Friday, November 18, 2011

A Regal opening

Old newspapers, records and films allow us to step back in time. It is equally intriguing to visit a familiar location and see what it once was like.

On Chicago's South Side at one time, one could see and hear the men and women who, today, are among jazz's legends.

One of these spots was the Regal Theater, which opened on Feb. 24, 1928.

One of 34 theaters owned by the Balaban and Katz movie theater chain, it boasted more than 3,500 seats.

The opening was heavily covered by the black press. The following item was printed in the weekly Baltimore Afro-American on Feb. 18, 1928. The symphony orchestra was led by Dave Peyton, then a South Side musical celebrity, with another big name of the time, Sammy Williams, on the organ.

But the big act was the Peyton orchestra's front man, musician/entertainer Fess Williams, who recorded two songs, Dixie Stomp and Drifting and Dreaming, with the orchestra under the name Fess Williams and his Joy Boys.

The Red Hot Jazz Archive gives the following personnel.

The recordings are available on the following CD.

Here are the two selections:

02 Drifting and Dreaming (Sweet Paradise) by Stevie z

Fess Williams and his Joy Boys: Dixie Stomp by Stevie z

Not everyone was happy with Fess Williams' performance, as indicated by the following in the Afro-American.

Other attractions included Cab Calloway's sister, Blanche Calloway, as noted below by the Afro-American. The screen attraction was "The Gorilla."

Blanche Calloway had already recorded with Louis Armstrong. She would later make recordings with her own Joy Boys.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The sun rises again on the Sunset

On Saturday, the Chicago Architecture Foundation held its Open House Chicago, a tour of some of Chicago's hidden architectural treasures.

The stops included the Bronzeville neighborhood, once the musical home to many of the jazz greats who made the migration from New Orleans and the musical birthplace to the generations of jazz greats who followed.

Barely any buildings stand to testify that this great era even existed.

Gone is the Vendome. Gone is the Apex Club. Many of them were demolished so that the Illinois Institute of Technology could expand its campus.

One building that escaped the wrecking ball was the Sunset Cafe, located at 35th and Calumet. The building operates as an Ace Hardware store, but in its heyday it was one of the hottest jazz spots in Chicago. Louis Armstrong, Earl Hines and Fletcher Henderson were among the many great names that graced the marquee of the Sunset and, as it was later known, the New Grand Terrace.

I was able to glean some information on the origins of the Sunset from "Chicago jazz: a cultural history, 1904-1930," by William Howland Kenney, which you can read below.

Across the street was the Plantation Cafe, where King Oliver once played at the same time that his protege, Louis Armstrong, was playing at the Sunset.

Kenney writes the following about the Plantation.

But getting back to our visit to the Sunset. A crowd gathered around 2 p.m. Saturday, not only to view the inside, but also hear some music from trumpeter Frank Youngwerth and trombonist Dave Ramey.

Docents guided visitors through the hardware store - which really looks like hardware store and not a dance hall - and the office where a tantalizing mural hangs advertising a breakfast dance featuring the music of Sun Ra.

Following the brief tour, the guests were treated to a short concert by Youngwerth and Ramey.

After this short musical interlude, Youngwerth gives an impromptu lecture.

Finally, Ramey talks about the neighborhood around the Sunset and some of its famous musical residents, including Louis Armstrong and his wife Lil Hardin and blues musician Sonny Boy Williamson No. 1.

Thus ends out little trip to the Sunset Cafe. And now we sign off with an appropriate number, the Sunset Cafe Stomp, performed by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Clarence Williams's Bottomland

Clarence Williams is well known to jazz fans as a composer, bandleader, pianist, sometime vocalist, and music publisher.
In 1927, Williams embarked on an Off-Broadway show featuring his wife, Eva Taylor, a frequent performer on his records and one of the great classic blues singers.
Here is the cast list according to the Internet Broadway Database:

Dot Campbell Chorus
Raymond Campbell Skinny
Alice Carter Chorus
Louis Cole Jimmy
Craddock and Shadney Specialty
Charles Doyle Henry Henpeck
Edith Dunbar Chorus
Edward Farrow Rastus
Portia Hands Chorus
Katherine Henderson Tough Tilly
Slim Henderson Joshua
"Nuggie" Johnson Shiftless Sam
Dolly Langhorn Chorus
James A. Lilliard Pappy Lee
Sara Martin Mammy Lee
John Mason The Dumb Waiter
Walter Miller Chorus
Gansea Otiz Chorus
Olive Otiz Sally
Willie Porter Mammy Chloe
Mildred Pritchard Chorus
Eva Taylor May Mandy Lee
Edwin Tonde Policeman Doolittle
Emanuel Weston Kid Slick
Clarence Williams At the Piano
Bertha Wright Chorus
Billie Yarbough Chorus
And here is the list according to the Afro-American:

Today we know about the song "Bottomland." But we know little about the show, which opened in June, 1927. Fortunately, we have a synopsis here from the Baltimore Afro-American. The headline talks about the critics reaction.

It goes on to talk about the main tune, "Bottomland," which it accurately describes as catchy, as you will no doubt agree when you hear the version Clarence Williams recorded in 1927.

The paper, although deeming the rest of the score as of "lesser value," praises it as catchy, singling out for mentioning the show's dancing.

But the paper also noted the show's shortcomings.

Here is the list of songs, according to the Internet Broadway Database.
Steamboat Days
(I'm Going Back to) Bottomland
(lyrics by Jo Trent)
Shoot Dat Pistol
(lyrics by Chris Smith)
You're the Only One That I Love
(lyrics by Len Gray)
Come On Home
(music by Donald Heywood; lyrics by Donald Heywood)
Dancing Girl
(music by Spencer Williams and Clarence Williams; lyrics by Spencer Williams and Clarence Williams)
Any Time
(lyrics by Joe Jordan)
When I March With April in May
(music by Gerald Williams and Spencer Williams; lyrics by Gerald Williams and Spencer Williams)
I'm Gonna Take My Bimbo Back to the Bamboo Isle

Here is a recording of one of the songs:

Alas, "Bottomland" only lasted 19 performances, opening June 27 and closing July 13, 1927.
For a contemporary account of the production, we can refer to Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance,by Aberjhani, Sandra L. West.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Chick Webb's early years

Welcome to the inaugural entry of my blog "Stomping with Steve."

I plan to post random odds and ends of information I find, with some music to go along with it.

Let's start with one of the earliest news stories I have found about Chick Webb, from the Jan. 7, 1928 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American.

It shows that Webb was playing at the Rose Danceland at this point in time.

It also hints at Webb's commercial possibilities, which would be fully realized in the 1930s.

Now let's end this post with a classic from 1937 by the Webb orchestra, "If Dreams Come True."