Sometime in October 1939 Woody Herman and his band traveled to the Vitaphone Studio in Brooklyn to begin work on a ten-minute film short.
Probably within a week or two they returned with their instruments, but not to play them—this time they were there to mime playing as the recordings from their first session were played back! The film was issued with a phonograph record to be played during projection, creating an early example of what is now called lip-synching.
The producers also added some stock clips of an audience whose formal dress and staid demeanor indicate that they were a world away from any jazz performance.
This according to “Celluloid improvisations: Woody Herman and his orchestra” by Mark Cantor (The IAJRC journal XL/1 [February 2007] pp. 22–30).
Today is Herman’s 100th birthday! Above, a still from the second session; below, Herman leads the band in the finale of the Vitaphone film, King Oliver’s Doctor Jazz.
With the U.S. tax season coming down to the wire, let’s note how taxes altered the jazz scene in the 1940s.
The demise of big bands and swing in the years following World War II was attributable not to changing musical tastes but to the imposition in 1944 of a 30% “cabaret tax” (later a slightly less ruinous 20%) on all receipts at establishments offering live performances and in which dancing was permitted.
An exception was made for recorded and purely instrumental music, assuming that no dancing took place. The heyday of bebop was one of the results.
This according to “How the taxman cleared the dance floor” by Eric Felten (The Wall Street journal 18 March 2013, p. A13). Above and below, beneficiaries of the cabaret tax.
On a log sheet typed in the 1940s, Alan Lomax identified a man in a 50-second segment of silent color footage shot in Mississippi as “Charles Edwards” (above).
Mystified folklorists have been unable to find further references to Charles Edwards in Lomax’s materials or anyone else’s; but recently two American Folklife Center staff members noticed that he closely resembled a young David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and even played his guitar in the same way; perhaps Lomax had made a simple error.
To verify their theory, they sent screen captures to Honeyboy’s former agent, who shared them with Honeyboy’s stepdaughter. Her verdict: “That’s my daddy!”
This according to “‘That’s my daddy!’: American Folklife Center staff members identify early color film of David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards” by Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXXIII/3–4 [summer/fall 2011] pp. 8–9).
Below, Honeyboy performs and speaks in the 2004 film Lightning in a bottle.
A multi-instrumentalist and multi-linguist who has lived and performed in Tehran, Paris, Geneva, Brussels, Stockholm, and Frankfurt, Dr. Lloyd Miller has been fusing jazz and world music since the early 1960s.
The California native finds that the modal music of Asia is completely compatible with the African American tradition. “It is all the same musical system,” he says. “The same spirit, the same feeling, the same notes, and some of the same melodic patterns and repetitive and mirroring phrases.”
Long documented only by rare recordings, Miller’s music can now be heard in the compilation A lifetime of Oriental jazz (Jazzman JMANCD 208).
This according to “Jazz in an unfamiliar key: The wanderings of Lloyd Miller” by Francis Gooding (The IAJRC Journal XLIV/2 [June 2011] pp. 9–13]). Below, a compilation of Miller’s broadcasts.
Known in Denmark and New York as The Jazz Baron because of his noble lineage, Timme Rosenkrantz (1911–1969) was a journalist, author, concert and record producer, broadcaster, and entrepreneur with a consuming passion for jazz and little head for business.
The first European journalist to cover the jazz scene in Harlem, he recorded jazz musicians in his midtown apartment, organized his own jazz band, and ran a record shop with his life companion, the journalist and singer Inez Cavanaugh.
A good friend of the jazz impresario John Hammond, Rosenkrantz became the James Boswell of the Harlem jazz scene. Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Coleman Hawkins, Billie Holiday—there wasn’t a New York jazz musician unknown to “Honeysuckle Rosenkrantz”, as he was christened by Fats Waller.
This according to Harlem jazz adventures: A European baron’s memoir, 1934-1969 (Lanham: Scarecrow Press, 2012). Below, a 1968 recording by Rosenkrantz of Cavanaugh accompanied by Mary Lou Williams, with photographs from his collection.
Related article: John Abbott, jazz photographer
Bee imagery has long been a prominent element in song titles and lyrics. Bumble boogie: 100 years of bee imagery in American sound recordings—A discography by William L. Schurk and B. Lee Cooper (Popular music and society XXXIV/4 [October 2011] pp. 493–502) explores several bee themes featured in more than 200 commercial recordings released in the U.S. during the past century.
Themes cited include references to scent, terms of endearment, analogies to bee-related structures and hive-oriented treasures, allusions to romance, sexuality and reproduction, and fears of physical pain and emotional rejection. The discography features recordings released over the past ten decades either as singles (45 or 78 rpm records) or as songs compiled in albums (33⅓ rpm records) or on compact discs.
Below, the sublime Muddy Waters with his classic Honey bee.
With its emphasis on altered consciousness, shamanism—communication with the spirit world—offers archetypal visionary insight concerning the nature of the psyche; it has much in common with the key Jungian notion of individuation or fully developed and integrated consciousness.
Jazz has much in common with shamanic experience. The pan-tonal and pan-rhythmic music of the Norwegian saxophonist and composer Jan Garbarek exemplifies the healing presence of the shamanic, or individuated, spirit in 20th-century music.
This according to “The body electric: The shamanic spirit in twentieth century music” by Michael Tucker, an essay included in Music and mysticism, two consecutive issues of Contemporary music review (XIV/1–2 and 3–4) dedicated to the memory of Philip Rawson.
Above, a shaman from the Altaj Mountains of Central Asia. Below, Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s I talk with the spirits.
A pair of brief unattributed articles appeared in the July 1901 issue of American musician to articulate opposing viewpoints on ragtime, which had become increasingly popular since the late 19th century.
War on ragtime denounced the genre in no uncertain terms: “The ragtime craze has lowered the standards of American music as compared with other countries…we will not give way to a popular demand that is degrading.”
Suppression of ragtime expressed a more lighthearted view:
“Last week a national association of musicians in convention at Denver solemnly swore to play no ragtime, and to do all in their power to counteract the pernicious influence exerted by Mr. Johnson, My ragtime lady, and others of the Negro school…
“But the people do not want to be educated all the time…Their great desire with music is to be pleased—to forget for a time that there is anything in this world but sunshine and laughter, and birds and flowers and purling brooks.
“And they find all those things in the homely and catchy pieces that quicken the heart-beats and make the nerves tingle with delight; yes, in ragtime, bubbling, frothing, sparkling; as light as a summer breeze and as sweet as woman’s kiss.”
This courtesy of “War on ragtime and Suppression of ragtime” in From jubilee to hip hop: Readings in African American music, edited by Kip Lornell (Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall, 2010), pp. 23–25. Below, Jelly Roll Morton plays the ragtime classic Shreveport stomp via piano roll.
Related article: Tin pan opera
When Michael Taft of the American Folklife Center received a call asking if the Center would be interested in an old Lead Belly disc, it seemed impossible that there could be one that wasn’t already in their collection; but when Taft asked what was printed on the label and heard “Presto” he was intrigued. Presto was not a record company—it was a brand of recording blank that the Library of Congress had used for field recordings in the 1930s and 1940s.
The disc included a song never heard elsewhere, and it provided the key for identifying the recording session. Titled Todd blues, the song was an improvisation that referred to “Mister Todd” and “Mister Sonkin”—Charles Todd (left) and Robert Sonkin (below right), who collaborated on several field recording trips for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and 1940s.
This blues took the form of a humorous lament on the departure of one of the partners: “Mister Todd went away, Lord, just after Christmas Day/He’s going to California…Mister Sonkin sitting here with his head hung down.” These lines clearly place the recording on 20 January 1942, when the pair recorded Lead Belly in New York City, shortly before Todd left for a new job in California.
This according to “A new old recording by Huddie Ledbetter” by Michael Taft (Folklife Center news XXIX/3 [summer 2007] pp. 13–15). Below, Pete Seeger recalls meeting and performing with the great singer-songwriter.
In May 2011 the Library of Congress launched National jukebox: Historical recordings from the Library of Congress, an Internet resource that makes historical sound recordings available to the public for free. The Jukebox includes recordings from the extraordinary collections of the Library of Congress Packard Campus for Audio Visual Conservation and other contributing libraries and archives. These recordings were issued on record labels now owned by Sony Music Entertainment, which has granted the Library of Congress a gratis license to stream acoustical recordings.
At launch, the Jukebox already included over 10,000 recordings made by the Victor Talking Machine Company between 1901 and 1925. Content will be increased regularly, with additional Victor recordings and acoustically recorded titles made by other U.S. labels, including Columbia, Okeh, and some Universal Music Group-owned labels. The selections range from jazz and popular styles to ethnic traditions to Western classical works, including opera arias.
Above, a Victor acoustical recording session ca. 1920.