2010-05-17

Vocalists on Ellington's March 30, 1926 Gennett session

In the latest issue of VJM's Jazz & Blues Mart magazine (#157 - Summer 2010), Steven Lasker contributes with an article on Duke Ellington's March 30, 1926 session for Gennett and, specifically, on who's the vocalist on "(You've Got Those) 'Wanna Go Back Home Again' Blues" and "If You Can't Hold The Man You Love" (Gennett 3291).

Here's how Ellington's specialist Eddie Lambert describes this session in his wonderful book Duke Ellington: A Listener's Guide (Scarecrow Press, 1999): "This session was the first of two for the Gennett label, each of which produced two titles. With Miley absent again, the band was that of the preceeding session, augmented by trombonist Jimmy Harrison, and by Prince Robinson and George Thomas, both doubling clarinet and tenor sax. Thus say the discographers, but aurally the band sounds smaller, and it seems probable that Harrison and Thomas were used solely as vocalists. "'Wanna Go Back Again' Blues" (with a vocal by Thomas) includes the first instance on record of imaginative scoring by Ellington, albeit briefly and in a novelty mold. After the band introduction, Hardwick's playing of the theme on baritone is skillfuly offset by two clarinets and the trumpets. This is a considerable contrast to the conventional saxes-against-brass scoring in the eight-bar verse and in the bridge of Irvis's chorus. "If You Can't Hold The Man You Love" (vocal by Jimmy Harrison) has a passage for plunger-muted trumpets which is a distant precursor of what Ellington called his "pep section" in later years. The style, however, looks back to the King Oliver manner and is reminiscent of Oliver's two-cornet breaks with Louis Armstrong on the Creole Jazz Band recordings of three years earlier. Irvis has a terse eight bars but otherwise the performance is dull, despite an attempt to ginger up the last chorus by having Robinson play a piping clarinet improvisation against a written ensemble. This foreshadows a device used regularly and successfully in later years, but in this instance it fails to counteract the prevailing medriocrity".





Since Delaunay's 1938 Hot Discography, almost every published discography (including Rust and Jepsen) has shown George Thomas on the first one and Jimmy Harrison on the second one. As an exception, Bruyninckx lists Jimmy Harrison on both tracks.

On the other hand, Mark Tucker's Ellington: The Early Years (University of Illinois Press, 1991), which contains three pages on this session, lists Sonny Greer on "(You've Got Those) 'Wanna Go Back Home Again' Blues" and Jimmy Harrison on "If You Can't Hold The Man You Love".

Based on Sonny Greer's recollection as recalled by Brooks Kerr, the historical circunstances, and aural evidence, Lasker concludes that neither Thomas nor Harrison take the vocals on those numbers, and that it would have been natural for Ellington to use Sonny Greer as vocalist (as he was the band's regular singer) rather that hiring an outsider such as Thomas or Harrison.



It should be noted that Lasker's recent statement agrees with Luciano Massagli's and Giovanni M. Volonté's The New Desor (Milano, 1999) (thanks to David Palmquist and Ken Steiner for pointing this out to me) and with the current on-line edition of Tom Lord's discography.

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