Georgie Price

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BOOK: COMMEMORATION OF THE CENTENARY OF THE ARRIVAL OF THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN BANDS IN FRANCE DURING WORLD WAR 1. By Dan Vernhettes. 56pp Softbound, full colour, profusely illustrated. Available in both English and French language text versions. ISBN 9782953483192 (English text). Jazz’Edit. €20 inc. p&p.

America’s entry into the First World War in July 1917 was a gamechanger; the prospect of hundreds of thousands of well- equipped US troops arriving in France and Belgium in early 1918 forced the German commanders Ludendorff and Hindenburg into a Spring offensive which, while initially successful beyond expectation, soon ran out of steam as supply logistics couldn’t keep pace with the advancing troops. The result was a demoralised army unprepared for the counter-offensive, now bolstered by the American forces.

It was a gamechanger in other respects as well - regiments of African-American troops arrived in France, bringing with them dozens of well-drilled professional musicians to both boost morale and to act as musical ambassadors bridging the cultural gap between the French and the Americans. Many of these soldier-musicians fell in love with the more racially relaxed atmosphere that pervaded in Europe and once demobbed were on the next boat back, many of them never to return to America’s shores. As well as playing rousing marches, spirituals and ‘plantation melodies’, these bands brought with them the nascent stirrings of jazz, and the looser rhythms and exuberant musical interplay of the new music found instant favour with the locals, be it in a field hospital behind the front line or on the streets of Paris or Aix-les-Bains.

The best-known African-American leader of a regimental band was of course James Reese Europe who, along with his close friend and associate, Noble Sissle, had volunteered to join the 15th Regiment of the New York National Guard as early as September 1916, at the height of the ‘Preparedness’ movement. Europe, besides leading the best-known military band in France, saw action as commander of a machine gun company based in the Argonne forest and at one stage was badly gassed.

Europe’s fame and shocking death at the peak of his powers at the hands of one of his drummers in Boston in May 1919 has meant that this almost martyr-like end placed him onto a pedestal at the expense of the many other black bandleaders also active in France in World War One. Men such as Will Vodery, J. Tim Brymn, Eugene F. Mikell (Europe’s assistant conductor and legendary music teacher of many jazz musicians) and George Edmund Dulf all led bands in France, and later went on to successful careers in music back in the USA. Europe, however was the one lucky enough to have

contacts in the New York record industry, and it was his band that was to record a historically significant canon of material that reflected the repertoire they performed in France during the war, and also on their hugely successful tour of the USA that was cut tragically short that May evening in Boston.

As well as the leaders themselves, the roster of musicians who served their country is a veritable ‘Who’s Who’ of Golden Age jazz - Sam Wooding, Elmer Chambers, Herb Flemming, Jimmy Bertrand, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, Happy Caldwell, Ward ‘Dope’ Andrews, Joe ‘Kaiser’ Marshall, Noble Sissle, Opal Cooper, to name but a few. They paved the way for the waves of African American jazz musicians who would make their homes in Paris, London and, until the rise of the Nazis, Berlin.

Dan Vernhettes has produced a superb, well-researched - and given the Centenary of the Armistice this November, timely - book, profusely illustrated with maps, plans and photographs - many of them new to me. One minor gripe is that the text could have benefited from a read-through by someone who spoke English as their first language; ‘troops’ spelt throughout as ‘troupes’ starts to grate after a while...

Those of you who own Dan’s previous books - his biography of Tommy Lanier - ‘Traveling Blues’ and his ‘Jazz Puzzles’ series of books will be aware of the extremely high production standards he sets, and they will not be disappointed in this.

Dan informs me that stocks of both the English and French versions are extremely low, so I would urge you to buy this fascinating and beautifully-produced book before it becomes a collector’s item!

Highly Recommended.


2 CD SET: BO DIDDLEY: FIVE CLASSIC ALBUMS: “Bo Diddley”, “Go Bo Diddley”, “Have Guitar Will Travel” “Bo Diddley Is A Gunslinger”, “Bo Diddley Is a Lover”. AMSC1296. Avid Group.

This CD gathers together the following albums: Chess LP 1431(1958), Checker LP 1436 (1959), Checker LP 2974 (1960), Checker LP 2977(1960) and Checker LP 2980 (1961). Well remastered by Nick Dellow and complete with the original sleeve notes and wonderful cover photo portraits, these records showcase the idiosyncratic music and style of a very influential and important figure in the history of popular music.

It’s a truism that “The blues had a baby and they named it “rock and roll” and these albums illustrate Bo Diddley’s crucial role in that gestation. The first time I heard the “Bo Diddley” beat was on Johnny Otis’ Willie and the Hand Jive (1958) and I have a clear memory of seeing people on the televison in Britain “doing the hand jive in their seats”. Then there was the Rolling Stones’ Not Fade Away (and the Buddy Holly original), and finally, my encounter with Bo’s Bo- Diddley (Checker 814). It was his first hit record in 1955 and spawned a “sound” that he understandably amplified by recording numerous variations of it. So here you’ll find Diddley Daddy which features the magnificent harmonica playing of Little Walter, the up-tempo Hush Your Mouth which along with a number of other records (Willie and Lillie), evoke Johnny Otis’ Willie and the Hand Jive, and two of my very favourites - Pretty Thing on which Lester Davenport’s harmonica echoes Bo’s fine vocal, the whole propelled by the irresistible drumming of Clifton James, and the splendid I Need You, popularly known as Mona! The “Bo Diddley beat” is a heavily syncopated rhythm with origins in sub–Saharan Africa, found widely in the music of African – American diaspora: in Mambo and Rumba as well as in the folk tradition of “Ham boning” where the singer/chanter slaps and pats his arms, chest and legs, turning the body into a percussive instrument as he sings. Bo’s eclectic use of older traditional forms was also apparent in his “signifying” dialogues with Jerome Green on Say Man and Say Man, Back Again which clearly, if tamely, evoke the insult exchanges of “the dozens”.

The flip side of Bo Diddley was a hard, Chicago blues boast I’m a Man (Checker 814) - memorable in itself, and memorably covered by Muddy Waters. This record like other fine blues sides he made are to be treasured - including the straight-ahead Chicago blues Take a Look at Yourself, and the outstanding You Don’t Love Me which features some of Billy

Boy Arnold’s best harp playing and the wonderful piano playing of Otis Spann. Both of these accompanists also shine on one of Bo’s best blues records Little Girl. These sides emphasis what a fine voice Bo had and what excellent musicians worked with him, such as his regular pianist, Lafayette Leake, heard at his telling best on Oh Yeah. One of Bo’s great advantages was the quality of the musicians that the Chess studios had available as “session” musicians. So we find Clifton James or Frank Kirkland on drums, Willie Dixon on bass, Leake or Spann on piano, sometimes Lester Davenport or Little Walter on harp, but most often Billy Boy Arnold, who along with Jerome Green (vocals and maracas – they added the “Latin tinge”) and Lady Bo (Peggy Jones on rhythm guitar) were the key performers in Bo Diddley’s touring band.

The musical core of Bo Diddley’s success was his “beat” and the blues; but his openness to other forms of music played an important part in his popularity and influence. One of his first studio albums, Bo‘s A Gunslinger (1960) features a number of “country and western” themed performances including a version of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s huge hit Sixteen Tons and the novelty number Cheyanne, which celebrates the eponymous hero of a popular television series starring Clint Walker. The photographic cover of Bo dressed in a black “cowboy” outfit, surely sought to evoke Marty Robbins’ massively successful album, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. He also sang “teen” ballads like Somewhere and on Ride on Josephine attempted to replicate the lyrical wit of Chuck Berry. Bo’s instrumental skills and innovations are also showcased across these records. His first instrument was the violin which features on Bo Blues (where it follows and points his vocal as a harmonica would) and the splendid “after hours” instrumental The Clock Strikes Twelve where he bows and plucks the strings with real virtuosity, but it was hisguitar playing that really caught the attention of audiences and other performers. Bo’s Guitar, Mumbling Guitar, Spanish Guitar, Congo and my favourite, Aztec, showcase this. His guitar sound on these sides is often heavily distorted, employing a marked tremolo and a violin like “scratching” at the string, and rides variety of rhythms from the Latin to the African. Just as the Bo Diddley beat exercised a discernible influence on a number of late fifties and early sixties musicians, so Bo’s guitar experiments helped shape the sound of Jimi Hendrix and others.

Of course, not everything here is innovative and some of Bo’s ventures into teenage pop are at best dull, at worst awful, but there’s much to enjoy here, especially at Avid’s prices. Buy and enjoy.


CD: PRODUCT OF OUR SOULS. The Sound and Sway of James Reece Europe Society Orchestra. Archeophone 6010.
A few years ago, there was a very popular movie, Whiplash, about a young jazz drummer student who was berated constantly by a sadistic music teacher. The name of the movie came from the song this drummer had to master: a raucous arrangement in 14/9 time. While watching this movie, I couldn’t help but think of drummer Buddy Gilmore’s playing at the close of Castles in Europe which he recorded with Jim Europe’s band in 1913!

Gilmore was certainly a revolution all by himself but he was part of Europe’s ensemble that was making history in the years before the First World War. This set contains all eight of Europe’s 1913-4 Victor recordings plus other artists who recorded Europe compositions or versions of compositions he recorded, for comparison.

The 50+ page booklet that accompanies the CD gives excellent context to these recordings. Ballroom dancing was becoming a national fashion in the early 1910s and the leading practitioner of “modern dance” was the glamorous couple of Vernon and Irene Castle who opened a dance academy/night club in New York that attracted celebrities from around the USA and the world. The Castles hired James Reese Europe as their musical director. Europe, as one of the organizers of Harlem’s Clef Club, a sort of union of Afro- American musicians, had the pick of the best players. Thus, we have the first auditory glimpse of trumpeter Crickett Smith, pianist Ford Dabney and, of course, Buddy Gilmore. These were the core members of the group that Europe took to Carnegie Hall a year before these records were made to present a concert of Afro-American music.

The first Europe issue, Down Home Rag and Too Much Mustard amply shows the excitement which the orchestra must have generated at the Castles’ night club when it opened in 1912. Surely nothing like the furious tempos and sharp, relentless double time drumming with cymbal crashes had been heard in big city society circles up until then. This is ragtime on speed drugs.

The second recording reflects the sudden fashion for Latin American dance that hit the US at that time. The Argentine tango was still relatively new but its erotic touches helped it gain popularity in a flash – even in a time long before mass media could spread fads worldwide in days. El Irresistible is

of Argentine origin with the lead carried by the company of four banjo players in Europe’s ensemble. The Brazilian Maxixe was nearly as popular as the tango in 1913, with vaudeville dance troupes demonstrating it throughout the country, but it didn’t last; perhaps because no one could pronounce the name (Mac-chi-chi). Amapa, again with banjos in the lead, was a Castle House favorite for demonstrating that dance.

You’re Here and I’m Here, an early love song by Jerome Kern, seems an unlikely choice for Europe’s ragtime treatment but it was apparently popular with the Castles and certainly popular in its own right. Gilmore provides the ragtime drumming accompaniment to the smooth (relatively in comparison to the other non-Latin compositions) violin-led ensemble. This was one of the earliest recorded examples of a fox trot.

Castles in Europe was no doubt the group’s tour de force. After a furious opening strain, with an occasional blue note, there’s a classic ragtime second strain, highlighted by a glockenspiel, then to the third where the group actually falls into a primordial swing before Gilmore shakes things up with his “Whiplash.” Castles’ Lame Duck probably was created to amuse the patrons of Castle House by having them slowly promenade around the hall in a 5/4 time waddle.

Jazz scholars in the past have lamented that Europe’s recordings offered no chance hear Crickett Smith, the pioneer trumpeter whose only records with his playing clearly audible were made in India years later. And the Europe Victors have been neglected in reissues, served up only piecemeal in various anthologies. Archeophone has done jazz history a great service in compiling all of the Victors into this collection with excellent sound. But listen carefully to these tracks because they are rewarding listening, then wonder how dancers could keep up with tempos.

The First World War eventually brought the Castle House merriment to its end. Vernon Castle was killed in 1918 while serving as a flight instructor (he was not shot down, as stated in the notes) and Europe, commissioned an officer, went to the battle zone with his Fighting 369th Hell Fighters band which recorded a number of sides for the US branch of Pathé upon their return. An altercation between Europe and a drummer, Herbert Wright, proved fatal and he died May 10, 1919.

The remainder of the collection features many of the same tunes played by others – mostly studio ensembles that recorded tunes assembly-line fashion for record companies back then: the Victor Military Band, Prince’s Band (Columbia), The Indestructible Band (made for Indestructible cylinders). Of course, they don’t play these compositions with the same vigor and verve as Europe’s ensemble, being just another tune in a long day of cranking out tunes to fill the record catalogs. And, of course, they did not have Buddy Gilmore.

The other Europe tunes are a welcome addendum to this collection, two being waltzes, (Castle Valse Classique and Fiora Waltz Hesitation) and two being the kind of “Lovin’ Man” songs that found wide currency a decade later (Ain’t Had No Lovin in a Long Long Time and I’ve Got the Finest Man.)

We must thank Archeophone for reissuing these ground- breaking Victor sides by Europe’s Society Orchestra and author David Gilbert, whose book (reviewed separately) The Product of Our Souls, Ragtime, Race and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace which inspired this collection. He also authored the 52-page booklet that accompanies the CD which describes the vibrant musical context and content of Europe’s recordings.


BOOK: BEYOND THE CROSSROADS. The Devil and the Blues Tradition. By Adam Gussow. The University of North Carolina Press. Softbound, 403pp. ISBN 9781469633664

I’ve got a book on my shelves called ‘Some Negro Lore From Baltimore’ it was published in 1892 that notes within its pages that some musical instruments, and those who played them around that time, were… “accomplishments of the Devil”. As one ex-slave explained… ”take your banjo to the forks of the road at midnight and Satan will teach you how to play it”.

Such Folk tales and monologues run rampant in Southern folklore and with the introduction of flat records, the fables found themselves embellished and incorporated in song.  The Devil, in many different hats and guises, sometimes took centre stage. Blues lyrics, in particular, and especially during the pre WWII period, were riddled with such superstition and myth, while their ‘Old-Timey’ equivalents preferred a nice train wreck or similar disaster to appease their record audiences, African American audiences were much more likely to embrace their own folklore and use superstition to further their cause. While the Devil was always, dangerous and to be feared by all, author Adam Gussow rightly adds that the Devil was also an… ”unconstrained exemplum of masculine potency” especially, it would seem, to Southern Blacks.

Take the case of Peetie Wheatsraw, self proclaimed ‘Devil’s Son In Law’.  I had never really put much thought to his name - just assuming that Wheatstraw’s sobriquet was nothing more than a ‘tough-guy’s  boast’ or at an “Ooh, well, well, stretch”, his  way of ‘badmouthing’ his wife or her parents. Gussow, on the other hand,  begins his analysis with… ”On the face of it, Wheatstraw’s outsized, devil-associated persona seems a familiar tale of filial rebellion against paternal authority backed by evangelical condemnation… but of course, the story is more complex than that” Blimey! I thought… I hope not! 

But I’m not being sarcastic. This book at times became a ‘heavy’ read for me. In fairness to the Author, it is my aged inability to grasp some of the Social and perspective psychology presented in such a study that provided my occasional sticky-patches. There is so much more than I imagined to unravelling with previously clichéd understandings of these blues legends and to their connection to a hitherto casual notion of the Devil in music as a conventional Faustian tempter.

Gussow doesn’t take on the impossible and meaningless task of proving or disapproving such legends. And in the case of Robert Johnson - yes, it’s him again – (who sold his soul at a crossroads somewhere-or-other, in exchange for the ability to play his guitar in such an exciting way as to influence the birth of white blues-rock music & Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival) the author plainly understands that hearsay and legend (as well as sales potential) are easy to obtain when anyone merely mentions Robert Johnson “the greatest of the Delta Blues Singers” and when a medium dose of other past Delta masters can provide ‘guesstimates’ of Johnson’s reckless and diabolical antics at the Crossroads – that is enough motive and information to provide the core of many studies – but few as good as this.

Even the most cursory look at the recordings of Robert Johnson reveals that much of his particular  legends depend solely on the tantalising titles & occasional lyrics in four of his commercially issued songs. The author discusses, arguably the most relevant title, Johnson’s Me and The Devil Blues and reads it as an irreverent and essentially… “comic provocation, a manifestation of Johnson’s cocky, hipsterish “young modern” sensibility”. Moving on, the other titles include a ‘Hellhound’ that had existed in Negro Folklore & Song long before RJ had one on his trail, and Preaching Blues (Up Jumped The Devil) which, beside the extended title has no other mention of  the ‘Evil One’ in it’s lyrics.  Even the bracketed subtitle itself did not appear on the original Vocalion 78 label , nor did it appear in any edition of B&GR, nor, if my memory serves me correctly, did it appear on the original record company file cards. So where did this occasional ‘add-on’ come from? Who put it there? Now, that really is a sinister mystery! This leaves the one recording that provided this book with it’s title and in Johnson’s Cross Road Blues there is absolutely no lyric mention of supernatural goings on at all – it seems to me that with this song, and the mythology that goes with it, are solely based on the superstitious assumptions of Johnson's mentor, Son House (when he was first interviewed by his young             're-discoverers'  back in the early 60s) and, even less reliably,  by the predominantly white ‘fan-base’ that nurtures the romantic stereotype of what they believe Robert Johnson and other bluesman should believe, look and behave like. I like the way that the author too - gently mocks some of these legends and dubious connections – but always in the most scholarly fashion and he never fails to provide some fascinating observations and the kind of authoritative analysis on each theme that could only be made by someone that has undertaken some serious and meticulous research.

The standard reference works on the earliest black folklore, terminology and documented superstition such as Hyatt and DARE are acknowledged as are the more specialised research by well known authors like Steve Calt and Paul Oliver (both, sadly no longer with us) to enthusiastic internet ‘newsgroupers’ and relative ‘newbies’ like Cat Ironweed and Max Haymes.  It is also worth noting the work of the late Keith Briggs and his successor Chris Smith, who have cast the most expert eyes on such things in the columns of Blues & Rhythm magazine. Author Adam Gussow has more than a moderate claim to join the very best of any of the aforementioned researchers and writers with his analytic, in-depth and insightful look into the ‘Devil-Blues recordings and selected sermons’ that are all helpfully logged and listed before the index – (although minus much discographical details - but curiously including  individual ‘running times’ of each separate recording)  He takes a closer look at the lyrics of a - near comprehensive - 125-plus original blues that talk about the Devil and uses Clara Smith’s 1924 recording of Done Sold My Soul To The Devil as a logical starting point and finishes in the 2000s with, among others, John Mayall.

It is with the inclusion of Mayall and Company and the introduction of ‘Blues Postmodernity’ (modernity refs to  Sociological ‘stuff’ pre-1950s (ish) and postmodernists feel that “theirs” requiresI know - because I looked it up) - that things take a turn for the worst. Gussow links his ‘postmodernity’ to the Hollwood movie ‘Crossroads’ (directed by Walter Hill in 1986 and starring a midget teeny heart-throb from ‘Karate Kid’) unfortunately the result is a tedious, pointless analysis of an equally tedious and pointless film. The author does not share my low opinion of this laughingly inept waste of celluloid and devotes too much of his narrative trying to justify its existence with new ‘insights’ and ‘exclusives’ into its purpose and production. Discussion of the film does provide (I assume by design) the author with a convenient link to the ever-expanding number of  predominantly Caucasian, ‘Blues tourist’ or, as author Francis Davis accurately termed them way back in 1995 as… “People (that) go to Mississippi to look at things that aren’t there anymore”.

Bless them. Some face Mecca and others Highway 61 with their own personal pilgrimages and I say “each to their own” but their very inclusion in such a fine study as this – particularly in the final one third of this hefty manuscript makes the whole of so much of less interest to me, personally; the publisher’s note tells us that this book is a “bold reinterpretation of Johnson’s music and a provocative investigation of the way in which the citizens of Clarksdale, Mississippi, managed to rebrand a commercial hub as “the crossroads” in 1999, claiming Johnson and the devil as their own”.

Fair enough. But it also a wearisome example of the ‘new’ way of supposedly documenting blues music - both factually and imaginatively, when it indisputably links itself to the comparatively recent appearance of quite awful, and endlessly self-promoted ‘Blues – novels’. For those who can’t see my link or haven’t read any such books - they are fantasy-fiction, invariably ‘starring’ a young (or old} white blues-rock guitarist, searching for his, and/or his Black bluesman / hero’s roots ‘down-south’ complete with a storyline that more often than not, includes something supernatural, a crossroads and the Devil himself – It is this kind of tosh that has provided much inspiration to the  ‘blues-tourist’  and I presume that the authors and readers of such tosh are prime demographic targets of both the Tourist office of Clarksdale as well as Adam Gussow (also a working musician – I understand) himself - particularly towards the end of this otherwise splendid tome.

They’ll call me an ‘anti-postmodernist’ or ‘mouldy old fig’ or something similar. But by the time Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughn (good as they are in their own field) come into any research/story of the blues (their name appears on over two dozen pages here) – to me, it has ceased to be about ‘real blues’ certainly as I know it, anyway.  And I would have been happy if this study had finished on page 254, at which point I could, and would have given it an unreserved and enthusiastic commendation. Instead, I did my duty, read to the very end and turned those final pages with a yawn. 


CD: HET RAMBLERS DANSORKEST 1944 - ‘Hilversum Expres’. 26 tracks. Doctor Jazz DJ017. product-categorie/abonnees/

The German Nazi Party – or, more specifically, the Reich Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels – declared in 1938 that jazz was entartet (“degenerate”) and was no longer to be broadcast or played in public. The decision was based on the fact that it was black music, blacks were inferior, ergo the music was taboo. Much of the propaganda accompanying the ban featured caricatures of black musicians, in the same style as caricatures of Jews were used to justify bans against them. While this development ensured that recordings made by black musicians in the USA vanished from the German record companies’ catalogues, it clearly didn’t stop French and Dutch issues making it across the German border, and I have seen enough post-1938 recordings by white bands, such as those of Bob Crosby and the Dorseys, stamped “Made in Germany” to suggest that the ban was never total until war finally broke out in September 1939. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to have applied to German bands: Kurt Hohenberger, Willy Berking, Tullio Mobiglia – and others – continued to record ‘hot’ numbers, albeit often with disguised titles: Bald Kommt der Tag (The Day will soon come), by the Bar Trio is actually Some of these Days; and There’s A Blond Young Man Playing in the Bar Next Door is one of Hohenberger’s hottest records – dating from late 1941. Although I’ve never seen this officially confirmed, it’s evident that, as Germans liked the music and needed their minds taking off the growing horrors of war, deaf ears were turned to what these groups were playing.

Once the Germans moved westwards into Belgium, France and the Netherlands, they applied the same policy to music as in the Reich – though in varying degrees of harshness. In order to enforce their policies, they re-organised the local broadcasting systems but, in many instances, re-employed existing artists under new fixed contracts, so that they could control what they played more easily. Such was the case with Dutch broadcasting, which was recreated in the German image as Nederlandsche Omroep – een volk, een omroep (“Dutch radio - one people, one broadcasting system”) and, even though the Ramblers Dance Orchestra was well-known for its jazz and swing output, it was re-employed along with several others by the new, Nazi-controlled organisation. To begin with, the new regime meant little more than changing the English song titles into something less provocative. But then came an enforced output of propaganda, interspersed with a diet of marches, songs from operettas and ‘popular’ tunes. But it soon became clear that, until the ‘final victory’ over the Allies was achieved, there would have to be concessions: the realities of war meant the new broadcaster was losing too many listeners to the BBC and the ensuing crack-down, even to the point of confiscating radio-sets, wasn’t working. So, as at home, the occupiers had to bite the bullet and allow a certain amount of ‘swinging’ music onto the airwaves, albeit only played by Dutch bands and alternating with straight dance tunes. Nonetheless, the public face was of a ban on ‘negro elements’ in music...but a ban that was in practice unenforceable: there were threats and warnings, but rarely any sanctions. So many of the same accommodations were made, in order to keep people happier than they might have otherwise been. Jean Omer and Stan Brenders (with Django Reinhardt) continued to play and record their brand of swing in Belgium, and the Ramblers did

likewise, from 1942, in the Netherlands...though the restrictions were tougher there.

This was the problem for the musicians: they became part of the propaganda machine of the Third Reich: each Ramblers set was broken up with messages from, for example the ‘Workers’ Front’. And even though their swing numbers had Dutch titles, hard-line Nazis were infuriated by the music, whilst it became obvious that the band’s fans understood that these new ‘names’ – such as Tomorrow is a new Day – had a double meaning and were a symbol of resistance. That particular number was banned in 1943. But there was no point in refusing to work for the Nazis: the alternative was to be deported to work in Germany, which was a real threat made to Theo Uden Masman, the Ramblers’ leader.

All the tracks on this CD date from the first half of 1944: in June of that year, after D-Day, the Ramblers were laid off and had to have special permission to broadcast. But up till then, they recorded seven sessions for Decca (thought the last of these remains unissued in its entirety), and all the hotter titles are included here, along with three air shots and two concert tracks. The high quality of the arrangements and the solo work is remarkable and tenor-saxist André van der Ouderaa is outstanding throughout: Fietsen op der Heide is a typical escapist wartime song (“Cycling through the Heather”), but it’s red hot, as is Rosalinde, which features a fine trumpet solo (Jack Bulterman?).

The first three Decca sessions were, in fact, recorded in Brussels rather than Hilversum, whilst the Ramblers were touring there... remarkable, given wartime restrictions, but the atmosphere was more relaxed in Belgium and this shows particularly on titles like Jubileum and Chasse à Courre (Steeplechase), which are out and out swing-band numbers, with excellent solo work and fine arrangements (usually by Bulterman). His Studio 10 is fine indeed and is actually a hardly-disguised version of I’m Beginning to See the Light, an English title which would have enraged even the more liberal authorities in Belgium!

Belgian composer David Bee’s Obsession is noteworthy not only for its great swing, but also for a fine guitar solo by Jan Mol; Emotion is another Bulterman composition, with some excellent piano (rarely featured) by leader Masman. The title track, Hilversum Expres, is a showcase for Jan Mol’s guitar (he also wrote the number), whilst Au Revoir again features some fine tenor sax by André van der Ouderaa: this is another ‘translated’ title, credited to Masman, but the tune is that old warhorse, Farewell Blues.

The next two sessions were recorded back in Hilversum, though there’s no discernible change in musical style to meet the more restrictive approach of the Nazis in the Netherlands. Ay, Ay, Ay is not given the usual latin-american treatment, but a belting swing arrangement, and Michael Jary’s Le Caroussel can hardly ever have been played better by a jazz group. I was particularly impressed by the way the band handle the eight-to-the-bar rhythm on Jack Bulterman’s Etude; all these song-titles seem to be innocuous covers to blindside the ‘Chamber of Culture’ that was tasked with overseeing music policy. Angelina, for example, suggests a gentle love interest, rather than the blasting swinger she turns out to be.

Steeplechase gets a second outing under the German title Hindernisrennen, the first of the Nederlandsche Omroep air- shots (hence presumably the German translation); it’s a somewhat more relaxed and precise performance than the commercial recording for Decca and was recorded – and presumably broadcast – two days after the Normandy invasion. The double entendre in the title could hardly have been lost on the authorities, though by this time they may have felt there were bigger fish to fry! Onder wuivende palmen (“Under waving Palms”) might well also have been construed as cocking a snook: after a rather indifferent vocal, it is otherwise a fine swing band number. However, by this time the radio people had insisted on dropping the name The Ramblers in favour of simply Theo Uden Masman and his Dance Orchestra, which perhaps underlines the two stools between which the Germans were falling: their own jumpiness after D-day and the need to keep the listeners happy and onside. And happy they obviously are on the final two tracks, from a concert in The Hague, just a couple of months later, by which time The Ramblers had reclaimed their name and were playing to an ecstatic audience: Op het Ramblers Bal (“At the Ramblers’ Ball”) and Jubileum show the band in fine form, with everyone pretty sure by this time that the ‘final victory’ will not be that of their invaders.

Most of the original 78s these tracks are dubbed from were pressed on very inferior shellac because of the wartime restrictions (as I can attest from those I have in my own collection), restrictions which, incidentally, had by this time just about closed down the recording industry in Germany itself. The audio restoration, by Harry Coster, is impressive: the clarity of sound is quite remarkable.


Another grouping of 4 albums from Avid Jazz which specializes in compiling several classic albums into a no-frills package at a budget price.

Tenor sax man Ike Quebec rarely gets any mention in jazz histories and anthologies – like Don Byas and Paul Quinichette (and others), they were mainstream players in peak form as the bop era took hold so they often missed the prime record dates and rarely led their own sessions. Like the others, Quebec played so much like his idol (Ben Webster) that he lacked what’s known today as a signature sound.

Quebec recorded sporadically during the 40s but led one session for Blue Note, during which he fell into favor with Albert Lion, one of the founders of the label. Lion engaged Quebec as a kind of talent scout in the latter 40s, who brought Thelonious Monk, Bub Powell and others to the label long before they were well-known. During the latter 1950s, Quebec was one of Blue Note’s more commercially successful artists – his juke box-oriented 45 rpm singles helped the label achieve sales beyond its base of die-hard jazz lovers.

The four albums in this collection dates from 1961-2, after Quebec had been out several years recovering from drug addiction. For the most part the albums were an extension of his singles sessions – he’s the only horn with an emphasis on mellow with his gritty Webster-esque tone providing a kick where needed.

The first album, Blue & Sentimental, billed as his “comeback,” is a mix of ballads and uptempo tracks with Blue Note stalwarts Grant Green on Guitar, Paul Chambers, bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. His playing is solid with some depth on the ballads and some nice low down grit on the jumpers, especially Blues for Charlie. The second album, made two days earlier, actually, features his usual accompanist at the time, organist Freddie Roach. Hammond B-3 organs were THE THING for non-bop sessions in the 60s and 70s, and the style suited Quebec who stayed with the standards on this collection.

The third album, recorded just about the same time, is called Heavy Soul but is mainly a collection is excellent but neglected songs such as Brother Can You Spare a Dime, Nature Boy and Just One More Chance. Quebec is at his best on this set, delivering powerful statements, especially on Brother Can You Spare a Dime.

In the early 60s, Stan Getz’ success with The Girl From Ipanema insured that every sax player who could hold an instrument would be recording Bossa Nova albums. And so Quebec delivered his Bossa Nova Soul Samba with Kenny Burrell on guitar and Willie Bobo percussion. Again, his gritty tone adds an edge to what we would now call “smooth jazz” today.

Quebec died of lung cancer less than a year after this last album was released so these were his final statements. Nothing startling in this collection. Some good, solid playing, especially on the Heavy Soul set makes it a good listen.

Like the other Avid Jazz sets, it reproduces the original liner notes in the accompanying booklet, and, happy to say this collection does not have any tracks edited to fit the time constraints of a double CD.


BOOK: THE PRODUCT OF OUR SOULS: Ragtime, Race, and the Birth of the Manhattan Musical Marketplace. By David Gilbert. University of North Carolina Press, NC Press, Softbound, 312 pp. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1469622699

I had to stifle a chuckle when I read Paul Swinton’s review of Beyond The Crossroads elsewhere in this issue and his “inability to grasp some of the Social and perspective psychology presented in such a study” as it fits so perfectly for David Gilbert’s sociological study early 20th century racial politics as viewed specifically through lens of the New York theatre and music scene. As such it is extremely academic in its approach, with ‘dissertation’ screaming from every page in its bindweed of jargon and first-person statements - “I will demonstrate...”, “I examine...”, “I show...” etc., etc.

This is not to say that the author has not done his homework, in the sense that he has apparently read virtually every book that covers the era of the New York theatre and musical scene from the 1890s to the late 1910s, with 20 pages of quoted reference sources, but there seems to have been little new primary source material presented; rather it is mainly a re- evaluation and re-interpretation of already-published material.

Commencing with the early Broadway shows of Ernest Hogan, Bert Williams and George Walker, Will Marion Cook, Bob Cole and James Rosamond Johnson, the author examines their role in the ’racial uplift’ movement of the early 20th century led by W.E.B. DuBois and the ‘The Talented Tenth’ of black communities, and the paradoxical need to work in a blackface and ‘happy darkey’ stereotypes to gain acceptance from white theatre audiences and music buyers. The fact that they turned their backs on ‘The Talented Tenth’s’ stressing the uplift values of European classical music and the ‘pure’ music of spirituals, preferring to work in the field of popular music (which in the late 1890s and early 1900s was dominated by ragtime and ‘coon’ songs), set them at odds with many in the movement to improve the lot of African Americans. The fact is though that the huge explosion in popularity of ragtime and ‘coon songs’ brought a professionalisation of music making to a huge number of African American performers which would ultimately lead to the widespread acceptance and popularity of jazz, blues, soul, hip-hop and the proliferation of African American theatrical productions. Many of these pioneer performers based themselves at the Marshall Hotel on West 53rd Street, which in the pre-WW1 period became a veritable hothouse of black musical and intellectual talent and where the future of a new, authentic ’Negro Music’ was debated, discussed and developed.

Counter to this intellectualising of African American music, downtown in The Tenderloin district the Real Thing was being hammered out on pianos by the ragtime ‘professors’ who made their living playing and accompanying singers in the bars and cabarets that proliferated in in the area. Men such as Luckey Roberts, James P. Johnson, Paul Seminole, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith, ’One Leg’ Willie Joseph and Stephen ‘The Beetle’ Henderson outdid one another in flashy piano technique and even flashier clothes. They performed to young, ‘modern’ black audiences across a class divide and to adventurous whites, presaging the Golden Age of Harlem nightclubs and cabarets.

The huge advance in black theatrical endeavours ground to a halt when, between 1909 and 1910, three of of its foremost creative talents - Bob Cole, Ernest Hogan and George Walker - died in quick succession. The intervening years up to the 1921 production of Shuffle Along have been described as ‘the lost decade of jazz’, but in actuality huge strides were being made in black vaudeville (an area - oddly - that Gilbert does not touch on), with performers such as Wilbur Sweatman, Ollie Powers, Shelton Brooks, Horace George and The Musical Spillers making New York their operating base and regularly presenting African American ragtime to black and white audiences in the nation’s leading vaudeville houses.

The leading figure in the years leading up to the arrival of jazz in New York in 1917 was unquestionably James Reese Europe, whose dignified manner, personal charm and organisational abilities were second to none. At a time when the American Federation of Musicians Greater New York Local 310 denied African Americans membership, Europe organised The Clef Club, a booking agency, social club, and ad hoc union to give black musicians greater security and, through Europe’s social connections with the ‘400’ of white New York society, the pick of plum society engagements. More importantly, it was the start of professionalisation of black music, whereas as prior to its formation, many black musicians working in New York restaurants, clubs and ‘Lobster Palaces’ were chiefly employed as waiters and kitchen staff. Such was the success of Europe’s Clef Club

venture that black New York musicians were soon earning more than their white, unionised, counterparts; but not only that, were taking the top public and private band gigs in Manhattan and the Eastern seaboard. It was only a matter of time that the Local 310 saw the writing on the wall and in 1914 admitted black members.

Unlike the Tenderloin ‘professors’ Europe’s Clef Clubbers played what he had written out for them, though recorded evidence such as the records made by The Versatile Four and Ciro’s Club Coon Orchestra - all Clef Club members - in London in 1916-17 (again, not mentioned in the book despite being primary source material) show that they played with a much greater freedom than many writers and academics give credit.

The author’s relentless sociological interpretations slip a notch when discussing Europe and his involvement with Vernon and Irene Castle, and their pivotal role in the nationwide enthusiasm for social dancing, though I find his musical analysis, what there is of it, of Europe’s Society Orchestra Victor recordings, is blinkered by what contemporary academics view as ‘jazz’ - in the authors definition of the essential ingredients of jazz, the likes of the ODJB, early Fletcher Henderson or even Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra wouldn’t make the cut.

There are some curious omissions, aside from the role of black entertainers in vaudeville - pianist, composer and bandleader Ford Dabney barely gets a mention other than as a deputy to Jim Europe, but his gaining the plum New York gig at Ziegfeld’s Midnight Frolic in 1916 with a 30-plus piece band, which lasted at least until 1923 (despite being replaced by Art Hickman’s Orchestra for a season in 1919), was a milestone in the advancement of black New York musicians.

As I’ve made clear, this is heavy-going, academic stuff, which I’m sure will find favour in university music departments, and in its way is indicative of the shift in publishing of books on jazz, blues and pre-1960 popular music away from mainstream publishers to academic presses. There’s nothing here I couldn’t find presented with greater clarity and eloquence in Reid Badger’s seriously good A Life In Ragtime - A Biography of James Reese Europe or Thomas L. Riis’ surprisingly neglected Just Before Jazz - Black Theater in New York 1890-1915.

An important story that should be better known to a new generation, but which would have benefited from being told in a less professorial manner.