At Centuries of Sound I am making mixes for every year of recorded sound. The download here is a cut-down 30 minute mix, for the full two-hour version please come to centuriesofsound.com to stream, or patreon.com/centuriesofsound for downloads and a host of other bonus materials for just $5 per month.
We’ve been waiting for a year like this for a long time; when the limitations of technology and the music business would finally be advanced enough to get out of the way and let the music speak for itself. It could not have come at a more fortuitous time – the jazz age is right at the point of moving from fun novelty to full-blown art-form, country folk is undergoing a wave of exploration, and vaudeville and the speakeasies are soaking up and celebrating all the developments of this exciting era.
We start the mix with one of the founding fathers of jazz, and mentor to Louis Armstrong, King Oliver. Here with his new Chicago-based group the “Dixie Syncopators” he plays high-octane dance tune “Deep Henderson” – the group would continue a residency at the Plantation Cafe until it burned down in 1927.
Gustav Holst’s ‘The Planets’ was one of the first orchestral pieces given the full electrical recording treatment – it really brings home what a revolution has happened in sound recording in the last couple of years. The piece started at the outbreak of the first world war in 1914, and the premier was held during its final weeks in 1918. It’s hard not to feel that ‘Mars’ is inspired by the incomprehensible, industrial carnage of those grim years.
Plenty is written about the “blues roots” of American music, but this year we have plenty to demonstrate that “church roots” or “gospel roots” might be just as important. The Birmingham Jubilee Singers were organised by Charles Bridges, a trainer of gospel quartets from Alabama. The group included the extremely deep voice of one Ed Sherrill. “He Took My Sins Away” is a particularly strong example of the innovative a capella techniques practised in churches in the Southern states of the USA. Reverend J.M. Gates one of the most prolific preachers of the pre-war era, recording over 200 sermons. Death’s Black Train Is Coming” was recorded in front of his participating congregation in Mount Calvary Baptist Church for Columbia Records after their state-of-the-art electric recording system was shipped down especially for this purpose – it sold more than 35,000 copies.
New Orleans Creole pianist Jelly Roll Morton is another of the founding fathers of jazz. By 1926 he was recording with a group called The Red Hot Peppers. Doctor Jazz is one of the best examples of the early New Orleans jazz sound, using counterpoint, pre-written stop-time breaks and improvised solo passages – truly a feast within a few minutes, and the pinnacle of this particular sound.
“Masculine Women! Feminine Men!,” performed here by journeyman singer Irving Kaufman, often turns up on lists of the earliest queer records, though it should be stressed that this is accidental. The lyrics are intended as a sardonic look at changing fashions, but the effect is detached and wry rather than offended, leading to a reasonable implication that things like sexuality and gender are ripe for exploration, generally not a big deal, and basically fine to play with – a nice introduction to the changing social mores of the time.
The craze for female blues is on the wane by 1926, but Ethel Waters has stuck around, this time without her backing band. “Make Me a Pallet on the Floor” is a folk blues, dating back to the 19th century, but its status as a standard only became fixed with this recording.
There is plenty to say about Duke Ellington elsewhere, just to note here that we have his earliest recording of East St Louis Toodle-Oo, which is usually acknowledged as his first classic. This isn’t the best recording of the track – we’ll be hearing another quite soon – but still stands out in its sheer sonic originality, even in this semi-developed form.
The tango was taking off in Argentina at this time, and the form was also having a huge influence in the old world, particularly Eastern Europe and Western Asia. We have a couple of examples here, from Greece and Turkey. Ibrahim Özgür, from Istanbul, declared the music he wrote was dedicated to the love letters sent by his female fans.
Portable electronic recording is already recording plenty of country folk music in the USA. Our first examples of this are Carl T. Sprague with a particularly morbid cowboy song, and Uncle Dave Macon with the white equivalent to the gospel tracks featured here: that is, much less adventurous in terms of harmonies, and dedicated to mocking the theory of evolution the year after the Scopes Monkey Trial.
Abe Lyman’s version of Papa Charlie Jackson’s “Shake That Thing” is a magnificent bit of raucous Chicago-style jazz, as hot as you get – you can only imagine the effect it would have on a dancefloor just eight years after the end of the first world war. Another hot jazz piece follows this, with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra – another Chicago outfit, this features a guest appearance from Louis Armstrong on cornet. Erskine’s only contribution is shouting the title at the start.
Then we have The Dixieland Jug Blowers, an example of a jug band – groups formed in the urban south who blew on jugs for lack of real instruments, and Ben Bernie, an old-time vaudeville band leader jumping whole-heartedly onto the jazz bandwagon.
Drop The Sack from Lill’s Hot Shots is Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, operating under a pseudonym to bring Louis’s wife (piano player Lil Hardin Armstrong) to the forefront. Louis’s cornet with Johnny Dodds’ clarinet really do their best to overcome this fairly limited song and make something really special.
“Arizona” Juanita Dranes was a blind female gospel singer, and pioneer of the use of piano in gospel music. Her passionate, earthy, rough, nasal voice and her wild piano playing went on to have a great deal of influence, but mostly outside the world of church music.
The Savoy Havana Band was one of the big two British dance bands of the 1920s, formed by American saxophonist Bert Ralton, and featuring pianist Billy Mayerl, and young American saxophonist, Rudy Vallée, whose dreams of becoming a singer were roundly mocked by his band-mates.
Next we have some more old world tangos – a soulful Arabic piece from Farid & Asmahan and a hauntingly familiar-sounding tune from Greek singer Toula Amvrazi. Also soulful, but not in the tango tradition, is Said El Kurdi from Iraq, and we have passion from Iranina Morteza Ney-Davud – traditions which are undeservedly obscure in the west today.
At the age of 51, Fritz Kreisler was already regarded as perhaps the greatest violinist in the world in 1926, and his recordings had already had a great deal of effect in the use of vibrato from a new generation of musicians, eager to copy his style. At this point he was living in Paris, and playing around Europe, here with the Berlin State Opera Orchestra – but he would emigrate to the USA as Hitler seized power in Germany.
“The Laughing Policeman” is a British remake of George W Johnson’s “Laughing Song,” one of the best-selling records of the 1890s, and will be instantly familiar to UK listeners. Music hall artist Charles Penrose followed it up with The Laughing Major, The Laughing Curate, The Laughing Steeplechaser, The Laughing Typist, and The Laughing Lover, to diminishing returns.
The Happiness Boys was one of the most popular radio programs of the 1920s, and though radio was barely recorded in the 20s, we at least have novelty recordings from its two stars, Billy Jones and Ernie Hare, who also sang their novelty songs on disc. “What? No Women!” is another song of the times featuring possible transgressive undertones, maybe? Or am I imagining this?
Sol Hoʻopiʻi was one of the pioneers of the Hawaiian steel guitar, and on Farewell Blues he stretches the instrument to its limits, producing chicken squawking and pecking noises with the strings and the body. Nick Lucas was another pioneer of the guitar, though a more traditional one. Nevertheless, he has a decent claim to be the first jazz guitar soloist, and here accompanies himself on one of the biggest hits of the year, “Bye Bye Blackbird.”
Mandolin player Chris Bouchillon was also a pioneer – not so much with the mandolin, though, more with his distinctive half-singing-half-talking vocals, which he described as “Talking Blues.” If it sounds familiar, it’s because the style was picked up wholesale by Bob Dylan and others in the 1960s, and it feels slightly disconcerting to hear someone sing like that in 1926. Sam McGee, another pioneer guitar player, here presents a style which would also be picked up by folk musicians in the 1960s, though he would have a much better career, playing in a duo with his brother Kirk and becoming fixtures at the Grand Old Opry through the next few decades.
We will be hearing more from Gene Austin, one of the first crooners, but here we have him only starting to explore the new style made possible by electrical microphones.
Violinist Joe Venuti, here playing as ever with Eddie Lang, was an Italian-American jazz musician. I find Venuti and Lang’s records unbelievable because they sound just like the Hot Club De France a decade later.
Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders were a jazz band active since the precious decade, but only making inroads into recording at this point. They were from Pennsylvania rather than Kentucky, apparently the name is taken from their performances “My Old Kentucky Home.” This is the first of two tracks featuring the sound of tap dancing, the second being from a young Fred Astaire, here performing with his (then equally famous) sister Adele. At this point both were famous for stage performances – with the start of sound film the following year Fred would audition for Paramount, and be turned down as “unsuitable for films.”
Another Jelly-Roll Morton recording, The Chant, features a brilliant performance from Kid Orly on trombone – it’s a rare cover version for Morton, and was written by Mel Stitzel of white jazz group The New Orleans Rhythm Kings.
“Heebie Jeebies” is a landmark track for Louis Armstrong, featuring a famous scat singing section. A legend says that Louis dropped his lyric sheet and improvised the vocal solo, thereby inventing scat singing, a claim disproved immediately by the existence of recorded scat singing at least 15 years prior – however the record was still very influential in the development of vocal jazz.
We have a long-awaited trip to Latin America with Cuban Son band Sexteto Occidente, a short-lived group, but one whose records and members would go on to define the genre. From Argentina we have already heard early tangos, but here we have a couple of pieces from the earlier Argentinian folk music tradition – one from Rafael Iriarte and Rosendo Pesoa, and another from Alfredo Pelaia.
The NuGrape Twins were a bizarre gospel duo from Georgia who decided not to sing about God but to voluntarily make an advertising jingle for a regional soft drink, also called NuGrape, and which is still available there today. Their story is a bit too much to go into here, but can be found in a lot more detail here – – http://nadiaberenstein.com/blog/2015/4/3/got-plenty-imitation-but-theres-none-like-mine-heavenly-nugrape
Back to the jazz, then, we have the Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra, a radio jazz band from Kansas City, a superb piece from multi-instrumentalist Art Landry’s jazz band, and a fourth appearance from Louis Armstrong, here again guesting with Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra on “Static Strut”
Back over to Europe, we have a novelty jazz piece from the other big UK band leader, Bert Firman (by no coincidence the regional musical director for Zonophone Records), and something a bit more substantial from Romanian violin virtuoso Grigoraș Ionică Dinicu, a breathtakingly beautiful piece called Ciocârlia, composed by his grandfather Angheluș Dinicu
Cortot, Thibaud and Casals were already three of the most celebrated and widely-recorded classical musicians in the world, and all in their mid-40s already, but it wasn’t until 1926 that new technology allowed them to live up to their potential as recording artists. Here their playing is at once light and suffused with great depth.
More jazz then, from trombonist Brad Gowans, an early release from future superstar band leader Fletcher Henderson, and a rare lead recording from George McClennon, adoptive son of Bert Williams and virtuoso novelty clarinet player, probably a holdover from the last age but here sounding right up to date.
“In the Pines” AKA “Where Did You Sleep Last Night?” is one of those American murder ballads with an unknown, presumably ancient lineage – it had been around at least fifty years before this, perhaps its first definitive recording, by Dock Walsh. Another link to the old folk tradition of the rural USA is provided by Uncle Bunt Stevens, whose style apparently reflects music played prior to the American Civil War.
A couple of European superstars are next – Maurice Chevalier, a big stage and screen name in France already, and from Spain, Pablo Casals, perhaps the greatest cellist of all time – I can’t help think the mournful style of this recording anticipates somehow his exile from his home country under Franco.
And finally, Paul Robeson, one of the defining performers of his age, here putting absolutely everything into a performance of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.”
Anyone still with me? Well done, it’s been quite the journey this time, thank you for listening.
0:00:22 The Savoy Orpheans – Radio Christmas 1926 (Excerpt 1)
0:00:40 King Oliver And His Dixie Syncopators – Deep Henderson
0:03:44 Edward B. Craft – The Voice from the Screen (Excerpt 1)
0:03:56 Gustav Holst with London Symphony Orchestra – Mars from The Planets
0:07:04 Birmingham Jubilee Singers – He Took My Sins Away
0:08:16 Rev. J. M. Gates – Death’s Black Train Is Coming
0:09:56 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – Dead Man Blues
0:10:12 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – Doctor Jazz
0:13:33 Al Jolson – April Showers (Intro)
0:13:38 Irving Kaufman – Masculine Women! Feminine Men!
0:15:17 Ethel Waters – Make Me A Pallet On The Floor
0:16:51 Rev. S.J. ‘Steamboat Bill’ Worell – The Prodigal Son
0:19:51 Duke Ellington and his Kentucky Club Orchestra – East St Louis Toodle-Oo
0:22:30 Banat Chemama, Malouf, Leila Sfez, Fritna Damon, Habbiba Msika, Louisia Tounsia… – Habibi Ghab (Leila Sfez)
0:22:51 Danae & Panos Visvardis – Aishe
0:25:45 Ibrahim Özgür – Son nefes
0:27:54 Compagnia Columbia – Il Funerale di Rodolfo Valentino (Excerpt 1)
0:28:17 Carl T. Sprague – O Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie (The Dying Cowboy)
0:29:45 Uncle Dave Macon – The Bible’s True
0:31:08 Edward B. Craft – The Voice from the Screen (Excerpt 2)
0:31:15 Abe Lyman – Shake That Thing
0:34:12 Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra – Stomp Off, Let’s Go
0:36:00 Dixieland Jug Blowers – House Rent Rag
0:38:02 Ben Bernie & His Hotel Rooswelt Orchestra – Hello! Swanee, Hello
0:39:59 Lill’s Hot Shots – Drop That Sack
0:41:34 Rev. J.M. Gates – Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Excerpt 1)
0:42:31 Arizona Dranes – It’s All Right Now
0:44:26 Rev. J.M. Gates – Death Might Be Your Santa Claus (Excerpt 2)
0:45:14 Taskiana Four – Creep Along, Moses
0:47:04 Rev. J.C. Burnett – The Downfall of Nebuchadnezzar
0:48:11 The Savoy Havana Band – Turkish Towel
0:49:43 Farid & Asmahan – Ishak ya boulboul
0:51:36 Toula Amvrazi – Sultana
0:54:17 Morteza Ney-Davud – ‘Oshshaq, Bayat Esfahan (Homayun) (Excerpt 1)
0:54:43 Said El Kurdi – Kassem Miro
0:56:20 Morteza Ney-Davud – ‘Oshshaq, Bayat Esfahan (Homayun) (Excerpt 2)
0:56:46 Sally Hamlin and Myrtle C. Eaver – The Sugar-Plum Tree (Excerpt 1)
0:56:55 Fritz Kreisler & Berlin State Opera Orchestra – Mendelssohn Violin Concerto e-moll Op.64
0:58:48 Sally Hamlin and Myrtle C. Eaver – The Sugar-Plum Tree (Excerpt 2)
0:59:05 Charles Penrose – The Laughing Policeman
1:01:28 George Formby – I Was A Willing Young Lad
1:01:40 Billy Jones & Ernest Hare – What? No Women!
1:03:05 Sol Hoʻopiʻi’s Novelty Trio – Farewell Blues
1:04:31 Nick Lucas – Bye Bye Blackbird
1:06:00 Chris Bouchillon – Hannah
1:07:32 Sam McGee – The Franklin Blues
1:08:58 Vernon Dalhart – Ain’t-Ya Comin’ Out To-Night?
1:10:57 Gene Austin – Ya Gotta Know How To Love
1:13:31 Joe Venuti – Stringin’ The Blues (1) (+ Eddie Lang)
1:15:58 Johnny Hamp’s Kentucky Serenaders – Black Bottom
1:18:33 Fred Astaire – Half Of It Dearie Blues (+ Adele Astaire & George Gershwin)
1:21:18 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – Sidewalk Blues
1:21:33 Jelly-Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers – The Chant
1:23:43 Louis Armstrong And His Hot Five – Heebie Jeebies
1:25:51 King Oliver’s Jazz Band – Wa Wa Wa
1:27:28 Sexteto Occidente – Miguel, Los Hombres No Lloran
1:30:16 Iriarte and Pesoa – Libertad
1:31:35 Alfredo Pelaia – Chinita
1:32:58 Dick Henderson – Introduction
1:33:00 NuGrape Twins – I Got Your Ice Cold Nugrape
1:35:44 Bessie Smith – Jazzbo Brown From Memphis Town
1:37:32 Dick Henderson – “She has the advantage of me…”
1:37:37 Coon-Sanders Original Nighthawk Orchestra – Brainstorm
1:40:24 Art Landry and His Orchestra – Slippery Elm
1:41:27 Erskine Tate’s Vendome Orchestra – Static Strut
1:43:32 Bert Firman & His Band – You Got ‘ Em
1:44:55 Stanley Roper – Impressions Of London (Excerpt)
1:45:12 Grigoraș Dinicu – Ciocârlia
1:47:54 Cortot, Thibaud and Cassals – Schubert Trio No. 1 in B Flat – Op. 99 1st Movement
1:49:10 The Revelers – Blue Room
1:51:06 Gowan’s Rhapsody Makers – I’ll Fly To Hawaii
1:52:01 The Fletcher Henderson Orchestra – Stampede
1:54:33 George Mcclennon’s Jazz Devils – While You’re Sneaking Out
1:56:48 Joe Candullo and His Everglades Orchestra – Brown Sugar
1:59:51 Dock Walsh – In The Pines
2:01:24 Uncle Bunt Stephens – Candy Girl
2:02:08 Maurice Chevalier – Moi Je Fais Mes Coups En Dessous
2:04:08 Pablo Casals – Saint- Saens – Le Cygne (The Swan)
2:06:11 Compagnia Columbia – Il Funerale di Rodolfo Valentino (Excerpt 2)
2:06:38 Paul Robeson – Swing Low Sweet Chariot
2:08:43 The Savoy Orpheans – Radio Christmas 1926 (Excerpt 2)