Ben Pollack

The Dean of Swing

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AllMusic Review by

This Living Era compilation presents a chronological core sample of Ben Pollack's recorded works, ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. While some of the dopier vocals might cause Irritable Ear Syndrome, there's enough solid cooking in here to constitute a fairly enjoyable retrospective of the old New Orleans Rhythm Kings drummer's career as a bandleader. "Singapore Sorrows" (1928) includes delightful "oriental" percussion effects and some impressive soloing from Benny Goodman. Other noteworthy names from the first seven sessions include Glenn Miller, Fud Livingston, Jimmy McPartland, Bud Freeman, Mezz Mezzrow, Jack Teagarden, and Ray Bauduc. "Yellow Dog Blues" (1929) begins like a solidly respectable stomp but all at once the band stops blowing and Pollack, who at some point must have gotten bitten on the leg by Ted Lewis, begins laughing in measured rhythm. A wah-wah trombone guffaws back at him and then the whole band momentarily succumbs. The subtler "My Kinda Love" (1929) delivers the sugary Park Central Orchestra sound. Pollack warbles quaintly when he sings. The delightful "Keep Your Undershirt On" (1929), with a vocal by Scrappy Lambert and a very suave Teagarden solo, is the best of the early novelty tunes heard here. "Two Tickets to Georgia" (1933) has a snappy vocal by Nappy Lamare, and the band really throws down. Lamare was also turned loose on "Got the Jitters" (1933) with tangible support from Yank Lawson and Benny Morton. "The Beat o' My Heart" (1934), a ghastly attempt at a love song in march rhythm, was apparently a number two hit in its day, but seems in retrospect to represent the nadir of the entire Pollack discography. "Song of the Islands" (1936) has a hypnotic steel guitar wafting about, and now Harry James has materialized in the trumpet section. With "Spreadin' Knowledge Around" (1936), an eight-piece band calling itself Dean & His Kids cooks up a fine stomp. "Jimtown Blues" (1936) really percolates -- this is Pollack at his very best. "Wabash Blues" (1936) by the Rhythm Wreckers uses steel guitar again, but this time as a humorous presence. Pollack generates a pippity-pop sort of wagon-wheel accompaniment while the band deliberately sags and stretches its notes. "Peckin'" (1936) is notable for its deranged group vocal. Composed by Pollack, the song worked very well a year later for Johnny Hodges -- possibly even better than it does here, although Harry James sounds somewhat inspired. The Wreckers return with a tough little rendition of "St. Louis Blues" (1937), during which Muggsy Spanier does some magnificent growling and vocalist Whitey McPherson yodels like a cowgirl. "That Old Feeling" (1937) features the charming Connee Boswell. Spanier stuck with Pollack for most of the rest of 1937, participating in a surprisingly brisk "September in the Rain" and three smoky instrumentals: "My Wild Irish Rose," "Alice Blue Gown," and "The Snake Charmer." Here the band cooks with a steady rolling boil, and the results are gratifying. This is the Pick-A-Rib Boys sound, and it was successfully revived in 1950 with a completely new lineup. "Dardanella" and "That Da Da Strain" are unadulterated straightforward traditional jazz. It's too bad Living Era didn't include more instrumentals in this retrospective; a few of the best vocals would have provided the necessary flavor and context while leaving more room for the right stuff to shine through.

Track Listing

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 3:26
2 3:04
3 2:52
4 3:41
5 2:36
6 2:33
7 3:21
8 2:53
9 2:42
10 2:46
11 3:20
12 2:55
13 2:41
14 3:01
15 2:56
16 3:06
17 2:37
18 2:43
19 2:58
20 2:56
21 2:42
22 3:03
23 3:07
24 2:24
25 2:33
26 3:05
blue highlight denotes track pick