Paramount Hot Jazz Rarities, 1926-1928

"Paramount Hot Jazz Rarities…" was released by Herwin Records in 1977. It features rare recordings by black musicians from Wisconsin based Paramount Records’ 12/13000 ‘race records’ series. There isn’t much information on some of the performers, but the Sinful Five features Jimmy Blythe on piano, Jeanette’s Synco Jazzers has Mary Lou Williams on piano, and the Hotentos may feature Freddie Keppard on cornet. As the notes (which I’ve transcribed below since I still can’t scan LP covers) convey, they’re not the best sessions put out by Paramount in this series, but they’re good, and you’re not going to find them outside of this LP.

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The producer, Bernie Klatzko, was one of the early New York blues and jazz collectors group known as the ‘Blues Mafia’. Other associates include Yazoo Founder Nick Perls, Origin Jazz Library founder Pete Whelan, blues historian Samuel Charters, Revenant records founder and ‘primitivist’ guitarist John Fahey and Mamlish Records founder Don Kent. Without this dedicated group of collectors and armchair historians, we wouldn’t have nearly the understanding of, nor access to, the early blues and jazz records we consider so important today.

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Bernie Klatzko, from 78 Quarterly, No. 1

Notes to “Paramount Hot Jazz…”, below -

Paramount Records flourished for twelve years between 1921 and 1932, and regrettably suffered a premature death along with so many others when the all-engulfing depression hit. But for those glorious twelve years Paramount managed to issue a wealth of black jazz and blues in its now-famous 12/13000 race series, which has been completely and expertly documented in hard cover by the indefatigable efforts of Max E. Vreede. Mr. Vreede is not only to be commended for his invaluable discography, but also to be thanked for his loan of source material necessary to compile this and the ensuing Herwin album of Paramount rarities (Herwin 111 - Paramount Cornet Blues Rarities).

It has been argued (and justifiably so!) that reissue of rare material for the sake of rarity itself is not sufficient reason unless there is some redeeming cultural or artistic value in the music. In this mini-anthology of Paramount jazz culled from the 12/13000 series, the serious classic jazz collector will immediately recognize the obscurity of the material and upon careful listening, he will be treated to some richly satisfying examples of mid-twenties Chicago jazz styles. All but two of the tracks on this LP have never been reissued, and their day in the sun has finally come after many months of intense research and inquiry.

Prior to the release of this album, many of the sessions presented had been shrouded in mystery with respect to personnel, but aural evidence will prove quite revealing to seasoned and conditioned ears.

Austin and His (or her) Musical Ambassadors seems to be linked to Lovie Austin who might have contracted the record date. However, this group appears to be a Paramount pick up group of the period. We are treated to two takes of “Don’t Forget to Mess Around…” composed by drummer Paul Barbarin. This session seems a bit over-arranged, but it is rescued from commercial fate by respectable solos from Bob Shoffner and Vance Dixon. Take 2 is an improvement over the first since it is played at a faster tempo and is less “cluttered” than the first which seems to drag. Incidentally, this tune was recorded by Louis and the Hot Five several months later and was given the definitive treatment in their inimitable style.

Careful listening to the Hotentots led to the startling revelation that the cornet phrasing was almost identical to that of the cornetist with Blythe’s Ragamuffins’ Messin’ Around Pm 12376. That’s right, we mean Freddie Keppard! This opinion is sure to stir a storm of controversy because it runs contrary to the view held by the respected John R. T. Davies who is unshakeable in his belief that Lots O’ Mama is the work of a white, New York based group. Davies’ view is not without merit since there have been a slew of Keppard imitators in the east ever since Keppard toured the country with the Original Creole Band between 1912 and 1917. To our ears, however, the Hotentots sound like a Black band. Even the trombone sounds like the Ragamuffins’ trombonist, and the clarinet, though definitely not. Dodds sounds very much like Vance Dixon.

The Beverly Syncopators might be a Clarence Jones group, and despite the somewhat “sugary” flavor of the title, Sugar is amply spared from a saccharined fate. The strong lead of the blasting cornet player, who effectively switches to mute midway, and the rock solid piano work highlight the performance. It is interesting to speculate how much better all cornet players who recorded for Paramount would have sounded recording for Victor, Columbia, etc. Paramount, despite having converted to electric recordings, lagged considerably in fidelity and depth behind almost all other labels of the period.

Just who was the Wilson responsible for Wilson’s T.O.B.A. (Theater Organizers Booking Agency) [editor’s note: Theater Owners’ Booking Association] session remains a mystery. This curiously built little contingent manages to successfully produce a sensual blues feeling and features some nice St. Louis cornet work of Andrew Webb who recorded one year earlier with Benny Washington.

The listener has been already introduced to Nelson’s Paramount Serenaders on Herwin 109, and the session presented here features the same personnel, with the addition of a rather uninspiring trombone (possibly Albert Wynn at his worst). Dave Nelson, who also worked with Ma Rainey, went on to lead a large Harlem band in 1931. Perhaps his greates claim to fame was that he was King Oliver’s nephew. According to recent reports, Nelson was not treated well by his uncle. Toward the end of New Orleans Breakdown there appears to be a second cornet (possibly Willie Hightower) blasting into the ensemble, but it more logically seems that Nelson turned directly towards the equipment. There also seems to be some distortion present which enhances this “double” effect. Coo Coo Stomp lacks cohesiveness despite having a rather pleasant melody. However, the ending is painfully gruesome and Nelson’s chronic technical inaccuracies don’t help matters much. As the case with the earlier Nelson session, rehearsals did not seem to be the order of the day. Both sessions seem to be an attempt to blend the strong New Orleans influence with the gutty Chicago style of the period, and the hybrid results in the hands of this group are questionable.

Blythe’s Sinful Five is the last Blythe Paramount instrumental session to be reissued, and despite the fact that two takes of Plump Tillie were issued, only take 2 has surface to date. The spirited, bouncy cornet work of Bob Shoffner virtually “makes” the whole performance. Choosing such a risqué title as Plump Tillie to the tune of the hymn Bye and Bye underlines Blythe’s impish sense of humor in naming the group Sinful Five. Jimmy Blythe recorded copiously for several labels during the twenties as both a soloist and accompanist and died prematurely in 1931 at the age of 30. A typical Blythe session is immediately recognizable by its relaxed rhythm. The Bartlette session features a different cornet (Bernie Young, possibly), not as loose or innovative, but Leroy Pickett’s violin work is an effective substitute for a clarinet.

Houston Bound with the Preston Jackson Uptown Band represents one of the band’s typically great jazz performances with Clay leading the way. This blues number written for Elzadie Robinson seems the basis for the subsequent Beale Street Blues immortalized by Jack Teagarden. Finally, the Jeanette James coupling provides us with an ideal opportunity to hear the strong Kansas City influence. In fact, The Bumps might just well have been recorded by Bennie Moten’s band of this period. All the Moten effects are present: the heavy stomping effect, the repeated riffs, the slap-tongue sax work, not to mention Bradley Bullett’s imitation of Thamon Hayes’ trombone breaks. This aggregation, under the skillful hands of Mary Lou Williams, ultimately became the nucleus for the famous Andy Kirk band two years later.

Produced by Bernie Klatzko

Notes by Stephen Lavine

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