“Looking back in hindsight, 1915 appears to be a saga of such horrors, of such mismanagement and muddle, that it is easy to see why it coloured the views of succeeding generations and gave rise to prejudices and myths that have been applied to the whole war. But it was a year of learning. A year of cobbling together, of frustration, of indecision. In a sense a year of innocence. Therein lies its tragedy.” – Lynn Macdonald – 1915: The Death of Innocence
Nobody is likely to make the case for 1915 as a marquee year in the history of recorded music, and, to be frank, I am not going to change anyone’s mind on the issue today. Certainly there is a lot of good music being played, somewhere, the recordings of the next decade didn’t just spring up from thin air, but with the downturn in recording due to the war, coupled with the dissipation of the hot ragtime craze, everything has an odd air of being either too late or too early to the party.
The stars of this mix are in a sense unlike those we’ve encountered before, in that nobody is apparently interested in writing a glowing biography of Eugene Jaudas or Henry Burr. But dare I suggest there is something sort of here? With the bigger names either out of the game (James Reece Europe will be back in 1918) or past their best (even Bert Williams is by this point sounding a little tired of the game, and we don’t even have jazz yet!), acts who would usually be also-rans are given a chance to flourish. Whether they deserve this chance is moot, I at least have them to build a mix around which doesn’t have to sound like it’s going through the motions.
Eugene Jaudas was a bandleader, violin soloist and director of music at Edison Records, and seems to have decided to cash in on the success of Europe’s Society Orchestra by launching his own knock-off version. As might be expected, the frenetic pace and inventiveness have been largely done away with – however in their place there is a very professional sort of energy which works well on its own terms. The transformation of the raw sound of hot ragtime into a formalized pop discipline begins and ends here – in two years everyone will be trying to play jazz instead. Accidentally this fairly cynical cash-in attempt therefore led to music which is more-or-less unique. The mediocre jazz-age Jaudas recordings are evidence that the genre was probably a dead end, but for now this sounds sort of exciting in its own way.
Not all of the artists from 1915 disappeared in the 1920s. Patrick Conway managed to become the leader of a very successful radio orchestra. Novelty vaudeville saxophone group Five Brown Brothers, or even Six Brown Brothers, turned their blackface into clown make-up and retconned themselves (with some justification) as jazz pioneers. And Fred Van Eps, now eclipsing Vess L Ossman as the banjo soloist of choice, continued recording all the way to the 1960s.
All of this may seem beside the point in the year of Galipoli and Ypres, and perhaps it is, but where this human experience resides we have only a void in the audio record. This isn’t to say that the war is not covered here – only that it’s viewed from afar, and with a great deal of suspicion. The biggest hit of 1915 by some counts is I Didn’t Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier, a rehashing of the old sentimental wayward soldier boy trope, with the twist being that he hasn’t gone off to war and he won’t. Not that it stops it being sentimental, of course, but directing such mawk in the direction of pacifism is strangely effective, especially when considering as horrible and pointless a war as this one. We also have the spin-off song, essentially the same deal, titled ‘Don’t Take My Darling Boy”. Some of these same singers would change their minds apparently at the same moment as Woodrow Wilson, whose campaign slogan in the 1916 election was to be “He kept us out of the war.”
Judge for yourself what you think of 1915, but be assured, this world is about to be swept away.
0:00:16 George Formby Snr – All of a Sudden it Struck Me
0:02:38 Miller R. Hutchinson – Transcontinental Telephone Message
0:03:11 Irving Kaufman – Listen to That Dixie Band
0:05:23 Jaudas’ Society Orchestra – Pick a Chicken
0:09:27 National Promenade Band – Paprika
0:11:25 Bert Williams – I’m Neutral
0:12:56 Henry Burr – I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier
0:14:54 Peerless Quartet – I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier
0:15:36 Cal Stewart – War Talk at Punkin Center
0:16:55 Henry Burr & Peerless Quartet – Don’t Take My Darling Boy
0:18:26 Charles Crawford Gorst – Laughing Love
0:19:59 Billy Murray – Which Switch is the Switch, Miss, for Ipswich?
0:21:51 Joe Hayman – Cohen at the Real Estate Office
0:23:08 Joseph A. Phillips – My Lady of the Telephone
0:24:55 Patrick Conway’s Band – Ragging the Scale
0:27:50 Five Brown Brothers – Independentia and Billboard
0:29:49 Bahiano – O Meu Boi Morreu
0:32:25 Dúo Ruiz Acuña – Corazones Partidos
0:35:03 María Conesa – Ni Una Palabra Más (2ª Parte)
0:37:09 David K.Kaili & Pale K. Lua – Honolulu March
0:39:43 Fred Van Eps Banjo – Omena Intermezzo
0:42:37 Harry E. Humphrey – An Old Sweetheart of Mine
0:42:59 Isidore Moskowitz – a Flower of Italy
0:45:48 Harry E. Humphrey – Antony’s Address Over the Body of Caesar
0:46:02 Sangit Vidyarnab Gopeswar Banerjee – Sitar Instrumental- Kafi Tetala
0:48:29 Abe Elenkrig’s Yidishe Orchestra – Nit Ba Motin
0:50:21 Vladimir Mayakovsky – Naval Romance
0:50:33 Victor Military Band – Booster Box Trot
0:53:05 Six Brown Brothers – Chicken Reel Comedy Medley
0:54:46 Ada Reeve – Foolish Questions
0:57:37 Collins & Harlan – Mississippi Barbecue
0:59:26 Cal Stewart – Uncle Josh in a Barber Shop
1:00:11 Harry Fay – They All Do the Charlie Chaplin Walk
1:01:44 Eugene Jaudas Society Orchestra – Carnival One Step
1:03:18 Guido Deiro – Put Me to Sleep With an Old-Fashioned Melody
1:04:44 Bert Williams – Indoor Sports
1:06:19 Right Quintette – Exhortation
1:09:30 Enrico Caruso – Cielo Turchino (Ciociano)
1:11:51 Arvid Paulson – Karolinas Tråkigheter
1:11:58 The Premier Quartet – Moonlight Bay
1:13:57 Vess Ossman’s Banjo Orchestra – Universal Fox Trot
1:15:39 George Formby Snr – All of a Sudden it Struck Me (Outro)