The James A. Drake Interviews • Nina Morgana (Conclusion) and her 1920 Victor Test Recording

NINA MORGANA
Part 3 (Conclusion)
By James A. Drake.

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Nina Morgana, c. 1920 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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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. [5]  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.
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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.)
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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.

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Geraldine Farrar selling Liberty Bonds, 1918 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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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!”

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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!

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Arturo Toscanini, c. 1921 (G. G. Bain Collection, Library of Congress)

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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 [1920], 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.

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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)

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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.”

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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.

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Nina Morgana with the author (Ithaca, New York, 1980)

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[5] 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.”

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© 2018 by James A. Drake. All rights are reserved. Short excerpts may be quoted without permission, provided the source and a link to this posting are cited. All other use requires prior written consent of the copyright holder. Please e-mail Mainspring Press with questions, comments, or reproduction requests for the author.

Photographs from the Library of Congress’ Bain Collection are in the public domain and may be reproduced without permission.

Collector’s Corner • Some January Finds (Arcadian Serenaders, Bennie Moten, The Missourians, William McCoy, Fleming & Townsend)

Pretty good pickings in January – Here are a few favorites from this month’s additions to the collection:

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ARCADIAN SERENADERS [WINGY MANNONE]: San Sue Strut  (E-)

St. Louis: November 1924
Okeh 40378

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Get Low-Down Blues  (E)

Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
Victor 21693

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BENNIE MOTEN’S KANSAS CITY ORCHESTRA: Kansas City Breakdown  (E)

Camden, NJ: September 7, 1928
Victor 21693

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THE MISSOURIANS: Missouri Moan  (E)

New York: June 3, 1929
Victor V-38067

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THE MISSOURIANS: Market Street Stomp  (E)

New York: June 3, 1929
Victor V-38067

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WILLIAM McCOY: Mama Blues  (EE-)

Dallas: December 6, 1927
Columbia 15269-D

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WILLIAM McCOY: Train Imitation and The Fox Chase  (EE-)

Dallas: December 6, 1927
Columbia 15269-D

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.

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REECE FLEMING & RESPERS TOWNSEND: She’s Just That Kind  (V+)

Memphis: June 6, 1930
Victor V-40297

 

2017 ARSC Award for “Race Records and the American Recording Industry”

Now back in stock

We’re pleased to report that Race Records and the American Recording Industry 1919-1945 had been awarded the Association for Recorded Sound Collections‘ 2017 Certificate of Merit in Recorded Blues, Gospel, Soul, or R&B Research.

Due to unexpectedly high demand, we’ve run out of copies several times recently but now have a fresh supply in stock and ready for immediate delivery. The book is available exclusively from Mainspring Press.

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“Paramount’s Rise and Fall” Has Sold Out – Others to Follow Soon

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.

The following titles are now in very short supply (less than one carton of each) as we continue to phase out book sales in favor of online data distribution, in affiliation with UC-Santa Barbara’s DAHR project. These titles will not be reprinted once current supplies are gone — Best to order soon, if interested:

Bolig: Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. II

Bolig: Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. IV

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.

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The Playlist • Henry “Red” Allen (1929 – 1930)

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Before Victor snagged Louis Armstrong, their chief trumpet star was Henry Allen, Jr. (the “Red” business didn’t appear on labels consistently until later). His orchestra on Victor was actually that of Luis Russell, which was under contract to Okeh at the time. (This wasn’t Luis Russell’s only instance of rebranding. Many of King Oliver’s big-band sides were also by the Russell band, sometimes with only minimal participation by Oliver himself.)

Original shellac pressings of recordings like these are lovely to behold, we’ll grant you, and some can bring a king’s ransom if in truly outstanding shape (which most aren’t — and for all the newbies out there overpaying on eBay for wiped-out crap copies, keep in mind: it’s all about condition-condition-condition, even for the scarce stuff).

But for pure musical enjoyment, nothing beats a custom virgin-vinyl disc carefully hand-pressed from a well-preserved original stamper, like these (and since only a few copies were pressed, and were not sold to the public, they’re actually much rarer than the original shellacs). The vinyls used here were pressed in the 1950s or 1960s, most likely in conjunction with RCA’s “X-“ or “Vintage” LP reissue program. A lot of these custom pressings found their way to collectors in England; those used here, and many used elsewhere on the blog, eventually found their way back via the late Malcolm Shaw.

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HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA [Luis Russell’s Orchestra]: It Should Be You

New York (46th Street Studio): July 16, 1929
mx. BVE 55133 – 3 (commercially issued on Victor V-38073)

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HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA [Luis Russell’s Orchestra]: Swing Out

New York (studio unlisted): July 17, 1929
mx. BVE 53930 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor V-38080)

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HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA [Luis Russell’s Orchestra; vocal by Allen]: Roamin’

New York (24th Street Studio): July 15, 1930
mx. BVE 62345 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor 23006)

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HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA [Luis Russell’s Orchestra; vocal by Allen]: Patrol Wagon Blues

New York (24th Street Studio): July 15, 1930
mx. BVE 62343 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor 23006)

 

All from c. 1950s–1960s blank-labeled custom vinyl pressings from the original stampers. Discographical data from the original RCA files (Sony archives, NYC), courtesy of John Bolig.

 

 

 

The Playlist • Victor in the South — Hot Bands (1925 – 1928)

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FATTY MARTIN’S ORCHESTRA: End o’ Main

Houston: March 19, 1925
Victor mx. B 32111 – 2 (commercially unissued on 78)

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FATTY MARTIN’S ORCHESTRA: Jimtown Blues

Houston: March 19, 1925
Victor mx. B 32111 – 4 (commercially unissued on 78)

Above two titles from c. 1960s custom vinyl pressings of the original stampers. Takes 1 and 3, respectively, were issued on Victor 19700 (released 1925, deleted 1926).

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ROSS DE LUXE SYNCOPATORS (Margaret Miller, vocal): Skad-o-Lee

Savannah: August 22, 1927
Victor 20961 (mx. BVE 39823 – 2)
Released: December 16, 1927 – Deleted: 1929

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ROSS DE LUXE SYNCOPATORS (Frank Houston, vocal): Florida Rhythm

Savannah: August 22, 1927
Victor 20961 (mx. BVE 39827 – 2)
Released: December 16, 1927 – Deleted: 1929

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MEMPHIS RAMBLERS: Hold It Still

Memphis (Auditorium): February 4, 1928
Victor 21270 (mx. BVE 41841 – 2)
Released: April 20, 1928 – Deleted: 1931

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WILLIAMSON’S BEALE STREET FROLIC ORCHESTRA: Scandinavian Stomp

Memphis (McCall Building): February 27, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 37959 – 1 (commercially issued on Victor 21410)
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WILLIAMSON’S BEALE STREET FROLIC ORCHESTRA: Midnight Frolic Drag

Memphis (McCall Building): February 27, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 37960 – 2 (commercially issued on Victor 21410)

Above two titles from c. 1960s custom vinyl pressings of the original stampers. Victor 21410 was released July 20, 1928, deleted in 1930, and sold 4,819 copies according to the production-history card.

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Discographic data from the original Victor files, courtesy of John Bolig and the Discography of American Historical Recordings. Sales figures were entered on the Victor production-history cards at an unknown time by an unknown person, and are of questionable accuracy.

“Race Records” Nominated for 2017 ARSC Award

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.

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MSP_race-records_cover
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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:

msp_race-record-ads_1

 

 

Free Download: John Bolig’s Victor Black Label Discography, Vol. 5 (1935 – 1942)

msp_bolig-j_vbld

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 Playlist • What a Difference a Take Makes (Fats Waller & Thomas Morris / Charlie Johnson’s Paradise Band)

Victor retained many alternate backup takes in its early years, designating them “H” [hold], “H30” [hold 30 days] or “HC” [hold conditional] in the files. They’re generally of little interest for pop and classical recordings, but with jazz it’s another story. Here are two of our favorites for comparison, exhibiting striking differences in each performance, along with some subtle engineering variations. We’re extra lucky with the Johnson title, since Victor took the relatively uncommon step of designating two “holds.” Normally, one of the three would have been singled out for destruction [“D”].

The custom vinyl pressings of the unissued takes used here appear to have been made in the 1950s, probably in conjunction with RCA’s “X” reissue program. Apparently a fair number were pressed; they turn up with some frequency in private collections, including ours, and they occasionally still surface on high-end auction lists.

 

msp_morris-vic-21127

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THOMAS [FATS] WALLER WITH THOMAS MORRIS & HIS HOT BABIES: Red Hot Dan

Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)
From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper

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THOMAS [FATS] WALLER WITH THOMAS MORRIS & HIS HOT BABIES: Red Hot Dan

Camden NJ (Church studio): December 1, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 40096 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21127)

Other than Waller and Morris, no personnel are listed in the Victor files. Brian Rust’s guess that Victor studio manager Eddie King played drums is incorrect. King was no longer employed by Victor at the time of this session, having moved to Columbia as an assistant A&R manager in late October 1927.

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msp_johnson-c_paradise-orch

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 1 (“Hold” — Unissued on 78)

From a c. 1950s custom vinyl pressing of the original stamper

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 2 (“Master” — Issued on Victor 21712)

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CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: Walk That Thing

New York: September 19, 1928
Victor mx. BVE 47532 – 3 (“Hold” — Issued May 1939 on Bluebird B-10248)

Personnel listed in the Victor files appear to have been added at a later date by an unknown party, from an unknown source, probably in connection with the 1939 Bluebird release.

Discographical data from the Victor Talking Machine Company files, via John Bolig and the Discography of American Historical Recordings.

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The Playlist • The Chicagoans (1928–1929)

Some favorite sides featuring what early jazz writers termed “The Chicagoans,” a loosely affiliated group of young, white, mostly Midwestern jazz musicians who congregated in the city during the 1920s.

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MSP_bwk-4001-A_chicago-rk

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CHICAGO RHYTHM KINGS (as “Jungle Kings”; Red McKenzie, uncredited vocal): Friars Point Shuffle

Chicago (Marsh Laboratories): c. Late March – Early April 1928
UHCA 3 (dub of Paramount 12654 [NYRL mx. 20563-2])

Given the scrambled accounts of this session in Eddie Condon’s autobiographical We Called It Music, and later in Brian Rust’s Jazz & Ragtime Records (6th Ed.), the date remains open to question. Rust erroneously stated that Condon said this session was held “on the day after the Chicago Rhythm Kings session for Brunswick.” But what Condon actually said was “The next day, he [Red McKenzie] went to Paramount and sold Lyons a date for us.” Compounding the problem is Condon himself, who got his two Brunswick-studio sessions out-of-order in his autobiography, confusing the first (on March 27, which produced only unissued masters allocated to Vocalion, including “Friars Point Shuffle”) with the second (on April 6). Although Condon stated that the Paramount date followed the session that produced “I’ve Found a New Baby,” his confusion over the Brunswick-studio sessions raises the question of which date the Paramount session actually followed.

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CHICAGO RHYTHM KINGS: I’ve Found a New Baby

Chicago: April 6, 1928
Brunswick 4001 (mx. C 1886 – A)

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RAY MILLER & HIS ORCHESTRA: That’s a Plenty

Chicago: January 3, 1929
Brunswick 4225 (mx. C 2743 – )
Three takes were recorded; the selected take is not indicated in the Brunswick files or on inspected pressings.

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ELMER SCHOEBEL & HIS FRIAR’S SOCIETY ORCHESTRA: Prince of Wails

Chicago: October 18, 1929
Brunswick 4653 (mx.  C 4560 – A)

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EDDIE [CONDON]’S HOT SHOTS (Jack Teagarden, vocal): That a Serious Thing

New York: February 8, 1929 (released May 17, 1929)
Victor V-38046 (mx. BVE 48346 – 2)

“Eddie Condon and his Orchestra” entered in Victor ledger, with “Eddie’s Hot Shots” assigned. This was a mixed-race session, with Leonard Davis (trumpet), Happy Caldwell (reeds), and George Stafford (percussion) present, which apparently was enough to land it in Victor’s predominantly black “Hot Dance” series.

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The Playlist • Memphis Jug Band (1927–1934)

MSP_vic-20809-a_MJB

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Will Shade, vocal) : Sometimes I
Think I Love You

Victor Laboratory, Chicago: June 9, 1927
Released: September 16, 1927 — Deleted 1929
Victor 20809 (mx. BVE 38657 – 1)
Not designated as a race release in the Victor files.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Vol Stevens, vocal): Coal Oil Blues

Memphis Auditorium: February 13, 1928
Released: May 4, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
Victor 21278 (mx. BVE 41888 – 2)
Designated as a race release in the Victor files. From a tape transfer supplied by the late Mike Stewart.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (as “Carolina Peanut Boys”; Charlie Nickerson, vocal): You Got Me Rollin’

Memphis Auditorium: November 28, 1930
Released: June 19, 1931 — Deletion date unlisted
Victor 23274 (mx.  BVE 64741 – 2)
The band’s identity is confirmed in the Victor ledger. From a tape transfer supplied by the late Mike Stewart.

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND: Jazbo Stomp

Chicago: November 6, 1934
Mx. C 782 – 2 (commercially issued on Okeh 8955)
From a c. 1960s blank-labeled vinyl pressing from the original stamper

 

MEMPHIS JUG BAND (Will Shade and Charlie Burse, vocal):
Little Green Slippers

Chicago: November 7, 1934
Mx. C 784 – 1 (commercially issued on Okeh 8966/ Vocalion 03050)
From a c. 1960s blank-labeled vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

The Playlist • Tiny Parham & his Musicians (Chicago, 1929)

PARHAM_composite

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Fat Man Blues

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Released: May 16, 1930
Victor V-38126 (mx. BVE 57335 – 2)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Pig Feet and Slaw

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Delayed Release: September 27, 1933
Victor 23410 (mx. BVE 57333 – 2)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Steel String Blues

Chicago: October 26, 1929 — Delayed Release: September 27, 1933
Victor 23410 (mx. BVE 57337 – 3)

 

TINY PARHAM & HIS MUSICIANS:  Subway Sobs

Chicago: February 2, 1929 — Released: April 19, 1929
Victor V-38041 (mx. BVE 48849 – 1)

 

The original Victor files do not name band personnel for these selections (nor for most other jazz recordings of this period); the personnel listings in Jazz Records and other discographies are from uncited sources and should be considered speculative.

The Playlist • Harlem Bands on Victor, 1926–1930 — Savoy Bearcats, Fletcher Henderson, Lloyd Scott, Charlie Johnson, Red Allen

MSP_vic-20307B_savoy-bearcat

SAVOY BEARCATS: Bearcat Stomp

New York: August 23, 1926
Released: January 1927 — Deleted: 1928
Victor 20307 (mx. BVE 36060 – 3)
Don Redman’s last name is misspelled “Radman” on the labels and in the Victor files.

 

SAVOY BEARCATS: Stampede

New York: October 11, 1926
Released: April 8, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor 20460 (mx. BVE 36030 – 7; remake of August 9, 1927)
The Victor files erroneously show three violins (but no reeds) present.

 

FLETCHER HENDERSON & HIS ORCHESTRA: Shufflin’ Sadie

New York: March 11, 1927
Victor mx. BVE 38160 – 1 (commercially unissued in 78-rpm form)
Leonard Joy, director, per Victor files (Joy was a Victor house conductor); Henderson not listed as being present, although a pianist is audible. From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

 

LLOYD SCOTT’S ORCHESTRA: Happy Hour Blues

New York: January 10, 1927
Released: May 13, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor  20495 (mx. BVE 37531 – 2)
Ralph Peer, session supervisor, per Victor files.

 

CHARLIE JOHNSON & HIS PARADISE BAND: The Boy in the Boat

New York: September 19, 1928
Bluebird B-10248 (mx. BVE 47531 – 1)
Bluebird B-10248 (released May 1939) is the original form of issue for take 1; take 2 was issued in December 1928, on Victor 21712. Victor files list “The Rock” as alternate title.

 

JOE STEELE & HIS ORCHESTRA: Top and Bottom

New York: June 4, 1929
Victor mx. BVE 53809 – 2 (commercially unissued in 78-rpm form)
From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper. Take 1 was issued on Victor V-38066 on August 16, 1929.

 

HENRY ALLEN, JR. & HIS ORCHESTRA (Henry [Red] Allen, vocal): Patrol Wagon Blues

New York (24th Street studio): July 15, 1930
Released: October 24, 1930
Victor mx. BVE 62345 – 2 (issued on Victor 23006)
Loren L. Watson, session supervisor, per Victor files. From a c. 1960s custom vinyl pressing from the original stamper.

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The Playlist • Bobby / Bobbie Leecan, Robert Cooksey, and the South Street Trio (1927)

MSP_vic-21249B

 

BOBBY LEECAN’S NEED MORE BAND: Washboard Cut-Out

New York: April 5, 1927 (Ralph Peer, session director)
Released: August 12, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor 20660 (mx. BVE 38434 – 1)
Personnel, aside from Victor A&R man Ralph Peer, are not listed in the recording file. “Bobbie” in file, “Bobby” on  labels.

 

BOBBY LEECAN’S NEED MORE BAND: Midnight Susie

New York: April 5, 1927 (Ralph Peer, session director)
Released: August 12, 1927 — Deleted: 1929
Victor 20660 (mx. BVE 38436 – 2)
As above.

 

SOUTH STREET TRIO: Dallas Blues

Camden, NJ: October 27, 1927
Released: February 3, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
Victor 21135 (mx. BVE 39377 – 2)
Personnel per Victor files: Robert Cooksey, harmonica; Bobby Leecan, banjo; Alfred Martin, guitar; uncredited vocalist.

 

SOUTH STREET TRIO: Mean Old Bed Bug Blues

Camden, NJ: October 27, 1927
Released: February 3, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
Victor 21135 (mx. BVE 39374 – 2)
Same personnel as above.

 

SOUTH STREET TRIO: Suitcase Breakdown

Camden, NJ: October 27, 1927
Released: February 3, 1928 — Deleted: 1930
Victor 21249 (mx. BVE 39376 – 2)
Same personnel as above, except no vocalist.

Discographical data are from the original Victor files, courtesy of John R. Bolig.

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The Playlist • Victor Tip-Toes Into the Race Record Market (1923)

Victor’s management remained aloof in the face of the blues craze until mid-1923, when they reluctantly decided to try a few blues-inflected titles by black singers. They made only a minimal effort, turning to publisher/talent-broker Joe Davis, who ran a booming business dispatching pre-packaged singers and accompanists, armed with his latest hits, to record-company executives who lacked the skills or desire to develop a race-record catalog on their own. Davis’ singers (some of whom had come to him from the defunct Black Swan operation) were a competent if undistinguished lot, able to make quick work of whatever was handed them for very little money.

In the group of recordings presented here, Rosa Henderson, Lena Wilson, Lizzie Miles, and their accompanists all came from Davis’ stable. They were local cabaret and vaudeville performers, and their work paled in comparison with the greats like Bessie Smith, Ida Cox, and Ma Rainey, who were beginning to appear on competing labels whose managers made the effort to scout truly great talent. But it was a start, at least, for what was then one of the most hidebound, complacent companies in the industry.

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MSP_vic_chi-def_8-4-1923

Victor’s first “blues” ad (Chicago Defender, August 4, 1923)

That summer, Victor took what was (for it) the unprecedented step of placing a large display ad in The Chicago Defender, the nation’s leading black newspaper, announcing their new “blues” records. Besides the first titles by Davis’ singers, there was a comedy skit by Moss & Frye; a couple of pop-ish duets by Sissle & Blake; and two generic-sounding fox trots by Arthur Gibbs & his Gang. Victor also dredged up their 1921 medley sides by the “Shuffle Along” pit orchestra for the list.

For the full story of Victor’s involvement in the race-record market, be sure to check out Race Records and the American Recording Industry, 1919–1945: An Illustrated History, the latest release from Mainspring Press.

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LIZZIE MILES (CLARENCE JOHNSON, piano): You’re Always Messin’ ‘Round with My Man

New York: May 23, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19083 (mx. B 28025 – 3)

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LENA WILSON (PORTER GRAINGER, piano): ‘T’ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do

New York: May 9, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19085 (mx. B 27894 – 3)

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NOBLE SISSLE (EUBIE BLAKE, piano): Down-Hearted Blues

Camden, NJ: May 25, 1923 — First advertised August 4, 1923
Victor 19086  (mx. B 27976 – 3)

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LIZZIE MILES (Clarence Johnson, piano): Cotton Belt Blues

New York: July 19, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19124 (mx. B 28298 – 4)

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ROSA HENDERSON (with uncredited band): Midnight Blues

New York: July 19, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19124 (mx. B 28299 – 4)
The accompaniment is credited to Fletcher Henderson’s Orchestra in most discographies, with no source cited, although the aural evidence does suggest that at least some of Henderson’s men were present. The Victor files show only “Colored Orchestra – Edward T. King, director” (King was the Manager and Chief Petty Tyrant of Victor’s New York studio at the time).

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JAMES P. JOHNSON: Bleeding-Hearted Blues

Camden, NJ: July 25, 1923 — Released October 1923
Victor 19123 (mx. B 28197 – 6)

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