tossed 
off with disdainful expediency, but two Nobody Knows You 
When Tfoure Down and Out and Kitchen Man leave no doubt 
that the great voice was still as true and strong as ever. There 
were even intimations that Bessie had discovered how she might 
adapt to the new environment of show tunes, cabaret dramatics, 
and piquant balladry without sacrificing her leading assets- 
power, projection, tone, and feeling. As of 1929, she had become 
several times removed from the folk sources of her earlier blues 

In October, she recorded a typical transient popular song, 
Dont Cry, Baby, with James P. Johnson. Though not particularly 
successful, this performance suggests where Bessie might have 
traveled had her luck held out. Dont Cry, Baby is performed 
with what Winthrop Sargeant might have called "the European 
conception of melody" rather than with Bessie's old center-tone 
Ma Rainey-like technique. In effect, she was coming around to 
Ethel Waters' outlook on jazz singing to treat the melody as an 
instrumentalist would. Unhappily, this change failed to alter Bes- 
sie's fortunes, and the downward slide continued. 

In 1929, Bessie made her only film appearance, in a two-reel 
short called S*. Louis Blues, which also features a band under 
James P. Johnson's direction and a large choir. The sound track is 
crude and the scenario hopelessly offensive, but Bessie was al- 
lowed to let her voice all the way out, with fine results. It's too 
bad that we didn't make a feature picture out of this," an execu- 
tive of RCA Photophone remarked to W. C. Handy at the time. 
The film soon disappeared, rarely to be seen again in the United 
States until long after Bessie's death. 

A new kind of blues market bloomed in 1928 and 1929, but it 


failed to help Bessie very muck These were the best years for the 
big-city blues players and singers, especially the boogie-woogie 
pianists. Into the spotlight stepped performers like Cow Cow 
Davenport, Will Ezell, Cripple Clarence Lofton, Romeo Nelson, 
Pine Top Smith, Montana Taylor, and Rufus "Speckled Red" 
Ferryman, whose masculine, optimistic blues styles replaced the 
moaning and wailing blues of the Smith girls and all their imi- 
tators. A rugged amalgam of hokum, stomps, country blues, old 
dance rhythms, and urban party games, the music now called 
boogie-woogie (piano) and skiffle (add jugs, washboards, and 
kazoos) had been gathering force since 1925, particularly in Chi- 
cago. Bessie was, of course, aware of this group of players (espe- 
cially one of the most creative of them, Jimmy Yancey, at whose 
home she sometimes stayed while in Chicago), but she did not 
identify her stage act with their back-room informality. She used 
only "high class" musicians trained instrumentalists of the jazz 
world for her shows. 

Another trouper caught in a kind of middle ground similar to 
Bessie's was guitarist-singer Lonnie Johnson. Johnson was a supe- 
rior jazz guitar player but earned most of his money as a singer of 
blues, many of them salacious. Like Bessie, he recorded blues ex- 
tensively but preferred to regard himself an all-around musician, 
as authoritative with ballads and jazz pieces as with twelve-bar 
Freudian imagery. The two singers toured in Southern theaters 
together several times in 1929. "Nobody I know could sing better 
than Bessie," Johnson has recalled. "She didn't mind shouting 
over a crowd to wake them up and make them listen to her sing. 
She didn't need a microphone, either. Bessie was lively and full 
of fun," he added, "but nobody could push her around." 

Perhaps she had felt Frank Walker was "pushing her around," 
but without his guidance (which included putting her on an al- 
lowance), Bessie was soon burning up money much faster than it 
was coming in, even after she separated from Gee and moved to a 
modest home in New York. (Gee had managed Bessie's own 
show, called the The Midnight Steppers, just before the breakup, 
with unimpressive results.) She could ill afford layoffs; yet in 
1930, as clarinetist Edmond Hall remembers it, Bessie "wasn't 
doing anything. ... It was a long time before I even found out 


that Bessie Smith was living in the apartment next to mine," Hall 
recalls. "She was just about on her way out then." 

In 1930, Bessie recorded just eight tunes, none of them deep 
blues of the sort she had once been famous for. Her voice was not 
responding with consistency now. There is a touch of strain in her 
performances of New Orleans Hop Scop Blues and See If fll 
Care, although On Revival Day and Hustliri Dan, recorded a few 
weeks later, show her in fine form. In fact, on the day that she 
turned out On Revival Day and Moan You Moaners (June 9, 
1930), both rendered in a pseudogospel style, Bessie sang from a 
resonant low A-flat to a strong high E, a very respectable range, 
And in these recordings is still more evidence of Bessie's changing 
outlook on her own role in show business at that time; she was 
definitely trying to achieve a tuneful quality in a substantial por- 
tion of her work, eschewing the blues chants of her early career. 

Another year passed. Two more recording sessions were held in 
1931* ending her long association with the Columbia company. 
These dates seemed to be deliberate attempts to go back to the 
old shouting blues style of 1924. Bessie plays her part well, singing 
Long Old Road effectively (around a center tone on the fifth in- 
terval of the tonic), but the tongue-in-cheek antics of her musi- 
cians give the secret away. Trumpeter Louis Bacon and trombon- 
ist Charlie Green obviously did not feel this was the way jazz 
should be played in 1931. Though still in command of her mar- 
velous voice, Bessie began to have some breathing problems 
about this time, most noticeably on Safely Mama ( a dreary set of 
coarse metaphors), where she seems unable to complete normal 
cadences without bobbing up for more air. 

Following the last six years of Bessie Smith's life is not unlike 
attempting to chronicle the death throes of a whale. Occasionally 
the subject surfaces to register its agony, but most of the process 
takes place below and out of sight. Bessie put in well-remembered 
appearances now and then, but much of her remaining time was 
spent knocking about the South, playing theaters or anyplace that 
would have her. Professional jazz fan John Hammond arranged 
for and supervised her final recording date, in 1933, an occasion 
that found her in good spirits and quite acceptable voice. The 
band, which included trumpeter FranMe Newton, tenor saxo- 


phonist Chu Berry, Jack Teagarden, and Benny Goodman, was 
probably the best studio group she ever had. On the four tunes 
recorded that day (Do Jour Duty, Tm Down in the Dumps, 
Gimme a Pigfoot, and Take Me for a Buggy Ride), Bessie returns 
to her mid-twenties shout, clinging to tonic tones and thirds most 
of the way, with happy, if not distinguished, results. It was as 
good a note on which to end her recorded career as any, consider- 
ing the hard times that were yet to come. 

She surfaced again in early 1936 to sing on Fifty-second Street 
in a blues and jazz concert. Carl Van Vechten, leader of a group 
of New York intellectuals who admired Bessie's music, told (in 
Jazz Record magazine) of photographing the singer at tiiat time: 
*. . . she came to see me between shows, cold sober and in a 
quiet, reflective mood She could scarcely have been more amiable 
or co-operative." 

With the worst of the Depression behind her and some fresh 
recognition, Bessie must have felt better about her future in early 
1937. A run at Connie's Inn the season before, new shows, new 
tours, and some possibilities for film and recording work sug- 
gested that 1938 was to be her happiest year in a long, long time. 

The blues men were making a comeback as the nation pulled 
out of its colossal slump, and Bessie asked Lonnie Johnson, about 
to record again after a five-year lapse, to join her new fall tour 
with a show called Broadway Rasius. Johnson felt a premonition 
of disaster and turned down the offer. Days later, Bessie Smith lay 
dead in Mississippi, the victim of a ghastly highway collision. 

"Someways, you could almost have said beforehand that there 
was some kind of accident, some bad hurt, coming to her," Sidney 
Bechet observed in later years. "It was like she had that hurt in- 
side her all the time, and she was just bound to find it." 

Bessie Smith's magnificent voice and direct approach to the 
blues left their mark on almost every singer including Ethel 
Waters who ever heard her in person or on records. Jazz musi- 
cians were deeply affected by her work, too, largely because it 
contained the sort of fundamental order and integrity they strove 
to bring to their instrumental styles. Unlike the supper-club sing- 
ers, Bessie was, in her best days, totally involved with but one 
goal to sing the blues better than anyone else. She was com- 
pletely successful in doing just that Up to 1927, her singing was 


unmarred by affectations or phony diction. Jazzmen hailed Bes- 
sie's honesty and earthiness and winced as otherwise beguiling 
singers, such as Ethel Waters, fell into jarring mannerisms the 
rolled V was one alien to their natural speech. 

Bessie brought dignity, even majesty, to the blues in much the 
same way that Louis Armstrong did. Her recordings were models 
of simple but eloquent expression for countless instrumentalists. 
And she accomplished this in the language of common folk, one- 
and two-syllable words that all could understand Jazzmen, al- 
ways interested in the most direct, unvarnished forms of self- 
expression, liked that, too. 

Ethel Waters, unlike Bessie, borrowed many of her ideas from 
jazz musicians. Her voice was a fine instrument upon which she 
improvised, ran chord changes, and learned to swing in a most 
modern way. (Her Sweet Georgia Brown, recorded in 1925, was 
fifteen years ahead of its time, despite the stodgy accompani- 
ment.) Ethel's outlook had even more influence than Bessie's, but 
only over other singers, not instrumentalists. From Ethel's easy- 
swinging, slightly cynical, and very worldly approach came the 
styles of the finest girl singers of the thirties Lee Wiley, Mildred 
Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday (compare Ethels 1929 
Travellin All Alone with Billie's later recorded version). 

Bessie was also deeply admired by all these singers, but none of 
them possessed the natural power to follow her example, even if it 
had been commercially feasible to do so. Billie Holiday, more 
than any other popular singer, preserved some of Bessie's chant- 
ing blues expression, but she put the idea to an altogether new use 
in her unique style. Probably the closest approximation of Bessie's 
sweeping vocal command and rafter-ringing projection is the 
voice of Mahalia Jackson, who is able to perform seriously in the 
musical idiom of the mid-twenties by dealing only in gospel songs. 

Tn New Orleans, where I lived as a child," Miss Jackson once 
told an interviewer, *1 remember singing as I scrubbed the floors. 
It would make the work go easier. When the old people weren't 
home, I'd turn on a Bessie Smith record and play it over and over. 
Careless Love, that was the blues she sang." 

No singer or musician who heard Bessie Smith sing, if only on a 
recording, ever forgot the experience. 


Recommended Reading 

Bechet, Sidney: Treat It Gentle, Hill and Wang, New York (1960). 
Handy, W. C., and Abbe Niles: A Treasury of the Blues, Boni, New 

York (1949)- 

Oliver, Paul: Bessie Smith, Barnes, New York (1961). 
Sargeant, Winthrop: Jazz: Hot and Hybrid, Button, New York (1946) . 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.): Hear Me Talkin' to Ya, 

Rinehart, New York (i955)- 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.) : The Jazz Makers, Grove, New 

York (1958). 
Waters, Ethel: His Eye Is on the Sparrow, Doubleday, New York 

Recommended Listening 

The Bessie Smith Story, Vols. i, 2, 3, 4, COLUMBIA CL 855, CL 856, 

CL 857, CL 858. 

The Jazz Makers (one track), COLUMBIA CL 1036. 
Jazz, Vol. 2 (one track), FOLKWAYS FP 55. 
Jazz, Vol. 4 (one track), FOLKWAYS FP 59. 
The Perry Bradford Story (one track), CRISPUS-ATTUCKS PB 101. 
Great Blues Singers, RIVERSIDE RLP 12-121. 
Blues: Ma Eainey, RIVERSIDE RLP 12-108. 
Ma Eainey: Broken Hearted Blues, RIVERSIDE RLP 12-137. 
Juanita Hatt Sings the Blues, COUNTERPOINT CPST 556. 


THE ONE major jazz figure of the twenties about whom relatively 
little has been written is guitarist Eddie Lang. Perhaps because 
there is general agreement among critics and musicians as to this 
man's singular influence over other jazz guitarists, or possibly 
owing to a lack of colorful extramusical digressions in his life 
story, Lang has never been considered particularly good copy. 
Nonetheless, it was this mild young man from Philadelphia who, 
as modern jazzman Barney Kessel expressed it, "first elevated the 
guitar and made it artistic" in jazz. Eddie Lang, working without 
precedent or predecessor, virtually wrote the book on jazz guitar 
in the twenties. 

Lang was born Salvatore Massaro in 1904 (some jazz historians 
say 1902), the son of a South Philadelphia banjo and guitar 
maker. Sidestepping the instruments of his fathers trade for a 
time, Eddie (whose professional name was apparently lifted from 
a boyhood basketball hero) devoted several years of his child- 
hood to studying the violin. He shared his problems and triumphs 
during this time with another young violinist, Joe Venuti, who at- 
tended grammar and high school with Eddie and remained his 
closest friend until the guitarist's death. Eddie studied with Pro- 
fessors Changura and Luccantino and was almost certainly 
trained in solfeggio (sight singing) as well (Venuti commenced 
his reading exercises when he was just four. ) 

"Solfeggio, of course," Venuti explained in Down Beat maga- 
zine years later, "that's the Italian system under which you don't 
bother much about any special instrument until you know all the 
fundamentals of music. It's the only way to learn music right" 

Lang and Venuti worked a dance job with pianist Bert Estlow's 
quintet at Atlantic City's L'Aiglon restaurant in 1921 or 1922. 
Though Lang was still playing violin, he apparently picked up 
banjo ( and probably guitar) at or shortly before this time, for the 
following season found him playing banjo with Charlie Kerr s or- 
chestra. He experimented with the four-string banjo at first and 
kter spent some time playing a six-string guitar-banjo, but the 


harsh sounds of these instruments obviously were not to his hieing. 
Red Nichols remembers hearing Lang on guitar behind Venuti's 
violin in 1923, playing concert music at the Knickerbocker Hotel 
in Atlantic City. The two friends had been working up duets of 
one sort or another since childhood. 

"We used to play a lot of mazurkas and polkas," Venuti has re- 
called. "Just for fun, we started to play them in 4/4. 1 guess we 
just like the rhythm of the guitar. Then we started to slip in some 
improvised passages. I'd slip something in, Eddie would pick it up 
with a variation. Then I'd come back with a variation. We'd just 
sit there and knock each other out." 

In addition to Nichols, a number of soon-to-be-influential 
musicians played Atlantic City in the early twenties. Young play- 
ers like the Dorsey brothers and Russ Morgan (all working with 
the Scranton Sirens) admired and relaxed with Lang and VenutL 
Later, these friends were helpful in lining up lucrative jobs in top 
bands for the Philadelphia boys. 

Eddie, back in Atantic City for the 1924 summer season after 
working winter jobs with the Scranton Sirens and others, met and 
sat in with a young novelty group from St. Louis, the Mound City 
Blue Blowers. This brash trio (Red McKenzde, comb; Dick Slevin, 
kazoo; Jack Bland, banjo) was riding high on its hit recording of 
Arkansas Blues, cut four or five months earlier that year. The 
Blue Blowers were booked into the Beaux Arts Cafe, a club 
owned by two Philadelphia entrepreneurs, Joe Moss and Nookie 
Johnson. In casual jam sessions, die uncommon sound of Lang's 
guitar added harmonic flesh and rhythmic bones to the rather 
rickety sound of the little group, and by August, Eddie was taken 
on as a regular member. He traveled to New York and a stint at 
the famed Palace Theater with the Blue Blowers; but for a while, 
Lang continued to play in Atlantic City, commuting to New 
York only when needed for theater or recording dates. From this 
time on, Eddie was never without plum jobs at the highest going 
rates except when he wanted to be. 

In the fall of 1924, the Blue Blowers played the Piccadilly Hotel 
in London and a short engagement in Limehouse at a place called 
Haggarty's Empire. England's reaction seems to have been rather 
mixed at best, for the quartet was back in New York before the 
end of the year. Mound City Blue Blowers recordings of late 1924 


and early 1925 document the sound of Eddie Lang at this junc- 

A piece called Deep Second Street Blues reveals that Lang had 
already fixed several aspects of his personal style and was well on 
the way toward establishing the guitar as an important band in- 
strument as weU. For one thing, Eddie, like comb player McKen- 
zie, knew how to get inside a blues and express himself convinc- 
ingly in this essentially Southern idiom. Deep Second Street, for 
all its emphasis upon novelty effects, is performed with genuine 
blues feeling, a feeling Lang apparently acquired quite easily and 
was never to lose, even on very commercial assignments. Deep 
Second Street also has Lang playing rhythm in a manner that was 
highly personal and distinctly advanced for the time. His tend- 
ency was toward an even four-to-the-bar pulse, often with a new 
chord position, inversion, or alteration on every stroke of the 
strings. In contrast to the monotonous chopping of most banjoists 
of the day, Eddie's ensemble guitar sparkled with passing tones, 
chromatic sequences, and single-string fills. With all this went a 
firm, individual tone unlike the sound of any other instrument yet 
heard in jazz. 

Another moody piece called Play Me Slow demonstrates many 
of these same qualities, as well as Lang's early mastery of varying 
vibratos (often adapted from violin techniques) and the startling 
sound of "artificial" harmonics the technique, seldom used in 
jazz, of barely touching the string to achieve overtones an octave 
higher than normally sound in the given fret position. 

For faster selections, such as Tiger Rag and Gettin* Told, Lang 
often reverts to straight 4/4 rhythm or to a "walking" line in 2/4 
or 4/4 on his lowest string in the manner of a string-bass player. 

The Mound City Blue Blowers' somewhat rustic library was 
hardly a challenge to Lang's advanced ear. Like most of the out- 
standing jazzmen of the twenties, the guitarist's most valuable 
asset was his ability to hear and grasp new material upon a single 
exposure to it. Lang had a photographic memory and a perfect 
sense of pitch. "He had the best ear of any musician I ever knew,* 
wrote guitarist Jack Bland many years after working with Lang in 
the Blue Blowers. "He could go into another room and hit A and 
come back and play cards for fifteen minutes, and then tune his 
instrument perfectly. I've seen that happen * 


In the summer of 1925, Lang and Venuti landed in Atlantic 
City again. The resort town was, as usual, full of live music. The 
Benson Orchestra was booked into the Million Dollar Pier, the 
Mason-Dixon Seven worked the Steel Pier, the Calif ornia Night- 
hawks were at Evelyn Nesbitt's Silver Slipper, and the Dance- 
land Seven, with whom Venuti played for a while, appeared in a 
show called The Wild Ways of 1925 at the Beaux Arts. The 
Mound City Blue Blowers, with Lang, also put in some time 
there that summer, and Venuti could often be found playing with 
them, with or without pay. Everyone sat in with everyone else 
from time to time. 

Although the Mound City Blue Blowers continued to delight 
audiences in movie houses ( a . . . at a theater date in Minneapolis 
on a Friday night they had to take the picture off three times be- 
cause the crowd was clapping so hard, especially for Lang, 1 * 
Bland has recalled), it was obvious that their peak of success had 
been passed and equally obvious that Lang could do much better 
elsewhere. From late 1925 on, the guitarist was more in demand 
than perhaps any other jazz musician in the country. He was es- 
pecially valuable on recordings, where microphone balance 
could easily compensate for the guitar's lack of carrying power. 

Singers in particular discovered that Lang's sensitive chording 
and striking single-string arpeggios added immeasurable class to 
their performances, many of which were at the outset rather grim 
affairs. A case in point is a recording by one Norman Clark, a pre- 
electric-microphone shouter of the lowest order. His painful ver- 
sions of Sleepy Time Gal and Lonesomest Gal in Town are gilded 
with superlative guitar accompaniments, complete with ringing 
artificial harmonics and advanced single-string runs. Other 
highly forgettable singers to whom Lang gave his best were 
Charles Kaley, Harold Lem, Seger Ellis, Russell Douglas, Peggy 
English, Emmett Miller, Lee Morse, Ruth Etting, Sammy Fain, 
CM Edwards, and Vaughn de LeatL 

By late 1925, Eddie was also recording with Ross Gorman's re- 
spected studio band (with members often drawn from Paul 
Whiteman's orchestra), along with other rising instrumental stars 
like Red Nichols, Miff Mole, and Jimmy Dorsey. On these dates, 
Lang's guitar was sometimes featured as a solo instrument only, 
while a conventional banjo played rhythm in the background. 


Throughout this period, Eddie demonstrated constant improve- 
ment and deepening in his command of the guitar and in his con- 
cepts of the harmonic language of jazz. With Mole, Nichols and 
Dorsey exploring new ideas alongside him, Lang began to hit his 
full stride. On one Gorman tide, No More Worrying he tosses off a 
virile blues-touched solo, played partly with pick and partly with 
fingers. Other guitarists were amazed by Lang's ability to tuck the 
pick into his palm, play with his fingers, and suddenly bring the 
pick back again all without disturbing the flow of his solo. 

With Lang's arrival, arrangers began to recognize the potential 
of the guitar as a melody instrument. One of Gorman's scores, 
Sleepy Time Gal, called for the unheard-of duet combination of 
baritone saxophone and guitar in a surprisingly modern interlude. 
With electrical recording methods, Lang's solo guitar became a 
familiar sound to many record buyers. Often he was featured in 
"hot" passages along with Venuti's violin, for where one man 
went, the other usually followed 

Eddie was favored by demanding bandleaders, too, because he 
was, as jazzmen went, a reliable man to have on the job. He sel- 
dom drank and was by nature a rather retiring person. Only his 
passion for gambling games and an overwhelming urge to spend 
every summer fishing with Venuti in Atlantic City were allowed to 
intrude occasionally upon Lang's devotion to the guitar. 

After a stint with the pit orchestra of Earl CarrolTs Vanities (co- 
directed by Gorman and Don Voorhees), Eddie began in 1926 to 
be heard in arrangements by outstanding jazz-slanted bands such 
as Jean Goldkette's, Roger Wolfe Kahn s, and, eventually, Paul 
Whiteman's. Lang and Venuti were continually drafted into such 
organizations but frequently departed after short tenures. Some- 
times it was the call of Atlantic City; often it was simply the lure 
of steady radio and recording work in New York. 

In the fall of 1926, Venuti and Lang turned out their first duet 
record, Stringing the Blues (a thinly camouflaged Tiger Rag) and 
Black and Blue Bottom. Venuti, displaying a good share of his 
bag of violin tricks, is clearly the featured performer, but Lang's 
clean four-to-the-bar pulse and pregnant chords are impressive. 
Most musicians had never heard a guitarist of this caliber before, 
except in classical and flamenco circles. Lang made many realize 
that for small jazz groups, the guitar could offer subtlety, dynamic 


response, and flexibility beyond what the banjo was capable of 

delivering. Some banjoists began studying the guitar in earnest, 

An even wider audience of musicians and fans was reached 
with a series of 1926-1927 recordings by Red Nichols and the Five 
Pennies (also billed as the Redheads). Nichols' own work usually 
suffered from overconcern with precision ("King Oliver s records 
were full of mistakes * the cornetist once said, "So were ours, but 
we tried to correct them"), but his little recording group gleamed 
with new ideas and talent. He was given a relatively free hand to 
try unusual tunes, original arrangements, and daring instrumental 
effects. The gang Eddie worked with usually included Vic Ber- 
ton, a trained and imaginative drummer who doubled on tym- 
pani; Jimmy Dorsey, already regarded as a virtuoso alto saxo- 
phonist and a very capable clarinetist; Arthur Schutt, a skilled 
pianist with a deep knowledge of harmony and arranging tech- 
niques; and Miff Mole, considered by New Yorkers in 1927 to be 
without equal on trombone. 

Lang may have played his old six-string guitar-banjo on a few 
of these dates, but his important solo work was performed on the 
plectrum guitar. Using a precise, powerful attack derived from 
tight, high strings and a stout plectrum (pick), Eddie moved in 
close to the microphone to achieve on records a vibrant, personal 
sound as persuasive as the sounds of the horn players around him. 
Further, he seemed completely at ease in the frequently tense at- 
mosphere of Nichols' more advanced sessions. 

The attitude of the Five Pennies was, in a way, a reflection of 
the spirit of unrest and experimentation that marked much of the 
world's music in the twenties. Indeed, the Nichols-Mole-Schutt 
credo could be expressed by the comments of Heinrich Simon, an 
observer of European formal music in the twenties: "The triad is 
the symbol of bourgeois conformity in music ... a bore too 
tenacious to be done away with, an undesirable to be ignored. 
The same may be said of form . . . freedom of form is the slogan 
of the day." 

Hoagy Carmichaers Washboard Blues was such a departure 
from conventional song forms. It includes, even in Nichols* simpli- 
fied version, an unorthodox sixteen-bar melody ( originally written 
as seventeen bars) leading to curiously altered blues sequences, 
all heavily syncopated. Tommy Dorsey and Bix Beiderbecke had 


attempted to play the composition several years earlier in the 
Gennett studios, but, as Dorsey expressed it in later years, "We 
must have fooled with that piece for hours, but we never could 
get to play it right." 

Nichols featured Berton's tympani in a semimelodic role on 
Washboard Blues and left room for Lang to improvise a splendid, 
unusual countermelody. It was to remain one of the more creative 
melodic solos of Eddie's career. 

Another strange composition from this period is That's No Bar- 
gain, which jazz writer Richard DuPage has described well: 
"That's No Bargain broke nearly all the Tin Pan Alley rules of the 
twenties. ... It has an even number of bars but it sounds un- 
even, yet with a good beat throughout Hardly anyone could 
whistle it correctly, even after several hearings. . . ." 

The eighteen-bar chorus allotted to Lang on That's No Bargain 
comes out as an intelligent, ordered, and understated solo played 
against the basic pulse, creating the same mood the tune itself had 
been designed to achieve. 

These Nichols records range from noisy and contrived to pro- 
phetic and breathtakingly adventurous, but Lang seems forever 
unruffled, even complacent, on them all. 

For at least one recording, Eddie apparently had his solo well 
formed in his mind before beginning to play. It is Get a Load of 
This, a Lang melody probably inspired in part by Bix Beider- 
becke's ideas (the performance is full of flatted fifths, minor sev- 
enths, parallel ninths, etc.) and played by a quartet made up of 
Eddie, Nichols, Schutt, and Berton. Lang later developed this 
piece into a guitar specialty called Eddie's Twister, without 
changing his solo very much. 

There were more Nichols dates in 1927. Some, like Cornfed, re- 
veal that Lang, for all his brilliance as a soloist, accompanist, and 
innovator, had unfortunate lapses as a rhythm player. Here there 
is a tendency to allow his strings to ring too long, blurring and 
casting a cloud of doubt over the exact location of each pulse. As 
guitarist and Lang student Marty Grosz once summed it up, Ed- 
die's rhythm sometimes sounds "a bit lumpy, like a guy running 
with a pie in his pants." 

Grosz explained: The Chicago guys felt that Lang didn 1 : realty 
swing, and I'm inclined to go along to an extent At least, he ha 


trouble swinging in the way that some of the Chicagoans did and 
in the way his successors did. But I think we can overlook that for 
the nonce. In his way he did so much, and it sounds so damn nat- 
ural and easy. And he was first; he had to think the whole thing 
out for himself," Grosz added. "It is always more difficult to lead 
the way. Hence modern bass players can play rings around Jimmy 
Blanton but Blanton was first and had the soul. Same with 

During 1927, Eddie appeared on many recordings in the com- 
pany of Bix Beiderbecke and a variety of supporting players, usu- 
ally mutual friends selected from the Goldkette or Whiteman 
ranks. (Bix and Lang were both members of the short-lived 1927 
Adrian Rollini band as well.) The most famous of these record- 
ings are Singiri the Blues and Tm Comin 9 Virginia, on which Bix 
went far toward establishing a robust ballad style in jazz. Lang 
seemed to grasp the significance of the date, for his support of 
Beiderbecke is in the arpeggio single-note style he usually re- 
served for singers rather than "hot" instrumentaKsts. Moreover, 
the rich chords, inversions, and alterations Lang selected were 
valuable to Bix, whose quick ear promptly put such provocative 
material to excellent use. For Tm Comin' Virginia, arranger Irving 
Riskin wrote an unorthodox guitar lead over a brace of supporting 
horns, emphasizing the string instrument's new independence, 
which came in with Lang and electric microphones. 

In several instances, Lang took on the large task of providing 
nearly all the rhythmic thrust behind the horns as well as sharing 
the front-line spotlight with Beiderbecke and Frank Trumbauer. 
This occurs in Riverboat Shuffle, a band performance that suc- 
ceeds in spite of drummer Chauncy Morehouse's halting contri- 

One of Eddie's finest recorded solos of this period appears in a 
trio version of Td Climb the Highest Mountain, slightly altered 
and retitled For No Reason at All in C. Beiderbecke, playing 
piano, turns about and supports Lang's guitar with anticipatory 
modern chords, as Eddie had done for his cornet. The result is a 
highly creative guitar solo marked by an unusual degree of me- 
lodic continuity. 

The influence of these outstanding Beiderbecke-Lang sessions 
be heard in numerous bands, large and small, around 1927. 


Jean Goldkette, for whom Eddie worked only as an added attrac- 
tion, used the guitar to advantage on his recordings. Lang can be 
heard playing breaks and filling spaces in Bix s remarkable solo on 
Goldkette's Clementine. Paul Whiteman also added Lang for spe- 
cial assignments. When Eddie was unavailable, Whiteman some- 
times called upon guitarists Gilbert Torres or Carl Kress to per- 
form similar duties. 

It was shortly before this time that Roger Wolfe Kahn, a 
wealthy young man who decided to lead a band just for the fun of 
it, bought out Arthur Lange's orchestra and began restocking its 
ranks with the best New York talent available. Eventually, he was 
able to secure Lang, Venuti, Arthur Schutt, Miff Mole, and Vic 
Berton because the band spent much time in New York more 
than two years at the Hotel Biltmore and the pay was generous. 
Best of all for the musicians, Kahn's working hours were 11 P.M. 
to i A.M., which meant plenty of outside recording, radio, and 
theater work. 

"Joe and Eddie were presented as a special attraction by them- 
selves," pianist Schutt recalled. "Roger paid one price for the 
pair. We averaged five to ten recordings a week and made a lot of 
money $400 or $500 a week was usual, and in one seven-day pe- 
riod I made $1,250. No one worked for scale that was an insult 
We got double scale for casuals and $175 for one radio show. We 
lived it up." 

Eddie often supplemented his already large income with win- 
nings from cards and billiards, at which he excelled He also 
picked up some pin money working in a successful broadway 
show called Rain or Shine. 

In addition to countless commercial recordings during 1927 and 
1928, Eddie and Joe stepped up their record output with duet, 
trio, and quartet performances and, for Lang, an impressive set of 
guitar solos. All these records combined amounted to a virtual 
textbook on plectrum guitar playing that, in some respects, re- 
mains valid and useful to guitarists to this day. 

Lang's solo recordings range from a sensitive, rather formal 
rendering of Prelude in C-sharp Minor to strong blueslike state- 
ments, as in a piece called Melody Man's Dream (which begins 
with a series of chromatic thirteenths ) . For blues numbers, he fre- 
quently employed the "smear," a sliding across the fret that added 


to the tone something resembling a human cry. This device was 
probably picked up from folk blues guitarists. And by using 
downstrokes almost exclusively, Lang also approached the kind of 
ringing authority and positive cadences usually associated with 
horns rather than strings. 

In passages such as his introductory cadenza to April Kisses, 
Lang tosses off sixteenth-note and thirty-second-note single-string 
runs with precision and ease. Sometimes he changed the angle of 
the pick or the position of the stroke in relation to the fingerboard 
to achieve special sounds. 

Eddie's Twister, Lang's first recorded solo piece (and, as has 
been mentioned, previously titled Get a Load of This), offers a 
nearly complete kit of Eddie's ideas. Here can be found "dead 
string" chords (achieved by dampening certain strings to obtain 
desired chords without losing the impact of a full stroke), the 
changing of fingers on the same fret to get a fresh attack, interval 
jumps of a tenth to simulate the effect of a jazz pianist, parallel 
ninth chords, whole-tone scalar figures, "smears," unusual glis- 
sandi, artificial harmonics, harplike effects, consecutive aug- 
mented chords, and relaxed, hornlike phrasing. 

So it goes, through selections like Perfect, Rainbow Dreams, 
TU Never Be the Same, Church Street Sobbin' Blues, and There'll 
Be Some Changes Made (the last two issued under the name 
Blind Willie Dunn). 

Of Changes Made, Marty Grosz has written: 

... it is a journey from Naples to Lonnie Johnsonville (New 
Orleans, Natchez, South Side Chicago) in two and a half minutes. 
After a cadenza right out of the bagnios of old Italy and a few 
F. Scott Fitzgerald chords from pianist Signorelli, Lang proceeds to 
play a slower than expected Changes in the simplest and yet most 
eloquent manner . . . blue and melancholy as hell. It is a very 
difficult matter to play a lead as -simply and directly as that and to 
make it come to life, especially on guitar. Here is the real genius of 
Sal Massaro. This is the honest bread stick How Eddie Lang found 
out I don't know. 

In addition to his roles as rhythm player, guitar soloist, Tiot* 
man, and accompanist, Lang recorded as a blues specialist, usu- 
ally under the Dunn pseudonym. Sometimes he worked with sing- 
ers such as Bessie Smith, Victoria Spivey, or Texas Alexander, and 


Lang was always careful to play elemental blues phrases rather 
than delicate arpeggios behind these artists. Occasionally, he ap- 
peared in sessions with instrumental groups that included older 
men like Joe Oliver and Clarence Williams. He recorded Bne 
straight-faced blues solos with a couple of hokum clarinetists 
named Wilton Crawley and Boyd Senter. Best of all, he turned 
out a dozen duets with New Orleans jazzman Lonnie Johnson, 
one of the very few original guitar stylists (other than straight 
folk blues players) in the kte twenties and, like Lang, an ex- 
violinist. "Eddie could lay down rhythm and bass parts just like 
a piano/' Johnson recalls. "He was the finest guitarist I had ever 
heard in 1928 and 1929. I think he could play anything he felt 

If Lang suffered from problems with rhythm, they are not con- 
spicuous on his duets with Johnsoa Together the two men charge 
through original blues and stomp pieces with titles such as Two 
Tone Stomp, Bullfrog Moan, and Handful of Riffs. One of the 
most stunning of these performances is a bustling number called 
Hot Fingers, where the two guitars sound like four. 

By 1928, some of Lang's New York colleagues were turning to- 
ward more earthy blues-touched styles on certain record dates, 
and Eddie obliged by shifting to a matching mood. A pair of out- 
standing examples of this development are Jimmy Dorsey s Pray- 
ing the Blues and Tommy Dorsey's trumpet recording of It's 
Right Here for You. Lang himself conducted one 1929 session in a 
similar humor, on which the Dorseys, Arthur Schutt et al. display 
obvious delight with their loose digressions from the old Red 
Nichols discipline. Two reasons for these bluesy performances 
(the Lang titles are Bugle Call Rag 3 Walkin the Dog, Freeze an 
Melt, and Hot Heels) were the arrivals in New York of Jack Tea- 
garden and Louis Armstrong, whose Southern blues deliverances 
soon replaced the more ordered messages of Miff Mole and Bk 
Beiderbecke in the affections of Eastern musicians. In short, the 
gang had new heroes. For Eddie, it was easy; he already knew it 

This shift of interest within the New York clique toward the 
blues and Louis Armstrong's blues, in particular is succinctly 
expressed in a single recording of a casual jam session involving 
Armstrong, Teagarden, Lang, and pianist Joe Sullivan, among 


others. Here these men play a simple and moving blues in a man- 
ner that almost seems to say, "If you can't play a real blues, don't 
bother to play jazz." The blues piece is called Knockin 9 a Jug. Ed- 
die sets the mood of it and prudently stays out of Armstrong's 
path while the trumpeter brings the affair to its climax. 

Some of Lang's best work of the 1927-1930 period can be heard 
on more than a score of records released under Joe Venuti's name. 
The earliest of these frequently reveal the influence of Beider- 
becke, through choice of material and manner of improvisation. 
(Bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini, a convincing out-of-Bix soloist, 
appears on many Venuti records.) In a tune called Sunshine, 
made before Bix's classic Singin 9 the Blues, there are even intima- 
tions of the new style soon to come from Beiderbecke. Again, the 
famed cornetist's ideas seem to flow in and out of a selection 
called Cheese and Crackers, on which Venuti plays a pizzicato 
solo that sounds remarkably like Lang at the guitar. 

One of the group's many "original" compositions is Doin 9 
Things, which pianist Arthur Schutt developed from Debussy's 
Maid with the Flaxen Hair. Another is A Mug of Ale (actually 
Lmehouse Blues), a good jazz vehicle that allows Lang to 
build a sixteen-bar spiral of ideas utilizing two-string chords and 
arpeggios dissolving into single-string melodic units. Some of the 
tunes borrow heavily from the perennial Tiger Rag. An unusual 
composition is Pretty Trix, a charming concert piece on which 
Lang achieves a Spanish-Latin American feeling while using his 
fingers instead of the customary plectrum. 

The Venuti-Lang quartet performances represent a pioneer 
effort to present chamber jazz with a minimum of unmusical 
effects or superfluous vocals and without any pretense of its being 
anything but music for listening. 

That Lang was still' at odds with the ardent Chicago gang in 
matters of rhythm is dramatically demonstrated by a 1928 record- 
ing with Red McKenzie and banjoist Eddie Condon called My 
Baby Came Home. Condon, in the zealous Chicago manner, 
pushes to the top of the beat, while Lang remains coolly an eye- 
wink or so behind him. Both are acceptable ways of setting out 
the rhythm, but not at the same time. Lang, however, was, unlike 
Condon, an important soloist, and his solo style derived much of 
its charm and impact from this penchant for laying back." And, 


as it turned out, it was Lang's way (or, more directly, the ways of 
his successors) that triumphed in the thirties: the concept of an 
even, relaxed, flowing rhythm against which the soloist was free to 
build his own tension-and-release patterns rather than falling un- 
der the whip of a highly aggressive rhythm guitarist. 

Paul Whiteman, who had been unable to hold on to Lang and 
Venuti more than a few weeks in 1927, hired the team once again 
in May, 1929. This time they stayed for a year. Lang is featured 
on many Whiteman recordings of this period, as well as in con- 
certs, broadcasts, and the unsuccessful movie The King of Jazz. 
He appeared with Venuti in duets and frequently could be heard 
behind Whiteman's best vocalists, Mildred Bailey and Bing 
Crosby. Whiteman himself wrote about this period in Down Beat 
magazine a decade later: 

Eddie played with our band over a long period of time during 
which I had less trouble with rhythm than at any other time. ... I 
don't even know whether he could read or not. It made no differ- 
ence. ... No matter how intricate the arrangement was, Eddie 
played it flawlessly the first time without ever having heard it be- 
fore or looking at a sheet of music. It was as if his musically intui- 
tive spirit had read the arranger's mind and knew in advance every- 
thing that was going to happen. 

Frank Trumbauer remembered Lang carrying the entire White- 
man library in the form of cues written on the back of a small 
business card. Whatever the details, it seems safe to assume that 
Eddie played out his time with Whiteman almost entirely by ear. 

Lang and Bing Crosby became fast friends during their stay 
with the orchestra. The guitarist married a close friend of Dixie 
Lee, Crosby s wife. Kitty Lang, a Ziegfeld Follies graduate, was 
Eddie's second wife, and their marriage remained lastingly 

About a month after Crosby's departure from Whiteman in the 
spring of 1930, Venuti and Lang also dropped out. The orchestra 
had been having trouble meeting its enormous payroll under De- 
pression conditions, and with the coining of warm weather, Joe 
and Eddie doubtless turned their thoughts to Atlantic City. 

In 1931, Lang became full-time accompanist to Crosby, who 
was beginning to build his fortune as a single performer. As Cros- 


by's weekly income leaped toward five figures, Eddie dropped 
many of his independent activities to concentrate on four theater 
shows a day, Cremo Cigar broadcasts at night, and Crosby record 
dates in between. When Crosby closed a deal for five film assign- 
ments at $300,000, Lang went along to California. The guitarist 
even made a brief appearance in The Big Broadcast of 1932. 

Most of Lang s record work behind Crosby consists in single- 
string fills and arpeggios, played as often with fingers as with pick. 
Some of his more impressive accompaniments are How Long 
Witt It Last?, Here Lies Love, and Please. 

For all his preoccupation with the genesis of the Crosby image, 
Eddie continued to find numerous extra recording jobs, jazz and 
otherwise, He worked frequently with the Boswell Sisters, a jazz- 
oriented vocal trio, displaying on pieces like Mood Indigo, It's the 
Girl, and There'll Be Some Changes Made a new feathery touch, 
combined with the steadfast 4/4 rhythmic flow, that was signal- 
ing the coming of swing music and the end of the "hot" era. There 
were, too, more dates with Venuti, notably four band selections 
under the name Venuti-Lang All-Star Orchestra. 

The All-Star session, which included Benny Goodman, Jack 
Teagarden, and other contemporaries, was a curious mixture of 
stomp and swing; yet most of the participants seemed to be look- 
ing ahead to new developments of the thirties. Teagarden offers 
his traditional Beale Street Blues, and a nod to the past can be 
heard in Farewell Blues, but Someday Sweetheart and After 
"You've Gone are harbingers of the sound of Benny Goodman, 
circa 1935. Lang displays on these numbers an evolving style of 
playing rhythm chords that would belong to the new decade. 
Along with a handful of other guitarists, most of whom had taken 
their inspiration from Lang, the quiet man from South Philadel- 
phia had sealed the banjo's fate by 1932. (Duke Ellington's Fred 
Guy, one of the last to give up banjo for guitar, made the switch 
in 1933, a few weeks after Lang's death. ) 

Two guitar duets recorded with Carl Kress in 1932 document 
Lang's continuing search for new possibilities on his instrument. 
Pickin My Way and Feelin My Way are full of virtuoso tricks, 
such as the achievement of a gruppetto effect (several neighbor- 
ing notes used as embellishment just before or after a melody 
note) with but a single stroke on the string. There is even a Ha- 


waiian sliding device used, of course, with taste and restraint 
The two duets (and it should be mentioned that Kress, who used 
a unique tuning system and a rhythm approach different from 
Lang's, was a first-class performer) are the final chapters in Eddie 
Lang's text. There were other recordings, but nothing new was 
added to what had already been set out. 

Eddie was still a young man of 28 in 1933, his last year, and was 
looking forward to continued personal prosperity with Bing 
Crosby. Crosby has given (in his autobiography Cdl Me Lucky) 
the facts of Lang's untimely death. 

He had a chronically inflamed sore throat and felt bad for a year or 
eighteen months before his death. He mistrusted doctors and medi- 
cine. Like many people who came from backgrounds similar to his 
and had no experience with doctors or hospitals, he had an aversion 
to them. But his throat was so bad and it affected his health to 
such a point that I finally talked him into seeing a doctor. 

Many times afterward I wished I hadn't 

The doctor advised a tonsillectomy, and Eddie never came out 
from under the general anesthetic they gave him . . . [he] devel- 
oped an embolism and died without regaining consciousness. 

The legacy left by Lang to jazz guitarists was colossal. Almost 
alone he proved the desirability of the guitar as a band instru- 
ment, making life more interesting for rhythm playersas well as 
soloists than ever before. Setting an example for all to follow, 
Eddie put to work technical devices, some established in formal 
music and others of his own invention, that had never been used 
in jazz before. More than thirty years after his death, guitarists are 
still impressed by Lang's command of his instrument ("Artificial 
harmonics?" exclaimed guitarist Jim Hall in 1962. "I know about 
them, but the only man Ive heard use them in jazz recently is Tal 
Farlow, who is probably the most technically advanced guitarist 
we have today,") 

From Lang, guitarists Carl Kress and Dick McDonough 
evolved personal styles that in turn influenced many rhythm play- 
ers in the thirties. Kress departed from Eddie's solo approach to 
combine chords and melody simultaneously. George Van Eps, 
also building on Lang's foundation, followed with a method of 
playing melody, chords, and intelligent bass lines at the same time. 
The Van Eps system was adopted or modified by many of the best 


rhythm guitarists Freddie Greene of the Count Basie band was 
one during the thirties. Musicians also learned from Lang that 
the guitar could be used to accompany singers as effectively as 
could the piano. 

Part of the credit for the advent of the guitar solo in jazz must 
go to the electric microphone, but it was Lang who first put the 
microphone to work in a creative way. The guitarist did not 
merely play into the microphone, he used it to bring out his most 
subtle ideas. In this way, Lang's work presaged the arrival of the 
electric guitar, a development that followed his death by several 
years. With or without electrical amplification, however, Eddie's 
concept of hornlike single-string jazz solos was to remain the dom- 
inant mode of self-expression on the instrument, from the Euro- 
pean Django Reinhardt to Tal Farlow. There were other men 
playing solo guitar in the twenties, musicians like Teddy Bunn, 
Lonnie Johnson, and blues man Blind Lemon Jefferson, but none 
approached Lang's finesse, technical command, resourcefulness, 
and expressive scope all at once. 

Eddie Lang set another kind of example as well. Like Bix Bei- 
derbecke, he was a serious musician who dug deep into jazz but 
also looked to formal music for inspiration. Despite Lang's reluc- 
tance to read music, other jazzmen saw in him the complete musi- 
cian, a man who would handle any assignment, including a ses- 
sion with Bessie Smith, with authority and intelligence. He was 
one of the first to disprove the notion (still held in some quarters) 
that all-around musicianship and the spirit of jazz cannot go 

Unlike some of his gifted friends, Lang neither dashed himself 
to pieces on the crags of self-indulgence nor shielded himself from 
everyday reality through perpetuated adolescence; yet he fared 
no better than the weakest of them at the end. In its way, his end 
may have held the deepest irony of all. 

Recommended Reading 

Ramsey, Frederic, and Charles Edward Smith: Jazzmen, Harcourt, 

Brace, New York (1939). 
Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff (eds.): Hear Me TaUdtf to Y<z, Rine- 

hart, New York (1955). 


Recommended Listening 

Thesaurus of Classic Jazz, COLUMBIA C4L-i8. 

The Bix Beiderbecke Story, Vols. 2 and 3, COLUMBIA CL-845, 846. 

The Bix Beiderbecke Legend, RCA VICTOR LPM-2323. 

Red Nichols: For Collectors Only, BRUNSWICK 54008. 

Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang, "X" LVA-sosG (deleted). 

The Louis Armstrong Story, Vol. 4 (one track), COLUMBIA CL-854- 

Jazz, Vol. 7 (one track), FOLKWAYS FP 67. 

The Encyclopedia of Jazz on Records, Vol. i (one track), DECCA 

Lang and Venuti: Stringin' the Blues, COLUMBIA C2L-24.