THE HARLEM THAT WAS
This blog is aimed at the collector of classic jazz records – 78 or LP/CD – who is interested in the music and the people – musicians and personnels – who gave us the notes and sounds we love so much on our treasured recordings of early classic jazz.
While every Chicago-musician of note has received his due credit in the past in the discographies and reference books, there is very little material on hand for most of the great musicians of the Harlem scene, especially of the pre-Armstrong days. My attempt here is to shed some light on the very many unsettled and unrecognized, or even apparently wrongly stated personnels of all the Harlem bands known from records, also dealing in detail with the accompanying bands of early vaudeville/blues singers.
More Important Than The Music – A History of Jazz Discography’ is the title of a publication by Bruce D. Epperson, published in 2013, and this title shows exactly what I have long criticized in conversations with my collecting friends, that the larger part of discographical research, exchange and publication obviously deals with the records only, with issue numbers, label details, even the history of recording companies and pressing plants, and not with the music captured in the grooves – jazz music here – the kind of music I love. Without the music imprinted on it, the simple disc would be nothing but material, and only the music contained changes the disc into a document of art, aesthetic delight, sheer pleasure or any other emotion.
As I see it, jazz discography of the classic jazz styles put too much emphasis on collecting every detail of issues, not only in the US, but even worldwide, and much too little on the music on the records – and even less on who the musicians were.
As a consequence, not really much, but far too little has changed in the personnels of the discographies of classic jazz, between the personnels in, say, Brian Rust´s second edition of 1962 and those of his last, sixth, edition of 2002 as issued by Mainspring Press. Although so many details and corrections have been published in the relevant literature – such as Storyville Magazine, New Orleans Music or VJM – very few found their way into the reference books. If we should ever achieve some sort of final discography of classic jazz – the jazz of the 78 age – very much has to be done to identify the unnamed, but crucial musicians playing the music we adore. Not to mention discographies that were issued in a single edition only and thus never developed. But, as a rule, the insufficient and unsatisfactory recent discographies still are regarded as trustworthy documents – and cited in books, magazines and CD booklets without the slightest doubt.
Because of this fact listings in this blog will not be found called “discography” – emphasizing on record details – but as “ personnelography” – emphasizing the performers and creative musicians.
When browsing through early volumes of discographical magazines the other day, I found a most interesting letter from Theo Zwicky of Switzerland, which describes very well what I intend to do: Evaluate all sources published and purchased during my collecting life and relate them to the discographies available. Theo Zwicky, researcher extra-ordinaire of the Territory Bands of the USA as well as the Washboard Rhythm Kings and their affiliates (see his wonderful articles in Storyville magazine) had this to say:
”I always felt that each given personnel should be followed by an abbreviated entry of all the main sources where a personnel came from … This would enable serious collectors/discographers to follow this up. I see so many personnels in Jazz Records and elsewhere that I know are wrong. I´ve been dropping on too many ‘sources’ in old magazines where the personnels originated by absolutely unreliable informants and very often being pure speculation. But they have been copied and repeated over and over again. It´s still not too late to ‘reconstruct’ most of the sources of most personnels. This would help immensely to eliminate wrong personnels, I feel. I´m convinced that this would be much more important than to note spelling differences on labels such as Jelly_Roll/Jelly-Roll!”
It is my aim to follow this advice of Theo Zwicky´s, listen as careful as I am able, find out relations to documented and issued sources as published in the available publications, and thus try to improve and/or supplement the personnels listed in the discographies.
YOUR PARTICIPATION IS WANTED!
My aural memory of 55 years of jazz record collecting and my knowledge and experience of the same 55 years as an amateur jazz musician and – what is more – the leader and arranger of my own 1920 style big band for many years, make me feel to be able to get a deep insight into musical and stylistic relations and connexions of musicians and musical aggregations. I am not a musical scholar and certainly know too little about deepened harmony, but I know how to use my ears and how to think in a lateral way.
The interested reader – and listener! – may find the results of my efforts of the past decade listed in this compilation interesting, astonishing, or perhaps ridiculous. He may find a lot of hitherto little seen, little read and unexpected names of musicians compiled in the personnelographies, and many of them may seem to be unlikely and improbable at first sight, but he can be assured that I have tried to be as careful and attentive in my assumptions and conclusions as ever possible. As a matter of fact, I am a human being and therefore I am not free from making mistakes and find the wrong conclusions.
In this case everybody interested is urgently invited to get into contact via e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to contradict, discuss, and perhaps collaborate to find a proper solution to any personnelographical problem evident or recognized.
At this point I have to remind everybody interested in this project that certainly Brian Rust, Walter C. Allen, Tom Lord and a lot of other discographers of the past have their unmeasurable merits, but they have also accumulated a lot of wrong and sometimes even ridiculous data concerning the personnels in early jazz – very often copying each other. This fact has to make us – and all readers – very cautious about taking their personnels for granted and to doubt everything not positively documented! This also means that some audio-memory you might have in your brains may be based only on what Rust or others have written, and not on fact, and might therefore simply be wrong. If so, I ask you to rethink along the lines shown here and maybe come up with a completely new view on a specific matter.
As a rule I exchange and discuss my research results with a group of experienced jazz record collectors via e-mail from all over the Western world. So, a lot of my statements are equally the result of their experience and musical knowledge, and I have to thank them sincerely for their support and advice.