Monday, August 17, 2015

The Ragtime Skedaddlers - Supreme String Band Ragtime

Sheet music front
Ragtime had its heyday at the dawn of the 20th century, it was the popular music of the time and ragtime composers were busy and had success publishing new ragtime scores that were in great demand by performing musicians as well as amateurs looking for suitable sheet music for home entertainment. An example of a popular ragtime piece from the period is the shown A Ragtime Skedaddle by George Rosey ( - a pseudonym for George M. Rosenberg) that was published in 1899, the same year as Scott Joplin's Maple Leaf Rag. The sheet front subtitles the piece 'March and Cake Walk' pointing to the musical form and further to its proper use as accompaniment to performance of the cake walk, a popular social dance fad of the time.

Sheet front detail (click to enlarge)
If you take a closer look at the sheet front (- a free downloadable copy of the original piano score is available here), you can notice that the piece was available for purchase in various arrangements (se detail above). The standard score of course was designated for piano, but you had also the possibility to buy arrangements for banjo solo, full orchestra and various string band combinations featuring mandolin and guitar. Today ragtime is considered a musical genre performed by a solo piano player, but fact is that  when scores like A Ragtime Skedaddle were published, other instruments were just 
as usual for performance of the music. 'The King of Banjo', Sylvester 'Vess' L. Ossman , recorded the piece the same year it was published and had success with his version as a banjo solo

Sylvester 'Vess' L. Ossman (1868 - 1923) was one of the first popular banjoists to make cylinders and records. Beginning with his first cylinder recording in 1893,  his fame was spread far and wide through his thousands of recordings of popular ragtime and marches. He performed extensively in England as well as the USA. Later in his career, he led his own dance bands in Ohio and Indiana. - A selection of Ossman's recordings is available in streaming audio here 

Vess Ossman, The King of Banjo
A contemporary string ragtime trio from San Francisco has taken its name from George Rosey's popular piece and presents themselves as The Ragtime Skedaddlers.

The Ragtime Skedaddlers, l-r: Mike Schwartz, Dennis Pash,  Nick Robinson
The Ragtime Skedaddlers are Dennis Pash on banjo-mandolin, Nick Robinson on mandolin, and Mike Schwartz on guitar (formerly Dave Krinkel). They play rags, cakewalks, marches, waltzes, and latin-tinge pieces from vintage mandolin and guitar sheet music arrangements. The trio has released three full albums, all available in streaming audio and for purchase here. The latest is approbiately titled The Latest Popular Mandolin and Guitar Music and gives an excellent impression of the repertoire performed by the trio.
CD front sleve illustration (2014)
From a review of one of the albums by The Ragtime Skedaddlers (- accessible here) I like to quote the following:

"Using arrangements published during the ragtime era, the Ragtime Skedaddlers continue the tradition of ragtime string bands. (-) Unlike other “traditional” groups who take their inspiration from various notions of New Orleans jazz or Chicago jazz, the Skedaddlers go back to a time when string ragtime, light-hearted yet propulsive, was America’s true popular music.(-) This trio doesn’t speed up or approach the music with either clownish levity or undue scholarly seriousness. Rather, they are old-fashioned melodists, creating sweet lines that arch and tumble over one another in mid-air. (-) The Skedaddlers are entrancing on their own, and a delightful change from the often heavy ensembles so prevalent in occasions of this sort."

To support this precise description of The Ragtime Skedaddlers, I'll insert some examples of the trio's live performance that have been uploaded at YouTube. - Here is first the trio's version of George Rosey's A Ragtime Skedaddle 

In this video recorded in 2010, Dave Krinkel on guitar was a member of the trio, he is also featured in the next, recorded at at private party in 2013 when The Ragtime Skedaddlers among other pieces also performed an excellent version of Ernesto Nazareth's maxixe titled Dengozo (published 1907)

From the same party session the trio also performed Scott Joplin's Peacherine Rag (published 1901)

To end this small presentation of The Ragtime Skedaddlers, here is the trio's performance of Henry Lodge's Temptation Rag recorded at the Mandolin Symposition earlier this year, Mike Schwartz is the featured guitarist in this video


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Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Begin The Beguine

Cole Porter
When Begin the Beguine debuted in Cole Porter’s musical comedy Jubilee in 1935, it was the longest popular song ever written at 108 bars. The conventional length for a song is 32 bars. The beguine of the title refers to a dance that was developed on the islands of Martinique, Cuba, and Guadeloupe in the 1930s. It is similar to a rumba, but slower, with dance moves performed smoothly and deliberately. Like many Latin dances, the beguine emphasizes the ability to roll the hips to evoke sensuality while performing the steps. Cole Porter composed the song during a 1935 Pacific cruise and also wrote the lyrics, and in 1938 clarinetist and bandleader Artie Shaw recorded his instrumental version of the song, that became a hit of the swing era. - Here is a filmed performance of Begin The Beguine featuring Artie Shaw and his orchestra from 1938

Another instrumental version of Begin The Beguine among my favorites was recorded by Oscar Alemán y su Quinteto de Swing November 4, 1942

Cole Porter probably adopted the musical form 'beguine' either in Paris, France or at a visit to Martinique during his 1935 Pacific cruise. The musical form -  like the dance style - has its origins in the French Antilles (Martinique and Guadeloupe) and another example of a beguine adopted by a popular artist is Josephine Baker's 1932 version of the song Madiana composed by the Martinique vocalist Maïotte Almaby 

This summer I have enjoed listening to several recordings of original creole music from Martinique, and to end this small entry on a popular song, I'll insert a couple of examples of this regional music that had success in Paris during the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. At that time many musicians from Martinique were in Paris and made recordings that ought to be better known among jazz fans. One of the Martinique musicians, who made a career in Paris, was clarinetist Eugène Delouche (1909-1975). He led his own band of Martinique musicians called Del's Jazz Beguine, and in 1935 his ensemble recorded this beautiful song dedicated to Martinique

To end this, here's another recording by Del's Jazz Beguine - also from 1935, the title is Reverie 


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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Harry Flem(m)ing - Recordings Made In Milan 1933 & 1938

Hans Koert earlier published a definitive and well researched article about Oscar Alemán's engagement with entrepeneur and band leader Harry Flem(m)ing during the period when Les Loups were a part of Flem(m)ing's revue in Europe 1930-31 - the article is to be found here. In his article Hans Koert refers to the sources of his research and a.o points to an article written by the German researcher and writer on jazz and related topics, Rainer Lotz, who in collaboration with Horst Bergmeier has written a very detailed account on the adventures of Harry Flem(m)ing's career in Europe. The article is from 2007 and has the title Harry Fleming - „Der Dandy aus Harlem”, written in the German language (Dietramszell, Fox auf 78, 24, Sommer 2007, pp.32-39). I have a copy of this article as a Word-document, which I recently read again and took notice of some info that I should like to share here. It's about the period after Oscar Alemán's break with Harry Flem(m)ing in 1931 and the focus here is especially on the recordings made by Harry Flem(m)ing in 1933 and 1938, as I was astonished to learn that there in fact exists recorded audio credited to this almost mythical figure. I got curious and looked up the info shown below in Tom Lord's discography

Extract of Tom Lord's discography (Version 9.0), click to enlarge
Both 1932 and 1933 Harry Flem(m)ing had long engagements in Italy with performance all over the country featuring a troupe of musicians, dancers and entertainers in a new constellation of his revue show. According to the info in the mentioned Lotz/Bergmeier article the accompanying orchestra in 1933 had an international crew featuring seven or eight Italians, four Americans, three Englishmen, two Spaniards and a German, however, none of the names mentioned in the article seem to have participated in the recordings made for Columbia in the fall of 1933, if you compare with the info stated in Tom Lord's discographical listing (see above). Lotz/Bergmeier further state that 10 sides were recorded for Columbia in Milan 1933 while Lord only lists 8 sides, and the article also adds more precise info regarding the dates. The recordings were done in two sessions, the first one took place on 21. October and the second on November 1st. Lotz/Bergmeier futher mention that the two titles on Co CQ. 1328 were recorded on the 21st of October, but have no detailed info regarding the remaining titles. The Co CQ. 1328 also seems to be the most interesting disc, as it features Harry Flem(m)ing on one side as a singer and tap dancer in 'Dixie'. - The audio of this recording has been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted here

Tom Lord's listing of personnel participating in the 1933 Columbia session(s) probably is incorrect, for instance it is not possible that Albert Wynn (tb) took part in the recordings, as he had left Flem(m)ing's troupe in 1932 and went back to the US where he for some time was a member of Sidney Bechet's N.O. Feetwarmers and also recorded with Bechet that year. However, Lord's info on personnel of the 1933 recordings is stated as 'probably', but it is misleading regarding the two sessions that were recorded by „Harry Flemming e la sua Orchestra“ in 1938. According to Lotz/Bergmeier, Flem(m)ing's orchestra again recorded two sessions for Columbia in Milan 1938 during another tour of Italy. 

The first session was recorded on the 2nd March and issued on two 78 rpm discs, Co DQ.2617 and DQ. 2618 as listed by Tom Lord. The second session was recorded a month later on the 2nd April and the two titles from this session were issued on Co DQ.2637. Tom Lord's info on personnel participating in the two 1938 sessions is misleading, as it lists the personnel as 'probably similar' to the 1933 sessions, but with the additon of a featured vocal by Nada Villefleur on some of the 1938 recordings. Lotz/Bergmeier have a detailed listing that comprises Italian musicians only. They are as follows for the March 2nd session: Pippo Renna, Loreto Ficorilli (tp), Giacomo Polverino (tb); Piero Rizza (as, cl), Francesco Paolo Ricci (cl, as, bar s), Alberto Spallazzi (ts); -- Parisi (p); Cosimo di Ceglie (g); unknown (b), Lello Mauceri (dm) - on the April 2nd session Nello Digeronimo (tb) replaces Giacomo Polverino and Nada Villefleur is added as vocalist. According to Tom Lord's info Nada Villefleur is added vocalist on 'Stompin' At The Savoy', but the audio of the recording does not feature a vocal. The audio of this recording of Stompin' At The Savoy (NB mislabeled as 'Stampin' At The Savoy' on the issued 78 rpm disc) has also been uploaded at YouTube and is inserted below to end this


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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Rattletrap Ruckus - Revitalizing Music Entertainment

Edison Home Phonograph (c.1908)
Nowadays the digital era has reached a point where the technical possibilities of reproduction of sound easily eliminate disturbing noise and for instance present our ears for a 'clean' copy of a recorded piece of music even from long ago. Although the digital possibilities of restoring sound from old cylinders and shellac discs in a nearly 'clean' copy are at hand today, the result often leaves the impression that something is missing. What is this 'something'? In my personal perception it's often an impression of the ambiance of the original recording that is missing. What has been left out by digital restoration is the mechanical noise generated by a wobbly maschine and the disturbing clicks and pops from a needle in the groove, but at the same time the processing often also has 'killed' the original ambiance of the recording and leaves the audible output in anonymous obscurity like a canned relic of the past. It takes a devoted producer with knowledge of the recorded music and the circumstances of the original recording to generate a reliable reproduction of music, especially from the early ages of recorded sound.

Band logo of Rattletrap Ruckus
The same demand rests on  musicians of today who intend to revive music that was recorded long ago and originally reproduced on wax cylinders or shellac discs. To generate an aesthetic credible impression such musicians must know their sources and be able to recreate the music in a way that makes a commotion in a contemporary context of slick music production and brainless consumption. Some time ago I found an example of a music ensemble that in fact has succeeded in revitalizing the sound of music entertainment from an era long ago without losing the impact of authenticity. The name of the ensemble is Rattletrap Ruckus, and their output preserved in digital bits and bytes convincingly leaves the  impression of some music worth lending your ears performed by devoted and talented musicians who know and respect their sources and their own capacity. The ambiance of the recordings luckily is well preserved and further documented in the video that introduces the ensemble and the title music of their debut CD - Redlight Rag 

Basicly Rattletrap Ruckus is a four-piece instrumental band that was established in 2009, initial members are Lucas Hicks (accordion), Casey Connor (tenor banjo), Jenny Rose (upright bass) and Clea Taylor (cello). The members also play other instruments on the CD and in live performance, a speciality is Jenny Rose's use of a laundrophone (- also known as a washtub bass).

Rattletrap Ruckus (photo by Shannon Conyers)

The debut album of Rattletrap Ruckus was recorded and released in 2013 and comprises a repertoire of mixed music genres. The band presents its repertoire this way: "We play fiddle tunes, ragtime, tango, paso dobles, various breeds of waltz, klezmer, polkas, and oh so much more." The CD has seventeen tracks of this mixture (- good for what ails you!), and you have the opportunity to buy and listen to the full album in streaming audio here  - Learn more about Rattletrap Ruckus from the official website of the band, here 
Redlight Rag - Album illustration by Jenny Rose
Below I'll insert a few more examples of the music played by Rattletrap Ruckus from the videos that have been uploaded at YouTube. - Here's first the band's interpretation of accordionist Guido Deiro's composition titled 'The Lola One-Step'

From a live performance last year Rattletrap Ruckus played Pedro Padilla's 'Llévame Al Cielo'

A composition by Luckas Hicks 'Aelita Queen of Mars' performed in a home video production

To end this small presentation of Rattletrap Ruckus, here's a live performance of the famous paso doble by Vicente Zecca 'Bella Morena' recorded New Year's Eve 2011 - enjoy!


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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

John Kongshaug - Jazz Guitar Pioneer

John Kongshaug
The guitar emerged as a distinct solo voice in jazz with the invention of the electric pickup and amplification. The pioneering work of electric amplification evolved in the USA during the 1930s, but it was not until Charlie Christian's entrance at the jazz scene late 1930s that the electric/amplified guitar became a common instrument among jazz guitarists. Charlie Christian paved the way and sat the direction for future jazz guitar playing - also outside the US. - In Scandinavia, pioneer jazz guitarists like Robert Normann, Sven Stiberg, Helge Jacobsen a.o. started to use the electric/amplified guitar already in the early 1940's, but due to WWII when all countries in Scandinavia except Sweden were occupied by the German nazi regime, the evolution of electric jazz guitar playing was delayed compared to the movement in the USA. During WWII, Jazz in general was banned in occupied parts of Scandinavia following official decretes from the nazi regime, but it was practised anyway as a sort of  'underground' movement and only accepted as part of a restricted and limited entertainment business. Moreover, jazz musicians in Scandinavia had very limited access to new records, information and inspiration from the outside world. Only Sweden - due to its neutrality - was able to import new records from USA and GB with great difficulty and delay. These circumstances meant that genuine knowledge of the evolvment of be bop and contemporary jazz in the USA was delayed in Scandinavia, only after WWII had ended in 1945 a general change in the conseption of jazz emerged late 1940s and early 1950s. A pioneer jazz guitarist of this post-WWII Scandinavian generation of musicians that incorporated the new sound of jazz from the USA was John Kongshaug.
John Kongshaug (still photo copied from YouTube)
According to the scarce info I have available, John Kongshaug (1922-1995) was born in Trondheim, Norway and started his professional career in 1942. By the end of the 1940s he was one of the leading guitar solists in Norway. In 1959 he moved to Sweden, where he played with notable reed players Carl-Henrik Norin, Bjarne Nerem, Arne Domnérus and in the orchestras at the Opera and the Stockholm Philharmonic. Later he was a sideman much in demand and played with numerous local as well as international artists. As a consequence,  due to his extensive work as a sideman, he never followed his own jazz career, nevertheless he ranks as a Scandinavian modern jazz guitar pioneer who was at par with some of the best jazz musicians in his time. Earlier this year Hot Club Records of Norway released a CD with a selction  of Kongshaug's recordings from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s produced by Jon Larsen in coporation with Kongshaug's son, Jan Erik Kongshaug.
CD front, Hot Club Records, HCR 439
The CD has 26 tracks and is a somewhat mixed bag of regular jazz and popular music, however, the CD takes off with a session from December 1954 featuring a Modern Swing Group, a sextet with NOrwegian musicians. Kongshaug is the lead guitarist and has great solo work in a tune named 'Slappfisken' which shows off that he has adopted modern harmony and be bop influence in his fluent playing

From about the same time the sextet also recorded a bop influenced version of the swing standard 'Honeysuckle Rose', again Kongshaug is showing off inspired solowork

In the late 1950s John Kongshaug began experimenting with multi-track recording of his guitar, probably inspired by similar recordings by Les Paul and George Barnes,  the CD has several examples of this field of Kongshaug's output. One of the earliest attempts was a recording of 'Lullaby Of Birdland' in April 1958

From about the same time Kongshaug recorded his own samba 'Satelitten' using multi-track technique and applying double speed in the overdubbed tracks

The last five tracks of the CD again feature John Kongshaug in a regular jazz context, two tracks have him in interplay with fellow guitarist Barney Kessel and show off his adoption of modern jazz guitar playing, here in the standard 'Tea For Two'

The last three tracks of the CD have John Kongshaug in interplay with his son, Jan Erik Kongshaug, who is also a guitar player and sound engineer; an example of their interplay is the recording of 'Delauney's Dilemma'

The CD featuring John Kongshaug is available for purchase as download from Hot Club Records, here, and you have the opportunity to listen to the full album at YouTube with nice still footage uploaded by Hot Club Records, here. - Still photos of John Kongshaug used in this entry are copied from the uploaded YouTube video by HCR.

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the Netherlands (1937) - Part Two

Georg Lankester, expert in the French pre-WWII jazz scene, Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of Hot Club de France, continues his account of the visit(s) of QHCF in the Netherlands 1937. The first part was published here - Below follows the second part.

Django and Stéphane’s second visit to Holland
On top of the numerous performances and recording sessions during the World Exhibition in Paris, with the best American reedmen and French players Ekyan and Combelle, a second invitation for Django & Stéphane to play in Holland arrived.
This time the occasion was, first  a jazz contest in Amsterdam, then a concert in the Hague and finally radio recordings in Hilversum.
The evening of the 5th of November 1937 the two stars and their rhythm group scored triumphs. The numerous students and other jazz fans were all excited and, of  course, the Hot Club quintet gloriously won the first prize.

Django (center) et al in Holland, November 1937
Although little is known about their stay in Amsterdam, it is reported that the musicians spent some time to visit musea and ‘Madame Tussaud’ where Django was obsessed by the chambers of horror.
Freddy Johnson
Interesting is that in the night hot jam sessions took place with Django, Freddy Johnson, Benny Carter and Coleman Hawkins who were also engaged in Holland - they all knew  each other from their performances in Paris.

Next to the quintet’s playing in the Dutch capital, a concert was given in the zoo of the Hague. On November 6, the Dutch “Jazz Liga celebrated its 5th anniversary on which occasion the Hot Club formation formed the highlight of the evening.

As many will know, there is a film fragment of this concert which was made by the Dutch ‘Polygon” company which also showed the arrival by train of the quintet earlier in the News program.

With regard to the concert film fragment, it is striking that Django is moving his body while he is accompanying Stéphane. For the many Django fans always remains the question which theme was played since the violin (audio) improvisations do not easily reveal that.

Unfortunately there is nothing known about any radio broadcasts – I even contacted people in Hilversum but nobody could trace that.

So far, the short story on these two historical visits of the legendary quintet to the Netherlands. I can just add to this that - after the war - Grappelli gave several concerts in  Holland and I had the opportunity (in 1984) to meet him and, briefly, could  talk with him about those visits of 1937.

Georg Lankester   

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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli in the Netherlands (1937) - Part one

Georg Lankester, expert in the French pre-WWII jazz scene, Django Reinhardt and the Quintet of Hot Club de France, gives an account of the first visit of QHCF in the Netherlands. Below follows part one, the second part will be published later.

Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt was born in 1910 and proved already in his youth to be a highly gifted musician. Playing on his six strings’ banjo, which his gypsy family had given him,  he became a star at the popular Musette balls, sought after by the accordionists in Paris at the end of the Twenties.
Great musicians such as Gusti Malha and Poulette Castro had taught him the basic principles of playing, but the boy gradually developed his own playing technique which no other banjoist could equal.
The young artist won prizes and earned a lot of money since the top accordion players wanted to be accompanied by him. That’s why e.g. Jean Vaissade already made records with Django in the early days of the grammophone.
After a fire accident in his caravan (November 1928) which caused severe burns on his left leg and arm, a long recovery time followed. It took 18 months before he would come back on stage in Paris. His left hand remained crippled and only allowed the use of two fingers.
The last few months of his rehabilitation a member of the family had handed him a guitar for distraction and – who would have expected this? – he then developed a new playing technique adapted to his handicap.
So in the early Thirties Django – now as a guitarist - came back into the Parisian music scene and could be heard with singers.
Jean Sablon
The very popular singer Jean Sablon selected him for his small group and in 1933/34 several beautiful songs were recorded in France, followed by BBC radio broadcasts in England and performances in the Casino of Monaco. But Django was also attracted by new American jazz themes like “Tiger Rag,“After you’ve gone”and many others.
Stéphane Grappelli
He then met violinist/piano player Stéphane Grappelli which, on the initiative of the Hot Club de France leaders would result in the founding of the first jazz string quartet in the world. The two star soloists soon made a name in Europe as well in the USA and their performances were received with astonishment and admiration.

A year full of jazz
1937 would become a remarkable and historical year with lots of surprises as to the Jazz in Europe. Since the foundation of the Hot Club quintet, the group had got quite a reputation. The two star soloists on guitar and violin, accompanied by a strong rhythm section had great success, not only in Europe but also in America. Their records were sold everywhere and these even are available till the present day.
A huge event was going to take place, for in 1937 the great World Exhibition in Paris would be held, a reason for the Hot Club de France leaders (in particular Charles Delaunay and Hugues Panassié) to invite American jazz giants to France for concerts and recording sessions. And so it happened.
However, already several months before this event, the celebrated quintet was invited to perform at the 5th ‘Jazz World’ party in Holland. The initiative was taken by the Dutch Jazz Liga, managed by Eddy Crommelin and sponsored by magazine “Jazzwereld” (Jazz World). 
And  – for the very first time - the illustrious formation travelled to the Netherlands.
On Saturday July 10 one could speak of a full house in the big ‘Kurhaus’ ballroom for a memorable gala concert.
As can be seen from the attached advertisement, this party was rounded off by a ball with the Dutch band “Jacques Kluger’s Collegians’ and piano player Ernst van ’t Hoff.  Moreover people could watch that evening films of Benny Goodman and others.
After this very special event,  the abovementioned magazine published a favourable review. Due to this report we get a good impression of the program which was presented that particular night whereby several performed themes are described.

We learn that the quintet opened with “Exactly like you” which – according to the reporter – immediately excited the audience. Then people could listen to “Limehouse blues” and “Blue  Drag” followed by “Honeysuckle rose”, Django’s “Boléro” and the “Tiger Rag”, all described as  ’superb performances’. As to the two star soloists, expressions were used as ‘fully inspired, highly emotional, dynamic performances with touching inflexions’. Those words would be impossible to use in our times!
After the break we read that compositions like “Speevy”, “I’ve had my moments”and “In the still of the night”were played and again the reporter is very favourable about them and continues:
Then a funny thing happened. Immediately after the final theme was played a  few strong guys entered the stage, picked up the bass and carried it away,  till – in a hurry – it was decided to put it back again, which took a while. All this caused, of course,  great merriment.
 To round off their program the quintet ended with”Moonglow” and “Nagasaki” enthusiastically received by all persons present.

To be continued

Georg Lankester

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