Erskine Hawkins

Jubilee 1943

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Along with the newly developed lightweight "unbreakable" V-Discs, live entertainment did a lot to help boost morale among armed forces personnel during the Second World War. Each of these Jubilee broadcast aircheck albums is a historical core sample of popular culture. With bebop getting ready to burst and R&B already in the works, 1943 was a markedly transitional year in jazz. Whoever put these shows together went for anything that would go over with an audience comprised largely of young people. When the "house band" was as hip as Erskine Hawkins & His Orchestra, sparks really flew! Perpetually boisterous MC Ernie "Bubbles" Whitman introduced the acts in a shrill voice, hyping the talent before and after each little performance. As with so many vintage radio broadcasts, it's amusing to listen back on the tightly scripted patter, sprinkled with forced cheer and conspicuous, somewhat predictable humor, which in the case of Jubilee shows almost always included references to Mr. Whitman's apparent obesity. "Eelibuj Boogie," "Gin Mill Special," and "Let's Boil Awhile" are smoking hot, but "Barrelhouse" nearly explodes as Illinois Jacquet -- Whitman pronounces it "Jacket" -- screeches his tenor sax in a startling burst of joyous extremism. Some listeners may appreciate this as a premonition of Albert Ayler's free jazz cry, that startling "speaking in tongues" so bravely documented on record in 1964, then fully developed by Marion Brown on his Porto Novo album in 1966. Back in 1943 it worked well as pure entertainment in the middle of a variety show. Harmonica virtuoso Larry Adler delivers up a glorious rendition of "Blues in the Night" and pianist Jean Rogers is featured on "I Got Rhythm." The great non-musical bonus is the appearance of Eddie Green, a comedian who first achieved notoriety as a performer in the Hot Chocolates stage show in 1929, appearing on the cast recording Big Business with Fats Waller at the piano. By 1943 Green had become famous as a character on the radio program Duffy's Tavern. Here he engages in a scripted routine with MC Ernie, who is trying to convince Eddie to pursue a career as a lion tamer. Green is very cautious and seems unwilling to work in the company of large carnivores. When Whitman assures him that "a lion is the most generous animal that there is," Green replies: "I know he is. He give me the shirt off my back."