Choo Choo Jazzers

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From the earliest days of recording comes a band whose name sounds like a force-feeding program for starving jazzmen, of which there are plenty. The Choo Choo Jazzers, generally a trio involving clarinetist…
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From the earliest days of recording comes a band whose name sounds like a force-feeding program for starving jazzmen, of which there are plenty. The Choo Choo Jazzers, generally a trio involving clarinetist and alto saxophonist Bob Fuller, pianist Louis Hooper, and banjoist Elmer Snowden, frequently accompanied various female singers during the '20s, playing not only the typical 12-bar blues forms with the expected provocative lyrics, but some vaudeville and ragtime numbers as well. The activity of these players in recording studios stretches back to 1924 and actual equipment tests for the Edison company. A typical one of these events involved vocalist Viola McCoy, with reports such as this passed down by whatever experts were analyzing the recordings: "Think she is good. Is loud. I hear many words."

The Choo Choo Jazzers were more of a studio group than an actual band, although these musicians often did perform live in the trio combination listed previously as well as with inevitable substitutions and subtractions. The same goes for recording sessions, where for example Fuller and Hooper might appear as a duo backing a singer, but still under the name of the Choo Choo Jazzers. At the same time, the full trio was sometimes just credited as "her band" or "her jazzers" depending on which singer was being backed up. For some sessions, the group would back up one singer, then another, and the results would be issued on a split release such as the Ajax combination of "I Can't Get the One I Want" and "What'll I Do," featuring Rosa Henderson and Helen Gross, respectively. Other female singers who recorded with the group include Monette Moore and Hazel Meyers. Susie Smith also was backed up by the Choo Choo Jazzers, but this was actually the former singer using another name in her efforts to make more Moore records than her contract allowed her to.

Certainly the most notorious of the recordings the group appears on involves not only Henderson but male vocalist Billy Higgins, of no relation to the famous jazz drummer from a later era. The vocalists perform a duet on the bizarre "A to Z," the most violent alphabet lesson ever recorded. This blues describes the excitement of actually slicing the outlines of every letter of the alphabet out of someone's flesh! Even with that in mind, one critic's description of the song as "a violently bizarre, sadistic tour de force of psychological and economic domination" seems a bit over the top. The 1924 song can be heard on the Document label's complete collection of Henderson recordings.