Collector’s Corner (Free MP3s) • Some January Jazz Additions — Piron’s New Orleans Orchestra, Mound City Blue Blowers, Jelly Roll Morton, Tiny Parham’s Musicians
A few more additions to the jazz collection for the new year. For the discographically minded, it’s worth noting that alternate takes survive of these Morton and Parham titles (RCA eventually issued the Mortons on an original-stamper Victor 78 in the early 1940s, and the Parhams on a superbly engineered “X” Vault Originals LP in the early 1950s).
As sometimes happens with Victor jazz recordings of this period, for reasons yet to be discovered, some takes selected for original release contain noticeable performance errors — including some quite glaring ones, as you’ll hear midway through “Seattle Hunch” — that don’t occur on the corresponding alternates. At a later date, we’ll be posting some side-by-side MP3 comparisons of “mastered” vs. “held” Victor takes, in which that pattern becomes obvious. In the meantime, enjoy the original “approved” versions, the occasional warts and all.
ARMAND J. PIRON’S NEW ORLEANS ORCHESTRA:
Mamma’s Gone, Goodbye (EE+)
New York: December 11, 1923
Victor 19233 (mx. B 29121 – 3) Released February 4, 1924, and deleted in 1926. Personnel given in Rust’s Jazz Records and similar works are anecdotal (no source cited; not original Victor file data, other than the notation that Piron is directing).
MOUND CITY BLUE BLOWERS: Gettin’ Told (E–)
New York: February 9, 1925
Brunswick 2849 Three takes were recorded (mxs. 14872, 14873, and 14874), but neither the recording ledgers nor the pressing indicate which was used. Guitarist Eddie Lang (misspelled “Lange” on the label composer credits) is present.
TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: The Head Hunter’s Dream (An African Fantasy) (E–)
Chicago (Victor Laboratory): July 2, 1928
Victor 21553 (mx. BVE 46037 – 2)
TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Cuckoo Blues (EE–)
Chicago (Victor Laboratory): July 2, 1928
Victor 21553 (mx. BVE 46041 – 2) Released September 21, 1928, and deleted in 1931.Personnel given in Rust’s Jazz Records and similar works are anecdotal (no source cited; not original Victor file data).
JELLY ROLL MORTON: Seattle Hunch (EE-)
Camden, NJ: July 8, 1929
Victor V-38527 (mx. BVE 49449 – 1)
JELLY ROLL MORTON: Freakish (EE-)
Camden, NJ: July 8, 1929
Victor V-38527 (mx. BVE 49451 – 2) Released September 6, 1929.
Collector’s Corner (Free MP3 Downloads):
Some June – July 2019 Finds
Some nice jazz additions to the collection in the past month or so, starting off with two sides that allegedly include Glenn Miller on trombone, although the sources of those claims are sketchy at best. Brian Rust and others have made that attribution, with no sources cited, as usual (and if you believe everything you read in Rust and the various Jazz Records clones, let’s talk about a big bridge in Brooklyn on which we can make you a terrific deal).
The Miller attribution on the Mendello side has also been made by a descendant. Granted, family tales are sometimes embroidered, but it adds perhaps a bit more credibility to the claim. If anyone has credible, verifiable documentaryproof that Miller is on either of these records — not “I hear Glenn” or “so-and-so remembers” — please send us a scan of the document, and a note telling us where you found it, so that Miller can finally be properly credited. It’s good trombone work, for sure.
JAMES G. G. MENDELLO & HIS FIVE GEE GEE’S
(as DIXIE JAZZ BAND): High Hattin’ Hattie (E-)
New York: August 15, 1928
Oriole 1363 (mx. 8150 -1 / Plaza control 1804 – 1)
Vocal by Jack Kaufman, as Dick Holmes. Personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works are apparently speculative (no source cited; not Plaza-ARC file data). .
.. The Five Gee Gee’s appear to have been purely a studio pick-up group; no reliable report of the band performing in public has been found so far. All of the titles they recorded are what the recording industry used to call “dogs” — those “B”-side fillers that hack songwriters peddled to the record companies for a modest flat fee, no royalties required. Mendello was primarily a New York theater-band trumpeter who also recorded with Gus Haenschen’s “Carl Fenton” Orchestra for Brunswick (per the Paterson [New Jersey] Evening News, April 14, 1927) and reportedly directed one of the Ben Bernie orchestras (Paterson Morning Call, June 13, 1931). He died on June 12, 1931, at the age of twenty-eight.
THE COTTON PICKERS: Kansas City Kitty (EE-)
New York: March 27, 1929
Brunswick 4325 (mx. E 29525 -) Personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works are apparently speculative (no source cited; not Brunswick file data). The selected take is not indicated in the pressing, nor in the Brunswick files; two takes were made.
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Sensation (E)
New York: March 19, 1927
Brunswick 3521 (mx. E 22029)
EARL HINES & HIS ORCHESTRA: Grand Piano Blues
(E- to V++, with label damage)
Chicago: October 25, 1929
Victor V-38096 (mx. BVE 57322 – 2) This master was later dubbed for reissue on Bluebird and British H.M.V., being stripped of much of its bass in the process. The inferior dubbed version was also used on RCA’s various LP reissues.
LUIS RUSSELL’S ORCHESTRA (as RED ALLEN & HIS ORCHESTRA): Funny Feathers Blues (E)
New York: September 24, 1929
Bluebird B-6588 (mx. BVE 55853- 2)
Vocal by Victoria Spivey. Henry (Red) Allen, director, per the Victor files. October 1936 original-stamper reissue of Victor V-38088.
LOUIS ARMSTRONG & HIS SEBASTIAN NEW COTTON CLUB ORCHESTRA: You’re Driving Me Crazy! (What Did I Do?) (E-)
Los Angeles: December 23, 1930
Okeh 41478 (mx. W 404418 – B)
Vocal by Louis Armstrong; opening dialogue by Armstrong and Lionel Hampton.
Sam Moore’s 1921 Victor recording of “Laughing Rag” is an astonishing record for the period, blending Southern folk, Hawaiian, and ragtime influences in a way unlike anything that had been heard on records up to that time. Music historian Dick Spottswood has praised Moore’s performance on that record for its “aggressive mainland verve…which stands halfway between Hawaiian and the 1920s country guitar rags of Sam McGee, Blind Blake, Roy Harvey, and Sylvester Weaver.”
The Moores had already established a reputation as musical family when Samuel Pasco Moore was born in Monticello, Florida, on June 28, 1887. His father, Samuel Lewis Moore, was a Civil War veteran and holder of a Confederate Cross of Honor. Music, however, was only an avocation for the family, which operated a successful construction business.
Sam Moore with his family and banjo, both circa 1895
(courtesy of Betsy Loar)
Proficient on the violin by age seven, Sam was later sent to Macon, Georgia, to study under Professor W. C. Kaler. After a badly healed broken arm ended his aspirations as a violinist, Moore turned to the banjo and guitar and also began to experiment with everyday objects — most notably, the ordinary hand-saw — as musical instruments.
In 1919, Moore left home to audition for Florenz Ziegfeld in New York. The result was a six-moth run at Ziegfeld’s Roof Garden. For a time, the newly arrived Georgian was the toast of New York society, even serving as guest of honor at a reception hosted by the editors of TheMusical Courier that was attended by Enrico Caruso and other luminaries. “Those eminent artists,” a New York paper reported, “were so delighted by Mr. Moore’s playing on a carpenter’s hand-saw, that they hovered so closely around him that he hardly had room to play.”
Moore traveled to Chicago during the summer of 1920. There he met Harry Skinner, an employee of Lyon & Healy, the city’s leading music retailer. In September, Moore made a well-advertised appearance in Lyon & Healy’s auditorium, at which he played his hand-saw.
Moore’s appearance at Lyon & Healy (Chicago, September 1920)
Skinner introduced Moore to his new invention, an eight-string steel guitar named the octo-chorda. (Although several accounts credit Moore with its invention, a 1926 news article confirms that Moore’s eight-string steel guitar was “the recent invention of Harry Skinner of Lyons & Healy in Chicago.”) Together, Moore and Skinner composed a showpiece for the octo-chorda, titled “Laughing Rag.”
Moore was soon traveling on the Keith and Orpheum vaudeville circuits, sometimes with Horace D. Davis. A great-grandson of Robert E. Lee, who also performed under the name of John Powell, Davis was an accomplished guitarist.
During the summer of 1921, Moore recorded “Laughing Rag” as an octo-chorda solo for the Gennett, Okeh, and Victor labels. Gennett 4747 was the first to be recorded, in New York on June 11, 1921, with piano accompaniment by Frank Banta. The recording was erroneously entered in the Gennett files as a hand-saw solo, and was even advertised as such in some newspapers, but the records are correctly labeled.
Okeh 4412 was released in November, coupled with Moore’s “Chain Gang Blues,” using an uncredited accompanist. Moore recorded two more octo-chorda solos for Okeh at about the same time — “Wang Wang Blues” and “Tuck Me to Sleep in My Old ‘Tucky Home” (the latter with Davis, coupled on Okeh 4423).
But Moore’s most successful recording of “Laughing Rag,” musically as well as in terms of sales, was made for the Victor Talking Machine Company in their New York studio on August 24, 1921, originally as part of a trial session. For this version, Moore used Horace Davis to accompany on the harp-guitar, an odd hybrid instrument with six primary strings plus an additional set of strings that resonated sympathetically.
SAM MOORE & HORACE DAVIS: Laughing Rag
New York: August 24, 1921 (Released March 1922)
Victor 18849 (mx. B 25543 – 1) Recorded as a test and later accepted for commercial release, per the Victor files. Originally scheduled for release on Victor 18846, coupled with Moore & Davis’ “Cry Baby Blues,” which was canceled before release.
Victor inexplicably delayed its release of “Laughing Rag” for seven months, only to discover that they had a hit on their hands. The guitar interplay between Moore and Davis proved to be irresistible. Victor’s version remains a perennial favorite with collectors and has been commercially reissued several times, most recently on RCA’s “Classic Ragtime” CD. But of the fourteen titles Moore and Davis recorded for Victor between August 1921 and September 1922, only three were issued, the other two being straightforward “Hawaiian” numbers.
Unfortunately for modern listeners, “Laughing Rag” was an anomaly. In 1922, Moore and Davis split, and Moore teamed with Carl Freed, a ukulele- and guitar-playing comedian who also played the musical spoons. Together, they developed a novelty vaudeville act entitled “Spooning and Ballooning,” in which Moore played an inflated rubber balloon and other gadgets to Freed’s spoon accompaniment. The Columbus [Georgia] Ledger for April 9, 1924, reported that “Among the most appreciative of Sam Moore’s audiences are the negroes who go north… [they] often talk to the performer from the galleries, which makes the act ‘go big’…”
An early review of “Spooning and Ballooning” (Altoona, Pennsylvania, October 1922)
The long-running “Spooning and Ballooning” plays Allentown, Pennsylvania
Although Moore’s guitar work is what interests most modern collectors, his use of offbeat instruments is what captivated audiences in the 1920s. In April 1924 Moore’s father told the Columbus Courier, “That boy can music out of anything. When he was a small boy, I’ve seen him get music out of a pitchfork.” Moore didn’t leave any known recordings on the pitchfork, but he made a number of hand-saw records, beginning with “Mother Machree” for Gennett, on the reverse side of “Laughing Rag.”
By the time Moore recorded for Columbia in 1922, however, the musical-saw fad was fading in New York. Moore’s April 7, 1922, Columbia session yielded a single release (A3750), which appears to have sold poorly. A few Moore saw-solo releases followed during 1923–1924 on Brunswick and Vocalion, on some of which Horace Davis made a reappearance, but again, sales appear to have been small.
From a 1924 Vocalion supplement
By the mid-1920s, with several firms marketing cheap musical saws and instruction courses, the hand-saw was largely relegated to the status of an amateur’s novelty instrument. Moore carried on, championing the hand-saw as well as a host of other instruments that had fallen from (or, in the case of the rubber balloon, never attained) grace. Interest in “Spooning and Ballooning” faded, and Moore and Freed eventually went their own ways.
By 1927, Moore was once again working with Horace Davis, but no issued recording resulted. Together, they recorded Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” for Brunswick on November 8, which was to have been coupled with a remake of “Laughing Rag” on Brunswick 3713. However, there is no evidence in the Brunswick files that the latter title was recorded, and Brunswick 3713 was canceled before release. Two October 1928 Brunswick duets with ukulele player Edmund Evans were rejected.
A formal 1920s portrait of Sam Moore (left), and a snapshot taken during his stint with KFSO radio’s “Country Store” (courtesy of Betsy Loar)
In the 1930s, Moore left the stage for radio work, writing for and performing on several NBC shows into the 1940s. For a time he teamed with his wife, Carolyn, in a stereotypical “blackface” act called “Sambo & Mandy” for local radio broadcasts and personal appearances.
Moore suffered from asthma, and eventually he settled in San Francisco for health reasons. There he was featured in the cast of KFSO’s “Country Store.” He died in San Francisco on November 13, 1959, at the age of 72.
Thanks to Betsy (Moore) Loar, the grand-daughter of Sam Moore, for sharing her rare photos and other source materials. Discographical data are from the original company files, via the University of California–Santa Barbara’s Discography of American Historical Recordings site and John R. Bolig.
Collectors’ Corner (Free MP3’s) • Some Early April Finds:
Charlie Segar, L. C. Williams, Claude Casey’s Pine
State Playboys, Jelly Roll Morton,
Seven Hot Air-Men
Spring is bustin’ out all over, and so are the 78s. A few favorite finds from the last several weeks, a couple of them from dealers and the rest from lucky estate-sale and junk-shop finds:
SEVEN HOT AIR-MEN [ED KIRKEBY]: Lowdown Rhythm (E-)
New York: May 23, 1929
Columbia 1850-D (mx. W 148618 – 2) Ed Kirkeby’s “hot” unit, after his California Ramblers went the big-band route. Personnel from the Kirkeby log: Phil Napoleon (trumpet); Carl Loeffler (trombone); Pete Pumiglio (reeds); Chauncey Gray (piano); Tommy Felline (guitar); Ward Lay (string bass); Stan King (percussion).
JELLY ROLL MORTON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Courthouse Bump (EE+)
Camden, NJ: July 9, 1929
Victor V-38093 (mx. BVE 49453 – 2) Other than Morton, the personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works are anecdotal (no source cited, and not original Victor file data). Note that personnel were added to some RCA documentation long after the fact, probably in conjunction with the Bluebird reissue program in the 1940s. They appear to have been taken from the none-too-reliable Charles Delauney discography and unfortunately are often mistaken for original Victor documentation, which lists only the instrumentation (not the players).
CHARLIE SEGAR: [Pine Top’s] Boogie Woogie (E)
Chicago: January 11, 1935
Decca 7075 (mx. C 9646 – A)
CHARLIE SEGAR: Cow Cow Blues(E)
Chicago: January 11, 1935
Decca 7075 (mx. C 9645 – A)
CLAUDE CASEY & HIS PINE STATE PLAYBOYS:
Pine State Honky Tonk (EE-)
Rock Hill, SC (Andrew Jackson Hotel): September 27, 1938
Bluebird B-7883 (mx. BS 027737 – 1)
L. C. WILLIAMS: You Never Miss The Water (E- to V++)
Houston (Bill Quinn studio): c. June 19, 1947
Gold Star unnumbered acetate Issued commercially on Gold Star 614. For a detailed history of Bill Quinn’s studios and labels, along with more than 1200 other entries, check out American Record Companies and Producers, 1888–1950(limited edition, available from Mainspring Press while supplies last).
We pay top collector prices for records of this type (must be true, non-grainy E- or better; V+ may be acceptable for rarer items). Why settle for dealer prices for your higher-end disposables? Let us know what you have, grade honestly and accurately with all defects noted (including any label damage), and state your best price.
Collectors’ Corner: Some March 2019 Finds
Fats Waller with Tom Morris, Fletcher Henderson,
Duke Ellington, Red Nichols, East Texas Serenaders,
Uncle Dave Macon
THOMAS MORRIS & HIS HOT BABIES with THOMAS [FATS] WALLER (E)
Camden, NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor 21358 (mx. BVE 40097 – 2) “Race release,” per Victor files. The personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works, other than Waller and Morris, should be considered speculative (no source cited, not from Victor file data).
RED NICHOLS & HIS FIVE PENNIES: Ida, Sweet as Apple Cider (E+)
New York: August 15, 1927
Brunswick (British) 01536 (mx. E 24232) Stock arrangement, per the Brunswick files. The personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works, other than Nichols, should be considered speculative (no source cited, not from Brunswick file data).
DUKE ELLINGTON & HIS ORCHESTRA (as The Jungle Band): Tiger Rag,
Part 2 (EE+)
New York: January 8, 1929
Brunswick (French) A 9279 (mx. E 28941 – A) Irving Mills arrangement, per the Brunswick files. The personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works should be considered speculative (no source cited, not from Brunswick file data).
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Tidal Wave (E)
New York: September 12, 1934
Decca 213 (mx. 32602 – A) The personnel listed in Rust’s Jazz Records and derivative works should be considered speculative (no source cited, not from Decca file data).
EAST TEXAS SERENADERS: Acorn Stomp (E)
Dallas: December 2, 1927
Brunswick 282 (mx. DAL-720- )
UNCLE DAVE MACON & HIS FRUIT-JAR DRINKERS: Tom and Jerry (E- to V+)
Collectors’ Corner (MP3 Downloads) • Some February Finds – Victor Jazz and Blues Classics on Vinyl
Several favorites from a nice batch of c. 1960-1970s RCA blank-labeled vinyl pressings from the original Victor stampers. These were made in very small quantities, often in conjunction with reissue programs or for other special purposes, and were not intended for sale. As a result, they rarely turn up in general circulation (as these did, much to our surprise, at a recent estate sale). They are not true “test pressings — although many dealers represent them as such — but are still highly desirable because of their limited availability and superior surfaces. Enjoy!
MEMPHIS JUG BAND: He’s in the Jail House Now
Memphis Auditorium: November 21, 1930
BVE 62990 – 2 (original issue Victor 23256)
MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Memphis Minnie [McCoy], vocal): Bumble Bee Blues
Memphis Auditorium: May 26, 1930
BVE 59993 – 2 (original issue Victor V-38599)
LOUIS DUMAINE’S JAZZOLA EIGHT (Leonard Mitchell, vocal): Franklin Street Blues
New Orleans: March 7, 1927
BVE 37979 – 1 (original issue Victor 20580)
THE MISSOURIANS: Ozark Mountain Blues
New York: June 3, 1929
BVE 53803 -2 (original issue Victor V-38071)
THOMAS [FATS] WALLER: Messin’ Around with the Blues
Camden, NJ (Church studio): January 14, 1927
BVE 37361 – 3 (original issue Victor 20655)
CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: The Rock [issued as “The Boy in the Boat”]
New York: September 19, 1928
BVE 47531 – 1 (alternate take; original issue in 1939 on Bluebird B-10248)
Discographical data are from the original Victor files, courtesy of John Bolig.
Collectors’ Corner (MP3): Some January Finds – Sophie Tucker, Fletcher Henderson, Curtis Mosby, Wingy Mannone, Jelly Roll Morton, Luis Russell
Some good jazz and personality pickings in January, plus another bumper-crop of cylinders that we’ll get around to posting when time allows. In the meantime, here are a few electrical-era favorites from this month’s finds:
SOPHIE TUCKER: I Never Can Think of the Words (EE-)
London: October 1930
Broadcast Twelve 5195 (L-0763 – 1) With Ted Shapiro (piano) and the Winter Garden Theatre Orchestra (Sydney Baynes, cond.)
FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA (June Cole, vocal): Sweet Thing (E- to V++)
New York: December 13, 1926
Columbia (British) 4417 (W 143125 – 6)
CURTIS MOSBY & HIS DIXIELAND BLUE BLOWERS (Henry Starr, vocal):
In My Dreams (I’m Jealous of You) (V++)
Los Angeles: October 14, 1927 (Pacific Coast regional release, June 1928)
Columbia 1191-D (mx. W 144763 – 3)
CURTIS MOSBY & HIS DIXIELAND BLUE BLOWERS: Weary Stomp (E- to V++)
Los Angeles: October 14, 1927 (Pacific Coast regional release, June 1928)
Columbia 1191-D (mx. W 144761 – 2)
JOE [WINGY] MANNONE’S HARMONY KINGS (Mannone, vocal):
Ringside Stomp (V++)
New Orleans: April 11, 1927
Columbia 1044-D (mx. W 143952 – 2)
JELLY ROLL MORTON & HIS RED HOT PEPPERS: Georgia Swing (V+)
Liederkranz Hall, New York: June 11, 1928 (released February 22, 1929)
Victor V-38024 (mx. BVE 45619 – 2)
LUIS RUSSELL & HIS ORCHESTRA (as Dixie Jazz Band): The Way He Loves Is Just Too Bad (E- to V+)
New York: September 13, 1929
Oriole 1726 (American Record Corp. mx. 9007 – 1, as control 2533 – 1)
Collector’s Corner • Some August Finds (Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Johnson’s Cracker Jacks, Tiny Parham)
August highlights: A nice little stack of Victor V-38000s in generally decent shape, hiding where one would least expect to find them; and some hot Bluebirds (reissues, sure, but old reissues in great shellac, unbeatable for “listening” copies).
July was a cylinder month, with a big local haul; we’ll try to get some of the most interesting titles posted next month. In the meantime, here are a few August favorites (VJM grading; Victor file data courtesy of John Bolig):
KING OLIVER & HIS ORCHESTRA: The Trumpet’s Prayer(E- -)
New York: February 1, 1929 / Released: March 29, 1929
Victor V-38039 (BVE 48334 – 1)
TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS: Subway Sobs (E- to V++)
Chicago: February 2, 1929 / Released: April 19, 1929
Victor V-38041 (BVE 48849 – 1)
BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Rite Tite (V+)
Chicago: July 17, 1929 / Released: January 17, 1930
Victor V-38104 (BVE 55423 – 1)
BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Sweetheart of Yesterday (E)
Chicago: October 24, 1929
Bluebird B-6851 (BVE 57316 -1R, from -2) 1937 dubbed reissue of Victor V-38114. Label shows James Rushing vocal, in error.
JOHNSON’S CRACKER JACKS (Benny Jackson, vocal): The Duck’s Yas Yas Yas (E)
Egleston Auditorium, Atlanta: February 22, 1932
Bluebird B-6278 (BVE 71625 -1) 1936 original-master reissue of Victor 23329
BENNIE MOTEN’S ORCHESTRA featuring WILLIAM (COUNT) BASIE: Prince of Wales [sic] (E)
Church Studio #2, Camden, NJ: December 13, 1932
Bluebird B-6851 (BS 74854 – 1) 1937 original-master reissue of Victor 23393
Nina Morgana, c. 1920 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
On the subject of broadcasts, you sang with Gigli in one of the earliest Saturday matinee broadcasts, am I correct?
Yes. Radio became more and more important in the early and middle-1930s. I remember singing Inès in of one of the first radio broadcasts from the Met [on March 19, 1933], with Gigli as Vasco and Rethberg as Selika. But the most memorable broadcast I can recall was the silver-anniversary gala for Gatti-Casazza [on February 26, 1933]. Lily Pons sang the Lucia Sextet with Lauri-Volpi, Tancredi Pasero—what a voice!—and Armando Borgioli, and dear old Angelo Badà. The broadcast was quite special because Alma Gluck spoke on the air, and [Marcella] Sembrich and [Ernestine] Schumann-Heink were present for the gala.
Gigli also had a very memorable appearance in a broadcast that was billed as a “surprise party” in 1932. Certain parts of the playbill were titled after dishes that one would find on a restaurant menu—one scene was called “Russian Caviar,” another was “Wiener Schnitzel,” and “French Champaign.” I sang in the one called “Italian Minestrone” on the playbill. In the “French Champaign” segment, Gigli came onstage in the costume of Carmen and sang the “Habanera.” Not in falsetto, but in his real voice.
You mentioned Lily Pons singing in the Lucia Sextet at Gatti-Casazza’s silver-anniversary gala. I believe you sang in the Sextet at his farewell gala in March 1935.
The Lucia Sextet was the opening selection of the farewell for Gatti, but the most talked-about performance of that Gala was Melchior singing the last act of Otello with Elisabeth Rethberg.  Five days after that farewell gala, I sang my last performance at the Met. It was in Bohème—I sang Musetta, and Rethberg sang Mimì. It was a Saturday matinee broadcast, and a fragment of it was recorded. I have heard it, but the sound quality is so poor that I can barely make out my own voice. So the only sound recordings I have of my voice are the tests I made for Victor, which Caruso had made possible.
Were you present for any of Caruso’s recording sessions?
Just once, when he recorded “Rachel! Quand du Seigneur,” in September 1920. He invited me to come to the Victor studios with Bruno. [Caruso] recorded something else that day—a song, but I can’t recall its title now. Of course, Bruno was at all of Caruso’s recording sessions from 1917 until 1920. The first one he was present for was the recording of the Rigoletto Quartet and the Lucia Sextet in January 1917.
Do you recall seeing a test recording of the opening tenor measures of “Bella figlia dell’amore,” which Caruso sang? The test recording was cut off when the others in the ensemble began to sing.
Yes, we had a copy of it. Caruso inscribed the label to himself—either “To Enrico from Enrico,” or “To Caruso from Caruso,” something of that sort.
Do you still have that test pressing?
No. My husband managed not only to lose that one, but he also misplaced the private recording Caruso made of the “Coat Song” from Bohème.
When did you make your test recordings for Victor?
In 1920. On Thursday afternoon, April 29, 1920.
Were you intimidated at all by the conical recording “horn”?
Well, it wasn’t “conical,” it was octagonal. It was suspended by an adjustable chain, and there were two large mahogany doors below it. I wasn’t intimidated by it not only because I had watched Caruso make the Juive recording, but also because the director at Victor, Mr. [Josef] Pasternack, who accompanied me at the piano, explained the recording process to me in detail.
How many test recordings did you make that day?
Just two. I sang Chadwick’s “He Loves Me,” and then “Come per me sereno” from Sonnambula.
Were you able to hear the test recordings played back to you soon after you finished making the recordings?
No. I was invited to the Victor studios in Manhattan to hear the recordings played, and was given both of the discs after they were played for me.
Were you pleased with what you heard?
With “Come per me sereno,” yes. But my voice sounded too distant in “He Loves Me.”
Do you recall what type of piano, a grand or an upright, was used in your recordings, and where the piano was located?
It was a grand piano with the lid raised to its maximum, pointed toward the horn. I stood on a stool in front of the horn, with the bend of the piano immediately behind me. .
NINA MORGANA (Josef Pasternack, piano): Come per me sereno
Victor test: April 29, 1920
(A busy day at Victor; others who cut tests on this date, ahead of Nina Morgana, included Lew Brown, William Robyn, Fred Whitehouse, and the Finnish Mixed Quartette. Data from the Discography of American Historical Recordings.) .
Do you know why your recordings were never released commercially?
There were two reasons, really. The first was that Caruso died unexpectedly. As soon as he recovered from his illness, he was to have recorded “É il sol dell’anima” with me. After he died, of course, that became a moot point. The other reason had to do with my husband. Bruno wanted only one “star” in our home, and being a traditional Italian man, he had to be the center of attention.
You were a classically-trained soprano who was taught through the solfeggio method by a legendary soprano. Mr. Zirato had no musical education at all, and yet he spent his career in the operatic and symphonic worlds. To what extent did he really “know” music?
He knew [opera] libretti as well as any conductor or coach. He knew them so thoroughly that he had an annoying habit of speaking the lines while a singer was singing them. He did that throughout every performance I attended with him, and no matter how many times I stuck my elbow into his arm to shut him up, he couldn’t stop reciting the lines. It annoyed everyone around us because his voice was so deep. I felt that he did it [i.e., reciting lines in his box seat while they were being sung onstage] to show off, to impress everyone around us with his vast knowledge of the repertoire.
But he could not read music, correct?
No, not at all. Nor did he have a very good sense of pitch. Unless a singer or an instrumental soloist was flat or sharp by at least a half-tone, his ear couldn’t detect it.
Did you sing at home, and did he give you any opinions about your singing?
Occasionally, I would go to the piano and accompany myself in arias that I loved but which were not a part of my repertoire. As I said earlier, I loved singing tenor arias such as “M’appari,” “Che gelida manina,” and “Come un bel dí di Maggio.” Once, I remember accompanying myself and seeing Bruno come to the piano, put his hands on the raised lid, and listen to me singing—or so I thought. As soon as I finished, he said to me, “My podiatrist says I have beautiful feet.”
Would you have continued to sing under the Johnson administration if you had been given more performances and more opportunities to sing the major coloratura roles?
It wouldn’t have been possible under the circumstances, for several reasons. Caruso had been my entré to the Met, and when he died I knew that my chances for the major coloratura roles would be limited. Galli-Curci came [to the Met], and then Lily Pons. They were Gatti-Cassazza’s and then Johnson’s coloraturas, and I was limited mainly to Amina in Sonnambula, an occasional Gilda, and more often than not, Musetta in Bohème. And as I said, my husband wanted to be the only celebrity in our home. So that was that.
Some twenty-five years after Caruso’s passing, you and your husband became very close to Arturo Toscanini. From some interviews that Toscanini gave, we know that although he admired and respected both Caruso and Gigli, he was not at all shy about criticizing them for taking on roles that were inappropriate for their young voices.
He repeated to Bruno and me many times his exclamation upon hearing Caruso in Italy for the first time: “Per Dio! If this young Neapolitan tenor keeps singing like this, he will have the whole word talking about him!” When Caruso began to take on gradually heavier roles, Toscanini was prone to lecture him—and later Gigli, and all of the rest of us—about the danger of impairing the voice by imposing the requirements of dramatic parts upon an essentially lyrical voice and technique.
Toscanini thought that Gigli was superb in Bohème, Elisir d’amore, and Rigoletto, but that Africana, Trovatore, and Aida were too weighty for his voice. Just as Toscanini had been critical of Caruso for taking on heavier roles too early in his career, he was critical of all of the other tenors who came after Caruso. But Toscanini, musical genius that he was, could be susceptible to irresistible personalities.
Two that come to mind were Giovanni Martinelli, who could do no wrong in Maestro’s eyes, and Geraldine Farrar, with whom he [Toscanini] had a prolonged love affair. Perhaps you know the story of the clashes between Toscanini and Farrar—especially his remark that she was not a “star” because the only stars are in the night sky, and her retort that audiences came to see her on the stage, not to stare at the back of Toscanini’s head in the orchestra pit.
Geraldine Farrar selling Liberty Bonds, 1918 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
Because of my husband’s close association with Toscanini through the New York Philharmonic, Bruno and I were often invited to the relatively few social events that Toscanini would attend. One of the most memorable of these events was a dinner that Farrar gave for Toscanini at her home in Connecticut in the early 1950s.
We rode there with Toscanini in his chauffeured car, and unlike other invitations that he initially accepted and almost immediately regretted, the invitation from Farrar put him in a very good mood. That mood changed abruptly when the main course was served. From then until we left, which was as soon as we politely could, Toscanini sat at her dinner table, glaring at his plate.
When we got into the car, he exploded! “I slept with that woman for seven years,” he shouted, “and she knows I hate fish!”
You sang under Toscanini. Do you recall how many times?
The only performance I remember distinctly was a Beethoven Ninth Symphony with Richard Crooks, Sophie Braslau, and Ezio Pinza, and the Schola Cantorum in 1928.
How was the Maestro’s temperament during the rehearsals?
“Vesuvian” is the word that comes to my mind. He broke at least one, maybe two batons, and he threw his pocket watch on the floor and crushed it with his heel! He pointed out poor Crooks and told him that he sang like a sick pig. Then he used a very crude Italian expression for Pinza. It would embarrass me to repeat it [but] he told Pinza that his singing had the same worth that the pig’s food has after the pig has digested and eliminated it.
Were you spared his wrath, since you knew him personally?
Definitely not! He told me that Madame Arkel, whom he had known very well in Italy, should have forbade me ever to mention her name in public because my singing was a disgrace to her name!
Did he finish the rehearsal?
Yes, but he rushed through it. He was still enraged at the end [of the rehearsal], and shouted at us to get out of his sight and not come back until we were prepared to give our very best. At the next rehearsal, I can assure you that Morgana, Braslau, Crooks, and Pinza and everyone else associated with the performance sang better than we ever knew we could!
Arturo Toscanini, c. 1921 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)
Returning to Enrico Caruso, you sang a number of concerts with him. Do you recall how many you sang with him?
In all, there were eleven. The first one was in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria in February 1919, and the last was in New Orleans on June 26, 1920. He had asked me to sing some upcoming concerts that fall , two in Canada and three in the Midwest, but I was already scheduled to make my debut at the Metropolitan, so I had rehearsals and other obligations to attend to.
Did you sing most of the joint concerts that Caruso gave during World War One?
No, but I attended most of the ones he gave with other singers. He did concerts with Louise Homer, Claudia Muzio, Frances Alda, and Galli-Curci. I think he did one with Mary Garden, too. One concert I remember particularly well was with De Luca, Alda, and Martinelli. Can you imagine one of these tenors today inviting another famous tenor to appear with him? But Caruso invited Martinelli to sing with him. He was very fond of Martinelli, as I’ve told you.
Before Caruso invited me to appear with him, Carolina White and Mabel Garrison had sung [concerts] with him. And Ganna Walska sang at least one [concert] with him. But those were not really “joint concerts,” because Carolina White, Garrison, Ganna Walska and I were billed as “assisting artists” to Caruso. The [concerts] he did with Mary Garden, Galli-Curci, Alda, Muzio, and Homer were truly joint concerts because they were first-rank artists.
This program from October 1918 appears to contradict Morgana’s recollection that she toured with Caruso only during 1919–1920; however, another copy, in the Ann Arbor District Library, has the notation, “Postponed to Spring.” (William R. Bryant papers, Mainspring Press)
What did Caruso typically sing, and what did you sing—not only on the printed program, but as encores?
The violinist Elias Breeskin toured with us, so he would open the program. He had his own accompanist—ours was Salvatore Fucito—and [Breeskin] would usually play [the Dvorak] “Humoresque” or something similar. Then I would sing either “Come per me sereno” from Sonnambula or “Ombra leggiera” from Dinorah, Those were the two arias I sang in all of our concerts.
Caruso would then sing “Celeste Aida,” which was always his first aria on the program. Breeskin would then return to the platform and play two, sometimes three selections. After that, I would sing an aria—again, either the Sonnambula or Dinorah aria, whichever one I hadn’t opened with—and Caruso would sing “Vesti la giubba,” which would always earn him a standing ovation.
After the ovation, he would motion for me to join him at the center of the stage, and we would sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” together. Always—always—at the end of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” he would take me by the hands, and swing me around him. That delighted him to no end, and the audience loved it! Then he would motion for Breeskin and his accompanist, and also Fucito, to stand with us and take our bows.
After all of us left the stage, the applause would go on and on, and in the midst of it Caruso would walk back onto the stage from the wings—just two or three feet from the wings—and he would arch his eyebrows and turn the palms of his hands upward with a big smile, as if to say, “Would you like to hear more?” That’s when the fun would begin!
He would point to me, and then point to himself, as if to say, “Go ahead and sing something of mine!” This was all rehearsed, of course, and I would proceed to sing “M’appari” from Marta, Next, he would motion for Breeskin to join him for the Massenet “Elégie.” Then Caruso would sing three Tosti songs—and always the final one would be “’A vucchella.”
You also sang a joint concert with Gigli, am I correct?
Yes, it was in Boston during a two-concert appearance in which his assisting artist was scheduled to be Anna Fitziu, but she was indisposed and he asked me to take her place. I had sung a number of times in Philadelphia—in fact, I was in one of Gigli’s last performances there, a performance of L’Africana with Rethberg as Sélika [on April 12, 1932]. When I replaced Anna Fitziu as his assisting artist, Gigli told me to sing whatever I wanted to sing, so I chose my two tried-and-true arias, the Dinorah and Sonnambula, and both were well received.
Gigli opened that concert, as he did many others that he gave, with the two Elisir arias: he sang “Quanto è bella” and followed it with “Una furtiva lagrima.” After I sang “Come per me sereno,” he sang three Italian songs. He sang “Amarilli,” then “Primavera,” and before he sang the third one—“Tre giorni son che Nina”—he extended his hand to me, and he sang it to me. Then I sang “Ombra leggiera,” after which he sang “O paradiso,” which earned him another standing ovation.
After “O paradiso,” he left the stage for a few minutes, and when he returned he sang three French selections—two songs whose titles I don’t recall at the moment, and then the Aubade from Le Roi d’Ys. That was the last selection on the printed program. As the applause continued, I came onstage and sang “Caro nome” as an encore. Then Gigli sang five encores, mind you! He began with “Santa Lucia,” then he sang three Tosti songs—“L’alba separa dalla luce l’ombra,” “Serenata,” and “Marechiare”—and he ended with “’O sole mio.”
If that isn’t a tour de force, what is? I can assure you that his voice was just as fresh, just as dolcissima, in “’O sole mio” as it was in “Quanto è bella” and “Una furtiva lagrima” at the start of the concert. Gigli’s entire career was that way: fresh and sweet and beautiful from beginning to end.
Nina Morgana with the author (Ithaca, New York, 1980)
 Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune: “After a spirited curtain-raiser extracted from the immortal opus of Donizetti with Mme. Nina Morgana lending her gifts and skill and feeling and intensity as the unhappy heroine, the novelty of the evening was disclosed to us. This was a performance of the last Act of Verdi’s Otello with Mr. Melchior embodying the Moor of Venice for the first time in New York and Mme. Rethberg playing Desdemona. It is twenty-two years since the music of Otello was heard at the Metropolitan.”
Pretty good pickings in January – Here are a few favorites from this month’s additions to the collection:
ARCADIAN SERENADERS [WINGY MANNONE]: San Sue Strut(E-)
St. Louis: November 1924
BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Get Low-Down Blues(E)
Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Kansas City Breakdown (E)
Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
THE MISSOURIANS: Missouri Moan (E)
New York: June 3, 1929
THE MISSOURIANS: Market Street Stomp (E)
New York: June 3, 1929
WILLIAM McCOY: Mama Blues (EE-)
Dallas: December 6, 1927
WILLIAM McCOY: Train Imitation and The Fox Chase (EE-)
Dallas: December 6, 1927
An unusual example of a record issued in both the race (14290-D) and country series (15269-D, which is missing from Brian Rust’s Columbia Master Book Discography [Greenwood Press]). The artist is African-American.
REECE FLEMING & RESPERS TOWNSEND: She’s Just That Kind (V+)
Alex van der Tuuk’s Paramount’s Rise and Fall sold out this morning, after a long and successful run (in two editions) as one of our most important titles. We have no further copies available for sale.
Bryant, et al.: American Record Co., Hawthorne & Sheble
Bryant, et al.: Leeds & Catlin Records
Charosh: Berliner Records in America
Sutton: Recording the ‘Twenties
You can browse and order all remaining titles on the Mainspring Press website, while supplies last.
Please note that Mainspring Press does not sell on Amazon.com; Mainspring titles on Amazon are being offered by third parties (sometimes at ridiculously inflated prices) with whom we are not affiliated. Most are used copies and are duly noted as such, but some copies being offered as “new” may be remaindered hurt/second-quality copies, which we have made available to resellers on occasion. Mainspring Press sells only on its own website, and on eBay as mspBooks.
We’re pleased to announce that Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945 (Allan Sutton, Mainspring Press) has been nominated for a 2017 Award for Excellence in Historical Recorded-Sound Research by the Association for Recorded Sound Collections. Winners will be announced later this year.
Race Records is available from Mainspring Press and many major libraries. Here’s a peek inside the book, at some of our favorite race-record ads:
John Bolig’s many fans will be happy to hear that his new Victor Black Label Discography, Volume 5 is now available as a free download, courtesy of UC-Santa Barbara’s online Discography of American Historical Recordings (< click this link to get to the download site).
Volume 5 — the first in this important series for which there will be no printed edition — covers the 25000, 26000, and 27000 series, from 1935 to 1942. Like all previous volumes, it was compiled from the original RCA documentation and contains no speculative or anecdotal material — just the (non-alternative) facts.
The download is in searchable PDF format (Adobe Acrobat or Reader) and can be printed out for personal use. For book enthusiasts, Mainspring Press still has copies of Volumes 1–4 available (which are not available as free downloads), but quantities are very limited, so order soon to avoid missing out — they’re sure to become collectors’ items.
The evolution of a band, from two 1927 sides by a group that Manassas [Tennessee] High School instructor Jimmie Lunceford cobbled together from his students, to its blossoming under his leadership in the early 1930s. Moses Allen was one of only two or possibly three original members still present on the 1930 sides. Interesting to hear how his “preaching” routine, originally offered up as a novelty bit on “Chickasaw Stomp,” evolved into the very different “In Dat Mornin’.”
CHICKASAW SYNCOPATORS: Memphis Rag
Memphis: December 13, 1927
Regional release March 1928
Columbia 14301-D (mx. W 145374 – 3)
CHICKASAW SYNCOPATORS (preaching by Moses Allen): Chickasaw Stomp
Memphis: December 13, 1927
Regional release March 1928
Columbia 14301-D (mx. W 145373 – 2)
JIMMIE LUNCEFORD & HIS CHICKASAW SYNCOPATORS
(preaching by Moses Allen): In Dat Mornin’
Memphis Auditorium: June 6, 1930
Released August 15, 1930
Victor V-38141 (mx. BVE 62599 – 2)
JIMMIE LUNCEFORD & HIS CHICKASAW SYNCOPATORS: Sweet Rhythm
Memphis Auditorium: June 6, 1930
Released August 15, 1930
Victor V-38141 (mx. BVE 62600 – 1)
The ARSC Award for Excellence—Best Label Discography went to Eli Oberstein’s United States Record Corporation: A History and Discography, 1939–1940:
2015 Certificates of Merit were awarded to The Victor Discography: Special Labels, 1928–1941; and Ajax Records: A History and Discography:
ORDER SOON if you’re interested in Oberstein or Victor Special Labels. Both titles have been on the market for a while, so supplies are running low (and in addition, there’s recently been a big library run on USRC). We won’t be reprinting either title once our current supplies are gone.
Sorry, Ajax has already sold out (it was a 2013 title — the wheels sometimes turn very slowly at ARSC), although we might consider reprinting this one if there’s sufficient interest — Let us know.