king ubu

***** Jimmie Lunceford Corner *****

51 posts in this topic

I just realized there was not one thread dedicated to Jimmie Lunceford on this board! :o

Time to do good for that!

A kind board member has just sent me two volumes of the Lunceford Masters of Jazz series, 1939-1941 recordings, mostly for the Columbia years, with a few from the second Decca period at the end of the second of the discs.

I have long loved the Luncefored band, have several compilations (both GRP discs with Decca material, the Frémeaux Quintessential 2CD set...) and a rather beat-up set of the French Columbia LP box.

Lunceford featured a bunch of great artists, among them trumpet players Sy Oliver, Gerald Wilson, Snooky Young (great interview in the latest Downbeat!), Freddie Webster and Eddie Tompkins, trombonist Trummy Young, Willie Smith, alto sax, Joe Thomas, tenor, and not to forget: Jimmy Crawford, big band drummer supreme.

The band was in the pocket, was hip enough to feature vocal trios and the like (comprised of instrumentalists like Young and Thomas, who were featured as vocalists on their own, too), and they were a huge success with the audiences.

It seems though, that contrary to Ellington and Basie, Lunceford's orchestra has been largely forgotten now, and I don't think that is just in any way.

I'd love to have a bit of discussion of the man's music, sidemen, recordings, etc. here!

Here's a short biography: short biography

And here are a couple of photos:

The_Jimmy_Lunceford_Big_Band.jpg

The band, late thirties

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Willie Smith (with Juan Tizol - thanks EKE!)

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Lunceford with Smith, 1939

young_trummy2.jpg

Trummy Young in Münster (Germany), 1958

Edited by king ubu

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Sy Oliver (taken from here):

Before I go any further, I must explain: I had no intention at all of taking up music as a career. At the time I was born, we sort of had two worlds in the States, socially speak­ing, and the only solution for a Negro was education—the best defence, the best way of making peace of mind for yourself. My parents were aware of that, and early on I was imbued with the idea of formal education. But my father becoming ill, and my being the oldest of six children interfered with that. That's how I first came to get into playing music professionally—it was the only way I could finish school and support the family. When my father was alive, he would never have dreamed of letting me play with an orchestra. I left home and began play­ing with bands for the same reason. By the time I joined Lunceford's band, the kids were growing up, I was very well established, I'd paid for my home and so on. My aim then was to come to New York, in order to go to school. I had no plan to stay in music. I joined them in June or July, 1933; we played a place in Kentucky most of the Summer—then we headed for New York. The Lunceford band was literally an overnight sensation. We opened at a theatre there called the Lafayette, and turned New York upside-down. It was so very successful that, once again, I didn't get to school. The fact was: although what I was writing wasn't difficult, this was the first band with which I'd been associated that could play my arrangements.

As a matter of fact, it was as a consequence of my making three or four orchestrations for the band that I was offered the job. It was so much better than other bands around; they operated in a way that I liked. They rehearsed diligently, and the fellows were of a completely different calibre to anybody I'd been associated with. By the time we got to New York, I was very interested in the band, and fascinated by this fact that they played my music as T would have it played. So, of course, I didn't leave—I stayed with it.

As a leader. Jimmy Lunceford was a remarkable man. He was a man who led by example; he never raised his voice, never repeated anything. never imposed discipline by means of penalties and that sort of thing. You did what he expected you to do because you wanted to do it for him. And the band reflected that, by the class it had. He was a very impressive man to look at: while the character of many bands is established by the leader's musical outlook, Jimmy's band took its character from him as a person.

A successful arranger is one who writes the thing that will show off to best advantage the artists for whom he is writing. Early on I became interested in framing a fellow. When Trummy Young came in the band, I wrote things like "Margie" as back­grounds for him. The same with Ted Buckner, Willie Smith and the fellows. They all contributed to what became known as the Lunceford style or the Sy Oliver style because, as I say, I wrote to display them, not me. Of course, if you do a thing over a period of time, it does become a part of you. In other words, I was going through a formative stage, just as they were. The same influences that created them also created me.

Yes, the band was very innovative; it sort of bridged a gap.  Prior to Lunceford's band, there were two music areas. There was music above 110th Street and there was music below 110th Street, and they had nothing in common. There were the black bands who played for black audiences, and the white bands who played for white audiences. Lunceford's band was the first that actually bridged the gap on a large scale, and began to appeal to both groups. With that and the fact that we were on the air from the Cotton Club every night for six months, we just got the ear of the whole public.

An interesting thing: you know how I used the baritone saxophone lines on things like "For Dancers Only"—well, nobody had done that before. There was a fellow in New York who had a celebrated music store called Manny's, known to all musicians, which, although he's dead now, is still carried on by his family. Well, due to our broadcasts, saxophone players heard the baritone things, and they began buying baritones as fast as they could get them; they were fascinated. The only trouble was, nobody was writing for baritones; you didn't find them in bands. Duke Ellington used the baritone, but most bands didn't. So after a few months, musicians realised they had no place to use the baritones they'd bought, and they all took 'em back to Manny's again. So he had a flock of returns! Of course, now they're very much a part of the scene. But at that time, without anybody writing for baritone, most saxophone sections consisted of three or four men, rather than the five which became standard.

But I don't consider that fellows have imitated me, any more than I was imitating when, as a kid, I used to listen to Duke and Fletcher. Music evolves; somebody comes along and does something, and it becomes part of the language. It's a matter of the growth of music as a whole, and the natural sequence of events. So to say some arrangers copied from me isn't really valid. Good for my ego, but not valid!

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TCM showed a Luncefors short the other night around 4 AM.

Wow.

As tight as the band was aurally, to see them in action visually was jaw-dropping.

Again - wow.

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TCM showed a Luncefors short the other night around 4 AM.

Wow.

As tight as the band was aurally, to see them in action visually was jaw-dropping.

Again - wow.

missed that! :(

I could watch TCM, but they don't really show up in the printed tv guides or in newspapers, so...

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corrected the typo in the thread-title - sorry about that!

recommended listening for those that never heard Lunceford:

C37227FD7NF.jpg

C60874P520L.jpg

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Well, I'm usually at work weeknights between 4 & 5 AM (US Central Time), but I had a couple of nights off last week, and both times, TCM showed old Vitaphone band shorts somewhere in that window. Don't know if that's a regular feature, or if it was just coincidence/filler, but the Lunceford short was truly dazzling from a "showmanship" standpoint.

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... but the Lunceford short was truly dazzling from a "showmanship" standpoint.

On showmanship: check out the photo at the bottom of the short biography I linked to in my first post!

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I'm certainly keen to follow the recommendations here. I'm just rediscovering Fletcher Henderson, and have Lunceford next on my list to discover (no re- prefix here, I'm afraid!). Although the Henderson was an independent impulse, the Lunceford thing came to me listening to some late Sun Ra - Frisco Fog from Live in London 1990.

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The Masters of Jazz series is the way to do it with the Lunceford material.

The late John R.T. Davies was responsible for some of the eight volumes that were published before the label disappeared.

Those Masters CDs may be a bit hard to find but they do have the best sound.

And shame on Decca, Columbia and their current owners for letting their Lunceford material disappear. Or almost!

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Thanks Ubu for starting this thread.

Excellent big band and one of my favourites; great arrangements, good soloists and very polished sound overall.

The Masters of Jazz series is indeed the best way to get their material up to the early 40s. Classics also has one disc of their music made after the leader's passing and with many of the top players no longer in the band - some fairly good material there but for completists only.

Anyone knows if there is a DVD of some of the band's performances? Can't seem to find any in stores :mellow:

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Hello people,

I think that the best words ever for Lunceford's band came from Artie Shaw (thanks Leon for this interview):

"There a lot of people talk about Duke Ellington and his band. Of course, interestingly enough, very few people are talking about Jimmy Lunceford, who had the best black band of all. 'Cause Jimmy had something in his band that Duke didn't have. Duke's essential thing was total freedom. The men could do what they wanted to do, and as a result, when they were good they were good, when they were bad they were horrid. The little girl with the curl in her forehead. The band could be terrible. And other times it could be absolutely great. So there's a great price for freedom. Very difficult to take fourteen or eighteen men and let them all go their own way. On the other hand, there's that fine line where you go too disciplined and then you end up with Glenn Miller. Jimmy Lunceford was the perfect in-between. The reason I talk about him is you talk Duke, you gotta talk about Jimmy. Jimmy had the same number of men in his band, was highly disciplined, they did the same things and they played and they showed up. Duke's men were a bunch of prima donnas. So when they were together they were marvelous, and Duke made a lasting mark. Unfortunately, people don't seem to understand the mark that Jimmy did. Jimmy left a tremendous mark, Lunceford.

You said Duke was a slicker. What was his attitude toward the whole enterprise?

Well, Duke was a very, very slick guy. The word is slick. He dressed extremely well, he was fascinated by clothes, fascinated by women. And he lived his life in the way he did. He was a big dessert man. I don't know whether you know anything about him, but when he went on the road, he would make desserts. Duke was a sense, sensible, sensual man. And that showed up in the music. When it was good, it was tremendous. But he was a victim of his own ego to a great degree. We all have egos, some of us are in charge of them, some of us aren't. If you're not in charge of your ego, it can do disastrous things for you. And Duke, fortunately the good moments were captured. The good thing about records is you can keep the best and throw out the junk. There was a lot of junk. With Jimmy there was very little junk. Jimmy Lunceford, I keep coming back to that. In order to understand Duke, you have to understand Jimmy Lunceford.

I'm asking to keep them separate.

I'm trying, it's hard."

Edited by mmilovan

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Thanks for typing this up, Milan!

Another thing that is often overlooked, in my opinion, is that Lunceford had a bunch of terrific soloists, too. Take Willie Smith, for instance. I just listened to some of those Granz Jam Sessions yesterday, and Smith has not the slightest problem appearing at the side of Johnny Hodges or Benny Carter, he's right up there. But then, who still talks about Willie Smith today, except for the bunch of weirdos that is we...

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Yeah, Smith was really something!

My newest disc has Willie Smith in large quantities, and you're absolutely right about him, he was capable, perfect solist on alto, just right there with Carter and Hodges.

Thanks for typing this up, Milan!

Another thing that is often overlooked, in my opinion, is that Lunceford had a bunch of terrific soloists, too. Take Willie Smith, for instance. I just listened to some of those Granz Jam Sessions yesterday, and Smith has not the slightest problem appearing at the side of Johnny Hodges or Benny Carter, he's right up there. But then, who still talks about Willie Smith today, except for the bunch of weirdos that is we...

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I've liked what I've heard of the Lunceford band very much, and I need to investigate further. Yet, the Artie Shaw quotes are a bit mind-boggling to contemplate. Lunceford's "the best black band of all"? And Ellington "could be terrible... there was a lot of junk"? Well, not everything Ellington was great, but who has a better track record in jazz than Duke and his band? Masterpieces galore from every year of their existence (and one a week with the Blanton/Webster band by most accounts), if perhaps thinner on the ground at the very beginning and the very end.

Lunceford's band was an excellent, disciplined ensemble and a real arranging showcase for Sy Oliver and others, as well as harboring some first-class soloists. No doubt an amazing spectacle live as well. From the point of view of a leader like Shaw, and confined to the swing era, then maybe the Lunceford organization was "better" than Ellington's as a "big band." But considered as jazz music? Not even close, as great as they were.

That being said, I need me more Lunceford.

Edited by Kalo

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Up a bit

Jimmie was born on this date (6 June).

Edited by LAL

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That being said, I need me more Lunceford.

I think Shaw put these words to let us know how perfectly balanced that band was, not franctic nor cold and boring, etc.

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I started listening chronologically to the Lunceford sides I have, tonight. Meaing: first some cuts from the first Decca/GRP disc, then Masters of Jazz Vol. 2, then more from the Decca sampler, then the second Decca/GRP disc, then MoJ Vol. 5-8... got quite some to go yet, not even having listened MoJ 2 till the end yet...

Here's some thoughts and impressions about the music I scribbled on a sheet of paper - don't know if there's any interest in this, but...

"Rose Room": very nice and very warm clarinet playing by Willie Smith! He gets a soft and very nice sound!

Then those Ellington covers: nice, but somewhat overloaded, no? Oliver growls pretty good on "Black and Tan Fantasy", though. And it's nice to hear a couple of Smith arrangements! (Did he stop arranging later?)

Much of this early Lunceford has a nervous urban beat. Big :tup to Jimmy Crawford for that!

"Nana": sweet music, great arrangement, with Carruthers' barisax to the fore, and nice guitar, too (good remastering here!)

"Miss Otis": wild Smith clarinet here, on top and in and out of the ensemble! He gets more quiet at the beginning of Oliver's vocal, but not for long... Good hot tenor solo by Thomas!

Then dig Smith's sliding into "Stardust" (what a nice tune, what a pity it's almost been worn to death!). The busiest instrument here, for a change, is the piano, but it works very well. What a beautiful, mellow arrangement! I love the creamy opening with the piano improvising below the horns.

What about the singing musicians? I can't say I like all the vocal tunes of Lunceford's, but they're much better than that Warren chap's features in that other band, no? Also, I think most of the singing musicians do their job just as good as the singers other band leaders hired.

"Dream of You" - a little masterpiece! Oliver is soooooo laid-back here, and the tune swings sooooo good! Backing of the clarinets and the rhythm section is great. And for a change, the vocal is not pitched that high. I really like the singing on this cut. Bowles plays very fine here - he was not featured that often, was he?

The next masterpiece follows, immediately: "Stomp it Off" by Sy Oliver - whoah! This one flows so effortlessly, so light!

[Question: "Dream..." and "Stomp..." both run quite a bit shorter on the Decca disc than on the MoJ: 3:09 vs. 3:18 for "Dream..." and 3:04 vs. 3:15 for "Stomp..." - what's the reason? Does one version run too fast or too slow?]

Several of these October and November, 1934 Oliver arrangements (as well as Wilcox' "Call it Anything") show the sax section at the their best, led by Willie Smith. Definitely good writing, and definitely superbly executed!

Another Ellington tune, this time arranged by Sy Oliver, "Solitude", features a nice vocal by Wells, with lush accompaniment, featuring bassist Moses Allen on tuba, for a change. The reeds, led by Smith, are again great, and Stevenson is in a lyrical mood for once... more fine Bowles, too.

[This cut - "Solitude" - again runs slower on the GRP disc: 3:03 vs. 3:11!]

"Rain" again has strong Carruthers, and more lyrical trumpet, by Eddie Tompkins this time. More stupid vocal trio, but it works almost as good as on "Chillun Get Up!", and after the vocals, there's a nice Smith alto solo and some interesting writing to end.

"Since My Best Gal..." is yet another great Oliver arrangement, with a very good tenor solo by Thomas, and good piano, too, before the vocal trio (Smith/Oliver/Tompkins) turns in a swinging performance.

"Jealous" - last tune I listened so far - may be just another stupid little song, but that moment after the vocals, where the tension builds and builds, is terrific!

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:excited::tup:tup:tup

Need I say how carefull listeners do we have here!

One almost forgotten band seen through new prism.

Flurin, your imressions are absolutely amazing!

Can't wait to hear what you'll have to say about "White Heat" and "Lunceford Special", my all-time favourites...

And to all Miles admireres, carefull listening to Freddie Webster would be essential.

Now, do someone know did Lunceford finished his life by natural cause (somewhere I've read it was heart attack) or something more dramatic?

And, what instruments Jimmie Lunceford played by himself... any solos by bandleader?

Edited by mmilovan

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One of the coolest recordings in the Bird's Eyes Philology series (perhaps this also has appeared elsewhere) is a recording of Charlie Parker, Willie Smith, Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter together. As I recall, Bird actually introduces Willie Smith.

Thanks for typing this up, Milan!

Another thing that is often overlooked, in my opinion, is that Lunceford had a bunch of terrific soloists, too. Take Willie Smith, for instance. I just listened to some of those Granz Jam Sessions yesterday, and Smith has not the slightest problem appearing at the side of Johnny Hodges or Benny Carter, he's right up there. But then, who still talks about Willie Smith today, except for the bunch of weirdos that is we...

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Milan, as far as I know, Lunceford was a reeds player, but he rarely played himself. There's a photo in one of the MoJ disc that shows him playing flute (though it's a posed one), and there's at least one cut so far that I've seen mention of a flute trio, one of the flutists then being Lunceford, since not all the other sax players doubled on flute (I'm not sure who the other two were, but probably one was Carruthers, so the third one should be Thomas or Smith, as I don't think Buckner is listed on flute anywhere, but I'm going from memory).

kh1958: can you give a few more details about that recording? Is it an audience recording or an airshot? When exactly was it recorded?

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Bird's Eyes volume 18. It appears to be a recording for radio broadcast, from Los Angeles, March to April 1946; my Bird discography says AFRS Jubilee 186, so does this mean this is a V disc?--with Bird, Benny Carter, and Willie Smith on altos (no Hodges, my memory failed me there). Benny Carter introduces Bird, who introduces Willie Smith. They then play a medley, Tea For Two (Willie Smith feature), Body and Soul (Benny Carter feature), and Cherokee (Bird feature). The sound quality is very good (near the best in the whole Bird's Eyes series). The length is about 10 minutes. The band is Nat King Cole, Oscar Moore (guitar), Johnny Miller (bass), and Buddy Rich.

kh1958: can you give a few more details about that recording? Is it an audience recording or an airshot? When exactly was it recorded?

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Bird's Eyes volume 18. It appears to be a recording for radio  broadcast, from Los Angeles, March to April 1946; my Bird discography says AFRS Jubilee 186, so does this mean this is a V disc?--with Bird, Benny Carter, and Willie Smith on altos (no Hodges, my memory failed me there). Benny Carter introduces Bird, who introduces Willie Smith. They then play a medley, Tea For Two (Willie Smith feature), Body and Soul (Benny Carter feature), and Cherokee (Bird feature). The sound quality is very good (near the best in the whole Bird's Eyes series). The length is about 10 minutes. The band is Nat King Cole, Oscar Moore (guitar), Johnny Miller (bass), and Buddy Rich. 

kh1958: can you give a few more details about that recording? Is it an audience recording or an airshot? When exactly was it recorded?

Thanks! Now that's something I need to find!

I'm not sure about all those 'merican army music programmes, but I think Armed Forces Radio Service (that's at least what I think it was called) was different from V-Discs (V for Victory?)

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Count me among the big Lunceford fans. From what I've read, when the Lunceford band went against the other big bands in a "battle," it always won. Jimmy may not have had the large number of virtuosos that Duke had, or the relaxed swing of Basie and his soloists, but if ever there was a band that created excitedment and sheer fun, the Jimmy Lunceford band was it. The only other band I can think of that had that excitement and fun was Woodys'.

There are two survivors of the 30's band still with us, Gerald Wilson and Snooky Young. Gerald wrote "Yard Dog Mazurka" which had the riff that Kenton stole for "Intermission Riff" and never credited it to Gerald.

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There are two survivors of the 30's band still with us, Gerald Wilson and Snooky Young.  Gerald wrote "Yard Dog Mazurka" which had the riff that Kenton stole  for "Intermission Riff" and never credited it to Gerald.

So, there is posibility to ask them questions about Lunceford band... :excited:

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I just realized there was not one thread dedicated to Jimmie Lunceford on this board!  :o

Time to do good for that!

Man, could have sworn we talked about him a year or so ago with more fans than I expected, but damn, can't find it, so must have been an aside in a thread about someone/thing else!

....

It seems though, that contrary to Ellington and Basie, Lunceford's orchestra has been largely forgotten now, and I don't think that is just in any way.

EVERYONE does it, but I think that is the problem, Lunceford is forever compared to the big 2,(Sort of like anytime Roy Eldridge name is mentioned, you have to hear Louis and Dizzy's in the same sentence) and it really isn't fair.

A quick check at Allmusic, even Scott Yanow claims they were a 2nd tier band! :wacko: Cab Calloway, or Fletcher Henderson don't seem to suffer the same fate, not that many talk about Calloway's underrated band anyway.

I need to get more Lunceford, but my favorite songs include Hittin' the bottle, the Ellington covers, For Dancer's Only and the very best song of them all IMHO, Organ Grinder's Swing! Their version just oozes sex :tup

To my layperson's ears, they have a nice, loose sound. They may have rehearsed a lot, but they just sound like a band having a good time. Sy Oliver's arrangements no doubt have a lot to do with that....

Edited by BERIGAN

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