Frank Trumbauer's Capitol recordings, 1946--were they really so bad?

Frank Trumbauer's Capitol recordings, 1946--were they really so bad?

David Tenner
David Tenner

June 11th, 2017, 5:48 am #1

Here is Frank Trumbauer on his last recordings (at least last commercial recordings--he apparently made some private ones at home later), made in 1946 for Capitol. He was absolutely livid that Capitol eventually released them (it almost reminds me of Charlie Parker's rage at Ross Russell for releasing the "Lover Man" session--though Bird was angry because of his own performance, not those of his fellow musicians):

***

"I approached Johnny Mercer [then A & R man for Capitol] with an idea to organize a small band and re-do some of the famous records that were made in the 20s and early 30s, using the same or very similar solo passages for a matter of record, and supplying a more modern accompaniment which would make the records more or less current. Johnny thought this was a grand idea, and we set our first date for Capitol, and as this was to be an event, we naturally hired the best men available. When the record date actually started, I was the only one there. About thirty minutes later a few of the men showed up, and after another thirty minutes the remainder of the band appeared so fractured that they couldn't play even the simple passages.

"I pleaded with the Capitol representative on the date to call it off, and in desperation he said he must have something to present to the home office to substantiate payment of the date. Needless to say, I was heartsick, as a large file of explanation was to no avail, and naturally these records were so bad they couldn't possibly be released. I am positive Johnny Mercer was never aware of what happened to what we both thought was an excellent idea.

"But, lo and behold, in 1952 I picked up an album that Capitol had released titled "Sax Stylists" which included many of the "greats," and heading the list of these sax stylists was my name; and I found that they dug into their archives and pressed one of these rejects with no consideration for my reputation, and pressed a record that was extremely bad by comparison with all otherpresentations in the album..."

Phil Evans et al, *Tram: The Frank Trumbauer Story*, pp. 229-230. Evans et al continue: "George "Pee Wee" Erwin confirmed Tram's recollection in a December 1968 letter: The date you mentioned for Capitol [some] were so drunk (not Tram but others), it was a disgrace. One other musician from that session, who asked anonymity, remarked, "Not all of the guys showed up bombed, but there were several that did. It was really an insult to this great musician, and no matter how many apologies were given after the date, the damage was done. You could just see the hurt in Frank's eyes. He didn't deserve that at all !""

***

Anyway, here are the recordings:

Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCl1rYDbrnk

China Boy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0FpalIjQDTY

You Took Advantage of Me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tzWJUy2NEsk

Now I am not going to say all the solos and ensembles are immaculate. But am I the only one to doubt that the records were really as bad as Tram remembered them to be? (I think I recall Sudhalter in Lost Chords suggesting that Tram's playing in these recordings was a forerunner of the "cool" jazz musicians of a few years later.)

The personnel is listed as FRANK TRUMBAUER ORCHESTRA: George "Pee Wee" Erwin (tpt); Jack Lacey (tbn); Frank Trumbauer (C-mel/alto); Bill Stegmeyer (clt/ten-sx); Dave Bowman (p); Carl Kress (gtr); Herman "Trigger" Alpert, Bob Haggart (st-bses); John Blowers, Jr. (dms).
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Joined: January 1st, 1970, 12:00 am

June 11th, 2017, 12:39 pm #2

.... passing for traditional jazz at the time these recordings were made. But still unbearable to me.

Compare with the excellent post-Bix Tram in "Bye Bye Blues" for example:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M45qeXUVG98

Albert
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David Tenner
David Tenner

June 11th, 2017, 1:50 pm #3

And by post-Bix I mean after Bix's death (which "Bye Bye Blues" was not) is "Troubled" (1934). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6LrEkxolpk

But I have to admit I like it more for Berigan (and to a lesser extent Shaw) than for Tram who is starting to sound a little bit rhythmically dated in this company.
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Mark Gabrish Conlan
Mark Gabrish Conlan

June 11th, 2017, 5:25 pm #4

Despite the alcohol-fueled messiness in the ensembles and a few times in the solos, Frank Trumbauer's 1946 Capitol records (which I'd never even heard OF before!) sound pretty good to me. They're especially lovely when Tram solos at slower tempi, as he does in "You Took Advantage of Me" and the opening of "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." where he sounds amazingly like the young Paul Desmond. But my favorite post-Bix Tram records are the sessions he did with Bing Crosby in Chicago in 1932, especially "Some of These Days" with Bing scatting his way through much of the song and great jazz solos by Tram, Eddie Lang and "mystery cornetist" Max Connett: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EgzR4jINXF8
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John
John

June 12th, 2017, 3:53 pm #5

And by post-Bix I mean after Bix's death (which "Bye Bye Blues" was not) is "Troubled" (1934). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6LrEkxolpk

But I have to admit I like it more for Berigan (and to a lesser extent Shaw) than for Tram who is starting to sound a little bit rhythmically dated in this company.
Favorite post-Bix Trumbauer, featuring Jack Teagarden:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE9R8BewzLA
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Brad Kay
Brad Kay

June 18th, 2017, 2:27 am #6

And by post-Bix I mean after Bix's death (which "Bye Bye Blues" was not) is "Troubled" (1934). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R6LrEkxolpk

But I have to admit I like it more for Berigan (and to a lesser extent Shaw) than for Tram who is starting to sound a little bit rhythmically dated in this company.
A quite good and representative performance of "At Sundown" is in "The Fabulous Dorseys" (1947). Very orchestral, it hews closely to the model that Whiteman created, (that is, it mostly doesn't sound like a late '40s swing band), and it retains some of the highlights of the 1927 arrangement, including Mike Pingatore's banjo solo, and the double-time treatment at the end.

In one chorus, both Dorsey brothers shine in an exchange of fours with - can it be Henry Busse? - Harry Goldfield? - anyway, someone who has stepped into that Harmon-muted-clipped-phrasing school: "Busse" - Jimmy - "Busse" - Tommy. This chorus is SO redolent of the "sweet and hot" Whiteman sound, I was won over. Jimmy wins the jazz honors here, in my opinion.

-Brad Kay
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