Forgive me for being a bit behind on my comments on the WBIX programs, but I hope they make up in quality what they lack in speed. WBIX #234, which took six of the most pop- and dance-oriented (and least jazzy) records made by Frank Trumbauer’s studio band with Bix (though actually, given Paul Whiteman’s insistence that only his contract players could be used for Bix’s and Tram’s solo dates, they were pretty much just bands-within-the-Whiteman band), was yet another one of those unpromising concepts you turned into a little gem. In fact, I was so taken with the show that I did my own augmented version, adding the Bix-Tram versions of all of the songs for comparison purposes and also throwing in a few extra tracks. (It was interesting to note that three of the six songs were recorded by Bix and Tram on that obscure October 5, 1928 session on which the drummer remains frustratingly unidentified.)
I put in an obscure instrumental version of “Take Your Tomorrows” by Charlie Johnson and His Small’s Paradise Orchestra from September 1928 under the name “Jackson and His Southern Stompers,” recorded for an obscure label called Marathon that actually went out of business before the record was officially released. But before they went under, they sent a shipment of records to Italy, where the box was discovered in 1962. I also added a version of “Our Bungalow of Dreams” by Ray Starita and His Ambassadors, which you’d played on a previous WBIX show, and in addition I put on a seventh song, “Dusky Stevedore,” in versions by Charlie Johnson (the flip side of the Marathon “Take Your Tomorrows”), Bix with Tram, and Louis Armstrong (thereby creating a 13th direct comparison between Bix and Louis on the same song in addition to the 12 on my “Bix and Louis: The Ultimate Battle” mix CD).
The tracks you included on WBIX #234 contain a surprising number of gems even though these are mostly commercial dance performances with jazz flavoring, and even though the songs themselves (except for “Japanese Sandman”) aren’t that good. I particularly liked Sylvester Ahola’s solo on the Arcadians Dance Orchestra’s “Sentimental Baby” -- had Bix heard it he probably would have said to Ahola what he said to Jimmy McPartland: “You play like me but you don’t imitate me.” Other tracks here I particularly liked include Emmett Miller’s version of “Take Your Tomorrows,” with superb guitar backing by Eddie Lang (he could play behind a white country singer like Miller, a Black blues artist like Texas Alexander or a great white pop-jazz singer like Bing Crosby with equal facility); Red Nichols’ “Japanese Sandman” (particularly the two-trumpet ensemble by Nichols and Leo McConville towards the end), and also Annette Hanshaw’s typically swinging vocal on Willard Robison’s version, with a good,swinging trumpet obbligato behind her; and Lebert Lombardo’s surprisingly hot obbligato to that horrible funeral-parlor organ on Guy Lombardo’s “High Upon a Hilltop” (who knew he could play that hot?). And I was amused to hear Emmett Miller do the original verse to “Take Your Tomorrows” which indicates that what the singer wants the person he’s addressing to “give me today” is love, whereas the vaudeville routine that kicks off the Bix-Tram version makes it about money!
The WBIX #235 tribute to British trumpeter Norman Payne was also interesting, not only for the music (thank you, Nick Dellow!) but also for the insight into how Bix’s influence crossed the Atlantic. I thought the Spike Hughes songs would be the most interesting, not only because Hughes was interested in making jazz rather than dance-pop records but the songs, “Margie” and “Bessie Couldn’t Help It,” were the only ones on your program recorded by Bix himself. (An earlier post on the Bix forum contained a streaming link to a version of “I Don’t Mind Walking in the Rain” with Norman Payne, which I heard and commented at the time didn’t sound especially Bixian to me, especially with a real Bix record of the same song to which to compare it.) I’m glad you included Payne’s account of working with Hughes, because if you hadn’t I’d have thought that odd final note on “Bessie Couldn’t Help It” was just a ghastly mistake on Payne’s part. I can understand why he didn’t want that record released and also wish the first take, in which he played the last note cleanly, still survived.
Other interesting tracks on WBIX #235 include the opener, “After the Sun Kissed the World Goodbye,” with a quite nice vocal by Al Bowlly (even though his 1930’s records, like his piano-accompanied version of “It’s All Forgotten Now,” are much more creatively phrased -- like Bing Crosby before him and Frank Sinatra afterwards, Bowlly became a much better singer once he left dance bands and therefore could phrase as he wanted to instead of having to sing everything in strict dance tempi); “South Sea Rose” by the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (with yet another gender-bending vocal by Sam Browne, whose voice, though high, is clearly that of a man, yet the lyric is designed to be sung by a woman -- at the time, music publishers wouldn’t allow singers to change the lyrics to match their genders, leading to ridiculous results like this and Bing Crosby singing “There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears” with Bix and Tram); the lovely “With My Guitar and You” by Harry Shaison (a singer previously unknown to me) and a nice jazz backing adding a piquant touch to Shaison’s beautiful vocal; and the two nicely atmospheric sides by the Night Club Kings.
Interestingly, “You’ve Got to Be Modernistic” is a song by jazz piano legend James P. Johnson, and Johnson made at least two recordings of it. First was a band version for Victor on November 18, 1929 with Johnson and Fats Waller on pianos, King Oliver and/or his nephew Dave Nelson on trumpet, Jimmy Archey on trombone, Hilton Jefferson on clarinet and alto sax, Charlie Holmes on tenor sax (he solos, as do Archey and either Oliver or Nelson), possibly Teddy Bunn on guitar and banjo and either Edmund Jones or Fred Moore on drums. Then Johnson recorded it as a piano solo for Brunswick on January 21, 1930. I think Johnson’s solo version is the best of the three but the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra (a studio group led by Ray Noble in his capacity as director of pop-music recording for EMI, though given a name to make it sound like a hotel band) actually does it better than that ramshackle assembly of players Johnson put together for his orchestral version. It helps that Wally Vernon’s vocal on the New Mayfair version is considerably more pleasant than the ghastly “‘Keep Shufflin’’ Trio” on the Johnson band record!
Also it’s worth noting that the influence of Bix’s records on these sides goes far beyond Norman Payne’s Bix-inspired contributions. The overall band sound on the Fred Elizalde tracks is very close to what was heard on the Bix and Tram records, down to the very Tram-ish alto sax solo on “After the Sun Kissed the World Goodbye.” And Ray Noble’s arrangements for the New Mayfair Dance Orchestra sides show how much he was influenced by Whiteman’s cadre of arrangers, even though Noble’s strings swung more than Whiteman’s. But to me the best Norman Payne solo on these sides is the least Bixian: his breathtaking work on “A Little Dicky Bird Told Me So.” Despite the playful absurdity of the title (it’s a tribute to the professionalism of singer Fred Douglas that he made it to the end without falling into uncontrollable giggling), Payne’s solo here is strong, powerful, assertive and bursts from the seams of Bix’s influence into his own mature style.
I appreciate them.