Although extensive use of pseudonyms prevented him from ever achieving fame comparable to that of Bert Ambrose, Jack Hylton, or Roy Fox, Bert Firman (born Herbert Feuerman in 1906) was one of the busiest British bandleaders of the 1920s and ‘30s. Three years after his death in 1999, Living Era released Swing High, Swing Low, a sampling of his work from the years 1924-1937. Inexplicably, its time line tapers off several months short of September 1937 when Bert Firman's Quintuplets of Swing cut four instrumentals for Parlophone. As these were almost certainly the best real jazz records he ever presided over, it is a puzzling and grievous omission. What did make it onto this set adds up to an impressive smattering of vintage English jazz and dance band records by various ensembles under Firman's leadership. In addition to juggling the ensemble designations (as in the Arcadians Dance Orchestra, the Ariel Dance Orchestra, the Carlton Hotel Orchestra, and the Midnight Follies Orchestra), the leader also masqueraded under imaginary monikers like Newton Carlisle, Eugene Brockman, and Hal Christa. Yet Firman by any other name was always Firman.
During his day he had the good sense to employ some of the best jazzmen active in England. Instrumentalists heard on this set include trombonist Ted Heath as well as trumpeters Frank Guarente and Chelsea Quealey. There is some fine blowing by reedman Freddy Gardner, Carroll Gibbons is heard at the piano, and multi-percussionist Rudy Starita handles drums, vibraphone, and xylophone. Although this is the most widely distributed Firman retrospective, it is a far cry from the extensively reissued recordings of Firman's contemporaries. According to Brian Rust, the jazz-worthy entries in Firman's discography amount to more than 250 titles, mostly by Firman's scaled-down swing group that was billed on Zonophone Records as the Rhythmic Eight. Seeing as Firman served as musical director at Zonophone from 1924-1928, and taking all of the evidence into consideration, the number of recordings that took place under his direct supervision must have been truly enormous. In light of this, Living Era's offering seems like a nice little prelude, as the bulk of Firman's considerable legacy awaits systematic reissuing and rediscovery by 21st century audiences.