Princeton Triangle Jazz Band

Complete Recordings

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During the 1920s, as the recording industry began to capitalize on the growing popularity of jazz and jazz-flavored music, white college students were targeted as a potentially lucrative audience. For this reason, the California Ramblers made records under the names of the University Six and the Varsity Eight, while various hot dance bands churned out topical novelties with titles like "Collegiate Sam" and "Doin' the Raccoon." While Fred Waring's Pennsylvanians quickly cornered the market in this realm en route to resounding success on Broadway, Princeton University had its own Ivy League jazz ensemble, named after the Princeton Triangle Club, a student-run organization that staged original musicals. All 21 of the Princeton Triangle Jazz Band's essential Columbia recordings were reissued on compact disc by Vintage Music Productions in 2001. The only precedent for this collection was a Biograph LP released in the '70s, with liner notes by the group's pianist from 1924-1927, Herb Sanford. It is important to bear in mind that most of the melodies were composed by bandmembers for use in collegiate stage productions. If you listen through the entire stash from their first Columbia recordings of May 1924 to the last side from January 1932, you'll hear how the influence of Paul Whiteman gradually gives way to that of real jazz heroes like Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke. While during roughly the first half of the collection the band sounds like they're trying to emulate the orchestras of Isham Jones, Sam Lanin, or Ted Fiorito, the sides dating from 1926 and afterwards generally pack a bit more ballast. This is partly due to the presence of bass saxophonist Jim Rodgers (whose role model was Adrian Rollini); Edwin "Squirrel" Ashcraft who specialized in the accordion (an instrument previously handled in this group by reedman Frank Orvis), and banjoist/tenor guitarist Bill Priestley, who by 1928 would be expressing himself beautifully with a cornet. The prime reason for this band's shift toward real jazz in 1927 was Ashcraft and Priestley's shared friendship with Bix Beiderbecke. "Melody Moon" and "Rhythmic Refrain" are stronger and jazzier than anything previously recorded by this unit. If "You Know Who" and the Beiderbecke-inspired "Everybody and You" stand as two of this band's best originals, "China Boy" and "That's A-Plenty" constitute their only rendezvous with the authentic traditional jazz repertoire. This makes good sense, as the Beiderbecke taproot leads directly back to King Oliver via the Original Dixieland Jazz Band and the New Orleans Rhythm Kings. "Day After Day" is mostly valued for the sweet vocal by freshman Jimmy Stewart, a student of Architecture who was destined for fame as one of the most admired stage and screen actors of the 20th century. After most of the original bandmembers graduated, only one more recording was made under their name, for the Royal label in 1932, with a reconfigured group led by banjoist Doug McNamee. Like the two Dixieland standards mentioned above, "Strong Talk" was issued under the name of the Equinox Orchestra, the pseudonym used whenever the Princeton Triangle Jazz Band recorded songs that did not originate in the Princeton Triangle Club's theater productions. This time capsule of entertainment from the '20s is both enjoyable and insightful as an object lesson in the gradual stylistic evolution of jazz and pop music during that decade. Anyone who wants to hear more examples of early jazz accordion should go directly to the Victor recordings of Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra and listen for hot breaks played on a squeezebox by the leader's nephew Buster Moten.

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