Hot jazz blazed across the airwaves and in the recording studios of 1920s America. Bix Biederbecke blew his ear-catching cornet solos on live radio broadcasts with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Red Nichols made small, hot ensemble recordings with soon-to-be-legends Benny Goodman and the Dorsey brothers. Joe Venuti played jazz violin on the stand with The Jean Goldkette Victor Recording Orchestra.
This broadcast is a celebration of white jazzmen of the 20s and The Jim Cullum Jazz Band welcomes special guests Vince Giordano on bass sax, Andy Stein on violin, and vocalist Stephanie Nakasian.
The Jazz Age was a decade of social revolution and hot jazz was its anthem. Prosperity made everybody a little crazy and inventions like Henry Ford’s Model T, the telephone, and the airplane gave Americans unheard of freedom. In this wide-open, go-for-broke atmosphere, jazz flourished.
Jazz reflected the optimism of the country and jazz musicians became a symbol of the spirit of the times. For many, white jazzmen like Bix Beiderbecke, Frankie Trumbauer, JimmyMcPartland and Red Nichols embodied the Roaring 20s. The new music was everywhere.
The twin birth of radio broadcasting and the recording industry in the early 20s had created thousands of new jobs for musicians across the country. From the Cinderella Ballroom in New York to the Graystone in Detroit and the Palomar in Los Angeles (which could accommodate 4,000 dancers), dance orchestras were in demand—and often heard on local or national live radio broadcasts from the venue. Players able to read music and improvise had loads of opportunities to perform on bandstands and in recording studios.
1920s New York was full of young jazz musicians who had rolled into the city from somewhere else. Ernest Loring “Red” Nichols, a redheaded kid from Utah, set the standard for hot recording bands of the early 20s. His voluminous output of recorded work—about 4,000 recordings in the 1920s—is recognized today as a major expansion and refinement of the harmonic and compositional possibilities in jazz.
An excellent example is his 1926 Five Pennies recording of "That's No Bargain," an interesting maze of displaced rhythms and harmonies, tackled on this week's show by The Jim Cullum Jazz Band and bass saxophonist Vince Giordano, known for his role as the on-camera bandleader in the HBO TV series, Boardwalk Empire.
Joe Venuti was the first classically trained violinist to use his dazzling virtuosic skills in the service of sliding blues tonality and hot jazz syncopation. With his partner, guitarist Eddie Lang, he made scores of popular records in various combinations. Venuti and Lang dominated the US radio airwaves in the 1920s, and their influence extended to Paris, where their sound inspired guitarist Django Reinhardt and jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli.
On our show this week, New York-based hot violinist Andy Stein (also on Boardwalk Empire) performs classic Venuti jazz violin pieces, "Pretty Trix" and "Four-String Joe." The latter tune features the Venuti-invented technique of playing all four strings of the violin at once by re-attaching the bow hair to the stick sliding underneath the violin body.
Bandleader Jean Goldkette recruited the hottest of hot jazz players he could find. Based in Detroit, Goldkette was co-owner of the legendary Graystone Ballroom. At various times, his resident ensemble featured— Bix Beiderbecke, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Frankie Trumbauer, Pee Wee Russell, Steve Brown, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. The band’s original recording of "San" is a Goldkette classic, showcasing a Bill Challis arrangement inspired and derived from Bix's improvisations. The rendition on this broadcast features Jim Cullum and his Band with Giordano on bass sax and Stein playing the hot Venuti fiddle.
After losing a ‘Battle of the Bands’ competition to the Goldkette ensemble in New York, African American cornetist Rex Stewart (a hot soloist with Fletcher Henderson Orchestra in the 20s) described Goldkette's group as "the first original white swing band in jazz history."
To round out our Riverwalk Jazz tribute to Hot Bands of the 1920s, jazz singer Stephanie Nakasian offers two hits of the era, "Sugar" from 1926 and "Ev'rybody Loves my Baby" from 1924.
Photo credit for Home Page Image: Vince Giordano photo courtesy of the artist.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script by Margaret Moos Pick copyright 1993.