One of the clearest evidences that real swing music is growing in popularity while its commercial counterpart is gradually drifting out of fashion is the policy of reissuing old jazz classics which the big recording companies have been pursuing the past two years. As I said last week, there's no doubt that the furore over swing which has been going on ever since Benny Goodman scaled the heights five years ago has done the cause of jazz music a world of good, and the boys at Victor, Columbia, and Decca have presumably been cashing in on the widening audience for the attractions of improvised syncopation.
Up to recently Decca, which helped revive the infirm phonograph record market in 1933 with its low-priced discs, has been running a poor third in the re-pressing race. This has been due to the company's emphasis on novelties like Joe Daniels's Hot Shots and popular favorites like Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters, at the expense of weaker selling jazz. Then too, Decca's comparative youth prevented it from recording Beiderbecke, Armstrong, Bessic Smith and others who were in their prime before the New Deal. I hold no brief for pre-Repeal jazz. It's like pre-Repeal liquor--I can't swallow a lot of it. But some of it is undoubtedly the best music of its kind ever recorded.
But a few months ago Decca put through a deal with the English Parlophone company which has changed its whole reissue setup for the hundred per cent better. For years Decca has used Parlophone's classical catalogue to prop up its own second-rate classical line. But now Parlophone's great Super Rhythm Style Series has been brought out over here under the title of Gems of Jazz--two albums which, taken as a whole, are examples of the hot style at its uninhibited, unrestricted best. Some of them have been known to draw grudging approval even from those Philistines who refuse to see anything in such music, for they possess a quality which transcends petty prejudices against the jazz idiom.
It is a sad commentary on the state of musical appreciation here five years ago that these records were made by American musicians in this country for European consumption only. Fortunately that period has finally ended when American jazzmen could find a market for their music only in England and France, even travelling to Europe to work because there were no pennies to be turned by playing hot over here. It is hard to realize that these records could be bought here only for a fat $1.25 at a few stores which imported them, and as one who shelled out that amount on four different occasions I can say it was well worth it at the time. Of course, now that anyone can get them for fifty cents all I have to console myself with are those pretty blue and gold Parlophone labels.
It is interesting to compare these records with the later performances by some of the players. Bunny Berigan, in particular, must be pretty envious when he listens to his work with Mildred Bailey, Bud Freeman's Windy City Five, and his own pickup band, playing with a power and assurance which he seems to have lost. Records like "Chicken Waffles" and "The Buzzard" show the way he played before he began to spend all his time groping about his shaky upper register for the edification of the assembled jitterbugs. All of which shows what years of constantly playing down to the crowd have done to the quality of trumpeting of just one of a number of the stars of yesteryear.
NEWS: We have heard Count Basic to slightly better advantage than he was last Monday, but even a somewhat below par Count has more punch than most swing bands now making the rounds. The boys didn't play too many popular melodies of the day, as there was an ugly rumor that they were going to do. As usual, most of the arrangements featured a raft of solos, with Buck Clayton and Don Byas, the new tenor sax artist, particularly outstanding. The rhythm section suffered from the absence of Joe Jones from the tympani, which probably disconcerted the boys a bit . . . Decca waited until Muggsy Spanier had left the Bob Crosby band before issuing the first good record the boys made with Muggsy taking a chorus. It's called "The Mark Hop," and though the powerhouse arrangement is sometimes a little over the heads of the players, Spanier blows a solo which matches his Bluebird records of a year ago.
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