Friday, May 31, 2013

February 7, 1940: A busy day at the office

So, February 7, 1940. The war is going on in Europe, but Pearl Harbor is almost two years away. At the same time, in Manhattan, Metronome magazine has called in the best jazz musicians according to their readers to wax a couple of tunes, a big band take on "King Porter Stomp", and a blues called "All-Star Strut" by a reduced group of nine, presumably the winner in each instrument category.

This kind of pick-up bands are interesting insofar as they differ from our point of view. Two tenor saxes and no Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young or Ben Webster? (OK, Hawkins was just back from Europe, but "Body and Soul" was already out!) A pianist who's not Art Tatum? Jimmie Blanton is not on bass? Not a single member from the Ellington or Basie bands?!!! Quite a travesty, yes, but besides this being a selection being a different time in history, although the swing years are normally presented as an "era" when jazz was popular, it'd be probably fairer to say that popular music was, often but not always, soaked in jazz.

In any case, the men were (in italics, the members of the nonet):

TRUMPETS: Harry James, Ziggy Elman, and Charlie Spivak;
TROMBONES: Jack Teagarden and Jack Jenney;
REEDS: Benny Goodman on clarinet; Benny Carter, and Toots Mondello on alto sax; Eddie Miller, and Charlie Barnet on tenor sax;
RHYTHM: Charlie Christian on the electric guitar; Jess Stacy on piano; Bob Haggart on bass; and Gene Krupa on drums.
ARRANGER: Fletcher Henderson.

Luckily there several pictures from this session (click on them to enlarge). This one, because Christian is still wearing his hat, and Krupa has his jacket still on, as well as their relative positions, may come from the beginning of the session

Charlie Christian, Gene Krupa
(from Leo Valdés's site)

Interestingly, like those two, most of the men were connected to Benny Goodman, and most of those had already left him, like Harry James, Jess Stacy and Gene Krupa, whereas Elman would do so in a few months' time. Christian and Mondello were still with him. Also worth noting, at the time of the recording, James, Spivak, Teagarden, Jenney, Goodman, Carter, Barnet, and Krupa led their own bands. Eddie Miller and Haggart came from Bob Crosby's band.

The following is a picture I had never seen before. The author is unknown, it comes from Paul Whiteman's book How to Be a Band Leader (published in 1948), and it's brought to you courtesy of cornetist and Bix Beiderbecke scholar Scott Black

Metronome All-Stars playing "King Porter Stomp". Left to right:
Haggart, Goodman, Miller, Christian, Krupa, Mondello, Carter,
Teagarden, James, Barnet, Jenney, Spivak.

And this is the tune they're playing:

At some point they listened to the playbacks

L to R: Barnet, Krupa, Leonard Feather, Mondello, Carter. Among the rest,
Goodman (seated), Teagarden, Christian, Miller.
(from Leo Valdés's site)

When they were happy with the big band track, as arranged by Fletcher Henderson, they played a blues with just nine musicians.

L to R: Haggart, Miller, Krupa, Christian, Goodman, Teagarden,
Carter, James (from Leo Valdés's site)
On this one, the raising new star with his "new" instrument, Charlie Christian, gets to solo. This is how they sounded:

With three complete takes of "King Porter..." and two of "All-Star..." carved in acetate, this session was over. The second take of the former and the first of the latter would come out as a 10-inch, 78 RPM record, catalogue number Columbia 35389. Job done, everybody home.

Or not quite. After this, along came Benny Goodman's full orchestra. They recorded three tunes with Arnold Covarrubias sitting in for Christian, and Helen Forrest on vocals: "How High the Moon" and "The Fable of a Rose" arranged by Eddie Sauter, and "Let's All Sing Together" arranged by Fletcher Henderson.

When they were done with the band, it was time for the celebrated Sextet, with a twist: Goodman and Christian were joined by regulars Lionel Hampton, Artie Bernstein on bass, and Nick Fatool at the drums, plus Count Basie, another band leader, sitting in for Johnny Guarnieri, and they rounded up the day with two other tunes, "Till Tom Special" and "Gone with What Wind".

And so it went, just another busy day at the office...

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