Willie Lewis invaded Europe in 1925 as a member of Sam Wooding's explosive jazz orchestra, making hot records and stunning audiences throughout Berlin, Barcelona, and Paris. When Wooding's organization disintegrated, Lewis returned to New York in 1931 and assembled a group of musicians for the purpose of a brief European tour the following year. Willie Lewis & His Entertainers played the Merry Grill in Brussels, and made one wild phonograph recording. A 13-piece orchestra composed almost entirely of European musicians and augmented with a vaudevillian vocal quartet (including Lewis himself) presents "Who Taught You That?" This is funny stuff, something like the frantic singing heard on certain records by Sam Wooding, Fats Waller & His Buddies, or Bix Beiderbecke with Paul Whiteman. The rest of the material on this disc was recorded in Paris following Lewis' return to Europe in 1934, and constitutes a grab bag of Afro-American musical styles blended with popular music of the day. "Nagasaki" features another version of Lewis' vocal quartet and a hot solo by clarinetist Jerry Blake. Joe Hayman leads the band in singing "I Can't Dance (I Got Ants In My Pants)," his high voice anticipating the style of Louis Jordan. As if to purposefully present a wide range of Afro-American culture, two spirituals are sung a cappella. "Ezekiel Saw the Wheel" is particularly satisfying. Six records cut in January of 1936 find Lewis leading a smooth dance band very much in the manner of Jimmie Lunceford. With arrangements and trumpet/saxophone work by Benny Carter, a smooth vocal by bassist June Cole on "Stay Out of Love," and tasteful embellishments by Herman Chittison on piano and celeste, this is mid-'30s big band dance music at its finest. Four selections feature vocalist and professional stripper Joan Warner singing bouncy French pop melodies. At the heart of this CD lie two magnificent recordings waxed on April 28, 1936: Herman Chittison's arrangement of "Stompin' at the Savoy" with fine trumpeting from Bill Coleman, and Fletcher Henderson's arrangement of "Christopher Columbus" -- a masterpiece of swing. Next come two romantic numbers with pokey vocals by Willie Lewis and Alice Mann, and a pair of theatrically charged presentations by Adelaide Hall, a lovely woman who had made great records with Duke Ellington and Art Tatum, would soon record with Fats Waller in London, and was eventually to settle for the rest of her life in Scandinavia. For those who crave sophisticated sounds while practicing calisthenics, this remarkably varied disc ends with a two-part exercise record narrated in French, with musical accompaniment by the very classy Willie Lewis & His Entertainers.
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