Released during the summer of 2001, Vintage Music Productions' Rare Hot Dance compilation rescues two-dozen delightfully dated audio artifacts from the dim margins of early 20th century cultural history. The time line extends from June 1924 through August 1931. Dance bands during this period enabled struggling musicians to earn a living by negotiating arrangements that combined the sweetness of traditional pop with elements of hot jazz. Almost every one of the leaders handled some sort of instrument, and during the golden age of jazz-infused dance bands, it was quite common for the person directing the orchestra to brandish a violin. Leaders represented here who fit into that category are Ben Selvin, Tal Henry, Cass Hagan, Paul Specht, and Milt Shaw. Ellis Stratakos and Blue Steele were trombonists, while Gene Kardos, Doc Daugherty, Rudy Vallée, Hal Kemp, and Roger Wolfe Kahn blew clarinets and/or saxophones.
The intoxicating charm that may be found in dance band recordings of this vintage is generated here by the presence of skilled jazz musicians and period pop vocalists. Ray Miller's Orchestra, responsible for "Where Is That Old Girl of Mine," employed trombonist Miff Mole and C-melody saxophonist Frankie Trumbauer. "Oh, How I Love My Darling," performed by a group billed as the Ambassadors, had vocalist Irving Kaufman backed by Mole, trumpeter Phil Napoleon, reedman Jack Pettis, pianist Frank Signorelli, and legendary tuba technician Joe Tarto. "Varsity Drag" was sung by Franklin Bauer, Lewis James, and Elliott Shaw. Listen to the cornetist and you may recognize Red Nichols. Miff Mole, who like Nichols participated in an enormous number of recording sessions during this period, is heard again on "Say Yes Today," along with guitarist Eddie Lang and pianist Arthur Schutt. "Be My Baby" was recorded in Memphis by the Blue Steele Orchestra, with Sonny Clapp playing second-chair trombone and reedman Kenny Sargent delivering a sweet vocal.
"Everybody and You," from the stage show Napoleon Passes, was performed in 1928 by the Princeton Triangle Jazz Band, a superb collegiate outfit sporting a smooth sax section led by cornetist Bill Priestley and squeezebox virtuoso Squirrel Ashcraft. Unfortunately, although Squirrel was one of the earliest jazz accordionists (second only to Buster Moten), he did not solo on this particular recording, nor did Priestley display his remarkable facility with the tenor guitar as he did elsewhere. Seasoned listeners may note that "Everybody and You" bears some resemblance to Bix and Tram's recording of "Three Blind Mice." Beiderbecke was clearly Priestley's main influence.
On closer scrutiny, fascinating details emerge from this collection like protozoans teeming under a microscope. Hal Kemp's band, for example, included a violinist named Bromo Selser, as well as pianist and arranger John Scott Trotter, soon to become nationally famous as leader of the band behind Bing Crosby. The vocalist with Ellis Stratakos & His Hotel Jung Orchestra has been identified as guitarist Fred Loyacano. "The New Yorkers" was a pseudonym used by various bands. The unit performing "Go Get ‘Em Caroline" under that name remains anonymous. "You're Simply Delish" was played by pianist Joel Shaw's Orchestra masquerading as "The High Steppers". Shaw was the pianist with the Gene Kardos Orchestra backing pop singer Dick Robertson on "Red Headed Baby," and the vocal on "You Said It" was by Helen Rowland and Paul Small. This marvelous anthology of entertaining music from a bygone era, which has been thoroughly marinated by the passage of time, is perfectly suitable for all occasions.