Swing, as a musical genre, is a 30’s and 40’s thing. The Big Bang of Big Bands happened around 1935, but the genre developped itself way before, in the late 20’s with the large orchestras of Fletcher Henderson or Glen Gray. It spred through a young generation of people wich was born with radio and somehow find a way to rebel against their parents. Daddy’s good old New Orleans-style Jazz was no trend anymore in the 30’s, big bands quickly took all the place and attention. And all the income. Musicians of the 20’s had to adapt to survive.

Miff Mole was a man of the 20’s. He actually was THE trombone of the 20’s, creating his own style that would influence most of the trombonists of the era. He intensively recorded with bands that would define the sound of the (white) Jazz of the 20’s: The Original Memphs Five, an extensive collaboration with Red Nichols, in Sam Lanin’s many bands or as the backing band of Sophie Tucker, as Miff Mole’s Molers.
Between 1927 and 1930, OKeh released records of the band, sometimes using different variations of the name: Miff Mole’s Molers, Miff Mole’s Little Molers, Miff Mole and his Molers, depending on the sides. Red Nichols was in the game most of the time, among the other men of the time: Stan King, Eddie Lang, Phil Napoleon, Dudley Fosdick, Jimmy Dorsey and so on.
The name then disappeared after 1930. It eventually resurected in 1937, on Brunswick and Vocalion. But in the meantime, the face of American popular music had changed, and Swing grabed the stake. Mole worked mostly for Radio in the 30’s, making his style evolving from Jack Teagarden to Jimmy Dorsey, the trombones of the 30’s.
A recording session, as a leading man, occured on february of 1937 for the American Record Corporation. Four sides were recorded, with twelve other musicians for the sides released on ARC’s flagship label Brunswick, and six of them for the sides released on its budget subsidiary, Vocalion. Among them, no Nichols or Lang, but his Memphis Five partner Frank Signorelli, and also Glenn Miller, Harry James, the Weiss brothers and Chick Bullock or Midge Williams behind the microphone.
The session resulted in four solid, hot, sparkling sides that perfetly fit in the Swing mold. Only two of them were released in the UK, no other editions were made. I don’t think they were much advertised and sold particularly well despite the obvious, intrinsic musical qualities.

Miff Mole and his Molers “On A Little Bamboo Bridge” (02/1937 – Mx 20690-1)
Miff Mole and his Molers “How Could You ?” (02.1937 – Mx 20691-1)
Miff Mole and his Molers “I Can’t Break The Habit Of You” (02/1937 – Mx 20692-1)
Miff Mole and his Molers “Love and Learn” (02/1937 – Mx 20693-1)

Mole later played in the Paul Whiteman’s orchestra (1938-40) and with Benny Goodman (1942-43) and led many Dixieland bands during the second half od the 40’s, then worked in Chicago until the mid-50’s. Due to bad health, he played only sporadicaly aftrward, and died in New York in April 1961.

Red Nichols, if not the best cornet of the 20’s – but at least in the Top 5 – was certainly the busiest of them all. Beside his Five Pennies and its 100+ sides for Brunswick, he was the man behind a dozen of other bands that recorded for most recording companies of the US.
Nichols, being a prominent figure of the Dixieland-style Jazz also had to adapt and his Five Pennies slowly mutated into a 14 pieces band at the dawn of the 30’s, eventually called “Orchestra” by the fall of 1930. Nichols led a who’s who of the jazz to come such as Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Glenn Miller, Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, or Gene Krupa. The recording sessions, mostly for Brunswick until then, stoped after 1932.
Nichols survived the Depression by playing here and there. He reappeared shortly in 1934 on Bluebird, but the band had nothing to do with the later versions of his orchestra…as in the meantime, some of his ex-musicians have become leading stars of Swing.
It’s only in 1937 that Red Nichols recorded again, and again on the short-lived ARC’s Variety label (some sides were also released on Vocalion). Twelve sides were recorded in March, and ten released throughout the year.

Red Nichols & his Orchestra “Wake Up And Live” (03/1937 – Mx M 244)
Red Nichols & his Orchestra “Never In A Million Years” (03/1937 – Mx M 246)

A couple of years passed before he reappered again on records, on RCA-Victor’s budget label Bluebird this time, for wich he recorded twenty five sides (three unissed) throughout the year until mid-1940.

Red Nichols & his Orchestra “Tears From My Inkwell” (03/1939 – Mx 032960-1)
Red Nichols & his Orchestra “I Never Know Heaven Could Speak” (03/1939 – Mx 032959-1)
Red Nichols & his Orchestra “Hot Lips” (06/1939 – Mx 037670-1)
Red Nichols & his Orchestra “The Parade Of The “Pennies”” (06/1939 – Mx 037683-1)

Nichols latest pre-war recording session occured in June 1940, four sides for the newly reborn OKeh label, a CBS subsidiary.
After the war time spent working for the army, Nichols got busy again with a new Five Pennies band, with wich he played and toured in California and in Europe. He made some appearance in movies and TV shows during the 50’s. He died in Las Vegas late June 1965.

Frank Signorelli was a pianist and composer. Former member of the Original Memphis Five, he also played with the Original Dixieland Jazz band. He recorded as a bandleader in the late 20’s, but acted more as a freelancer, playing with the prominent jazzmen of his generation: with Bix Beiderbecke, Adrian Rollini, Eddie Lang, Boyd Senter or Paul Whiteman’s orchestra among others, and of course, with his old buddies of the Memphis Five, Phil Napoleon and Miff Mole. He also worked as a soloist in the Greenwich Village, NY.
In 1950, he recorded six sides for Stinson as a bandleader. The records were released in an album called “Memphis Five Favorites”, though any of the songs recorded here were classic sides of the OM5. The band, if not as large as a standard big band of the era, is bigger than the 5 units that composed the OM5. The sound is also far from the Dixieland Jazz they use to play during the band’s lifetime, these sides are definitively Swing, and pretty much “old fashion” Swing considering the recording date, as there is no hint of Bop in the arrangements. The album will eventually be reissued by Folkways on LP, pertinently re-named “Jazz of the 40’s” !

Frank Signorelli & Orchestra “Darktown Strutters Ball” (circa 1950 – Mx M5-4)
Frank Signorelli & Orchestra “Sour Puss Hannah” (circa 1950 – Mx M5-2)

Signorelli died in New York in December 1975.

2 thoughts on “Swing Time ! with stars of the 20’s

  1. Bello! Caratteristica dello “swing” e quindi del jazz è l’accentare del beat sul due e sul quattro. Questa modalità apparentemente non rilevante, è invece fondamentale; provate a contare “un due tre quattro” accentando su uno e su tre: si ha la classica accentazione della musica popolare e a seguire del rock. Accentando sul due e sul quattro, si ha “naturalmente” una specie di ondeggiamento, un cullare (swing, appunto). Attualmente lo swing è ancora la base della musica jazz più moderna, detta ormai comunemente “modern mainstream” quella che va da Kurt Rosenwinkel a Ben Allison, Brad Mehldau, Jonathan Kreisberg etc… 🙂


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