The Broadway Bell-Hops

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During the 1920s, quite an assortment of jazz and hot dance bands made records for multiple labels using aliases displaying the name of New York's world-renowned theater district and its main drag: Broadway.…
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During the 1920s, quite an assortment of jazz and hot dance bands made records for multiple labels using aliases displaying the name of New York's world-renowned theater district and its main drag: Broadway. As early as 1921, Thomas Edison's Diamond Discs featured something called the Broadway Dance Orchestra, and in 1922-1923 Ben Selvin's groups recorded for Vocalion as the Broadway Syncopators. In a marvel of duplicity, the California Ramblers and Fletcher Henderson's orchestra were each billed as both the Broadway Melody Makers and the Broadway Music Masters. The Original Memphis Five became the Broadway Seven when recording for Grey Gull, and that company's regular studio band was sometimes identified as the Broadway Merry Makers. Whenever recording for Columbia's budget-line subsidiary Harmony, Sam Lanin's dance band was magically transformed into an entity known as the Broadway Bell-Hops, while on Cameo they were billed as the Broadway Broadcasters. Vintage Music Productions has reissued 22 of the Bell-Hops' 80 known recordings on CD. Most of these feature period pop vocals by people like Billy Jones, Arthur Fields, and Irving Kaufman.

Few musicians recorded with more pseudonymous bands than cornetist and trumpeter Red Nichols, Lanin's choice for the Bell-Hops when they first convened in the recording studio on February 10, 1926. Also present were trombonist Miff Mole and tuba tamer Joe Tarto. Except for one session in May of 1926, Nichols was first-chair trumpeter with the Bell-Hops through June of 1927. When Lanin next led a group for Harmony three months later, the band was essentially recognizable as the Frankie Trumbauer unit, complete with cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, pianist Frank Signorelli, and violinist Joe Venuti. The remaining entries in the Broadway Bell-Hops discography involved players whose identities have never been fully verified. A comprehensive anthology of the many "Broadway" bands has yet to materialize. If and when such a collection is ever assembled, it will need to include examples of Duke Ellington's orchestra masquerading as the Broadway Revelers, Teddy Hill's as the Broadway Rhythm Kings, Ben Pollack's as the Broadway Bandits, and Mezz Mezzrow's as the Broadway Swingstars.