Magazine of 1946
Bill Kinnell's Record Reviews
There was a time when I had a high regard for the Woody Herman band, but that was several years ago, when the group was known as ' the band that plays the Blues.' In those days, although not a jazz group by any means, the outfit was the only white one, apart from the Crosby band, that ever turned out anything really worth while.
Woody had many fine players with him in those days, many of them old colleagues of his when they were all members of Isham Jones' Orchestra. I particularly remember the fine drumming of Frank Carlson, and Joe Bishop, who did a great deal of the band's arranging and who also played that very unwieldy instrument, the flugel horn.
However, those days are gone, and the band that Herman fronts today is a far, far cry from the one that made such memorable records as River Bed Blues, and Casbah Blues. With it, he has risen to become this year's winner of the Down Beat Poll. The band can best be described, I think, as the acme of the modern swing band. It has everything, and just a little more. The most predominant characteristic is undoubtedly its ability to make the loudest and most unmusical noise it has ever been my misfortune to hear. Of course, I'm only basing my opinions on these two sides under review; it may be that, generally speaking, the band has something besides the ability to be tuneless, but it certainly doesn't appear on this record.
Caldonia, a novelty number, features a vocal chorus by Woody, some childish shrieking from the band (vocal), and some awful high-note piercing from the brass. The only relief is a small one in the shape of some tasteful bass playing from Chubby Jackson, and a good, solid beat from drummer Dave Tough. Goosey Gander is another of those silly, inconsequential riff tunes, with loads of shrieking brass, and belching, wailing saxes. The last chorus has to be heard to be believed.
More big band fireworks, but more acceptable than the Herman monstrosity. Skyliner opens with a piano lead-in to muted brass shared with Barnet's Hodges-styled alto, and later some screaming trumpet work which leaves me rather more than just cold!
The Moose features some pleasant piano playing by Dodo Marmarosa. The band rocks well throughout both sides, and reminds me at times of some of the better coloured bands.
TONIGHT I SHALL SLEEP
Made as a rather obvious publicity stunt, these two sides have many faults. Neither of the two leaders fit in at all well with their hosts; Dorsey is the Sentimental Gentleman as usual—just transplanted, and sounding slightly out of place and a little homesick. The Duke, strangely enough, sounds a little more at home with the Dorsey gang, and does quite well, all things considered . . . one being that he has never been a great pianist. What surprised me was that the Dorsey band does a far better job of its number than the Ellington orchestra does.
If The Minor is an example of Sy Oliver's recent work, then I'm afraid this one-time great arranger who once rivalled Duke Ellington needs a long rest from the Dorsey band. I would like to see him arranging once again for one of the big Negro groups who would be better fitted to interpret his work.
The second side can be dismissed as so much James bunkum, but Confessing is high-lighted by an amazing alto solo by Willie Smith. I was never a great admirer of Smith when he was a member of the great Jimmy Lunceford orchestra, although I enjoyed his fine arrangements very much. Here, on Confessing, though, he plays a superbly exciting solo . . . very light, gay, and full of good ideas and phrasing. I shall keep this record and put it in my collection; my first Harry James!
Both sides feature large slices of the leader's cold, calculated clarinet and a more than generous allowance of shrieking brass, together with all the old bunch of tricks. Tabu has a dull arrangement and Bedford Drive a very noisy one.
SWINGING ON LENNOX AVENUE
Another tasteful record from Harry Hayes. There isn't much I can say about these sides that could be any different from what I said in last month's review, for they follow a very similar pattern. After the mass of hysterical swing which I have had to listen to this month, they come as a great relief. I don't claim any great merits for these recordings, but they are a very pleasant change from the usual run of English copyists, and they show fine musicianship—much better than the type of thing most so-called swing bands are turning out in this country today.
Magnificent musicianship goes to make this record the equal of anything done by an American band of the same type. Whether it can be classed as worth-while music or not is another matter It is real power-house stuff . . . what Down Beat would call a flag waver!
Twilight Time is a simple little tune, terribly over-arranged, which removes any charm it may have had. First Jump is a typical modern swing band number—noisy and fast. The band rocks well, though, and there is some nice piano from Norman Stenfalt, excellent drumming by Jack Parnell, and a very good solo from Kenny Baker, the composer of the piece. As an example of British musicianship, it is as yet unsurpassed, but not to be taken too seriously.
MEANDER IN THE MINOR
Pleasant enough pseudo Dixieland stuff with some average solos. Why do British record companies persist in filling up their jazz lists with this sort of thing, which could easily go in the ordinary dance lists, thereby improving the latter and leaving the former clear for something really worth while? Parlophone are particularly to blame, for they have at their disposal a whole host of fine sides from the American Columbia label. Couldn't we have one, at least, of the records recently issued in the States in a Bessie Smith album?
I know that Wally Moody was disillusioned over the sale of the Bessie Smith sides issued in this country some years ago, but it is important for the companies to realise that a whole new and enlightened form of jazz appreciation has developed in this country during the war years. The collector of jazz records today is far more intelligent in his appreciation than was the collector of five or six years ago, and the record companies should not base their sales estimates on those of pre-war.
Ouch ! More noise from the modern boys! Fish screams along like the Glasgow express trying to make time—and is about as musical. You either believe this stuff is modern and experimental, or just a lot of noisy nonsense.
I was playing over some old Goodman records to a friend the other day, to check on some personnels, and I was struck by the appalling way in which swing has degenerated into a noisy musical brawl (I apologise for the word musical!). Whatever your opinions are of the early swing bands, such as Goodman, Shaw, Basic and the like, you can't deny that they were tuneful, and if mechanical, they never sounded like the swing bands of today, which are just Dali-inspired nightmares of sound.
I am afraid that this review is monotonous in its condemnation of the majority of the records. It is unfortunate that I was unable to find one that I could heartily recommend.
Promoter and jazz enthusiast Bill Kinnell was the owner of a record shop in Nottingham and also ran the Nottingham Jazz Club.