Monday, December 10, 2012

History at the estate sale


Whenever you walk into an estate sale, you're walking into the realm of history, which we otherwise know as "old stuff."

The missus and I did just that Saturday, stepping into a world where old stuff was the product line and history was going cheap -- more or less.

Naturally, I disappeared into stacks upon stacks of once-hot wax. (When you do this, you have to make sure your hep lingo's all copacetic -- make sure everything's Jake, right pal?)

There were 78 RPM records. Lots of 78s, which for the record aren't really made of wax but, instead, of the much less lyrical shellac. Some were from the turn of the last century. Many, like these, were from the 1930s. Some of the stash I went home with might be the best sounding '30s-vintage records I've ever come across.


AND THEN, once you start digging a little deeper, you think you might have stumbled onto some real history.

Look at the top pic -- the A-side of  a 1936 release by Benny Goodman and His Orchestra. You'll note the vocal credit on the label, this one "apologetically' given to the clarinet god and orchestra leader himself. It's a routine thing, giving big-band vocalists credit where credit is due.

Even when the band leader feels the need to apologize for his vocalizing.

Except for the second photo, immediately above. The label acknowledges that there is a "vocal refrain," but it doesn't credit the responsible party. Odd, that.

So you go on the Internet and search for about half a minute to discover the vocal on Goodman's recording of "Did You Mean It?" was by none other than Ella Fitzgerald. A young Ella Fitzgerald.

Why the hell wouldn't you give credit to Ella Fitzgerald, fuhgawdssake?



ESPECIALLY when Helen Ward got her just due on another Goodman release from '36.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

1936. Goodman had one of the first racially integrated orchestras, but he couldn't tour the South for fear of arrest -- Jim Crow, don't you know? Obviously, not crediting Fitzgerald on the record label was a financially motivated surrender to the demons of America's past, which happened to be Goodman's and RCA Victor's present.

There you have it -- a nasty piece of America's racial past right there on the labels of some old estate-sale 78 rpm records. History in a box for $2 a pop, as it were.

Except that it 'tain't so, McGee.

Just because something is obvious, that doesn't necessarily make it true. And just when you think there's no good explanation for the divine Ella Fitzgerald not being credited on a 1936 recording of hers apart from the R-word, you find there's an excellent explanation involving the M-word -- money.

As it turns out, the up-and-coming jazz vocalist -- notable then for her work with Chick Webb's orchestra -- still was under contract to Decca. Not Victor. There might be "complications" if word got out.

Which it did.

And there were.
The big band session that took place on October 7 produced three vocals by Helen Ward and three instrumentals, including a Henderson-arranged "Alexander's Ragtime Band" as well as the solidly swung "Riffin' at the Ritz," during which Goodman melted into the reed section in a rare switch from clarinet to alto saxophone; the sax solo is by tenor man Vido Musso, who sounds a lot like Chu Berry or Coleman Hawkins. Henderson also arranged "Somebody Loves Me" and Jimmy Mundy drew up the charts for "Jam Session" and "Bugle Call Rag." These titles were waxed on November 5, 1936; on that same day Goodman sang "T'ain't No Use" and Chick Webb's star vocalist Ella Fitzgerald sat in on three recordings that generated flack from executives at Decca who protested that Ella was breaching her contract by getting with Victor. During a subsequent recall of product and reissuing of reshuffled titles, "Did You Mean It?" was pulled from the catalog entirely and would not reappear for many years.
SOMETIMES, just when you think you have one kind of history on your hands, you find out you have another kind entirely.

In this case, a really rare record. Go figure.

0 snappy rejoinders: