Vintage Jazz Buffet (4 of 5)

This post is part 4 of a series that lists one hundred different songs by one hundred different artists. It is designed to be used as an inspiration for dancers to explore the catalogs of our great vintage jazz recording artists. I’ve placed what I consider to be iconic artists in bold. If you are just starting to explore vintage jazz, I recommend you start with these artists.

Part 1 (1-20)
Part 2 (21-40)
Part 3 (41-60)
Part 4 (61-80)
Part 5 (81-100)

  1. “Come On-A-My House” – Kay Starr. Kay Starr is mostly remembered for her work in the 50s when she had the big hit with “Wheel of Fortune.” I’m not one for the sweeping strings and shmaltz of those recordings, but a little more digging and you’ll find a Kay Starr that swings hard with a powerful voice similar to Dinah Washington’s.
  2. “New Orleans Shout” – King Oliver & His Orchestra. King Oliver’s group was one of the last successful dixieland bands with a fully improvisational style. In it, he mentored many up and coming musicians including Louis Armstrong. Unfortunately, the recording technology of the day leaves us with only a faint impression of what the robust band must have sounded like in its day.
  3. “Glen Island Hop” – Larry Clinton & His Orchestra. As an arranger, Larry Clinton was known for taking classical music and well known songs, and transforming them into swinging hits. He had some success with his own band before Glenn Miller came along and took the spotlight from him.
  4. “Honeysuckle Rose” – Lena Horne. With a stunning figure and a beautiful voice, Lena Horne found success in both music and in the movies. But as an African-American, she was often unable to get respectable movie parts, and focused her career more on music. While ballads were her specialty (she’s known for “Stormy Weather”), she was just as comfortable with anything dripping with jazz.
  5. “Bizet Has His Day” – Les Brown. Launching Doris Day’s career made Les Brown a star, too. He was never a great innovator in jazz, but had a solid crew of talent. In later years, he partnered up with Bob Hope, and was able to maintain his success throughout his life.
  6. “Prez’s Mood” – Lester Young. Nicknamed “The Prez,” Lester Young shaped tenor saxophonists for generations with his light, smooth sound. He lost out on some work as some band leaders were looking for a harsh driving sound like Coleman Hawkins, but Lester found his fit playing for Count Basie’s orchestra and in small groups backing Billie Holiday.
  7. “Lavender Coffin” – Lionel Hampton. The first jazz vibraphonist, Lionel was discovered by Benny Goodman in a California club. He worked steadily with other musicians through the 30s before launching his own band in the 1940s. When he passed away in 2002, his funeral included a lavender coffin with white gardenias all around.
  8. “Jeepers Creepers” – Louis Armstrong. My favorite story of Louis Armstrong comes from later in his career when he toured the world as the ambassador for jazz. He was hired to play a concert in apartheid South Africa, and in front of all the dignitaries there, dedicated and played the racially charged, “What Did I Do to Be So Black and Blue.” Also of interesting note, his recordings of “What a Wonderful World” didn’t originally find great success in the US. In 1988, it was used in the movie Good Morning, Vietnam! which launched its modern day popularity.
  9. “Caldonia” – Louis Jordan. Louis Jordan links big band jazz to the development of R&B and rock and roll. He had a string of hits that topped the R&B charts, many of which are classic tunes for dancing today (and also popular tunes for dancing in the 1940s as well). Ray Charles credits Louis Jordan as a primary inspiration, and hired the band  to his very own label which kept Louis Jordan recording well into the 1960s, even if the recordings went largely unnoticed.
  10. “Sing Sing Sing” – Louis Prima. Prima actually wrote “Sing, Sing, Sing” although Benny Goodman made it famous. He had a solid career, peaking in the 1950s with his work with his (4th) wife, Keely Smith. He was the original Vegas lounge act, working there until the 1970s. Disney hired him as a voice for The Jungle Book which also reignited interest in his music. All of us dancers owe him a debt, as it was his original recording of “Jump, Jive and Wail” in the Gap ads of 1998 that helped launch the massive swing revival.
  11. “Down By The Riverside” – Lucky Millinder and His Orchestra. Perhaps he was called Lucky because he had no musical talent of his own. Essentially a frontman, Millinder led his own band in the 40s producing some outstanding swing before veering into R&B. He featured vocalist, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and together they played the Savoy Ballroom regularly. Eventually, he retired from music to become a disc jockey and a liquor salesman.
  12. “On Revival Day” – Luis Russell. Luis Russell was the musical director for Louis Armstrong for many years. His own band recorded in the late 20s and early 30s. Through most of the 30s, he worked for other bands before putting together his own group again in the early 40s.
  13. “Right Around the Corner From Basin Street” – Mabel Scott with Maxwell Davis Orch. Mabel started her career with Cab Calloway. She toured Europe in the 30s, actually beginning her recording career across the Atlantic. Eventually, she left the music business, singing gospel music from the mid 50s until her death.
  14. “L-L-L-L-A” – Mae Williams & The Town Criers (with Tommy Dorsey). I couldn’t find any info on Mae Williams, a good reminder of all of the artists whose fame has faded (or who never achieved any to begin with) and we have forgotten.
  15. “Clarinet Marmalade” – Matty Matlock. Matlock was a fantastic arranger, able to make a big band feel like an improvised dixieland ensemble. He was the go-to-guy for anyone who wanted that dixieland sound, and worked on some Hollywood film scores as well. His recordings from the 1950s were rereleased last year on iTunes, and are worth a listen as they have a real vintage sound while benefitting from all the improvements in recording technology.
  16. “Massachusetts” – Maxine Sullivan. I have a little love affair for Maxine Sullivan right now. Her voice is gentle and easy going, not particularly well suited to a big band but fantastic for smaller ensembles. She can make uptempo numbers feel relaxed and easy and slower numbers swing hard. I love musicians who can bend our perspective on tempo like that.
  17. “Lover, Come Back to Me” – Mildred Bailey. Bailey started her career in the mid 20s, and an appearance with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in 1929 helped further her name. Her vocals skewed towards hot jazz, influenced strongly by her husband, xylophonist/vibraphonist Red Norvo.
  18. “Flat Foot Floogie” – The Mills Brothers. The Mills Brothers started as a vaudeville novelty act. Imitating various instruments with their voices, they were the original a cappella act. They garnered much success, transcending their novelty status to become a premier vocal group of their day, and inspiring countless imitators.
  19. “It’s Only a Paper Moon” – Nat King Cole. Nat King Cole often gets dismissed for the shmaltzy, string laden orchestrations of his work in the 1950s. Cole started out as a pianist in an unusual piano, bass, and guitar trio. He was a phenomenal pianist and singer, always telling stories through song. I wish more swing DJs would look past his work in the 50s to discover the wealth of gems he has left us.
  20. “Lullaby of Birdland” – Patti Page. Page was the best selling female artist of the 1950s, unfortunately for such memorable classics as “How Much is That Doggy In the Window.” She started, though, backed by a small group pulled from Benny Goodman’s personnel, so she had some serious chops, too.
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4 responses to “Vintage Jazz Buffet (4 of 5)

  1. Pingback: Vintage Jazz Buffet (3 of 5) | All the Cats Join In

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