Ted Lewis

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1929-34 Review

by arwulf arwulf

Here's a superb album of rare Ted Lewis recordings that is well worth investigating. It is the perfect counterpart to The Jazzworthy Ted Lewis on Retrieval and Is Everybody Happy? on Living Era. The folks at Timeless Historical were wise to concentrate on a timeline beginning in December 1929 and ending in November 1934, after Lewis had switched from Columbia to Decca. This emphasizes the important role that Lewis played in jazz and pop culture during the Great Depression. Despite the omission of the famous Fats Waller-driven session of March 5, 1931, this compilation contains a small gold mine of tasty jazz solos by cornetist Muggsy Spanier; trombonist George Brunies; and reedmen Benny Goodman, Rod Cless, and Jimmy Dorsey. Mention should also be made of Harry Barth's sousaphone and Jimmy Moore's slaphappy string bass. Ted Lewis was a staunch exponent of vaudeville who declaimed every lyric in a heavily affected drawl, squeezing sentiment like apple pie filling from each song in a manner that made him terrifically popular during the 1920s and '30s. Lewis, whose band sounded at times like the Casa Loma Orchestra (examples herein being "Rhythm" and "Earthquake"), should be credited with having hired many of the most talented jazz musicians on the scene and granting them plenty of solo space. When not pandering to popular taste, he was careful to choose material already proven by the best black bands in Harlem. Examples heard here are "Lazy Bones," closely associated with Claude Hopkins; "Sweetie Pie," recorded by Fats Waller & His Rhythm only four days prior to the version heard here; and "White Heat" and "Jazznocracy," recorded eight months earlier by Jimmie Lunceford's Orchestra. As for the pop element, this portion of the Ted Lewis story is padded with guest vocalists Fred Astaire, Vernon Dalhart, Shirley Jay, the Royce Sisters (almost as sharp as the Boswells), and a spiffy male vocal group chortling pep-talk anthems for the Depression Era like "There's a New Day Comin'" and "Buy American!" Lewis himself emits some of his best boisterous bantering on "You've Got That Thing"; Busby Berkeley's "Gold Digger's Song" (with its daydream refrain "We're in the money"); "I Got a New Deal in Love" (a tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt's economic policies, based upon the chord progressions from Fats Waller's "Concentratin' on You"); and a thrilling rendition of "Try a Little Tenderness," securely placed in its original Depression Era context, and second only to later renditions by Otis Redding and Jack Webb.

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