California Ramblers / Jimmy Dorsey / Tommy Dorsey / Red Nichols

New York Jaz zin the Roaring Twenties, Vol. 3

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The staunchly Midwestern dance band known as the California Ramblers was formed in Ohio back in 1921 by banjoist Ray Kitchingman, and soon after gravitating to New York was operating under the leadership of Wallace T. "Ed" Kirkeby, whose first decisive act as assistant recording manager at Columbia Records had been to assemble Earl Fuller's Jazz Band in order to compete with Victor's Original Dixieland Jazz Band. With a lineup that included trumpeters Red Nichols and Chelsea Quealey, trombonists Abe Lincoln and Tommy Dorsey, multi-instrumental reedmen Jimmy Dorsey and Adrian Rollini, pianist Irving Brodsky, and drummer Stan King, the California Ramblers were one of the most heavily recorded hot dance bands of the 1920s, thanks to Kirkeby's connections. Given the sheer magnitude of their output (hundreds of titles), the limited scope of their reissues in the digital format is somewhat puzzling. During the LP era Biograph unearthed and made available 24 of their best recordings on two vinyl albums, entitled Hallelujah! and Miss Annabelle Lee. Hallelujah! was reissued in 1999 by Biograph as New York Jazz in the Roaring Twenties, Vol. 3, and then again in 2007 in an essentially identical edition by Collectables. For those who obtained the LP long ago and have developed a fondness for this particular playlist, a straightforward reissue of the entire album using the same track sequence is a dream come true. For those who haven't yet had the pleasure, New York Jazz in the Roaring Twenties, Vol. 3 might be the most essential California Ramblers album ever made available to the public. "Oh! Mabel" and "Up and at ‘Em" are excellent examples of how this band sounded with the throttle wide open. "When Erastus Plays His Old Kazoo," which compares well with the version by Johnny Dodds' Black Bottom Stompers, is distinctly recognizable as the root of the ‘30s novelty "At the Codfish Ball." As for the vocals, what you get from the California Ramblers is a brand of chortling that epitomizes ‘20s pop culture. That means corny, sweet, naïve, and oddly entertaining. If Kirkeby sounds like a ventriloquist singing Vincent Youmans' "Hallelujah!" and "Everything Is Hotsy-Totsy Now" seems quaint as a cup full of comfits, "'Cause I Feel Low Down" is a valiant attempt by a Caucasian lad to sing something somehow connected with the blues. "What a Man!" is a delightful example of the sort of gender-bending that still occurs whenever a singer opts not to alter lyrics that were originally written for someone of the opposite sex. This version of "What a Man!" should really be considered essential listening for academics engaged in Queer Studies. The most intriguing selection in this collection, however, is "Broken Idol," a dramatically arranged Oriental foxtrot from 1929 that opens like the soundtrack to a classic early Hollywood location shot of Shanghai and ends with an "exotic" stroke on Stan King's cymbal. The effect of this performance upon an impressionable listener with a highly developed imagination should not be underestimated.

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