For some weeks now, rumors have been drifting around concerning the intended production of the best-seller novel "Young Man With a Horn" built around the life of Bix Beiderbecke. Everybody in Swingdom seems to have been "cast" at one time or another.
The situation reached a peak some weeks ago when RCA Victor sent out a publicity notice to the effect that Erskine Hawkins "had been signed for the production". Hawkins to me and most people connected with jazz in this country typifies the exact antithesis of the type Dorothy Baker was trying to portray in her book. He plays noisily, at fast tempos, without taste--in other words, strictly one of the powerhouse boys.
As a result of this and other stories, most musicians felt that the play might be a success, but that it would be a commercial and not an artistic one. They felt that the book was undergoing typical Broadway treatment and being completely slaughtered in the process--the casting of Hawkins being an example.
This reviewer has the pleasure of spending some time last week discussing the whole thing with Mr. Vinton Freedley, who is producing it, and his wife, who brought the book to his attention at the outset. In the first place, the Hawkins story is just another example of press agentry; Hawkins had been considered casually and that's all. No contracts had been signed for him, and at the time I talked to him Mr. Freedley was trying to get Louis Armstrong; If Louis wanted too much and it was felt his voice wasn't good enough, he was going to listen to Taft Jorden (Ella Fitzgerald's band) who would have been swell for the part.
The point is that the swing fraternity owes both Mr. and Mrs. Freedley a vote of thanks for the way they have been handling the thing. If it does reach the boards, it seems to me it will be as genuinely a job as possible. As a matter of fact, Mrs. Freedley told me a few days ago that she thought it quite possible that the play might be postponed temporarily as it didn't look as they could do as good a job on it at present as they wanted to, and she feels along with her husband that the idea is too good to waste in stupid commercializing.
In these days of intense money-grabbing in all branches of the entertainment field, it's a relief to find people that are interested in turning out craftsmanship rather than shoddy.
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For about two years now this column has been spending a lot of time discussing Mr. Benny Goodman. Main points have been that he had a swell band until nineteen thirty-six and the coming of Harry James--that he and his band suffered a serious drop in both popularity and real playing ability--that Benny hung onto his sadly dilapidated powerhouse style until last year when he started to revamp his band.
Last week Benny had a record released on Columbia that seems to me to be one of the few real swing records he has ever made, in the sense that it has the teady, easy push that made Basic famous. The first half of the record is really colossal before Ziggy Elman ruins the groove by one of the most idealess solos I have ever heard.
But get it by all means. It's great Goodman and great jazz--and we don't mean maybe. Get a load of the guitar solo in the middle by Chris Christians. The gentleman has one of the most original styles we have hit in a long time.
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Notes between the notes: It seems more and more definite that Artic Shaw is coming back into the business. Rumors have him leading bands ranging from Mexican rhumba outfits and hot string ensembles to conducting a full symphony orchestra. Rockwell O'Keefe agency in Chicago says that it will deliver Art Shaw and band in time for contracted date in February. Big stuff of same agency in New York, Mike Niedorf, claims that this is bunk, that if and when Shaw forms a new band he will be delivered otherwise not . . . Columbia expects to release soon a piano album of eight sides with one side apiece by Jesse Stacy, Clarence Profit, Mary Lon Williams, Count Basic, Jimmy Johnson, Pete Johnson, and others. This reviewer heard several test pressings and if all the rest are as good the album will be really colossal. . . . Raymond Scott has been doing very well with a little ditty entitled "In An Eighteenth Century Drawing Room," swiped from one of the earlier efforts of a boy by the name of Mozart. Johnny Kirby, whose ace six piece band has been causing a sensation at the staid Pump Room of the Hotel Ambassador in Chicago, finds that his most requested number is a satire on the Scott effort called "In a Twentieth Century Outhouse."
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Best news this reviewer has had in a long while concerns Red Norvo. Red is my opinion is one of the greatest musicians in the business. Excluding his undoubted ability on xylophone, he has a sharper and better trained ear, and an ability to get what he wants out of even a raw band that no one else seems to have. However, due to men being taken away from him by leaders who could afford better payrolls, Red has had man after man swiped away from him. Climax came when arranger Eddie Sauter left to go with Benny Goodman.
Well, word crawls in that Red is jumping back in the arena with the sort of band that Mildred Bailey has been trying to get him to assemble for a long time--wood-winds, rhythm section, Red--and no brass.
Early in January, Red is assembling this unit and at this writing it seems definite that the suave and soft arrangements of Eddie Sauter will be back with him and also the swell swing harp of Casper Reardon. That, ladies and gentlemen, is New Year's news what am.