by Richard M. Sudhalter
(from the liner notes of Eddie Condon 1928 1931 on Timeless Records)
Easy going? New York City? Certainly not in May, 1928. Work had just begun on the New Jersey tower of Othmar Ammann's projected
3,500-foot suspension bridge across the Hudson River; popular Governor Alfred E. Smith, though a Roman Catholic and a "wet" a foe of
Prohibition was gaining momentum in his headlong rush toward the Democratic presidential nomination.
Lillie P. Bliss, daughter of a millionaire industrialist, had begun talking informally with Arthur Davies, an organizer of the famed 1913 Armory
show, about her pet obsession: a permanent museum for modern art in New York.
The New York Yankees, powered by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of Miller Huggins' "murderer's row", were cranking up for another
sweep of both pennant and World Series. Lew Leslie's Blackbirds of 1928, with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and Adelaide Hall among its
headliners, had opened on Broadway in a starburst of brand new songs and rave reviews.
Fortified by such preoccupations, and by the simple ebb and flow of day-to-day business, the city took no notice, on a Sunday at mid-month,
when two wiry little guys, dressed like race-track touts, emerged, blinking in the sunlight, from the majestic glass-domed twilight of
The way they glanced around, snapping out side-of-mouth one-liners and appearing to strut, rather than simply walk, up Seventh Avenue,
made two things clear: they were from out-of-town, and they intended to be noticed. William "Red" McKenzie, at 28 the elder of the pair,
was from St. Louis, and had ridden racehorses until a fall broke both his arms. Somewhere along the line he'd discovered that by singing
falsetto through a strip of newspaper wrapped around a comb, he could produce a reasonable facsimile of a muted hot trumpet.
A funny sound, yes, but people seemed to enjoy it. McKenzie lost no time putting together a novelty quartet himself, a kazoo player,
banjo and guitar which he named the Mound City Blue Blowers, in deference to his home city. They'd become a freak hit, making
million-selling records for Brunswick (thereby snatching the company from the jaws of bankruptcy), playing the Palace in Manhattan, and
even touring England as a vaudeville attraction.
McKenzie's success had won the trust of Tom Rockwell, who booked talent at OKeh records. At his urging, Rockwell recorded Bix
Beiderbecke, Frank Trumbauer and a group of musicians from Jean Goldkette's popular midwestern Orchestra during its early 1927
Roseland Ballroom engagement. The result, Singin' The Blues and Clarinet Marmalade, sold well and became something of an industry
standard through beautifully realized, widely influential solos by Beiderbecke and Trumbauer.
If his Seventh Avenue companion, working hard at matching him quip for nervous quip, lacked that kind of experience, he was certainly no
less ambitious. Six months shy of his 23rd birthday, Albert Edwin "Eddie" Condon was from Indiana, and apart from a one-month job in
Syracuse, New York, in 1922 hadn't been east of Chicago. He'd spent most of his time playing the tenor banjo in small instrumental
groups and, like McKenzie, talking up his musical heroes, who included Beiderbecke.
The two of them had talked Rockwell into letting them make some records at the end of 1927. The result, four titles by the
"McKenzie-Condon Chicagoans", had created something of a stir among musicians, and helped convince Condon that their next move had to
be to New York. That a six- or seven-piece band, jamming with great brio on Nobody's Sweetheart or some other congenial vehicle, could
find enough steady work there to justify relocation en masse; by any standard it was pretty naive thinking. New York was full to bursting with
hot musicians, some of them quite outstanding, who had learned one of the basic facts of big city professional music life: only solid, steady
work in dance bands, theater orchestras and similar commercially viable (if admittedly less inspiring) surroundings provided enough of a living
to subsidize a hot music habit.
McKenzie, on the other hand, had figured some angles. He knew that the only guy in New York who seemed to have carte blanche to
record hot music as he pleased, when he pleased and from whom, was Red Nichols, whose versatility and technique on the cornet were
more than matched by his skills as a businessman, a maker of deals.
Nichols and his musical partner, the brilliant trombonist Irving Milfred "Miff" Mole, enjoyed something of a recording monopoly. They were
good fast, polished, flexible; able to generate a seemingly endless flow of high-quality, ear-catching material. Their records were full of
harmonically adventuresome music clever writing, catchy solos, and a quite engaging rhythmic energy.
As the '20s started to wind down, these two and their circle clarinetists Jimmy Dorsey, "Fud" Livingston and Pee Wee Russell, pianist
Arthur Schutt, drummer Vic Berton, and others seemed to be everywhere at once, recording for just about every company in town. At
Pathι they'd be the Red Heads, at Brunswick Nichols' Five Pennies; Columbia billed them as the Charleston Chasers, OKeh as Miff Mole's
Molars; they could be the Arkansas Stompers on Victor, even The Six Hottentots on Banner, Domino, Regal, Oriole and other
five-and-dime store labels controlled by the enterprising Plaza group. Each performance offered something different, some detail, which made the performance unique.
McKenzie respected them. Condon clearly did not. Chicago was, after all, a different place, with different social and musical circumstances.
The New York men hadn't been able to hear, often at first hand, the music of the New Orleans musicians, white and black, who had
relocated in the lakeside city during and just after the Great War. Nichols, Mole and their friends, regardless how adept, had never felt the frisson of listening to the Oliver-Armstrong cornet team in action or marveling at the otherworldly sounds and mysteries of Leon Roppolo's clarinet. Even the Harlem bands, however good, didn't offer the coarse-grained thrills that were to be had on Chicago's South Side.
As Condon later told it, the subject came up during a conversation at the Three Deuces, a musicians' hangout at 222 North State
Street. He and some friends were disparaging Nichols, a regular pastime with them. McKenzie, after listening awhile, finally spoke
up. ("What's the matter with those Nichols records?" he asked. ("The music is planned," Condon snapped back. "Jazz can't be
scored." (Nonsense, pure and simple, as countless bands including some of Condon's own were to prove in years to come. But as
an opening gambit it was effective enough: they started talking, found they agreed on most things. And after hearing Condon,
clarinetist Frank Teschemacher and their pals in action, McKenzie had to admit they were on to something. [Eddie Condon, with
Thomas Sugrue. We Called It Music. New York; Henry Holt and Co., 1947.]
He started to think seriously about Bix and Trumbauer on the one hand, this young Chicago bunch on the other, as something of a potential
new entente, able to crack the Nichols-Mole monopoly and grab a piece of the lucrative New York recording action. But first they'd have to
get there, establish themselves, win some cachet.
And that, it soon became obvious, wasn't going to be so easy. Condon and others have written vividly about their early days in a New York,
which seemed to be busy for everyone but them. How a job set up by "Shimmy Queen" Bee Palmer, a friend of hot musicians since the early
'20s, seemed sure enough to lure Teschemacher, pianist Joe Sullivan and drummer Gene Krupa from Chicago only to fall through before it
If work was scarce, money was nonexistent. They slept in shifts in one room at a hotel on 54th Street, just off Broadway, subsisting on 25’
hamburgers, canned tomatoes, and occasional hors d'oeuvres picked up at cocktail parties to which compassionate friends invited them.
Bud Freeman and Jimmy McPartland, who had played tenor and cornet respectively on the first records, were also in town and also out of
work. They'd arrived with Ben Pollack's orchestra to play the Little Club, a basement room on West 44th Street which, as the Club Alabam,
had seen the birth of the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra five years earlier. The job hadn't lasted long, and Pollack, with nothing new in
prospect, had laid his men off. McPartland and Freeman, unable to pay the rent at the fashionable Mayflower Hotel, moved to more modest
accommodations on West 73rd Street.
Arny Freeman, who later became the actor his brother always aspired to be, turned up around this time, and remembered the cramped
conditions with terrible clarity. "In the room we shoved the twin beds together," he wrote. "Bud, Jimmy and I slept crosswise. We stuffed
towels in the space between the beds and covered these with blankets so that we could hardly feel the separation." [Freeman, Arny. "Bad
Times, Good Tempos." Jazz Journal, July-September 1975.]
Not surprisingly, their first record date of any significance was for Tom Rockwell at OKeh, and not without a certain irony with Red
Nichols and Miff Mole. One Step To Heaven was a show tune by Raymond Klages and Jesse Greer and intended for the score of Lovely
Lady, which had just closed at Broadway's Sam Harris Theatre after a five-month run. The song wasn't used in the show until it went on the
road in 1929, but the publishers had their hopes which probably accounts for its use on several 1928 record dates, including this one.
[Information courtesy of Mark Swartz, Assistant Administrator, The Schubert Archive, New York, NY.]
The performance, too, has something of a history. Never issued at the time, it was promptly forgotten until 1940, when 19-year-old Yale
undergraduate George Avakian, working one day a week at Columbia Records' plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut, found a numbered but
untitled test pressing. Both Avakian and his friend Steve Smith knew enough about hot music to identify the participants, but not enough about
Broadway shows to recognize One Step To Heaven. So Smith, issuing it on his own Hot Record Society label, retitled it Windy City
Because the personnel of Shimmee-Sha-Wabble, made at the same session, was clearly six pieces Nichols, Mole and Chicagoans
Teschemacher, Sullivan, Condon, and Krupa generations of discographers and collectors assumed for years that this was also the case with
One Step To Heaven.
All that changed in mid-1992. Preparing for a Chicago retrospective concert in New York, pianist-arranger Dick Hyman listened hard to One Step, heard more horns than just the three, and started talking to associates. A few days later, Vince Giordano, equally dedicated as archivist and musician, came up with the grand prize: the original recording arrangement, written in Red Nichols' unmistakable tight, crabbed
hand, found during a long-ago search of the cornetist's private papers at the University of Oregon. [A fuller account of these events,
chronicled by the author, will be found in Storyville Magazine, nos. 150-151, June & September, 1992.]
It's scored for five horns: two trumpets, mellophone, trombone and clarinet. Given the time and circumstances, the second trumpet is
probably Leo McConville, the mellophone Dudley Fosdick; both are Nichols regulars, and both are present at the next Mole OKeh session
(Crazy Rhythm, You Took Advantage Of Me) three weeks later.
The mellophone part seems to have been intended at first for second trombone; the word "bone" is written at the top, then scratched out,with
clef and key signs altered accordingly. In general, the parts are just skeletons: on several of them, Nichols has sketched intro and verse, then
pasted a portion of the publisher's "stock" orchestration where the chorus should be.
Mole's part also includes the melody and chord symbols written in another hand, presumably his own. In the margin is the hand-scrawled
instruction, "Irving on last chorus," referring to his 16-bar solo. Irving? Well, why not? Who who among his friends and colleagues actually
called him that?
Tesh's clarinet sheet is the skimpiest of all: intro and verse, one partially orchestrated ensemble break (which never appears in this form on the
record) and the coda. There are disparities between even what little is written and what's actually played.
(For those who still need convincing, here are a few spots where the extra horns can be heard: (a) In bars 3-4 of the first chorus
bridge, two tenor-register instruments are clearly audible; (b) The horn figures behind Teschemacher's solo are clearly triadic in
tonality and ensemble texture. Bars 7-8 of the bridge contain a three-horn background figure in half-notes, the upper voice playing
F-E-F; (c) In the coda, after Nichols and Tesch play a two-bar figure together, they're answered by Miff and someone else, playing
a descending line in thirds.)
Such considerations apart, One Step To Heaven is instructive as a measure of the musical direction distinctions between the New Yorkers
and the newcomers. What is truly startling is the collective fervor of the Chicago musicians. Playing together, Sullivan, Condon and Krupa are
rougher, heavier, more intense, than a comparable rhythm team of Arthur Schutt, McDonough and Berton.
Better? Generations of jazz opinion aside, any qualitative judgment seems to depend on the listener's subjective response. Certainly
Shimme-Sha-Wabble is a looser, more informal performance than, for example, the Moles' 1927 Feelin' No Pain or Original Dixieland One-Step; Nichols and Mole, those paragons of restraint and musical discipline, play with more abandon here than is characteristic of them.
But beware synecdoche: abandon is not all. The two are in no way outclassed, nor do their other records seem particularly stilted or stodgy
by comparison with these. Both men are expert musicians, who have understood the requirements of this setting, and adapted to it.
This way of playing "Shimme-Sha-Wabble" includes several departures from Spencer Williams' 1917 composition, including
omission of an entire 16-bar section in minor, between the familiar opening theme and the eight-bar "bridging" strain which sets up
the 16-bar major-key melody favored by jazz soloists. This and other alterations created the standard format adopted by
subsequent generations of jazz bands. For a more accurate account of "Shimme-Sha-Wabble", see the 1928 McKinney's Cotton
Pickers' version on Victor, and Nichols' own Five Pennies performance on Brunswick, recorded in mid-1930 with a band that
included Krupa, Sullivan, Benny Goodman, and Jack Teagarden.)
Though such record dates helped pay a bill or two, prospects still looked dim; and engagement for the entire band, backing the dance team
of Barbara Bennett and Charles Sabin at the Palace, ended in a critical rout, a Variety review going so far as to deplore "the poorest
seven-piece orchestra on earth." [Quoted in We Called It Music.]
Inevitably, some broke ranks. Bud Freeman, chafing at the tedium and inactivity, joined his friend, drummer Dave Tough, playing on the
ocean liner Ile de France. Pollack, meanwhile, finally landed some work, good news for McPartland and Benny Goodman.
Condon still had one card to play. Back in Chicaco, he'd talked Jack Kapp into recording Jimmie Noone, Earl Hines and their Chicago
quintet for Vocalion; the records had done nicely. With a copy of I Know That You Know under his arm he marched in to see Tommy
Rockwell. I can get you a band just like this one, he announced, adding that "it even has a singer."
Rockwell, no fool, saw right through the stratagem: Condon and his pals were marooned, and desperately short of cash. One record date
wouldn't cost the company much; even if the results weren't fit to issue, what was the harm?
So, on the last Saturday in July, Condon led Sullivan, Teschemacher and Krupa into OKeh's Union Square Studio to do two titles. Oh Baby,
from Rain or Shine, and Indiana get the full life-or-death treatment: Tesch, at his most uninhibited, spins out what Max Harrison has called
"angular, spare, yet melodically dense lines" on clarinet and on alto, which he plays with a piping intensity quite unlike either the brittle
precision of Jimmy Dorsey or the florid elegance of Hodges or Charlie Holmes. It's direct, resolute, sometimes just a little Bix-like in its way
of tolling out phrases. And at its best, as in those two final choruses of Oh Baby, it's hard to resist. Even the clarinet reed squeak toward the
end of Indiana is just a consequence of overexuberance, too much air put into the horn, forcing the reed to close against the mouthpiece.
The promised vocalist Condon himself, of course, also sings on both titles, in a quavery and none-too-pitch-secure tenor. Years later he
talked Columbia Records producer George Avakian into deleting these youthful indiscretions for an LP reissue a decision Avakian
regretted ever after.
"Before the wax was cool on the master," he said, "I was in Rockwell's office, waving an overdue hotel bill for $99. The executive was
incredulous." Why didn't you say something about this before?" was his only question as he peeled two $50 bills off a roll. "I walked out of
the room eighty pounds lighter than when I went in," Condon said later perhaps ignoring the fact that at that point he didn't weigh much
more than that in the first place.
By October, Tesch was gone. He'd jobbed around a bit (recording with the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra and with an all-star band led by Don Redman),
then headed home to Chicago. Jack Teagarden, a Texan with a lazy, blues-saturated way of playing and singing, had landed in town and all
but displaced Miff Mole as the trombonist of the hour. Condon and others have offered romanticised accounts of where and how they first
heard him (most refer to a hotel room, where he just played the blues, a cappella), but all agree on one point: he was like nobody they'd ever
Was it the blues vocabulary, saturating his every note? The oddly expressive "jug" tone? The fact that, unlike Mole and Dorsey, his figures
seemed free of the lockstep of the beat, floating across bar lines, making easy use of rubato in a way few soloists of the time Armstrong
and Coleman Hawkins are powerful exceptions had mastered?
He soon replaced Glenn Miller as Ben Pollack's trombonist,a difference immediately discernible on Pollack records of the time. Benny
Goodman, reminiscing in later years, recalled his own amazement at the new sounds coming out of the brass section. "When Jack would play,
"he told the author in 1980, "I'd sort of wheel around in my chair to listen. He interpreted that wrong he seemed to think I was giving him a
look, putting him down. Well, one night he got a couple of drinks in him and came up to me and said, 'What the hell are you turnin' around
like that for?' He was really ready for a fight and it took me a little time, swearing on my word of honor, to convince him that I really meant
Another recent arrival, if less impressive musically, was no less colorful a figure. Mezz Mezzrow (nι Milton Mesirow) was a bit older than
Condon and his friends, played clarinet and tenor, and was at his most reliable as a source for good "muggles." In later years, Condon
referred to him occasionally as "the arranger," prompting several discographers, blissfully ignorant of such goings-on, to credit Mezzrow with
having "arranged" various recorded selections which, in a certain sense, he did.
It was an article of faith with Mezz that white musicians would never play hot jazz as well as their black counterparts. Though born of
Russian-Jewish parents, he chose to live only in black neighborhoods, consorted exclusively with black women, and even affected black
speech patterns. As Condon put it, "when he fell through the Mason-Dixon Line, he just kept on going."
"They were my kind of people," Mezzrow proclaimed in his autobiography. "And I was going to learn their music and play it the rest of my
days. I was going to be a musician, a Negro musician, hipping the world about the blues the way only Negroes can. I didn't know how the
hell I was going to do it, but I was straight on what I had to do."
Drummer Johnny Powell, a French-Canadian whose tolerance and generosity won the loyalty of many a fellow musician, landed a job in
Pelham, New York, the fashionable Westchester suburb which had been the
California Ramblers' home turf in the early '20s. "You couldn't
ask for a sweeter guy than Johnny Powell," said Mezzrow. "He worshipped the ground we Chicagoans walked on, and he was dying to learn
the jazz technique on the drums because he knew that Gene Krupa had come up under our tutelage."
But Powell was no Krupa, as his work on I'm Sorry I Made You Cry, recorded October 30 for OKeh, makes clear. His band for the
occasion included Condon, Mezzrow and Sullivan from the Pelham engagement, plus Teagarden and McPartland from Pollack's band.
Condon again sings, to about the same effect as on Indiana, and in the final ensemble Powell's leaden drumming makes McPartland sound as
if he's towing a heavy-laden ox-cart.
Makin' Friends is better. It's Teagarden's feature, beginning with a sixteen-bar verse in F-minor, then heading directly into an F-major blues.
Mezzrow's 'dialect' comments behind the "I'd rather drink muddy water" vocal don't add much ("Hot dawg?"), and he quickly and wisely
retreats to the clarinet. After a four-bar McPartland interlude, Teagarden returns, playing his slide section only into an empty water glass. The
result is ghostly, haunting; what Richard Hadlock has termed "a plaintive, edgy, 'vocal' sound rather like that of a magnificent singer humming
through a kazoo."
With Mezzrow and Teagarden in the lead, they all began hanging out at Small's Paradise on 135th Street, listening to Charlie Johnson's
ten-piece band, widely recognized as the hottest in Harlem. As a result of one of these evenings, Condon had an idea, which he took to
Ralph Peer at Victor: why not do some records with a racially mixed band a few of Johnson's men, plus himself, Teagarden, Mezz, and
In Ralph Peer they were talking to the right guy. As a young artists-and-repertoire man for Columbia in the World War I years, he'd been the
first to recognize commercial potential in the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, then creating a nightly riot at Reisenweber's Columbus Circle
restaurant. He'd brought them in to make two test selections, which were promptly fluffed off by Columbia executives. The band moved over
to Victor and history knows the rest.
By 1924, working for OKeh, Peer went to New Orleans to record examples of Crescent City jazz, white and black, in situ. His mobile
equipment captured such local heroes as cornetists Johnny DeDroit and Johnny Bayersdorffer (the latter with the fine, unsung clarinetest
Nunzio Scaglione), Fate Marable, Norman Brownlee, Oscar Celestin's Tuxedo Jazz Orchestra. The Halfway House Orchestra, and
perhaps most significantly a polished and confident New Orleans Rhythm Kings, local heroes fresh back from their Chicago adventures.
By 1929 he was with Victor (and later that year would return to New Orleans, recording the racially mixed Jones-Collins Astoria Hot Eight),
saw Condon's logic, and agreed to record the proposed band for Victor's "race" series, which would give it the best exposure.
It's a good thing he did. Both That's A Serious Thing and I'm Gonna Stomp Mr. Henry Lee are seminal performances: for Teagarden,
whose blues playing and singing on the former are his most relaxed on record to date (and what of the phrase with which he begins his
solo on take-1? Was pianist, singer and avowed Teagarden fan, Harold Arlen, thinking about Serious Thing three or four years later
when he sketched out "Stormy Weather?"; for George Stafford, whose buoyant drumming, with its across-the-beat accents and "bombs,"
seems a decade ahead of its time; for Sullivan's rolling, propulsive solos and Leonard Davis' crystalline, almost martial lead. Even some
substandard saxophone playing (the worst of it, alas, by Mezzrow) doesn't really get in the way.
Red McKenzie resurfaced in New York that summer and immediately booked a series of record dates, of which Indiana and Firehouse
Blues are by far the rarest. Condon, asked about it years later, claimed not to have even remembered the session, held on the day the
popular Amos 'n Andy program went on the air for the first time.
Violinist Bruce Yantis was a ringer, but an appropriate one, a freelancer who worked around town for Smith Ballew and other leaders. Like
Al Duffy and the excellent Mac Ceppos, he languished somewhat in the shadow of Joe Venuti; but as his playing on Indiana shows, he handled the instrument well and swung hard.
Firehouse is a showcase for McKenzie, a blues in F played first slow, then fast, with some bedraggled background "choral" effects (it can
hardly be called singing) from Condon and Krupa. It leaves no doubt that McKenzie, had he taken the time to learn a conventional
instrument, would in all probability have been a first-rate jazzman. His solos are well constructed, hornlike: in John Chilton's words, he
"developed this novel skill to a fine art, and produced phrases that were lively and ingenious." An example is his penultimate up-tempo
chorus, opening on an attractive downhill run and building to a climax right out of Armstrong.
(According to Condon, McKenzie insisted on using strips of paper cut from the Pulitzer family's New York World. "When one strip got wet,
he would simply reach in his pocket and grab a new reed," said Eddie. Informed by a customer in early 1931 that the World was folding, its
staff going over to the Scripps-Howard Telegram, McKenzie shrugged. "I'm going with them," he said.)
Teagarden joined him and Condon for their next studio session, at Victor a month later. With Krupa unavailable they found an avid, if none
too polished, substitute in their Chicago friend Frank Billings. He'd taken the nickname "Josh" after the 19th century Massachusetts humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw (1818-85), who as "Josh Billings" had achieved great popularity with books of anecdotes and witty sayings. Mezzrow
remembered him as, "a talented young artist who shaped up like a young spruce and never wore a hat on his sandy head, didn't play music but always hung out with us. His parents were both doctors, and he was brought up in a very free-and-easy atmosphere. Wherever we went he tagged along and danced on all settings. A natural-born bohemian, he was always trying to capture the rhythm of the Negro in his drawings.
Josh's unusual "instrument" was an old empty suitcase, covered with wrapping paper and banged lustily with a pair of whiskbrooms. For this
date, however, he seems to have collected at least a snare drum, a small tomtom and a woodblock,on which he keeps reasonable, if
First up that day was Tailspin Blues, basically the same slow-fast routine (this time in Bb) as Firehouse, but with two choruses of
Teagarden's F-minor Makin' Friends water-glass routine inserted before the tempo change. Again, Condon and the rest try a sustained-tone
vocal background, with the same hapless results as before.
Most commentators have noted that Teagarden plays strongly and well on Never Had A Reason To Believe In You but that's usually
about as far as they go: there's been little real appreciation of McKenzie, either on the comb or as a singer. One prominent critic adopted a
cavalier tone in referring to him as "a onetime jockey who sang in a husky, quivering, sliding baritone," and deplored his "emotional
Other evaluations have been similarly dismissive. Yet on the basis of these records, McKenzie is worth far more serious attention. His vocal
chorus on Never Had A Reason is surely phrased, rhythmically incisive this at a time when most white male singers, Bing Crosby
excepted, had little grasp of the art of swinging a melody naturally.
Hear, also, his lead in the "ensemble" with Teagarden that winds up Never Had A Reason, or the ferocity of the two up-tempo choruses with
which he opens Hello Lola, playing "trumpet" to Pee Wee Russell's clarinet, Coleman Hawkins' tenor and Glenn Miller's trombone.
Hawkins, star of Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra, was very much the man of the hour; but in Russell he found his match. Hello Lola, an
up-tempo, melodyless structure combining the eight-bar "A" section of the then-popular Oh Baby with the release, or middle section, of Earl
Hines' Rosetta (and reportedly named for a particularly tempestuous Russell girlfriend), gives them both a handy vehicle.
Pee Wee, an Oklahoman by birth, had been in New York awhile, recording mostly with Red Nichols groups. Like Teschemacher, to whom
he's often been compared, he took much inspiration from Bix, with whom he'd worked in the Midwest; but unlike the Chicagoan, Russell had
a keen sense of structural balance: his work is also emotionally layered, a Beiderbecke-like air of melancholy lurking just below the surface of
even his most exuberant moments. His half-chorus on the 1927 Bix-Trumbauer Cryin' All Day comes close to outdoing the cornetist at his
Both he and Hawkins solo with great agitation on Lola, the latter spewing out wild phrases with a percussive attack; but One Hour, a
paraphrase of James P. Johnson's If I Could Be With You One Hour Tonight (which never quite gets around to stating its melody), is the
real highlight. Slow by late '20s standards, it allows Hawkins to expand his decorative, still-evolving ballad style; Pee Wee, by contrast, offers
a chorus rich in blues accents, and dominated by short, punchy phrase statements. Glenn Miller's contribution, if not up to those of Russell
and Hawkins, is nonetheless earnest and heartfelt.
It was almost a year before McKenzie convened another of these intriguingly heterodox dates. During this time, the Chicago men who had
elected to stay in New York blended in with the workday musician's life. Benny Goodman left Ben Pollack and went to work (with Krupa
and Glenn Miller) in Red Nichols' pit band for the Gershwin show Girl Crazy; Bud Freeman shuttled back and forth between New York
and Chicago, recording in his home town with Tesch and Wingy Manone; Teagarden, consistently in demand, recorded memorably
with Nichols and others. McKenzie kept on hustling jobs, most of them somehow involving Condon.
When they finally recorded again, the results were among the most fascinating of any date so far. Girls Like You Were Meant For Boys
Like Me, never issued commecially, offers the first side-by-side comparison of Freeman and Hawkins, and shows that by 1930 the two had
developed distinctive and recognizable approaches. The melody statement with which Bud opens Girls Like You is lean, with an engaging
rhythmic lift. Hawkins' half-chorus, by contrast, reconceives the same melody in almost operatic terms. McKenzie, both in his solo chorus
and final ensemble lead, is direct and to the point. (Interestingly, all three fumble the half-cadence going into the bridge; they all want it to
resolve to tonic.)
Fats Waller walks handsomely through Arkansas Blues, with "Josh" Billings stroking his suitcase behind McKenzie's vocal and the lilting
Goodman clarinet solo that follows. There is a shuffle beat that really seems to spur McKenzie in the last two choruses. A messy ending
(Benny sounds as if he expected to go on) accounts for this master having been rejected, but hardly explains why Columbia scrapped the
The final four titles team Muggsy Spanier and Jimmy Dorsey, recently returned from a British tour with Ted Lewis, with Hawkins, with New
Orleans bassist Al Morgan and a rhythm section including Condon, Bland and pianist Jack Russin. Georgia On My Mind finds McKenzie in
gloriously heart-on-sleeve form: some have found it easy, in later, tougher-minded times, to scorn this kind of sentimentality (as some concert
music historians have scorned Last Spring and others among the more emotional string pieces of Grieg). But fashions in music, as in all the
arts, come and go; McKenzie's vocal (and comb) on Georgia, supported by a no less effusive Spanier obbligato and the broad foundation of
Morgan's bowed bass, remains true to itself. Hawkins fashions his solo like one mightly cadenza, spacious of tone, full of rubato flourishes.
By contrast, he charges out of McKenzie's vocal on Darktown Strutters Ball, using his old heavy-tongued approach to drive two choruses
powerfully forward. Even an offhand allusion to the familiar "Laugh, Clown, Laugh" aria from Pagliacci doesn't hold things up; it just flashes
by like a piece of scenery as Hawkins' mind plunges ahead. Muggsy pops off two neat plunger choruses before McKenzie returns to wind
More of the same with I Can't Believe That You're In Love With Me and You Rascal, You, with Morgan and McKenzie doing the singing
on the latter and Jimmy Dorsey playing with unusual force. Overall, the sound of these dates (especially those featuring the
Condon-Bland-Morgan rhythm team) points directly to the Rhythmakers titles of 1932, with their memorable union of Russell and trumpeter
Henry "Red" Allen.
They also show the assimilation of the young Chicagoans into a roomier, more heterodox musical context, one able to integrate the raw
energy of Condon, McKenzie, Sullivan and Krupa, absorb the distinctively blues-saturated accents of Teagarden, support both Russell's
gritty lyricism and Hawkins' oratory.
They still weren't making much money. Some of them never would. Music, that most fickle of mistresses, would do well by some and badly
by others. No rhyme, no reason: just the way things work out, in this or any other business.
"How long does it take for a musician to be a success?" Condon asked McKenzie one hot and particularly bibulous night.
"You're nuts from the heat," the Blueblower replied, "A musician is a man who enjoys his work. How can he be a success?"
These records, in all their splendor, may be as close to an answer as anyone will ever get.
If you would like to order the Timeless Records' CD of Eddie Condon 1928-1931 you can do so through Worlds Records or direct from Timeless Records.