HARRY FRANCIS

The 1926 Album

Index

  Jazz Development in Britain

In a recent batch of records intended for review we received an interesting album bearing the simple title "1926", and carrying a picture of the funeral of Rudolph Valentino on its sleeve! From the title one could be excused for expecting another selection from the many great jazz recordings of the period, but the percentage of jazz to be heard among the sixteen titles proved to be minimal. The album nevertheless conjured up some interesting recollections, although better examples of the work of some. of the artists to be heard might have been chosen.

A recording by Jack Smith, the Whispering Baritone, of a tune bearing. the unwieldy title "Gimme A Little Kiss (Will Ya, Huh?)" illustrates this point. The term crooner was not then in general use, although another artist named Nick Lucas used to call himself The Crooning Troubador, but Smith was really one of the first crooners, and had a great deal of style both in his voice and in his own piano accompaniments. A better choice from his repertoire would have been either "Cecilia", "I'm Knee Deep In Daisies" or "Who Takes Care Of The Caretaker's Daughter!" Jack Smith worked on the variety stage and in cabaret in the days before public address equipment was available and, although his "whispering" style was ideal for broadcasting or recording, and perhaps to a lesser extent for cabaret, he came up against problems when working on stage. These he managed to overcome to some degree by using a huge specially constructed box- like chamber down- stage near the footlights, which was large enough to accommodate both him and his grand piano.

The idea, of course, was to prevent sound being lost in the flies, and in this respect it was reasonably successful, but I cannot imagine what today's sound- battered theatre audiences would think about it.

A 1926 recording by Johnny Hamp's Kentucky Serenaders of "Black Bottom" made me recall that some two or three years later this band were performing at London's then famous Kit Kat Club in the Haymarket, whilst round the corner at the Cafe de Paris there was to be heard the much superior band of Hal Kemp, which included Bunny Berigan and Micky Bloom on trumpets and Skinnay Ennis on drums, and Gus Arnheim's Orchestra was down at the Savoy Hotel. Many other American bands had preceded these three and many others followed, whilst British musicians usually found themselves in second- rate jobs or unemployed.

Ultimately the British Ministry of Labour (now Department of Employment) imposed a ban- upon the entry into Britain of American bands, but this did not occur until 1935, when the Jack Hylton Orchestra, engaged for a tour of the USA, was barred from entering America and the musicians' instruments were impounded. The British Ministry's action came as a reprisal and did not result from any action by the Musicians' Union, as has so often been so wrongly stated. Neither was there ever a dispute between the Union and the American Federation of Musicians- another myth furthered by various writers of books and .magazine or newspaper articles. Hylton was permitted to stay on in the States to conduct an American orchestra, and also to retain and feature blind pianist/entertainer Alec Templeton and singer Pat O'Malley.

These two decided to settle in the States and the former died just a few years ago. O'Malley, now J. Patrick O'Malley, and an accomplished actor, can often be seen playing character parts in American TV films. I first remember him as the druummer with Spike Hughes's Cambridge Nightwatchmen at the Cafe de Paris somewhere around the winter of 1929/30. The ban on American bands was ultimately lifted in 1955, when the reciprocal exchange scheme, devised by the British Musicians' Union and previously operated between them and the unions of various European countries, was adopted by the AF of M the first Anglo/American exchange occurring in the early part of 1956.

Reverting for the moment to the "1926" album, there is much to interest those who may want to hear the sound of the dance music of those days, some of the players of which, though frequently unsuccessful, were sincere in their desire to endow it with a beat. Jazz interest creeps into "Sunday", by Jean Goldkette's Orchestra, which includes an excellent guitar accompaniment by Eddie Lang (named on the sleeve) to an awful vocal by the Keller Sisters and Lynch, a well- known group of the day, some interesting clarinet playing by Jimmy Dorsey (not named on the sleeve), and a solo by a trombone player who could have been Miff Mole, but was more likely Bill Rank playing in the style of Mole.

In "Jersey Walk", a medley by the orchestra of Roger Wolfe Kahn, there is to be heard a good trombone solo which I would think was played by Mole himself, whilst in "Static Strut", by The Original Memphis Five, a recording title which hid the identities of various groups of well- known jazz musicians between 1922 and 1927, the performance is dominated. by the pianist, who I am sure was Frank Signorelli, although I would not presume to identify the others. It was, however, what was probably the most painful item in the album, a corny ballad titled "Thinking Of You" sung by Gene Austin, a popular singer of the 'twenties and early 'thirties, that sent my mind along another trend of thought. In the field of popular music it was often the players who achieved the seemingly impossible by making the proverbial "silk purse out of the sow's ear", and I remembered what happened to a dreadful 3/4 ditty of the 'thirties entitled "Its My Mother's Birthday Today"- usually supported by shouts of "last orders, please" when handled by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. Dorsey's own solo set the pattern for a great beaty 4/4 performance, which caused the listener to forget entirely the source of the opus!