by Tim Harding
2-CD Album: ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029). Australian Jazz Museum, Wantirna.
Since its establishment in June 1996, the Australian Jazz Museum (incorporating the Victorian Jazz Archive) has amassed a huge collection of jazz recordings and memorabilia. The main aim is to collect and store jazz music performed and/or composed by Australian musicians; but the AJM also houses recordings of jazz produced outside Australia, to be used as a reference source. The bulk of the overseas recordings have been generously bequeathed to the AJM as part of deceased estates.
In recent years, the AJM has issued some 31 CD albums of recordings from this collection on its own VJAZZ label. ‘Hot Syncopated Rarities of the 1920s & 30s’ (VJAZZ 029) is the AJM’s first album of overseas recordings and hopefully not the last. It is an excellent selection of 48 tracks (24 on each CD), recorded between March 1926 and March 1940. The cover notes say that this period was chosen firstly to avoid the earlier low-fi acoustic recordings prior to 1926 and secondly to avoid the less rare recordings made after 1940.
Most of the recordings are indeed relatively rare – for instance, I already had only half a dozen of the 48 tracks in my collection, which is reasonably comprehensive from this period. To me, this implies that many of these recordings may not have previously been reissued on CD. All tracks are American except for six recorded in London, UK; and almost all of the American tracks were recorded in New York.
Well known bandleaders include Red Nichols, Frankie Trumbauer, Eddie Condon, Fletcher Henderson, Harry Reser, Sam Lanin, Ben Pollack, Ambrose, Nat Shilkret, Ted Weems and Ben Bernie. Even some of the lesser known bands have stars such as Tommy Dorsey, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti in them.
The AJM has ‘cleaned up’ the original 78 RPM records from its collection by removing annoying surface noise; but otherwise the tracks do not sound is if they have been extensively graphic equalised or interfered with. The resulting audio quality sounds like that from 78s in very good condition, which I think is a good audio standard to aim for.
I also think that there is a good musical quality in the tracks selected. Jazz purists might prefer to classify some of the tracks as ‘hot dance’ rather than jazz, but to my ears they all have a jazz feel to them. The AJM has used Brian Rust’s discography ‘Jazz Records 1897-1942’ as a guide to both jazz classification and recording personnel. There are no insipid best forgotten commercial pop songs amongst them; and many of the so-called hot dance tracks contain some good ad lib jazz solos.
In my view, the best jazz solos on this album include those by trumpeter Henry Red Allen (Sweet Sue, Yellow Dog Blues); trombonists Jack Teagarden (Makin’ Friends, Monday Morning), Miff Mole (My Blue Heaven) and Dickie Wells (Sweet Sue); clarinetist Buster Bailey (Lorna Doone Shortbread); tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (Sweet Sue); bass saxophonist Adrian Rollini (No Foolin’); and tubist Joe Tarto (Hittin’ the Ceiling and Just the Same).
There are a couple of 8-bar cornet solos by Bix Beiderbecke on Frankie Trumbauer’s My Sweeter than Sweet, recorded on 19 October 1929. Bix also plays quietly behind Smith Ballew’s vocal, but this recording is not amongst Bix’s best work, in my view. Joe ‘King’ Oliver solos on muted cornet in Blue Blood Blues (1929) by Blind Willie Dunn’s Gin Bottle Four, but once again, this is not Oliver’s best work.
Roughly half the tracks have a vocal chorus on them, but whilst adequate, the singing is not particularly memorable. Unlike many of the instrumental solos, the vocals sound more ‘dance band’ than jazz. A couple of exceptions are Jenny’s Ball (1931) sung in a classic jazz style by Mamie Smith, and Wipe ‘em Off (1929) sung by Clarence Williams. Interestingly, Clarence also plays jug on the latter track where the pianist is Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith.
One track of historical interest is Skeleton Jangle recorded in 1936 by a reunion of the 1917 Original Dixieland Jazz Band, with a different pianist. Whether by accident or design, the 1936 band sounds remarkably similar to the 1917 band, but with better audio quality.
This album is available for purchase online from the Australian Jazz Museum at: http://vicjazzarchive.org.au/
The current online price for this 2-CD album is $25 plus packing and postage, which is very good value in my opinion.
Disclosure: Tim Harding is a life member and former board member of the AJM when it was the Victorian Jazz Archive.