Lately there has been an enormous influx of new bands into the industry, usually led by someone who has achieved fame playing trumpet, trombone, or sax with some big band. Most of these outfits have folded or are in the process of doing so. Even bands with large names and backing before they began, such as Harry James and Jack Teagarden, are finding things pretty rocky.
One new band that's been wiping up records right and left lately and certainly seems like a sure bet for anybody's money to be one of the big successes of coming years is Al Donahue's new swing band, opening at the Marlonette Room of the Hotel Brunswick.
Donahue isn't now to fronting a band by any means. For some years past, he led a very successful "society" combo that played record engagements at the Rainbow Room in New York City and all over the East. However, last year he decided to get rid of the "English drawing-room" name that his band acquired and adopt swing. What the management thought would never happen, did: "Low-down Rhythm In A Tophat" was an instanteous success at the staid Rainbow Room. Enough so that Donahue made his decision to leave the pastures of the broad A forevermore.
>The band opened last January right after New Year's at the band-building Meadowbrook in New Jersey. Those first weeks, even though Al already had a good name, one would have thought to be slim pickings because of the time of year. Yet from the first day, Donahue had 'em slinging tables from the chandeliers. His band was and is a tremendous success.
One thing unusual about the band is the way they picked up a rhythm style right away that very few white bands can ever do, and that Gene Krupa's gang has taken over two years to learn: namely, a nice easy bounce on the Jimmy Lunceford style. Good swing (and for that matter, good dance music) should never be strained and pushed in the "killer" style. Relaxed rhythm is imperative to any kind of good jazz--and Donahue has it. Junie Mays (piano--also some excellent arrangements), Bill Hoffman (bass) and Charlie Carroll on drums do a sweet job besides furnishing the "flash" solos that any band needs these days to satisfy the customers. Stewie McKay, who used to dish out hot tenor, also occasional oinks on the bassoon for Red Norvo, is dispensing for Donahue, as are Sal Pace (alto), Johhny Martel (former Goodman trumpet man), and Miff Sims (trombone), all of whom are good. Paula Kelly and Phil Brito do the vocals, both being personable and good; the former has always been one of my favorite pop tune singers.
Most outstanding thing about the band to me however is leader Donahue himself. Most of the fellows fronting bands are either indifferent, exhibitionists, or much too greasy in their manner towards dancers. Donahue is almost the only man I know in the business who looks as though he belongs in front of a band and knows what to do there. He's cordial and obliging without being artificial, and provides a much needed and seldom obtained link between the musician and the listener. By all means, catch the band; they're having a Harvard Night Thursday; might not be a bad idea to go then.
This column wants to go on record, along with all the other critics, as saying that the Decca album of the Chicago Jazz Style released today is the greatest series of collected jazz over done. And that the individual records rank with almost anything that has heretofore been recorded.
Downbeat critic George Avakian (of Yale) picked the tunes and the musicians, supervised the recording and wrote the notes for the album. In short, thanks to Avakian, the musicians themselves, the Chicago tradition, and the courage of Decca in producing what many thought at first to be saleable only to a small group of enthusiasts, the public can get an album of playing in the true Chicago tradition. More than that, it can get a sense of jazz as it is really played at late-of-night sessions in out of the way bistros and honky-tonks. This is great jazz--a reproduction so accurate as to make seem pale pink by comparison any of the series previously done by HRS, Victor; or Commodore Record Shop. As a matter of fact, Commodore ran and ad in which it said that this was the "greatest album in the history of jazz" and surpassed by far anything it or anyone else had been able to do. I can't find superlatives super-stuff enough to convey how good this album seems to me and everyone else that has heard it. It's an album for everyone, not just jazz fans, for it is truly great music and marks an epoch in the art of recreating living music on cold record surfaces. Next week, this column will discuss the individual records in the album and Chicago style in general.