This third installment in the Classics Harry James chronology opens with nine solid sides recorded in Los Angeles during November of 1939. Seven of these are fine examples of big-band swing created expressly for dancing purposes. The lively and dramatic "Concerto for Trumpet" is a masterpiece in miniature. "Flash" and "Avalon" were based on arrangements written by the great Andy Gibson. One player deserving of wider recognition is pianist Jack Gardner, an able technician who rocks like a fiend during "Back Beat Boogie." Although the public certainly enjoyed these records, the men who ran Columbia, having expected quicker sales and larger profits, chose to eliminate Harry James from their roster shortly after the session of November 30th. As an ex-Benny Goodman trumpet star who hadn't yet hit the big time as a bandleader, James was up against several highly competitive, shrewd, and successful operators, most notably Tommy "Cutthroat" Dorsey, who lured Sinatra away even as Columbia lowered the boom. It would take a little over a year for the A&R executives to realize their mistake and rehire Harry James. In the meantime, he signed on with ex-Victor producer Eli Oberstein's Varsity label, a modest enterprise for which he would spend about six months recording a reasonable assortment of jazz, dance, and pop tunes. The first Varsity date took place on February 12, 1940. James had retained most of the players in his well-oiled big band; one worthy development was the appearance of tenor saxophonist Vido Musso, a lusty-toned soloist who shone during this band's utterly marvelous rendition of "Alice Blue Gown" and tasty cover of Erskine Hawkins' famous hit "Tuxedo Junction." Note also the presence of James himself behind the drum kit on "Headin' for Hallelujah." Having auditioned as a composer and arranger, Dick Haymes instead found himself filling the "vocal gap" left by the departure of Frank Sinatra. His mellifluous handling of "How High the Moon" was the perfect counterweight to trumpeter Jack Palmer's smoothly hip, almost Trummy Young-like vocal on the Harry James rendition of Cab Calloway's "Boog It." The leader plays a lot of trumpet on "The Sheik of Araby," sounding at first like Bunny Berigan, then working himself up to a crescendo worthy of Roy Eldridge.
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