This Jazz Hour disc combines two remotes with the Harry James band in its salad days, playing dates at low-profile venues. The earlier of the two remotes comes from March 19, 1940, from the Southland Restaurant in Boston, the other being from the Blue Room of the Lincoln Hotel in New York City on May 22, 1941. By the end of 1942, the James band would be the hottest in the nation, but during this period they were still struggling and hungry, so much so that at the end of 1939 James released his "boy" singer, Frank Sinatra, to Tommy Dorsey, rather than to watch him starve to death. In stepped Dick Haymes, with a somewhat stronger constitution; his presence in the James band would contribute significantly to its eventual success. The March 19, 1940, date is the earliest surviving remote of Haymes with James, and it may well be Haymes' earliest radio recording of any kind. Haymes sounds fine, but it is the instrumentals that grab you here. One fascinating highlight is James' five-minute "Tuxedo Junction"; broadcast on March 19, 1940, it is nearly contemporary with the famous studio version made by Glenn Miller, recorded February 5, 1940, but not yet released by Bluebird. James' 1940 "Tuxedo Junction" is low-key and swinging, with the leader in fine form, and it provides a nice counterpart to his later seven-minute "Tuxedo Junction" made in a bebop context (recorded for Columbia November 3, 1947). By the time of the Lincoln Hotel date, the band was on its way, having finally placed its first Top Ten hit in the pop charts, "Music Makers." James had also added a small string section to the band, which he hated, as a concession to the requirements of certain nightclub owners. The instrumentals once again take center stage in the proceedings, including a fine James original, "Jug Head" (co-written with Gray Rains and here titled "Relaxin'"), and "Jeffries Blues," written by Dave Mathews. There are three spicy, if somewhat stiff, Latin numbers adapted from the work of Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona (who is referred to, in a fit of bad spelling typical of Jazz Hour, as "Lucorna"). "Number Ten Lullaby Lane" does manage to bring together the various attributes of the 1941 James into a successful union: Haymes' vocal, the solid swing of the band, and tastefully arranged strings. Some miscellaneous annoyances: lower points of interest include the Southland version of "Carnival of Venice," where a bit of over-eager declicking gives the impression of a stilted performance. Also, Haymes' vocal on "With the Wind and Rain in Your Hair" is cut short by the radio announcer at the Southland, who steps in to conclude the remote. A mere two days later James and Haymes transcribed the same number from the same venue, apparently complete, along with a version of "Rose Room." This has appeared elsewhere; a truly attentive producer would've tagged it on in lieu of the incomplete "With the Wind and Rain in Your Hair" offered here. If this program seems somewhat familiar to some collectors, it should; the exact same combination of remotes was first issued in 1978 as a Sunbeam LP, Harry James & His Orchestra 1940-41 (Sunbeam SB-203). An identical CD of this material, under the title The Radio Years 1940-1941, appeared on the Danish label Jazz Unlimited (JUCD-2023) the same year as this Jazz Hour release, 1997. Chances are good that both of the CD incarnations originate with the Sunbeam LP. The sound quality of the Southland remote is really very good -- not as spectacular as, say, that of the Duke Ellington show recorded by Jack Towers in Fargo, ND, in 1940, but clear and of surprising fidelity. The Lincoln Hotel date, more typically, is a bit noisier, and due to its tin-canny sound one surmises it may have been taken off-air. There are some outstanding performances here, and it does appear that James never returned to the charming "Number Ten Lullaby Lane" on any other recorded outing, at least not with Dick Haymes. But, overall, this is mainly only to be recommended to fans of the Harry James Orchestra who are not equipped with a turntable and/or a copy of the Sunbeam LP. As a response to complaints logged elsewhere on AMG about the lack of personnel in this package, here's the lineup for Boston: Harry James, Nick Buono, Claude Bowen, and Jack Palmer, trumpets; Truett Jones, Dalton Rizzotto, and Bruce Squires, trombones; Dave Mathews, alto sax; Vido Musso, tenor sax; Chuck Gentry, baritone sax; Jack Gardner, piano; Benny Heller; guitar; Thurman Teague, bass; and Micky Scrima on drums. Palmer also sings on "Its a Wonderful World" (please do not confuse with "What a Wonderful World"). For New York, Palmer is out and Al Stearns is in, drop Jones and Squires from the 'bones and add Hoyt Bohannon and Harry Rodgers, then add Claude Lakey doubling on trumpet and alto sax in addition to Sam Marowitz doubling on alto and baritone saxes. By this time, Gentry is also doubling on alto. The rest is the same, except don't forget the four strings -- they're "unknown" -- and the arrangers, Claude Lakey, Dave Mathews, and Harry James, with Gray Rains coming in for the 1941 date.
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AllMusic Review by Uncle Dave Lewis