ODJB at Reisenweber's

ODJB's engagement at Reisenweber's launched them into fame, made his recording for Victor possible and therefore contributed to the diffusion of jazz. God bless Reisenweber's!

Here's a collection of ads published in the New York Times, from ODJB's long engagement at Reisenweber's. The last five are courtesy of Chris Alberton.

February 2, 1917:

March 8, 1917:

July 7, 1917:

August 31, 1917:

November 25, 1917:

December 2, 1917:

March 12, 1918:


ODJB - January, 1917 Columbia session?

Regarding the possibility that the Original Dixieland Jass Band recorded for Columbia on January 30, 1917, a few days ago I wrote about Mark Berresford's possition denying it, as was stated in his liner notes to Pioneer Recording Bands 1917-1920 (Retrieval CD, RTR 79043).

I am not sure when these supposed recordings were first mentioned, but Harry O. Brunn's book The Story Of The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (Louisiana State University Press, 1960) contains several paragraphs on this issue, starting with "less than a week after their spectacular opening at Reisenweber's (January 27, 1917) were under contract to make the world's first jazz phonograph record" and then describing how Columbia insisted that the band should record two popular songs of the time ("The Darktown Strutters' Ball" and "Indiana") instead of ODJB originals, and even how the small studio reverberated wall-to-wall with the sound, and "a gang of carpenters, who were building shelves in the studio, laughed and threw their tools about the room to contribute to the bedlam."

Checking Brian Rust's monumental discography Jazz And Ragtime Records (1897-1942) (Sixth Editon, CD-ROM version), you can check his comments on this ghost session:

"Many anecdotal sources over the years have cited January 24, 1917, as the date of a Columbia session by the ODJB, the results of which were supposedly resurrected for a belated September release on Columbia A-2297. However, no documentation of any such session has been found in Nick LaRocca's files or in the Columbia files, which logged the matrices used on that record on May 31, 1917".

I have recently discovered an old article by Brian Rust, that he first published in Needle Time #11 (July, 1987). In this article, he already brings what is, in my opinion, enough evidence to prove that the January, 1917 Columbia recordings did not exist:

-"reference to the original recording card in the CBS files for both titles reveals that four takes of "Darktown Strutters'" and three of "Indiana", two of each actually being used for issue to the public when the record (A-2297) was announced in the supplement for September, 1917. There is nothing on any of them to suggest that this was a test date, the products of which were dragged out of the "dead" files (Brunn, p. 71) and issued to counteract the success of a Victor date on February 26, 1917. When a band made a test, one take was usually enough; certainly not seven to cover two titles, and by an untried unknown quantity such as the Original Dixieland Jazz Band".

-"recently, I came into possession of microfilms of the Columbia artists' files, and these, arranged alphabetically, show all the titles, issued and rejected, by each artist from the Aarons Sisters to the Zoellner String Quartet. From the autumn of 1915 onwards, each title is noted with the date on which it was recorded, passed for issue (or rejected), date of issue (if any), and catalogue number (also). The sole entry under Original Dixieland Jass Band bears the date May 31, 1917 for both titles. Nowhere previously is there any reference to a test date, or any suggestion that the band had been in the Columbia studio prior to their Victor date. In the light of this discovery, it is evident that with their usual go-getter methods, Victor secured the services of the band for a test session on February 26, 1917, that it passed this test and the results issued with incredible speed under date of March 7".

On the light of recent research, now we know that Victor 18255 was not issued on March 7, but on April 15, but I think that, from both Brian Rust's and Mark Berresford's research, we can conclude that the Original Dixieland Jass Band did not record for Columbia on January, 1917.


Victor 18255 - the first jazz record (3)

Here's yet another different ad for Victor 18255 (Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1917). For seventy five cents apiece, hear the new jass records on your Victrola.


Victor 18255 - the first jazz record (2)

Advertisements for the first disc by the Original Dixieland Jass Band were widely spread, not only in the big newspapers, but also in small town papers. From my own research, what follows is a collection of newspaper ads announcing the release of Victor 18255. Some of them are direct Victor ads, others were paid by stores or record dealers.

(in the first one, note that you are cordially invited to hear the first record that is really "Jassed" music)

Fort Wayne Sentinel, April 17, 1917:

LaCrosse Tribune, April 17, 1917:

Chester Times, April 18, 1917:

Decatur Daily Review, April 22, 1917:

Waterloo Evening Courier, April 23, 1917:

Titusville Herald, April 24, 1917:

Hutchinson News, April 27, 1917:

Lowell Sun, April 27, 1917:

Winnipeg Free Press, May 1, 1917:

Finally, and without trying to deal with the knotty issue of ODJB's Victor 18255 actually being the first "jazz music" put on record, this article by Scott Alexander, published at the Red Hot Jazz website, lists several discs recorded before February 26, 1917, in which either the word "jazz" ("jass" or "jas") was included in the song title or the band was labeled as a "jass" band on the record label.


Victor 18255: the first jazz record

Just two days after their sensational success at the opening of the new ‘400’ Room at the Reisenweber Building on January 27, 1917, Eddie Edwards, trombonist and business manager of the Original Dixieland Jass Band at the time, received a telegram from A.E. Donovan, Professional Department Manager of the Columbia Gramophone Co., asking them to meet him at the Columbia offices. On January 30, the five musicians got to the Woolworth Building for an audition but, according to reputed early jazz researcher Mark Berresford, and despite all assertions to the contrary, no records were made. Berresford had access to the file cards for audition recordings, and there is no mention of the ODJB recording for Columbia before their May 1917 session. They played a couple of selections and left, because the Columbia executives were not impressed enough.

Anyway, on February 26, 1917, the ODJB recorded two titles for the biggest label at the moment, Victor Talking Machine Co: “Livery Stable Blues” (matrix number B-19331) and “Dixie Jass Band One-Step” (B-19332). The two sides were approved for issue and sent to Camden for processing and production. Victor record with number 18255 was released on April 15, 1917, according to Mark Berresford (not in May, as the online Victor Library lists, and not on March 7, as other sources state).

The rest is history.

This ad was published in the Chicago Tribune that very same day (April 15) and confirms Berresford’s assertion, as it reads “Specials-Just Announced. Records sent on approval”.

The following one was published a few days later (April 21, 1917) in the Hartford Courant. "A brass band gone crazy! That's the way a wag describes the Original Dixieland "Jass" Band. Beyond that description, we can't tell you what a "Jass" Band is because we don't know ourselves". And remember that this "organized disorganization" had "sufficient power and penetration to inject new life into a mummy" and that, in particular, "Livery Stable Blues" "will be a positive cure for the common or garden kind of blues".

Finally, this ad, published in the Meriden Morning Record (May 1, 1917), is a reduced version of the previous one.


Rossano Sportiello new CDs aka Where's the stride piano?

Our faithful readers should be aware that two new CDs by Italian pianist Rossano Sportiello were released in the last months of 2009.

Do It Again (Arbors ARCD 19387) is his second duet disc with Australian bassist and vocalist Nicki Parrott. Those who listened to the previous one, People Will Say We're In Love (Arbors ARCD 19335, 2007) will know what to expect: virtuoso performances and astounding ability to read the other musician's mind, this is, pure chemistry. But this time they've gone one step further, within a context of more stylistically varied tunes: bop, classical, show tunes, standards and ballads. A few surprises are waiting to be discovered, such as the crispy rendition of Tommy Flanagan's "Sea Changes", the suggestive title tune, "Do It Again", the fragile rendition of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine" or the vocal duet, "Two Sleepy People".

It Amazes Me (Sackville SKCD2-3072) starts with a focus on ballads and slow tempos, showing how Sportiello has matured as a pianist, and allowing him to showcase his elegant touch, full of nuances, his flowing lyricism and his intelligent use of space and silence. A couple of Barry Harris tunes (let's not forget Harris was one of his mentors) and "Dearest, You're The Nearest To My Heart" do turn the engine on, and the climax is built up at the end with "Chinatown My Chinatown", "When I Grow Too Old To Dream" and "Sleep", where a few choruses of shout piano are interspersed.

Both discs are stunningly beautiful and highly recommended.

Liner notes for Do It Again, written by Elliott Simon, show once again that certain jazz writers tend to confuse and mix up all early jazz piano styles. On "Of Foreign Lands And People", he states that "(...) in and exceedingly clever personal take on the theme he (Sportiello) stylistically shifts into a stride inspired variation that jolts the listener from innocence to adulthood and exposes stride's indebtnedness to classical and Sportiello's own debt to stride king Ralph Sutton" and on "Do It Again" he comments that "Nicki and Rossano use sultry understatement and a bit of stride piano styling to update this classic." Well, nice literature, but no hint of stride piano is included in neither of these performances. In the first one, after a straight exposition of Schumann's theme, Sportiello shifts up the tempo and immerses himself in a very swinging chorus, with his right hand gently jumping in an style very reminiscent of Teddy Wilson, and his left hand (and Parrott's bass) playing some "walking" patterns, that not even remotely reminds us of stride piano. And where on earth do you hear stride piano on "Do It Again", mister?

On the other hand, our commentator writes that, in "Liza", "Sportiello shows his respect for pianist Art Tatum and his own combination of speed and precision in adding his take to the repository of versions of this nugget", not mentioning stride at all. Oh boy, besides the two versions recorded by Tatum for Decca in 1934 (one in August and one in October), you should also listen to James P. Johnson's Asch recording in 1945 or any of the live recordings by Donald Lambert to discover where the stride choruses in Sportiello's version come from (yes, stride, this is the stride chestnut of the disc!). End of rant.


How many notes can be crowded by square minute?

A few months ago, after reading Franklyn Frank's description of Art Tatum's pianism ("he generally sounds as if he is using twenty fingers trying to play ten symphonies in five minutes") in his article in the Afro American (May 23, 1936), I decided to start some research looking for any other contemporary published sources (30s-40s) with such kind of humorous criticism on Tatum's overwhelming technique.

I have just discovered this piece, that I think it's worth sharing. It was written by a Paul K. Damai and published in The Hammond Time (Indiana) on November 16, 1935:

"Art Tatum, widely publicized as a "blind" pianist but who really can (with the aid of spectacles) see quite well thank you, hits about all the notes that it is possible for any one man to hit on any one piano. It is our opinion that he hits too many.

Tatum out-notes Duchin and Sims and consequently does a better job of losing the main melodic and basic thread of a composish (sic) through the use of extraneous notes. His superfluous finger-trickery holds as much aural beauty as those old-fashioned hot second-choruses on the ancient piano rolls. It, however, is a noble attempt to discover how many notes can be crowded per square minute of air time".

Priceless rubbish!


Satchmo and ebay craziness... revisited and exceeded

If you thought you had seen it all, check this ebay auction, where a Louis Armstrong signed concert program for his 1960 at the Nakivubo Stadium in Kampala (Uganda) is offered for the mind-blowing ammount of 2,500 dollars.

Without the slightest doubt, being a collector of Satchmo memorabilia nowadays is an exclusive pleasure for millionaires. Or should I say that offering Satchmo memorabilia at crazy prices is a pleasure within every mortal's reach?


Monk on stride [1]

Although it is common knowledge that Thelonious Monk spent some time in the jam sessions that took place in James P. Johnson’s house in the late 1930s and that he often attended Donald Lambert’s gigs in the Harlem bop clubs in the late 1940s, neither Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith’s memoirs nor Scott E. Brown’s biography of James P. Johnson mention Monk being present in those friendly battles.

Willie ‘The Lion’ describes them vividly: “Sometimes we got carving battles going that would last for four or five hours. Here’s how these bashed worked: the Lion would pound the keys for a mess of choruses and then shout to the next in line, ‘Well, all right, take it from there’, and each tickler would take his turn, trying to improve on a melody…. We would embroider the melodies with our own original ideas and try to develop patterns that had more originality than those played before us. Sometimes it was just a question as to who could think up the most patterns within a given tune. It was pure improvisation”.

In the recently published Monk biography by Robin D. G. Kelley, Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original (Free Press, 2009), pianist Billy Taylor is quoted recounting his first encounter with Monk at one of those jam sessions in September of 1939. Clarence Profit was playing at a small club managed by a friend of his father, Billy Taylor, Sr., and Billy Taylor, after introducing himself to the manager, launched himself so proudly to play “Lullaby Of Rhythm”. “I thought I was really doing something” Taylor recalls. “The piano player kept looking at me funny and I didn’t realize it was Clarence Profit since I’d never seen him before. So here I am, playing his composition on his gig! Once I finished, Profit came to me and said, ‘Hey kid, that wasn’t bad. I have some friends that would like to hear you play’”.

They went to a brownstone on 140th just west of South Avenue, which happened to belong to James P. Johnson, the Father of the Stride Piano. “There’s some guys sitting around playing cards. He says ‘Hey fellas! I have a piano player here!’ They said, ‘Sit down, kid, and play something’”. Billy Taylor sat down and played “China Boy” in the Teddy Wilson style: “He was on my mind so I was doing my version of him. You know, my left hand doing this little thing? I got about sixteen bars in when one of these guys comes over and says ‘Hmmmmm, that’s nice. Let me try a little of that?’ He sits down and, man…! This guy has got a left hand that I didn’t believe! He was just like Waller. Turns out that everybody in the room was a piano player! I mean, these guys sat down one after another and just played! Nobody had to say anything. I just sat there and thought, ‘Oh, shit!’”.

“Turned out that one of the guys was Monk! It was the first time I ever heard him. But get this...! The other guys were Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, a guy named ‘Gippy’, and James P. Johnson!” Willie ‘The Lion’ then called Monk over to the piano bench: “He said, ‘Play your thing, man’. And he sat down and played a standard, I believe it could have been “Tea For Two”. He was playing more like Art Tatum then. I think he really responded to the older musicians who told him to do his own thing”.

Monk told Billy Taylor that Willie ‘The Lion’ and those stride masters had shown him respect and had 'empowered' him to do his own thing, telling that “he could do it and that his thing is worth doing. It doesn’t sound like Tatum. It doesn’t sound like Willie ‘The Lion’. It doesn’t sound like anybody but Monk and this is what he wanted to do. He had the confidence. The way that he does those things is the way he wanted to do them”.

A version of this story was also published in Leslie Gourse’s biography of Thelonious Monk, Straight, No Chaser: The Life And Genius Of Thelonious Monk (Schirmer Books, 1998). According to Kelley, much of what Gourse wrote is made of the “fact” that James P. Johnson lived in Monk’s neighborhood. But, actually, he was not living there when Monk began playing music: in 1930, James P. lived in Queens on 108th Avenue [see my previous post: James P. Johnson in the US Census, 1930], and by the time Monk appears on the musical scene he was living in Harlem, at 267 West 140th Street.


Satchmo and Edmundo Rivero

Photographs of musicians watching other musicians playing are always of interest, at least for me, as they can show concentration, excitation, wonderment, adoration, inattention and even scorn. This photograph of Louis Armstrong watching Argentinian tango singer Edmundo Rivero, probably from Satchmo's South American 1957 tour, is now up for auction on ebay.

I am not sure how to describe Armstrong's not very expressive face. Poetical (and not so poetical) adjectives are welcome!


Duke Ellington is coming to town!

In 1939, a certain concert in a certain place within a long string of one-nighters could be just another point in the map and another nightly routine for a famous big band such Duke Ellington’s. But, for a small city like Madison (capital of Wisconsin and, as of the 2000 census, with a population of 208,054), Ellington’s orchestra coming to town was such a sensation!

Here’s the local press coverage for the October 17 and October 18, 1939, concerts at the Orpheum Theatre (Madison).

- Previews of the concerts, published in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times (October 15, 1939):

- Several advertisements published in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times from October 14 to October 18:

- Brief reviews of the October 17, 1939 concert, published in the Wisconsin State Journal and the Capital Times on October 18, 1939:


Happy New Year

With the wonderful Maxine Sullivan, Mule Walk & Jazz Talk wishes its readers the best for the New Year!